Search engine optimization (SEO) is about ensuring your website can be found in a search engine results page (SERP) when people search for words or phrases relevant to the content on your website.
Your SERP listing ties in with brand awareness. Think about when you’ve used a search engine. You unconsciously trust the top results. If you can push yourself to the first page of Google, and users keep coming across your website when they search for a desired product or service, then they will click through to your website. A properly optimized site will be more visible to search engines, more user-friendly, and have more credibility on the web — all of which increase site traffic.
According to a small business survey by The Manifest, only 30% have an SEO strategy in place to improve organic rankings. This means that if you optimize now, you have an advantage over 70% of the competition. Follow our top tips to strengthen your SEO, stay competitive, and give your business the exposure it needs to gain new visitors, customers, or followers.
Think about your goals. Naturally, you want people to find your site, but for what purpose? Let’s take a look at the typical reasons you might want to attract people to your website, and how these affect your SEO strategy.
Some sites exist to draw people to a physical location or make them aware of the services they provide locally. There are many local SEO techniques to guide local users to your pages.
When it comes to local SEO, it’s essential to get the basics right. The cornerstone of a successful local SEO campaign is a fully optimized listing in Google My Business. This service from the search giant serves two purposes:
1. To increase the visibility of an individual business through search
2. To help people find and review activities in their local area.
Google My Business is the most comprehensive directory available and is intended for companies that serve customers in their local area. Examples include plumbers, electricians, estate agents, builders, salons, and dentists. Use Google My Business to help drive traffic to your website and your physical locations alike.
For a single location business serving a specific area, it can’t hurt to add your company name, address, and phone number (NAP) to the footer on all pages, plus a link to your location on Google Maps. Customers looking for a service business want to see that A) it’s really local, and B) it 100% serves their area. Having an address on every page helps with this.
Online retailers need to gain a solid audience with a strong conversion rate. E-commerce is big business, reportedly having made over 2 trillion US dollars in sales worldwide since the first item (a book) was ordered on Amazon in 1995. If you're missing out on clicks, you're missing out on sales, which explains why sites are fiercely competing for the top search position in their niche.
Security is key here. Google considers whether a site is deemed secure in their rankings and gives websites that hold a valid SSL/HTTPS certificate a boost. If you plan on accepting online payments, don't hesitate to add a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to your site. You'll not only please Google, but your visitors will be reassured knowing that their banking information is protected by an encrypted connection.
Making sure your website is optimized for mobile is also important for driving visitors and sales. Not only do mobile searches now outnumber desktop searches, but Google has switched to a mobile-first index. So looking after your mobile optimization means looking after your SEO too. This is true for all websites, but if you’re looking to make e-commerce sales…make it your first, second, and third priority.
The aim of your website might be for non-commercial purposes. It might be anything from a gossip blog or music review site to a personal website designed to show off your digital profile. Whatever it is, though, you’ll still need to employ basic SEO strategies to ensure people can find your content online:
- Create an "About Me" page on your website to help it rank for searches related to your name. Unlike profiles on social media where you are building on rented land, you control how you are presented on your site. Spend some time on this; tweak on-page SEO. Use your name in the URL if possible. Add your name to the beginning of the H1 (the page’s title) and title tag, and remember that all of your social profiles should link to this page.
- Add a blog section to your website. When you post, take the time to cross-post to related posts and always include targeted keywords in your title tags, meta description, H1 titles, and content.
- Share your blog posts on social media. It will not only keep your audience engaged, but social signals are also included in the ranking algorithm, which positively improves SEO results. Include a few sentences summarizing the post or an excerpt from the post to draw people's attention, and don’t forget OpenGraph micro markups to make sure any links you post on social media look great.
Regardless of the type of site you are building, the starting point for your SEO campaign should be keyword research. So what are keywords exactly?
- Words and phrases that identify what people are searching for
- Words and phrases that describe the topics you write about
Never underestimate the value of keywords. The job of a search engine is to take the information web users type into their search, and find the most relevant site using the words (keywords) entered.
