SEO / Search Engine Optimization (© enterlinedesign / Fotolia.com)
Search engine optimization is the process of improving a website so that search engines are more likely to rank it higher in the search results then where it is currently located. Anyone that has used the Internet for any length of time has probably heard the term ‘search engine optimization’. In addition, many people have started their own websites or have tried their hand at Internet marketing and therefore have some idea as to what search engine optimization is all about. A good simple definition of search engine optimization, often abbreviated SEO, is: the improvement of a website so that it more closely matches what the search engines are looking for in order to get the website to rank higher than its current position.
How Search Engine Optimization Began
The beginnings of search engine optimization start with Google. When search engines began to crop up – only two or three of them at the very beginning – they simply indexed websites with no regard for which websites should be at the top and which websites should be ranked lower. When Google came along, they realized that people were not getting the websites that they wanted when they typed in a search term. Often, websites were ranked according to when they were indexed. It was almost impossible to find exactly what you wanted.
But Google changed all that when they began counting back links. Sites that had the most back links were ranked at the top of the search engine results. Sites that had the fewest links to them were ranked at the very bottom. In this way, users could find the websites that everyone else was linking to when they typed in the search term. But very soon, it became clear that this could not be the only method for deciding which websites would lead at the top of the results page. So Google began developing the very complex algorithm that exists today to determine which site should be in the top and which should be very difficult to find because they offered nothing of value.
Search Engine Optimization Today
Search engine optimization today is a massive topic. Search engine optimization is taught in colleges and there are departments in nearly every company that are at least partially responsible for making sure that websites and social media profiles are optimized as much as possible to appear higher in search. With almost every company in the world having a website, search engine optimization has become the most important thing you can do for your business.
Expert Tips: Factors Affecting Search Engine Optimization
These days, search engine optimization is an extremely complicated process. There are hundreds of factors at play when it comes to how Google and the other search engines rank your website. Many of these factors are known, but others are not. This makes optimizing your website somewhat of a guessing game. However, the factors that are known have been proven over and over to get websites consistently ranking higher. The problem is; there are an awful lot of them. Let’s look at some of the factors affecting search engine optimization.
- Engagement: Engagement is one of the SEO factors that has become more important in recent years. Engagement was not that important before the last major Google update. However, websites that are able to engage their visitors consistently get ranked higher these days. There are several forms that that engagement can take. One of the most common ways that websites engage visitors is by encouraging sharing on social media platforms. Another way that websites try to encourage their visitors to engage with them is by providing a comment section where can post their thoughts on a particular article or product. Still others engage visitors by simply encouraging them to read their content the whole way through.
- Back Links: While some people have discounted backlinks as a solid linking strategy, the truth is, they are still an absolutely terrific strategy for ranking high in the SERPS. However, keep in mind that you should be going after authority websites rather than low PR websites. For example, a single link from a PR 8 website will be equivalent to 10,000 links from PR 2 websites. You could spend your entire lifetime getting links to your site from PR 2 websites for a total of 10,000. But all you need is a single link from a PR 8 website to get the equivalent link juice.
- Formatting: Formatting is going to be an important part of your SEO strategy. There are several things that you can do within your WordPress installation or while creating your content to get the proper formatting that is going to improve your SEO strategy. For example, you can create shorter paragraphs or shorter sentences; or split up your content using subheadings. You can also use bullet points or numbers to break up your content and make it easier to read. All of these things will improve your search rankings because you are making it easier for your readers to digest, which will not only have an impact on the search engines directly, it will also make it so that your bounce rate is lower, which also affects your rankings.
- Use Cliffhangers: You don’t just use cliffhangers in fiction. You can also use them in nonfiction to keep readers from jumping ship before your article is done. The way that this is done is by writing high quality content that ends each paragraph on a segue into the new one. For example:
You can sell black and white widgets, or you can go a totally different route and sell the non-standard colors of widget in your widget store. There are plenty of colors out there, and while most people will want to stick with black and white, there are a few creative souls that might enjoy brightly colored widgets. However, what you really want to keep in mind when it comes to stocking your widget store is…
Make sure that you are offering as many sizes as possible. You can get away with only selling the standard widget colors, but most people have a specific size that they need.
See how they are compelled to read onto the next paragraph. Most people will finish the paragraph they are reading no matter what. If you can compel them to keep going throughout the entire article, you will have kept their attention and kept them on your page longer.
- Be Mobile Friendly: You absolutely must make your web page mobile friendly because most people are going to be accessing it on a mobile device. That’s because when people browse the web, they are on the computer less time than they are on their mobile device, and that trend is continuing to grow. But this is also important when it comes to search engine optimization, because Google wants sites that are formatted for any type of device to be listed nearer to the top. Plus, having a mobile friendly site will reduce your bounce rate, which can also affect your ranking.
