When I first started this blog in May, I didn't know what SEO stood for, and yet, it kept popping up everywhere. After I finally learned what it was - Search Engine Optimization - I pretty much left my education on the topic at that. There were many pieces involved in starting a blog, and thinking at all about Search Engine Optimization felt overwhelming and too technical for me. Plus, amidst the many parts to put together, creating good content seemed like it should be the overwhelming priority.
Now that I'm almost nine months in, I figured it's time that I knew more on the topic. I've read a number of articles, gone through a free online course and played with some SEO tools. After doing that, my biggest takeaway is that good, consistent content is the best way to drive traffic to your site. That said, there are some things you can do to use SEO to drive targeted traffic to your site or business.
What Exactly is SEO or Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization is a marketing strategy focused on increasing a website's visibility in search engine results. While there are many ways to drive traffic to your website, the majority of traffic comes from search engines. As a result, improving your results in these searches can have a significant impact on driving visitors to your site or business. And even better, search engines drive targeted visitors to your site, which are the best kind to have.
As anyone who's ever done a Google search before knows, there are tons of results for pretty much any search you can think of. However, most of us don't look beyond the first ten or so hits. Results are ranked by search engines by relevance and popularity.
SEO is simply the discipline of understanding how search engines rank sites and then working to improve your site's standing in those search engine results. Effective SEO can lead to a significant increase in your website's or business's visibility.
How do search engines work?
Warning: this is going to be an extremely rudimentary explanation of how search engines work; I read and digested only the most basic understanding of this, desperately trying to grasp enough to help me with SEO. Here's what I've got.
Step 1, appropriately enough, is crawling. Search engines' first job is creating an index of all sites on the web, which is done through the process of crawling. The lingo seems to be that "spiders" or "bots" crawl the internet indexing all sites that they come across. I like to literally visualize spiders crawling through all the nooks and crannies of the internet and making a list of what they find, which I think is close enough to understanding what's happening when web crawler programs scan the web and index what they find.
Step 2. Once the crawlers find websites, they then store information from the site in an index. This indexed information is then used to respond to search queries by creating a ranked list of results. The results are ordered based on relevance, as determined by an algorithm. While a lot of different factors go into the algorithm, they can mostly be boiled down to relevance and popularity - i.e., is the content on the page relevant to the search, based on key words, titles, subtitles, and/or images? Are lots of other credible sites linking to the content? If so, it's probably a good answer to the search query.
There's obviously more to how search engines work than that, but that's my very elementary understanding of it. Next, how to use this information to improve your site's ranking.
4 Easy Steps to Immediately Improve Your Website's Ranking in Search Engine Results
1. Know what your target market is looking for before you begin creating content
Content is still king. High-quality content will lead to improved rankings in search engines. One important way to ensure you're delivering good content is to begin the process by asking what your target market is looking for.
There are three typical queries that people make in search engines: (1) do queries - I want to do something; (2) know queries - I want to know something; or (3) queries for a particular place - I want to go to a specific business or location.
When creating content, think about your target market - what type of query might your target market make and how will your content be the answer to that question? Starting your process this way will help to ensure that you're consistently producing high-quality content that people are looking for and want to read.
2. Strategically Use Keywords
Keyword, like SEO, is a word that I hear and immediately get overwhelmed by. Keywords are an important piece of driving search traffic AND a whole area of SEO strategy and knowledge in and of themselves. That said, here are some easy steps that you use can use immediately to start being more strategic with keywords:
While you don't want your use of keywords to be forced or overstated, using them in these places throughout your content can lead to significant improvement in your results.
3. Have both internal and external links
One way to increase your site's perceived popularity, in the eyes of search engines, is by having both internal and external links in your content. Internal links are links to other pages of your site and are relatively easy to do. When working towards this piece, simply have the goal of creating good content, that is connected and is easy to navigate. Once you've done that, just add the actual hyperlinks and you're in business.
Less easy to implement but also important are external links, i.e. links from other pages, to your site. Adding to the difficulty of this part, all linking sites are not equal; rather, higher quality linking sites will have more of impact on your rankings than lower quality sites. For example, me linking your page might not be that important to the search engine's algorithm, but if the New York Times links to you, that'll bring a good boost. There are various strategies to try to get external links, but the same basic principle holds that good content will lead to good links.
If you don't have them already, go ahead and add internal links to your content now. As you go forward, have external links in mind and strategize ways you can begin building quality external links.
4. Use Image Titles and ALT Text
The pictures that you have on your site can have an impact on your ranking. To help maximize this impact, there are two easy things that you can do right now. First, give your image a title, ideally using keywords. Second, use ALT Text descriptors. DO NOT STOP READING HERE OR PANIC. ALT Text is simply a description of what the image is and it helps those web crawlers or spiders to better know how to index what is in your image. Ideally, use key words in your ALT Text. Note: I do my posts on Weebly, and there is a button on the image options where you can enter the ALT text. It is easy, user-friendly and not at all technical.
Ah, deep breaths. We have all made it through an introduction to SEO, and I've got a few action steps to immediately implement. Hopefully you do too and we'll all begin to see some results from this.
Up next, once I get the nerve, are some of the more complex pieces of search engine optimization. Meta descriptions, H2 tags and clean URLS, I'm coming for you!
Future Conversationalist is my quest to stay (somewhat) relevant as a thirty-something, working, mom of two. Focused on arts, entertainment, and general trends, Future Conversationalist seeks to be informative and entertaining. I hope you enjoy the topics - and please send ideas or tips for future articles. I am very reader driven and educated, so the more feedback the better. Thanks for reading and being a part of this community.