In 2019, it’s not enough for your business to simply be online. You have to cultivate a unique, highly visible, and authoritative presence to stand out from the crowd, and place highly in search rankings. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art of doing exactly that.
What is SEO?
When a user searches a keyword, Google presents them with a ranked list of results. Those links have been evaluated and ranked by an algorithm for popularity, relevance, density, inbound and outbound links, and authority. Getting that top spot, or close to it, is incredibly valuable; when you’re the top result, your website traffic increases exponentially, and so does your brand awareness.
To put it simply, SEO is how you refine your online presence to make it rank higher in the search results, and thus be more visible to the people you’re trying to reach.
How to Use SEO
The big search engines like Google and Yahoo are constantly evaluating websites and adjusting their rankings. They’re looking at factors like keywords, the quality of a website’s user experience, the type of content it offers, and its nuts and bolts aspects like URLs, images, security, and viewability to decide how useful that website would be to search users. So it stands to reason that you’ll want to adjust those aspects of your website to improve your ranking. Let’s cover a few of the most important in more detail.
Let’s start with the basics. Keywords are going to be the foundation of your SEO efforts, because keywords are how your users are going to find you.
Think of it as a matchmaking exercise. Your ideal customers are out there, looking for you, and to find you, they’re searching for various keywords. In order to connect with those ideal customers, you have to discover those keywords, and incorporate them into your website. Only then will those searches start landing on your site, which will lead to those customers clicking through.
Whether you’re trying to rank for a keyword like “sell my house” if you’re in the real estate space or 1031 exchange in the investing space, it’s important to update your articles regularly to ensure they have correct information and are the best results possible, so Google will list them first.
An important note on keyword research: many businesses put a lot of effort into keyword research in the beginning, and then never go back to it. Then they wonder why their web traffic plateaus. Google is constantly adjusting their search algorithm, which means that websites have to adapt if they want to maintain their ranking. Remember that keyword research is a constant, ever-evolving process.
High Quality Content
As recently as a few years ago, SEO was seen mostly as a struggle to get users onto your website: raw clicks were king, and what users did after that initial clickthrough was more or less irrelevant. But times have changed.
Google now measures how long users stay on your website after they click through. If too many users bounce right back to the search results after a few seconds, your site will likely be designated as “low quality,” and its ranking will sag.
So how do you get users to stay on your site? There’s no magic bullet here: if you want users to stay on your website, you have to offer that high quality content. Listicles and short videos won’t get the job done in 2019: today, with so much consumer web traffic being driven by cost-conscious and community-minded millennials, the best way to hold onto eyeballs is to provide rich, informative, educational content.
One of the best ways to do that is with longform content. This might seem counterintuitive in an era of reduced attention spans, but the numbers show that most users today want to be educated, and that many websites are seeing great results with pieces of 2,000 words or even longer.
Dense Internal Linking
Another way to boost your SEO is with internal linking. This is effective for two reasons.
One, SEO is an inexact science, and user behavior is hard to predict. Once a user clicks on your link, they may realize that the page they landed on doesn’t offer exactly what they’re looking for. But if you’ve provided a sidebar of related links, there’s a good chance they’ll see something that’s more closely related to their original search, and click through instead of bouncing back to the search results. Considering that Google measures the time users spend on a site after that initial clickthrough, a robust offering of internal links can cut way down on those rank-decreasing bouncebacks.
Second, even that initial click got the user exactly what they were looking for, the right selection of internal linking can entice them to spend more time on your site. Not only does this increase brand awareness for you, but Google notices when users click deeper into a site, and incorporates this information into your authority rating. And having a strong authority rating puts you on the fast track to the top of the rankings.
A Pleasant User Experience
There’s never been more competition for consumer eyeballs. So how your content looks and reads is as important as the substance of that content. If your website is unsightly or clunky, your customers won’t hesitate to click over to a competitor.
If you’re going to follow the trend toward longer content, make sure that your content is readable and unintimidating. Think short paragraphs, punchy sentences, and plenty of white space to give your pages visual appeal. Also consider incorporating visual aids like infographics and short videos to make the material more digestible.
Don’t forget to optimize the nuts and bolts of your website, too. Make sure your site is crawlable by properly naming images, making links relevant, and adding enticing meta descriptions. You’ll also want to make your site loads quickly and smoothly on multiple platforms, from desktop to mobile, and has a reasonable level of security.
Above all, keep in mind that SEO is an ongoing process, and a long one. Google adjusts its algorithm hundreds of times a year, so the results of your SEO adjustments will take a little time to gain traction. Some experts estimate that it can take a full year for the benefits of an SEO campaign to impact your rankings.
Refining your site’s SEO is like climbing a mountain. Be diligent, be consistent, and be patient, keep moving upwards, step by step, and before long, the top will be in sight.