Is SEO (search engine optimization) still relevant? You may have heard the rumor that SEO is dead. Google and the other search engines have made the quest to rank on the front page of the search engines meaningless. Well, don’t believe it. I’m here to tell you that SEO is alive and well, and should be an important part of your business marketing strategy.
Let’s clear the air: SEO is not dead. It will die when people stop using search engines to find information. SEO will be irrelevant when search engines stop listing one website above another. There is always a reason one site ranks higher than another.
Search engine optimization is not easy. The search engines, specifically Google, are smarter than they were 10 years ago. The tricks don’t work like they did in the past. This is where the death of SEO rumor got started. If Google notices an old SEO trick, such as keyword stuffing or paid links; your website receives a penalty. If this happens to you, there is a way to help fix it, which I will explain later.
Much of the discussion in this article focuses around Google. The reason for SEO’s focus on Google is that the company owns more than 65 percent of the search market. In some industries and for many websites, that number is much higher. Considering Google is the leader, many of the other search engines follow its lead. In most cases, if you make Google happy, you will rank well in other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo.
The pace of search technology changes daily. Chances are high Google has served a search query answer to you using artificial intelligence. It’s a process called deep learning and is designed to understand the searcher’s intent. Two people from different industries or parts of the world can ask a similar question with the intent of receiving a different answer. The solution is complex and Google is fixing this problem with their algorithm called Rank Brain.
What does this mean to your website? Now, more than in the past, it is important for you think about the intent and needs of your customer. Why are people looking for you? Stuffing your site with keywords is not as important as offering an answer, or presenting a solution to your prospect’s problem.
There are three parts to the SEO puzzle: research, on-page, and off-page SEO. Research is your starting point.
It’s common for business owners to believe they know what customers are searching for and be completely wrong. This is why good research will help kick-off your SEO campaign in the right direction. On-page SEO is about hundreds of possible factors, such as the structure of your website, page headlines, how quickly a page loads and the overall user experience.
Off-page is about links, and how your company, products, services and people are talked about on other websites. The topics connected to, and around, the links pointing to your website are also important.
Your first step is to see how your website measures up. I recommend you use the moz.com tool Open Site Explorer (https://moz.com/researchtools/ose) to review the number of links, their quality and domain authority pointing to your website. Compare your result to your keyword competition to gauge the amount of work needed to rank well in your field.
Next, expand your research by reviewing Google trends (https://www.google.com/trends). What are people really looking for and is that trend increasing? Hopefully, you are not surprised that most people are not searching with terms related to industry jargon.
Understanding how many people are searching for your product or service helps to determine how you approach your website SEO. Visit Google AdWords Keyword Planner (adwords.google.com) to gauge how many searches per month relate to your website. Don’t take the numbers too literally. Instead, try to figure out which keywords are more effective.
Research what your competition is doing. I review what companies are doing for related products and similar industries. I find new tactics, testable ideas, and, sometimes, one word that makes a big difference in the search results. Websites such as ahrefs.com, spyfu.com and semrush.com offer good information to help you look under the hood of your competition.
Keep every page on your website focused; it will serve to not confuse Google. Create a new page for each topic, and don’t hold back on the details, photos and videos. Most pages on the Internet are less than 1,000 words. If you want to get noticed, pack more quality information on each page than do your competitors. The concept of quality over quantity has never been more true than today. However, a website with both quality and quantity will win every time.
Let’s start at the top. Your title tag is the most important real estate on your web page. It sets the tone for the rest of the page and Google takes it very seriously. This is the headline you see in search results, in your bookmarks and on tabs on your browser. If your page title is home, Your Company Name or a basic page title, you have an SEO problem. SEO is about being found by people who don’t know you, and unless you are a well-known brand, chances are that you don’t need the name of your company in the title tag of your website.
A web page title tag must be descriptive and contain your target keyword. Use your location if you are a local entity or professional. Also, consider the intention of the people searching for your product or service. What do they want? This is where Rank Brain, Google’s artificial intelligence algorithm, comes into play. For example, I added “for hire” at the end of a client’s title tag, and traffic increased by more than 30 percent the next month. This is something I don’t think would have happened a few years ago. Continuous testing is a must for a successful SEO campaign.
The description tag is also important. It’s not as much of a ranking factor as it is your sales pitch to the people searching for what you offer. It’s important to remember that being found on the search engines is important, but search engines don’t buy from you; the people who use them do. This is why your descriptions and information must be interesting to the people you want to attract as customers.
There are other tags to consider, such as the alt, H, and keyword tags. Unfortunately, the keyword tag was abused and now is ignored by the search engines. However, there are other ways to help the search engines understand more about your website and offer more opportunities to display information from it.
