By Yousuf A. Raza
Leveraging digital marketing to gain new business opportunities and improve sales is increasingly common among businesses of all categories and sizes.
However, it is no longer enough to just create a website, produce rich and useful content, and be on social networks. In order to consistently be found in search engine results pages (SERPs), you must continuously optimize your website.
This is particularly useful for brick-and-mortar businesses that struggle to bring in a sufficient number of customers through traditional marketing methods.
If you want to improve your site’s results for 2018, you should start preparing as soon as possible. Here’s what SEO is all about and how to put it into practice.
What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to a set of techniques that websites use to increase their visibility on internet search engines such as Google.
It works like this: Although search engine algorithms can “read” words, they are not able to understand their meaning or the quality of writing, so they rely on a set of established criteria to determine the quality and relevance of the content. The content that better fits this criteria gains higher positions in SERPs in relation to similar pages.
All search engines have unique algorithms, but Google is by far the most used. Although there are many other options, Google attracts more than 63% of the searches conducted by Internet users. With that in mind, focusing on Google SEO is a much more efficient strategy to achieve positive results.
At the same time, this task is not as simple as it seems. First and foremost, the search giant’s algorithm is constantly updating, so you always have to keep an eye on the results you’ve gained from each optimized page. Additionally, more than 200 factors are taken into account in order for Google to determine a page’s position in searches, and the company does not reveal the weight of each one in the final ranking.
Therefore, it’s important to consider how to optimize your website in a general, more holistic sense, rather than specifically targeting Google’s somewhat unpredictable ranking standards.
The same can be said for all other search engines. In general, a good rule of thumb is to optimize for “long clicks.” When a user discovers a page through organic search and spends time reading the content without navigating away, search engines deem the interaction as relevant and high quality.
How SEO can help your small business
The use of SEO, or SEO marketing as it is also known, is one of the most important strategies for attracting more customers and driving sales through the internet. By making your website pages more visible in online searches, your content will be reached more frequently by interested buyers.
In general, links ranked first receive almost 33% of the total clicks on organic SERPs; less than 10% of people ever make it to the second page of search results.
Optimizing your website pages so they hit the top results in search can attract more people to your site, generate more engagement with the content, extend the reach of your company, and drive sales opportunities. By improving your SEO efforts, you can achieve more customer conversions.
What SEO techniques can you use to prepare your site for 2018?
According to Google itself, the search engine had over 130 trillion unique indexed pages as of last year, so it’s crucial to make your content stand out and break through the clutter.
Here’s what you can do before the New Year begin to ensure that you get out in front of your competition:
Do an initial SEO analysis
Before you begin to think about how you can improve your website from an SEO standpoint, it’s important to think about what your desired outcome is.
For example, if you are too far from the first page of search results for a certain term, more effort will have to be put into creating content that’s relevant to your customers and employing basic best practices to optimize it.
On the other hand, if you have a page that’s in the second position in SERPs and behind a very authoritative address, your efforts will need to be more focused in order to achieve what you want. Perhaps only one or two minor changes will put you over the top, and you just need to identify the winning formula.
It’s often best to set small, achievable targets for search position improvement that you can hit in the short term. Our advice: Use a tool like SpyFu to identify your site pages that are just outside of Google’s first page, and focus your efforts in making those pages stand out.
Search for relevant keywords and optimize on-page SEO
After performing the analysis, the next step is to identify keywords to use in your content. There are free tools to help you do this like Google Trends or Keyword Planner, as well as paid tools like Kompyte.
It’s generally a good idea to target more specific long tail keywords that you can rank highly for. These less-common keywords have a smaller range, but can draw a more qualified audience and are less competitive. With generic keywords you have to compete with companies that are already much more established, in turn making it more difficult to rank.
For each page you’re trying to optimize, the target keyword should appear in the page title, meta-description, image alt-tags, first paragraph, and a couple more times throughout the page text. Incorporating synonyms and words that relate to the main term (LSI Keywords) is also beneficial as as Google is increasingly investing in the semantic web.
