Think about the last Google search you performed. How many results did you scroll through before clicking on one of them. Did you make it to the second page? You likely clicked on one of the first three to five results offered.
This stems from two key factors. First, Google aims to first serve links containing the most valuable content. Consistency in search results makes a search engine useful to the searcher. So, users are conditioned to trust the top search results. Second, people generally have short attention spans, possibly about eight seconds. Therefore, users are most likely to click on one of the first results they see. Because of this behavior, smart organizations want to rank high on the search engine results page (SERP). However, many lack a strategy to boost their ranking.
Therefore, a thoughtful SEO strategy is essential to raising your visibility online. This includes, choosing the right keywords to target, writing engaging content and helping clients receive more site traffic. Read below to learn more about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), why it matters and how 434 Marketing can help.
What is SEO?
Moz, one of the leading SEO consulting companies, defines SEO as, “…a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic and increase awareness in search engines.” When developing a strategy, you should consider several factors to optimize your website for search engines, addressed throughout this post:
- Google ranking and indexing of websites: Your strategy should match the latest search algorithms in place.
- SEO and Local SEO: Your team should understand the impact of geographically targeted search tactics to reach users within your area.
- On-Site and Off-Site SEO: Your strategy should be split between updates that you make to your website, and tactics that you employ to get users to visit your website from platforms like social media.
- Measuring Goals: Your strategy should include goals that you can tie directly to results.
- Reporting: You should also generate a report, or receive a report, focused on the performance of your SEO strategy and how those strategies meet your goals.
- Maintenance: To keep up with the ever changing landscape of the internet, SEO tactics must consistently be monitored and adjusted.
If you are new to digital media and are just considering creating a website for your business, you should build and maintain a website that keeps usability in mind for SEO success.
How Does Google Decide Rankings?
Over the years, Google has become increasingly strategic with how it searches and displays results. Simply put, there are three main steps to help Google determine which results to display on the SERP.
- Crawling and indexing: Before a search occurs, web crawlers gather information from hundreds of billions of web pages and organize it in the Search index. The crawling process begins with a list of web addresses from past crawls and sitemaps provided by website owners. Crawling allows Google to “read” each page of site content and organize it like a virtual library.
- Search algorithms: When a user enters a search query, the Google ranking systems sort through those webpages in the Search index to serve useful and relevant results in a fraction of a second. During these seconds, the algorithm interprets the words typed, matches them to indexed pages, ranks the pages it finds in order of usefulness, considers the context of the pages and returns the best results on the SERP.
- Useful responses: Google aims to provide the most valuable answers to users. If a user searches for a weather forecast, Google will offer the forecast as a widget on the SERP, rather than taking them to another site. These “useful responses” aim to save the user time when searching for information.
Google seeks to act as a virtual librarian, indexing information so it can serve it up at the correct time. Because of this, your website must incentivize Google to find, trust and display the information on your website.
Why does my site need SEO?
In the competitive virtual market, SEO remains key to attracting users to your website. Each day, millions of users perform searches to answer their questions. After performing a search, the majority of users will click one of the top 5 results on the first page. When businesses can rank in the top few results, the organic traffic they receive can result in a boost in business.
There are two types of SEO: Regular SEO, which focuses on the broad, international crawl of the internet, and Local SEO, which has a geographical component to narrow searches within a user’s location. Both are valuable to focus on as part of your SEO strategy.
- SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate as compared to outbound leads at 1.7%.
- Google currently holds 80.5% of total search engine market share (up from 65.5% in January 2016).
- 81% of people perform some type of online research before making a large purchase.
- 75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines.
- 70-80% of people ignore paid search results, choosing to only click on organic listings.
Some people believe that SEO doesn’t matter because they won’t rank in the national results. However, local SEO provides an avenue to gain visibility in your geographical setting. As an example, a brick-and-mortar store can use local SEO to attract users who are searching for services or products in the user’s town or city.
Local SEO and User Behavior Statistics:
- 72% of consumers who perform a local search will visit a store within 5 miles of their current location.
- 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.
- Local searches lead 50% of mobile visitors to visit stores within one day.
- Users primarily seek the business address or location as the core piece of information.
- 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase.
In addition to full site SEO, businesses should also keep mobile SEO in mind. On April 21, 2015, Google rolled out an algorithm update that lowered the search rankings of non-mobile-friendly sites in mobile search results. Mobile responsiveness matters for several reasons:
- Since 2015, more searches are done every day on mobile devices than desktops.
