Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process by which a website can gain or maximize online traffic by appearing on a search engine results page (SERP).
It’s impossible for a business to survive, let alone thrive, without a digital presence. But the internet is infinite and SEO lets your website be found by people who are using search engines to find products and services like the ones you offer or who are looking specifically for you. It can also help you be found by users searching for your competitors.
Google and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo employ sophisticated pieces of coding, but how they work is rather simple. A user enters a search query and the search engine combs its archive of web pages to return a prioritized results page that matches that query. It’s important for business owners to understand how a webpage is indexed and how ranking is prioritized so that they can take advantage.
SEO lets your website be found organically as opposed to buying ad space on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page), which is known as search engine marketing (SEM) or pay-per-click (PPC). Organic and paid listings appear on every results page.
WHY IS SEO IMPORTANT?
Your website is your digital storefront and SEO is the big, bright marquee that brings foot traffic through the door. Therefore, every business needs to be listed organically, and more importantly, the higher you rank, the more users will visit your website. The goal of any search engine is singular: deliver a list of websites to exactly match what a user is searching for.
If your website isn’t indexed and ranked on a SERP, you are losing business. Actually, you’re losing business every time a relevant keyword is searched, as your competitors are seizing more of the market share through internet traffic. Don’t worry, though, SEO is a marathon not a 100-yard dash. It takes time and a strategy.
Users trust organic search results because they know it’s been vetted by a search engine. Think about it this way: a page one ranking will let you be found but it also speaks to credibility and helps build trust with prospective customers.
Here’s the kicker, SEO rules are constantly evolving as search engines refine them to ensure that their results page can’t be manipulated by developers, webmasters or a determined business owner. You need to create an honest and multi-faceted strategy to help search engines find your website.
Visitors to your website need to be engaged and informed about what you do. Content is the most valuable aspect of a website as it communicates what your business offers, provides pertinent information (contact info, hours of operation, pricing, etc.) and builds your brand.
Writing content isn’t enough. You need to update it regularly to make sure your website never becomes stagnant, which could drop its ranking.
Search engines want to index organized and intuitive web pages, which feature the following types of content:
Content serves two purposes for a search engine:
This means that content is how a search engine judges your website’s quality and relevance. Businesses need to create a website with informative, compelling content that is regularly updated and to pair that with a flawless user experience.
A homepage is a website’s most important section. It will most likely be viewed the most often and its quality determines whether users will travel deeper to learn about your products or services or to get your contact info.
Your homepage should clearly articulate your value proposition, mission statement and all key messaging. Remember, don’t repeat the same information or stuff the page full of keywords to fool a search engine. It won’t work.
Product and/or Services Page
These pages are vital to your SEO efforts. Create individual pages for each product or service you offer. Make sure that you provide accurate information per product or service. A user experience should flow seamlessly from a product page to the checkout or contact us page.
Whatever it is your website is designed to communicate and sell, you must make sure that it first educates. Dedicate a section of your website to be a resource centre where visitors can learn about your business and gain access to the knowledge that can help them make informed decisions. You can structure this page as a FAQ, and answer the 10-20 most common questions that people ask you about your business.
This is especially important for law firms, accountants and dental and medical practices. One tip is to use info-graphics as they tend to effectively distill information for visitors and increase engagement.
Blogs are a sure-fire way to consistently publish high-quality content that can attract users to your website. It’s also a content engine for your newsletter and social channels, streamlining your content strategy. Best of all, it provides countless opportunities for backlinks, which are links between your website and a relevant and credible one, as people can share your posts on their own blogs, websites or social media accounts.
Search engines prioritize websites based on authority and credibility. These two factors are determined in part by inbound links (a hyperlink from one website to your website). Inbound links are as much about quality as they are quantity. Search engines double check the authority of the websites that are linking to your site to verify their credibility. They do this by reviewing the context of the link and the anchor text (the highlighted word or words in a hyperlink).
Link building is part of off-page SEO (activities performed on other parts of the internet). It is an absolute necessity if you want to be indexed and ranked. Search engines required other websites and directories to tell them that you are trustworthy so that they know your website is safe to include in a SERP.
Here are a few ways proven link-building methods::
Content is king but you could undermine your efforts to be found if your content doesn’t feature relevant keywords at the proper density. Keywords are words or phrases (we’ll get to this) that allow users to find you via search engine queries.
If someone searches “law firm toronto”, these words need to appear a certain number of times on your website if you want to be indexed and ranked. Search engines don’t explicitly provide this information but a good rule is to use keywords naturally and each keyword should appear in 2% of a page’s content.
Follow these steps to identify which keywords you should use when writing content:
Here are keyword research tools that are widely considered to be the best:
These tools recommend keywords based on your URL or the URL of a competitor. You should use these tools to choose keywords based on the traffic they generate and how often they are searched. We recommend trying a few different keyword tools and then deciding which you like the most.
While everyone is focusing on broad popular keywords, you should build your strategy with long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords contain at least three words and typically drive higher-quality traffic.
Let’s say you own a Greek restaurant in Toronto. Some of your keyword options will include:
“Restaurant in Toronto”
“Greek restaurant in Downtown Toronto”
As you’ve probably guessed, “Restaurant” will generate more traffic than “Restaurant Toronto”, and “Restaurant Toronto” will most likely generate more traffic than “Greek restaurant in Downtown Toronto”. The thing is, “Greek Restaurant in Downtown Toronto” will generate more focused traffic comprised of people who are looking to find a restaurant like yours specifically. It’s never a good strategy to focus on a keyword as broad and competitive as “restaurant”. The likelihood of ranking for ultra-competitive keywords is slim to none. Even if you beat the odds, the traffic will not be targeted meaning your conversion rate will be low if not zero.
