What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
You may have heard about this mysterious thing called SEO that can drive a ton of traffic to your website and potentially turn those visitors into customers. So what is it exactly? To be honest, it’s a loaded question, but the goal of this blog is to give you a basic understanding of the subject with the help of my friend Casey Nifong, owner of Mountain Laurel Digital and an overall SEO Queen.
Is SEO some secret recipe that skyrockets you to the first page of a Google search? Kinda! SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it’s essentially a complex algorithm that Google created to understand each website. This may sound simple, but there are a lot of factors that go into this that help Google trust you and see how authentic your website is. In order to do this Google is always changing and adjusting this equation so it’s important to understand that it’s an ongoing process.
Here’s a analogy for you. Imagine you need to hire some people to work on your house. There are twenty people lined up outside of your door and they’re all trying to show you that you can trust them to do the job. How would you know who to hire? You decide to rearrange the line so the front of the line has the most promising subjects. The people that are carrying resumes, portfolios and references are most likely at the front of the line. If you scan their documents and notice that there is nothing even closely related to the task at hand, they’ll get pushed towards the back of the line. When it comes time for interviews you can easily select the people at the top and tell the rest to go home. This is basically what SEO is. Google is trying to find the closest match to the search inquiry and if they crawl your site and read that it has nothing to do with the search topic, then you’re going to get pushed farther back in rankings. If Google sees that some super trustworthy websites or a large amount of websites are linking and referencing you then you get pushed up. It’s almost like a friend recommending a contractor because they did a killer job at their house. And then another friend says the same thing. Your trust levels skyrocket! Search engines are essentially collecting as much information and references as they can to show you who best fits your search.
SEO is wayyy more in-depth than this so that’s why I decided to pull in my trustworthy friend Casey and ask her a few questions around this topic:
If you had 30 seconds to explain what SEO is, what would you say?
SEO is short for search engine optimization, which is ongoing strategic research, targeting, technical implementation, and testing work done on a website in order for it to be seen and clicked on in the organic search results by quality audiences searching for your products or services online.
What are the main factors that go into ranking a website?
- Targeting valuable key phrases within the metadata of the website
- Being search intent focused and not keyword focused
- Having strategically written title tags and meta descriptions that answers your audience’s search queries
- Quality content focused on creating context for target readers
- Being Mobile friendly
- Not having technical errors that make it hard for Google to read your site
- Google My Business listings with categories and target regions included
- Having a high quality link profile, low quality links actually hurt your rankings
What are some quick and basic tactics for boosting your SEO?
- Confirm you have a sitemap setup on the back of your site and submit the sitemap to Google Search Console
- Setup a Google My Business listing with photos and all the details filled out thoroughly (See my blog about Google My Business here)
- Create a blog or resource page that can be updated regularly with quality content that your audience is searching for
- Get involved in charities, sponsorships, or community events and request a link back to your site
How does a blog help your SEO?
A blog creates a way for your site to be an ongoing resource to people searching for your services and expertise. This ongoing traffic from within your industry creates online credibility for Google making them choose to rank your site over others that may not offer that ongoing resources in the search results.
What are some myths and wives tales surrounding the world of SEO?
- Keyword stuffing doesn’t work. Many SEO specialists are still using old school tactics like including every keyword they can think of for their audience in all their metadata. This actually hurts your site now because Google has gotten smart enough to see it as manipulation of the search results and sees the site as uncredible.
- Being mobile friendly isn’t everything. There is a misconception that just because your site can be read on a mobile phone, it’s mobile friendly. The search engines rank by the best user experience, so really it’s more about the flow of the site for the user not just being mobile friendly.
- Content is king is no longer true. Context is king is the real truth when it comes to content and SEO. Having a certain length of content or a number of keywords in your content doesn’t help your SEO anymore. It’s about what content is answering the user’s questions and search queries the best.
How much time and effort do successful SEO campaigns take? How long does it take to notice results?
- Successful SEO takes time. This will never change and actually is becoming more difficult as the algorithms get smarter. This is a why a monthly SEO campaign is required in order to get results because the search engine expectations and strategies keep changing. The time it takes really depends on the online competition, the magnitude of the site, and your overall goals.
- It typically takes 6 - 12 months to see a noticeable difference in your keyword presence and organic traffic. This is because Google has to re-crawl your site every time you make updates, so each update has to be tested and analysed in Google Analytics after Google updates the search results with your changes. Once Google has a longer history with your SEO updates you start to see the search benefits of your strategy.
How do you know what keywords to use?
The keyword research process I use is broken into these steps:
- Identify specific persona target audiences
- Create thorough persona profiles
- Through interviews and research develop each persona’s search journey
- Audit online competitor keywords
- Build out keyword list from research and Google Adwords planner tool
- Narrow down the keywords by highest monthly average search and lowest monthly competition
- Map out narrowed down keyword list to content and persona target goals
How do you implement your SEO research to a website?
This is an ongoing process of updates, tweaking, analysing, revising, and testing. After my upfront SEO research is complete I update the title tags first and report in analytics each update. Then I update the meta descriptions and report those updates as well. The title tags and meta description writing process takes time because they have to be a certain length, encompass the keywords naturally, and align with the client’s brand goals. The implementation process requires a lot of monitoring data and creating strategies that respond to the results. Based off the results I create specific SEO strategies like: content optimization, blog ideation, web copy changes, design changes, and call to action strategy changes.
Is Google AdWords part of SEO?
- Google Adwords assists with the keyword research data, but that is it.
- Google Adwords is not SEO, it is called Paid Per Click Campaigns (PPC or Paid Search).
- This service requires a different type of specialist focused on PPC management, which means they are basically a pay per click budget manager. I like to call them paid search accountants because their main job is making sure your budget is being utilized to its full potential every day.
- SEO is only focused on the organic search presence not the ads. Google Adwords controls the ads that come up in the two results above the organic search results as well as the banner and display ads.
I’ve primarily talked about Google. Should I be concerned with Yahoo and Bing search engines?
Yes actually. But really you only have to worry about Bing because they bought Yahoo. Bing search is what controls voice search on most devices, so it has made itself relevant especially in the product marketing space. Google is still the most important by far.
Hopefully this blog helps give you a better understanding of this mysterious topic and some pointers on how to improve your own SEO. While I don't specialize in SEO or promise improved rankings, I do make sure each website is Google friendly by adding site descriptions, page descriptions, page titles, custom URLs and image alt tags by grabbing information from the content of your site. If you're looking for a more in-depth strategy and research on your target audience, you'll want to hire an SEO expert. To find out more about Casey and Mountain Laurel Digital's services, check out her site here!
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