Do you remember the first time you heard the term SEO? At one point or another, every business owner first encounters those three magical, mysterious letters. But unless you understand the basics of SEO marketing, the tossed around acronym is just another meaningless term that somehow vaguely relates to your business.
It’s frustrating to feel in the dark about SEO when everywhere you look, articles and statistics decry its importance. Can a business succeed online without an SEO marketing plan? In this day and age, not really. So, if you’re not even sure what SEO means, how do you know where to begin? It’s enough to make any business owner throw up their hands in frustration and defeat.
Don’t fear. SEO doesn’t have to be a frustrating unknown. Nor does a basic grasp of it require hours of study and research. Let’s break it down together, and find out in just a few minutes exactly what SEO is, what it means, and how you can apply it easily to your business success. We’ll show you the 13 essential ingredients of the SEO marketing recipe and give you actionable ways to start implementing SEO immediately.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO (interchangeable with SEO marketing) is the shortened version of the term Search Engine Optimization. Search engines, like Google, are one of the primary sources of web traffic for any business or brand. But with thousands and thousands of other sites competing for attention, you need a tactic to ensure YOUR site gets noticed. You need a way to tell search engines what you’re all about. You must take action to make your website into the most relevant result for a specific search. This is exactly the heart of what it means to optimize. At its most basic, search engine optimization is the practice of making your website “search engine friendly” so it will appear in the first set of results when customers search for your information, products, or services.
Why Do I Need SEO?
No matter how focused your business niche is, you’ve likely got some competitors. Even if you only have a handful of competitors, every customer they gain represents a loss to you. If you’re serious about growing your profits (and we’re sure you are), then you need to grab as many leads as possible. In 2016, a huge majority of those leads are going to come from search engines, and with an average of 63,000 searches per second, you’re going to want a piece of that pie.
It’s evident that optimizing for search engines is a vital ingredient in the recipe for success. The right tactics will help your business get discovered by customers—and good SEO ensures they are the right customers, too. Keep reading to understand how you can get search results to work in your company’s favor.
How Does SEO Marketing Work?
How does SEO work, and how can I use it in my business?
Most digital marketers focus on Google, which owns 71% of the global search engine market. In other words, that’s where most people go to search online, and that’s where SEO really counts. You know you need SEO, you know it brings you traffic and customers, but how does the process work? Without getting too technical, the essence of it is this:
Google aims to bring users the most relevant results for their search. When you do a search, you’ll receive the best results to match your query. To decide what are the “best results,” Google looks at factors such as what is most relevant, most authoritative, most highly trafficked, most well written, and whether or not a source is connected to other influential sites. We’ll delve deeper into each of these in a bit.
The Google index is the entire record of websites currently accessible. Google has “spiders” or bots that regularly “crawl” the web in search of new information. These automated bots examine each and every site on the Internet and look for factors like those outlined above. (There are likely many additional factors Google considers that online marketers can only guess at. Google’s full ranking and indexing processes–referred to as Google’s algorithm–are not fully understood.) The spiders’ findings help determine what ranks best for specific searches made on the Google engine. And as a business owner, you’ll want to do everything in your power to give those spiders the best information to work with. Don’t worry. We’ve got the recipe below.
Optimizing Your Site
Now the nitty gritty. How exactly do I optimize my website?
In a perfect world, SEO would be as easy as pie. You’d build a nice site, tweak a few things, and be on your way to an endless stream of leads, sales, and profits. While it isn’t challenging in theory, SEO involves more than just one or two steps. It’s an integrated endeavor that will require time and effort. Sorry, with SEO there are no shortcuts. But, the process is worthwhile and truly effective—especially when you have awesome resources to take advantage of.
In truth, it’s a layered process and approach that makes SEO succeed. It’s not just about keywords search terms or a quick fix.
We like to think of an SEO marketing strategy as a cake. It’s a layer cake, made from scratch and embellished with swirls of frosting and perhaps even some icing and sprinkles. When crafted correctly, the cake is a work of art you can’t wait to devour.
When put together haphazardly, hurriedly, and by trying to cut corners, the cake looks like an unappetizing heap of melted sugar. That’s the importance of following the SEO recipe.
