The Truth About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

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What is SEO?

SEO is the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid (also known as "organic") search engine results.

Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. It’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they wish to consume. (Definition from Moz.com)

There is a lot to know about SEO and the industry is constantly changing as search engines get smarter and as digital experiences evolve. Here are just a few basic tips to get started with SEO.

Did you know? 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine (Stat from BrightEdge)

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Define your business goals before getting started with SEO

SEO is just one aspect of a comprehensive digital strategy. Before defining goals related to SEO (e.g. I want to show up on the first page of Google) you will need to review your overall business strategy, in particular, how your audience and clients interact with you online.

SEO is important for new clients to find your business, but also for previous clients to keep finding you in real-world situations. Having a good understanding of your clients, what you sell, and the questions that you solve is all key to delving deeper into SEO. SEO will likely fall into 2 early stages of the customer journey:

  1. The discovery phase: where potential clients are doing research, learning more about their problem, and looking at different solutions.
  2. The research phase: Where clients might have a specific question and are looking for an answer, product or service to fulfill their needs.

SEO is a means to an end. You want it to be part of your larger strategy for client acquisition, awareness, and website improvements. It will help you reach your business goals and improve the online experience for your customers, but SEO for the sake of high rankings is an empty goal.

Question every SEO rule or tip you've heard before

Search engines are constantly changing. As technology evolves, search engines are getting even smarter with natural language processing, search suggestions, auto-fill etc. This means that the SEO industry is far different than it was a couple of years ago and lots of old tips, tricks and straight-up schemes are becoming outdated and actually penalized in search rankings.

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It was once possible for savvy digital marketers to trick search engines into ranking certain webpages higher based on keyword schemes, fake reviews and other dark tactics. This isn’t true anymore. As search engines get smarter, they are better at detecting fakes, and prioritize the user over anything else

In addition to search engine improvements, the way people search and use the web is also changing. New website trends prioritize mobile-friendly websites, accessibility features and even optimization for voice commands to follow how people use the web. To really improve your SEO, you’ll have to play the long game and focus on creating a great online experience that transcends time and fads.

Here are some common SEO mistakes that you should ditch ASAP.

  • Keyword stuffing: It used to be understood that to rank for a certain keyword in search results you should use that keyword in your content as much as possible. In particular, copywriters were instructed to put as many keywords as possible “before the fold”. Don’t do this! Write in a way that is natural, provides ease and answers to users, and that hits on keywords where it makes sense. Hire a copywriter to write good content that actually helps people.
  • Sticking to specific word counts: It used to be common to tell web writers that 500 words, or 1,000 words was ideal to rank for a particular keyword. Ditch these limits. Write as much or as little as you need to to provide good information to your readers.
  • Paying for reviews or “guaranteed” rankings: If someone reaches out to you promising that they can get you on the first page of Google they are A) lying, and B) probably using dark tactics to boost rankings. These schemes might work in the short term, but Google is getting better at weeding out faked rankings and prioritizing websites that are actually good for the user. Same applies for fake reviews.

SEO is about your users

Ultimately, search engines want to help users find answers to their most common questions. With the use of different media types such as images, webpages, news articles and even videos, Google will point users to different content depending on their context.

This happens through both paid advertising and organic results. While paid advertising is a whole different strategy, SEO focuses primarily on organic search results and proves to be very effective in pulling in new users to a website. Effective SEO is the first step to getting people to interact with your brand online.

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Search engines are used everywhere. Most people don’t think of Google Maps as a search engine, but it is, it is just a search engine in a particular context (location). SEO is all about understanding the questions your users are asking and in what context they are asking them. Then, the goal is to get them answers as efficiently as possible, in a format that is easy to use in the given context.

Here are some things to keep in mind when building an SEO strategy:

  • Keywords: The backbone of SEO is understanding the keywords your customers actually use to find what you offer. Thinking not only about what words describe your business, but what questions lead to your products or services will widen your scope and hone in on the most effective paths to finding your webpages.
  • Accessibility: Website accessibility, usability and SEO are best friends. With inclusion becoming a key priority for the tech industry, and more contexts (e.g. voice commands) entering the playing field, features to ensure everyone can access the web are essential. The more accessible your website is, the better it will rank in search engines. Read more about accessibility tips for your website.
  • Credibility and safety: With access to the majority of web pages out there, Google is able to verify the safety and credibility of websites very quickly. SSL certificates and other security features will help establish that your website is in fact safe for users to visit. Backlinks from other websites, client reviews and links to other places on the web will help establish credibility on a particular topic.
  • Overall user experience: Google prioritizes websites that are easy for people to use. Creating websites that have functional design, solid navigation structures, and high-quality content will all be key in building a good user experience and, in turn, higher search engine rankings.

Content is king / queen

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Overall, search engines want to provide users with high-quality information and answers. Good content is the key to creating website experiences that actually draw people in and help them complete the tasks they set out to do (even if the task was just shopping!). SEO goes hand in hand with a well-developed and well-executed content strategy. It is just one piece to the larger puzzle of your overall digital strategy for your brand, but an important one.

Building a long-lasting and effective SEO strategy takes time, effort and lots of know-how. One of the best ways to really improve your SEO, along with your digital presence is to dedicate time and effort to create high-quality content, websites and marketing channels. It’s a lot of work, but that’s where a content strategist comes in.

Work with a content strategist

A content strategist (a.k.a me!) can help you align your business goals with a digital strategy. The web is no longer just flashy and fun websites, it’s where people shop, interact with important organizations (e.g. government agencies, healthcare providers) and learn more about virtually any topic. You need a dedicated resource to create complex and dynamic digital spaces, just like you would need an architect to build you a beautiful storefront location.

By working together, we can sit down and explore how your current audience interacts with your company online, who else could be finding you online, and how to align the online experience with your company’s overall goals.

Once we develop a strategy, we can get started on improving your existing digital spaces, creating a foundation for new content, and identifying where you can provide more value to your clients.

I offer free 30-minute discovery calls to business owners. Whether you want to talk about SEO or your entire digital strategy, I offer a variety of services to help businesses create beautiful and effective online spaces.

Want more practical tips to improve SEO for your brand? Sign up for my business email list and get a free copy of my guide: Quick Tips to Improve Your SEO.

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