More than six billion search queries are typed into Google every day by people looking for answers to questions, searching for products and services to make their lives easier, and trying to find solutions to problems. Its job - like any search engine - is to provide searchers with websites that offer the most relevant information based on the keywords they typed in, so they can find the information they need quickly.
Since the early 2000s, Google has made many changes to refine and improve its search algorithms - computer programs that scour websites and look for information that will help pair it with search queries. Search Engine Optimization is the process of organizing and structuring the content on your website so it's easy for the search engines to decipher and more accessible to web users looking for information. Why is this important? No matter how contemporary your website design is, how competitive your pricing is, or how high-quality your products are, without good SEO, you're not going to rank on the first page of the search engine results and searchers aren't going to be able to find you.
SEO: Four Key Areas to Focus On
So, how do you make sure you're visible to users searching the web? There is no magic formula for ranking on the first page of Google's organic search results. It's a combination of multiple strategies that work together to improve your position, as well as your conversion rate once a visitor lands on your website. (After all, what's the point of getting one of those clicks if the visitor doesn't convert?) Let's take a look at four key areas to focus on to improve your website's SEO and rank higher in the search results.
1. On-page SEO
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing the way your website and content is structured and organized in order to improve its ranking in the organic search engine results pages. Here are some of the factors you must pay close attention to when optimizing your on page-SEO.
- Linkable, high-quality content, including rich media
- SEO-friendly URLs
- Use of title and description tags
- Appropriate keyword use and placement
- Site loading speed
- Use of social share buttons
- Use of keywords in H1 tags
- Use of inbound and outbound links
- Proper site hierarchy and navigation
On-page SEO not only helps search engines crawl and index your website pages and content, it helps the people searching for products and services you offer find what they need quickly, easily, and with minimum distractions.
TIP: If you want to read more about each of the on-page SEO factors discussed above, check out SEO Moz's article on "On-Page Ranking Factors". http://moz.com/learn/seo/on-page-factors
2. Content Marketing
The increasing focus on website content was solidified in August 2013 with one of the biggest updates to Google's search algorithm in recent years - its Hummingbird update. According to Google, this update improved the search engine's ability to differentiate between websites with high-quality content and those with poor quality content. High-quality content is relevant, authoritative and original, and offers value to your target audience. It can include:
- Photo galleries
- Blog posts
- Online magazines
- How-to videos
- Buyers' guides
- Giveaways & contests
Content marketing isn't easy. It takes time and talent to create content that your target audience will want to consume and share, however, the rewards in terms of SEO are worth the effort.
TIP: Develop a plan to create a mix of great content for your website that is informative, helps position your company as an industry expert, and is easily shared with your target audience.
3. Social Media
Are you using social media channels to promote your products and services? If not, you're missing out on some serious referral traffic and a boost in SEO. Facebook alone accounts for 20% of referral traffic on average each month, followed by Pinterest at around seven percent and Twitter at just over one percent. In addition to driving traffic, social media has become an integral component to the major search engines' ranking algorithms. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are now indexed by search engines and their content is included in the search engine results pages.
And don't leave Google+ out of the mix! Google's most recent search engine algorithm update, unofficially being referred to as "Pigeon," http://searchengineland.com/experts-weigh-googles-pigeonlocal-search-algorithm-update-198499 is geared towards improving local search results and giving local establishments more visibility in the search engine results pages. Instead of a search for "bakeries" bringing up the most prominent bakeries in the country with highly optimized websites and scores of traffic, the results will place more emphasis on local bakeries. Local businesses that have a verified Google+ page enabled with be able to have their menus, customer reviews and photos displayed on search engine results pages in addition to their websites.
TIP: Include links to your social media profile pages in your website header or footer so they're visible on every single page. Similarly, include links to your website on your social media pages so that you're benefiting from their high page ranks. Create social media accounts for your company on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, Google+, etc.
4. Link Building
While there has been less emphasis in recent years on inbound links to your website, link building is still a critical component to SEO. The focus, however, has shifted from having a high quantity of inbound links from any type of website, to having links from high-quality sites that are relevant to your business and/or industry.
What determines the quality of a site that's linking to you? Domain authority is the best indicator of a website's quality. Based on a 100-point scale, domain authority combines a number of factors, including a website's structure, number of inbound and outbound links, content, and social media presence, to determine its strength. The closer a site ranks to 100 the more likely it is to rank high in the organic search engine results pages.
Think of link building as a popularity contest. The more popular a site is that links to you and the more closely related to your industry it is, the more it will increase your popularity. Don't even bother getting links from low-quality sites - it will hurt you more than it will help you.
Examples of high-quality inbound links to your website include:
- Blog posts written by popular industry bloggers that link to your site or specific products and services
- Guest blog posts written by key members of your organization and published on quality industry-related blogs
- Awesome, shareable content that links back to your website
- Online forums where you can answer questions, participate in Q&As, and share your industry knowledge
- Online business directories
- Wikipedia articles
IP: If you have any control over your inbound links, be sure that the linked text incorporates your most important key terms. For example, instead of "read more about XYZ company's high-powered microwaves," it should read "read more about XYZ company's high-powered microwaves." The term "high-powered microwaves" is much more beneficial to you than "read more."