The world of search engine optimization (SEO) is frequently shrouded in mystery and voodoo, when really it shouldn’t be.
Too often I see people become confused and overwhelmed with the amount of information available, or worse, pay significant amounts of money to a “SEO specialist” without getting any positive results.
My approach to search engine optimization is simple, and it is applied to every website that I create:
Make your website good for people first
Whether your website ranks #1 or #100 in Google’s search engine results, it needs to resonate with your audience in order to achieve its goals. Ultimately it is humans that will make the decision on whether or not to contact you, buy your product, or join your mailing list. Regardless of how much traffic your website gets, if your website doesn’t appeal to these people it won’t convert.
But what if there was a way you could do good for your visitors and boost your SEO at the same time? Well, my friends, let me share something awesome with you:
What’s good for your users is also good for SEO
Google rewards websites that provide a good experience for visitors, and by doing so you are simultaneously adhering to many of Google’s SEO best-practices.
Here are some of the ways this works, many of which were taken from Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.
Provide clear, informative, unique, helpful, engaging content
I wrote about why content is king not once, but twice. Nothing has changed, and I don’t predict it ever will. Your website is a communication tool for your business, and creating amazing content is and will always be the most important thing you can do. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Good content takes time to create, but your efforts here will be rewarded.
Google’s Search Engine Optimization Guide is 32 pages long, but note this quote near the top:
Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.
Take that one heart.
Use a variety of media
Well written content is great, but having captivating, unique imagery to accompany your text would make it even more compelling. Ideally, you can take this a step further by offering video content as well. Different media formats will resonate with different members of your audience.
For example, some people like to skim through text, but others will stop and click play as soon as they see a video. By offering both forms of media you can effectively cater to both segments of your audience. When incorporating media, make sure to add appropriate alt tags and title attributes to let both Google and users with disabilities relying on screen readers know what your content is about.
Incorporate keywords and phrases
Include the keywords and phrases you want to be found for in your written content, but don’t be spammy about it! That approach doesn’t work anymore. This is about resonating with the actual humans reading your text. Using keywords related to your business should happen naturally and organically in your writing. Those words will build credibility with your audience that you do in fact offer what it is they’re searching for, and these visitors are in fact in the right place. Google reads all of the text on every page of your website, and will pick up on these keywords as well.
Organize your content intuitively
Organizing your website in a clear, logical structure isn’t just good for your visitors, it helps Google find your content as well. This is accomplished by thinking critically about your information architecture, and organizing your navigation in the clearest and most intuitive way possible.
Name your pages appropriately and give them easy-to-understand URLs so that both humans and Google will have a good idea what each page is about. Create a helpful 404 page that visitors will land on if they encounter a broken link on your site. When organizing the text on individual pages, break up your content into easily digestible paragraphs with sub-headings that summarize your writing and highlight key points.
Make your website load quickly
I gave an entire presentation on how to speed up your WordPress website, which was motivated by just how important this item is for your users. Did you know that 40% of visitors will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load? Don’t let that happen to you. Google uses your site speed as a ranking signal (albeit a small one), so your efforts here will be doubly rewarded. Spending an hour on some basic performance optimization to grab the low hanging fruit is more than a worthwhile investment.
Encrypt your website with SSL
I’m a believer in SSL for many reasons, but among the most important is the trust that it builds with your audience. Google has said that it will give a preference to secured websites, and with many web hosts now offering free SSL via Let’s Encrypt there’s absolutely no reason not to do it. SSL is the future of the web.
Make your website mobile friendly
If your website isn’t mobile friendly, you’re providing a sub-par experience for a rapidly growing segment of your audience. Not only does this negatively affect the perception visitors form of your business, but these visitors likely will not stay on your website long enough to turn into clients/customers/leads.
In addition, Google is now imposing a penalty on all non-responsive (non-mobile-friendly) websites for searches conducted on mobile devices. Making your website mobile-friendly matters now more than ever, and the importance of this issue will only increase.
Make your content easy for people to find
Sometimes visitors may be looking for something specific on your website that they can’t seem to find. Other people may go straight to Google and type in a search specifically related to yourself or your business. In both cases, you can make it easier for these people to find what they’re looking for by providing sitemaps.
For sites with a more robust information architecture, an HTML sitemap is a valuable resource that can help visitors find the information that they’re after. To ensure that all of your website’s pages are listed in Google’s cache, you’ll want to submit an XML sitemap to Google via Google’s Webmaster Tools.
Track user engagement statistics and make data driven decisions
It’s hard to anticipate exactly how users will interact with your website, and despite our best intentions, we don’t always get things right the first time around. Using a tool like Google Analytics can be an invaluable resource for collecting data and analyzing it for areas in which your website can be improved.
For example, your website stats may tell you that visitors are spending a very short amount of time on your contact page. This would likely be a sign that something about that page needs to be changed. Maybe the language can be strengthen to come off as more friendly and on-brand, or maybe the contact form itself needs to be in a more prominent place with a more inviting call-to-action. Whatever the case, it’s the analysis of data that tells us there’s a problem that needs to be solved.
Can you be doing more?
Most definitely! There are plenty of additional SEO tactics that you can research and apply, but I consider most of them to be “sweating the small stuff. Yes, you can worry about things like structured data or Google’s latest algorithm changes, but your efforts here are going to have diminishing returns, and certainly should not be prioritized until you’ve got the above-mentioned steps nailed solid.
My goal is to create a simple plan that can be executed with maximum effectiveness. I’ve purposely left out many of the more nuanced aspects of SEO that I find to be confusing – both for myself and the clients that I help. These items frequently lead to a path of prioritizing machines over humans – and that’s never good for your bottom line.
Going beyond your website
Successfully marketing your business online can and should go beyond the bounds of your website, but again, I wouldn’t recommend doing so until you’ve got the above-mentioned steps completed. Driving traffic to a poorly-crafted website helps no one and wastes your time and money without producing any results.
However once you have built a solid foundation for yourself, it can be extremely beneficial to try out:
- Social media engagement (Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc…)
- Email marketing and growing an email list
- Google adwords and paid advertisements to a targeted audience
- Developing and adhering to a content creation schedule
Every business is unique, and some people will get more mileage out of these things than others. The key is to know your audience and their habits, and meet them where they’re at.
You are never done
The process of optimizing a website – both for humans and for Google – is never complete. The best websites are continually evaluating the way people find and interact with their content, and making improvements on a regular basis.
I recommend setting a regular “check-in” schedule to go over these steps as your business grows and evolves. For some people once a year is sufficient, but others may benefit from investing in this process every few months.
Do you need help making your website awesome for your visitors?