Search Engine Optimization, otherwise known as SEO, is a marketing buzzword that seems to come up frequently but is often misunderstood. Clients often come to us asking for “SEO services” to make their website rank as the number one site for a particular word or phrase. There are several tactics we can implement on a website to improve the ranking for a specific term, but to make a large impact, you have to step back and look at SEO with a much wider lens. While SEO used to be pretty simple in terms of optimization, it is now much more complex.
There is more to SEO than simply tinkering with metadata. User experience, content, link quality, and an overall understanding of the customer journey must all be evaluated along with site mechanics, such as title tags and meta descriptions.
Google continues to change its algorithm in favor of well-designed sites that follow user experience standards. A few items to consider when evaluating your site’s usability:
Is it mobile-friendly or responsive? On mobile searches, Google penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly. Ensure your site is designed with mobile users in mind. This means having correctly sized buttons, click-to-call phone numbers, and ditching Flash and pop-ups. 74% of people will return to a website if its UX is optimized for mobile.
Does the website load in a way that users expect? Cumulative Layout Shift (or CLS) is a measure of how much a webpage unexpectedly shifts. For example, if a website visitor loaded a page and, while they were reading it, a banner loads and the page jumps down, that would contribute to a negative CLS score when Google crawls the page.
Is the structure of the website and its individual pages sound? There are certain assumptions that users have when navigating a website. For example, the logo should serve to navigate back to the homepage. Also, contact information is usually in the header or footer of the site, but a “contact” page is also a good idea.
Is the site well-organized and visually appealing? Consider how a user may browse through your site and ensure that calls-to-action are clear and the most important pages and information are easily found.
Strength and Precision of Content
Posting content on a regular basis is always a good idea, but your content is useless if no one ever sees it. This is where the following search visibility tactics come into play:
Craft page titles that are likely to match common search queries. While coming up with a creative title for your content can work well on social media outlets, the best way to make your content more visible on search engines is to give it a title that a user would enter into the search bar. For example, the blog title “Talking the ‘Tok: Finding Success on TikTok” has a good chance of showing up for the search query “how to be successful on TikTok.”
Post articles that are 1,250 – 2,000 words. Over the last few years, search engines have become fans of longer-form articles, so pick a topic you can easily write about in over 1,000 words. Articles with less than 300 words rarely rank well. (*This article clocks in at just under 1,500 words, not that I’m counting. 😉)
Update content frequently. Search engines reward sites that keep their content fresh, so stick to an attainable content schedule. Users will also bounce from out-of-date content, as it creates a negative user experience.
Define audience profiles or personas and target blogs to those personas. Your business likely has a few different audience groups that you serve. Personifying your audience is a valuable step in writing content that matters to a specific group within your target audience. What interests one audience may not interest another, so it’s important to vary your topics and write specifically to each persona.
Have a sound SEO strategy in place. Before you ask the question, “How can I rank higher for X term,” consider the following questions via moz.com, as they will help you craft a strategy that will lead to search visibility success.
- What does our organization create that helps solve searchers’ problems?
- What is the unique value we provide in the marketplace?
- What is our pathway for turning visitors from searchers to customers?
- What is the online journey our customers take to find us (even when they’re not looking for us)?
- How will we amplify our message?
One important factor that is often overlooked is the quantity and quality of links that link back to your site. Search engines look at quality links to your site as brownie points in the credibility department. If the website that links to your site is viewed as credible in Google’s eyes, it can yield major payoffs for your search visibility. You can obtain links to your site in several ways, but we recommend obtaining them through press opportunities, partnerships, or valuable directory links on industry-specific sites. There are also tools you can use to disavow toxic backlinks. The following factors should be considered when improving your link-building strategy:
- Quality and authority of links to your site
- Quantity of links
- Relevance of links to content
- Words in link text
- Internal links within your site
Understanding the Customer’s Journey
One of the most important parts of SEO is to have a strong awareness of the typical customer journey. Any good SEO strategy should be created around meeting the needs of the customer as they travel down the purchase funnel. The following are questions to consider before you ask the question “Why am I not ranking for X term?”:
- What problems does your product or service solve?
- What offline resources might they consult to solve them? (Friends, family, colleagues, etc.)
- What online resources might they consult to solve them? (Ratings and review sites, social media sites, search engines, etc.)
- What are likely circumstances they will encounter before they need us?
- What is a typical purchase timeline?
By answering these questions, you are better able to position the right content at the right time to your customers. As an example, at the beginning of a customer’s journey they may be asking more discovery-based questions like “What is a widget?” During the consideration phase they may ask comparison questions like “Is X widget better than y widget?” And after purchase they may get into specific questions like “How do I set up my widget?” By answering these questions with your content, you are more likely to increase your search rankings.
Site Mechanics & SEO Tactics
Yes, these old-school methods are still worth implementing. There are upwards of 200 different site mechanics and SEO tactics that Google’s algorithm factors into its rankings. A few noteworthy tactics include:
Implement proper title tags and meta descriptions. These tags make a significant impact on your search rankings when they match up to a user’s query. Title tags should include a keyword-friendly phrase that sums up the page content, while meta descriptions can be comprised of one-to-two sentences describing the page’s content. Pro-tip: Abide by search engine character limits to ensure that all of your information is shown.
Implement descriptive image tags. Each image you upload should include ALT text. This is what appears if the browser cannot display the image, but it’s also what search engines use to understand what the image is about. Since Google cannot “see” the image, creating a keyword-friendly ALT tag is vital for showing up in image searches. Bonus points for creating an image title tag and naming the image itself something that best describes the image and is just a bit catchier than “screenshot123.jpg.”
Update broken links. Broken links signal to search engines that your site may not be updated and provides a poor user experience. Most of our clients are often surprised by just how many broken links they have on their site, so a regular audit of this is necessary.
Purchase a strong domain name. While not as strong of a factor as it used to be, search engines still look at the strength of the domain name. If it’s possible to include a keyword in your domain name, it’s helpful to do so.
Install Google Analytics & Google Webmaster Tools. While this won’t necessarily impact your rankings directly, it is a vital tool to understand your audience and ultimately improve search visibility. Learning how users are getting to your site, at what point they drop off, and what search terms they are using to get there is valuable information you should be looking at on a regular basis. Remember that SEO is not “set it and forget it.”
SEO is so much more than a few keywords sprinkled into your content. The next time you start to put SEO in a small box of tactical services, think again, because it includes everything from broad strategy, content creation and a clear understanding of your audience to the focused tactics we have come to know.