I remember my earlier days in marketing and when I learned about mystical SEO to increase my Google rankings. Not many people had heard about it during those times unless they were in the digital marketing industry. However, its popularity began to proliferate as knowledge of how it could increase your business significantly seeped into the minds of business owners.
Nowadays, small business owners have not only heard about optimizing their business website but are already implementing it or thinking about it. Several are even familiar with meta tags and keyword research and how they should be used to help their Google ranking. This is good because with 75% of users never scrolling past the first web page of the search engine results pages, the importance of optimizing your website cannot be understated.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of working with all on-site and off-site variables that serve as ranking factors with the search engines to get a website’s organic ranking for specific keywords to improve.
SEO, still very young in conception, is believed to have come about somewhere around 1991 and has been evolving rapidly. So much so that if you look at the ever-evolving algorithm updates from the primary search engine, Google, you will see multiple yearly updates.
There are essentially two scopes, National and Local SEO.
What is National SEO?
National search engine optimization targets its people anywhere without any geographic limitations. Google, in particular, has done an excellent job determining whether certain types of businesses fall under local or fit into the general category of National SEO. Some examples of companies well-suited for this are online businesses such as SAAS, software as a service provider, and marketing agencies ;-).
What is Local SEO?
Local search engine optimization is the more geo-targeted version of National SEO; The goal is to be in the top results when people are doing local searches for products or services your business provides. Local searches usually include zip codes, cities, near me, etc. E.g., “dentist near me” or “dentist plantation fl.” As mentioned above, Google has done an excellent job of determining whether a user’s Google searches require/desire local results or not. E.g., if you are searching for dentists, plumbers, doctors, lawyers, restaurants, etc, Google will serve up local results.
While both are essential strategies, the one you must focus on depends on your business. SEO for dentists is local, as most people looking for dental services are looking locally.
The practice of SEO has given birth to two different methodologies, White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO:
What is White Hat SEO?
“White hat” search engine optimizers often improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster, which is good for both users and search engines. Good search engine optimization can also mean good marketing: thinking about creative ways to make a site more compelling, which can help with search engines as well as social media. The net result of making a great site is often greater awareness of that site on the web, which can translate into more people linking to or visiting a site. – Google
The direction white hat SEO has taken us has been towards Google providing higher quality results that align with the searcher’s intent.
What is Black Hat SEO?
The opposite of “white hat” SEO is something called “black hat webspam” (we say “webspam” to distinguish it from email spam). In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked. We see all sorts of webspam techniques every day, from keyword stuffing to link schemes that attempt to propel sites higher in rankings. – Google
While some black hat strategies still work, Google has been clamping down over the years on sites that utilize them. Over the years, some significant penalties have been given to sites practicing Black Hat SEO. In some cases, these penalties meant the end of the business.
Two of the more popular Google updates focused on penalizing sites that haven’t followed their guidelines have been Panda and Penguin.
How to SEO Your Webpages
Getting your pages to rank on page 1 in Google is no simple task; it takes time and diligence. There are several things you can adjust to help increase your rankings; some of these are the following:
The title tag should clearly state the page’s primary purpose.
The title tag is seen as the linked portion of your website information in the search engine results, in the top tab of your browser if you mouse over it for a second or two, and when your page is shared on social media, the title tag becomes the main text shown.
The title tag is one of your page’s most significant ranking factors. It weighs heavily towards your position in the search engines. Hence, it pays to understand the best practices for creating the title tag.
Title Tag Recommendations
- The recommended length for your title tags is between 50 and 60 characters
- Each page should have its unique page title
- Add the keywords you want to rank for at or toward the front of the title
- Don’t stuff keywords into the title
- Write your title with your target audience in mind so it resonates with them.
The meta description gives a more verbose description of the page than the title tag.
The meta description is seen in these search results under the title tag. It may also serve as the description of your page when it is shared on social media.
Once upon a time, the description impacted your SEO. However, those days are gone. Today, the description still serves a significant purpose, though, to give searchers a reason to click on your link.
Meta Description Recommendations:
- The recommended maximum length for your meta description is 160 characters
- The targeted keywords should be naturally included in your meta description while enticing the user to click through.
Heading Tags (H1-H6)
Heading tags are the titles of each section of content. H tags give content structure and emphasize the content areas they precede. They help increase your page’s accessibility and help search engines to understand your content more accurately.
H Tag Recommendations:
- Focus your H tags on applying to your users
- Make your H1 tags unique. Include your keywords in it, and be sure it informs your users of what the page is about
- Use relevant keywords sparingly in your H2 – H6 tags to ensure their readability.
Creating valuable content is an effective strategy for growing your small business, but most people don’t realize that all content is not created equal. As I mentioned above, f you want above-average results, you must produce above-average content.
The first step is knowing which keywords you will be aiming to rank for with your content. This information comes primarily from keyword research.
Many times as a business owner, you may feel you already know which keywords people search for to find businesses like yours, and, for the most part, you may be right.
Keyword research, however, saves you any wasted effort by answering the following questions upfront:
- Is there a version of that keyword that MORE people search for?
- Is there a version of that keyword that would generate more leads?
- Is there a version of that keyword that might be just as easy to rank for?
Several keyword research tools exist; however, two solid ones are:
- Create long-form content, more than 1500 words each
- Integrate your keywords into your content so that it flows naturally
- Include semantically relevant words in your content
- Make your content readable and skimmable. Break it up with things like:
- Shorter paragraphs
A link is a connection between two files, in our case, web pages. Links serve as a vote to the destination page within the context of the text. The link is created with any content surrounding it. Links (votes) are valued by their quality and quantity.
One method of linking that often gets overlooked is internal linking.
Internal linking is linking from one page to another on the same site. This gives Google information on the value of the destination page. When done well, this helps improve the site’s user experience.
The speed of your webpage is the time it takes to load. There are a variety of methods that can be used, in synchrony, to get your pages to load faster.
Page Speed Optimization Tactics:
- Choosing a better web hosting provider
- Leverage browser caching
- Optimize images
- Minify HTML
- Minify CSS
- Enable compression
After all, people tend to bounce from a site if it loads in more than 4 seconds, so the speed is paramount.
Your website’s page speed also affects how well your website ranks. The thought process behind it is…people get frustrated when websites take longer to load. It is a lousy user experience when a website frustrates its users.
The alternate is that the faster your site loads, the more pleasant the experience for your users, positively affecting your Google search ranking.