You’ve heard the phrase “Location, location, location!” about real estate. The same applies to your website on search engine result pages — the higher your site is listed, the more traffic you’re going to get. And by applying best SEO practices to your website, you can increase qualified traffic, which means more new customers.
Did you know the top five organic search results on the first page of Google net approximately 75 percent of the clicks? Over the years, various click-through rate studies have proven this so it is critical to rank in the top five.
Organic vs. paid listings
You can attract visitors to your site a variety of ways, but one of the most effective ways is being visible at the top of the organic search results on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Unlike paid listings, which are advertisements that display in sponsored areas, organic search results are “free” and based on, among other things, the site’s content and how closely it matches the keywords being searched.
Your SEO strategy: Get on the first page!
Few people click beyond the first page of search results, so if you want to be seen, you need to be among the top listings. To do that, you need to learn a bit about how search engines work and how to optimize your website, more commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Once search engines know your site exists, they scan your site, index the information, and analyze the content to determine how and where your website should display on the results page. If your site isn’t optimized, it won’t rank well and may end up well below your competitors.
Each search engine has its own set of ranking criteria, but they all look at these same basic but key elements.
These are select words and phrases that someone would use when searching for your business. You’ll want to research and discover what your customers and potential customers are searching for and then produce content targeting those terms. If you publish a page targeting “birch hardwood flooring” then that page should utilize that exact phrase a couple of times naturally in the body copy (but only where it makes sense — don’t cram them in).
The Title Tag provides a brief summary of what people can expect from the page. It displays in a few important places, including the browser’s title bar, and as the title for your listing in search engine results. If you target a specific audience, consider including that in the title, like “Experienced motorcycle accident and injury attorneys in Arizona.” It helps if each page in your site contains a unique title, but keep it concise — less than 65 characters including spaces.
Meta Description Tag
The Meta Description Tag displays below your website’s link in search results and should entice people to visit your site. Every page on your site should include a unique Meta Description using the keyword for that page. Keep your Meta Description Tags less than 150 characters and avoid non-alphanumeric characters.
Header Tag (H1 Tag)
Each page in your site should include only one H1 Tag. While it doesn’t display in search results, it’s generally the largest or most prominent text on the page. The header tells visitors what they’re reading or viewing; think of a chapter title in a book. Keep it brief — no longer than a short sentence and it must include the page’s target keyword.
Your website’s content, the text that your visitors read, is critical for search engines as well. Use between 300 and 700 words, including the keywords you selected. Focus the page content to the subject matter of the target keyword. Wikipedia is an excellent example of this concept. When you visit the Wikipedia Isaac Newton page you only see content about Isaac Newton. The page copy is focused on that subject matter. Go ahead and search “Isaac Newton” in Google and check out the top result. And always make sure everything on your site is original material.
Website navigation refers to all the links on your site and how visitors navigate from page to page. Visitors and search engines both rely on good navigation to get around your site. Is your navigation built in a code base search engines can read? It is best to utilize HTML and CSS. Is every page you want indexed linked through your navigation? If not, you have orphan pages and if these pages are not important enough for you to funnel traffic to through your navigation the search engines will rarely rank those pages.
Ensure all the URLs in your navigation are valid because a broken link is like hitting a brick wall, so be sure to check your links regularly.
A sitemap is essentially a map or directory of all the pages in your website. Sitemaps guide search engines throughout your site with the names and locations of pages. They can speed up indexing and, in some cases, increase site traffic by indexing previously buried pages. There are two types of sitemaps: 1) an HTML sitemap and 2) an XML sitemap.
An HTML sitemap are typically linked from the footer and is a web page users can visit to see all the important pages on your site. An XML sitemap is something completely different. This sitemap is really only for search engines and they have a specific protocol and code requirements. Every site should have one and the XML sitemap should be listed in your Webmaster Tools account (Google and Bing).
Images help break up the text and add visual interest to your site. Be sure to include an image on each page, and to optimize these assets to gain referral traffic from Image Search. Three components are critical for image optimization. First, align the page’s target keyword to the image file name. If your page is targeting “birch hardwood flooring,” then the hero image file name should be:
Always use lowercase and separate each word with a hyphen.
Use and optimize the Image ALT Text attribute and again use the page’s target keyword. Because search engines can’t see images the way we do, they depend on various attributes to appropriately catalog and index the image. Can you guess the Image ALT Text for “birch hardwood flooring?” It should be:
Birch Hardwood Flooring
Finally, the engines look at the text content around the image to help understand the subject matter of the image. If you use “birch hardwood flooring” as the image file name, and Image ALT Text and the page content focuses on birch hardwood flooring then the engines can safely assume the image is a picture of birch hardwood flooring or should at least be associated with that term.
Pro tip: Optimizing your images, so the file size is smaller and the image loads faster, can also help your search rankings.
Inbound links are a big factor in how search engines rank your site. There are two types: internal links and backlinks. An internal link is simply creating a link from a keyword or sentence on one page on your website to another page on your website. For example, the sentence “Find an attorney near you” would be linked to the list of office locations on your site.
Backlinks are links from other websites that point to your site. Search engines weigh these more heavily when determining your rank, and unfortunately, these are more difficult to accrue. Some easy ways to create backlinks is by producing valuable content your audience is seeking and then promoting that content throughout your social media network. This is not a quick and painless tactic, but it is the safest and it is proven.
Take the time to write valuable content and be active on social media platforms that make sense for your business. Typically, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are the go-to networks. LinkedIn is also valuable but depends on your audience. If you are targeting gamers or big truck lovers then LinkedIn might not be appropriate.
See you at the top
Search engine optimization can have a big impact on the success of your online business. The good news is that with the tips presented in this article, you have the basic tools you need to get started. Take a little time to tune up your site and watch your customer base grow with your search results.
Also published on Medium.