What is SEO?Most people find information online using a search engine like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo. That’s why SEO (search engine optimization) is important. SEO helps search engines better understand web pages, especially regarding how they relate to specific topics. And perhaps most importantly, SEO keeps content developers focused on topics and information people are interested in online.

In This Article:

SEO Defined

SEO (search engine optimization) is a methodology of strategies and techniques that increase the online visibility of web pages, resulting in higher quantity and quality of traffic to the pages through organic search engine results.

Any type of internet content can be optimized for search engines, including pages, images, videos, social profiles, directory listings, etc. Content can be optimized for local search (e.g., neighborhood, city), national search, and international search.

For businesses, SEO involves the process of optimizing the company’s complete digital footprint, resulting in people visiting their web pages, social profiles, business pages, directory listings, and their physical business locations (stores), resulting in increased sales.

Some of the optimizations for search engines that are necessary for businesses today include:

  • Website architecture.
  • On-page SEO.
  • Content based on relevant keywords.
  • Internal links.
  • Backlinks.
  • Social signals: profiles, business pages, map listings, reviews.
  • High quality reviews and testimonials.
  • Business listings / local citations.
  • Social signals.

Website Architecture

Website architecture is the technical structure of a website. Websites are structured differently, depending on the business goals.

For businesses whose goal is to rank high in search engines and generate traffic that results in high-quality leads and sales, the website architecture must be optimized for search engines, which includes:

  • User experience.
  • Web design and graphic design.
  • Navigation and internal links.
  • Mobile optimization.
  • Canonicalization.
  • Site speed.
  • URL structure.
  • Security, including HTTPS.
  • Site crawlability, including sitemaps and redirects.
  • Structured data (code that communicates to search engines).

Mobile Optimization

Mobile optimization is the process of ensuring that visitors who access a website from mobile devices have a good experience. Mobile optimization involves website architecture, design, page speed, and more to ensure that mobile visitors have the best possible user experience.

Mobile usage accounts for around half of website page views and ecommerce sales. Mobile optimization, therefore, is very important for generating online leads and sales. Furthermore, mobile optimization is important because it is a search engine ranking factor, especially with Google’s change toward

The easiest and most budget-friendly method of mobile optimization is responsive design, which uses CSS and media queries to serve content to mobile and desktop users via a flexible design that automatically adapts to the size of a user’s screen.

Canonical URLs

A canonical URL is an HTML element (rel=canonical) that prevents duplicate content issues, which is very important for SEO. It was set as a standard in 2012 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and appears in thesection of the web page. It specifies the “canonical” or “preferred” version of a web page within a website.

If you look at the source code of a web page with the canonical URL set, it looks like this:

Suppose, for example, a website has two versions of the same page, each with the exact same content (a common problem with a CMS like WordPress). How can you avoid being penalized by search engines for having duplicate content?

The solution is to set the canonical element on both pages to a single URL, which tells search engines which page is the preferred version (i.e., the best version of the page for SEO).

From a search engine’s perspective, setting the canonical element on multiple pages to a single page merges the pages, serving as a “soft redirect” without redirecting the user. And for the purposes of SEO, links to all the individual pages now count toward the single canonical (preferred) version page.

Content Strategy

Content is widely considered one of the three most important ranking factors for Google, especially after comments from Google employees in senior position over the past few years. Therefore, developing a content strategy that will achieve SEO goals, along with all the other goals and objectives of a company is important.

Many content developers believe keyword research is all that is needed for developing a good content strategy. However, the problem with relying solely on keywords to drive your content strategy is that it does not capture all your audience’s needs.

Build your content strategy goals and objectives by precisely answering this question. What are you are trying to accomplish? Possible answers can include:

  • Name recognition.
  • Brand awareness.
  • Increase in-store foot traffic.
  • Increase online leads.
  • Increase the quality of online leads.
  • Increase sales.
  • Increase repeat sales.
  • Increase customer retention.
  • Lower customer acquisition costs.
  • Increase digital subscribers: social media followers, newsletter subscribers, etc.

