In today’s competitive market, SEO is more important than ever. Millions of people use search engines to find answers and solutions to their issues every day — and 75% of online users won’t scroll past the first results page on a search results page. That means if you’re ranking on the second or third page of a search, you probably won’t be seeing an influx of leads.
This blog runs through the basics of SEO, how you can improve your site’s search rankings, and when to involve an SEO expert to confirm you’re on the right track.
Table of Contents
- What is SEO?
- Why do I need SEO?
- Top SEO elements for improved search engine ranking
- When should you start SEO?
- Can I do my own SEO?
- What does an SEO specialist do?
- When should I use an SEO specialist?
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the process of optimizing your site to increase its visibility in organic search results. SEO aims to get organic, quality traffic to your website – ensuring that you’re attracting visitors that are actually interested in your product or service.
Why do I need SEO?
Many businesses rely heavily on organic traffic to fill their sales pipeline, with over 50% of website activity resulting from organic searches initiated via a search engine. 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine, and 60% of marketers say that inbound search traffic is the highest quality source for leads. That kind of lead nurturing creates conversions; reports show that 78% of mobile searches ending in an in-store sale.
Growing organic traffic to your website is, therefore, a highly effective marketing strategy.
Search engines take multiple factors into consideration when deciding where to rank your page or website in results.
Search engines use complex algorithms to assess and determine each web page’s quality and its relevance to online search queries. Search engine “crawlers” or “bots” crawl each page on the internet to assess each SEO factor and determine if it’s an ideal selection for an online user.
Known factors used by search engines to select which content to display for a search include:
- Website security
- Meta tags
- Domain authority
- User experience
Top SEO elements for improved search engine ranking
1. Content structure
New content on its own can improve organic traffic by 106%, but how that content is structured also plays a role in your SEO strategy.
The “crawlability” of your site helps a search engine know what your content is really all about. For example, simple navigation links that move a user seamlessly between internal pages can boost SEO quality. When a customer clicks on a tab titled “Services,” which routes to a page titled “Services”’ and a clean URL including the word “services,” the topic of that page content becomes obvious.
Content integrations, especially if you can include keywords, are ideal for your SEO. Build simple navigation paths and a minimal menu hierarchy so that both your customer and a search engine crawler can easily roam about your web pages with ease. A good rule of thumb is to build a content structure that offers no more than three clicks in a single user journey; anything more than that becomes too complex.
Since the structure of your website can have such an impact on your SEO ranking, you want to ensure that search engines can read and understand your content paths perfectly. But search engine crawlers are prone to error, and the sheer volume of pages that need crawling and indexing can slow the entire process (Google has over 100,000,000 gigabytes worth of indexed pages).
To ensure your pages are indexed correctly and quickly, you can submit an XML sitemap that outlines the necessary page information. Sitemaps notify the search engine that your site is ready to be indexed, and the .txt file is easier for the robots to read. They scan through your page URLs and compare quality. You can even update your sitemaps every day. If your website updates regularly with new pages and products, having a sitemap can make a big difference in your search rankings.
3. On-page optimization
Each of the individual items you include on your webpage affects your SEO ranking. From site speed, graphics, keyword density, and source code, each element inspected by a crawler can either improve or harm your ranking. Consider tweaking the following on-page elements in your website redesign:
- URL Structures. A URL is an address that your website lives on (e.g., www.sitecare.com). Simple URL names are easy to crawl. Sometimes, when uploading files or making web pages with extensive information, the URL can get bogged down by several pointless characters. Cleaning up long URLs not only reduces your confusion when building the site, but it will help a search engine find and rank individual web pages.
- Internal Links. Internal links on your website, such as entry forms, search bars, and recommended product tabs take your customer away from the original page down into your website’s sales funnel. If those links are broken or have a high bounce rate, it can hurt your overall webpage quality. On the flip side, a simple link path with plenty of user tractions means that the particular pages are relevant and deserve a high results page ranking. Build link equity that signals to a search engine that the elements of your web pages will route each user to valued content.
- Pages Titles. Page titles describe what the user will find if they click a specific link. Clear and succinct page titles that include your primary keywords have the best chance of resulting in a click-through; best practice is to write your call to action in less than 70 characters.
- Meta Tags. Unlike page titles that are viewable on the front end, meta tags are located within your website’s page source. They still describe the different variables of your website, and search engine crawlers look for that meta information. For example, you can include an HTML snippet called an Alt tag that describes the graphics you use. A search engine will use that tag to present images that match typed search queries. Include title tags and meta descriptions for all of your site content when possible.
- User Experience. Of course, popularity and customer retention will impact your SEO. Build a pleasing website for your users, as your bounce rate, exit paths, and length of stay per user all affect where a search engine will rank your pages.
Everyone dislikes getting a 301 or 401 lost page error. Your customer might have found the perfect product and decided to make a purchase, but if they reach a broken shopping cart page, they will leave the website and never buy. Broken pages kill the user experience, your sales pipeline will suffer, and they hurt your SEO ranking.
Page errors can happen for many reasons, including security authentication, web authorization issues, and outdated cookies. To protect against broken links, it’s crucial that you install an automatic web technique called a redirect that sends a user to a working page in the case of a malfunction.
In this scenario, at the very least, the customer stays within your website, where they can follow a new path to their desired content. Redirects become very important if you change or update your website with new original content since old internal links may refer to deleted pages. You can use several online tools to locate broken pages and links, but ensure that you have redirects in the cause of failure.
When should you start SEO?
Umm…Yesterday?! Kidding – we know you can’t go back in time, so our advice is to get to it as soon as possible. Whether you’re launching a new website or redesigning an existing one, you’ll need an SEO strategy in place.
