The Beginner’s Guide to Building an Online Presence Part 2: Search Engine Optimization
Once you’ve finished with the nuts and bolts of creating your website, how can you make sure that people will find it? This is where SEO—which stands for search engine optimization—comes into play. Did you know that 71% of Internet users never scroll past the first page of search results? That means if you want your online presence to be known, you’ve got to put some effort into optimizing your site for visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing get to know your website by “crawling” and indexing it. By using tools like SEO-browser.com, and MozBar you can see what elements of your content are visible and indexable to the engines. Once your website is complete, give these search engines a heads up that you exist by submitting your website link or sitemap to their directories. Take a look at this quick guide to the top 20 online search engines with links to their sign-up pages for more details.
Search engine optimization practices range from technical adjustments you can make to the structure and content of your website (aka ‘on-page SEO’) to promotional ‘off-page’ tactics like securing external citations or social media mentions that raise your site’s visibility. In simple terms, the relative importance of a website is determined by the number of links it has pointing to it and how relevant its content is to a particular search query. So if you type in a phrase like “cooking classes” into Google, the websites with more inbound links and more high-quality content will be displayed first.
When getting started with SEO, it’s a good idea to perform some keyword research in order to find out what phrases and terms people would use to search for your type of business. Look back at your buyer personas and make a list of topics associated with your products/services which your target audience might seek information about. Then write down all the keywords phrases related to these topics that you can think of. If you get stuck or want to get a better idea of the popularity of certain terms, try out tools like Answer the Public, Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, or simply Google Suggest (the auto-complete function built into Google’s search box). These tools can help you identify a good range of short-tail (ex. “cooking equipment”) and long-tail (ex. “cooking equipment for commercial kitchens”) keyword phrases to populate your website with.
At the end of the day, how search engines provide results has to do with their own internal algorithms, which are constantly changing. While there is no perfect recipe for SEO, there are a number of factors which constantly influence search results that have to do with relevancy, quality, authority and accessibility.
How does Google know if the content of your website provides a relevant answer to someone’s query?
It scans and identifies:
- URLs: aka ‘permalinks’ and domain names should easy to read and understand at a glance. They should include keywords that relate to your business and/or the content of a page. To create a clean URL, use hypens (-) between words.
- Title tags: these are the blue titles you see positioned above website URLs on a search engine results page. They provide a quick description of a website that usually includes a company’s name. Titles should be kept under 55 characters to ensure they don’t get cut off. Try to make your title snappy, attractive and as descriptive as possible. And don’t promise something that your content doesn’t deliver.
- Heading tags: on your website, headings are used for organizing content (like an essay outline). To search engines, headings are like labels for different sections of your website or blog post. They offer a sort of overview of paragraphs to follow. A webpage should always start with Heading 1 (<h1> in html code) then work its way up (2-6). Having a good structure and layout helps a search engine guess what your site is all about. Proper heading usage allows them to clearly see how the post is organized, what sections are most important, and how they relate to each other.
- Alt tags on images: because Google cannot ‘see’ your images, but can ‘read’ text, when you upload images, a box for “Alternative Text” shows up. In this box, you can write in what the image shows. This is definitely something you shouldn’t overlook because it will increase your chances of having images appear in Google Image search results.
- On-page copy (text): the words found on your website pages. These are the words that will show up bolded in response to a search query, indicating a relevant answer.
- Information about a searcher: this includes the searcher’s location, search history, time of day/year, etc. Increasingly Google is serving results to users based on their location. This is particularly important for small businesses who are hyperlocal in nature or hope to catch a searcher’s attention at the moment they are walking down the street and using their phone to find somewhere to eat. If your audience is specific to a certain location, think about ways you can optimize your website for these searchers.
How does Google define what makes a quality site?
The answer is: quality content! According to Google’s guidelines, “creating high quality content takes a significant amount of at least one of the following: time, effort, expertise, and talent/skill." This kind of content—be it thoughtful or practical advice-based articles, videos, or other types of media—offers something of value to visitors and can result in higher rankings on SERPs along with increased traffic.
While it’s important to regularly publish content to make sure your website appears “fresh” to search engines, quality should always trumps quantity. Take time to write blogs that you know your audience would want to read and share with others. Write for human beings, not search engines! Doing this will actually result in better SEO. That’s because Google is now prioritizing content that is designed to satisfy a visitor’s overall intention rather than play up keywords from popular search queries.
So avoid keyword stuffing and focus on developing a meaningful user experience that keeps visitors on your website and interested in learning more.
What gives a website authority?
An authoritative site is one that is trusted by general users, members of the industry it operates in, other websites, and search engines as a credible and noteworthy source of information. These are websites that receive a lot of coverage on other sites and if they link to you, they can help boost your search rankings. In addition to producing high quality content, securing lots of inbound links from authoritative sites will enable your own site to become a trusted source of information. This is what we call off-page SEO.
While external sources work to boost your website’s credibility, you can practice the on-page SEO tactic of using internal linking to pass authority from one page of your website to the next. To do this, select text on one page to use as the ‘anchor’, which, if clicked, directs you to another page on your site with content that relates to the anchor text. Internal linking points out important pieces of content to Google and visitors to your site and can be strategically used to:
- Provide your audience with additional reading options
- Create a bridge between a piece of popular content and a piece of promotional content that has a call-to-action (ex. an event RSVP page or paid service signup page)
- Improve your ranking for certain keywords (using anchor text that points to a page containing these keywords)
- Help Google index your pages more efficiently
Lastly, social media marketing can do wonders for small business owners interested in building the authority of their young websites. At the most basic level, social media is useful because it encourages more external sites to link to your content, winning you authority in Google’s eyes. Social channels (particularly Twitter), provide rich forums for two-way conversation with multitudes of potential customers, while offering more direct and easy access to the leaders of authoritative sites. Gain visibility and build trust with these online communities by participating in their discussions. Use appropriate hashtags and don’t be afraid to weave your own content into the digital chatter surrounding trending topics. Another goal with social media is to encourage social sharing (likes, shares, retweets, favorites, replies), because to search engines, any indication of verifiable external sources validating your brand or your content is grounds for a small improvement in your search ranking.
As you organically build the number of followers and connections on your company’s social media profiles, your brand will to gain more SEO authority. In fact, social media profiles are often amongst the top results in search listings for brand names, particularly those that have large follower bases. When researching a company, consumers are often just as likely to click on a social media channel as a website if both show up at the top of a search results page. Use this to your advantage. Take the time to develop your social profiles into nice showcases of your company’s culture and expertise.
What makes one website more accessible than another?
The key differentiator is whether a website is mobile-responsive or not. As discussed above, a mobile-responsive website features content that is equally optimized to be viewed on any screen size or device. Back in early 2015, Google made a page ranking update that put non-responsive websites at a disadvantage. Now, any site that is not optimized for mobile viewing suffers negative SEO and decreased search engine rankings on Google.
Well, there you have it! If you’re craving more detailed information on search engine optimization, take a look at this SEO e-book from GoDaddy.
In the next feature of our Beginner’s Guide to Creating an Online Presence, we’ll explore what it takes to set up online shopping using e-commerce.
Did these SEO tricks help you boost your website’s search rankings? We’d love to hear your stories. Tweet us @FreedomVoice.