    Next, outline your sales funnel(s) and determine how your goals and objectives fit into the funnel.

    Then, determine the content that is needed to meet the needs of prospects and current customers as they move through the sales funnel, and accomplish your objectives.

    • Top of the Funnel: These people are looking for information in the form of answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, and insight.
    • Middle of the Funnel: These people are trying to determine whether your products and services are a good fit for them by doing extensive research.
    • Bottom of the Funnel: These people are trying to figure out exactly what it takes to make a purchase.

    Lastly, review your content strategy and determine how to leverage your content even more for SEO without negatively impacting any of your other goals. Often times, small changes inconsequential to achieving non-SEO goals can be made that have a significant impact on SEO.

    On-Page SEO

    On-page SEO and website architecture are often combined. Nevertheless, website architecture is a much broader topic and is often more relevant to website designers and developers.

    On-page SEO includes components of search engine optimization that traditionally involves less technical team members in a business, who are creating and maintaining the pages. These components, however, are equally important to ranking high in search engine results.

    Placement of Keywords

    Keywords should be strategically placed throughout the page, and especially in the first paragraph. Keywords should be in the URL, meta title, meta description, h1 and h2 tags, and 1st paragraph.

    Keyword Density

    Keywords should flow naturally through the text on the page, and each occurrence should benefit the reader. To avoid keyword stuffing, the keyword density should be somewhere between 0.5% and 2.5%.

    Descriptive URLs with Keywords

    The URL (Universal Resource Locator) is the location of a page on a website, sometimes just called a “link.” The URL can be “friendly” to help website visitors remember the web address. But more importantly, a friendly URL helps describe the page for search engines. For instance, the Contact page for our website is ImageBuildingMedia.com/Contact.

    When possible, use two or three keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs. This makes pages easier to remember for people using your website and improves SEO.

    You should avoid “stop words” (in, and, or, on) in your URL, since these do not help with SEO and make the URL too long.

    Word Count

    The number of words for optimum SEO has been a moving target. At one time, SEO consultants recommended at least 250 words. And today, I personally recommend that an article be at least 300 words, or it’s not worth the budget to produce the content.

    Though there is no specific rule for how long an article, blog post, or page should be, the determining factor should be: Subject, Purpose, and Audience. It’s imperative, moreover, to understand your audience and produce content in the form most effective in achieving your business goals.

    For example, if your objective is to rank on search engines in a local market that is not extremely competitive, your blog articles do not have to compete with large multi-national companies producing high-ranking, long-form content. Your articles may achieve your purpose with 700-900 words, as opposed to a few thousand words.

    Questions to ask regarding content are:

    • Does the content provide enough detail to address the subject?
    • Is the purpose of the content to inform, convince, or convert? Often, the purpose of the content will determine the length, as with a blog article that informs vs. a landing page that generates a lead.
    • Finally, what does your audience want? Do they want details or a broad overview?

    Images

    Images bring life to any article, help readers understand the article, and contribute to SEO. To be effective, the image must be relevant to the article.

    Image SEO begins with the file name, which should communicate information about the image. For example, “antiquecarsforsale.jpg” is an image about antique cars for sale. For SEO, including an appropriate keyword is very helpful.

    After the image is added to a web page, you should also set the Title tag and the Alt Description tag, which are important for SEO and ADA compliance. Both of these tags should also include an appropriate keyword.

    • The Title tag is the image title, such as in the example above, antique cars for sale would be an appropriate title.
    • The “Alt Description” of the image (the “alternative description;” also called “Alt Text” or “Alt Tag”) is important for those who have images turned off in their browser and for those who use a screen reader due to visual impairment.

    Meta Title

    The meta title is the SEO title of a web page. It is displayed by the browser, usually at the top of the browser window (the tab) and tells the reader what page they are viewing. It is not displayed in the body of the web page.

    The meta title is also read by search engine robots. Because of this, it’s important to have a strong title that utilizes your keywords in consideration of search engines, but one that still makes sense to human website visitors.

