Master Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to get your business found online by potential customers. In this first instalment of a two-part series, we give you a checklist of things that improve your visibility or rank on search engine result pages (SERPs) and a list of essential tools to get you started with SEO.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization or SEO refers to techniques that make your website and the overall online presence of your business more visible to people who are searching the web for solutions that your product or service can provide.
At its core, SEO is about understanding your consumer, identifying what they’re searching for online, the questions they want answers to, the words they’re using, and the type of content they want to read. Optimizing your web presence to customer needs is an organic approach to increasing the quantity and quality of visitors to your website. However, it takes time, consistency, and targeted efforts to successfully appear in search engines.
Why is SEO important for my business?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is like online marketing, only that it’s free to leverage by anyone with the right tactics. Every customer query on a search engine is an opportunity for a business to be discovered and make a sale. When you optimize your website for search engines, you’re more likely to show up in search results to your target audience.
SEO ensures your content answers your target audience’s biggest questions on search engines and while doing so, pulls in traffic to your product or service.
Apart from generating leads, SEO is great for brand awareness. If you’re not showing up in search, your competitor probably is. You lose business to competition when your website, no matter how beautiful, is not search-engine friendly.
It’s also been found that pay-per-click (PPC) or paid advertising, social media and other online channels don’t deliver the kind of traffic that organic SEO can. Data shows that the results of search engine queries receive more organic clicks than paid ads because they seem more credible to the searcher. Another study revealed that organic results get 94% of all clicks on Google, where as paid ads were only clicked on 6% of the time
SEO also has the potential to deliver continuous returns. By creating content that is educational, serves a purpose, and incorporates keywords from search queries, you will continue to attract traffic over time unlike ad campaigns that expire after their duration ends or when you run out of money!
How do search engines work?
Moz describes search engines as answer machines. They comb through all available content on the internet and churn out results that best answer the query you’ve punched in.
When it comes to your webpage, search engine bots will crawl it to analyze its content. This is the discovery stage, after which they determine the relevance of your content by looking for signals like the presence of keywords from the search query. Next, they check if your content is talked about a lot, referred to or cited by other websites. Your authority in certain search queries is a major factor in how your business is positioned in search results.
You must note that search engines are constantly evolving their methodology and little is known about their exact algorithm. But a few basic SEO principles will ensure your website is an easy pick for search engines and that you’re front and centre of a search query result.
The importance of keywords
Words or phrases that potential customers enter into search engines as a query should influence the content of your website. Identifying keywords that you want to create content around in the hope to rank in SERPs is the basic first step of SEO. You’ll learn more about using and researching keywords as you continue reading.
How to improve my search engine rankings
As we discussed above, a website that is search-engine friendly and ranks well in search results has to be easily discoverable, have relevant content and be an authority in that space.
There’s a two-pronged SEO strategy to earn a search engine’s confidence in your content – on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO techniques
On-page SEO (also known as on-site SEO) techniques focus on enhancing the relevancy of your web content and tying it to the user’s intent behind a search query. The following elements of a webpage should be optimized to have search engines take note of your content –
1) Title Tag that clicks: This refers to the title of a webpage or the headline of a piece of content. A title tag displays as a clickable search result on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Place your target keyword in the beginning of the title tag as search engines pay more attention to words in the beginning because it helps them understand what your page is about.
It is recommended to keep your titles under 70 characters to avoid being cut off by ellipsis (“…”) like in the example below –
2) Meta Description that informs : This is a brief summary of a web page shown below the title tag in search results. Take a look at this example –
Google will cut off a meta description after 155 to 160 characters. Be concise but provide enough value to have users click through.
3) SEO-friendly web address or URL: Keep your URLs short, easily readable, and keyword-rich. Search engines use URLs to decipher what your page is talking about.
4) Content that search engines love: There are several on-page SEO factors to rank high on a search engine. Optimize your web page content with the following –
Include Multimedia:With images, video, audio, infographics, and other forms of multimedia, you engage your audience to stay longer on your page without bouncing off to another search result. A longer dwell-time gives google a user-interaction signal, helping your content rank better.
