Everyone needs SEO (Search Engine Optimization). And if you just got stressed when we said the ‘S’ word, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything need to know to get started with SEO.
Just so we’re on the same “page” (cheesy pun intended), SEO is the plan you make to have your organization’s web pages appear in a search engine’s organic search results. Ideally, you would show up somewhere on the first results page for your most important keywords.
SEO is an important part of any marketing plan. People using Google create new explicit core (these are planned, direct, and intentional) searches more than 300,000 times per month. And that’s only about 80% of the market. Some even claim that Googles processes more than 99,000 search queries per second. Your SEO plan gets you a piece of that massive “pie” and brings people to your website.
Here’s how search works:
Search engines use bots or web crawlers to scan the web looking for pages to index. The bots travel best through hyperlinks. When they find a new page, they scan the text and images to try to understand the content. Their goal is to try to match each page to its relevant search terms. When there is a relevant query, the search engine will display your url, page title, and a snippet in the search engine results page (SERP).
Before we go on, we should discuss the “sponsored” area that appears at or near the top of any results page. Companies select certain keywords and pay for the ability to have their site appear along with the organic search results for those terms. An advertiser gets charged only when someone clicks on the ad, hence the name Pay Per Click (PPC). Without PPC, search engines would have no cash flow.
In contrast, SEO is free. Search engines don’t charge you to have your site appear in their organic search results. Sounds kind, but it’s purely pragmatic. If people only see ads and never actually find what they were searching for, they’ll stop searching. No bueno. So, search engines are always trying to find the perfect balance between paid ads and organic search results.
But don’t worry! If your organization doesn’t have the money to bid for keywords, you can still get visibility. You may need to make some changes to the way you build your site, design your pages and write your content. But small shifts can add up over time to improve your site’s ranking and get your site near the top of the page for your keywords.
Launching your SEO Plan
Think of a search engine as one of your key site users. You need to communicate clearly with them and manage their user experience.
With that in mind, your SEO plan should include:
1. Ensuring that bots can find your site.
As they crawl the web, they will find you fastest if you can get reputable sites to link to yours. This builds your credibility quickly. It can help your ranking if you link to other reputable sites as well. Be sure to also include links to pages within your site so they can find all your content. But don’t overdo it; if your page is just a bunch of links, that can make it difficult to determine what the page is about, which will hurt your rankings.
2. Ensuring that bots can understand your content.
If you want to be found based on a set of keywords, be sure to include those keywords in your page in natural ways (which should be easy if that is what your page is really about). Use a clear page title (that hopefully includes your keywords) and break up the text with headings for readability and clarity.
Make sure your text is concise and on topic so there is no mistaking what questions are being answered and therefore which search terms would be relevant.
3. Ensuring the bots are communicating what you want them to say.
If you have not indicated a meta description (a snippet or summary of your page content), Google will display whatever text they deem to be most relevant, which could be good, but it might not be what you would prefer. Most site builders will have a space for a meta description – or you can add an SEO plugin to help. This text will display below the url and page title. It should give a clear description of the information they would find on the page (but not so much information that they won’t need to click through!).
Also, you’ll want to make sure your url, site name and page titles are on point. In the example below, a search for “social for good” returns our home page as the top search result (phew!). Our site name (socialforgood.co), the url https://socialforgood.co, and page title (Home -Social for Good – Social Impact Marketing) all appear at the top of the search result. Then it displays our meta description: “Social for Good is a social impact marketing agency for purposeful businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits to amplify positive messaging.” Note that Google has also offered links to what they deem to be the most relevant pages, possibility based on the page titles or the content within those pages.
You get what the site is about. You know whether you want to click.
4. Providing high quality content.
Search engines have algorithms specifically designed to identify and ignore spam sites that just repeat the keywords over and over without providing meaningful content. Surprisingly, the best way to climb to the top of the rankings for your keyword is by providing information that people actually want to read. Go figure.
Here’s a tip; look at what pages are served at the top of the results page for your primary keywords. Click through and see what content is being offered (there is a reason they are at the top). Without plagiarizing, can you add your spin and make it easier to understand? Can you provide more detail, more examples? Consider adopting a second-but-better strategy.
5. Providing a great user experience.
Load times matter. Too many images that are not optimized (compressed, lazy load, include alt text) will create slow pages, and visitors might abandon the site. Search engines measure how long it takes before a visitor comes back to make another search, and if people give up and start over, your rankings will slip.
Bonus: Choosing Keywords
How do we know which keywords to focus on? So glad you asked. Here are a few tips:
- You can use an SEO tool such as Google Ads Keyword Planner to find keyword inspiration. Type in an initial search term, and the Planner will provide related terms, along with how often they are searched (average monthly searches). For example, when we typed in the term “social media marketing,” the Planner offered the following related terms: social media marketing agency, social media advertising, social media campaign, social media optimization, Facebook marketing strategy, and social influencer. We now literally have six content areas that all have to do with social media marketing! These can become topics for blogs or site pages.
- Another way to find inspiration for related content is to type in your primary keywords and take note of “People also ask” results. This will help you determine what people are actually searching for as it relates to your industry or niche.
- At the bottom of each search results page, you can use the “related searches” to gather even more ideas for content and keywords.
SEO is the strategy and actions you take to improve your rankings in organic search results. Considering search engines as important users of your site, you can build, design, and write your pages to help the bots match your site to your target keywords. Lastly, you can perform keyword research to determine what content to include on your site to help improve your rankings. And if you need help with your site, we can help!