To be completely honest, I absolutely dread writing about search optimization these days.
It almost feels like “SEO” is a curse word since so many companies promise the moon and then hardly deliver anything at all. And the advice seems to be all over the place from one website to the next. It makes learning SEO for a small business owner virtually impossible, but I’m going to fix that today with a down and dirty lesson covering all of the essentials.
And here’s the best news- I’ve already taught you close to 85% of everything you need to know about search optimization. The site with the best content will almost always win.
Now, you’re probably wondering about all the other stuff you’ve been taught over the years; things like keyword density, backlinks, analytics research and meta data. Don’t worry; we will get to all of that in a little while.
Let’s start with how the search engines actually work.
When a user types a word or a phrase into the search engines, the algorithm looks at every possible website for matching results and ranks them accordingly based on over 200 criteria. Here are the top ten factors condensed down to six simple statements-
- The quality of backlinks to the page/website
- The overall page quality and keyword usage
- The readability and uniqueness of the content
- The overall engagement level of the page/site
- The domain name (keyword match, length, etc.)
- The social metrics of the page (shares, likes, etc.)
While there are lots of minor signals in play as well, it is very important to note that three of the top four criteria revolve around your website’s content and how users interact with it. So I’ll say it again- the site with the best overall content almost always wins.
Another thing to keep in mind is that results are not in any way “locked” into the search engines; the results are generated fresh every time a search is made. Your rankings can literally vary from one day to the next…it’s perfectly normal. That’s a good thing though; especially when your site does not rank #1 for its main keywords.
So let’s look closer at the top factors for your website to rank favorably to ensure that you fully understand each requirement.
The most important ranking factor for any website is backlinks; which includes the links pointing to your website and hyperlinks you make to other domains. Think about backlinks like a popularity contest- the best sites around will naturally get mentioned by other domains frequently. So your job is to do three things-
- Build backlinks on popular industry-related websites
- Receive mentions on news sites and other media
- Place links on your site to well-known authorities
Of course, the inbound links to your site are far more valuable. Remember though that where they come from is also a factor in itself; the more popular the site linking to you, the more it helps overall. For example, a backlink in Harvard’s resource directory would be infinitely more valuable than a link from a newly published blog. So as you build backlinks on other sites, it is essential to focus on quality over quantity.
Let’s discuss one more thing about backlinks before we move on. If you have a large number of backlinks from sites that the search engines consider unnatural or spammy, then it can actually hurt your overall ranking. So if you used some of the old-school methods of pumping out backlinks by the thousands, you may want to head over to Google and disavow the ones that are hurting you.
Page Quality, Readability & Unique Content
Your overall page quality consists of all the factors we talked about in chapter three; things like good writing, a clean layout, easy navigation and solid formatting are all important.
This is also where keywords come into play as well, which is something I’d like to talk to you about a little bit since it can be confusing.
Every site has a group of main keywords that it is trying to rank for
- The main industry (possibly with a city as part of the keyword)
- The various products and services that are for sale
- Common phrases people search for in that industry
Here’s the important part though- every unique phrase that you can think of receives its own search results. For example, “Dentist in Dallas” and “Dallas Dentists” means exactly the same thing to you and me, yet its two completely different things in the eyes of Google with drastically different traffic patterns.
So this means two things-
- You could easily end up with dozens of main keywords and variations
- You need a tool like Keyword Elite to help you find the most important ones
In order to rank favorably for all of your main terms, they have to be used throughout the website in all of the most popular variations.
And there is some good news- you probably do that naturally as you talk about the products and services you have available. But this also goes right back to preparing epic amounts of content for your website; that’s how we get all those different variations of keywords into play naturally.
There are many ways to make your keywords even more prominent- that’s what lesson 7 is all about.
Engagement Levels & Social Signals
Over the past several years, the search engines have slowly been moving away from the importance that’s placed on backlinks because it can easily be manipulated. So instead of focusing on your website itself, they look to see how visitors interact with your content to get a more complete picture of how good your site is.
Here are just a few of the engagement factors that are measured in SEO rankings-
- The amount of daily traffic/visitors
- The average time spent on-site
- The total amount of pages visited
- The amount of new visitors to your domain
- Overall bounce rates (bounce= leaving before visiting a 2nd page)
- Where the visitor enters your domain from
- The last page the visitor viewed before leaving
- Where the visitor goes after leaving your domain
- Likes, shares, tweets, etc.
Since most of these metrics are very hard to fake in large quantities, it gives the search engines a crystal clear picture about which of your pages people enjoy and how they interact with your website. So your #1 job as a marketer is always to focus on creating engagement. In the next few years, this will likely become the most important metric for SEO by a pretty wide margin.
Finally, we have your domain name as a ranking signal. Years ago, buying a domain like InternetMarketing.com all but guaranteed excellent search placement for that particular key phrase. And to some extent, exact phrase domains still perform fairly well today…but it probably makes up less than 3-5% of your overall SEO score.
Now, if you’re in a very competitive local niche for something like an electrician, then it would make absolute sense to buy the domain DallasElecrtician.com (or whatever town you’re in) if it’s available. The extra little boost in rankings could be enough to move you from #3 in the results page to #1, but it will not just make your site magically jump over hundreds of competitors without some serious content in place.
So there are two schools of thought on domain names-
- Make your business name the website’s domain name (ex. ThePhoenixGroup.com)
- Make the domain name a popular phrase from your industry (ex. RentalEquipment.com)
Whichever method you ultimately choose, know that either one has the opportunity to rank well as long as you focus on the other factors mentioned in this lesson. Or you can do both; buy the industry-specific domain name and have it redirect to your main website. Then you have the best of both worlds…but it’s definitely not a necessity.