When you created your website and every time you create a new web page, you need to consider the URL structure as it will impact SEO. A URL is another way for a search engine to better understand your content.
When creating its index of web pages, a search engine’s algorithm scans the internet looking for URLs. Once it has found an optimized URL, it scans the content on the page to ensure it matches the URL.
Most websites automatically generate a URL when you create a new page. Your job is to review and edit new and existing URLs to make sure each is optimized:
Three tips to optimize URLs:
Here are some examples on how your URLs should look like:
Most users will exit a website if they encounter a daunting wall of text. Images help make content more digestible and keep users engaged. Images are also integral to SEO as search engines will reward your website if you properly tag your images.
Search engines love when you label that image of a cat eating corn on the cob as “cat eating corn on the cob” instead of “image7543.jpg”. It helps search engines index and rank images the same way they would web pages. You will also want to add alternative (alt) attributes which is a piece of data that will be displayed if the image itself cannot be displayed in a search.
Don’t go too image crazy. A high number of images or images with large file sizes will slow your website, which can hurt your SEO and kill your user experience.
Tags are small pieces of data that communicate information to a search engine but are not always visible to end users.
A title tag specifies the title of a website to be listed on a SERP. This snippet of text appears in the browser tab and it is pulled by search engines to appear as part of a SERP listing. A title tag must be under 70 characters and each page should have a unique title tag. Keep it simple by using the page’s focus keyword and your company name in the title.
Meta tags describe your content to a search engine. It is the short paragraph about your website that appears under the hyperlink in the SERP. Ultimately, it sells the page to a potential visitor.
By using headline tags, you can structure a page’s content so that a search engine can properly evaluate it. Headline tags also organize content, making it more readable.
Here are two easy tips for using headline tags:
You’ve probably noticed a ton of words at the bottom of blog posts and webpages. These are internal tags and their job is to classify content and communicate to a search engine the page’s subject matter. Tags are unstructured meaning you can include as many as you want and there’s no hierarchy. You can even create new tags that could be unrelated to the existing tags. Tags are useful because they help readers find content and topics of interest. Search engines will prioritize thoroughly tagged content over that which is not.
For example, if a webpage describes a law firm’s services, potential tags could include, “motor vehicle accidents”, “lawsuits”, “legal help” and “legal consultation”. A great tip is to Include some geography tags so you can be found in searches that contain the name of a city, region or neighborhood.
Most businesses focus their website efforts on their content, which is good, but they must also consider how their website performs since this can significantly impact search engine ranking. Search engines want to send their users to sites that work quickly and intuitively, and offer the best experience.
Here are some tips to ensure your website is firing on all cylinders:
Mobile searches are on the verge of eclipsing desktop proving that the entire world is going mobile. Recognizing this, search engines include mobile optimization as part of their ranking criteria. You need to enable every aspect of your website to be accessible via mobile devices (smartphones and tablets).
The easiest way to create a mobile version of your website is to use responsive design. This is a form of web development that allows your website to automatically respond to the device of the visitor and adjust to its display.
Tips to ensure your website is optimized for mobile:
Now that you have a beautiful website that is mobile-friendly, the trick is to get it out there so that prospective customers can find it. Search engines are obviously the best way to be found but there are other ways to drive traffic. These distribution methods can also help your SEO efforts.
Email marketing is a great way to build your audience and to stay top of mind. It’s super easy to set up email campaigns, which provide more positive returns than direct mailing strategies ever did. When creating emails for your audience, make sure they are clear, to the point and include an element that will grab a recipient’s attention, like a promotion or unique service offering. Depending on your type of business, you should be sending out 1-2 email campaigns a month.
Investing time and resources into your social channels will also help drive traffic to your website. Focus on the networks that make sense. For instance, Facebook is great for a pediatrician because it’s easy to share information or converse, whereas, Instagram is great for restaurants because it allows users to share their stunning food photos.
Blogging is an absolute must for Small and Medium Businesses. Publish a 350-500 words post once a week. Focus on company news, your services or subject areas that can help you become a thought leader in your space. Your blog is a distribution engine that feeds content from your website to both your mailing list and your social channels.
Guest Articles is a tactic to boost SEO through organic backlinks by writing a post for another website or online publication. You will want to find relevant publications that have strong readership. If your goal is also to become a thought leader, then guest blogging can help you get there.
Monitoring how your SEO is performing will tell you if your strategy if working or if you need to adjust. Most content management systems provide analytics, or you can use Google Analytics to get a better idea of your website’s performance.
Here is what you should review to gauge your SEO effectiveness. Be sure to always note any drastic shifts in your metrics.
Google Search Console is an amazing tool to help you review your metrics and maintain a website that appeals to search engines. Or you can use a diagnostic tool like SEO Quake to get a snapshot of the number of pages that have been indexed, where they rank and any gaps in your strategy.
SEO is a commitment and it takes effort, strategy and expertise to successfully plan and execute a campaign. For years, Awkward Media has helped a variety of businesses build strong digital presences and increase their ability to be found by search engines.
We hope this SEO guide helps your business. If you need additional help, click here to get a Free Website Audit and review your website’s performance, SEO, mobile and security. Also feel free to give us a shout at 647-849-1082 to chat or drop us a line at awkward-media.com/contact to talk more about your digital marketing and how we can provide a much-needed boost!