SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is the practice of optimizing a website for Google & other search engines with the goal of earning higher organic web traffic levels and improving the visibility of the site. The main aim of SEO is to improve a website’s position in the search engine results pages (SERPs), making it easier for people to find when they are looking for specific information online.
The thought of getting involved in a website’s SEO and working to understand how search engines work can be especially daunting to site owners, especially if they are just starting out. It is so incredibly important, though, as understanding how your search rankings for different search queries is affecting your site’s search engine traffic will help you to gain a better understanding of your audience and how to increase visibility for your web pages.
How Does SEO Work?
There are many different factors that go into SEO, but the two most important are useful, optimized content and backlinks. Content is key because Google & other search engines want to deliver the best possible results to its users, so it measures how well a website’s content matches up with what people are searching for. Backlinks, which are external links to the target website from other websites, are also important because they indicate that other websites trust your site enough to link to it. Algorithms used by Google & other search engines know that if other websites are linking to you, your site must be good in some way (otherwise no one would link to it).
Major Search Engines to Take Into Account While Optimizing Your Website
For a website with a focus on the United States, there are three major search engines that you need to take into account when optimizing your website: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. If your site has a larger presence in China, you would probably want to focus on optimizing for the Baidu search engine & if your audience has a large Russian segment, you would want to focus on the Yandex search engine. While they all use different search engine algorithms, they all measure the same things: content, backlinks, and user engagement.
Google is the most globally dominant search engine by far, so it’s essential to make sure your website ranks high on its results pages, and though this is the most important to take into account, you don’t want to neglect other search engines. Yahoo is a distant second, but it’s still important to make sure your website appears in its results. Bing is the smallest of the three search engines, but it’s growing in popularity, so you shouldn’t ignore it altogether. Interestingly, I was on a flight recently & picked up their in-flight wifi for the duration & was surprised to find that I was unable to access Google at all but Bing was accessible.
When optimizing your website in an SEO campaign, search engine marketing tools can provide some pretty useful insight. You can set up a free Google Ads account & have access to their keyword planner tool which provides data on search volumes for specific keywords & phrases.
In an SEO campaign, it’s important to consider both on-page SEO and off-page SEO factors. On-page factors are all the elements that appear on your website, including content, titles, descriptions, URL structure, image alt text, etc. Off-page SEO factors include links from other websites pointing to yours. Most people focus on on-page factors when it comes to SEO, but off-page factors can be just as important whenever it comes to your ranking on the search engine results page. Search engines understand that when high quality sites are linking to other sites, there’s probably a good reason for that.
Don’t Ignore Your Meta Descriptions!
Don’t forget that one of the most important things for a content’s SEO is the meta description – this is what actually displays in search results, which is how most people decide whether or not they’re going to click through on a search result item. If the meta description isn’t optimized, too, you’re leaving your search appearance completely to chance. Most platforms provide a way to modify the meta description for your content, some call it what it is, others label it as “SEO” in the dashboard.
Internal Linking Is Important
If a site has content that is more important, such as a transactional page, lead generation page, etc. that you want to get your visitors to read, linking to it more on your own site from internal pages provides a strong cue to search engines that you consider that page to be more important than other pages on your website, which will cause their web crawlers to spend more time on that page to check for updates & rank it higher in your own content.
How Search Engines Are Like Readers
Search engines have one main goal: to provide their users with relevant results for their searches. They achieve this goal by interpreting clues about a website’s relevance and authority based on the words in its content and how those words relate to key phrases searched for by users. Here are some examples of the ranking factors that help search engines discover web pages:
- Content: The more readable the content is for the user, the better able search engine algorithms will be able to understand what it’s about. This includes using natural language, incorporating images and videos, and breaking up the content into easily digestible chunks. You don’t want to use filler content either, high quality content with relevant keywords will always attract more readers than a fluff piece and will aid in your SEO success.
- Link Building and Backlinks: Websites that are frequently linked to by other websites (especially high-quality websites) and frequently link to other high quality sites will have an increased domain authority to search engines and will be bumped up in terms of search engines’ rank.
- Shares: The number of times a website’s content has been shared on social media websites is another clue for search engines.
As you may have noticed, all of these clues are external factors that indicate the quality and popularity of your content. If your content manages to gain fame online, it will likely be noticed by search engine algorithms and ranked highly in search results. Here’s how you can create this kind of content:
- Build relationships with influential people (bloggers, journalists, etc.) within your industry through networking or guest blogging.
- Create tutorials that cover helpful topics which haven’t been extensively written about yet or on topics that you can improve on existing content.
- Write posts on topics that no one else is writing about in your industry or niche.
- Use keyword research tools to ensure that you are using the right search terms for your topic and audience.
What You Can Do To Get Started on Optimizing Your Site Right Away
One of the most difficult tasks for most people when it comes to writing is coming up with enough material to write about. It can be hard to brainstorm content ideas that are new, unique, and interesting. The solution is simple – create a detailed outline of each article before you begin writing. This will help you think through exactly what points you’d like to cover in the post before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Here’s how I create outlines:
STEP 1: Write down a list of all the topics you want to cover within that specific article
STEP 2: For each topic, write down a list of sub-topic/sub-points to cover underneath the larger category
STEP 3: Flesh out each of those sub-points with more detail
STEP 4: Ensure that your content is optimized to generate organic search traffic in Google’s search results, as well as other search engines.
