What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your online content so that search engines like Google and Bing rank it higher and show it as a top result for searches of certain keywords. For most of the strategy in this post, you’ll need to first create a Google Ads Account.
The science of SEO is complex and ever-changing, but understanding even basic fundamentals of SEO can make a big difference by organically driving customers to your website. This post outlines the basic fundamentals of SEO to help you rank higher.
1. Keyword Research
Google, the search engine that accounts for over 90% of web searches, defines keywords as words of phrases describing your product or service that you choose to help determine when and where your ad appears.
It’s risky to assume you know that the customer wants and what they will search for. Instead, it is recommended to obtain some preliminary ideas from Google’s Adwords Keyword Tool (free). This is because while you might be familiar with your industry jargon, prospect customers may use different terms that are more commonly used, contrary to your assumptions.
Keywords can be very effective in bringing organic traffic to your site which might make it tempting to over-do keyword optimization by shoving a lot of keywords onto your pages, but that can work against you. Google has started penalizing websites that are stuffing too many repeated keywords on their pages. It is therefore important to keep keyword optimization simple by using upto four or five keywords on each page of your website. Keywords are also only one of many other ways to improve traffic, conversion, and bounce rate on your website.
2. Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Title tags and meta descriptions are bits of HTML code in the header of a web page. It’s important to note that it’s still being debated as to whether or not title tags and meta descriptions improve SEO. However, there is not doubt in the marketing community that these two elements improve click-through-rates by generating sufficient interest and attracting people to click on your webpage instead of a competitor’s. They are therefore incredibly important. To make sense of what they are, here’s an example from GoDaddy:
The title tag on your website page tells the search engines what the page is about, like the title of anything does. Title tags should be less than 70 characters and include your business or brand name and keywords that relate to that particular webpage only.
Meta description supplements the title tag with a more detailed description that provides more insight into what your page is, like the description of anything. It is important to write your meta descriptions not with a keyword focus, but with an audience focus. This is what people will read to become interesting in opening your webpage.
3. Google Analytics
Google Analytics are one of the most important marketing analytics that need to be tracked for your business. They are Google’s free web analytics service that tracks and reports website traffic. The in-depth analytics that Google provides allows you to assess performance and draw valuable insights that can help you shape the marketing strategy of your business.
On the Google Analytics dashboard, you can access reports under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. By clicking on “Organic Search,” you can analyze your SEO program’s performance.
4. Site Planning
This is usually more reactive and therefore “site modification” than proactive “site planning”. But in either case, having some kind of organized site structure with an SEO focus can really drive a lot of traffic to your website. Your website will likely have multiple pages and you want to allocate keywords to these pages appropriately. As stated previously, Google has started penalizing websites for keyword stuffing but this is only for individual pages. You can leverage the power of keywords by spreading them across your different webpages. You can also plan a FAQ page or blog page where you can utilize long-tail keyword themes that drive fewer searches and are typically longer and more specific, such as “how to make a mojito” or “where to find Caribbean food in Toronto”.
5. Page Speeds
When you create the pages, you want to ensure that your webpages load quickly and are not being bottlenecked by some large images, videos, complicated code, etc. Not only do slower page speeds reduce SEO directly by lowering their ranking factors, but also has an indirect effect on ranking by increasing bounce rates and reducing dwell times.
Let’s also get real, no one likes slow loading pages. Slow pages are very bad for conversation rates. You want to optimize your pages as much as possible to ensure their load times are as fast as possible.
6. Mobile Compatibility
According to Google, more than half of search engine searches come from smartphones. Therefore, ensuring a mobile-friendly site is very important. More specifically, ensuring your mobile site offers a good user experience is what matters most.
In fact, in 2013, Google introduced a penalty for websites that offer a bad mobile user experience. Google also offered tips on how to fix the two most common mistakes: faulty redirects and smartphone-only errors. They also identified common mistakes and provided recommended actions to fix these, thereby improving your mobile site’s overall user experience and smartphone search result rankings.
7. Understanding Competition
Since SEO is basically a ranking system, you need to study your competition to see how you can rank higher than them. For SEO specific competition, search for the products and services you offer and note what websites rank highly in the search results, regardless of how similar or dissimilar they are to your business model.
On their websites, you want to obtain a general understanding of the following things:
- How similar are these websites products to yours?
- What are they doing better than you?
- What keywords are they optimizing for? Are they similar to yours? If not, are they better?
- How have they structured their website to optimize for SEO? I.e how are they using tips in this blog to improve SEO?
By studying these websites, you can tweak your own websites to ensure it ranks higher than theirs in search engine searches.
8. Regular Content
Regular content can significantly improve SEO, partly because it increases the likelihood of someone searching for a keyword that has been featured in your regular content.
While blogs are highly effective, you don’t need to necessarily have a blog to improve SEO. In fact, content doesn’t need to be text contrary to popular belief. Photographs with captions or textual descriptions and videos with transcripts, for example, are all forms of regular content.
You also don’t need to post content everyday. As long as you post content regularly, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, consistency is key. You want to publish content that your target audience can consume and expect, thereby maintaining engagement with your brand.
Aim to have content of about 2000 – 2500 words. This is the goldilock zone whereby readers are engaged enough to dwell on your website but not discouraged by the length of the content. Dwell time increases SEO.
9. Topic Clustering and Pillar Pages
With the everchanging SEO game, Google now ranks websites by authority. Google wants to know that you are an authority in a given topic, and the best strategy to achieve this is structuring your content into topic clusters and pillar pages.
A pillar page is a web page that covers all aspects of an umbrella topic on a single page, but at a high level. The details of the various topics within the umbrella topic are then found within topic clusters, which are a collection of interlinked web pages covering the various topics in more detail. The topic cluster web pages are then hyperlinked to the pillar page.
Not only does this result in an interconnected content experience that provides incredible value to the reader, but it also increases dwell time on your pages and builds interest in your core product for the user. As a result, Google will begin viewing you as an authority on the umbrella topic.