The term SEO has been thrown around a lot by marketers for a while now. And it’s a really complex topic when you get down the nitty gritty of what it all means, what factors play a role, and how people try to manipulate search engines for their own benefit.
The real problem is, no one really fully understands Google (except for Google).
It’s not like Google hands out their search algorithm to us digital marketing folks on a silver platter. They keep it secret. The value of Google to internet users is actually how valuable the results are when you type in a search. If everyone knew exactly how Google ranks pages, then digital marketers (like me) would be able to rig the system and almost control what gets served up in results. This could lead to terrible information being shown to those searching. The result? No one would want to use Google anymore because the search results aren’t valuable. And if you’re familiar with Google’s business model, that wouldn’t work too well for them.
The good news is, we do know some stuff about how the search algorithms work. If you’d like a quick overview, checkout this video from Google expert Matt Cutts.
Now what we need to do take what we know works well and spend our time focusing on those key aspects, measuring our results, and making tweaks and alterations as we go. It’s a learning game that takes time. And anyone that promises you huge results overnight is a liar.
There are 2 big sectors to search engine optimization.
On-Page SEO Tactics
This is the optimization that can be done ON your website. The back-end stuff. The coding tags that are scattered throughout the site that attempts to tell Google exactly what your site is about, what stuff is the important stuff, and what stuff is not so important.
These are the things you can control with a good website designer or developer (someone who knows what they are doing).
Here are a couple high level things that go into On-Page SEO:
- Title Tags
This is what search engines read for the title of the page. It’s the same thing that you see in the tab of your browser. Also the same title you see on search result pages.
- Meta Description
This is a short description that tries to highlight exactly what is on this page so search engines have a quick summary. This is what you see below the titles in search result pages.
- URL Structure
Have you ever seen crazy URLs that have a bazillion numbers and question marks and underscores? That’s not helpful. Words are helpful, and readable, and usable.
- Broken Links
If you ever delete / move a page, or the wrong URL get’s posted somewhere else, people are landing on broken 404 pages. This has to be monitored and proper redirects need to take place.
A sitemap is a page submitted to search engines that has hierarchy links to every single webpage available on your site. This helps Google find all the pages quickly and easily.
- Internal Links
These are the links on your site that point at other content on your site. These help people navigate your content and find information they need, when they need it.
- Content (is KING)
Publishing content on your site that your users care about is more important than ever before. Give your users something VALUABLE in your content that they care about.
- Content Tags
Once you have content, it’s got to be marked up correctly to show the important stuff. Header tags specifically. H1, H2, H3, H4, H5 tags give priority level to information on your page.
- Image Tags
Search engines can’t read pictures. You gotta tell them what the picture is about by using good “alt” tags on all your images so they can understand how it plays with the rest of your content.
- Mobile Responsiveness
Yup. If you’re site doesn’t respond to work on mobile devices, you get penalized. Google wants to serve up good results to users, and users are on mobile. So it’s time to get mobile. Here’s the proof.
On-Page SEO doesn’t end there, but that’s a good start. Again, these are all things that you can control ON your site. Although these On-Page tactics are very important, this is only a small portion of optimizing your site for search engines. The bigger factor, most important factor, and the toughest factor to master is…
Off-Page SEO Tactics
You guessed it. Now that your site is readable by search engines, now it’s time to build reputation off your site. This tells Google your site is important and valuable. There are so many factors for Off-Page SEO that’s it’s unfeasible for most businesses to perfect them all. What IS important is to research what Off-Page tactics hit your target market with the best ROI. Not all Off-Page tactics make sense for all businesses. So focus on what makes sense based on who you are targeting.
Let’s look at some common Off-Page reputation building tactics.
- Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, the list goes on and on. But not all of them hit your target market. Instead of spreading yourself thin with too many social accounts, work super hard on the ones that work well for your target audience.
- Link Building
Having other websites point at you tells search engines that people find your content valuable. This helps you build reputation and raise your page rank. But you also want quality links from related sites, not spammed paid links from non-related content. This is an instance of quality AND quantity.
- Ratings & Reviews
It’s great if you can talk about great you are, but it’s better if others do it. Customers trust other customers before they trust you, so encouraging them to leave honest ratings and reviews can build a lot of reputation online pretty quickly. This can backfire if you offer a poor quality product or service.
Blogging is a constant way to publish new content which signals search engine bots to scan your site more. Guest blogging also gives you the ability to build relationships with other businesses in your industry as well. This is a great opportunity to build reputation online and earn backlinks.
- Local Listings
This can be a great way to have a more focused effort on your Off-Site strategy. If you’re a local business, you can better target people in that area through local listings. It’s less competition than going global or national which makes it easier to rank higher.
- Public Relations
Connecting with media outlets and pushing out content is a great organic way to create buzz about your industry and especially your business. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do as it requires to have something interesting to talk about that portrays to a wide audience.
Forums are a great way to build user generated content, but requires a large active community and not feasible to establish on every businesses website. But you can be active in other forums in your industry. It’s time consuming, but a way to establish yourself and business as an industry expert.
SEO is a skill set that takes a lot of time and patience. Reputation building doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow going process that needs to be constantly kept up. Most businesses don’t see results happen for 6 – 12 months of constantly building. Being realistic on the expectations is important to not get frustrated in the short term. White Hat SEO is a long term strategy, and it’s recommended to get help from a professional to make sure you’re taking the right steps that will be effective and hit your target audience. Also just for getting help with the amount of man hours it takes to do all of these things consistently at a high level. You’ve got a business to run, so learning how to do all of this and to keep up with it for 12 months consistently isn’t necessarily realistic.
The other thing to keep in mind, is to make sure that you utilize your time spent on the strategies that make sense for you. Not every strategy works well for every business. So spend the time and energy on the tactics that make sense based on who you are targeting. It’s not reasonable to think your business can be extremely successful in every channel, but we can strategize around it based off of the information we know that works.
Search is a complicated monster, and us digital marketing folks learn more about it every day.