All the ingredients of the cake are absolutely necessary. Lacking even a single one, the cake becomes less tasty (or less effective, in our SEO analogy). While not a difficult recipe, it’s one that requires patience, careful tending, and a delicate hand. Even amateur bakers (ahem, business owners and marketers) can bake the perfect SEO cake. It just takes the right recipe.
SEO Signals you Need for the Recipe
The Basic Ingredients:
Your SEO cake starts with the basic layers of success. Combining these carefully (and abundantly) results in a delicious batter that will soon rise into a beautiful creation.
1. Relevant content
No matter what, content may be the single most important factor Google looks at when determining search engine rankings. When the spiders crawl your site, they scan your content. The spiders are automated of course, but are quite complex and can determine if content is readable, relevant, and authoritative. How you rank for a given search term/keyword relates directly to what information your site contains.
Keywords are a major part of SEO. When creating your content and designing other aspects of your site, you’ll select a few keyword terms you hope to rank for (terms you think your customers will be searching) and incorporate these appropriately in the right spots.
So, your content clearly must contain the keywords you’re aiming to rank for. And, according to SEO marketing lore, a healthy keyword ratio is ideal. Does this mean you have to include the keyword term as often as possible? No–it is most important that your content is natural and is relevant to your customers themselves. Good content creation comes first; working in the relevant keywords is secondary. No matter what, your site’s content should be substantial and of value, and should be written ultimately for people, not for search engines.
2. A speedy website
It’s a simple element that goes into the SEO marketing recipe, but a website that works is a crucial ingredient that is lacking for a surprising number of small businesses. To perform well in the world of SEO, your website needs to load at a very fast rate. [40% of web users claim that they will navigate away from a site that does not load within 3 seconds, and 79% report that they will never return to shop again on a site with a poor user experience.]
You can check your site’s current load time using Web Page Test. Then check out Google’s PageSpeed tool for insight on ways to improve speed. Regular professional web maintenance can shave seconds off your time, ensuring that your potential customers aren’t put off. With such a simple fix, this ingredient in the SEO marketing recipe is a no-brainer.
3. Better user interface (aka a mobile-friendly site)
A fully-functioning website also means one that works well on a mobile device. This is a mobile-dominated world, and chances are, the majority of your customers will access your website via their tablet or smartphone. You can’t ignore this massive part of your audience by having a site that functions only on the desktop. Mobile-responsiveness is a factor so vital in this day and age that we don’t design sites without it.
A mobile website is also a big part of SEO success. Google recently stated that they will prioritize mobile-friendly sites over those which are not. If your website is ready for mobile devices, you’ve already earned valuable brownie points, and you’ll reap the rewards by appearing higher in search results.
4. A solid user experience
Your site loads fast and works on mobile. Awesome. Now to add the next ingredient: user experience. What will users think of your site when visiting? Will their overall encounter lead to satisfaction?
User experience is indeed a crucial ingredient in our SEO cake recipe, but it’s one that can come in many different flavors. A clean, attractive site and awesome content are a must-do. So is a site which users can use easily and which influences them to stay. Google’s algorithm takes much into account when determining how to rank sites, and user behavior is one of many things that is examined. What this means for you is that a positive user experience on your site will correlate to the right kinds of consumer behavior that matter for SEO.
The term “bounce rate” refers to how quickly visitors leave your site after arrival. A lower bounce rate is always better, as it means that users are spending longer on your site—giving you many more chances to convert them into paying customers or loyal fans.
Better user experience relies on:
- Easy navigation
- Fast loading time
- Clean design
- Readable font
And results in:
- Happier customers
- More sales
- Lower bounce rate
- Boosted SEO!
An essential element in the SEO marketing recipe is authority, which is a fancy way of saying your site is trusted and well-respected on the Internet. It’s a solid source of information for your industry or topic. The most authoritative websites rank highest. Places like established news sites, college websites, and government pages are examples of sites with top levels of authority.
Authority is earned in several ways. The simple age of your domain contributes–the older the site, the better. This demonstrates longevity in a market where fly-by-night sites come and go.
Authority is measured secondly by relevance of information provided:
- High quality, readable content.
