SEO has changed significantly in recent years. In the wake of Google's recent changes, it's worthwhile for small businesses and nonprofits to revisit the subject and take advantage of the much more intuitive techniques that drive this new era of SEO. You may be surprised how quickly and successfully you can become a search engine marketer.
SEO is wrongly assumed by many to be complicated. It has a bad reputation as being a highly technical trade - something best left for web developers, digital agencies and marketing gurus. Some of these digital experts prefer to keep up the misconception. After all, your confusion is their opportunity to swoop in with clever, jargon-filled (and expensive) solutions.
The truth is, it really isn't that difficult to grasp the basic principles of SEO and develop a DIY strategy that gets results. Yes, the algorithm that determines Google's search results is complex. BUT, creating a web presence that serves Google's algorithm isn't. This doesn't mean that you won't need help from marketing experts - but it does mean you shouldn't get tricked into paying too much for simple techniques you can do yourself.
Let's start at the beginning - what is SEO?
SEO stands for 'search engine optimization', which refers to techniques website owners can do to make their site appear higher up and more often in search engine results (primarily Google).
The business of SEO - sometimes called search marketing or search engine marketing - is comprised of two main tactics: creating a website that Google can read easily (on-site optimization) and encouraging people elsewhere on the web to link back to your website (external link-building). Together, these tactics help show Google that your website is user-friendly and an authoritative source for certain topics.
Google has been on a mission to make its results more useful for its users. Recently, the search engine made two major updates to its algorithm, nicknamed Penguin and Panda, to ensure that only the best, most relevant websites rank high in its search results. The algorithm updates were designed to reduce the impact of spammy SEO tactics and reward websites that offer genuine, quality content.
What can I do right now to improve SEO?
While it's worth developing an overarching digital content marketing strategy, there are some once-off measures you can take to immediately help drive more traffic from search engines. I suggest that you:
- Create a Google Plus for Business Page - Create a profile for your organization on Google's social network, Google Plus (or Google+). While the social network may look very similar to Facebook, its distinction is its link with the Google search engine. When Google+ members make Google searches, they receive personalized results based on the interests and suggestions of the friends, colleagues, family members and brands they follow on Google+. By setting up a profile on Google+, your organization may be more likely to appear in your target audience's search results.
- Add Google Authorship
- Link your website to your Google+ account so that your image (or the
image of your expert staff members) can appear next to your webpages and
blog posts in search results. This increases the likelihood of someone
wanting to click through to your website when it appears in search
results, as well as the chance you'll appear in personalized search
results for fellow Google+ members.
- Use Search-Friendly Wording In Your Website - In one of his recent YouTube videos, Google's Head of Webspam Matt Cutts reminded viewers of the importance of using search-friendly wording on their websites. For example, he said, instead of writing 'Mount Everest Elevation', write 'How High Is Mount Everest?' since that is the way someone would actually search for that information. It pays to go through your webpages and rewrite the content with search engine users in mind. Use Google's Keyword Tool, Google Trends and your own Google Analytics account to determine which keywords to include. But remember - the language on your website should seem natural. Don't stuff keywords where they don't belong!
- Check that Your Site is 'Crawlable' - Again, this is something that may come off as a bit technical and complicated - but it's not! You can often tell if your website is crawlable simply by clicking through the pages and checking that you can always get to where you want to go. Take a look at Google's Webmaster Guidelines for design and content and make sure your website meets that criteria.
- Add More 'Rich Snippets' - Google Authorship, as discussed above, is one example of many different types of structured data known as 'rich snippets' that add something different to your search results. For example, in addition to having your photo appear like with Google Authorship, you can also make it so your different product/service pages appear in search results with a 1-5 star 'review'. Or if you have a recipe page on your site, that page can appear in search results with a photo of the dish and a 1-5 star review. There are many different types of rich snippets that you can add to your site to make your website stand out in search results. Setting these up simply involves adding a bit of coding to your site. It should be less than half a day's work for your web developer - or, by reading Google's instructions, copy/pasting the right HTML in the right place and (most likely) going through a bit of trial and error, you can give it a go yourself!
What should my long-term SEO strategy be?
Though there are easy ways to quickly make your website more search-engine-friendly, the key to achieving continued SEO success is simply to include it within your overarching digital marketing and communications strategy. This may sound obvious, but it's too often the case that PR, Marketing, SEO, Brand and eCommerce teams work separately - focusing on their own individual objectives rather than on one overarching vision.
SEO strategies can no longer rely on the once-effective technical tricks that Google now prohibits. Instead, SEO must be infused into a wider content strategy that naturally encourages web users to link and share. I suggest that you:
- Start a Blog - Adding a blog to your website, and updating it regularly with quality, 'shareable' content is one of the best ways you can improve your visibility in search engines. Why? 1.) It creates more words on your website and therefore increases the likelihood of your site appearing in search results for various search terms AND 2.) It gives you fresh content to share via social media, helping send social signals back to your website (something Google's algorithm is particularly keen on).
- Think 'Campaigns' - Make your marketing content go further and create more natural links by delivering fully-conceived digital campaigns, rather than simply churning out the same amount of blog posts, press releases and social media updates each month. Pieces of content that belong to a campaign feed off one another to build a buzz and generally make a larger impact.
- Make Everything Social - Nowadays it's more than just the volume of backlinks that affect SEO - it's the quality of the links directing back to your site that really matters. Social links (aka 'social signals') such as Facebook 'Likes' or 'Tweets' are highly valued by Google. Make sure that every piece of content you produce contains relevant links back to your website, is designed to engage your audience and is shared via multiple social media platforms.
Does your company make SEO a priority? Is it included as part of a wider digital strategy? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.