SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of affecting a web page's results in the search engines.
By following some guidelines when writing your content to include keywords and phrases in "optimal" placement; by building links to your content from other websites and directories; and by making sure that your site is able to be crawled by search, you can improve your positioning in the search engine results.
Adding social sharing tools to make your content "shareable," tying your content to Google+ and other social media platforms ("Authorship", "Open Graph tags", etc.), and by also optimizing your social media profiles and content, you can easily put the "social" into your SEO strategy.
You can take it even further by optimizing your site for mobile devices and for local search; however what it really boils down to is doing everything you can to help your content get found. It may sound difficult, and I am not saying that SEO is easy, but many of these "new" strategies are as simple as including a piece of code, and if you don't do them all, it is not going to be the end of the world!
Onsite SEO: Optimize Your Content
Much of onsite SEO refers to improvements that can be made to your website or blog in order to "optimize" it for the search engines. While the exact "formula" that the search engines use to rank websites are kept secret, vary across the different search engines, and change regularly, there are certain techniques that most search professionals agree upon in order to improve results.
Here are my recommendations to improve onsite SEO:
- Conduct keyword research to find relevant search terms – The keys here are "research" and "relevant" – I have found over the years that most small business owners that I know and in fact many web designers are just guessing when it comes to keywords and actually have no idea what terms are being used to find related websites. It will do you no good to optimize your site for "pink widgets" if everyone who wants widgets are searching for "polka dot widgets." Google Adwords is a great free tool that you can use to help find keywords based on your website and/or industry. You should also be doing a little "social listening" to find out what your target market is talking about!
- Write your content with your audience in mind – Once you have determined the terms that are being used, your content needs to be written or rewritten to include your terms. Consider each term or similar group of terms to be a topic for a page and then use your creative writing skills to make your content interesting for the reader while using these terms in a way that will improve your search results.
It is important to note that your content should be written for your intended audience, not for the search engines: your ultimate goal is conversion.
Offsite Or Offpage Search Engine Optimization
Offsite or offpage SEO refers to link building, submitting your site to search engines and directories, setting up profiles on various social media sites; basically it involves acquiring "backlinks" to your site. It is important to note that fewer quality links are 100 times better than hundreds of spammy links. Backlinks from sites with high "authority" will help improve your own site's authority and thereby placement in the search engines. Search Engine Watch is a great place to learn about both onsite and offsite optimization and more recently, have encouraged marketers to think more about link attraction rather than link building. Here is a great post with "10 Golden Rules to Attracting Authority Links."
Technical Search Engine Optimization
Technical SEO is often overlooked when discussing SEO and it is perhaps the MOST important onsite work; consider this:
No matter how search engine optimized your site is or no matter how many sites link to it, if the search engines cannot "crawl" it, then it will not be indexed.
Issues such as frames, content embedded in Flash, broken links, nofollow use, canonicalization, redirects, robots.txt exclusions, link depth, session or cookie requirements, load time, etc, can hinder the search engines' ability to crawl and index your site. Using Google's Webmaster Tools can help you with many of these technical issues. Here is a great step-by-step guide to conducting an SEO audit that can point you in the right direction if you are having technical optimization problems.
I understand that I may have lost quite a few readers with that last paragraph. I understand that not everyone is a webmaster. If your website works fine and is getting indexed in the search engines, you can probably ignore this piece; however, if your website is not working correctly or you are having problems getting your site indexed, you may want to consult with an expert.
Google recommends responsive web design for search. Specifically, "Google recommends webmasters follow the industry best practice of using responsive web design, namely serving the same HTML for all devices and using only CSS media queries to decide the rendering on each device." Does that mean you should not have a separate mobile site? Not necessarily. What you should do is use the approach that is best for your content and your audience.
When it comes to mobile and SEO, the most important things to remember is to ensure that your pages load quickly, that the site is at the very least mobile friendly enough to be readable and usable, and that the browser doesn't redirect the visitor to a landing page rather than the link that was found in search.
When setting up your social media accounts, apply the rules and recommendations about onsite SEO to your social profiles and posts as well. Be sure that your profiles are complete, that you are using your keywords, and that you are linking to your website. Your choice of hashtags should also be carefully considered – in fact, you can most likely use your keywords! Learn how to set up Google Authorship and include absolutely be sure to include social sharing tools on your site to encourage your readers to help share your content with their audience.
As social media continues to evolve, it will play more and more of a role in the ranking of your pages in the search results. Social influence and the amount of social sharing of your information "social signals" are already impacting how sites are ranked in search. It is important that your brand be active on social media, sharing high value content and engaging with fans and followers. What you are seeking is to build a solid "social media presence" to help your business stay relevant. As Author Erik Qualman said, "We don't have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it."
Once again, it seems that Google is making some changes to their Local/Places/Listings/Etc. and existing users are apparently in a transitioning process. At this time, existing users should just wait while new users should sign up for Google+ for business (you will need a personal account as well), and Google Places for business, and install the code snippet on your website to let Google know that your website is associated with an official Google+ Page. Google allows local businesses to tag data and associate it with their business as well as to add missing data. Ensuring that your physical address and phone number are correct are very important.
You might also want to:
- Consider having a separate website for each physical location as well and then build local links to your site, for example from your local Chamber of Commerce.
- Set up online review profiles such as Yelp and Foursquare can also help you with your local search engine optimization efforts – just be sure your customer service is up to par so that the reviews are good!
Facebook's Graph Search is another important tool for local businesses. Make sure that your business Facebook Page has an updated address, that it is categorized correctly, that you are posting content regularly and that you are engaging with your audience. Pages with higher activity, more Check-ins and more likes are going to show up higher in search – both on Facebook and elsewhere.
Search Engine Optimization is an ongoing process and should be reviewed and refined on a regular basis, including conducting research to ensure that your keywords are still relevant. Beginners should start by choosing keywords that have low competition for best results.
BONUS! Optimize for Conversions!
Acquiring traffic is only half the battle and is a wasted effort if your site is not able to convince a visitor to take an action. Some additional things you can do are to to optimize your site for "conversion" are to:
- Post your phone number clearly and prominently on each and every page of your site;
- Make sure that your site looks professional, is free of grammar and spelling errors and that it does not have broken links;
- Use clear calls to action and make it easy for visitors to sign up or to take whatever it is that you want them to take;
- Eliminate unnecessary links from the page and reduce barriers, such as forms that request too much information or a difficult check-out process;
- Keep your website up-to-date;
- Provide testimonials and product reviews;
- Including shipping and return policies; offer guarantees;
- Use SSL certificates and third-party trust logos as needed.
Your site should be optimized to improve your conversion rates BEFORE you even consider spending money on SEO or PPC (pay-per-click). To learn more about "acquisition" and "conversion," read my series "The 3 Keys of Online Marketing" beginning with conversion (because their is no point in discussing ways to acquire more traffic if you are having conversion problems).
If anything, SEO is getting a little easier rather than harder. As the search engines become smarter, and as more and more social cues become available to indicate what is "good content," you can actually worry a little less about where to put your keywords and focus more on developing great content.
When you break it down, SEO is SEO – it's simply doing whatever you can to ensure that the content you worked so hard to create gets to your audience – no matter which road they choose to travel.
Christine DeGraff is a Partner at Websketching Web Design with 15 years experience practicing web development and search engine optimization (SEO). Christine specializes in responsive web design and social media marketing and was honored as one of New Jersey's Best 50 Women in Business in 2011.
Have SEO questions? Send a Tweet to @ChrisDeGraff for answers!