    Meta titles should make sense to the reader, based on keyword search popularity and overall relevance to the rest of the web page. It is important that the meta title sounds natural to the reader, and that the title is not excessively long. (Each search engine is different and only reads a specific number of characters of the meta title; therefore, anything past their limit is generally ignored.)

    Meta titles should give search engines and readers a good idea of what the page is about. A title like “Essential Oils” is vague and does not provide enough information to search engine robots nor human readers about the page contents. However, “Citrus Essential Oils Best for Cleaning” conveys information about the page content to both human readers and search engines.

    It is common for the page title and the meta title to be the same; however, it is not a requirement, especially in a blog article. However, it’s helpful to have a different page title and meta title:

    • When a longer page title enhances the user experience.
    • For the home page and for landing pages when there is not a clear page title, as with an article.

    Meta Description

    The meta description is not a ranking factor with Google; however, it is important to SEO because it can help drive traffic to the website increasing the click-through rate (CTR) which is a ranking factor.

    Furthermore, the meta description is used by websites, such as the top social channels and social bookmarking networks. So, a good meta description is important to driving traffic to your web pages.

    A good meta description should:

    • Contain a proper number of characters. Google occasionally changes the character length for the meta description that will appear on a SERP (search engine results page). So, keep up with current SEO events and make adjustment as necessary. Today, the meta description should be between 150-160 characters.
    • Actionable and written in an active voice. The meta description is an invitation to visit a web page, so it should be easily understood and compelling. Some of the best meta descriptions are in active voice and actionable.
    • Include a call-to-action. A call to action within a meta description can be important in some ways. If you include a very overt call to action, you can alienate readers, especially when it comes to some audiences. However, if the meta description does not invite readers to take any action, your CTR will probably be low. So, knowing your audience and experimenting with different meta descriptions is important for SEO.
    • Include the main keyword(s). This is important because the meta description often appears as the text snippet below the title in search results, so it should include relevant keyword(s). Furthermore, keywords are often bolded in search results, so having the keywords in the meta description can draw attention to the listing in search results and encourage searchers to click.
    • Match the content. It is important that the meta description be an accurate description of the content. Any attempt to mislead search engines will result in an SEO penalty, and will most certainly increase the bounce rate that is detrimental to SEO.
    • Be unique. To stand out, the meta description should be unique, and not a duplicate of another page.

    Links, like content, are widely considered as one of the three most important ranking factors for ranking in search engines. Most companies who fail with SEO, in my experience, fail from not building links.

    There are three types of links that are important for SEO:

    • Internal links.
    • Outbound links.
    • Backlinks.

    Internal links are links that go from one page of a website to a different page on the same website. These links are important for SEO because:

    • They provide a better user experience, which can positively impact several ranking factors related to visitor behavior, such as the bounce rate.
    • They establish an informational hierarchy for the website.
    • They help distribute page authority and ranking power throughout the site.

    Search engines need to find and index each page of a website. Internal links (in addition to an updated sitemap that is registered with search engines) help search engines find pages of a website and understand how each page fits into the overall structure of the site.

    As a website grows, therefore, from a few pages to hundreds and thousands of pages, it’s beneficial for SEO to update older pages with internal links to relative pages that are created over time. This helps search engines find the new pages and understand how they fit into the overall information structure of the website.

    The optimal structure for a website looks like a pyramid. The home page is at the top of the pyramid and links to the main category pages of the site, which (for example) may be pages linked to the main menu. Then each of the main category pages link to a series of subcategory pages, that link to another series of pages, etc.

    SEO link pyramid structure

    The pyramid structure optimizes links between the home page and other pages, allowing page authority (ranking power) to flow throughout the entire site, thus increasing the ranking potential for each page.

    Outbound links are links to a different website. So, for example, the link to Yoast’s blog on outbound links takes users away from this website to a different website, so it is an outbound link.

    A study by Reboot shows there is a positive correlation between a page’s outgoing links and its search rankings. In their study, they concluded that “outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.”

    Outbound links also help provide a good user experience, which can positively impact several search engine ranking factors related to visitor behavior. For example, the link above to Reboot helps visitors easily go to the outbound link study and read it for themselves.