You need to make sure your pages are optimized to serve the search terms related to your business. Instead of relying on gut feeling to drive traffic, perform proper keyword research and competitor research.
You need to research your keywords, targeting the right ones to help generate high-quality traffic and more conversions, which is a no brainer for any small business. By taking keywords into consideration and creating a site structure (see Step 3), and then creating SEO content that maximizes their potential, you end up with a site that is more appealing to the search engines and their users. While providing solutions, content must focus on mending your readers' weak points.
First, let's brainstorm and write down search queries — the words might people type into the search engines to look for your company.
- For a single location business, you need to optimize your content to match your services. Let’s say you are a plumbing business located in Denver. Begin by describing what you offer. Your first keywords might look a bit like this:
- Denver plumbing services
- Professional plumber Denver
- Denver Plumber
- Emergency plumber Denver
These are just the beginning. Think about your core services: leak repair, water heater repair, toilet repair, and sewer repair, for example. Think about the other services you provide. While leak repair is a standard call-out service for a plumber, that's just one search term customers might use when finding an expert. Many customers might be searching for a specific problem. They might need a single leak repair, or their home might require a complete re-piping service.
- Now consider that there's more than one type of leak. Customers might be searching for roof leak repair or pipe leak plumber. Similarly, a client with a problem toilet might look for toilet flushing, toilet overflow, or toilet clogging. Consider each service from this perspective and note down all the possible descriptions of the services you provide.
- E-commerce sites typically focus on specific 'main' keywords they try to rank for. If you're selling products or services through your site, think of keywords that are relevant to your brand or products. Note down the name of your brand, products, and the categories you use to distinguish them, including both the broad and focused keywords that describe your products. (We'll be using these later). For example, a jeweler might want to rank for Rings in general plus more specific searches.
- Categorize keywords like precious stone rings and even more specific keywords like opal ring, ruby ring, etc. This ensures all bases are covered.
It's most likely that your competitors target the same keywords, and if they have a stronger link profile (see Step 4), they will probably outrank you. The best search terms are those that people use, and there's limited competition. Phrases are almost always better than single words, except in highly specialized applications with their terminology. At least give yourself a chance to appear on page 1. For a more in-depth guide to choosing keywords, check out this article from Moz.
When it comes to keywords, above all else, think about the intention of the user. The search queries emergency plumber in Denver, and buy an opal ring online both show clear user intent while targeting for the keyword 'plumber' would be harder since the competition would be tougher, and the user could have many different intentions using this keyword. They might be simply researching how to become a plumber, instead of requiring plumbing services. The same goes for the opal ring. This search phrase could fall under the category of research. Targeting with additional keywords like "buy" and "online" will capture the people an online jeweler wants to visit their site, those with an intent to buy a ring online.
Now that your keyword research is done, it’s time for competitor research. Check which keywords your main competitor has selected to form their SEO strategy. Don’t forget to investigate their Domain Authority (DA), and Page Authority (PA). Is the DA higher than yours? Do their pages have higher PA than yours? Luckily, Moz makes this investigative work really easy for you. You can find the information by installing the free Moz toolbar. In the Page Elements tab, you’ll find the title and description they are using along with other header tags. Head to the Link Data tab for page ranking and Page Authority information. If your competitors’ DA’s or PA’s are significantly higher than your own, competing against them will be quite tough. You might be better off going for easier wins by focusing on alternative keywords.
To maximize your chances of appearing in people's browsers, you need to think about how people are searching for each keyword. That's where keyword tools such as Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush come in. These show which keywords people are naturally using. Remember, people's brains work differently. The terms you use might seem an obvious choice, but it doesn't mean everyone else uses the same ones.
Using a keyword tool for leak repair gives us a variety of keywords that don't relate directly to plumbing: car oil leak; how to repair a radiator leak; gas leak. It also gives us terms like leak repair service, plumbing leak services; repair a leaking toilet. We want these keywords because the user intent is clear. They want the services that we offer. Now we'll design our website to reflect that.
