What is Search Engine Optimization?
As a busy business owner, you might’ve heard that search engine optimization (SEO) is important. Vital, even. However, you might not fully understand the critical nature of how SEO can work to help your business appear in organic searches online. Higher search engine result rankings typically generate more clicks, which often result in more sales.
Quite simply, SEO works as a beacon to tell search engines how to classify your online business presence through the integration of relevant keywords and phrases that clarify what products and services you offer.
Search engines use bots, also known as crawlers or spiders, to crawl pages online such as your website, blog, and social media profiles. That information gets stored, or indexed, to serve up to users when they employ search engines to find information relating to your business. If the keywords you choose to include in each of your pages align with what a user is searching for, you could show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for those queries.
That’s just a basic overview of SEO. Unfortunately, knowing what search engine optimization is won’t be enough to get the most out of your SEO strategy, so we’ve put together a guide of tips and best practices.
Before getting into optimization best practices it’s important to understand some basic SEO terminology. Here are some of the top words you may come across when learning more about SEO.
Search Engine Optimization Terms
SEO (Search Engine Optimization): The process of creating quality content that will attract the largest number of visitors to your site by appearing highest in organic search results
Search Engine: A program that gathers, indexes and serves data found on the Internet to users based on the keywords or characters the user specifies. Popular search engines include Google and Bing
Web Crawler: A program, often used by search engines, which “crawls” the internet in a methodical, automated manner in order to provide current information. These programs are also referred to as crawlers, spiders and bots
SERP (Search Engine Results Page): A SERP is the page displayed by a search engine in response to a query by a searcher
Algorithm: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer. Algorithms determine search results and according to Caitlin Dewey with The Washington Post, “What you don’t know about algorithms is hurting you.”
Rank: Placement of a result (website) on a SERP. The higher the rank, the more likely a user is to click on that result
Keyword: A word or phrase that describes the content of a Web page. Keywords are part of a Web page’s metadata and help search engines match a page to search queries entered by users
Long-Tail Keyword: Long-tail keywords are phrases involving three or more keywords which are very specific and less competitive than broad keywords
Title Tag: Title tags describe the content of a Web page. On SERPs, they create preview snippets for the given page, and are very important for SEO and social sharing
Meta Description: A block of text that is displayed in search engine results and used to describe the content of a Web page. While this is not a ranking factor, it provides an opportunity to include a call to action that could entice a searcher to click on your site
Alt Text: Descriptive words or phrases used to describe an image to website viewers in instances where the image may not be visible. Be sure to include keywords that relate to the image so that search engines can also understand what is pictured
HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): A system for tagging text files to achieve font, color, graphics, and hyperlink effects on Web pages
URL: An acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. A reference (address) to a resource on the Internet
Anchor Text: Clickable text that appears highlighted on a Web page and is hyperlinked to open a target page
Internal Links: Links that point to another page on the same domain
Link Structure: The structure of internal links within your website that connect to allow Web crawlers or spiders to reach all of your site’s pages
Link Profile: The makeup of inbound links directed to your website. According to Neil Patel, “A good link profile has lots of high authority links and no spammy links.”
Now that we have some basic terminology understanding of SEO, below are 10 Search Engine Optimization tips that you can use as a guide to help improve your website’s potential for ranking in the SERPs. While this is only the tip of the iceberg—especially since SEO is constantly evolving—it is a good starting place to support your optimization efforts.
✔ Conduct Keyword Research
There’s only one way to develop a list of effective keywords, and that’s by looking for them. While keywords themselves are very important to your SEO strategy, it is also important to understand user intent. Discover the long-tail keywords customers are actually using when they search for businesses like yours.
For example, when you need help with developing your SEO strategy, simply searching for “SEO” will bring up a host of SEO-related topics, apps, and services, and only a fraction of them will cover the information you need most. However, a long-tail keyword phrase like “SEO tips for small businesses” is much more likely to bring up useful best practices and actionable steps.
✔ Evaluate the Competition
Your competitors are the best place to start when it comes to developing your keyword list and checking for gaps in your strategy. First, you can begin to develop a strategy around keywords that don’t have a lot of competition. Second, you’ll be able to see which keywords are critical to your industry. A related tactic is to view your competitors’ link profiles, which not only show their anchor text, but where their links are coming from. Keep in mind that reviewing link profiles is a very sophisticated SEO strategy that’s typically performed by industry experts, so don’t feel obligated to utilize this methodology. It might be beneficial to consult with a third party if you feel you need more in-depth knowledge of your competitors.
✔ Use Title Tags
Also called title elements or page titles, title tags are another critical piece of metadata. Unlike meta descriptions, however, title tags are a ranking factor. They’re also critical for your audience; they appear as the title for the page in a Web browser, in SERPs, and on external platforms.
A good rule of thumb for title tag length is to keep these under 60 characters. If the title is longer than this, it could be truncated, and users could miss out on important information that might influence their decision to click. A study from Dr. Peter J. Meyers showed 91% of titles were cutoff after 59 characters, so be sure to include the keywords you would like to optimize for as close to the beginning of the title as possible. Remember, the title tag is used to provide a concise description of the content on the page.
