Chances are that if you’ve been involved in internet marketing for even a short time you’ve seen the phrase search engine optimization, or SEO, bandied about. It’s one of the cornerstones of running an online business, or using the internet to attract customers to your brick and mortar, but few people are going in-depth about what it is and how to do it.
SEO is essential to making sure your website ranks. In layman’s terms, that means that good SEO practices are the best way to make sure that you’re on top of the rankings when someone searches for things related to your business on Google or other search engines.
Types of SEO
Search engine optimization works off of tons of different factors, and getting all of them straight in your head can be a pain even for those with experience in the field. Complicating things, you also have to deal with the fact that algorithms are constantly changing.
There are three main types of factors behind SEO.
On-page SEO is all about the content. As the algorithms have improved in recent years, the big thing is making sure that your content is solid. Keyword jamming and other old-school tactics don’t work well these days, and can actually hurt your ratings overall if it’s not done in an organic way.
On-page is about keywords and quality content. Without the right keywords, or at least close approximate matches, you’re not going to get found. Without quality content you’re going to end up lower in the rankings.
It’s also related to other important little factors like meta data, mobile access, and proper structuring of the content.
In short, if it’s unreadable on any scale then you’re only hurting your search engine page ranking(SERP).
Off-page SEO is all about networking and reputation. As a hard factor, the main thing that you’re going to end up looking at is backlinks.
Backlinks occur when someone links back to your page from their own page, which kind of flags things as being important since other people are using your page as a reference or showing your content around.
Backlinks build a reputation within the algorithm, as well as trust and other heavily weighted factors which ensure that you end up on top of the SERPs given enough time. Your backlinks are heavily weighted towards where they’re posted.
A site with a better reputation can be worth a dozen backlinks of lesser quality. So, if you’re linked to from the Huffington Post then you’ll find that link helps your SERP far more than six or seven links on blogs which don’t rank in the first three pages on Google.
Google, in particular, delivers results which are geared towards the users of the search engine which means that your SERP can change based on location and the personal history of the searcher in question.
Off-page SEO is often considered to be more important than on-page, at least when it comes to fine tuning the process. If your content is well done and you’re not ranking then your primary focus is going to end up being off-page SEO.
Negative SEO Practices
Finally, there are factors which can hurt your SERP.
Violations include outdated practices which didn’t benefit the end consumer.
There is an entire category of SEO-specialists who do very quick work by supplying “black hat” techniques. They can be amazingly effective and are generally much faster than just building a great page and getting organic backlinks over time and through networking.
Of course, if you’re planning on being a business for an extended period then sooner or later you’re going to run afoul of the algorithm changes and it can bring your entire business to a halt which makes these techniques much less desirable for those with a long-term plan in mind.
Some of the common violations include:
- Keyword Stuffing-This was an old technique, more than a decade out of date now although some people insist on it. This means including repeated instances of the same keyword with little regard for grammar or placement. It was handled early in Google’s lifespan, since it was problematic for end users.
- Private Blog Networks or Link Farms-These are artificially generated backlinks which are paid for. If your links get flagged on one of these sites, then you’re going to end up hurting badly when it comes to your SERP.
- Spamming-Dropping spam around the internet is a great way to… get slapped down by Google. Instead, if you’re going to try to generate traffic through this method then the links will have to be in context and relevant to the subject matter at hand.
- Cloaking-Cloaking shows a search engine’s crawler something different than what is on the page. If you’re caught using this bait-and-switch tactic you’ll be heavily penalized.
Basically, most of the violations are intentional disruptions of the search engine algorithm without any benefit to the end user.
We all want to drive traffic to our pages, but doing it the right way is the best way to build something which lasts.
So What Do I Do With This Information?
That’s where a lot of instructions stop. People tell you the factors, and if you’re lucky you might walk away with a little bit better understanding of the weighting of the factors as well.
And, the truth is, if you’re in a small enough enough niche then really all you need to do is make the best page you can and network as much as possible.
On the other hand, if you’re in an arena with heavy online competition then you’re also going to be dealing with others with great pages and most of them will probably have a considerable amount of search engine optimization tactics behind them.
First Things First: Strategy
If you haven’t yet started to work on your project, then you’re actually ahead of the curve. When it comes to SEO your strategy is one of the biggest factors affecting whether or not you’ll be able to be successful.
This means you’ll need two things:
- Content Planning-Content planning isn’t just a good idea, it’s a keystone when it comes to making sure that you’ll be able to start ranking. Discovering the correct keywords, knowing how often you’ll be releasing new content, and planning a unified structure of content takes time and work but is much better than just throwing things into the void.
