Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of designing the content, structure, and coding of a website to make the site more “visible” to search engines, with the goal of driving more traffic to the site.
Does my business really need SEO?
Every business, no matter how small, can benefit greatly from a well-designed and optimized website. Given that over 80% of adults perform Internet searches to find a product or service to aid their decision-making, a visible web presence is a must in order to garner a prospect’s share-of-mind and be considered by the prospect as a viable provider of that product or service. An optimized website ensures visibility on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing so that a business has a better chance of being “found” online.
Do you really want to be lost in the sea of online businesses that clutter the web? You owe it to yourself to market your business online and be visible, or else you’re leaving money on the table.
The reality of an exceedingly competitive online environment and a constantly changing set of search engine algorithms means that businesses have to do all they can to have a noticeable online presence. Almost 90% of the clicks to websites are limited to the first page of search results for any given term, and over 60% are concentrated on the top three search listings, making the top spots on a search results page extremely valuable to businesses in monetary and brand value. Businesses that engage in active optimization efforts exhibit a distinct competitive advantage over those that don’t.
Search engines rely on their “indexing” of the content that is on the Internet to provide users with relevant results for any term that is typed into a search bar or window. However, there are a multitude of results for every query that are very or somewhat relevant to the user. So how then to distinguish which results appear at the top of search results? Search engine algorithms are very complex and are a closely guarded secret, but another very important factor that determines placement on a search results page is the perceived authority of the site by search engines. Authority is an attribute that takes time to develop, and websites that are considered authority sites generally have copious amounts of relevant and useful information that drives their popularity among web users and establishes their credentials. In order to rank on the first page of search results, a business has the monumental task of establishing, among other things, relevance and authority in a specific industry so that it maximizes the chances of being seen and considered by the user.
The web is a gigantic repository of information, which needs to be categorized by the search engines in some usable fashion. This is the reason search engines “index” the millions and billions of pages of content, and then employ complex algorithms to determine which pages to show the searcher in response to a search query. Some of the factors that have a major impact on the rankings of sites on search engine results page (SERPs) are:
- The number of other sites linking to it (inbound links)
- The content of pages
- The relevance of pages
- The “freshness” of the results (updated content)
- Social proof and validation from social media sites, and more
Ultimately, the primary mission of the search engines is to provide web users with a meaningful, relevant, and useful online experience and discover the “best” information for their purposes. So if you are a small business and want to be considered by an online searcher for the products or services you provide, being visible on the first page of search results based on authoritative, relevant content is half the battle won.
Well before the digital marketplace ever existed, businesses needed to be “discovered” by prospective customers in order to generate revenue. Hence the need for traditional marketing practices. The marketplace has now morphed into a giant virtual one, and in a Darwinian sense, the businesses that succeed do so because they understand the importance of adapting their marketing to the new online environment. But this is such a complicated and time-consuming task for a business owner to handle, in addition to the demands of his business. This is where a smart business owner turns to an expert SEO to navigate the unfamiliar, complex territory of search engines.
What is the general process of SEO?
SEO comprises of two major components: on-page optimization, and off-page optimization. On-page optimization refers to manipulation of the content and underlying code of a website in order to make it easier for the search engine “spiders” or “bots” to read (crawl) the site and index their interpretations of the content to serve up to web users when that information is searched for.
Some of the key components of on-page SEO are:
This is the foundation of Search Engine Optimization. Keywords, or search terms, are what users type into a search bar in a web browser to find information. The world’s largest search engine, Google, provides webmasters and marketers/SEOs with this information in aggregate, making it possible to design the content of a website around these keywords. The goal, of course, is to ensure relevance to the end user so that a business that provides relevant, compelling, useful and authoritative information for that search term becomes the obvious choice for the user.
Keywords are naturally used in several places on a site, such as the headline, body copy, title tags, URL or web address, description, footers, and alt/image text. Additionally, keywords on one page are internally linked to other pages on the site containing those keywords. It is considered bad practice to “stuff” a site with keywords, or hide keywords on a page such that only search engines “see” them, and can result in a site being banned or penalized by the search engines.
Site code and structure
These are the words that show at the top of the page in the browser bar and are generally in a gray or blue bar. The title tag is one of the most important SEO ranking factors. Webmaster guidelines recommend using target keywords in the title tag, towards the beginning of the tag, and limiting it to 70 characters. This is prime real estate to utilize a relevant and meaningful title, as well as incorporate your brand name.
Meta robots tag
There are several tags that tell search engines how to index the content of a site, and what to index. The most common meta robots tags are the “index/no index” and “follow/no follow”. The former tells search engines which pages to index or store, and the latter tells search engines whether or not to crawl the links on a page.
These are the words that are displayed below the search result for a site on the search results page. This is primarily for the benefit of users to determine whether the website offers content that is relevant to the search query. This is not a major ranking factor, but is useful to users if the right keywords are used to signal what the site is about.
Search engines tend to view sites that utilize relevant keywords for that business in the URL, or web address, as more relevant to the user. For example, a fictitious web address such as www.discountcatfood.com is more likely to be seen as a purveyor of cat food than one that reads www.discounts.com.
This sounds horribly complicated, doesn’t it? But it is simply the process of ensuring that each page of a site has only one unique web address, so searchers are not presented with multiple versions of pages in response to their query.
It is all too easy for a user to get “lost” in a particular site, especially if that site has a plethora of information. Webmasters and SEOs ensure that the navigation structure of the site is easy and intuitive for the user, such that all content is accessible, and the user can get around to the different parts of the site. This also means that the different pages of a site should be linked correctly to each other and to the home page, and the menu should let the user access all pages of the site.
Finally, a sitemap that helps both humans and robots is a must. To ensure that search engines index all the pages of your site correctly, your webmaster or SEO should submit an XML sitemap to the search engines.
The primary means of performing off-page optimization is through building backlinks to a website, also referred to as link building.
Links spell out the relationships between websites. They also confer the web idea of “authority” to sites based on content, relevance, and links from other sites, which connote importance and ranking within the hierarchy of sites dedicated to a specific topic. Essentially, links suggest a measure of trust for a site. So in order to be link-worthy from other sites, a site has to establish itself in a relative sense to competitive sites on measures of trust, relevance, expertise, and weighty content.
Links are a powerful factor in search rankings. A new website needs to work hard to attract links from high-ranking authoritative sites in that industry.
There are many methods of link building, but some of the most popular are directly writing to webmasters of authority sites requesting links, or creating fantastic useful content that is widely appealing, and using anchor text in the content of pages to attract links from noteworthy sites. Other methods of attracting links back to pages might be blogging on your own site, guest blogging on forums and blogs, becoming an authority in your field and writing articles or white papers, producing videos, or blogging on social media sites. And of course, it is natural to get your customers or clients to link to your site from theirs.
It is always advisable to build links naturally and in as diverse a manner as possible by adopting a variety of tactics. A good, legitimate link building campaign takes time. The effort is well worth it; you establish credibility and authority in your industry over time, and all that traffic that your site generates is free (except for your time and effort.)
Tracking and Measuring
All your efforts at driving traffic to your site should be quantified so that you can assess the effectiveness of each tactic. There are a number of paid and free solutions to measure and analyze web traffic. The most widely used solution is Google Analytics, which is completely free and a powerful tool. Most analytics packages provide useful metrics on the performance of your website, such as the amount of traffic from different sources, the number of pages visited by users, the amount of time spent on the site, and more complex measures such as conversion rates and much more. Every SEO campaign ensures that Google Analytics tracking codes are installed on each page of a website in order to monitor performance at a page level and a domain level.
Many thanks to www.seomoz.org for resources.