Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a critical component to getting found organically on the Internet. The number of searches performed on a daily basis is increasing exponentially, and users trust that the results are relevant and accurate. Any business, no matter how big or small, should be implementing a quality SEO strategy to increase traffic, leads, and ultimately sales.
In this post, we’ll provide you with an all-encompassing rundown of SEO, including why it plays a crucial role in the success of a business, the elements of a quality SEO strategy, and how to analyze your SEO efforts.
What is SEO and Why Does It Matter?
SEO is the process of getting traffic from the free or organic search results on search engines, including Bing and Google. These major search engines use algorithms to show and rank local listings based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users.
If you own an Italian restaurant, you’re going to want to use the phrase “Italian Restaurant” throughout the copy on your website. You’ll also want to include that key phrase within the title of the home page and ensure your site has a good reputation. You can do this by updating the content regularly with new photos, pages, or menus. You should also try to get local guides to include your Italian restaurant in their lists of local restaurants. These links back to your website build domain authority and show search engines that you have valuable information users would want to know about.
Without SEO your business and your website will have a hard time showing in search results. Other websites will rank higher than yours because they have the information search engines need. Ultimately, this means losing customers to your competitors.
Terms to Know
The following are terms you’ll see used over and over again when people talk about SEO and implementing a successful strategy.
Meta Data: Metadata is “data that provides information about other data”. In short, it’s data about data.
URL: the address of a World Wide Web page.
Alt Tag: An alt tag, also known as “alt attribute” and “alt description,” is an HTML attribute applied to image tags to provide a text alternative for search engines.
Schema: A semantic vocabulary of tags (or microdata) that you can add to your HTML to improve the way search engines read and represent your page in SERPs
SERP: Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) are the pages displayed by search engines in response to a query by a searcher.
HTTPS: HTTPS is a communication protocol that is encrypted using Transport Layer Security (TLS) or, formerly, its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL).
AMP: AMP stands for “Accelerated Mobile Pages,” an Open Source Framework designed to enable fast-loading mobile websites.
Headings: Your header tags provide structure and context for your article. Each header should give the reader an idea of the information in the paragraph text that follows below.
Featured Snippet: Featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results below the ads in a box. The goal of featured snippets is to answer the user’s question right away, eliminating the need for them to go deeper in to the search results.
SEO and Your Business
The impact a well thought out strategy will have on your business will be highly beneficial, however before you begin there are a few things you should be aware of.
Why Your Business Should Have an SEO Strategy
Traffic to your website will increase – with the right strategy and optimizations, organic traffic to your website will begin to increase.
Brand awareness – SEO also increases brand awareness as your business appears in more SERPs.
Increase in leads – If more client leads are your goal, then SEO will get you there. The more people discovering your website the higher the chance that more people will contact you about your services.
More sales – If you sell a physical product through your website, SEO will help you increase your sales through optimized product descriptions and localized keywords.
Things to Be Aware of Before Implementing the Strategy
No instant results – SEO is not for the impatient. After implementing your SEO strategy, it will typically take 3-6 months to start seeing results. A lot of factors determine how soon you’ll see results, including your website’s age, local competition, your domain name, and the content on your website.
ROI takes a long time – Since the results aren’t instant, it will take a long time to see a return on your investment as well. Whether your investment is your time or the money you spent to hire an SEO agency or expert, don’t expect an immediate ROI.
There are no guarantees – There’s certainly techniques and best practices when it comes to SEO, but in terms of what will work best for you specifically, there is no one answer. It can take some trial and error to develop an effective SEO strategy that delivers results.
There’s competition – As with pay-per-click ads, you’ll be fighting your competition for the top spot on the page. However, unlike paid advertising, you can’t simply pay more money to rank first on the page. You have to develop an SEO strategy that will result in a higher ranking for your website than your competition.
Off-page SEO is any action taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages. It typically involves improving search engine and user perception of a site’s quality by obtaining links from other reputable sites. These are commonly referred to as back links and are highly valuable. Mentions of your brand and shares of your content from sources outside of your own website will also improve your reputation.
Backlinks can be built by guest blogging, getting listed on local and national guides, being mentioned and linked to on reputable websites, and featured in online magazines.
