You often hear about the complex and nuanced world of search engine optimization (or SEO), but a lot of us don’t quite understand what it means for our business and how it translates to an optimization to-do list. So this blog post for the newbie is going to break it down.
SEO is the foundation of your online visibility. If you were to run a search on Google, the top three results listed will get more than 60% of the overall traffic. The web pages listed on the first page of results will get 92% of the overall traffic. Where you appear on the results page is dictated by your SEO efforts. It matters.
The thing to remember is that SEO tactics change all the time based on the algorithms that the search engines develop to help their audience find what they’re looking for. Your job is to help your visitors fulfill their search goal and satisfy their intent using a combination of on-page and off-page SEO strategies.
On-page optimization includes being mindful of things like: Title tags, Description tags, the URL of each page, Subheadings (your H1, H2, H3 tags) and the actual page or post copy. Off-page optimization, on the other hand, boils down to building high quality backlinks from other sites on the Internet to your own website – effectively telling Google what others think of your site (After all, if you have a large number of great quality links linking back to your site – you must be putting out valuable content, no?) Three potential strategies for building links back to your site could include: guest posting, forum participation, and media outreach.
But before we start going into the different tactics you have available to you, let’s take a step back into context for a minute.
SEO isn’t something that works in isolation of everything else. Your optimization efforts need to be informed by what your business needs (think: What are the top biz and marketing goals that you’re trying to achieve this year? What are the tactical projects that will move you in the right direction?) They should also be centred around your ideal client avatar(s). Assuming, for example, that client avatar A is showing a keen interest in and consumes/searches for specific content topics and keywords, you would decide on a keyword set related to that interest and develop content pieces around it. And once that’s done, you would look to put your content out there, promote it, amplify it, measure and learn from it. And this deep dive? It needs to be revisited at least annually.
That said, here goes!
On-page SEO strategies (the stuff you do on your own website!)
- Content that drives traffic – I know I listed Title tags, Description tags and all of that a little earlier, but I think it’s so important to start here. Search engines are designed to find the best match between published content and user intent, so it is extremely important for your blogs to be high quality, unique and relevant. Your site content needs to speak directly to your ideal client avatar because every page/post is an opportunity to rank well for a specific search that your ideal customer might be running right this minute, a month, or even a year from now.
- Keyword targeting – SEO involves the use of your (chosen and related) keywords- writing for human value while catering to search engine algorithms. It’s important to speak the same language your searchers and audience do. To do this, I’d use the Google Keyword Planner to search for keywords that you can optimize your site’s content around. If you haven’t used this particular tool before- it tells you what the average monthly search volume is for your keyword/phrase, offers related phrases that might be better opportunities and gives you a sense of the level of competition associated with those keywords/phrases. Ultimately, you want to incorporate your chosen keywords in your title (build your keyword into the beginning of your title), headlines, alt attributes of photos and visuals, URL, image name, and internal links. (Word of caution: over-optimization of your post will work against you. Strike a balance between using your chosen keyword and related phrases. The algorithms are more than capable of establishing context based on this approach.)
- Snippet optimization – A snippet is the page/post titles, URLs and short descriptions you see on a search engine results page, which means it’s also your first opportunity to drive a click through to your site, which in turn means you need to pay attention to the title, meta description, and URL associated with each and every one of your posts. If you use self-hosted WordPress, you can use plugins like Yoast SEO to help you optimize your snippet: it shows you a preview of the snippet and allows you to easily edit the content.
- Image optimization – Use a full sentence in your ALT description that incorporates your target keywords, rather than just listing the keywords. This makes your ALT descriptions look more natural and helps the search engines establish contextual relevancy.
- Site design – Picture this: A user searches for a phrase like “coach for healthcare professionals”. Google presents them with a list of results. They click on the first one and land on a page that doesn’t seem to help them. They bounce back out. They then click on the link right below it and find a more helpful and engaging page. They stay to look around for a bit. Throughout this process, Google is acquiring signals and collecting data that decides how the two sites rank. Site design has a huge impact on your SEO. Is your site mobile friendly? Do your design elements help visitors to perceive you as trustworthy? Do you have external validation signals like testimonials, references and outgoing links on your site? Is information on your site presented intuitively?
- Elements that dissuade or distract your audience – Examples include overlays and pop-ups. These can have a negative impact on user experience so when considering such options, you need to go in understanding the implications on your site rankings and establish if they are converting enough to outweigh the potential downside.
- Site and page speed – Faster load times = Lower abandonment rates, and that’s a user satisfaction signal for search engines like Google. The faster your page, the better it will rank and convert.
Off-page SEO strategies (the stuff that happens outside of your website)
- Guest blogging – Guest posting can be a valid way to get links back to your website. It can also be a great way to drive traffic, increase sales, and grow your brand provided that you write high-quality content for other (relevant and, ideally, larger) blogs with Google juice to pass on to you. You should only ever link back when it’s relevant & benefits your readers- so be selective about who you guest post for.
- Online forums and Q&A type environments – This one is about finding online forums as well as question and answer environments like Quora that are related to the industry and/or niche you operate in. It is about getting involved in meaningful conversations within that community- replying to questions that you can offer help with, offering advice where it falls within your zone of genius, presenting yourself as an expert within that space. Try to find forums that allow for you to include a link to your site within your signature for example or those that use identification procedures via Gravatar or Google to find you through your profile. This helps the search engines ‘see’ your site, bringing you more visibility.
- Social media – Each time you publish a post on your blog, it’s strongly recommended that you also promote it across your social media profiles because, even though social signals like Facebook Likes and Twitter followers don’t have a direct impact on your website rankings, it does help to increase the visibility of your content… which in turn means that it could get picked up by other content creators who might then link to it. So in a way, it’s not the actual act of promoting your post on social media that’s upping your page rankings… it’s the subsequent amplification that will do this for you.
- Media outreach – Give interviews on radio shows, podcasts, blogs, and more. Offer up your expertise as part of a summit. The more authority you can build by being interviewed, the more links you’ll get back to your website and the more people will get to know you. Unlike social media, which can be easily tuned out, interviews put you in front of new audiences in a way that is more likely to capture their attention. The good old-fashioned press release also still works to get the word out about your products and services, especially if you can tie it to a popular human interest story and news of the day.
Ultimately, the web is all about building connections, expressing your brand voice and sharing your experience/knowledge/ideas. A website that offers true value is more likely to be referenced by other websites, and it is more likely to garner engagement amongst other like-minded individuals on social media. Over time, it is this website that will rank higher in the search engine results pages which, you guessed it, means more traffic.
Be guided by that, and you’ll be on your way.