Why SEO is a Game Changer
There's a lot of talk about SEO—how it can help increase traffic, boost page ranking in search engines and even improve the quality of your online advertising. But what exactly is SEO and how can you use it to your benefit? In this article, we'll cover some of the techniques to improve your overall content and focus on SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, but let's dissect the term: search engines are websites like Google or Bing that are used to search for just about anything online. In the early days of the Internet, making sure your content appeared at the top of a search page was much simpler. You just needed to add relevant search terms, or keywords, to your website's structure and include meta keywords, meta description and meta titles. The more the merrier.
Search engines have since made many changes to their algorithms. These are complex sets of factors that determine search results. It is estimated that Google releases new algorithms 500-600 times each year. These changes are made to refine and return the best search results. Search engine networks can analyze keywords throughout your entire site's content, match searches with appropriate pages, rank pages based on relevant information and consider context, such as content relevant for your location. These constant updates can explain fluctuations in organic (non-paid) website search rankings and traffic. Keeping up with the changes and optimizing content can be a real challenge, as it involves much more than just writing content for these engines to crawl.
Metadata is data that provides information about other data. In the world of information technology, it summarizes basic information about data that makes finding and working with specific kinds of information easier. Although metadata is no longer as important for SEO as it was back in the day, it's still relevant.
Example of metadata within a website's source code
Meta tags provide metadata about an HTML document. They are snippets of text that describe a page’s content in its code. They don't show up in your site's front-end content, but there are ways to see them. You can find them in a page's source code or you can use widgets such as the MOZBar. There are two major components to your metadata:
Metadata view with the MOZBar
1. Title tag
The title tag is the text you'll see on top of the browser window or tab. Tags are also what users see on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a search query. Title tags are important for both SEO and usability.
How a title tag shows on a browser window or tab
Tags are the clickable headline on search engine results pages.
For SEO, title tags help search engines understand what the page is about, so it is important that tags represent the page content in an accurate and concise manner. The length of a title tag should be between 50 and 60 characters, so it will display correctly on SERPs.
If title tag content is not optimized, it will not appear in the search queries that are relevant for your business, and it will also send a misleading impression of your page to its potential users. Because this tag displays on top of the browser's tab, having a proper title can help users differentiate your page from other tabs, too.
2. Meta description
A meta description is a brief description of the page. Although Google does not use meta descriptions for web search rankings, these keywords are key to ensuring that users click through your site, and these clicks can affect your rankings.
There's no length limit for a meta description, but keep in mind that search engines generally only display the first 160 characters. The best practice is to keep your meta description within 160 characters.
Meta description shown on search engine result pages
H Tags and Image Tags
H tags, or heading tags, are used for the creation of headings throughout your website's content. These tags have a top-down hierarchy, H1 being the most important one. A blog post title, for example, is usually an H1 tag; subtitles are often H2 or H3 tags, and so on.
Even though headings don't have as great an impact on search engine rankings anymore, a good heading structure helps visitors visualize the topics of your page with ease.
Image tags are very important for SEO because search engines cannot "read" images. The text description you use for an image translates its message and meaning for the search engines. For users, these tags can show as text when a cursor hovers over an image, even though this function can be disabled. Image tags can be especially helpful to drive traffic to a website when users browse for images in search engines. If someone were looking for an image of a coffee shop, for example, and clicked the link of an image in the search results, it would redirect them to the website where the image was hosted.
A search for image can lead to clicks to a web page
Keywords in Content
Using keywords well is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of SEO. Filling your website copy with relevant keywords is what will snatch the best organic search rankings. But be mindful of how you add these keywords—repeating the same terms over and over again can be seen as "spammy" by search engines. A good rule of thumb is to have keywords make up two to five percent of your article, based on the total number of words. Although serving copy with relevant keywords to search engines is important, your writing should be focused on your readers first.
A website that is well-optimized for search engines should "speak the same language" as its potential visitors. You need to analyze what people might be looking for so the keywords they type into the search bar will display your page on SERPs.
There are multiple ways to research what keywords to use—a simple Google query can bring results you can reuse and adapt. You can also find free tools, like the Google Adwords keyword tool and Wordpress SEO tools, that show how often a keyword is used (search volume) and how much competition you have for a particular keyword. If a keyword has a high rate of competition, it means that several other pages are using this same term within their content, so it may be harder to guarantee a high organic ranking. If that's the case, try rephrasing your concept in different terms and find one that has decent search volume and lower competition.
A great way to use keywords in places other than on your website's pages is through blogging. The beauty of blogging is that it allows you to steer away from the descriptive copy you may need to use in other pages. In a blog you can write about your industry expertise, review a product you offer, or even write about a fun fact that relates to your products or services. Some blog services offer built-in SEO tools that help you set up a focus keyword and will count how many times it has been used in the content, and will tell you whether it appears in the main header, meta description and page URL .
Using keywords in URLs is a good practice, because these keywords show up under the page titles in SERPs as well as on social media links. Using keywords in URLs can also help search engines and users understand what the page is about. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when structuring your URLs:
- Keep them short, with fewer than 50-60 characters. Search engines have no difficulty crawling longer URLs, but the shorter your URL is, the easier it is for the user to copy, paste, share and embed your link.
- Avoid stop words, such as and, or, but, of, the, a. These can cause poor readability and are potential causes for breaking browsers or crawlers.
- Use hyphens to separate words (e.g., spatially.com/about-us).
- Remove/control punctuation characters.
How SEO Affects Paid Queries
One would think that a good budget, compelling advertising copy and the right keywords and interests would suffice to create a successful a paid campaign. The truth is, SEO and SEM (search engine marketing, also known as paid marketing) work together.
Systems like the pay-per-click (PPC) model, used for Google AdWords, depend on several factors for success. The popularity and level of competition for keywords, number of searches, ad copy and the quality of a landing page are some of these factors. The landing page your ad links to has a huge impact on an SEM campaign. Improving your SEO and making your landing page more relevant to users can help your paid ad ranking. On the other hand, despite several claims online, running a Google AdWords campaign does not help your SEO rankings. However, paid ads can be helpful in connecting with a wider audience online.
Paid versus organic search result on Google
In conclusion, SEO is vital for the success of a small business' website and paid advertising campaigns. The best way to increase your organic and paid search engine rankings is to do research, test your findings, then keep adjusting, improving and testing your findings repeatedly. The more valuable you make your content, the better your chances will be to rank first in your field in search results.