SEO, or search engine optimization, is the science of making sure that your website shows up when people are searching for terms related to who you do and what you are. We've all seen the stats that show that no one scrolls through more than a page of search engine results. That's why it's a must to rank as highly as possible for your chosen keywords.
That said, the world of SEO is shifting. Paid ads push savvy competitors to the top of listings. Traffic flows in from social accounts or is siloed off in apps. And Google's algorithms are ever changing, meaning that what ranked yesterday may not rank today.
You may be wondering just how relevant is SEO these days, and how much money should you be throwing into it. Let's take a look at where SEO matters, and what you should be focusing on.
SEO is the Primary Driver of Traffic
Even today, the vast majority of website traffic comes through search engines. This is true no matter whether you're a lawyer, a florist or a coworking space. Search engines guide intent. They help connect users who are looking for something with a site that provides the right information or solution. It's great--rather than you going to customers, they come to you.
Provided your website ranks highly on Google, that is.
So what makes a website rank highly? Three main things. Content that's rich with relevant keywords (ie, the things that people are Googling when they try to find you). Backlinks from authoritative websites. And a user-friendly site that loads quickly and meets content, accessibility and mobile-ready standards.
SEO isn't just about stuffing your website with a million instances of the phrase "marketing company VA". It's about ensuring that your website is carefully targeted to provide your intended audience with what they're looking for.
Great SEO Can Build Your Business
So if SEO is just about targeting content, you can do it yourself, right? To an extent. It's a competitive field out there, and other companies in your niche are doing everything they can to tweak their websites so that they land above you in the rankings.
They're using keyword analysis tools to figure out exactly what users are searching for when looking for a product or service in your industry--and then they're building content specifically so that they rank for it. They're embarking upon strategic link-building and social sharing campaigns to give their websites a boost. And they're staying on top of the major search engines' algorithmic tweaks to ensure that they can take advantage of even the smallest change.
Good SEO is good for visibility. But great SEO can lift your business above your competitors. Why be good when you can be great?
Building SEO Into Your Website
It's easy to dig up a list of keywords and get over-excited about plugging them into all of your pages. But the trick is to be strategic. You want your website to rank for the items relevant to what you do - so don't go with the scattergun keyword approach. And importantly, though your immediate goal is to rank on Google, your true end goal is to provide value for your customers. Remember, you're writing for people, not robots.
So what should you consider when building SEO into your website?
- Page tags, title tags and meta data. These are the "snippets" that show up in Google searches, and they're crucial to SEO. Make sure your pages feature relevant keywords and descriptions.
- Keywords in headings and subheads. Headings that include keywords will be marked as "highly relevant" by search engine crawlers. Where possible (and natural) include relevant keywords in your headlines.
- Uniqueness of content. Valuable, unique content rates more highly than thin content recycled from other sites.
- Length of text. Search engines consider length when evaluating the value of a page. Longer typically means more authoritative. Aim to provide more substantial content where possible - but not if it impacts your message.
- Image tags and captions. These are crucial to accessibility. Image tags and captions can be used by low-vision people to "read" images. Add them in for an SEO - and accessibility - boost.
- Meaningful URLs. You've spent the money on acquiring a .com (good for SEO!), so don't squander the benefits with page URLs that say things like /1234.html. Instead, build keywords into them for better ranking results.
- Load time and mobile readiness. Slow sites and ones that are designed only for desktop browsing don't meet the needs of today's users. Search engines give a better score to quick, mobile-optimized sites than those that aren't.
- Age of site. The older the site, the more authoritative it is.
Local Businesses Love SEO
12% of users search for local businesses on a daily basis. So if your business targets a local audience, optimizing your content to capture their searches is key. Local SEO is largely geared towards mobile users, and pulls down local business records based on proximity to a user. (If you've ever Googled "restaurants near me", the list of results that comes back is a local search.)
To reach local searches, build in NAP (name, address and phone number) information to your website so that you show up during a high-intent search. Just be sure to check for old or duplicate information before building your citations.
Ranking for Competitive Keywords
Content is king, but unfortunately we can't all be kings. There's so much great content out there that rising to the top is increasingly tough. So what to do if you want to rank for a keyword that already has a lot of competition?
The answer is hard work (which you can supplement with ads, per below) and quite a bit of savvy. But once you're ranking well, you'll be in a good spot to passively draw in traffic--and grow your conversions. First, choose your keyword wisely. Aim for one that's popular, strategically relevant to your goals and also highly converting. Build authoritative, keyword-rich content around the term, optimize the page, add internal and outbound links and seek backlinks/social outreach from other authoritative sites and accounts. Also be prepared to update your content to ensure that you remain in top spot.
Pay-per-Click vs SEO
Earlier we mentioned competitors using ads to get to the top of search engine results. You might be wondering whether this is a better and more cost-effective option than focusing your efforts on SEO. If you've got the budget and need traffic fast--say you have a launch coming up or you've just changed your business name--then pay-per-click (PPC) may be a good approach.
However, note that some niches and particular associated keywords--think insurance or pharma--have high ad bids. If you're a local business in a large metro area, you may also find that you're bidding against a large number of competitors to "win" the placement of your ad at the top of search results.
Even if you do have the budget at hand, you'll still need to put in the effort to research the right keywords, set a budge
t and even write the ads that people will click on. Depending on your niche, competition and your overall goals, opting for traditional SEO, or a balance of the two, may be the better option.
Adjusting to Business Changes
As you can see, a lot goes into building a solid search engine presence. But what happens if you're planning to change your domain name, your business name, or even just switching from HTTP to HTTPS? There will be some impact to your SEO, but you can take steps to mitigate it.
Consider using the switch to launch a new and improved site with a better taxonomy, more powerful landing pages and optimized URL slugs. This in itself will deliver returns that will more than make up for any potential SEO loss. Employing redirects will help prevent you being penalized over broken links, while implementing mobile optimization or HTTPS will put you in Google's good graces. You'll also want to sure that all content has been indexed and migrated over.
Note that cleanups that involve removing large swathes of content such as blog posts or downloads can have an impact on search results--it's hard to rank for something when you've moved all reference to it! To ensure a clean switch, we recommend bringing an SEO or UX expert on board before undertaking a large-scale migration.
Need Some Help Getting Started?
As you can see, there's a lot to SEO. While beginning your SEO journey may seem daunting, getting it right can boost your business's visibility, conversions and profits. Don't leave the success of your business to chance. If you need help with an SEO audit, an SEO plan or a site migration, get in touch!