In a highly competitive market, how do you ensure your voice is heard alongside – or above – the industry big shots? Two words: organic traffic, which requires a thorough understanding and a savvy application of search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps you to stand out in a very loud digital crowd. The stronger your SEO-game, the greater your visibility and the higher your site will rank on search engine results pages (SERPs) – from Google, Bing and Baidu to YouTube, Amazon and Facebook.
And where you rank matters! According to Backlinko, the number one result in a Google organic searches has an average click-through rate of 31.7% and is 10 times more likely to receive a click compared to the number 10 result.
So, how do you gain and maintain visibility? Start with understanding how search engines work, and what, why and how people search.
Search engines operate by sending out automated search robots – aka bots, spiders, crawlers – to visit the accessible pages on all websites across the internet, gathering and storing the information they find. When a search query is submitted, the search engine's algorithm trawls through the data collected, processing it to determine which sites – and pages on those sites – are most relevant in a matter of seconds.
SEO helps the search engine determine the relevancy of a page, scanning for key factors that impact SEO rankings:
Technical: HTML titles, HTML tags, keywords, links, image alt text, website organization (from your sitemap to redirects).
Local: people value local, and so do search engines, SEO can help search engines recognize your business as local.
Content: the content focus must be quality and quantity – search engines rate regular, fresh content that provides value to potential customers.
Reputation: search engines value reputation and backlinking (where other, reputable websites link to yours, or vice versa) can help you establish yours. More on link building.
Search engine algorithms are always trying to provide users with the most relevant results – their business is to please the searcher, not the searched. While most changes are minor, some are major. If you want to keep up-to-date, marketing software-as-a-service company Moz provides a complete Google Algorithm Update History.
As an SMB, if you want to compete with the big boys, you must approach SEO and content marketing with energy and deliver with consistency. Your goal: to show the search engine-gods that you have authority in your area.
A well-laid SEO marketing strategy is a must. Start by assessing what you want and what resources you have, then devise a highly targeted plan that calls directly to your intended customers.
According to Moz, "Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they're the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called 'search queries'."
The keywords on your website must be relevant. Drafting a list of keywords for your business requires an understanding of your potential customers – their needs, the language they use and the content they want. Armed with this insight, use tools such as Google's Keyword Planner to conduct your keyword research.
Your keywords should be woven into your website's content and embedded in your website. But don't go overboard, avoid 'keyword stuffing', search engines penalize content/ sites that read like spam. Instead, focus on why people are searching specific words or phrases – what's the user's intent?
Campaign Monitor advises focusing on creating quality content that answers questions and provides valuable information to those who visit your website. Consider your content in context; if someone searches' best restaurants in Bath' they're presented with results for specific restaurants and articles that rank restaurants in that area – how can you use SEO to speak to this?
Page copy should include your keywords, but don't overdo it. Keep content clear and straightforward, describing what it is you do and why you do it! Poor content can damage your site's ranking – as well as how people engage with it – so spend the time on getting it right.
Title tags are the text that appears as a clickable link on a SERP. They are the title of individual pages, and each one needs to be unique, contain relevant keywords and be formatted consistently across your website.
Heading tags run from H1 to H6; search engines see H1 as the most important of these tags. Use H1 for page headlines (not to be used more than once per page). H2 to H6 title tags can be used multiple times per page as subheadings, for example. This formatting allows bots to read the content and improves user experience.
URLs, or web addresses, specify the location of a resource, as well as how to retrieve that resource. Moz breaks URLs down into three components – a protocol, domain name and path (which specifies the page's location). URLs improve user – human and search engine – experience, and boost SERP rankings! Check out this useful guide on SEO best practices for URLs.
Images go visually unseen by bots, which is why getting the code behind images right is essential! Consider how you use alt tags (short, descriptive text shown when an image can't be displayed), image titles (text that appears when users hover the cursor over an image, should build on alt text), and filename (yes, filing conventions matter: describe your image, use lowercase and separate with hyphens).
Meta descriptions are HTML elements that describe the contents of a page for users and search engines. You'll recognize meta descriptions as the few lines of text that appear beneath the title tags on a SERP. While they're not a factor in search engine rankings, if you don't set the text, the search engine does it for you – meaning you lose an opportunity to sell your brand, product or service. WordStream provides a useful overview.
While the internet means that small businesses can compete on a global stage, appealing to and engaging with your local community should remain a priority. You can optimize your website to do this by applying local SEO.
To put the importance of local SEO into perspective, according to HubSpot, 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information, and 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.
If you want to drive people to your physical store, setting up a Google My Business profile is essential. Quick and free, it boosts your business' presence, provides useful information – such as name, location and contact – and enables customers to leave reviews.
Customer reviews are a great advertisement (86% of consumers read reviews before making a purchasing decision) and impact your SEO performance because Google uses them to rate and rank your website.
Links are portals to more information, to other areas of your website or other websites and back! They're clickable chunks of text and powerful SEO tools.
Internal links (links that connect one page in your site to another) help users to navigate your website, they help search engines see connections between pages and even help boost new pages in search rankings. Good for SEO.
External links (links that connect pages in your website to others) read positively and can encourage others to backlink to your website!
Backlinks (when another website shares links to your website) are valuable sources of ranking power – SEO gold – as when a search engine sees reputable sites backlinking to you, it improves your search rankings.
SEO boosts your organic traffic and, over time, can boost your revenue. If you are putting in the leg work, it's worth tracking your SEO performance – everything from rankings and conversions to organic traffic. Measuring the impact of your SEO helps you to refine your strategy and deliver on your priorities. Google Analytics is one tool that, bursting with data, provides an exhaustive list of insights into your traffic that will help you assess your SEO. Tracking SEO performance.
Connecting Google Analytics to your 9Spokes dashboard enables you to read your site's performance alongside other key performance metrics, such as social media and email marketing.
While it may seem like a mammoth task, once you have the basics in place, it's a matter of execution and consistency. There are so many resources available to support you on your SEO journey.
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