- Avoid Black Hat Techniques: Google’s webmaster guidelines stipulate avoiding the use of black hat SEO techniques if you want to be listed at the top of the search engine results page. Google wants their organic search results to be just that – organic. Using methods that they do not like to get to the top of the search results page may work for a while, but once they figure out what you are doing you could be removed from the Google index altogether.
- Use the Meta Tag & Meta Description: Website owners need to use the title tag and meta description capabilities of their site in order to optimize for SEO. The title and description should be written separately, rather than relying upon whatever the default is for your website. This allows you to choose the keywords that come up for that page and will rank you higher in the results.
- Integrate with Social Media: When sites link to social media and encourage sharing, it affects their search engine optimization. Make sure that your social media profiles are search engine friendly as well, and that when someone types in your company name that your web page and social media profiles are part of the relevant results.
- Use Anchor Text: You should be using the right keywords in your anchor text for linking out to other sites and as part of your internal linking strategy if you want a ranking advantage when visitors type in search queries related to those keywords.
- Use High-Quality Images: You definitely want to include images in your content. Google likes to see images if they manually check your site, but even more importantly, you can use image alt tags to ensure that your keywords are being properly understood by the search engines. Plus, it breaks up your content and makes it easier to read. This ensures that people are going to read your content for longer and lowers your bounce rate.
- Use Proper Journalism Techniques: Start with the most important information about the topic. Don’t be afraid to answer the question in the first paragraph. You should be including “what,” “why,” “where,” “who” and “when.” You can then expand on those facts and include the “how” in the middle part of the content. The least important information will be included in the bottom part of the article. However, there shouldn’t be any unnecessary information included. Everything in the article should be necessary and relevant.
- Ensure Quality & Readability: If you are not a good writer, considering hiring someone who is. That’s because the higher quality of content you have, the less likely someone will be to click the back button or “bounce” from your site. If you can craft compelling content that will make people want to continue reading and avoid situations where the text is incomprehensible or appears to be poor quality, both of which will make someone bounce from your site and go look for another website that gives them the information they need.
- Back up Your Claims & Use Outbound Links: If you remember in high school or college, you had to back up your claims with actual trusted sources. In journalism, this is absolutely the number one rule. If you are making any sort of claim that you need people to be convinced of, then you need to back up your facts with trusted sources. More importantly, you want to link to those sources, not only so that your readers can go to the source and satisfy themselves that your content is factual, but also because Google ranks you higher when you link out to authoritative content to back up your own.
- Use Analytics: Surprisingly, many website owners never check their analytics, even if they have connected their website to it. Making sure that your website is optimized requires that you not only understand the data that you are getting from your site within analytics, but also that you use that data to improve your site. Find out how your traffic is getting there, what your bounce rates are and other vital information, and then make small improvements to your site that will optimize it even further.
- Create a YouTube Channel: Did you know that 55% percent of keyword phrases have a video result on the first page – and that most of those videos are YouTube videos. There is a good reason for that. YouTube is owned by Google. This also gives you an opportunity to get on the first page and improve your own site’s ranking by creating a YouTube channel and a video for each piece of content, all linking back to the page where they are embedded.
- Focus on Topics More Than Keywords: Keywords are no longer as important as they once were. As always, the Google algorithm is changing and evolving. No longer are titles that have keywords in them as important as titles that sound like a topic or make someone want to read them. In addition, you want to use keywords sparingly. You don’t need to meet keyword density requirements any longer or make sure that you have variations of a keyword within every article.
- Customize Your Content for Your Audience: Your audience is the most important factor you should be looking at when it comes to creating your content. Don’t write content for search engines. Write content for your audience. That means customizing content for the type of audience you are targeting with it. For example, a review on a new computer will be written very differently for the serious gamer than one written for a casual computer user. If you want to appeal to both of these audiences, don’t do it with a single article. Instead, write two different topics and differentiate which one is for which audience using the title.
- Building Backlinks: Organic, natural backlinks are what Google likes to see, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop building them yourself. However, make sure that you are concentrating upon getting links from high PR sites rather than lower page rank sites. A single link from a PR 8 website can give you more link juice than thousands of links from PR 2 websites.
- Use HTTPS: If there are two websites that are equal in every other way, Google is going to rank the site that uses the HTTPS protocol higher than the site that does not. Make sure you are using a secure protocol so that you can compete with other websites that are doing the same.
- Use Local Search Listings if Possible: Another thing that you can do is make sure that you fill out your local business listings with Google if possible. Google likes businesses to be listed with them and your website may rank higher if you have filled out the proper listing information. Filling out a local business listing will allow you to list your website, address and phone number, and this can improve the ranking of your own website, especially if you include that same information on your website and it matches.
- Keep Up With SEO: Search engine optimization is changing all the time. One of the best ways that you can make sure that you are optimizing your websites properly is by keeping up with the current SEO practices and techniques. Know when to stop using a technique and when to implement a new one by keeping up with Google algorithm changes and by listening to advice from trusted people who publish SEO information and keep up with the latest things that work for ranking websites higher and adhering to Google’s best practices.