- 87% of people who own a smartphone use a search engine at least once a day.
- Experts project mobile e-commerce revenue to grow to 50% of total e-commerce revenue by the end of 2017.
- 40% of mobile website visitors will leave the site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
For most organizations, boosting SEO rankings links to listing higher than their competition. If two web sites offer the same product or service, the optimized website will likely attract more visitors.
How do I get it?
Optimizing your website for search engines requires an ongoing maintenance strategy, focused on the specific goals of your organization. Additionally, Google releases regular updates to their search algorithm, meaning that tactics must change frequently. Because of this, many businesses choose to hire an agency to monitor their site and maintain it using the most current SEO tactics.
There are two main types of SEO: on-site and off-site. You should work with a group that has experience in handling both types, and have helped clients succeed in boosting their rankings.
Compared to off-site SEO, on-site SEO can be improved through an internal website maintenance plan. This includes making updates to the backend and functionality of a website so that search engines have more content and data to crawl. When we perform on-site SEO for a client’s website, we focus on the following:
- Page titles
- Breadcrumb trails
- Internal site links
- External site links
- Heading styles and use
- 404 pages
- Image optimization
- Image alt text
- Page speed
- Site map
- Mobile responsiveness
- Site content
With regular monitoring and updates, these pieces can begin to improve rankings over time. However, over-optimizing a site can sometimes cause negative effects. To combat this, we make several small changes at one time, and then monitor to see how these changes affect performance.
Many people associate off-site SEO with link-building. However, off-site SEO actually includes all promotion methods that rank a website higher in the search results. Off-site SEO tactics extend to other websites and platforms, such as social media marketing and social bookmarking. When working with off-site SEO, the quality of links matters more than the quantity of links. For example, a link from a blog published by a small, local business does not have the same SEO weight as a link from a New York Times article.
How long does it take to see results?
This can be a difficult question to answer, as “results” can have different meanings for different people. First, you need to clearly define how you want to define the target results. These results should be realistic, and you may need to redefine them later in the process. Your goals could be something specific, such as, increased traffic to your website, or sales growth by month, quarter and year.
The timeline for results depends on several factors. How long your website has been live, how much SEO work has been done previously, how much rich content is on your site and site structure all contribute to the starting point. Because of this, no two sites start at the same place, even if they are the in same industry and target the same customers.
Many firms will tell you that it takes 4 to 6 months to see results. However, during this timeframe, results will start to become apparent, and can continue to grow over time. After 6 months of effort your ranking should continue to improve, up to 12 months and beyond. Eventually, numbers may stabilize as you maintain optimization.
Ethical SEO Practices
Due to the competitive nature of the web, several unethical SEO practices have evolved. Often, these methods promise quick results with little effort. This side of SEO is referred to as “black hat SEO”, and should be avoided. These practices include:
- Using unrelated keyword in page content
- Hidden text
- Hidden links
- Bait-and-switch tactics
- Duplicating content
- Site mirroring
- Spam blogs
- Comment spam
- Link farms
- URL hijacking
While these methods can boost rankings quickly, the long term negative impact to your site’s trustworthiness will outweigh the short term boost in traffic. Search engines regularly release updates to block these practices. A website may end up completely blocked from the SERP if it continues to take part in these practices.
At 434 Marketing, we utilize white hat SEO practices. These techniques involve providing users with quality content focused on accuracy, relevance and readability. While it may take longer to see initial results, these practices perform better over time, and can earn your website trust from Google and other search engines.
Examples of white hat SEO include:
- Using descriptive, keyword-rich meta tags
- Avoiding keyword stuffing
- Writing focused content
- Creating landing pages
- Displaying original content
- Posting insightful, helpful comments on social media
- Requesting links that benefit to both sites involved
White and black hat SEO differ in their focus on quality. With black hat SEO, very little work is put into boosting the site content. Instead, the strategy focuses on spamming the internet and users with self-serving information. With white hat SEO, the focus is on making the site trustworthy and useful. This allows Google to index real, helpful information and serve it to interested users.
What is an SEO Report?
After making the decision to work on your website’s SEO, you want to be able to measure your efforts. Reporting allows you to track and improve performance over time. These reports should be created regularly to monitor ongoing results and provide insight for any improvements. Reports should be generated at least monthly so you can make quick, strategic decisions.
However, keep in mind that reporting is useless without a clear goal. Arbitrary data and charts will mean nothing to your team and key marketing decision-makers without a measurement of success.