There are 3 main types of links: natural links, manually built links, and self-created links.
Natural links – these are editorially given without any action on the part of a page owner. A blogger that links to their favorite brand of makeup within a blog post is including a natural link. The makeup brand had no part in getting their link included in the blog post.
Manually built links – Manually built links are deliberately acquired through activities such as asking customers to link to your website or asking influencers to share your content.
Self-created links – The 3rd type of link is created by adding a backlink in an online directory, forum, blog comment signature, or a press release.
On-page SEO is any action taken within your website to impact your rankings. This is where most of the work is going to be put in so you can have a website that ranks high in SERPs.
Some of the factors that effect on-page SEO include:
- Titles, headings, descriptions
- Meta writing practices
- Alt Tags
- Image compression / lazy loading
- URL Optimizations
Titles, headings, and descriptions
Your title, headings, and descriptions should include the keyword you want to rank for. The title tag is especially important as it is the first bit of information and context as to what the page is about. It’s often the clickable link on SERPs, and missing, duplicate, and poorly written title tags can all negatively impact SEO results.
The meta description describes what a page is about and is often displayed underneath the page title in the SERPs. If done well, a meta description catches people’s attention and makes them want to read more. Here are some tips to write a quality meta description:
- Keep it under 160 characters
- Include a call-to-action
- Include the keyword you want to rank for
- Make the meta description unique to the page – don’t copy the same description from another page on your website
- Accurately convey what content the reader should expect – no click-bait!
Alt tags are used to describe an image or what an image is representing. One of their uses is to benefit the visually impaired who use screen readers to browse the internet. To be ADA compliant, every image on your website must include an alt-tag. Alt tags will also display in place of an image if an image file cannot be loaded and are used by search engine crawlers to help index an image. Keep them within 125 characters, include a keyword or 2, but don’t keyword stuff, and try to describe the image as accurately as possible.
One factor that can have an impact on your SEO is page speed. If a page loads too slowly it sends a red flag to Google and your page won’t rank as well. One way to increase your page speed is to compress all of the images on your site so they don’t slow down the load time.
A redirect happens when a user is sent to a different page than originally intended by the hyperlink. This often occurs when the original page has been deleted and a redirect is set up to send traffic to a new page. Without redirects, users will be sent to a 404 page. If you make any changes to a URL you must set up a redirect so traffic that clicks on the old link is sent to the new page.
Even the URL must be optimized for SEO. To do so, use your keyword in the URL, make sure it’s easy to read (and type), keep it as short as possible, and avoid using conjunctions.
A lot of search is now localized to provide users with the most relevant results. For this reason, it’s important that you optimize for your location in addition to the service or product you offer.
There are several tools that can help you improve your local SEO.
Google My Business
Google My Business, or GMB, is the ultimate in local listings. If your business has a GMB listing, a knowledge graph will appear to the right in the SERPs when someone searches for your business. The knowledge graph contains all of the information a user could want to know about your business, including hours, address, phone number, your services, user reviews, and even promos and coupons. Optimize your listing by including the services you offer, photos of your business, writing a description of your business, and listing products that you sell.
Google Map Pack
The Google Map Pack is the first 3 listings that appear in Google Maps after performing a search. It appears in about 30% of all first page results and takes up a large amount of real estate. For this reason, user’s often skip the organic listings, going right for the map instead. If you’re not in the map pack your business is losing a lot of traffic.
For an opportunity to appear in the Google Map Pack, follow these steps:
- Create a GMB listing
- Optimize your GMB profile
- Optimize your website for local search and mobile traffic
- Provide images of your business
- Encourage customers to leave reviews
Location Management Platforms
Location management platforms partner with local directories to ensure accurate and consistent information across the Internet.
Our own BrawnGuard has access to over 70 listing platforms, maps, and apps to keep your information up to date. We create a listing for your business once and then BrawnGuard handles the rest, pushing the info out and creating listings across the Internet.
Even though many people just search Google and Bing, these major search engines verify the information for your business across other listing websites. If all of the listings are accurate your listing on Google and Bing will rank higher.
Optimizing for Voice Search
With the rise of Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and other voice assistants, optimizing for voice searches is more important than ever.