This process may seem time-consuming, but it will actually help you write faster and more efficiently in the long run. You’ll never feel stuck for ideas, and you’ll be able to move through your article with greater clarity. Additionally, this system can be applied to any type of writing – not just blog posts. So give it a try and see how it works for you!
Now that we know how to create an outline, let's take a look at some specific tips for brainstorming content ideas in order to generate more organic search results:
1. Think about your audience
When coming up with content ideas, always keep your target audience in mind. What are they interested in? What questions do they have about your topic? How can your content provide answers to their questions? Create a spreadsheet with your target audience’s interests and any related questions. That way, when you need an idea for a new blog post or article, you’ll know exactly what to do!
2. Generate titles based on keyword research
Think about the most popular posts on your blog, then think of ways you can create similar posts. What are the common themes among them? If they’re not very similar most likely there will be less competition. Google Adwords is one of my favorite tools that I used to find out which terms people were searching for the most. It also shows how many times those keywords were searched in Google (global average). I like using this because Google Trends only shows US data.
3. Gain inspiration from other blogs
One of the best ways to come up with topics for your blog is to “steal” ideas from other blogs. Not in a bad way, mind you, but by reading and analyzing the content that’s already out there. You can do this by subscribing to popular blogs in your industry or related industries, then taking note of the topics they cover. Once you have a list of topics, you can start creating content around them – but make sure to add your own spin so they’re original enough that people won’t just see them as blatant rip-offs.
4. Use social media
Social media is a great place to find inspiration for new content ideas. You can find out what’s trending on Twitter, for example, or see what people are talking about on Facebook. You can also use social media to get feedback on your content from your audience.
5. Take a look at your analytics
Your website’s analytics can give you some great insights into what content is resonating with your audience. See which blog posts have been the most popular, and take note of the topics they cover. You can also use your analytics to find out which keywords people are using to find your website. Then you can create content around those keywords that will help you attract more traffic from search engines.
6. Ask your audience
One of the best ways to come up with new content ideas is to ask your audience what they want to read about. You can do this by conducting surveys or by using social media to ask your followers what topics they’re interested in. If you have a blog, you can also use comments and email subscribers to get feedback on which topics they’d like to see covered.
Measure Your SEO Campaign's Success
An SEO campaign is a marathon & it requires that a website owner be committed to going the distance & producing relevant content. When we think about the fact that there are millions of web pages that are being created, edited, or deleted every day, it helps us to understand that search engines need to:
- Be aware that the content exists
- Be aware that content changed
- Index the content (save it in their database)
- Determine what the content is about
- Serve the content up in SERPs
- Monitor how well-received the content is based on how people behave after clicking on the link
- Rank the content higher or lower, accordingly
This makes it pretty obvious that expecting immediate results from an SEO campaign is unrealistic, conventional wisdom in SEO circles is that 6 months is a reasonable time to expect to begin seeing measurable results but how do you measure the results of your SEO strategy?
Set up a Google Analytics account & install the code on your website, this will allow you to see for yourself how people are interacting with your website content & make adjustments accordingly. You can’t see personally-identifiable information but you can see if a piece of content isn’t performing very well & then determine why when you inspect it.
Google Search Console
Set up a Google Search Console account for your website – this is where Google shows you their actual data on when they show your website in search results (impressions) & how many clicks your website is getting in search queries. An effective SEO campaign will see a steady rise in impressions & clicks for your website. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be regularly active in Google Search Console, especially since Google makes changes all the time & this is one of the best places to be aware of these changes.
Consider Using A Heat Map
Heat maps show how far down a page people scroll, what content on a page is being clicked on, how many rage clicks you’re getting, etc. & they’re incredibly useful for finding blind spots & determining which parts of your website content need to be highlighted more. A couple of heatmap services that you could look at are Hotjar & Crazy Egg.
Don’t Ignore Rank Transition
One of the most frustrating things for the uninitiated in SEO is the rank transition phenomenon. This article on Search Engine Journal explains why a website might see a drop in rankings when they edit their content – some others that like using flashier terms call this the Google head fake but it’s usually better to call something what it is, right?
Commit To Your SEO Education
Algorithms change all the time, design trends morph with the time, social media shifts impact us online in big ways, so it’s important for website owners to keep abreast of this. There are some great free resources available such as Search Engine Land that you can use or you can start following SEO pros who are active in places like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. The important thing in SEO is to stay plugged in on relevant sites so you’re not caught scratching your head & wondering what happened when traffic starts to decline. Search Engine Land’s SEO section is a great resource.
Each Site's SEO Will Be Unique
The nature of a website makes it so that each one is as unique as a fingerprint, so the SEO strategy for each website will be equally different. It’s important to produce high quality content that will be shown in organic search results that answers the questions that the website’s target audience is asking. If the content quality is good enough, it will lead to it being linked to externally, giving your website the backlinks that it needs for its off-page SEO. Regardless of where your site is in the process, there’s always room for improvement!