✔ Use a Meta Description
The meta description is a small block of text attached to specific pages (or sometimes, specific content) that describe what that page contains. You might be tempted to ignore it because it isn’t a ranking factor, and because some platforms will automatically generate a meta description if you don’t enter one yourself. However, this can play a big role in several factors that influence click-through rate. First, it’s the description under the link to your page in the SERPs, and second, when the content is shared by you or your audience via other platforms (e.g., social media) it’s the summary that’s displayed along with the graphic associated with that page.
Meta descriptions should be 160 characters or less, and often that’s only a couple of sentences at most, so you need to be concise. Remember to use keywords when appropriate because search engines will highlight them when they’re displayed in a SERP. Consider this a mini advertisement; keep the copy legible, engaging and create a Call-to-Action (CTA) that could increase click-through rate for that page.
✔ Use Internal Links
Internal links are used for site navigation, but the link structure is also key for bots when they attempt to categorize your site. If the bots can’t access pages because the link structure prevents them, they cannot categorize and rank those pages. You should also avoid loops that send a handful of pages back and forth between each other without access to complete navigation; this prevents the potential of frustrating users and driving them away from your site. Use internal links to point to important pages on your site and make sure your site architecture allows all pages to be crawled efficiently.
✔ Optimize Your Content
The bulk of your SEO strategy is, of course, the use of keywords in your actual site content. They need to appear naturally and be audience-focused. (Search engines put an emphasis on quality content, too.)
That being said, there are other aspects you need to consider when optimizing your content. For example, this is an important way to establish your local SEO strategy. Google consistently adjusts its algorithms to emphasize local search in order to improve relevance for users wanting something in-the-moment. Local search expert Mike Blumenthal states “The many changes at Google Local, the increasing fragmentation and competition, the every shifting technology and rapidly evolving new interfaces should force every business and agency to assess the role Local SEO plays in your overall marketing plan.”
✔ Optimize Your Images
It’s important to remember that bots utilize data in the form of code to understand and categorize your site. As obvious as an image might seem to you when you’re looking at it, that visual information isn’t what the bot sees. That means you need to take extra steps to provide that information and reap the SEO benefits.
There are four main areas on which you should focus:
- File Name: Make your file name as descriptive yet concise as possible, and be sure to use keywords associated either with the content of the image or with the page the image will be on. Be sure to use dashes to separate words
- Example: home-painting-service-photo.JPG
- Title Tag: This is the text that will appear if a desktop user hovers their mouse over the image. This should also be descriptive yet concise, as well as make use of the appropriate keywords.
- Example: Home Painting Service in Portland
- Alt Text: This is the text that appears if an image fails to load. Many people neglect this, so all users see is a broken image icon. Furthermore, alt text provides the description for services that assist the visually impaired. This should be descriptive and brief with the inclusion of keywords
- Example: Home Painting Service for Portland House Painting
- File Size: The file size of your images will impact load times, especially on mobile devices. To keep load times as fast as possible, you need to compress and potentially resize your images.
- Tools to use: Photoshop; Compress JPEG
✔ Ensure You’re Mobile Friendly
At face value, you might think this best practice is out of place in an SEO article. However, you must consider that major search engines—especially Google—have placed an emphasis on mobile optimization. Google has even gone so far as to separate desktop searches from mobile searches, where mobile searches include ranking indicators for mobile friendliness. If you haven’t made the switch to a mobile responsive site, it’s becoming an increasingly important best practice in terms of optimization that should be considered.
✔ Be Patient
It pays to remember that, like other elements in marketing, SEO has a long turnaround time for solid results. Don’t give in to the urge to push for immediate results — this will only lead to undermining what you’ve done right, and will invariably lead to you utilizing bad tactics that will end up negatively affecting your site. We recommend waiting at least 4 to 6 months to assess the performance of your optimization strategy before determining what the next steps should be.
✔ Evaluate Your Performance
While SEO results take time to accumulate, at some point you need to ensure that what you’re doing is actually working. Develop SEO benchmarks and goals that align with your overall marketing strategy and can be measured against your bottom line. Once you’ve had time to properly evaluate your SEO performance, you can determine whether or not you need to make changes in your keyword strategy.
Whether you’re using them as a guideline to start your SEO efforts, or you’re developing a checklist to maintain the quality of your strategy, these SEO basics should be the starting place for ensuring healthy SEO results.
Start Using These SEO Basics Today!
If you’re still searching for “SEO tips for my small business,” then you definitely need to review the SEO strategy you’ve got in place now. Remember that Search Engine Optimization Basics regularly change as search engines develop new methods for delivering the most relevant content.
- Use the SEO basics we’ve listed above to develop a best practice checklist that you can use regularly to keep your tactics up to date
- Everything should be measured against your bottom line – Always be sure that your metrics and analytics are chosen with ROI in mind, and be sure to check them regularly in order to determine if your optimization efforts are working
- If you’re running an omnichannel marketing campaign (seamless marketing across multiple digital and traditional platforms) make sure your SEO is optimized across all platforms
If you need help conducting an SEO checkup or need overall optimization, contact your local Valpak representative.