Make the URL shorter and friendlier
Another element of effective SEO strategy is making your URLs more user-friendly. Publishing URLs filled with numbers and codes causes confusion to the user who may become less willing to click. Having the keyword in the page address adds SEO value, and clean URLs build trust with visitors and set proper expectations.
Adapt writing to the web
As much as the algorithms are not (yet) able to understand the meaning of a text, they can understand elements such as sentence and paragraph length.
While large blocks of text are common in print media, they don’t work as well on the web. Research shows that the presence of white space in web text increases understanding by up to 20%. It also keeps users scrolling through the page, which is a quality signal for search engines.
Therefore, website content creators need to adapt their writing to the digital landscape, using shorter sentences and paragraphs, for example. Exchange larger words for simpler ones, and invest in splitting the text into titled sections and numbered lists. This allows users to scan content for information which enriches their reading experience. Also, because search engines cannot understand size and formatting, meta tags like lists (i.e., <li>) and headings (i.e., <h2>) help the engines understand and prioritize content.
Decrease loading time
In 2015, Google launched the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) program for simplified and faster loading of web pages across all devices. Although AMP is not yet a ranking factor, overall page load time is.
Page load time is also correlated with the average time spent on the site and helps Google identify your site as a reliable and high-quality choice for what the customer is looking for, contributing to better search rankings.
Perform link building
Google crawls websites to understand what content each site offers and its potential relevance to visitors. When your pages contain links to trusted external sources with proven authority, Google understands it as a sign of quality: it proves you have done your research and are providing additional information. Mixing in relevant internal and external links creates a better reader experience, establishes your subject matter expertise, and improves overall ability to rank.
External links that point to your page (backlinks) add even more value as they prove that your content is valuable and relevant to the topic. In general, the greater the domain and page authority, the more valuable the backlink is.
This is why many marketers use link swapping and guest posting to increase traffic and improve rankings. When doing so, ensure that your target audience is aligned with your content partner’s so that you don’t lead your customers anywhere that won’t interest them. Irrelevant links can create a poor user experience and harm your site’s SEO value.
Update and optimize old publications
Overall, Google gives priority to freshly published and updated content. As a result, more recent links will rank higher with all else held constant. However, this does not mean that you should be constantly producing new content for every topic. Instead, try to optimize the content you have already produced.
Make updates, tackle new points, modify what no longer makes sense, and extend posts to make them more complete. Getting into the routine of periodically updating important content pages will help you retain your hard-earned top positions in searches.
Don’t forget to optimize images
Just like text, search engine algorithms are not able to understand images. They can recognize which parts of your page are graphic elements, but they are not able to understand what is pictured in the image.
When adding pictures to your posts, include keywords in your alt tags and file name to tell search engines what your images depict and relate to. Also, be sure to optimize your images for web and multiple devices. File size affects load time and not all images will work on all platforms and devices — serving scaled or responsive images can help you improve SEO and the user experience.
Avoid “black hat” practices
Black hat SEO refers to tactics that attempt to circumvent at least one of the ranking factors in order to achieve better search rankings.
Intentional keyword stuffing without context or coherence is one example, as well as using link farms to boost off-page SEO. Google combats black hat SEO by issuing penalties to websites that use these tactics.
While black hat SEO may provide some short-term benefit, being slapped with a Google penalty causes far more harm. Don’t be tempted: the best approach is to focus on appropriate and strategic SEO techniques that put your content in front of people who actually want to see it.
Where to turn for help with SEO?
Knowing how to do SEO efficiently requires a lot of knowledge. To make sure your SEO efforts have positive results, you may consider hiring a specialized SEO agency or consultancy that can craft and execute a strategy that aligns with your business and marketing goals.
When researching and evaluating SEO consultants, the agency or professional in charge should have good experience in the subject with proven (and verifiable) success cases to back up their claims. Although the best SERP positions cannot be guaranteed, proper vetting of SEO consultants will ensure that your investments produce a better return.
By putting these SEO tips into practice, you will increase your chances of getting better search positions for your most important website pages. In addition to increasing your business exposure, this generates more traffic and allows you to have the chance to win more sales.
Which SEO techniques do you intend to pursue in your own 2018 digital marketing campaigns? Tell us in the comments, or tweet your thoughts to @credibly360!