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.
30 thoughts on “SEO For Normal People: It’s Only Getting Easier”
Excellent article Christine! You covered all the basics very well – this is what we need to do to educate businesses on why they really need someone like us to help them with their web sites and marketing strategies.
See my reply Patrick, I put it in the wrong place!
Thank you so much Patrick! I agree that many businesses need professional help as social media is a full-time job! However, there are a lot of “hands on” DIY type people out there, so hopefully we can also help them by taking away the “scare tactics” and providing them with the basics!
Thank you Christine! Excellent article. I go through this daily talking clients down from the ledge and getting them off the hype. I think I will include your article in out meetings so they know I’m not kidding.
Hi Tamara, thank you for your feedback. I hope it helps! Yes, there is a lot of hype I agree!
Great post Christine,
These are indeed important basics of SEO that everyone should apply.
I agree – SEO is getting easier. Maybe not easier to rank 🙂
But there are certainly less things to do that *work* than before.
Bottom line, as you say (albeit better): Spend your time writing good content.
I’ll have to check out the article you linked to about attracting links. That sounds like a great idea!
Thank you for the great post!
Hi Bill, Yes, I can agree with you on that, it is not getting easier to rank and that is why it is a good thing that we can focus our attention on content and networking!
Great article. Im about rebuild my website and your article gave me interesting advices.
Keep me informed
Thank you Jude and good luck! Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and other networks and I would be happy to answer your questions.
Hi Christine. Great post and some food for thought. Thanks for the info. about link attraction as opposed to link building.
Christine, a very well written article about SEO. I can’t stand when I stumble on an article obviously written for bots when they are trying to sell me (not bots) something.
Thank you Scott. I 100% agree. I am glad that I found this blog for guest blogging as there seem to be a lot of good writers with real content here. Honored to have mine published along side of them!
Christine, so you say it is getting easier right??? What should I focus on??? Creating great content or marketing that content to relevant people???
Hi Josh, You should focus on both. You want to create great content that is easy to share by including social sharing tool bars (very important) and a good “pinnable” photo for each article and then you want to share it with relevant people (your social networks, your email mailing list, etc.). If you do this and your site has the basic SEO principles down, the search engines will find you. The social signals will just amplify this.
The beauty of great content, I think, is that it encapsulate both organic SEO and inbound marketing. Content attracts and the right content attracts the right people. If you work on great content people will do your marketing for you; they will become your followers, your fans, your evangelists, and will share the message for and with you.
I actually disagree that SEO is getting easier. In my opinion today’s SEO is a more time consuming and expensive task than it has ever been before. In the pas it was enough to write a couple of medium quality blog posts, using primary keywords everywher to get ranking on search engines and it didn’t cost a fortune to get links to your website. Now you have to do market research, competitor analysis, link audits, the on page optimization became more complex than it was and actually someone without SEO skills can hardly optimize a website with success. I think SEO became a profession despite so many opposition and now more and more company realize that.
Hi David, I respect your opinion and I absolutely am not saying that there is no need for SEO professionals; however, it is entirely plausible that someone without SEO skills can follow guidelines and basic principles and be successful and I know many that are doing just that. Perhaps they could be even more successful if they did have SEO skills or hired a professional company, but that was not the point.
Great article Christine, whilst its true that most aspects of SEO are common sense and hard work, there are a few areas that have the potential to sink the ship if overlooked. In my experience things like dupe content, canonicalisation issues, or just lack of content focus are the most common issues DIY SEO’s overlook.
Hi Nick, I absolutely agree and as I said above, the technical SEO is the most important piece of the puzzle. Although I did not thoroughly cover it in this article, I do plan to do a follow up dedicated to address those types of issues.
Great article Christine, I would agree with most above this is a great article on the many basics to seo, and without hard work you will get no where! I think its also very key to understand the quality of the websites your putting work into, not knowing could limit the amount of RIO you can expect to get from your links, articles, or posts.
Hi Nick, I agree! This was my first guest blog post actually and one of the reasons I chose it was due to the quality of the site.
And may I say that we’re so proud to have you here. Thanks Christine!
Thank you so much Ruud. I am happy to be here and will write another article for you soon!
Thank you for your very helpful article which is great for an SEO-novice like myself. I think I have most of the pieces of the puzzle in place barr a blog (as I struggle to think of unique and interesting content for my line of business) and am now focusing on SEO to help drive more traffic to my site. I have been doing some online research and have discovered that there are various software packages which can also help, for example with identifying relevant high traffic sites to link with etc. Would you ever recommend a software package for a ‘normal’ person? Is it a waste of money or can they be useful if used correctly? I would be grateful for your views/advice on this.
I agree with Lena that some good searches will get you far. See Find Guest Post Opportunities With One Powerful Query, for example. If you’re interested in using software/services check out Using Link Prospector & Buzzstream To Find Valuable Guest Blogging Opportunities In Minutes
I actually have not used software to find sites like that and I would probably not recommend it. What you should do is look for quality blogs in your industry and look for opportunities to be a guest blogger (as I am here on Search Engine People); work with complementary businesses to recommend each others services; create a board on Pinterest and link to your blog posts, etc.
Another thing that I recommend highly is that you focus on building relationships with a group of individuals online in which you can promote each other on social media. This can help expand your reach tremendously.
I suggest that you and follow the link referenced in my article about attracting links and give some of those suggestions a try as well.
Good luck to you!
Did you have any thoughts on how link building plays into your above strategy. If you do all of those on-site improvements without a base of authority (via links) it will not be as effective. I am just curious as to how you feel that has become easier for the average site owner. Thanks in advance for your response.
Richard, I think that on-site SEO has become a lot easier over the years. The whole “how should I write my content” is getting less important. Certainly when you compare with say 10 years ago when different search engines required different approaches.
Links remain important of course but I’d say that ranking through pure link building has become less of a long term strategy than it once was, no?
Here is an interesting article written by Ben Weitzenkorn for Entrepreneur.com that you might find interesting: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227178
I think that a healthy mix of SEO and social media based around quality content is the way to go – and the links will build naturally.
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