If you’re trying to build your brand’s online presence, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of SEO — the mysterious marketing tactic that all websites need to gain traffic. But what exactly is it? I mean we know what the letters stand for—search engine optimization—but what does that mean?
Basically, search engine optimization is a way of structuring your website and content so that Google wants to be your friend. When the Google algorithms scan an optimized website, they think, “Wow! This site is an authority in their field and the user experience is seamless. I’ll bump it up higher on the results list so it’s easier to find.” And that’s what we all want, right? A spot on the first page of Google.
To help you secure your place in the top 10, let’s break down SEO so you know why it's an essential component of your marketing strategy, how it works and how to optimize your website.
What is SEO and Why is it Important?
The technical definition of SEO is “the process of optimizing your content and website so that Google can more easily match the searcher’s intent to search results.” Simple enough, but a bit wordy. In short, Google wants to make finding what users are looking for easy. It aims to put the most relevant content at the top of the results list so users don’t have to sift through dozens of web pages to find the answer to things like “Why did my cashmere sweater shrink in the wash?”
Convenience isn’t Google’s only goal, though. They also want to deliver value through their top results by presenting the most authoritative and relevant web pages. Jenny’s natural home blog might answer your sweater question, but odds are you’re going to trust a dry cleaner’s website more because they have other content about caring for delicate fabrics. Google knows this because it can track data from both websites, so it will most likely display the dry cleaner’s website higher on the SERP (search engine results page).
So to recap: SEO is creating a website Google likes, and it’s important because it determines your spot on the search results page, which directly influences the volume of traffic to your site. AKA: How many people can find you and how often.
📺 Check out part 1 of our SEO series with Callie Quinlan. She covers conversion optimization tips, pricing on your site, how often you should be posting blogs.👇
How to Impress Google
The key to driving organic traffic to your website with your SEO is to make your web pages the perfect marriage and value and ease. This is called user experience or UX. Your website should be a one-click solution to their problem. Answer the questions people are searching for, but also answer the next question and the next. How? Links.
Using internal links on your site makes it easy for Google to recognize how different content is related. Using them properly can boost your domain authority and encourage Google to push you higher up the results page. Plus, it helps keep users engaged by answering the questions that pop into their brain as they skim through your content.
Say someone is reading your article about how to make pickles, but when they see they need cucumbers, they think “What kind of cucumbers?” Boom. Link. You can take them straight to your other article all about picking pickling cucumbers by linking it through this section of your initial article. This encourages people to stay on your website longer and shows Google you can continue providing value through easy clicks to other information.
The world-wide web is a big place, though, so relying only on internal linking shouldn’t be your only plan of action. Another valuable link-building technique is using backlinks from other websites. Backlinks are links to your website from other websites. So other blogs or product pages are directing traffic back over to your site because they see the value in what you offer. Google loves backlinks because it’s an easy way to determine which web pages are leading the charge on a subject because traffic is being directed there from multiple sources.
This is all once you get into the weeds of your website, of course. So let’s pull a Star Wars and give you the beginning after the middle.
Start with a User Flow
Websites can get complicated. You need lots of pages and buttons and widgets to get something working exactly how you’d like it to, but it also needs to be easy to navigate. Remember, Google's ranking factors (and SEO) are all about the user, not the business. One easy way to make sure your site is user-friendly, thus encouraging Google to drive organic search traffic your way, is to start by creating a clear user flow.
Also called a site map, a user flow allows you to outline the way a user would navigate through the information on your website. Whether users start at your homepage, on a landing page or a sales page, they should always be able to move easily through your site. Although this isn’t technically an SEO strategy, it’s an easy way to set yourself up for SEO success.
The larger your website is, the easier it will be for users to get lost in the pages and leave, which means Google will bump your page down on the results. But if you have a site map, you can plan their flow so it’s an easy, enjoyable experience.
A lot of older sites would base their link-building strategy on having all of their site links in the footer of the page. Today, however, you don’t need to include this tactic in your site map. Your user flow layout exists simply to organize your site’s architecture and give you an idea of the structure.
