Search Engine Optimization or SEO. The buzzword you hear every time anyone mentions a website. You’ve heard of it, you know it’s important for your business, but what does it mean exactly and how does it all work? Search Engine Optimization is one of those things where everyone wants it but not everyone knows how to get it or how to improve it. Where do you get started and what are the basics?
It’s important to know that SEO is key for getting found organically (read: free) in search engines like Google and for a small business that might not have a huge marketing budget, whether your potential customers are finding you can sometimes be the thing that makes or breaks the balance sheet at the end of the month.
Below we’ll go over a brief primer on what Google is doing and what you can do to start improving your site’s SEO today which leads to more traffic, more leads and eventually, more sales.
Explaining Google’s Goal
Everyday millions people open Google, type their question in and never really think about their results or the why behind them being there. What is Google’s goal and what are they trying to achieve by indexing the entire internet? Google provides a bunch of different services (Gmail, YouTube, and Google Docs to name a few) but search far and away is their hottest commodity. As their biggest income driver, they want to provide the best possible results to their customers that choose them over competitors like Bing and Yahoo. Google needs to show search customers the most relevant results that deliver the best information, and from sources that are trusted and secure. When you click on a search result they want you to have the best possible experience so you continue using Google for all of your search needs.
This concept is important to understand because it directly affects which sites get pushed to the first page and why they consistently rank so high. It all comes down to them following the rules that Google has set for determining what makes a search result good for its customers.
Keywords and Content Relevance
So at the most basic level, your pages have to be about what you want to be found for. If you want to write content that is going to draw visitors for a given topic, let’s say you own a pizza parlor for example, you need to make sure those pizza related keywords appear as often as possible. Now you can’t just write the word “pizza” a couple dozen times and hope for the best. Once upon a time webmasters would game the system and hide a bunch of words in a way that was invisible to the naked eye and they would shoot to the top of the first page because all that the search engine knew to look for was keyword count. Now however, Google’s tech has gotten smarter and wants to make sure your keywords are used in a way that is natural and makes sense to people. You’re shooting for a minimum of 300 words per page and you want to have the keyword and related keywords show up as many times as possible. So Pizza, Toppings, Crust, Delivery, etc are all words that would help you rank.
What’s in a Name? Page Titles, Domain Names, URLs and Meta Descriptions
If you can secure a domain that has your business related keywords in it, that’s a major battle won right there. In our example, let’s say the business is called Imaginary Pizza Place is located in Connecticut and we were lucky enough to buy imaginarypizzact.com when it was available. This puts two keywords right into the site name, scoring points both for pizza and CT, the state abbreviation.
Your page title is what is going to show up at the top of your search result, and should match the content as accurately as possible. In our imaginary pizza parlor example we might want to start ranking for the catering side of the business and so we’d make a page called Pizza Party Catering Connecticut | Imaginary Pizza Place. This gives us the keyword multiple places and also is in the right order. We want to capture people who are looking to cater their pizza party but might not know we exist yet so that comes first. We’re also shooting for between 50 and 70 characters for our page title length and this clocks in at 55 so right in our target range. It’s also important that our page url should match, so a good example of that would be imaginarypizzact.com/pizza-party-catering-ct. This adds the keywords again and having them match scores us additional points.
Meta descriptions can be added through most major site building platforms (WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) or directly in code if you’re building from scratch. This is a short 150 character description of what the page is about and this little snippet is what can be the thing that gets users to actually click through to your site. You want to populate this also with keywords and keep it brief and to the point.
Google wants to make sure they’re sending their customers to secure websites that keep their visitors’ data safe ,whenever possible. Google will therefore prioritize sites that have SSL Certificates (the little lock in your browser window) which encrypt both inbound and outbound data and help to ensure that the site’s identity is legitimate. In a world where we have so many bad actors posing as companies, Google will give additional points to websites that secure their data.
As time moves forward, attention spans shrink smaller and smaller. Google knows this about their audience and aims to provide their search customers with results that load quickly on all devices. Nobody likes a slow website and as a result, load times have come to weigh in heavier and heavier on the page rank formula. At bare minimum you want a site that loads in less than 3 seconds but everyone’s goal should be to load in less than a second on both mobile networks and desktop browsers over ethernet or wifi connections.
Links, Links and More Links
Google realizes that good sites get shared and linked to often, and so the more you can get other sites to link to your site, the better your ranking will be. Getting linked for example by an article listing the “Top 10 Pizza Places in CT” would be huge for our business and a sure traffic driver. Let’s say we haven’t quite gotten that reputation yet, there’s plenty of things under our own control we can do. Linking to our site from social media posts and adding our site to business directories all over the internet are ways to generate these links, each one of which helps.
The Tip of the Iceberg
This is just scratching the surface of everything that has to do with SEO. The rules are constantly evolving but the fundamentals are a mainstay of good site construction. It can feel overwhelming at first but making sure all of these easier items are taken care of is a good place to start. Make sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity you can take to help propel your business forward because your competition certainly is. Good luck and happy optimizing!