    Furthermore, linking to high-quality websites sends social signals to users that your site is also a high-quality site. And, linking to other sites helps you engender goodwill that can pay off in numerous ways, both online and offline.

    A backlink (sometimes also called “inbound link” or “incoming link”) is created when a website links to another website. The website being linked to receives a backlink.

    • For example, Website A has an outbound link to Website B – so Website B has a backlink from website A.

    Backlinks from high-quality websites are extremely important for SEO, because they are signals to search engines as a “vote of confidence” from one site to another. In essence, the website linking to a web page is “vouching” for the content in some fashion.

    • For example, the outbound link to Reboot in the section above is a signal to search engines from our website that we vouch for the Reboot study, in whatever context we discussed it in this article.

    So, in general terms, when numerous websites link to the same web page (especially if the links come from high domain authority websites that are trusted by search engines and searchers) the page being linked to moves up in search rankings.

    However, Google in particular has strict guidelines regarding backlinks, which every company involved in internet marketing should thoroughly understand. Google warns that “any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

    Therefore, backlinks that are obtained improperly and violate Google’s guidelines in any way can be detrimental to an organization. The cost to undo the resulting damage to a website can easily cost more than creating the spammy backlinks, and take years to fully recover in some cases.

    The good news is that there are hundreds of ways to earn good backlinks. Some of the most popular ways as chronicled by Backlinko include:

    • Create “Skyscraper” content.
    • Be a source for reporters.
    • Build links from outdated resources.
    • Publish “Ultimate Guides.”
    • Create authority resource pages.

    Social Media Metadata

    If you have ever pasted a link to Facebook or Twitter and find the associated image that appears is unrelated to page content, or the description is not quite right, you probably thought twice about sharing it.

    Marketers can control what is auto-posted on social channels from web pages with social meta tags. A website’s social media metadata helps optimize content for sharing on social channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. In addition to helping optimize content for social media exposure, social media metadata has SEO implications as well.

    Social meta tags allow you to control the way your content displays in feeds rather than letting the individual social media platforms generate the headline, description, and image for you.

    Open Graph tags are used by Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and a few other social channels. Although Twitter has its own social meta tags for Twitter Cards, Twitter robots will use Open Graph tags if no Twitter meta tags are present.

    The basic Open Graph tags include:

    • og:title is the page title and is displayed as the headline. The title should be 60-90 characters.
    • og:description is the page description, of which Facebook displays a maximum of 300 characters.
    • og:image is the URL of the image to be shared with the post. The recommended dimensions are 1200×630 pixels.
    • og:url is the canonical URL for the page.
    • og:type describes the kind of object, such as a website, article, blog, book, etc.

    Twitter Cards are like Open Graph tags; however, they are formatted slightly different. In general, Twitter Cards start with twitter rather than og.

    The basic Twitter card tags include:

    • twitter:card is required and describes the type of card.
    • twitter:title is the page title and is displayed as the headline. The title can be a maximum of 70 characters.
    • twitter:description is the page description, of which Twitter displays a maximum of 200 characters.
    • twitter:image is the URL of the image to be shared with the tweet.
      • Image size for Summary Twitter Card: at least 120×120 pixels and no more than 1MB.
      • Image size for Summary Twitter Card with Large Image: at least 280 x 150 pixels and no more than 1MB.
    • twitter:url is the canonical URL for the page.

    Social Signals

    Social signals refer to a company’s overall visibility on social channels, which include maps, reviews, mentions, shares, likes, votes, retweets, bookmarks, and directory listings.

    Numerous studies, such as Hootsuite’s 2018 study, have shown that there is an undeniable correlation between social presence and search engine rankings. Some of the reasons include:

    • A profile on some channels is necessary to rank on a search engine. For example, it is necessary to have a verified profile on Google My Business to appear on Google Maps. And, ranking in Google Maps is dependent upon activity, such as reviews.
    • Social media helps build an audience that can be driven to a website to consume content, which can result in improved behavioral ranking signals such as click-through rate and dwell time (the amount of time spent on a page).
    • Because social media builds an audience, it can:
      • Increase the potential for website backlinks, which is one of the most powerful ranking signals.
      • Increase positive brand mentions, which Google considers to be an implied link.
      • Increase the number of reviews on 3rd party review sites and business sites, which is becoming a stronger signal.
      • It can help build strategic partnerships that can result in stronger ranking signals in numerous ways.

