Google processed more than 100 billion searches last year, eclipsing every other search engine by a massive amount. More and more would-be customers in Canada and across the world are using mobile and computer searches to not just find potential businesses, but make their final decision on which to patronize. No wonder small business owners are beginning to ask “what is SEO?”
This guide will help explain the what, why and how of getting started with SEO.
What Is SEO explained
SEO officially stands for search engine optimization. It's a set of tactics that increase the chances your website will rank high on the search engine results page for certain keywords.
Keywords are the words or phrases people type into the search box when looking for a business like yours. With SEO, you make changes to your website to try and rank higher and higher for keywords that will bring significant traffic to your website (and therefore more sales to your business).
Search engines use complex algorithms to search through the content on every website on the internet. Depending on the quality and relevance of said content, it curates the searches that you see every day.
Do your own search engine optimization in 4 steps
SEO sounds technical and it is — at first. But once you learn the basics it’s an easy routine.
Whether you DIY your search engine optimization or hire a pro to do it for you, it’s well worth the investment.
How to get search engines to notice you
To make SEO easier to understand, let’s try breaking things down to the four crucial steps of any SEO campaign.
1. Keyword research
The first step in any SEO effort is to do keyword research to determine what keywords you want to try and rank for. You can identify the words and phrases that make sense for your website using tools such as:
The first essential step is putting those keywords into the content on your website. The higher the keyword density on your site, the more likely it will be displayed when someone searches for that keyword or phrase.
If you run a car repair shop in Toronto, start with keywords like ‘car repair Toronto’ or ‘auto shop Toronto.’
Start by identifying all the top targeted keywords in your niche, adding your city identifier because this is how people search for local services.
Next, you want to build out your keyword list by identifying long-tail keywords. These are essentially more detailed (and lengthier) key phrases that some of your competition might not be optimizing their websites for. An example here would be ‘mobile car repair services in Toronto.’
By focusing on geo-targeted and long-tail keywords, rather than something basic like ‘car repair,’ you are more likely to get a higher ranking for those keywords. Remember, most people don’t look beyond page one of the search engine results. So higher on the list is definitely better.
Once you’ve identified your keywords, you add them to your website in a variety of different places including:
The text on your site’s home page.
The text on your site’s service or product pages.
In blog posts.
Metadata in the source code of your pages.
In the titles, tags and descriptions on your videos or multimedia files.
In-depth keyword research takes time to understand all the potential keywords that could drive organic (e.g. free) traffic to your website. It’s never about optimizing for just one or two keywords; it’s usually dozens of different keyword combinations and sometimes hundreds, or even thousands, of long tail keywords.
2. Content mapping
The next step is called ‘content mapping’ or ‘page mapping.’ It’s basically building out the site architecture of your website.
Your most important keywords will usually appear on the home page, while other keywords will be grouped and woven throughout specific service or product pages.
A local dentist in Toronto, might use keywords like ‘dentist Toronto’ or ‘dental clinic Toronto’ on her site’s home page.
But for additional services/keywords like ‘teeth whitening Toronto’ or ‘dental implants Toronto’ you will want to create new web pages with text that includes these keywords.
It’s not a good practice to use an infinite number of keywords on the home page; better to give important keyword groups their own web pages. The more focused each page is on a unique grouping of related keywords, the better your chances for higher search engine rankings and more traffic.
If the search query is informational in nature, like “how to get rid of a toothache,” then that is the kind of keyword you would want to target in a blog post, video or other content marketing effort.
3. On-page optimization
Think of this as the nuts and bolts of your SEO strategy. When you’ve paired up keyword groups with individual pages on your website, you now need to add these keywords to those web pages. For example, you want to add your keywords to the following elements:
The page URL (e.g. https://www.godaddy.com/resources/ca/what-is-malware-and-why-should-i-care/).
Page title tags.
H1 and H2 header tags (usually the page title and a subtitle, respectively).
Within the actual text on the web page.
In the Alt tags on all photos on the page.
And this is only the beginning. Google literally crawls these different sections of a web page to identify what the content (and what specific keywords!) is all about. So, the goal is to put your targeted keywords into each of these different sections to make sure search engines find them there.
There’s a lot more in the realm of on-page optimization — like site load speed, mobile friendliness and conversion rate optimization. But for now, start with the basics.
4. Link building
Backlinks are the final step in an effective SEO campaign.
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to your web pages.
Each link or backlink you earn gets treated as a vote of popularity in the eyes of Google. The more niche-relevant and authoritative links your site has, the more credible your site becomes and the higher your organic rankings will be. Search engines see links as direct signals of authority from one site to another!
So how to get started with link-building? After creating optimized content and pages, you need to get other sites to link to your pages so search engines will consider them authoritative. There are some common ways to do this, ideally by ethical link building strategies like:
Writing guest posts for other blogs.
Creating partnerships with authoritative sites to raise your domain authority.
If you are a local brick-and-mortar business, you can also get listed in dozens of Canadian web directories like YellowPages, GoldBook, Foursquare, Yelp and many others.
Social media and SEO
One area where link-building can get a little confusing is social media. A lot of people think that investing in social media is a perfect way to grow their SEO and do outreach at the same time. However, there’s no guarantee that this is the case, at least, not directly.
While there is a correlation between high social media activity and search ranking, there is no direct causation from the viewpoint of Google.
Your social media success won’t necessarily translate into higher SEO rankings. To win in SEO, you need to stay focused on actively building high-quality links related to your industry, month over month. This is the only reliable way to earn Google’s trust.
Why your business needs SEO
Ultimately, the reason that SEO is so important for every business is the classic line: “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”
You could have the greatest service or product on earth, but it does little if no one can see it.
Organic search engine traffic is an enormous part of a website’s overall traffic, and this is essentially contingent on having an effective SEO strategy.
In addition, a lot of the steps that increase your SEO performance, like having effective content or building up backlinks, go a long way towards establishing you as an authority in the eyes of customers.
Whether you bring on outside help or create an internal SEO team, you need firm goals for your SEO program. A lot of people will say that they “want more traffic” but that’s more of a means rather than the end.
Some of the most important goals for any SEO campaign include:
Getting a customer to buy a product.
Prompting a request for a service or consultation.
Getting a customer to engage with content on your site, like videos, articles or white papers.
Increasing signups to your service/email list.
Trying to raise general awareness of your brand.
These goals aren’t necessarily independent of each other, but part of the reason that you need to know this beforehand is that it will impact the keywords you choose.
For example, a person who searches “new tires near Toronto” using an action keyword — e.g. ‘buy’ or ‘get’ — is probably looking to make a purchase.
However, “how to change a flat tire” is more of an informational search query, so a customer here might want something more informative like a how-to blog post or tutorial. These distinctions will affect how you optimize the pages of your website and target outside sources for link building.
What is SEO in review
Just as search engines continue to be an essential part of everyday life, so is SEO. In order to attract more visitors to your business website, you need to invest both money and time into improving the SEO of every page on your website.
Make sure to plan accordingly and create an SEO budget with this in mind. Then start with the basics of SEO discussed in this post. Good luck and get optimizing!