Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of influencing organic (“free”) search results. In a nutshell, you use and optimize keywords to increase the quantity and/or quality of web traffic and qualified leads to your site.
SEO is a slow process! No one can guarantee results: it will depend on your competitors, the competition for the keywords you are trying to rank for and many other factors – some unknown. If you require a keyword to rank high in search engines immediately, employ Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which is paid search results.
My goal with this post is to help marketing managers understand the basics of SEO so that you can guide your team and evaluate the work of consultants. To this end, this post consists of 5 sections each covering the key factors of on-page SEO with 5 checkpoints: Stop at each checkpoint and consider the section.
The Basics: 5 Key Factors of On-Page SEO
- Body Content
- Title and Headers
- Metadata and Alt Data
- Links (Internal, Inbound and Outbound)
FACTOR 1: KEYWORDS
You will need to decide what keywords (or subject matter) to write about on your website, article, publication, blog post or other webpage that you are looking to optimize for search.
Finding the Right Keywords
a. Be Client-Centric & Logical
- What verbiage would my clients use to describe this topic?
- How would I find information on this topic if I were using a search engine?
b. Google’s Keyword Tool
Using Google’s free keyword optimization tool (https://adwords.google.com/o/KeywordTool), review keyword strings to find the right ones for you. You can search for traffic for specific keywords or obtain suggestions by adding a Site URL.
Based on the Keyword Tool results, choose keywords with the following attributes and add a geographical component:
- Search volume = high
- Relevance = high
- Competition = low
c. Create a baseline
- Once you have your keywords, create a baseline identifying where you currently rank vs. your top 5 competitors.
d. Some Tips
- Include longer terms (2-4 words)
- Include variations of words (plurals)
- Look at competitor websites to find keywords (right-click > view source)
- Google your keywords to make sure the results are aligned with what you’d expect.
Checkpoint #1: Determine your keywords.
FACTOR 2: BODY CONTENT
Your page content is extremely important as it defines how your page is indexed in the search engine database. For example, a page about Calico cats vs. Shih Tzu dogs.
Make sure each document/web page contains one (1) main topic / theme and link from one page to another when changing subjects. Don’t write about items that belong on another page.
Tip! You need to make choices and trade-offs in order to achieve positive rankings: Immigration Lawyer Vancouver vs. Insurance Lawyer Vancouver will require two very different types of webpages. Don’t jam content into one page as this is both confusing for search engines and your website visitors.
What are you trying to achieve?
Here’s a simple example of how site architecture and page content affect SEO. On the “Elephants” page, it is confusing for a web visitor as well as a search engine if we write about “Dogs.”
The Long-Tail of SEO
As your search becomes more specific, you will see fewer visits but from highly qualified leads—known as the long-tail of SEO. Example:
- Keyword: Law
- Keyword String: Patent Law Firm
- Long-Tail: Patent Agent Law Firm Ottawa
Goals and Timelines: Keywords and Strings vs. Long-Tail
Your goals and project timeline define where you should focus your efforts. If your goal is to increase your reach, keywords help you reach a broader audience; however, the traffic that arrives on your page is often untargeted and competition for these keywords is often a barrier. Meanwhile, the long-tail of search is often less competitive and provides more relevant traffic.
Make sure your content reads well—never write for search engines, write for your readers:
- Don’t jam keywords in where they don’t make sense
- Up to 2-3% of your total words used on a page can be your keyword (but don’t force it) and do use variations of your words such as plurals, synonyms.
The best way to optimize your content is to front-load your copy. Place the most relevant / keyword rich content at the top of your document.
Add your keywords to your:
- Body Content
Checkpoint #2: Write and optimize your content.
FACTOR 3: TITLE AND HEADERS
The title of each of your pages matter!
In your title, add the relevant keywords that you are targeting (as they naturally fit)
- Put keywords in your headers and subheadings
- Make sure your website URL contains your keywords.
Checkpoint #3: Consider your title tags.
FACTOR 4: METADATA AND ALT TAGS
Your meta data is information that is not seen by visitors.
This usually includes:
- Meta Keywords: List of relevant keywords found on the page, that is the themes of the page content. This may not influence your search results but can help your site search.
- Meta Description: A description of the page content, including keywords.
- Meta Title: The title of the page, including keywords.
Checkpoint #4: Consider your meta tags.
FACTOR 5: LINKS (INTERNAL, INBOUND AND OUTBOUND)
Make sure that the link uses the proper anchor text. The link into your page should contain your targeted keyword(s).
Quick Tips on Link Building
Link building aims to get other websites to link to you. For this to occur, you must write original, intriguing and substantial content on relevant and timely topics.
It’s quality over quantity: Pursue links from relevant, high quality websites.
Some ideas to get inbound links, seek links from:
- Create good content on:
- Social Media (YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn (incl. Pulse))
- Other Sites: SlideShare
- Press releases (make sure your boilerplate includes your site URL)
Tip! Each inbound link counts as a vote telling the search engine to rank your page higher than another. The more high quality sites linking to you, means a higher ranking!
Google Juice! Page Rank of Inbound Links
Some factors that search engines looks at:
- Age of your website
- Frequency of updates
- Inbound links
- Content on the page | Page names (keywords)
- Many other unknown factors
Link Building – Outbound
- Link to relevant third party websites on similar topics – make sure these websites are high quality and trusted “authoritative” sources.
Link Building – Internal
Within your website, it is very important to use links appropriately.
- Link from one page to another to easily move users around your website. For example, link to a sub-section from a landing page to help a user navigate the site.
- This is very important as it allows users to obtain the information they require but is the only way that search engines robots can archive your site content.