What is "SEO"?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. What on Earth does that mean?! It means improving a website to make it appear near the beginning of the search results on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search platforms without paying to be one of the first results. Why is this important? In today’s technology-focused world, many people go straight to their favorite search engine whenever they need anything – things like a place for a manicure, a pet sitter, or how to cook and clean. The websites that appear near the top of the search results get more visitors (traffic) to their websites. More traffic usually means more paying customers, which is why SEO is so important.
You might be wondering how search platforms organize their results. The secret is, nobody is 100% sure. That’s why you may find different answers in different places, and the answers have changed over time, too. The goal of search engines is to provide helpful websites that provide the information the searcher is looking for. As search engines have improved, the way they organize search results has changed to best answer the searcher’s query. Luckily, Google and other search platforms have shared some of the things that are important for their search results, and web gurus have done enough research to know a few other things that help improve a website’s search ranking. Keep reading to learn about the best practices of SEO to improve your site’s ranking.
First, it’s important to know that there are no shortcuts in pure (organic) search result ranking. You cannot buy your way to the top of the unsponsored (unpaid) search results. Any tactic that tries to manipulate the way to the top is considered “black hat SEO”. If any of the search engines catch on to the scheme, your website will be entirely removed from their search results. So, if something seems fishy or manipulative, don’t do it! The honest way to the top is to provide a really useful website in your area of expertise that is accessible to all types of users.
Here are some key aspects of SEO:
The most important factor of SEO, and one of the simplest, is that your website has to be visible to search engines. This is typically done through a setting on your web platform, or with a robots.txt file, which is a part of the back end of your website. The robots.txt file can prevent search engines from seeing your website, or it can block part of your website. SEO affects each individual page of a website, not the website as a whole, so all pages must be visible if you want that page to show in the results.
2. Quality Content
Another factor of SEO is to provide great content on your website. Again, the goal of search engines is to answer a searcher’s query. Does your site answer the questions your target customers are asking? Does it provide all of the information the searcher might need or only some of it? The better your site can answer a query, the higher on the search results it will show for that particular query. Which leads into the next factor…
Keywords are the individual words or multi-word phrases in your site’s content that make it possible for people to find your site through searches. For example, keywords for a site providing pie recipes could be “pie recipe”, but also “apple pie recipe” and “apple pie with crumb topping recipe”. Keywords help the searcher to find the answer to their question. If I am looking for a recipe for an apple pie with a crumb topping, web pages that have all of those words are more likely to be the first sites that appear on my search results rather than a page that just talks about pies in general.
4. Duplicate Content
Search engines don’t like to see duplicate content. So, you can’t simply list the keywords that you are hoping to rank for all over your site or duplicate the same paragraph of content on every page with your top keywords. Likewise, if your site is just like another site it could be viewed as duplicate content. You should provide unique content on your site. There might be times when your site has multiple pages with very similar content, such as when filters are applied to a clothing store’s webpage. Searching for “jeans” and “skinny jeans” will return some of the same results, which could be considered duplicate content because each filter result has its own URL. This is where the robots.txt file comes in handy to block search engines from seeing certain parts of your website. It can be set up to let search engines see all of your products, but not filtered result pages. The robots.txt file is modified with certain words and syntax. If you don’t have any programming or coding knowledge, we suggest you contact someone who specializes in SEO to help you.
5. Responsive Design
Search engines prioritize websites that work on any size screen, and any type of device, which is called a “responsive” website. This means your website will look great on everything from the smallest smart phone screen to the biggest high-end monitor and all phone, computer, and tablet screens in between. All functions should work properly, nothing overlaps or is hidden, and information is easy to find on any device.
6. Accessible Friendly
People with vision limitations often use a program that reads websites aloud to the user. If your website is all text, then it’s easy for the program to read your site. What about diagrams, pictures, and text within a picture? The program cannot read those unless your site is set up with “alt tags”. Alternate tags, more commonly referred to as alt tags, are labels you can put on graphics on your web pages that provide words to describe the graphic. Most website platforms, such as Weebly and WordPress, have an option to add this description when you first upload the picture, or you can go back and add them later. In addition to alt tags, things like a big enough font size and a background and font color combination that is easy to read are also important. In a nutshell, make sure that everyone, including those with limitations, can get value from your website. The search engines will reward you for your efforts.
8. User Experience
Websites that are easy to use will rank higher. Menus should be intuitive, and information should be easy to find. If people click on your site, and then immediately leave, search engines take that as a sign that your page didn’t quickly provide the information the searcher was looking for. This will cause your page to rank lower.
9. Links and Authority
The three types of links are internal, inbound, and outbound. Internal links are a link from one page of your website to another. When these links are placed in natural places throughout your site to help users easily find information, these links are good and help your ranking. If you overdo it and put links in every other word, that’s not helpful and it can hurt your ranking. The key is for a link to provide value to your website’s visitors by making it easier to navigate. Links should have clear “anchor text”, which is the visible words on the page that the link is in. For example, the word “submarine” should not link you to a page about SEO. Inbound links are links from other websites to your website. “Authority” is like a website’s reputation, and it can be good or bad. Likewise, links from other websites can be good or bad, depending on whether or not the site has authority. If a reputable website in your field is linking to your site, then it can help your ranking, because it indicates that your website is providing reputable, valuable information. If a hacker’s website links to your website, it can hurt your ranking because that site is not authoritative. Outbound links are links from your website to other websites. They can also be good and bad, depending on the site to which you are linking. If you put a link on your website to a hacker’s website, it will hurt your ranking.
10. Technical Factors
There are several technical factors in the way the back end of your website is set up that can help your search ranking. Meta descriptions are the brief descriptions that appear under your link in search results. If you don’t specifically set one up, the search engine chooses what will appear there. You can create your own attention-grabbing description to help drive traffic to your site. Header tags are like a hierarchy of headers on your site’s content and they help search engines understand your content. Using keywords in your page titles can also help.
Tracking and Analyzing SEO Strategies
Hopefully, you’ve learned what SEO is, why it’s important, and some of the biggest factors that contribute to a site’s ranking in search results. SEO is always evolving just as search engines are always evolving to get better at providing useful sites to their searchers. You should revisit your site’s SEO strategies periodically to make sure your site stays competitive with the latest search methods. This is a long-term marketing strategy, and you shouldn’t expect to see drastic changes overnight. There are many free and paid tools available from organizations that specialize in SEO to help you track how your site is doing and identify areas where you can improve. Some of the most reputable sources for information are Moz, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. Google has some of their own resources, too. If you use WordPress, we highly recommend the Yoast plugin for optimization. Send us a message if you have any questions about SEO, and we are happy to assist with your site’s SEO.
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