Add Links:Search engines want to see you as an active member of the web, and they comprehend your web page through the internal and outbound links that you include. Within any piece of content that you publish, add links to 2 to 3 existing posts and pages from your website. Also, insert links to authoritative external pages that talk about the same topic.
Use Keywords:Ensure your target keyword is present in the first 100 words of your web page or an article. You can repeat it in your subheading. But steer clear of keyword stuffing to avoid being penalized by Google. When you load a webpage with too many keywords, you are seen as manipulating your SERP ranking. Google recommends focusing on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
Long-form content:Long articles, with a word-count of 1000 to 1500 words, tend to rank better for your target keywords than shorter content.
5) Site and page speed: Google in 2018 announced that page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches. A potential customer will drop off your page if it takes too long to load. Tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, Lighthouse and WebPage Test help you measure the performance of your site and pages. Moz has a number of useful tips to fix your site and page speed.
6) Optimize images – Google Image Search is another source of lead-generation. Your image file names and alt tags should include your target keyword. Alt tags are essential to help search engines understand the context of an image on a page.
7) Mobile-friendly design: Google’s ranking algorithm uses the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site and show snippets of it in search results. Having a responsive and mobile-friendly design is important for on-page SEO.
8) Make social sharing easy: Social sharing helps in building brand awareness and creating a buzz. Include buttons to different social media channels on your web page to allow users to share it easily on their news feed or profile page.
Off-page SEO techniques
Off-page or off-site SEO refers to everything you do outside of your website to better your SERP ranking. Off-page SEO tactics are geared towards improving the perception of your site’s quality in the eyes of your users and search engines. You want the search engine and user to trust you as a popular, relevant, and trustworthy authority in a particular subject. Your website can accomplish this through backlinks, which get created when an external website links out to yours.
Backlinks are a sign to the search engine that others find your content worth linking to. Backlinks from high-quality websites have a significant impact on where you rank on a search engine results page (SERP).
Yoast lists out a number of Do’s and Don’ts for building a robust profile of backlinks, which is a list of sites that link to your site. It’s important to monitor the quality of these links because Google will penalize you if too many low quality backlinks from spammy sites or link-farms link to your site.
According to Hubspot, search engines measure your backlink profile based on –
– Number of inbound links to your website – Number of unique domains that link to your website – Quality of those links
Six essential SEO tools for your business
1. Moz Link Explorer: Moz builds tools that make SEO, inbound marketing, link building, and content marketing easy. The Moz Link Explorer tool lets you check the backlink profile and Domain Authority of any site.
2.SEMRush: They’re an online visibility management platform that offer a host of tools to audit your SEO, help you discover keywords, analyze backlinks and more.
3. Majestic SEO: This UK-based company claims to have the world’s largest link intelligence database in the world. You can use their link intelligence tool to monitor where your backlinks are coming from and which content on your site is getting links.
4. Ahrefs: They provide a number of tools to help youanalyze your competitor’s search traffic and see the exact keywords for which they rank in organic search. You can get keyword suggestions, check backlinks, and also uncover which content on your website is performing the best.
5. Keywords Everywhere: This browser plugin, that works on Chrome and Firefox, shows you free search volume of google keywords, cost-per-click (CPC) and data on your competition on multiple top websites like Google, Amazon, YouTube, among others.
6. SEO Meta One Click: This is another Google Chrome extension that allows you to check your meta data and key SEO information like title tag, description, headers etc in one click.
Whether a customer shops online or at your storefront, they’ll definitely spend considerable time researching various options before spending their money. As a young business with a small advertising budget, the financial returns of implementing SEO to generate organic leads and building trust in your brand are manifold.
Using the SEO practices we discussed, aim to strike a balance between content that’s relevant and improving the credibility/authority of your website. But remember, SEO is not just about content and search engines, it’s also about improving the user experience of your site.
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