- Frequently shared content.
- Links to your content/site from other authoritative sites.
- User behavior that shows a good experience and good value.
Are you beginning to see how it’s all connected? Your SEO cake can’t be baked without the successful interplay of all the necessary ingredients.
A site’s authority is sometimes referred to as Domain Authority or DA, a metric created by SEO site Moz. Combining the factors above, this metric gives you an idea of your site’s clout on the Internet and can show you how well you’ll rank in search engines. The higher your DA, the more trusted and well-ranking you can estimate your site to be.
6. Healthy Backlinks
The aspects of SEO marketing you can control on your website are known as on-page SEO. On the other side of the coin is off-page SEO. Though this can include several different techniques, the most widely-known is backlinking.
Backlinks are links from other sites to yours, and they are a big part of baking a successful SEO marketing cake. To improve your authority, as mentioned above, you want backlinks from sites that are also authoritative, high-quality sites.
Whatever you do, don’t try to purchase backlinks. Though it might seem like a great quick fix to give your site an extra bit of “link juice” it’s a terrible decision long term. Bought backlinks rarely originate from high-quality sites, meaning the link is of little or no value. But more importantly, Google sometimes penalizes sites for purchasing backlinks. Your short-term solution could potentially lead to a major SEO fallout.
Instead, slow and steady wins this race. You want quality backlinks that will allow you to build your SEO over the long term. Guest posting on another site in your industry or niche is probably the #1 way to gain such valuable links. Get tongue-tied? Hire a ghostwriter to help you express what you want to say. Other backlink strategies include submitting your business to be listed in online directories, creating online local profiles, and arranging link exchanges with industry partners. For the backlinks you want, it’s about building relationships. (And creating amazing content that folks naturally want to link to!) Stick with white hat techniques (above-board, ethical tactics) like these and you’ll find your SEO marketing provides you with far, far better results.
The Icing on the Cake
After carefully combining and nurturing the basic ingredients, it’s time for your SEO cake to bake!
These essentials are the perfect starting point for great SEO. Now, you can watch your cake rise in the oven (SEO start to improve). Don’t make loud noises and don’t rush the process by turning up the heat (don’t purchase backlinks or look for shortcuts). Such mistakes cause the cake to fall or implode.
Unlike the traditional pastry, your SEO cake will take a bit longer to make. It should start showing some results in about 3-6 months. But of course, your cake is not finished. Even while it’s continuing to grow, you can start creating the icing. This is the outer layer of the cake, and what gives it is delicious attractive outer shell.
7. Improved keyword research
It’s not just about ranking with one or two major keywords. A healthy, comprehensive keyword strategy means focusing on synonyms, related terms, and so much more. As you look for ways to enhance your SEO marketing, you will want to delve into proper keyword research. There are plenty of free tools on the Internet, but Google’s keyword planner may be the most user-friendly. Begin brainstorming topics that apply to your business. Then move on the search terms you believe customers will use when seeking your product or service. The keyword planner will help offer suggestions to show you where competition is low (i.e., where you have a chance to rank better.) And don’t forget about local SEO — incorporating your city or state into your focus keywords helps you access a major potential market.
8. Wise keyword practices
Once you’ve got the essentials of SEO marketing started in your recipe, it’s time to start tweaking. Little adjustments to your site can make an incredible difference for your SEO. Now you’ll need to start getting specific.
As content is created for your website, it needs to be quality, relevant, and authoritative, but as we’ve learned, it also needs to contain the appropriate keywords. They could be scattered anywhere in your content, but the best SEO research indicates certain areas where your keywords will help you the most.
Places in content where keyword matter most are:
- Page URL
- Photo Tages or Alt Tages
- The first paragraph of on-page content
- The meta description
Your meta description (the preview of your site’s content which will appear in search engine results) is an important spot to get right. Incorporating your SEO into these spots isn’t too difficult to manage, even for the SEO marketing newbie
9. Well-placed internal links
You should take advantage of your own great content to boost your SEO (and to keep users on your site). You can do this through internal linking, in which you link to your own related content in a blog post or on a web page. When you link, choose appropriate, relevant anchor text for the link. (Anchor text is the words highlighted that click through to the linked page). Seek opportunities to link internally often, as this practice not only directly aids SEO by connecting your page with other relevant, quality content (which we know Google loves) but it will also improve your customers’ user experience ten-fold.
