The Wide World of SEO, or: How to make friends with a search engine
Written by Alex Adams October 31, 2016
So, you’ve just launched your new website, its thoughtful and engaging and the design is absolutely on point. Now, all you have to do is sit back and watch your target audience flock in droves to this online mecca into which you have poured your time (and money). Every day you check your Google Analytics, but you start to notice a distressing trend: no one is visiting your site! You may have a few visits a day (at least one of which is yourself, or someone in your organization). Sure, there was that one day when, to your delight, you opened your Analytics report to see a spike of over a thousand visitors, only to discover they were all spam after seeing they originated from somewhere in the Russian Federation. Obviously, your website isn’t meeting the lofty goals you envisioned when you launched it.
So, how do you get visitors to come to your site?
Unfortunately, with your new website you really can’t take the field of dreams approach of “If you build it, them will come. Unless you are flying around in a helicopter dropping fake dollar bills with your website’s URL printed on them (which if that is your marketing approach, you can stop reading now, you obviously have your life completely figured out), you are probably going to have to rely on a search engine such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. to attract more visitors. According to a recent article in Search Engine Journal, Google now commands a staggering 80% of search engine traffic. So for efficiency’s sake, we are going to focus on optimizing your site for Google.
According to Forbes, the average web developer charges somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 per hour to build a website, so when you factor in the amount of time it actually takes to organize and program an entire website, your new site probably cost you at lease several thousand dollars. That is quite an investment to promptly waste because people can’t find you with a simple Google search. Entire volumes have been written on search engine optimization (SEO), so the purpose of this blog post is not to give you all the ins and outs of optimizing your site, rather simply to introduce you to the foundational aspects of a solid SEO strategy.
Let’s start by taking a look at your website itself. All search engines strive to deliver the most relevant search results whenever a user makes a query, and there are several things you can do to make your site appear relevant to keyword searches for which you want to appear. One of the simplest and most foundational is including metadata for each page of your site. Metadata are bits of information that do not actually show up on your site itself, but rather give search engines (and people using search engines) concise information about what is contained on a page; this data takes several forms:
Title tags: These short snippets of information give search engines an overview of exactly what each website is about. You have most certainly seen a title tag in the form of a link to a website on a search results page, or as the page title on a tab in your browser. There is a very specific formula to these little title tags. Search engines want them to be in a specific format that appears as “Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand”, and they should fall between approximately 50-60 characters (or 600 pixels) in length. You can find out more about title tags in this informative article from Moz.
Meta Descriptions: This information is what you see below the link in a search engine results page as a description of what on the other side of that link. While not specifically crawled by search engines, they are a useful tool in attracting clicks by indicating that your page content is indeed relevant to the user who is considering your site. Search engines go so far as to bold specific words within a meta description that correspond to keywords for which the user is searching. It is important to note that these descriptions should be kept under 160 characters in length, if you want the whole description to appear to the user.
Alt Tags: These bits of code are crucial in indicating the content of images to a search engine. You see, whenever a search engine is crawling a page within a website, all it sees is the html code. Whenever it encounters an image, it essentially just sees blank space. This is where alt tags come into play. They are programmed along with the image to which they correspond to offer a very brief, keyword rich description of what that image is. For an in-depth discussion of alt tags, check out this article from Yoast .
But wait, there’s more! Now that you have a solid SEO foundation built into your website, you are ready to start focusing on the content of your site. To start off, ask yourself this series of questions:
- Does the content of my webpage actually contain the keywords for with I want to appear?
- Are those keywords incorporated in such a way that is easily read and appears natural within the content?
- Do you include any variations of those keywords so as to appear relevant to a broader audience?
Writing keyword rich content is absolutely a balancing act. On one hand, you definitely want to include keywords for which you want to show up in search results. On the other hand, you don’t want to haphazardly stuff those keywords into your content in such a way that it appears forced or intentional. Not only will you turn off any visitors to your website, but search engines see this as a blatant attempt to cheat the system. A great free tool to analyze and improve your content is this one from seoreviewtools.com. Of course writing keyword rich content can be a daunting task so it may be a good idea to reach out to your friendly neighborhood digital marketing agency, like Red Sage, for help!
There are a myriad of other things you can do to make your website appear more appealing to search engines, from blogging or frequent content updates, to making sure your anchor text is accurate, and increasing the number of quality links on a page.
The next tool in our SEO tool belt is local listings. You have encountered one of these whenever you have searched for a business name on Google and then noted the company’s contact information in the box to the right of the search results. You have also seen a local listing whenever you have searched for a business’s location on MapQuest, clicked on a Yelp review, or even searched for a business from the GPS in your car. Needless to say local listings are ubiquitous in our daily lives. There are hundreds and hundreds of local listing services powered by 4 large aggregation companies and then several smaller sites and databases in addition to these aggregators. Search engines use local listings to weigh in on just how up-to-date a website owner is on their online presence. – If a business has multiple listings and all of them a slightly different, Google would assume that business’s website might not be the most reliable source of information for a given keyword. The simple solution would be to go claim each of these, sure. However, there are hundreds of listings you would have to claim and all the information would need to match perfectly for each listing. If even one listing is off, that information could get into one of the data aggregators and then suddenly you have misinformation popping up all over the place. Your best bet is to work with a marketing company that has online visibility knowledge to distribute contact information that mirrors that which is on your website using their enterprise level software, and then allow them to monitor your local listings going forward to insure all listings are accurate. If you want to learn more about the importance of local listings, just check out one of Ellen’s blog posts from a while back.
Next up: online reviews! That’s right, the same online reviews you use to decide which new restaurant to try or which iPhone case to buy are used by Google and other search engines to determine the quality of a business. Perhaps more importantly, search engines have started displaying review scores from Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc. within search results. So even if your page is the first to appear in the results, you better bet a potential visitor will pass you by if they see a single star below the link to your site. Generating and managing online reviews can be tricky. Not only do you have to encourage your customers/clients/patients/etc. to give you a review, you then have to address any potential negative reviews that might result. Again, this is an area that takes extensive planning and management. You may well benefit from working with agency with the know-how and resources to help you succeed in getting the most out of your online reviews.
The last major piece of the SEO puzzle is social media. Much like online reviews and local listings your social media channels are great ways to prove to search engines that your organization or business is relevant, up-to-date, and responsive – Just the type of search result they want to deliver to their users! On the flip side, if your social media profiles are out of date, inaccurate, or simply not ever updated, a search engine would see that as an indicator that maybe you aren’t the type of result they want to be delivering. It is absolutely critical that all of your contact information be accurate (and the same) across all of your social media profiles, and that you then link those profiles to your website. Additionally, frequent, relevant updates to your social media profiles, and linking to updated content (like blogs, services, news items, etc.) from your website is a great way to increase the number of quality links to your site. This approach also has the added benefit of being yet another way users are able to find your website. As your content is spread across social media platforms more and more people will view, share, and maybe even link to your website, thus increasing the number of eyeballs of your online real estate and the number of relevant links to your site.
As stated before, this is only a brief overview of a well-rounded SEO strategy. There is much, much more that could be said about each of these topics, and there are other tools we didn’t even have time to discuss. If we attempted to cover every aspect of search engine optimization, we would both be here for weeks or months. By the time we had covered it all, Google would have changed the rules and we would have to start over. There is no sure-fire way to ensure your website shows up well for every relevant search every time, but what is outlined above is a great start to a high quality SEO foundation. So, if you have any additional questions about making your web presence more search engine friendly, or would like help in getting your website to show up higher (or at all) in search results, give Red Sage a call. We are here to help!
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