What to Include in an SEO Report
Each SEO report will look slightly different, but your report should be formated to benefit the decision-maker.
- Relevant data: It can be tempting to include every statistic available, but reports should be limited to only metrics that support your goals. Too much data can distract from the true purpose of the report.
- Narrative: None of your data matters without a story. Those reading the report need to know how the data impacts them. Did the increased number of site views result in increased leads? Did your site get an influx of visitors from a state you don’t even service? By adding relevant information to support your data, the decision-maker can better understand the impact of the SEO tactics.
- Site Traffic: The key to reporting on traffic is to compare it over time. This can be week over week, month over month, quarter over quarter, and even year over year depending on the goal of your report.
- Engagement: Once users land on your site, how are they using it? Statistics such as bounce rate, average session duration, and average pages per session can provide a glimpse into user behavior. Bounce rate reflects the percentage of people who leave your site without interacting with your content or navigating to another page. Average session duration shows the average amount of time users spend on your site. Pages per session reflects how many pages a viewer looks at per session.
- Landing Pages: It’s important to understand which landing pages drive the most value. Summarizing top landing pages in an SEO report shows where search engines direct users. Also, this can provide insight into how to improve under-performing pages.
- Keyword Rankings: Reporting on keywords rankings over time is a great way to measure organic growth. This is often a KPI for campaigns.
- Visibility: How do you compare to your competition for crucial keywords? By including a visibility overview in an SEO report, you can get high-level insights into of what a potential customer sees when performing a search. This can be a strong method to find opportunities to stand out from the competition as well.
The main goal of a report should always be to provide information that aids the reader in making decisions. The report should be easy to read and put the information in terms that the reader can easily understand.
Ongoing SEO Maintenance
Several components of your website and content should be monitored regularly to help keep your site up-to-date with any changes that search engines may make. By monitoring the health of your site, as well as watching how your competition ranks for certain keywords, you can capitalize on opportunities that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Many programs will allow you to audit your website. These audits will crawl every page on a website and find places where improvements could be made. Some of the issues uncovered can present security issues, so your should address these quickly. The types of issues an audit will flag include:
Errors include warnings that are most threatening to site, as well as issues that may damage your SEO efforts. These can include broken links, HTTPS issues, sitemap errors and code errors. These should be addressed quickly. An ideal site audit has zero errors listed.
Warnings include issues of medium severity. These include items such as missing metadata, improper heading usage, pages with low content and slow load speed. Addressing these issues may boost your SEO slightly, but they will not have the impact that fixing errors will.
Notices are the least severe type of audit issue. These low priority notifications usually include suggestions to improve the code of the site. Often, these can wait to be addressed until after the Errors and Warnings have been fixed.
By addressing any issues found in a site audit, your site will continue to stay healthy and useable. Ignoring any problems found in the audit can hurt your SEO efforts in the long run.
Even if you have a healthy amount of content on your site, you should include keyword research in your strategy. This helps you find niche topics specific to the search habits of your target audience. A niche topic is a specific topic that users search. These trend over time, making it important to conduct regular research to uncover any changes. Tools such as the Google Keyword Planner make this easy.
For example, a running store may find that users are repeatedly searching “what shoes are best for running on trails?” Using this information, an organization can develop site content that answers the user’s question or helps them solve a problem.
A visibility report shows a website’s progress in Google’s top 100 ranking for chosen keywords. A 0% visibility means that the keyword isn’t ranking in Google’s top 100, and a 100% means the domain keeps the first position in the SERP for all of the chosen keywords. By monitoring visibility, you can gain a better understanding of what a user may see when they use a search engine.
Competition reports can uncover valuable insight about how your competitors perform online. SEO monitoring programs can pull site traffic, keywords, estimated rankings and more. While these can often seem overwhelming, especially if their site is out-performing yours, they can highlight areas of weakness you can turn into a valuable opportunity for your site.
Optimizing and maintaining a website for search engines can create a boost in organic traffic over time, aligning with other organizational goals. Yet, this lengthy and intimidating process takes time, energy and expertise to deliver an effective SEO maintenance strategy. At 434 Marketing, we are experienced in SEO maintenance and can help you keep up with the latest trends, algorithm changes and tactics. Additionally, we can make any needed adjustments ourselves, so you can focus your efforts on other aspects of your business.
If you would like to learn more about how our team can help your SEO efforts, request your free consultation today!