    For businesses, it important to have a strong social presence, even if it is not a primary sales channel.

    Local Citations

    A local citation is an online mention of the name, address, phone number, and website URL (NAPW) of a local business. They can occur on business directories, websites, apps, and social platforms.

    Local citations are the foundation of SEO, especially local SEO. For example, to appear on Google Maps you must have a verified Google My Business profile, which is a local citation.

    There are hundreds of sources for local citations, some of which are industry specific. Just a few of the most important local citations for businesses include:

    • Apple Maps
    • Bing
    • Citygrid
    • Facebook
    • Foursquare
    • Google My Business
    • LinkedIn
    • Manta
    • Superpages
    • Yelp
    • YouTube
    • YP

    Besides having a website, local citations should be at the top of the list for every business wanting any online visibility whatsoever.

    Reviews and Testimonials

    Reviews and testimonials are very different, and present a significantly different opportunity for SEO.

    • Reviews are collected and managed by a third party. The business being reviewed has no control over the review, but may be able to respond to the review on some platforms.
    • Testimonials are gathered, owned, and managed by the business, which has full control over them.

    Reviews and testimonials are very effective as social proof, which is a method of influencing people.

    Most of us have read reviews and testimonials before making the decision to purchase a product or service. We want to know what other people think, what problems they had (if any), and what success they had with the product or service.

    To take it one step further, influencer endorsements (such as celebrities and other famous people) are very powerful, even if people know they are being paid to endorse the product.

    Businesses, therefore, use reviews and testimonials to convince people to buy their products and services.

    Testimonials

    Testimonials are mostly helpful as social proof. However, they can also help with SEO by improving behavioral signals such as click-through rate, dwell time, and bounce rate.

    An easy way to get testimonials is to ask customers to email a testimonial. You can also set up automated email campaigns that direct customers to a form on your website where they can enter a testimonial.

    Reviews

    Reviews are powerful social proof, since they are controlled by a third-party. However, they can still appear on the business’s website, either by using an app or by manually adding them to the site.

    Reviews are also very helpful for SEO, according to Google. Having a verified Google My Business profile with five-star reviews and a response from the business is imperative for local SEO.

    So, how do you get more online reviews?

     The easiest way is to ask. Most people will give a review if they are asked by someone with whom they are personally connected, such as a business owner, server at a restaurant, manager, etc.

    • Important: Know and follow the review policies of each review website. For example, it is against Yelp’s policy to ask for a review.

    Companies that set goals regarding reviews, and have a policy of asking customers for reviews, can improve their local SEO and positively impact sales.

    The process of asking for reviews can also be automated, which involves the process of sending an automated email and/or text message to customers at the point of purchase, asking for a review and giving a link to the preferred review site.

    Review gating should be avoided since it is against Google’s review policies. Review gating is the process of filtering review candidates before asking them to leave a review. The process of review gating goes something like this:

    • After a customer purchases a service or product, send an email asking for feedback regarding their experience.
    • If the customer gives negative feedback, the business is notified and follows up, but does not ask for a review.
    • If the customer gives positive feedback, a follow-up email is sent with a link to the preferred review site.

    Take Away

    SEO is important for every business that wants potential and current customers to find them online, whether on maps, search results, or social media.

    For a business in a low competitive environment, a small website that is optimized for search engines, local citations, and a simplified social media campaign might be all that is needed to locally rank high in search results.

    For businesses in a more competitive environment, their SEO and internet marketing will be much more complex to win top rankings in local and national search results.

    To learn how you may be able to improve your SEO and internet marketing, please schedule a free consultation or contact us.

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    Allan McNabb, COO, Internet marketing by Image Building Media

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