This is a guest post by Courtney Gordner. It might seem like an uphill battle to drive more search engine traffic to your website. You’re competing for eyeballs with millions of other websites – many which provide the same type of information as yours – and you don’t have any advertising budget whatsoever. The solution? Search engine optimization, or SEO for short.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of editing your site in an effort to increase its search engine ranking, which is one of the most effective ways to bring in more website traffic. In the early days of the Internet, SEO just meant adding endless tags to the bottom of each web page. In fact, some pages had nothing but tags, because their owners only wanted page views and nothing else. Web browsers have caught on since then, and so have the search engines. Today, we’d call that keyword stuffing, or one of the black-hat SEO techniques frowned upon by search engine algorithms. Instead, search engines reward sites that are optimized without sacrificing content quality.
How Can SEO Impact My Site?
SEO can do a lot for your website, both in terms of brand reputation and the bottom line. Consider these statistics:
- More than 100 billion global searches happen each month; up to 70% of them happen on Google.
- 80% of search engine users ignore paid search results and focus on organic results; 75% of those users never look beyond the first page of results.
- The close rate among SEO searches is 14.6%, versus 1.7% for outbound/paid leads.
- Inbound marketing costs 61% less than outbound marketing.
This proves how important search is to your online marketing strategy. In fact, the effects go through a series of stages: Higher Search Engine Rankings: Wherever you rank in search engines, SEO strategies raise your ranking ever higher. Over time, as you continue to optimize and refine your content, you could end up in the top 100 results, then on the first page, and eventually rise to the very top. More Traffic: If you think you only have to appear on the first page of results to make a difference, consider these facts. In Google searches, 35% of clicks go to the top three results; the top results get more than half that number. The top three results on Bing get 17% of clicks. Higher ranking increase your chances of clicks, but reaching the top increases them dramatically. More Social Media Shares: If your site makes it to the top of the search engine results, it generates more clicks. Pages that get more clicks get more readers. If enough of those readers like what they see, more of them will share your content on their social media feeds. In other words, SEO helps both your web marketing strategy and your social media strategy. Greater Credibility: Quality content is shared more often than mediocre content. As a site’s readership grows, it begins to gain a reputation for being authoritative and a go-to source for relevant information. This creates a classic chicken-and-egg scenario; as your website brings in more traffic, its credibility increases, and this brings in even more traffic.
How Do I Optimize My Website?
A lot of people talk about SEO as if it only involves adding keywords to content. While written text is a big part of it, too many keywords can makes it look like you’re keyword stuffing. This makes text unreadable, and it raises a red flag in search engine algorithms. In fact, SEO involves refining your website inside and out, top to bottom. Here are three of the most effective ways to take your site to the top of the search engines.
1. Quality Content
Some sites might hit #1 on search engine results, but their victory is short-lived if they don’t offer relevant, high-quality content. As search engine algorithms become more sophisticated, quality plays an increasingly important role in ranking, traffic and other web metrics. Boost your SEO efforts by focusing on the following content elements:
- Keywords: The more often a keyword appears in a website, the better its ranking. Use a keyword analyzer to find the most popular keywords, and then apply them (along with variations) throughout your content. If you sell Maxwell Systems software, for instance, add the term to your product pages, home page or blog entries.
- Text Formatting: Titles and headers are weighted more heavily than plain text. If you’re writing a page about hair salons, don’t add that keyword to the body of the page. Instead, create a title tag so the web spiders catch it more quickly.
- Relevance: Your web content should match the interests and questions of your potential audience. Check the web to find out which topics are making waves. Look on industry forums to find out what kinds of questions people are asking. Write blogs, Q&A posts or other web content that reflects what people want to know.
- Links: In the days of print, we had to add footnotes to our sources; now, we just add a link. While you shouldn’t stuff your content with links, add enough to show yourself to be a credible researcher. In particular, link to reliable sources in your field. If you do reciprocal link-building, your sources can link to your site, bringing in even more visitors.
According to the latest research, 85% of all Internet users watch videos online, and people spend twice as much time on websites with videos. Photos, infographics, and other non-text content generate more clicks and shares than text content, as people process this visual information faster than blocks of text. Optimize your multimedia content with the following elements:
- File Names: Most devices save photos and videos with names made of random numbers and letters. They shouldn’t keep those names; how many people are going to search on 145094A90? They will, however, search for puppies sleeping, teens surfing, or whatever name you want to give to the files you post on your website.
- Metatags: These are the main reason YouTube videos are so searchable. Adding keywords that describe the subject or action of a photo or video increases the ranking and visibility of the page containing the content. Viewers won’t see these tags, but they’ll have an easier time finding that cool infographic about fashion.
- Descriptions: File names and meta tags offer a basic idea of your content; a description is more specific. As with tags and names, add relevant keywords to your description. Instead of just listing words, though, write full, clear sentences so people know exactly what they’re looking at. This also makes your files visible in image or video searches.
- URL: Search engines see no difference between a descriptive URL and a randomly generated one. Visitors, on the other hand, will know exactly where they are when the page has a name. Make sure your name has a keyword, but keep it as short as possible. If you use multiple words, add a hyphen between each word to make the phrase readable by search engines.
3. Site Usability
Search engine rankings can impact website traffic; the opposite is true as well. When a website is hard to navigate or slow to load, people leave it quickly, or they may abandon it altogether. Plus, a poorly designed website doesn’t attract search engines, either. If your site doesn’t rank as high as it should, make sure you’re not making one of these design mistakes:
- Slow Loading: You probably won’t wait around for a slow site to load; why would your visitors? Not only do people stay away from sites that load slowly or frequently crash, but search engines penalize them with lower rankings compared to their lightning-speed counterparts. If your website takes a long time to load, find a way to speed it up.
- Large File Sizes: Many sites are slow because large photo and video files take forever to download. This is largely because people think high resolution is better than fast speeds — it isn’t. Try to make videos and images small enough to load quickly and still look good. If necessary, give viewers the option to see a larger version in a pop-up window.
- Flash Content: This has long been considered fatal to successful SEO. For years, search engine crawlers couldn’t recognize text or links in Flash files; therefore, they didn’t index them, and those pages went unnoticed. While Google has made great efforts to remedy this problem, it’s best to use Flash minimally in your website, or avoid it altogether.
- Website Frames: These used to be the only way to make a web page attractive and easy to follow. To search engines, though, all those frames look like one page, which makes it impossible to optimize each individual page. New design tools allow you to create the web design you want and still get the high search engine rankings you need.
If your site doesn’t rank near the top of search engines, it won’t get much attention from the online universe. Drive up your ranking – and your audience – by putting all these proven SEO strategies in place.