Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of getting more and higher quality, unpaid traffic to your website by optimizing your pages, posts, and/or products for search results. If SEO isn’t part of your marketing strategy you’re missing a huge opportunity for attracting organic (free) traffic to your website. And more traffic – especially high-quality traffic – potentially results in more sales.

The more part is pretty easy to understand. But what do we mean when we say higher quality traffic?

Why organic traffic rules

Higher quality website traffic is comprised of users who are the most interested in what you’re offering – they’re not just window shoppers.

You can pay all day for website traffic from PPC ads and work your email strategy and social media strategy. But all of that website traffic is generated by the action you take today and it quickly diminishes. Stop paying for PPC and the traffic stops. 24 hours after that post goes on facebook, the traffic declines (unless you’re extremely lucky with that viral thingie). And 24 hours after that email is sent, you’ll rarely see another click. Organic traffic is the only marketing channel that is consistent if you get your SEO right. In many cases, it’s the largest generator of website traffic and revenue.

The idea behind SEO is to get your web page or post indexed and understood by search engines so it can be served for search queries which best match your content.

Since ads make up a significant portion of search engine results pages (SERPs), getting your result on the first or second page is the difference between catching a fish or never getting a nibble. The difference between appearing on the first or second page of search results is remarkable. So is the difference between being #1 or #5 on the first page. Most people looking for an answer to their search don’t want to spend much time scanning the results, so the first result that best meets their expectations gets the click. And that is where an SEO strategy becomes so important. It’s an essential part of your overall marketing strategy.

Make sure your search snippet informs and entices

In search results, that description underneath the page title is like a short ad for the destination page. How will you entice the click and then engage the user?

The best scenario for SEO is to get the click, the user spends 30 seconds or more on the destination page, explores your site a few pages deep, and then contacts you for more information (all of these actions are noted by search engines). The worst scenario in SEO is the dreaded back button on the browser. The user clicks on your search result, doesn’t like what they see and clicks the back arrow. That gets you a black eye from search engines, as the action indicates your search result is not what the person was expecting for their search query. That reduces the likelihood of your result being served again for that search term. If this happens once or twice, no big thing. if it happens more often than not, bye-bye.

But that back button action could be the result of so many factors – your price is too high, your text is too dense, the page loads slowly, they don’t see the answer right away, or the subject doesn’t meet their expectations. And “expectations’ is the toughest part, as it’s subjective. They may not like the image, the page layout, where the price appears, have no patience to read past the 1st sentence, or any 1 of 100 other factors. Only experienced SEO practitioners who’ve worked with developers for a considerable time have a handle on this. It also helps if the SEO professional has a marketing background.

Go to #1 On Google!

Now, you’ve probably received email from some supposed SEO company guaranteeing your website will go to #1 on Google. Don’t believe it.  Not only can this never be guaranteed, but in order to do this, nefarious companies will organize backlink schemes to temporarily boost your page position. The only problem is once the search engines identify the link scheme (and they will), you’ll get a penalty and… good luck getting it removed. That penalty may demote your entire domain in the search results and you’ll pay for that mistake possibly for years and spend a small fortune reversing it. SEO is a long game – the professional builds a solid foundation and then builds on top of that to grow your website.

Is local SEO important?

Whether you’re a brick and mortar business or a national B2B company, your local SEO should be locked down tight. Obviously, if you have a retail shop this is most imperative so potential customers know where to find you, how to get there, and what to find there. And with new features constantly added to Google My Business listings, some shoppers will be able to make transactions and get other information directly from the search page. For national businesses, a GMB listing is a signal of legitimacy for your website and your web presence. You should also register your site with online local and national business directories to improve the legitimacy of your site for search engines. This serves as a signal that yours is a reputable business.

9 basic SEO priorities

SEO priority #1: Make your site mobile friendly.

Mobile usability is the default now for Google – whether you’re an e-commerce site, a publisher or a B2B site. It doesn’t matter. Make sure that your site looks great and functions perfectly on mobile, then worry about desktop performance. If you’ve built your site with a responsive design, it will adapt to any size screen on mobile, desktop or tablet, and 90% of the time, this is sufficient.