Voice assistants use a user’s location to provide accurate and relevant search results. For example, if a woman says “Alexa, find me a hair salon”, Alexa will only pull hair salons that are nearby. Many of the searches performed are also questions, meaning your website or content should answer commonly asked questions.
To optimize for voice search, use structured data, or a Schema markup to classify information people typically search for, such as business hours, address, contact information, and directions.
Claiming your Google My Business listing and ensuring its accuracy will also help your business “appear” in local voice search results.
In addition to voice assistants for the home, a lot of voice searches happen on people’s mobile devices. Your site should include a mobile-friendly design so that users can easily access information on the go.
How to Rank for Local SEO Keywords
76% of people who search for a nearby business on their phone end up visiting within a day. 28% of those searches end in a purchase. Using the right keywords to increase your local search rankings will increase traffic to your business in addition to increasing sales.
Use tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or SEMrush to research local keywords that you could possibly rank for. Focus on keywords that have a large search volume but that you don’t rank high for. You can also go beyond your immediate location into neighboring towns and cities.
Previously it would have been impossible to rank for more generic keywords such as “shoe store”, “Sushi restaurant”, or “mechanic”, but now that search results are so localized it’s worth trying to rank for more broad keywords. Those who need a mechanic in your area are likely to see your business when they perform a search.
You should also try and rank for industry keywords. These are keywords that users typically search for in order to find your business. Keeping with the mechanic example, think of what you would search if you needed a mechanic and go from there.
Your list may include keywords like:
- Auto shop
- Car repair
- Body shop
Once you identify the keywords, use modifiers to make it slightly easier to rank high in the SERPs. Modifiers include words that can be used to describe an event, a quality, or a type of product.
- Best auto shop
- Quick car repair
- Affordable body shop
- Car inspection
- Brake repair
- Tire rotation
- Collision repair
The last step is to localize these keywords based on our location in addition to surrounding towns and cities.
- Best auto shop in Albany
- Break repair in the Albany area
- Affordable mechanic, Albany
Once you implement your strategy to rank for local keywords, it’s important to monitor the results. Without doing so you’ll never know if your strategy is working. Check the insights of Google My Business, your website traffic in Google Analytics, and spend some time in an SEO tool such as Moz or SEMrush to see how your keywords are performing.
The last element of SEO is technical SEO. This goes beyond keywords and updating meta tags and into the actual code of your website.
Schema markup is a form of microdata. It’s the result of a collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo! to provide the information search engines need to understand the content on a website and provide the best search results possible. Schema markup is added to the HTML code of a website and can improve the way a page displays in the SERPs.
When a website has Schema markup in place, users are able to easily see important information or information that is relevant to their search query. For example, this is a search result for ‘Fort Ticonderoga events”. Because this website has Schema markup in place, the events display in a large table for users to view.
Schema markup isn’t just for events, though. With Schema, your website can rank better for all types of content and information, including:
- TV episodes and ratings
- Book reviews
- Movie times
- Product listings
Websites that use Schema markup will rank better in SERPs than those that don’t include it. One study determined that websites with Schema markup rank an average of 4 positions higher in the SERPs that those without Schema markup. It’s estimated that less than one-third of websites use Schema markup.
Google Core Updates
Several times a year, Google makes significant updates to their search algorithms and systems; these are referred to as core updates. Google Core Updates are not within our control, but they can impact where websites rank within SERPs. The updates aim to improve how Google assesses content overall, and the changes implemented may decrease the ranking of some pages while increasing the ranking of others.
If you notice a drop in rank after a core update, don’t panic. Google encourages users to focus on the content on their website and ensuring it’s the best they can offer. Is the information accurate? Is it helpful or interesting? Is the headline or title descriptive? These are all things to consider when analyzing your existing content or creating new content.
Page Speed and Load Times
We briefly mentioned that page speed and load times can impact your site’s ranking. In fact, it’s so important that Google has made page speed a direct ranking factor. The longer it takes for a page to load, the lower the page will rank in SERPs.
Page speed depends on many different factors, such as the website’s performance, the server’s performance, the particular web page you’re on, the connection type, the user’s Internet service provider, the browser, how many windows are open, and the list keeps going.
Many of these factors you can’t control, but you can control your own website. Some ways to decrease your page speed and load times include:
- Compressing images and videos
- Reducing redirects
- Using browser caching.
