Search engine optimization, or SEO, is often seen as an essential tool for growing your brand awareness. Yet, for many, it seems shrouded in complicated jargon and technical processes that feel out of reach for the average internet user.
Once stripped of the mystery, though, you’ll find that SEO is actually an accessible strategy for anyone. You just need to understand the fundamentals of what Google wants to see in a web page, and how you can optimize your site for the best results.
Google looks at over 900 factors when deciding what pages show up on that highly-coveted first page of results. But don’t worry! You don’t need to know them all—nor could you since Google hasn’t revealed them. What you do need to know is that all of those factors fall into three main SEO categories:
Let’s explore each of these areas and how you can enhance your rankings from each.
When it all boils down, Google wants really great content. When somebody types a query into the search bar, they want to provide users with valuable sources of information to solve their needs. That’s why keyword stuffing can ultimately work against you. Google is smart and they’ve learned how to provide the best results—that’s why they remain the #1 search engine in the world.
Before thinking of your content strategy, you need to first perform some keyword research. Keywords are the building blocks of content SEO. Consider what you want to rank for and the phrases for which you can create high-quality content. Emphasis on high-quality—Google knows if people bounce off a page after three seconds and will penalize those pages accordingly.
When it comes to selecting the right keywords, focus on ones that are medium-length and align with what you have to offer. For instance, a long-tail keyword like "Martha's Vineyard outdoor wedding blue, yellow, and purple” might speak to what a blog post is showing, but it’s far too specific and will drum up no search volume. On the other side of the spectrum, a keyword like “wedding planner” is far too broad and competitive to produce any results. Instead, think of terms that fall in the middle, such as “rehearsal dinner invitations” or “North Chicago elopement photographer.”
Once you have your keywords squared away, it’s time to turn your attention to your website. Do you have content that is already ranking? If so, how can you boost that content by adding to the page and earning backlinks? For other pages, consider the best keywords to sprinkle throughout—just be mindful to keep it flowing organically, as to avoid deterring visitors from your website.
As you update your content SEO strategy, be sure to use Google Search Console to track your success. That way, you can learn, adjust, and grow to see better results.
Earning backlinks is your way of telling Google your website is important. But focusing on off-site SEO shouldn’t become a priority until after your content strategy is in order. After all, if you have great content, people will want to link to those pages and you will naturally receive more traffic and backlinks. And the more backlinks you get, the more page authority you earn with Google.
Getting backlinks doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you may be surprised how easy it can be to reach out to industry partners to offer up a testimonial or guest blog post in exchange for a link to your website! You don’t need a team or SEO agency to accomplish this—all you need is a network of colleagues you can trust.
It’s worth noting that not all backlinks are the same. Google places higher value on those from heavily-trafficked sites, which is why public relations can be invaluable for boosting your SEO. However, be mindful that not all media outlets provide backlinks for sources.
You can (and should) always ask, but there is no guarantee that a press feature will result in SEO gold. That’s why it’s best practice to pair publicity efforts with a more organic approach that is closer to home.
When technical SEO comes up, it’s usually where people start to feel overwhelmed. The good news is that there are only three or four things you need to know about your technical SEO score—and PageSpeed Insights will help you address them all.
Websites that are slow to load or filled with broken 404 links don’t rank well, so a little bit of maintenance can go a long way in improving your performance.
On another technical note, the extent of your website’s internal linking—connecting between the pages—is also factored in by Google. As such, it’s a better practice to have a multi-page website rather than a single-page scroller. Yes, it may be easier to fit everything onto one page, but Google needs more from you.
With those three categories in mind, you’re probably ready to hit the ground running on some website updates. As you prepare to ramp up your SEO, here are five priorities to focus on first:
- Think about the search intent to determine the keywords that will draw people to your website when they look something up on Google.
- Know your most popular pages and where you get the most traffic before thinking about content strategy. It can be more advantageous to update existing content than to create new content.
- Lean into long-form content. Back in the day, 250-300 words was the sweet spot—but now, Google expects content to hit the 1,000-word mark at least.
- Create a written SEO plan with goals. Figure out the tools you will need to pull it off, like Google Analytics, PageSpeed Insight, WordCounter, and various keyword research tools—many of which are free or low-cost.
- Prioritize your initiative. You can’t cover all three SEO categories at once. Start with content SEO, fix any technical issues, then start building up your backlinks.
SEO is about working with the algorithm, so be prepared to experiment and adjust your strategy as you go along. Be mindful that it can take time for your efforts to show results, but with patience, you will see your website traffic and search page rank increase.