SEO Priority #2: Is your site indexed?

Make sure your website is crawled and indexed properly by Google and other search engines. Search engines crawl the web all day every day and if your website has been live for at least a week your homepage has probably been crawled and indexed. But that’s not nearly enough. You also need to submit a sitemap (a type of list of all the pages, posts, and images on your site) through Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools so they can crawl every page including the ones that aren’t easily accessible from menus. An account with either service is free and will tell you what pages have been indexed, what keywords are associated with your site, and its overall health.

SEO Priority #3: Get your titles and descriptions tight.

Every page and post must have a unique title – never duplicate. The title should be relevant to the article, contain the main keyword, and should sum up what the user can expect to read in as few words as possible (but at least 3). For e-commerce, this should be the product name (without Amazon style keywords stuffing) and perhaps a product attribute. In publishing, the subject of the information you’re presenting. In B2B, the name of your service or product line. Currently, page titles must be less than 60 characters (including spaces) or they will be truncated in search results.

Your page description, also known as a “snippet”, appears below the title in search results. This should be a brief explanation of what the article or page is about or how the product will benefit the user, and it helps to include a keyword or keyword phrase similar or exactly like the keyword in the title. Currently, descriptions cannot exceed 160 characters. If you exceed that length it will be truncated in search results. We recommend using between 60 and 150 characters.

SEO Priority #4: Use Meta titles and descriptions

Meta tags are not seen by users but are used by search engines. The meta tags for titles and descriptions are given preference in search engine results over the on-page titles and descriptions. It’s here you can manipulate and experiment with keyword placement, shortening or lengthening your titles, and generally optimizing them for search without ever changing what the user sees on the page. If you’re using WordPress, we highly recommend using the Yoast SEO plugin to make this easy.

SEO Priority #5: Optimize content for the most important keywords

Keywords tell search engines what the primary focus of your page or post is so they can match them to relevant search queries.

So which keywords do people use to find your business (besides your brand name)? If your website has been up and running for a while you can use Google Search Console, SEM Rush, and other tools to discover these keywords and then write content to improve upon your search results. If you’re a brand new business, do some competitive research and discover how users are finding your rivals. Even if you’re well established, doing competitive keyword research on a regular basis is a best practice. Google’s Keyword Planner is an excellent source for this, among others.

SEO Priority #6: Write content that’s interesting and informative

You know how frustrating it is to click on a search result and find an article that disappoints after 2 sentences? Back you go to search results (see above) and keep digging until you find another. There is no substitute for high-quality, informative writing and in fact, search engines prefer it. Generally speaking, keep the length of your website pages between 400-800 words and a post between 400-2000 words. Include at least 1 high-quality image. The basic rule of content marketing success is: free, reliable, authoritative information builds your brand, builds your email list, builds your customer base, and eventually, builds your sales.

SEO Priority #7: Use sub-headings in your posts and pages

Did you just scan this article to the part you’re most interested in? That’s why we use subheadings. A block of dense text doesn’t get the job done and can be downright indecipherable. Break up your text every 200 words or so into easily digestible chunks, even if it’s a technical business article. And use heading tags – typically an H3, H4, or H5. Do not use H1’s – they should only be used for titles.

SEO Priority #8: Website Navigation

If your site is easy to navigate for users it will also be easy to crawl and index for search engines, Never go more than 2 sub-menus deep and keep a logical order with your most important pages first. Most menus give you the option to customize the menu tabs, so shorten the names of the pages in the menu tabs if they’re a bit long on the page.

SEO priority #9: Links

Search engines love links. So when you write, cite experts in your field and authoritative sources, and link to their websites, research papers, or other assets. Search engines value this and seem (SEO studies suggest) to consider your page more important if you link out to these sources.  You should also interlink your website’s posts and pages with keyword anchor text. For instance, if the main product you sell and want to be found for is bacon-flavored dental floss, use that phrase to link to your homepage from within your posts.

The 9 points above are starting points to optimize your marketing strategy for SEO. A more in-depth SEO primer from Google is here.

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