What Is SEO: Search Engine Optimization 101
Search Engine Optimization (a.k.a. SEO) is a term that used a lot regarding online marketing, however many people do not really understand what it is and how to effectively implement it. My goal with this post is to demystify SEO and help you take some steps in the right direction towards leveraging it to grow your online brand.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO is the process by which a website is positioned to be indexed by search engines and can be found by people searching online. There are many aspects to the “art and science” of SEO and I am going to share several of them.
Essentially, SEO can be broken down into three segments; on page (on site) optimization, off page (off site) optimization, and Optimal Website Technology. Each of these segments contain technical factors that are fed into a computer program on the search engines web servers and analyzed. You will often hear the term algorithm and that is the set of rules that the program is going to look at to determine where your website should rank in the search results. Let’s look at the aspects of each of these segments.
On Page Website Optimization
This refers to the elements that can be enhanced within your website. These include:
• Keyword Research – At the heart of all online marketing is keyword research. Without knowing what keywords your intended audience is searching for, you will not know what keywords to implement in your campaigns.
• Implementing keywords into the website – Essentially, the search engines will want to see the keywords that you want found to be used within the copy and code on your website.
• Creating website content that is compelling – You can have the right keywords and even get people to your website. However if your web copy isn’t compelling, people won’t stay. In addition, the search engines do factor in how long someone stays on your website in their ranking algorithm (referred to as bounce rate).
• Creating website content that has sufficient length – Search engines love content. Make sure that your web pages have sufficient copy (meaning words and not images). Ideally, you should have at least 500 words on each relevant page of your website.
• The use of HTML Headers – This may be getting a little technical, but Header Tags are HTML elements that signify importance of the content within them. For example, a page title should be coded with an H1 Header, which is the largest, to signify it is the most important content on the page. It’s ideal to use keywords within your page title, but not just for the sake of using them. The page ultimately has to read well to a visitor or they won’t move forward with your company. A good content management system (CMS) such as WordPress makes it easy to apply the header code you want to use appropriately.
• Internal Website Linking – Search engines like it when you make it easy for website visitors to find information within your website. If you add links within your copy to direct readers to learn further information about your offerings, the search engines will appreciate that and give you credit for that in the ranking algorithm.
• Optimization of Images – While search engines are getting better at reading images through image recognition programming, you still need to optimize your images to help the search engines best index them. One way of optimizing your images is by naming the image intentionally using keywords related to your website. When naming your images, you can keep the auto generated file name such as KMD4005.jpg or you can rename that image something like home-health-care.jpg. I think you can already see why it makes sense to do this. You are both helping the search engines know what the image is and also using the keywords that the image (or website) should be indexed for.
• Using Alt Text for Your Images - The purpose of alt text is two-fold. First, by adding alt (alternative) text to your images, those who are visually impaired can use readers to understand what the images would represent on the page. Secondarily, when you write the alt text it provides the search engines a better understanding of what your image is and how to best index it in their database. To implement alt text, you can use an ALT HTML tag within your Images (IMG) tag. Thankfully, your CMS should be able to help you do this without hand coding.
Off Page Website Optimization
This refers to elements of SEO that take place outside of your website. It has mostly to do with getting other sites (ideally more reputable sites) to reference or link to your website. In theory, having more sites link to – or reference - your website, is a measure of its popularity. Here are several key off-page optimization tactics:
• Create Local Search Citations – There are literally hundreds of sites that serve local audiences, where you can create a business profile (usually free) that provides an opportunity to increase your business’s exposure online. Most of these citations contain relevant business information including a link to your website. Some of the more notable local search sites are Google My Business, Bing Local, and Yelp.
• Create Social Media Profiles – Similar to creating local search profiles, creating social media profiles are a great opportunity to increase your online footprint. As a note of caution, if you are going to create a social media profile, you should invest the time to create connections and share content within that social network because dormant social media profiles do not reflect well on a business.
