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If you’re a business owner with a website, you’ve likely heard that search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the best ways for you to get more visits to your site and, hopefully, more customers making purchases. However, you may be confused about what SEO even is, let alone how it can help your business. In this article, we’ll address the basics of search engine optimization and provide tips to follow when starting the use of SEO for your business.
What Is SEO?
SEO is an incredibly complex topic but don’t go into panic. It’s part-market research, part-keyword research, part-copywriting, part-link building, and more. Your mobile optimization, user experience and usability all factor into your SEO score. With all of those factors, it can be difficult to understand what exactly affects your business’ SEO.
While an experienced SEO consultant can certainly help you optimize your website, it is possible to build a strong understanding of the basic principles of SEO and how to use them on your own. Without diving into all the nitty-gritty SEO details, here are the most important factors to keep in mind as a business owner:
- Creating a well-structured, fast, and mobile-friendly website
- Filling your website with great, customer-friendly content
- Providing informational content that is useful to a wide audience
- Optimizing your page titles and meta descriptions
- Enhancing your credibility with case studies, reviews, and testimonials
Basically, ranking highly in SEO means that you’re providing excellent authentic content and a great user experience to people. Let’s take a look at some tips for achieving a great SEO score.
1: Speed Up Your Site
As I mentioned before, user experience is a large factor in search engine optimization. User experience means having a fast site that is easy to navigate and contains solid information for your audience. Since 2010, Google has included site-speed as one of the most important ranking factors for SEO.
What does that mean for you as a business owner? Pay attention to how quickly the pages on your website load. If it takes 20 seconds to load every image or video, your site will rank poorly. This is crucial if you’re doing any kind of video marketing and still want to compete in organic search.
Customers want a fast, streamlined experience, which is why loading times factor into SEO. Research shows that visitors spend less time on pages that take a while to load, meaning that a slow site will not only kill your SEO ranking but your conversions as well.
If your site is already running slowly, don’t worry. There are easy steps you can take to speed it up:
- Start by getting rid of nonessential elements or plugins.
- Keep your page design simple.
- Make your site more accessible (here’s a definitive guide on accessibility)
- Combine all your CSS in a single stylesheet. Implementing these small changes will quickly improve your page loading time.
2: Ignore the Robots. Write for Humans
When people think about SEO, they often think about the old style of SEO, aka populating a page with as many instances of a single keyword as possible.
That’s an outdated approach.
What does that mean for your copy?
Well, instead of focusing on how many times you can populate your page with a specific search term, concentrate on how to actually answer the question that got people to your site in the first place. For instance, if you’re a web designer with a blog about how to best use Squarespace, you’ll want your posts to provide real, actionable content about optimizing Squarespace usage.
Gone are the days of stuffing your page with as many keywords as possible, regardless of context. In case you don’t know, here’s the Google definition of keyword stuffing:
“Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
In other words, if you’re a pizza joint offering cheap Chicago-style pizza, you don’t need to populate your page with the phrase “Chicago-style pizza cheap” over and over again. And you certainly shouldn’t use that term if it doesn’t make sense in your copy.
Instead, use your keywords appropriately in a context that makes sense.
3: Get Your Analytics Set Up
In order to know if you’re SEO strategies are working, you’ll need to track your analytics.
Having your analytics in place before you start implementing your SEO strategies is a great practice, because you’ll be able to immediately tell whether or not your efforts are working.
4: Be Purposeful About Your URLs
It can be easy, especially when using a website builder like Squarespace or WordPress, to forget about your URLs. But URLs are one of the most important ways to improve your site’s SEO.
A good URL is one that’s easy to understand for both users and search engines. It explains exactly what content is on the page, so the search engines know to direct traffic there when people query. Here’s an example of a bad URL:
What makes this URL so bad? It gives no information about the content on the page. A search engine won’t be able to tell who to direct to your site.
Here’s a better example:
This URL is clear and easy-to-understand. A search engine can immediately tell that your page is designed to help people understand how to improve their SEO.
Updating your URLs to clear, easy, and searchable terms is a great way to quickly improve your SEO.
6: Encourage Inbound Links
Backlinks are an important part of SEO. Backlinks are basically incoming links to your website or, in other words, when someone on another website shares your content and provides a link for their users to follow to your page.
Why are backlinks so important for SEO?
Remember what we spoke about before: search engines prioritize high-quality, engaging content.
If people are linking to your site, that means that the content you provide is useful enough that other people want to share it. In other words, your content is high-quality and engaging.
Encouraging inbound links takes a lot of time. You’ll need to invest energy into making sure that your content is really high-quality. That means spending hours creating posts or other pieces of content.
But the upfront investment will pay off when your SEO ranking improves because of your high number of backlinks.
7: Craft a Solid Meta Description
A meta description is what people see when your page appears in Google.
In addition to being the first impression a customer will have of your business, meta descriptions are a great way to increase your SEO ranking.
Your meta description should be structured, match the content of the query, and contain the right focus keyword. Just as you don’t need to keyword stuff your page, you shouldn’t keyword stuff your meta descriptions, either.
Each page of your website should have a different meta description. Google de-prioritizes duplicate meta descriptions, so you’ll want to create a unique meta description for every single page you have on your site. Personalize your meta description for the content that’s on each specific page. For instance, if you’re a photographer like Michael Will, your portfolio page’s meta description should include information about your photographs.
Your contact page, on the other hand, should have a different meta description that highlights your location.
8: Update Your Website Frequently With Unique “Authority” Content
Google prioritizes “fresh” content. What does that mean? Basically, Google likes new content: it wants to show the most up-to-date information on every topic. Google also prioritizes uniqueness: sites with a high freshness score will have highly original content that differs from what’s found on most other sites.
Producing consistent, unique content can be a huge challenge for business owners. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t just be farming out content for the sake of getting content out there – you need to focus on creating high-quality content, too.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be rewarded for churning on thin content every day, but producing longform written content on a regular basis is highly recommended.
In order to improve your freshness score, consider updating old, well-trafficked posts. By giving them a quick update and a new publishing date, you’ll be bettering your freshness score, while also making use of your best content.
Focus on putting out important pieces at a regular schedule, and you’ll be just fine.
What Can SEO Do For Your Business?
You don’t need to populate your website with 100 instances of the same keyword to rank well for SEO. “And you don’t need to hire an expensive consultant to do so, either,” says expert Leslie Gilmour. With small, thoughtful changes, you can drastically improve your website’s SEO and increase the number of qualified leads coming to your page.
Think quality, not quantity. Creating the best, most personalized, experience possible for your users, from design to content, is essential if you want to see results in your business.
Brendan Hufford leads the SEO team at Clique Studios, getting results for clients ranging from local Chicago and Denver businesses to global brands that are household names. Everything he knows about SEO he learned putting some skin in the game and starting his own business. Brendan writes often on the Clique blog and his personal SEO consulting blog.