- Off Page Planning-While most new projects aren’t going to be able to score great backlinks right from the outset, it’s a good idea to start building them as quickly as possible using easier sources. If you’re great then eventually you’ll start getting the big stuff you need, but there are a ton of easy ways to get a number of backlinks to get started. You’ll also want to see who else is in your niche and figure out ways to approach them, simple things like trading guest posts with blogs in your niche can be mutually beneficial.
There are some more advanced strategies, such as siloing, which are pretty much required if you’re in an extremely competitive niche but they’re outside the scope of this article.
If you’re already started, or focusing on drawing in customers in the local area, then you’ll want to adjust your strategy accordingly and make sure that you fill out forms such as Google Business in order to get a leg up on the competition as well.
Now Do It
A lot of people out there tend to completely rework their strategies on a regular basis. Especially when they don’t see immediate results.
SEO takes time, and as long as you’re not using black hat techniques or unintentionally falling afoul of search engines a solid strategy will work given time. The key there is time.
Unless there’s a drastic algorithm change, it’s usually better to make small tweaks to what you’re doing rather than changing everything all the way around every couple of weeks.
The key to good white hat SEO is consistency. In high competition markets tweaking may be regularly needed, but it’s never a good idea to completely change things up in one go unless you’ve blatantly been hit with violations.
There’s another thing to remember: the best strategy in the world will do you no good if you don’t implement it.
While this all sounds easy enough in theory, there’s a reason that people like myself dedicate entire agencies to handling search engine optimization for others.
The big one: SEO is constantly changing, and it’s hard to keep track of your business while also maintaining a constant eye on the ever changing algorithms of search engines.
The key concepts are fairly simple to learn, it’s the little, constantly evolving stuff that needs to be watched constantly. Familiarizing yourself with the following will get you off to a good star.
Keywords are the heart of SEO techniques. While old techniques like jamming are actually harmful at this point, knowing how to select good keywords within your niche can mean all the difference.
From the keywords you can then produce content which stands the test of time.
Your keywords are incredibly important when it comes time to make decisions about how you’re going to be doing your content, but things will also need to be structured properly in order to make sure your keywords are on point.
If you’re using WordPress for your website, give Yoast SEO a try. It’s not perfect, but for those who aren’t quite aware of what to do when it comes to structuring, titles, and other on-page SEO factors it can be of enormous benefit.
Backlinks can come from a variety of sources. They’re heavily weighted towards sites which are recognized as industry leaders or are extremely popular, but not every start-up is going to be able to snag a link with Entrepreneur right out of the gate.
The important thing is to start building them early in the creation process. If you have at least thirty pieces of content on your page, then you’re probably going to want to start doing outreach.
If you’re looking to develop your initial backlinks it can help to search for successful pages in your niche and see where they’re coming from. There are also tools which you can pay for which will sniff out the backlinks for you, but they can be prohibitively expensive for a new business and aren’t of much use to those who don’t already know what they’re looking for.
Even if you’re hiring someone to do your SEO for you, it’s important that you remain aware of what constitutes major violations on the big search engines. You don’t want to pay someone only to have your page suddenly be shunted off into the depths of Google because they made a rookie blackhat error.
Search engines are moving more and more towards supporting white hat SEO, especially since it supports the end user of the search engine more by bringing them great content.
If you’ve done any research at all, then you know that “content is king” is a good mantra. And the enemy of good content is underhanded techniques.
This is of little interest to most business owners, but there are a number of techniques out there which can give a slight advantage in niches with heavy competition. If you insist on handling your own processes, then you’ll find a lot of little tricks across the web.
Some of the best places to look are on forums dedicated to SEO or internet marketing in general. While most high-level experts aren’t going to just hand off their secrets, it’s pretty rare to even be able to know what niche someone works in on forums and the like, you can definitely discover some fascinating and effective techniques here.
Most of these can be used with only minor tweaks to existing strategies and if you’re handling your own SEO then it’s a good idea to devote some time each week to just sitting down and learning what others are doing and what results they’re getting.
SEO is one of the best ways to suceed in online business. It’s not quite as fast as paid traffic, but it’s generally cheaper even if you hire an expert and the organic traffic gains will seriously rack up over time.
Knowing the basics already puts you ahead of a lot of people, and if you devote a little bit of time you might be surprised to find yourself on the coveted front page of Google within a few short months as long as you continue to implement the strategy you come up with.