• Create Amazing Content on Your Website – When you create amazing content others want to link to it in social media posts and their blog posts. This is one of the most critical factors in having others link back to your site. This content can be written blog content, infographics, video content, white papers, or other trusted information that others will want to link to.
• Guest Blogging – Similarly to the content you create for your own website, you want to create amazing content and share it from other online communities aside from your own. A great way to do this is by building relationships with bloggers in your industry and earning a spot on their blog as a guest blogger. This will not only put you in front of a new audience, but should earn you a link from their site within your author bio which is usually at the bottom of a guest blog post.
• Press & Media Exposure – I always recommend that a business get in the habit of making news. To do this, you need to think differently and find ways to stand out above would-be competitors so that you are newsworthy. You also need to create relationships with journalists in your industry and your local area, as these are the people who will ultimately get your press release read. Please know that churning out press release through an online press distribution site is not a valid Press & Media Strategy.
• Business Listings – When you join certain business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau, these organizations typically link to your website. A good rule of thumb for whether or not to be listed in a certain online arena is to see if your competitors are there. If they are, the fact that you aren’t could be a vote against you in the ranking algorithm.
• Charitable Giving – I am not telling you to give money to get people to link to your website, but I will point out that many organizations do acknowledge their donors with web listings, social media, and even press releases. And you can never go wrong by giving!
Optimal Website Technology
It is important to know that how your website is built and hosted also play a role in Search Engine Optimization. Below are several website technology factors that impact SEO.
• Website Architecture – Most websites today employ what is referred to as a flat website architecture. This means that the URL’s are clean and free of non-alphanumeric characters. One of the best website platforms in terms of search engine friendly architecture is WordPress. What started out as a blogging platform, quickly became a major player in the website arena and is now used by roughly 30% of websites online.
• Website Security – Have you ever done a Google search and seen a warning that says, “this site may be hacked?” This is proof that Google knows when a website has been infected with a virus. It provides this warning to protect the searching public. Having viruses on your site will devalue its ranking online. For this reason, it is just as critical to have antivirus / anti-malware running on your web server as it is on your PC.
• Web Hosting Platform – Using a reputable web hosting company is another critical factor in ranking well online. If your web host is unstable and you have lots of downtime, the search engines may find 404 (page not found) errors when they try to visit your website. If this remains a pattern, this will devalue your rank in the search engines.
• Similarly, if your website is slow to load due to an improper hosting configuration it will also devalue your site rankings. Search engines want to provide users with a great user experience and waiting a long time for a site to load is not synonymous with a great user experience.
• Mobile Friendliness – Google announced a few years ago that they would devalue the rank of any website that was not mobile friendly. This is due to the immense growth of mobile devices combined with the desire to give users a great search experience. If your site visitors show up and can’t read your website because the text is too small, there is a high likelihood that they will hit the back button and choose another website. If this happens over time that will signal the search engines to devalue your ranking so they don’t deliver a poor user experience.
• Use of XML Sitemap – An XML sitemap in a HTML element that can help search engines find the content within your website. If you have a large website, using an XML sitemap is more critical as there is more content to get indexed in the search engines. There are XML sitemap generators online that can be used to create your sitemap, which can then be uploaded to your web host. If your website is built on the WordPress platform, there are plugins that can be used to generate an XML sitemap.
• I am sure this is more than you likely expected, but now you know why SEO can be such a costly endeavor. Keep in mind that each bullet point could be expanded into it’s own detailed “how to” guide. My recommendation is to start with what you manage to do on your own and see how much progress you make before reaching out for professional help.
About the Author
Anthony Kirlew is a Speaker, Author, Digital Marketing Expert, and the Founder of Infinion Marketing, an award-winning Digital Marketing Agency. He has been featured in numerous media outlets including Search Engine Land, SUCCESS Magazine, Mashable, Entrepreneur, CIO, and Social Media Today.