Learn the basics of search engine optimization to help prospective customers find your business
While some prospective customers will reach your website through social media, paid ads or word of mouth, 68% of online sessions begin with a search. No matter what your brand is selling, offering or fundraising for, having an SEO strategy will help you capture traffic organically—bringing visitors to your site and raising brand awareness. We’re answering the question, “Why is SEO important?” and giving tips so you can get started.
What is SEO?
Let’s start with the basics: SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of increasing the organic, non-paid traffic to your website from search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. While a part of it involves optimizing pages using a format that search engine crawlers can understand, SEO mostly revolves around delivering the content searchers, not just Google robots, are looking for. In order words, SEO involves developing great content that satisfies search queries and is organized in an intuitive way.
Why Is SEO Important for Your Business?
A little over half of all website traffic comes from organic search. According to HubSpot, 60% of marketers say that inbound forms of marketing like search engine optimization and blog content is their highest quality source of leads. Incorporating SEO into your content marketing strategy makes it easier for customers to find your business. If prospective customers are searching for an answer to something your brand can provide, then you want them to find you—and land on a page that directly addresses their needs. Creating engaging and organized content for these searchers helps bring new potential customers to your page organically.
We’re going over some of the SEO basics you need to understand to either develop an SEO strategy for your business, evaluate an agency’s SEO services or develop content that boosts your search visibility. SEO includes both content components (like developing high-quality blog posts that engage readers) and technical components (like page load time, meta descriptions, using headers to break up content and more). But they all work together to keep readers on your page longer and deliver a first-class user experience.
Keywords in SEO are the search terms that users type into their search engine of choice—and the phrasing matters. You want to research what your audience is looking for because it helps you design your page or blog around providing the answers they seek. To fully understand what keywords your business should target, you need to get in your potential customer’s head. We recommend not only searching those terms yourself but also seeing how often they’re being searched for using a keyword research platform. Our favorites include Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Google’s Keyword Planner. Once you know what your audience is searching for, choose which keywords you will target in your upcoming blog. Remember, your goal is to create worthwhile content that helps people—not just add to the noise.
Search engines reward quality content that engages readers. You’re trying to keep readers on the page while answering any query they arrived with. That way, they don’t go back to the search results to find the answer from a competitor instead. Our advice? Keep your writing clear and concise. Then earn the reader’s trust by providing valuable, objective information without being too salesy. It’s best practice to do some research into the keywords you’re targeting to see what kind of information ranking pages for that search term include. This gives insight into the kind of information searchers are looking for, whether images to liven up the content, infographics, easy-to-follow guidelines or embedded video.
For more ways to create content that stands out, check out our tips for approaching content marketing and storytelling like a journalist.
How you organize your content matters—not only for search engine crawlers but also for visitors to your website. This includes how you structure blogs. Some rules of thumb: Keep paragraphs under 150 to 200 words and use subheadlines to structure sections of 300 to 400 words. If you need to go over that amount, then break your section down further with another subheading. Subheadings help users who want to find answers to their query quickly or skim to get a basic understanding of the content. They also improve accessibility by adding in structure for anyone who cannot easily read a screen and may be using a screen reader.
Finally, think about your overall site organization and which pages are linked together. Using pillar pages to provide a comprehensive overview about a specific topic and then linking out to more specific, related blogs helps users and search engine crawlers make sense of how your content fits together—and where to go for the answers they need.
Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
Page titles and meta descriptions are another way for users and search engines to make sense of what’s on a page. An SEO page title, not to be confused with the headline at the top of your blog, is the text that displays when your page shows up in a search engine and at the top of your browser tab. A meta description is a one- to two-sentence summary of what the page is about. Google usually caps these at about 120 characters. It’s also important that the target keyword appears in the beginning of the page title and also somewhere in the meta description to signal what the page is about.
Technical SEO is all about making your website fast and functional for users and crawlable for search engine robots. Regular SEO audits will help you catch issues as they occur and resolve them before they impact your ranking.
Page Load Speed
Since 53% of mobile users will close a page that doesn’t load in three seconds or fewer, this is one of the most important aspects to pay attention to. We suggest running a speed test and then taking a critical eye to your plugins—if your load time isn’t what you want it to be, you may have some unnecessary plugins that are eating up those precious seconds. One plugin you should definitely have? A caching plugin! These plugins help speed up loading times by storing a static version of the page and delivering it to users. Some also offer image compression or alter the way media on your page loads. If your page is still loading slowly, you may need to reevaluate your hosting provider.
Error Pages and Dead Links
404 error pages don’t make for an enjoyable user experience, and search engine crawlers feel the same way. To avoid maintaining links to non-existent pages, regularly crawl your own site to catch these issues. Additionally, if you do have to remove or rename a URL, make sure you put a redirect in place to deliver users to the information they need.
Make sure your website makes sense to search engine robots (and is easy to crawl). One way to maintain a functional site structure is to make sure that when you’re adding links to other pages on their own site that you’re linking from relevant pages. For example, in this blog on SEO basics, we’ve linked to other blogs on developing pillar pages and drafting great content. But linking to something completely unrelated (like, one of our blogs on hosting a digital event), doesn’t deliver what users came on the page to find and would baffle crawler robots. Additionally, you can (and should) include a robots.txt file that provides crawlers explicit directions on your site structure.
Search engines also prioritize websites in the search results that follow privacy standards and are safe with users’ information. The most important way to secure site visitors’ information is to implement HTTPS on your site. This security feature encrypts data and makes sure that if people log in to your site (or online shop), their information is safe and the data cannot be intercepted.
Especially if your business operates locally, be sure to update your Google My Business listing to reflect the most up-to-date information about your business—from hours of operation and service offerings to your website, address and phone number. This profile listing will be visible to searchers in your area, so be sure it’s accurate and monitored. Google My Business also allows you to advertise, add photos and respond to reviews posted about your business and more. Plus, Google always shows their information (including Google My Business pages) first for relevant categories, so take advantage of this free listing at the top of the search results.
Now that you know the basics on why SEO is important for your small business, it’s time to add optimizing for search into your yearly marketing strategy. If your team doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to tackle SEO on your own, consider reaching out to a marketing agency—like us!—with proven SEO experience. For insights, advice and full-service marketing support, contact us to get started today.