One of the best methods is to follow the best practices found at schema.org. This website is a collaboration of many key Internet companies, including search engines. The site is designed to help maintain well-structured data on websites, and improve search results. Using schema mark-up helps the search engines understand what is on your web page. When the search engines understand and trust your page, there are more opportunities to be found online.
From this point, on-page SEO is all about the content you share on your website. It’s important to make sure that your pages are well-written and easy to read. Use headlines to break up your copy and subject topics. Start with a large headline, which includes your keywords, known as an H1 tag.
In developing your content, it is vital not to copy information from other websites. Google will penalize your webpage if you are not the first to display the original text. This is the case even if the copy was originated by you, such as information from a parent company, or a franchise headquarters’ website.
Google likes pages that offer a multimedia experience. Good imagery is important for your visitors. However, Google can’t read the thousands of words your photographs represent – at least, not yet. The search engines are getting closer each year. Until then, make sure to describe your imagery well, and use alt tags to help image search results.
Videos are significant to the multimedia experience. I prefer to use YouTube and tag my videos well with good headlines, descriptions and tags. Google does play your video and considers its quality, topic and words–no matter your video hosting source.
The search engines love fresh, up-to-date information. A company blog can help provide the material for content-hungry search engines. How often should you post? My first recommendation is consistency. The reality is that, the more that you post (using the same on-page SEO rules), the more effective and valuable it is for driving traffic to your company blog. I’ve found that a good company blog can account for more than 50 percent of new traffic to a company’s website.
Off-page SEO is about everything that is happening on other webpages. At its inception, Google gave value to the number and quality of links pointed to a website through a system that they called Page Rank. Today, how Google and other search engines rank your website involves many other factors, but they still rely on quality links to your website.
Over time, the value of a direct link may diminish. For now, however, it is important to earn quality links. In some cases, Google doesn’t need a link to give more authority to your website. A mention of your brand on a high-authority website, with or without a link, can help. The search engines are getting smarter, and they recognize your name and the context in which it is shared.
Social media is an important part of a good SEO strategy. Developing a social following by becoming a thought-leader in your industry can increase the chances that people will visit and link to your website. Social media is an excellent distribution channel for your new blog posts and announcements. However, you must do the hard work of community-building before you can expect solid SEO results from social.
There are many ways to proactively develop links to your website. Consider asking vendors or people in your network or industry to connect to you. Sign up for social media sites, update online directories and ask to be a guest blogger. The search engines do give weight to different types of links. I recommend that you not spend too much time figuring out the value of each link pointed toward your website. If a website seems spammy, avoid it. If you are still unsure, refer to the Moz.com Open Site Explorer. Unless the link is from a trusted source, avoid actively seeking links from domains with domain authority less than 20. Remember, more authority is always better.
The best practice is to not depend on one link development solution and do not pay for links. Ever. Think of your link development process as creating a well-rounded profile of different link sources.
Once your campaign is under way, it’s important to track and analyze your progress. This means you must have your tools in place before you begin making adjustments to your website. Begin with confirming that you have http://analytics.google.com installed. Google analytics offers helpful statistics about the visitors to your website, such as the number of visitors, how long they stay, and how many and which pages they view. Analytics gives you tools to measure your success.
When you measure your progress, compare year over year statistics. Comparing month to month is not the best sign of success or failure. SEO takes time and each month has its own characteristics, such as seasons, weather and holidays. It’s best to compare the month of March to March, for example.
Next, review the data in your Google webmaster tools (www.google.com/webmasters). The value of webmaster tools is often overlooked. It is your best daily connection to Google and how it views your website.
Remember that I mentioned that there is a way to fix your relationship with Google? If Google penalizes your website, webmaster tools is the place to fix it. Here, Google will let you know if they find an issue and while they won’t tell you how to fix it, knowing why your entire website is missing from the Google index is helpful.
The value of seeing how the search engines view your website is extremely valuable. Which keywords does Google consider most relevant to your website? Review how many impressions your website receives in Google search results, your keyword rankings, and their click-through-rates. A click-through-rate represents the number of times searchers click your website link per one-hundred search result impressions. The results are usually a combination of your ranking, relevancy of your title tag headline and description.
What is SEO success?
The purpose of search engine optimization is to drive quality traffic to your website. Once visitors land onto your website, and you must consider issues with the landing page, website, your offerings or call-to-action, if you are not earning sales.
The three metrics I like to track are my website’s year-over-year search engine traffic results, found in Google analytics; the number of impressions my website receives in search results, found in webmaster tools; and my keyword rankings.
SEO takes time and is a never-ending process. It is time-consuming and expensive, due to the fact that effective SEO requires the creation of content, itself a labor-intensive practice. However, the results from new earned business can make a big difference in your company’s revenue.