10. Rich content
Don’t think that content need only be your web copy and blog posts. A solid SEO marketing strategy should incorporate rich visual content such as video and infographics.
Video marketing is a hugely powerful way to reach your audience. Statistics show that digital video is growing at an insane rate. Across social media, videos receive millions of daily views and are shared more often than any other type of content. This offers incredible potential for growth. And it’s reputation in sales isn’t bad either: marketers using increase video revenue almost 50% faster than non-video users.
And even better, video marketing is an engaging way to also improve your SEO. Google recognizes the power of video and now ranks videos right alongside websites. High-quality video production makes a big difference, but even simple video marketing performs well. In fact, many customers say they would prefer to obtain information via this lively medium.
Even advertisements are tasty when delivered in video form, with 46% of viewers taking action of some kind after watching a video ad.
Infographics are another great SEO marketing booster for businesses. Providing facts, stats, or even entertainment to your customers in an easily-digestible, visual format leads to increased value (both perceived and real). Infographics are also widely shared on many different social media platforms as well as embedded in blog posts, giving you a larger reach and even some potential quality backlinks.
11. A mix of social media signals
Speaking of social media, it’s not necessarily the linchpin of SEO, but it is virtually irreplaceable as a part of your overall web marketing strategy. And it may be becoming a more important part of SEO with every passing year. There is a debate regarding the veracity of so-called social media signals—engagement and followers, etc. Do improvements in SEO result from a high volume of engagement and shares on social media? While Google states that they do not use social signals in ranking pages on the search engine, it seems that a big boost in shares and traffic does correlate to a jump in rankings.
Why is this?
The reason may be that all those shares aren’t creating alerts for Google, but instead are naturally resulting in things like new backlinks, increased positive traffic to a website, and improved user behavior on the site, which, we’ve learned, are a few of the ingredients to a yummy SEO marketing cake.
So, while social media is not 100% linked to direct improvements in SEO, it is part of the icing on the cake. Every little bit helps, and a healthy, happy web and SEO marketing strategy should not ignore any potential for growth. Want to help boost those social signals?
12. Make your content shareable:
- Have buttons on your site to allow customers to post your content to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and more.
- Keep your content readable, using bold text, smaller paragraphs, and scannable copy.
- For maximum efficacy, maintain a presence on social media yourself and build your connection and relationships with your customers and target audience even more.
13. Domain consistency
If you can get your primary keyword as part of your domain name, that’s a fantastic SEO win. That’s a challenge for most businesses, however, and doesn’t make sense if you’ve already built an established domain. For you, the importance will be in domain consistency. Make sure that www.mywebsite.com is your consistent domain. When a user inputs mywebsite.com, without the www, there should be an automatic redirect in place, to ensure that all of your SEO power is directed towards the same domain. Otherwise, backlinks and other elements will be weakened, and with SEO marketing, you need every boost you can get.
All of the above, again and again (aka ongoing SEO)
Is your cake ready? By now, with these thirteen ingredients, you’ve created a beautiful cake comprised of optimization tactics. You can now enjoy the fruits of your labor. But wait, that’s not the end of the recipe, is it? Nope.
Your SEO marketing doesn’t stop there. Unfortunately, you’ve got to bake this cake, again, and again, to ensure you get to eat it (and keep eating it!) In other words, ongoing SEO is necessary to allow you to keep ranking well in search engine results and to continue reaping the benefits that come from those high rankings….increased traffic, leads, sales, and profits.
The truth is, ongoing SEO is needed all the time, by someone well-versed in its essential recipe. While SEO can absolutely be done on your own, it requires consistency and attention. It requires expertise and careful tending. And it needs to be done right. Quality is everything. Quality ingredients result in a quality cake.
We’d love to help you get started with the right ongoing SEO that will support your business. Contact us and mention this article, and we would be happy to run a free SEO analysis so you can see how you’re doing and where you can improve right away.
Also published on Medium.