Next up we’re going to design your pages and overall site architecture. Organizing your site in a logical way will impact your success in search engine results.
Your website's pages will be dictated by your keywords. Organize your keyword-targeted content to maximize search traffic.
- For an e-commerce site, you'll have a number of product pages, usually organized by category pages.
- For a site with a physical location, your pages will display your services and your physical location.
- For a personal site, your pages will be divided by your subject matter. For example, a film review site might have topic categories for each article, such as Coming Soon or Science Fiction.
We’ve discussed your primary and secondary keywords. Now’s the time to get them into some kind of order. The thinking behind "Information architecture" is to get users to where they want to be in as few clicks as possible.
For example, for an e-commerce site, you might want to pay special attention to:
- Popular products in each category
- Top-rated products
- Recently viewed products
- Related products
These subcategories should be available from the homepage, and in the site navigation so the user can find information that’s interesting to them without having to dig around.
When approaching your site's architecture, look at how the biggest companies in your industry have designed theirs. You might want to follow a similar route with modification or take a different route completely. How can you improve on the navigational architecture? Think about what actions you can take to make sure your site is better for your visitors than theirs.
When website content is unorganized, it can be difficult for readers and search engines to understand what the pages are about, making it harder to rank for target keywords. A popular method of organizing content is via a content silo.
Silos group related content together, creating a topical hierarchy. By siloing your site, you are establishing its keyword-based topical areas or themes. This process will clarify the message you want to send to search engines, which will make your content overall more understandable.
To go about 'Siloing' a film review site, for example, it would make logical sense to have a subcategory beneath the homepage for each film category keyword — from horror to drama and everything between. Each review will be at the bottom of the hierarchical structure. This pyramid-style structure lends itself to all types of websites:
- Plumbing Services > Toilet Repair
- Custom Jewelry > Bracelets > Friendship Bracelets
- Film Reviews > Film Noir > The Third Man
Your URLs should reflect your site architecture. A good URL structure describes the page’s place within the overall site structure and shows a clear navigational path.
Take the URL above, for example. The structure shows a clear path from the homepage, through the category level pages (bracelets), onto the sub-category pages (friendship-bracelets), and the final product page. Both you as тa user and the search engine crawlers ca instantly understand where the web page is in the site's organization. Using hyphens is also the best way to connect your keywords. Google doesn’t like other types of dashes or symbols so much.
Link building is a common practice on the web, and SEO professionals attribute link-related factors to a site's ranking position. In the eyes of a search engine, the popularity and quality of a website can be determined from the number of high-quality websites that link to them. A trusted site is more likely to link to another trusted site by this rationale.
How do you find sites to request a link from? Again, you can look to your competitors for inspiration. It's good practice to try to get the links your competition has already got. Using a tool like Ahrefs, you can pull up a list of the places where your competitors are getting their inbound links. You can try and get a link from these sites too in exchange for a link on your website to theirs, or a contribution to their blog.
- Before you reach out to the sites on the list of results, go through and delete any site with a low DA score. An inbound link from a low quality (low DA) score may even hurt your ranking as Google will assume that a bad site linking to yours is because you also run a bad site.
- Links from Social Media don't count directly in the algorithm, but you can find people in this field to follow and reach out to. That can lead to further opportunities for links, either through them or through their followers.
- Use the list of link sources you generated from Ahrefs and try to acquire links from those sources. This may be as simple as submitting a form or cumbersome emailing webmasters to find out their link-add addition policies.
- Create a custom email address (one that matches the domain you are working on). This email should be used for any project related emails, especially those pertaining to link building.
- Always try to get your keywords in your link anchor text. Plus, it is okay to have simple URL links to your inner pages or the main page of the site. Just be sure not to break Google’s rules on links.
- Scour the Internet and find other sites that might want to link to your site. Create good content and email the site owners to let them know about it.