Write Content That’s Valuable
Whether you’re using it for content marketing or just to populate your site, the content on your site is incredibly important. It needs to add value to your brand and the products or services you’re offering customers. If not, users will leave your site without a second thought. Even with great content, though, you still want to make sure you’re attracting your target audience. You can do that with a few strategic SEO techniques.
The first step to creating SEO content is to develop a content strategy for your brand. The goal of your strategy is to use target keywords to boost your article higher up in the search results page so you can capture more viewers from organic searches. In short, incorporate the words people will be typing into Google (called 'search queries') so your content can be found easily. Keyword tools like AhRefs, Moz and Semrush help brands perform keyword research so you can match search terms with things like search intent, keyword difficulty and search volume.
Once you’ve secured your keywords, you can start creating high-quality content around the topics you’ve found. Most brands use this strategy to make their blogging efforts more fruitful, but it can also be employed on sales and landing pages. It’s important to include keywords in the page titles, headers and content itself to help Google recognize you’re providing information for a variety of search terms.
Add Alt Text and Meta Descriptions
Alt text (alternative text) and meta descriptions are two extra opportunities to rank for SEO. They both allow you to add information within elements of your post, almost like secret notes for Google to read. These two components serve two purposes for two groups: people and Google.
First, let’s make sure we’re all clear on what exactly alt text and meta descriptions are. Alt text is typically associated with the images in any piece of content — any photo, graph, or infographic. It describes what’s happening in the image so screen readers can accurately describe it to people with disabilities or vision impairment. You can add keywords to these sections, but it’s more important for it to read well.
Meta descriptions, on the other hand, are those little blurbs under your website link on the Google search results page. In essence, they briefly summarize what is on that page and entice the user to click the link. These summaries are commonly excerpts of the content on that page, but you can actually decide what will show up there. This is a good place to include keywords, as well.
Now back to the purpose of all this. For Google, alt text makes your image searchable by content. This means people who search for “girl tennis star” might get a hit on your page if you have a photo of a female tennis star with that alt text included. For people, it helps those using site readers to better understand the image and have a positive experience on your site. If your photo is named IMG00568 and that’s all the screen reader has to work with, then the person won’t know it’s a photo relevant to the information in your article.
On-page vs. Off-page SEO
We’ve established there are tons of different ways to influence your SEO rankings, but there’s one last type of technical SEO every marketer should understand about page optimization. There are two types of SEO when it comes to your web pages — on-page and off-page — and they’re important to Google.
On-page SEO is essentially everything on your website. The page title, title tag, headers and subheaders are all factored into this category. When compiled, the data from these areas make your webpage look like a book to Google, so it can speed read through your content and scan for SEO markers. Headings tell it the general category, subheadings narrow it down and copy gives it the details it needs to rank your webpage.
Because Google is looking at all of the aspects of your page, websites that aren’t clear at the highest level won’t make sense to the algorithm or your customers. If you’ve been having this problem, you’ll probably see it reflected in your site’s Google Analytics in the form of high bounce and exit rates. Keeping information organized from the top down is key to SEO success.
Off-page SEO is your network. It’s the web of links between your content and other websites and online resources. Imagine it like a superhighway, with five lanes going both ways. If your highway takes people to other big cities with relevant attractions, lots of people will want to drive on it. The more trusted sites link to you and you to them, the better it is for establishing domain authority.
This type of SEO also includes local citations, which are kind of like local SEO. Google will look at how your business information appears on other search sites like Yelp, Bing, Yellow Pages and others to evaluate your SEO ranking.
📺 In part 2 of our SEO series, Callie talks about the difference between on and off-page SEO more in depth. Check it out!
Focus on the Essentials
So there you have it! Everything from design to content, keyword strategy to page SEO. These are the SEO tools every brand can implement to support their digital marketing efforts. Now, I’m sure you’re excited to go use all of the new skills you learned about, but hold that horse for just one more minute.
It takes time and effort to properly employ each of these SEO strategies, so focusing on just a couple of basic ranking factors is often the best approach in the beginning. We recommend looking at your on-page SEO and developing a solid content strategy. Both of these strategies are fairly easy to map out and can get you pretty far all on their own.
Of course, if you still have questions or aren’t sure how to start, reach out to us! We love all things SEO and would be happy to help your brand succeed.