As a business owner, establishing a website is probably one of the first moves you made. But what good is a website if nobody’s able to find it?
The main discovery tool people use to find new websites and important content is search engines—especially Google. And they tend to use search engines as simply as possible, sticking with the top result (or at least something on the front page). If you find a way to increase your search rankings, you could capitalize on all this traffic. But how can a business owner improve their search engine rankings this way?
The short answer is through search engine optimization (SEO), a collection of strategies designed to help websites increase their visibility and rankings in search engines. On your own or with the help of an SEO company, you’ll gradually tweak your website and boost your overall online presence, increasing Google’s likelihood of ranking your site at or near the top.
These strategies are all meant to take advantage of Google’s search algorithm, which depends on two factors to determine its search engine results page (SERP) structures: relevance and authority. Relevance refers to how appropriate a page is for a given query, based on the nature of the query. For example, does this page answer the user’s question? Does it have content in line with the user’s expectations?
Authority is a measure of trustworthiness, both on a domain and a page level. While the algorithm used to calculate this is complex and not fully documented or understood, one of the most important factors is the number and quality of links pointing to a given site. Earning links from other sites is a sign that your content is trusted, and if those sites already have a high baseline of trust, they’ll pass even more authority your way.
SEO is a long-term strategy, since it takes time to accumulate the content, links, and online presence necessary to increase your search rankings. Though it can sometimes take months to start seeing results, the late-stage return on investment (ROI) of the strategy is unparalleled, even in the marketing world.
Key Tactics for SEO
SEO requires your attention in many different areas to be successful, including:
- High-level strategy. First, you’ll need to decide how you want to approach SEO, and which keywords your business wants to target. For example, are you more interested in securing the highest volume of organic traffic, or would you rather dominate some niche that’s relevant to your industry? Would you rather dedicate all your effort to one high-profile keyword, or several, lower-volume terms that feature less competition?
- Onsite technical factors. When you’ve decided on a strategy, you can start optimizing your site, adjusting the way it’s structured and its back-end code so that search bots can easily crawl it and properly contextualize it. Most modern website builders automatically optimize your site for SEO, but there are still improvements you can make, such as choosing the right meta titles and meta descriptions, improving your site speed, and optimizing your layout for mobile devices.
- Onsite content and keyword optimization. Content marketing and SEO go hand in hand, since onsite content can improve your site authority and help you optimize for specific keywords. That means your best bet is to optimize your existing pages with several hundred words of valuable content, and continue adding new blog posts on a regular basis.
- Link building. The primary way Google measures authority is through the quality and quantity of links pointing to your site. Ideally, those links would come naturally, due to the quality of your content, but typically, this is hard to achieve. Instead, it’s much easier to write good content for offsite publishers, and use links pointing to your content as citations.
- Analytics and ongoing support. Even if you think you’re doing everything right, there’s a chance you’re missing something important in your campaign. That’s why it’s important to use Google Analytics and other tools to consistently measure and analyze your strategy. Which content topics are most effective? Which of your links are passing the most authority? Which keyword terms are exceling, and which are underperforming?
Getting Started with SEO
While it’s possible for just about anybody to learn the fundamentals of SEO, mastering the strategy takes years of experience. Struggling with tactics you don’t fully understand can waste your time and get frustrating, so it’s recommended for newcomers to work with a professional SEO company instead of going it alone.
SEO companies have full teams of experts, and though they typically cost a few thousand dollars a month, the long-term traffic and authority gains they generate tend to be worth it for small businesses looking to grow.