This might not sound like an SEO tactic but stick with us. Google actively rewards sites that serve high-quality content. Google has defined what is considered to be quality content in a lengthy fashion, which includes basic principles for web dev newbies and more specific guidelines for those wanting to delve deeper into the topic.
The main takeaway from their advice is to avoid what can only be described as "fluff." Content should serve your visitors. Anything inaccurate, non-specific, duplicate content, or unhelpful is wasting visitors’ time. When creating content, keep in mind that anything memorable, shareable, or worthy of an online mention will not only earn repeat visits but also links from third-party sites. Above all, exposure is critical to the success of your online business.
The most successful content marketers understand their customers' pain points. Their content demonstrates expertise, understanding, and empathy. If you craft your messages and consistently appear in search engines that deliver useful content, you'll eventually earn a reputation for providing quality content and, in turn, people's trust. In time you'll become a go-to resource for browsers of your website niche, who will advocate for you.
- Your primary objective should be accomplishable from your homepage. Convince people to make a purchase, raise awareness of your brand, etc. The title page is not visible on the page, so you'll need to view the source code to review your page titles. The <h1> header is usually the main headline above the page content, and there should only be one unique <h1> per page.
- Despite the best SEO efforts, poorly designed sites drive people away. Evaluate the visual design of your website - Find well-designed sites in your niche for inspiration.
One of the key aspects of SEO is to ensure all of your pages have unique and descriptive title tags and meta descriptions. Title tags appear at the top of the browser window to name a page. Search engines consider the title tag when ranking your pages, matching the title with the correct search criteria. Each title should be unique to the page’s labeling, and if room permits, include your business name.
Your title tags shouldn’t exceed 60 characters and should give a clear understanding of the subject that the page covers. Cannes Film Festival Reviews, for example, would be an ideal title tag for a category page containing all reviews from the Cannes Film Festival.
The meta description is the text that appears below the title tag. It’s usually a couple of sentences describing the content of the page. Use this as an opportunity to encourage searchers to click the link. Think of the description tag as an advertisement for the page. Make it convincing with keywords and use action verbs to persuade the reader. For example:
- "Read up on the top ten scariest films from the past 50 years. If you enjoy horror, you won’t want to miss these movies"
- “Need a plumber? Experience the best plumbing services in Portland with highly trained, rated, and professional men and women".
- "Buy the latest sneakers. We list the latest drops before anyone else. Browse sneakers, shop, and buy here. Free delivery and returns on all orders"
People search the internet for images. To take advantage of image-based search traffic, give it a file name that describes the image and label all of your images using the Alt tag. The alt tag was designed to help the visually disabled understand the images on the page. It also helps Google understand an image’s contents.
5 words should be enough to describe the photo, while keeping it simple. Separate the words with underscores or spaces. Avoid keyword stuffing. Try and naturally define what’s in an image. When your images are optimized like this, it can help your business rank for its images as well its written content. Label all of the photos including any infographics and videos on your website.
Search engines provide one of the most effective ways to direct free, targeted traffic to your site, so you want to appear there. Search engines like Google need to find your website before they can crawl, index it, rate it, and display it in its listings.
You need to submit your site to appear in search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Most search engines have a way to submit your web pages to their index. You don't need to pay to feature in Google, Bing, or Yahoo results, but you can choose to pay for placement such as Google Adwords.
- Submit sitemaps — Once you’ve created a sitemap, submit it to Google Search Console and Bing Search Webmaster Tools.
- Optimize your site from Google's side — open your account with Google Search Console, login, and select the tools menu. From here, set your geographical target.
If your business has a fixed location, It’s likely that local searches are going to drive most of your traffic. Maximize on local SEO by submitting your site to the following major search engine's local listings:
- Ask City
- Yelp (the data on Yelp’s listings feeds Bing and Yahoo’s results)
- CitySearch (the information on this site feeds into Ask.com and Bing results)
Yes, there’s a lot to digest, but by following the advice presented here, you’ll be ahead of much of your competition. Search engine optimization is more than just a method of driving traffic to your website. It’s also a way to make your website more user-friendly from the outset