To test your website’s page speed, use the PageSpeed Insights tool from Google.
All of these SEO strategies, techniques, and tools are valuable, but without taking the time to analyze your efforts you’ll have a hard time knowing what’s working and what’s not. A monthly or quarterly reporting schedule will allow you to review what you’re doing well and areas that need some improvement.
Implement, analyze, adjust your strategy, repeat.
Using Google Analytics
One of the most valuable tools for analyzing your SEO efforts is Google Analytics. This free tool allows you to access information and data about your website. Daily visits to your website, audience demographics, top pages, and where your traffic comes from are just a few of the data points provided by Google Analytics.
You’ll be able to use this data to understand who your visitors are, what content performs well, and if your SEO strategy is working. Take note of when you begin optimizing for local keywords and your business name. From there, track the visits to your website and how people are discovering your website to get an understanding of what’s working and what’s not.
You’ll want to look specifically at organic search traffic, as SEO is all about increasing organic visits to your website. To look at your organic search traffic over time, open your Channel Grouping report by visiting Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels. This is where you’ll see traffic sources segmented by channel. Click on “Organic Search” to see the top landing pages for search traffic, the keywords driving the most traffic, and which search engines are providing the most traffic.
Another piece of data to analyze is the conversions coming from organic search traffic. To view this, visit Conversions > Goals > Overview and then sort by Source/Medium. Track how many goals are being completed by organic search traffic from Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.
Keyword Research Tools
There are a lot of tools to assist you in finding keywords to optimize for. You should be performing keyword research for every blog and web page you write to help guide your strategy and increase the chances of your content ranking well.
Each of these tools will allow you to choose the best keywords based on your industry, learn more about your competition, and know which keywords have a high search volume. Some of our favorite keyword research tools include:
Google Ads Keyword Planner is a great place to start your keyword journey. The tool is free to use and you’ll discover new keywords that are relevant to your business and will help you rank higher in SERPs. This tool also shows how often certain words are searched and how those searches change over time. This is great for identifying trends and when to start posting about more seasonal topics (start posting about Christmas in October if you want those posts to perform well).
With Ubersuggest you can search a domain or keyword to get suggestions for similar keywords, content ideas, and what your competition is doing. See which of your competitor’s pages are ranking for popular organic keyword phrases and how much traffic is going to those pages. It’s a well-rounded tool that provides all of the data you need to create content that is optimized for organic search.
Wordtracker is another market research tool that will provide you with related terms to your targeted keyword, a preview of the search results, and data from multiple sources including Google, YouTube, and Amazon.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool that, according to Google, “helps you monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your site’s presence in Google Search results.” With Search Console, you can confirm that Google can crawl your website, view Google Search traffic data, and see which sites link to your website, among many other things. Combined with Google Analytics, you’ll be able to make well informed decisions as to how your site appears within search results. You’ll also have the information you need to make changes to your website to improve mobile usability, load times, and indexing.
Once you set up Search Console you don’t need to check it on a daily basis. You’ll receive email alerts if anything unusual happens with your website. Once a month you should be taking a look at your Search Console status to see the overall health of your website and ensure there isn’t any unusual activity (a dip in clicks, and increase in errors, etc.)
You should also check Search Console whenever you make significant changes to your website, such as adding new content, new properties, or changing your domain name.
Here’s how to get started with Search Console and keep an eye on your site’s search health.
More on SEO
By now you should have a good understanding of the fundamentals of SEO. The rules are always changing and in order to be successful you must keep up on algorithm changes, trends and best practices. Here are some of our favorite blogs and resources to dive deeper into SEO.
- Neil Patel
- How to Write Meta Descriptions
- Perform a site health audit
- How to create an XML sitemap
- How to optimize your URLs
Optimizing Your Website for Search
There is a lot that goes into SEO and getting noticed within the countless pages of search results. Keyword research, content development, and quality web development are just the beginning, and an SEO strategy takes a lot of time, planning, and implementation.
Working with an agency partner that specializes in SEO will allow you to have a team of experts on your side who not only understand and keep up with the latest trends but who know what works for a multitude of other websites and industries.
Have questions or want to speak with an expert about your SEO needs? Our team will be happy to chat!