For both new and existing sites, Google needs to build confidence in your domain before you can start ranking high for competitive keywords. Establishing trust in a domain is not an overnight process. So, the sooner you start optimizing your website and building those trust signals with Google, the quicker you can improve your rankings.
Top tip: If you’re launching a brand new website, make sure you start your SEO alongside your web design or user experience (UX) process. UX, web design, and SEO are all closely linked, so make sure you have an SEO strategy in place at the start of the project, rather than right at the end.
Here are a few strategies to have in place from an SEO perspective:
- Set your website up with target keywords. Ensure each page on your site targets one primary search keyword and multiple secondary keywords.
- Optimize your title tags with each primary keyword.
- Create Google-friendly, relevant content
- Make sure your site speed is up to scratch. Your pages should load in three seconds or less.
- Improve your site’s mobile design. 50.81% of global web traffic comes from mobile devices (excluding tablets), so you need to ensure you have an outstanding mobile user experience.
If you’re redesigning a website, we recommend doing a thorough SEO audit before going through with the new design.
Why? You could have certain pages that rank particularly well on a search engine and generate a lot of traffic and leads — that is obviously something you don’t want to lose with your redesign.
Go through your Google Analytics and find out which pages are performing the best, the pages with the highest bounce rates, which pages are being viewed on desktop vs mobile (are your pages designed/optimized for mobile?), etc. An SEO audit can be overwhelming, but you can use these insights to create an actionable and measurable plan, and ultimately leverage SEO as a valuable digital marketing channel.
Can I do my own SEO?
Although there are specialists out there who are skilled in SEO, with enough research and practice, you can do it yourself. It’s important to learn best practices for SEO before implementing any changes on your site.
Here are some tips to follow:
1. Define your target audience
Who is searching for you? Who are you optimizing your site for? This is your target audience, and to do your own SEO, you need to know them. Do some research to determine their age, sex, geographic location, and needs and challenges.
2. Do keyword research and content planning
Once you understand your target audience and their pain points, it will be easier to find out which keywords to target and include in your on-page SEO strategy. When researching keywords, keep in mind that your customers probably use different phrases to refer to your products and/or services.
You could use free tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest, or a paid tool like SEMRush. Search for specific terms and phrases and make a list of keywords and longtail phrases based on priority and search volume. Also find out the most common questions being asked around these keywords, so you can create relevant content to address what users are actually asking online.
3. Build up your site with relevant keywords
Examine your list of keywords and ensure that you have a page on your site that corresponds to each of your high and medium priority keywords. This will help visitors find your website even if they’re searching for terms that are more generally related to your site’s main area.
4. Work on your content marketing strategy
While there are debates about the value of content in terms of search ranking – is content still king? – Google does still encourage consistent and high-quality content on websites for SEO purposes. The focus now is mainly on creating content that gives online users the information they are searching for. Informative and well-researched and written content will help you build authority within your industry and build backlinks for your website. (Which are basically the building blocks of a strong SEO strategy)
5. Embrace social media
Whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram, social media allows your audience to share your content and gives you the opportunity to collect social signals (likes and shares) that can help you improve your SEO.
6. Understand Google Analytics
When it comes to SEO, the value of web analytics is unparalleled. Simply put, you won’t be able to do your own SEO if you don’t know how to interpret and process your website’s traffic and conversions. Google offers free courses via its Analytics Academy to help you learn how to use its web analytics tool and platform.
What does an SEO specialist do?
An SEO specialist (also referred to as an SEO strategist or SEO professional) is a person who optimizes websites to improve their search engine rankings. They create, implement, and analyze on-page and off-page optimization strategies for you to get more organic traffic from search engines.
SEO experts should be able to:
- Review and optimize the structure and content of your website
- Conduct keyword research to determine which keywords and topics are worth targeting
- Analyze competitor websites
- Consult with clients about their business goals
- Stay up to date with emerging SEO trends and Google algorithm changes (search engines are constantly changing and SEO experts need to keep up)
- Calculate ROI and prepare monthly SEO campaign reports
- Understand the value of both on-page and off-page SEO
- Understand basic HTML
An SEO specialist’s work does not end with a few website adjustments and links strewn across the internet. Instead, the SEO specialist must always be on the lookout for trends such as those mentioned above, as well as innovative strategies to increase website traffic.
When should I use an SEO specialist?
If you have a business and you’re redesigning your website or starting a brand new one, you should probably bring in an SEO specialist. Sure, you could do it yourself — but not everyone has the time to dedicate hours to an SEO strategy. Here are a few scenarios that would require you to involve an SEO practitioner:
- You don’t have the time or skills to implement SEO properly.
- You want to drive traffic to your site but you’re not sure how.
- Google has penalized your site and you need help getting back in the clear.
- You want to gain a better understanding of your market.
- You want to rank higher on a search engine but you’re not even sure what an ‘alt tag’ is.
If any of the above applies to you, then it’s best to reach out to a specialist.
SEO is an ongoing process; you’re never really finished with it. Your ranking for search terms can change quickly based on any new content your competitors are adding, or updates to how search engines rank sites. It’s important to remember that SEO is a long game: it can take months to see results, so you have to be patient. But once you start it and maintain it, you can enjoy compounding results from it over time — even in the face of changing algorithms.
That said, SEO done poorly is probably worse than having no SEO at all. If you use tactics that violate Google’s strict guidelines, your website could be banned from search engines altogether. Unless you’re an SEO expert with a lot of experience yourself, you will never be fully confident that you are doing it correctly.
If you feel uncertain about how to start improving your website’s SEO, why not sign up for a free SEO audit today? You can also click on the banner above to generate an automatic report to confirm how your site is performing from an SEO perspective.