Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about improving your site’s interaction with both searchers and search engines. While search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines, SEO focuses on getting traffic from the “free,” “organic” or “natural” listings on the search engines. In this article, we’re going to focus on SEO and the best practices you should follow to help increase your search rankings.
In 2013, there were 2.2 trillion searches globally on Google alone. When it comes to search results, 90% of users click on the first three results. So, how do you ensure that your site appears in the top results? You need to become familiar with the elements of your site that carry the most weight in the rankings, and make sure they are optimized. No single factor guarantees success, but having several favorable ones does increase the odds.
Content is King
The most important factor is the site’s content. No other element of a site’s page will make it worthy of a search result position. The text should be well written, easy to follow and organized around topics with titles. The content should also be fresh and unique, which not only keeps existing visitors coming back but also attracts new visitors.
The content needs to include keywords, of course, but avoid “keyword stuffing” (inserting unnecessary keywords into a page to attract search engines). Just be sure your keyword appears in the first 100-150 words of the article. Research the keywords people may use to find your content and make sure the content is relevant to those words and/or phrases. When developing a keyword strategy, be consistent with keyword phrases both online and offline. This not only helps with branding, but it also trains searchers to use the specific words and phrases for which you are optimizing.
Craft the Code
Once you have optimized the content, you need to give the site page an HTML title tag and meta description that accurately displays the topic of the page to the user and the search engine. Page titles should be brief — Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag — but unique enough to entice the reader to click. It’s been found that pages that start their title with a keyword rank higher than those with keywords at the middle or end. The optimal format for a page title is:
Primary Keywords | Secondary Keywords | Brand Name
Primary Keywords – Secondary Keywords – Brand Name
Descriptions should be a summary of what the page is about and be unique for each page. The description will usually show up in the search results, so it can be a big factor in persuading a searcher to click. Pages should also use header tags with relevant keywords for headlines and sub-heads.
Let it Flow
Navigation is very important to search engines, so organize your content into a naturally flowing hierarchy. This will allow search engines to easily “crawl” your site and understand its content. The URL structure of each page plays a big part in this. A simple directory structure that utilizes keywords meaningful to page topics makes it easier for visitors to know where they are going before following a link, where they are when on a page, and to remember where they’ve been after leaving a page. And it allows the search engines to easily determine relevancy. Google has stated that the first 3-5 words in a URL are given the most weight.
The following is an example of a good URL structure: http://www.acme.org/Books/History-of-Comic-Books
The URL clearly shows the hierarchy of the information on the page, and the search engines can deduce that the content doesn’t pertain to history in general, but rather to the history of comic books.
Also be conscious of your pages’ load times. If your site is slow, your search ranking will go down. Forty percent of people abandon a site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Aim for a load time of one second or less.
The Trust Factor
While content, HTML and architecture are tangible factors you can work to optimize on each page, search engines also take into account some factors that happen “off the page” and may not be under your control. For example, if another site is linking to your page, your ranking can improve if the links are from a trusted and respected site and if the links use keywords relevant to your content.
Another element that’s a little harder to optimize on your own is the trust factor. Search engines give your site more authority if it has a lot of links and shares and if its domain has been operational for a long time. In fact, a well-optimized page should make social sharing easy by including social network buttons, utilizing short and descriptive URLs that are easy to cut and paste and containing content with viral value.
Again, no one single factor will ensure that your site always appears in the top-three organic (or non-paid) search results. But if you follow these SEO best practices, you have a much better chance of seeing your site rise to the top. Want to know even more about SEO? Check out the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and the Bing Webmaster Guidelines. Need help optimizing your current site or one you’d like to redesign? Contact us.