SEO is a fairly easy concept to grasp but can take a while to master. It is, however, essential if you wish to have any success with online marketing.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of boosting the ranking of a web site or web content in the Search Engine Results Page (SERPS) so that appears very near to the top of the results when people search for relevant keywords.
It is a complex and ever-changing set of practices and techniques that need to applied and constantly refined in order to be successful. There is no rule book and the goal posts constantly move. Google, the main search engine responsible for more than 90% of all online searches, make regular changes to their ranking algorithms. Some are small while some are massive. The important point is that they are a regular occurrence. In order to have quality SEO, one has to stay on top of these changes and constantly respond and adapt.
Why is SEO marketing so important?
There is little doubt that online business is booming. This is clearly evident from the large number of established and previously successful retailers that are closing down or on the brink of bankruptcy. Quite simply, shopping habits have changed. While online sales still only account for a relatively small portion on total sales, it has changed the way people decide on products and where and how they buy.
This is why strong online marketing is essential to businesses of all sizes. The foundation of your online marketing strategy is your website and in order for that to work well, good SEO is critical. There are many other important elements involved in successful digital marketing but it all revolves around the central hub of your website.
A good analogy is comparing a web site to a retail store. You can have an amazing looking store, great products and excellent prices, however if no one can find the store, you will have little to no sales. You want to position the store in a prominent area where many people will see it. You then still advertise to promote the store and the products it sells.
The same is true of a website. A brilliantly designed site with excellent offers, great delivery speed and excellent service will also do very little business if people cannot find the store.
Most people only look at the first few results that come up when they put a query into Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine. They seldom scroll down and very rarely go onto page 2 or 3. What this means is that if you do not appear near the top of the search results, you have very little chance of your target market finding you online. SEO is therefore vitally important to the success of any online endeavors you make on behalf of your company or brand.
While paid traffic is popular, highly-effective and extremely cost-effective, SEO will generate long term organic traffic to your website. While you will need to spend a bit of money on certain aspects, unless you are an expert, the return on investment, while relatively slow, is excellent.
But why do search engines need SEO?
Search engines are extremely complex and sophisticated. Over the years they have even become quite intuitive. Despite this, they cannot discern websites or content, be it text, video, image or other forms, in the same way as humans do.
There is also a mammoth amount of content on the web with more added every second of every day. Just one statistic to illustrate this is that in excess of 2 million blog posts are added daily.
As intelligent as search engines are, they need all the help they can get if they are to have any chance of finding and ranking your site or content. Search engines strive to deliver a good service to their users by providing relevant and quality content. SEO aims to help them do this and in turn, improve the ranking of your content.
How does SEO work?
There are two important aspects to SEO and for those unfamiliar with the finer points, we will briefly discuss what it entails. This is just a brief overview and in order to fully understand it, one would need to research a lot more.
As the name suggests, these are actions and practices that take place on the actual website itself. It all starts with the physical appearance of the site, the performance and user experience as well as the content itself. A hackneyed but true statement you will hear a lot when people talk about SEO is “Content is King”.
While there are many critical aspects to good SEO, without quality content you will be doomed to failure. With the massive amount of competition for attention online, any content that is not unique and well crafted will be lost. It needs to add value to the reader, help or inform them and be engaging. So, therefore the first aspect of your on-page SEO is quality original content. Another important aspect linked to the content is relevancy. The search engine wants to send the person making the query, the information that is most relevant to the search terms used. Content that is not relevant will hurt your SEO.
Keywords are critical to SEO and are integrated into your content. There is a lot of theory that goes into keyword research and selection. Fortunately, there are a number of tools that can help you with this. Keywords need to be rigorously tested, refined and updated from time to time.
The site also needs to be technically sound and function perfectly. The first important aspect of this is the page load speed. Online browsers are notoriously impatient and will soon lose interest in a site that takes too long to open. They will simply leave and find one that loads faster. The same is true of the entire user experience. If the site does not have a logical and easy to follow layout and a good flow the user will most likely leave fairly quickly.
Internal links are also important for SEO as they help to guide the user logically and effortlessly through the site. This improves the user experience.
Another important SEO consideration is that the page needs to be responsive or mobile friendly. Roughly half of all searches are now done on a mobile device and this number is growing. If your site does not look or work great on a mobile device you are at a serious disadvantage
To recap, the main on-page points are:
- Page load speed
- Use experience
- Internal links
- Mobile friendly
Also important are technical aspects the web developers need to correctly include. These include:
- Meta descriptions
- Title tags
- Schema markup
- Image tags
- URL structure
- Off-page SEO
On-page SEO is essential but it is just the start. Off-page SEO is just as important. Again, the clue is in the name. Off-page is activity and efforts taken to improve SEO that does not occur on the website itself.
The first term you normally hear in regards to off-page SEO is backlinks or link building. Links back to your site demonstrate to Google and other search engines that people find value and benefit from your site and content. Do not, however, make the mistake of simply getting as many links to your site as possible. While that may have worked years ago it will now do more harm than good.
You want to get likes from quality sites that have established their own authority. Relevance is also critical. Ensure the link is relevant. This goes back to the search engines wanting to deliver quality service and a good user experience to people using their platform. Only credible, quality and relevant links will help improve your off-page SEO. Acquiring good links takes time and effort but it is one of the most powerful ways of growing organic traffic to your site.
One of the most effective ways to get quality backlinks is to guest post quality content to high authority sites. Again, these need to be relevant and the copy has to original and engaging.
Social media is a powerful force that you can use to drive traffic to your site and improve your SEO. The sheer size of user numbers on the various platforms and their level of engagement illustrates the incredible reach that you can achieve if social media marketing is used correctly. Given the competition, it is hard for brands or businesses to stand out and get noticed on social media so it might be wise to spend a bit of money on promoted or paid social media content. The beauty of this is that you are able to target you spend with great accuracy so there is very little wastage. This results in a great ROI.
For social media to be effective, organically or paid, you need to work it. It is not good enough simply to have a page or a presence on the various platforms relevant to you market. You need to keep it fresh and vibrant. It should add value to your target market and hopefully keep them coming back. It is also a great place to engage with your customers, often directly. You can handle complaints and queries which will improve the reputation of your company’s customer care. You can also get valuable insights from analysing social media that can be used to make your other marketing efforts more effective.
Positive reviews from social media or review sites are also great for brand awareness and reputation and help to boost SEO.
Another effective way to boost off-page SEO is to actively post, participate, and get involved on relevant discussion boards and forums. You can also comment on other relevant blogs. There is an art to this so do not overdo it and make any links or references to your company or brand subtle.
Again, these are just a few of the more important aspects of off-page SEO. There is a lot more to it and it is generally best left to experienced experts.
SEO has never been more important than it is today and this trend is set to continue. There is fierce competition for attention online and only those that have excellent SEO will have any chance of achieving any significant reach.
It is important to understand that your website and SEO is only one part of your much larger digital marketing strategy but it is generally the most important part. Get it right but do not neglect the other important aspects of brand building and marketing online.
Much of it is free but given the massive competition, it is worth investing a bit of money in paid online marketing. If done correctly, it works well and it is fast and cost-effective.
Understand the basic principles of SEO marketing and then get the experts to help you execute it. SEO is not something that can be done and left, it is an ongoing process. You should study regular reports to see how effective your SEO is in order to determine what changes might need to be made.
The bottom line is that if your competitors have better SEO then you, you will be losing business. Improve yours and you will have the competitive advantage.