SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a popular buzzword; unlike some digital trends, I don’t imagine the SEO hype dying down any time soon. It is ultimately an unbiased, rigorous test of your website and online presence that determines if you are worthy of ranking for specific internet searches.
Google’s search algorithm is something of great wonder and mystery (at this point it’s self-learning, and no one person at Google knows every bit of it), but if I had to chalk it up to one thing, it would be to simply “have a good website.” This sounds too easy, and in concept it is. A lot of what is making websites rank so high is the quantity and quality of their content, and how people are interacting with it. If the thousands of parameters tell Google that people are getting a good experience out of your website based on their search, your site should rank for that search.
There are of course a lot of backend steps you can take to improve your search ranking, and I beg you not to skip those. However, in this article we will take a look at some of the front-end steps you can take to make sure you are ranking for the right keywords on Google.
- Understand your consumer profile, and tailor your content to that
- Optimize your website navigation
- Create fresh, unique, and relevant content
- Earn Your Links
- Build your social media presence
A good place to start is by answering the question, “Who am I targeting?” You will need to have a firm, realistic, and accurate idea of who your ideal consumer is, their needs, and how they are searching for solutions to meet these needs. If you haven’t already, you should draft up a profile for your ideal consumer; give them a name, hobbies, interests, and personality. Identify what their pain points are as it relates to your product, and how they may go about trying to find a fix. Your website and SEO strategy should be centered around this person. Now, it is possible – rather, likely - that you have more than one ideal consumer “profile,” and this is fine! It will just be a little more challenging as you must keep them all in mind when approaching your content strategy.
Strategic use of keywords
Once you have your consumer profile, you must now ask yourself, “How is a potential customer searching for me?” You will need to figure out what keywords you should focus on, and create your content around them. This is where things start to get a little more challenging, and you likely will have to do some research. You can use tools such as Google Analytics and Search Console, ask your existing customers, or even make an educated guess and tweak it over time. If you have a sales team, this can also be a useful resource for putting yourself in the shoes of a customer who is in the beginning stages of the customer life cycle.
So, what is your ideal customer searching for in order to find the products you have to offer? PC Repair in New Jersey? Custom ballet shoes? Dog grooming in New York using all natural shampoos? Whatever the case, you must take these keywords and build your content around them. Focus your photos on them, write articles addressing them, and use them appropriately around your website.
For example, if consumers are looking for all natural dog grooming services in NY, be sure to state this explicitly in your website. A great way to generate content around keywords is to write articles. “5 benefits to using all natural shampoo when grooming your dog,” or “What it’s like being an all natural dog groomer in New York.” Be sure to include your selected keywords in your URLs, Site Title, Description, Header Tags (H1, H2, etc), alt tags, and naturally throughout your content.
Let’s take the example of Sarah’s All Natural Dog Shampoo:
If you are stumbling to figure out what keywords people are using, take a step back for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer. Ask yourself, “How would Martha search for my products if she didn’t already know about my company?” Here is a trick I learned along the way: try out a couple of searches, and on the result’s page look at Google’s “related searches” and “people also ask” sections toward the bottom of the page. These could give you some ideas that you may not have thought of.
Don’t be spammy
When placing keywords throughout your site, make sure you aren’t being spammy about it. The keywords shouldn’t be forced, they should flow naturally and make sense with the content surrounding them. Overuse of keywords can actually hurt your SEO if it takes away from the quality of your content.
Is your content delivering on said keywords?
All of this said, make sure to use your keywords appropriately. When developing content around keywords, make sure you’re asking yourself the question “are consumers getting the information they were looking for?”
Having the keywords placed about your website will accomplish the first step of telling Google that your website is a good match for the consumer’s search term, but will quickly lead downhill if that content doesn’t deliver. I will discuss “good” content later in this article, but keep in mind that if a consumer comes to your website based on the keywords you have placed, but your content isn’t good enough to keep them around, they will leave your website quickly and this will tell google that you’re in fact not a good match for those keywords, ultimately lowering your ranking.
Good content + strategic placing of keywords throughout that content = consumers who spend a lot of time browsing your website, and a better SEO ranking (in theory).
You got the consumer to your website, now what? Unfortunately, you won’t be there to tell them where to go, so it will need to be intuitive or you risk a high bounce rate and a lower ranking.
Have a navigation menu that’s easy to find, and clearly lists the different sections of your website
Your website’s main navigation should optimally be placed at the top of your website, and should have some familiar links such as “About” and “Contact”. Try to avoid confusing words or phrases, and don’t over complicate things. Stick to the basics that consumers will be familiar with. No need to reinvent the wheel here.
Put information consumers are seeking on the pages they would expect to find it on
Always be asking yourself, “what information is my ideal customer looking for?” and “how would they think to find it?” For example, don’t hide your contact information in your About page.
Include a search function
The more content you have, the harder it may be for someone to find what they are looking for. If that content is necessary, don’t reduce it, but make it easier to find by including a search function. This is especially vital if you are including ecommerce on your website or have a large number of articles.
Make use of your header tags and bold font
You have to make your content easy to digest, especially in the fast-moving digital world we live in today. A key component of doing this is using header tags / stand out formatting for headers and sub headers. Organize your content with header tags so visitors don’t have to read through blocks of text to find what they were looking for. And don’t be afraid to bold key points!
Have someone test out your website
This is probably one of the most important points, and something that is seldom done. You should always have someone test your website and give feedback on the experience they had. What were they able to find? What weren’t they able to find? Did anything not look or feel right? This not only can give you ideas for content you may be lacking, but also may help you discover flaws in your website’s navigation.
If you have the resources, it would be beneficial to hire someone, or several people, to test your website out. There is even eye-tracking software now that can show you exactly where someone is looking as they navigate your site. This article, “15 Companies That Will Pay You to Test Websites from Home,” may be geared toward the testers, but could be a good place to start if you are looking to hire website testers through a third party.
Just like a doorknob, your website navigation must be intuitive. If someone cannot figure out where to find what they are looking for, they are likely to leave your site quickly, consequently telling Google to rank your website lower.
Part of building your SEO is as “simple” as creating content consumers would love. While your content does include your staple webpages (Home, About, Contact, Services, etc.), having a blog or updates section of your website where you can post regular articles is incredibly helpful. This process starts with keywords, as I mentioned before, and using them to decide on what your content should focus around. Now, it’s time to deliver!
This part is probably the hardest for most people (myself included!), especially if you don’t have a team to support you. Creating content can be time consuming if content creation isn’t your primary job role. One step I recommend is to create a content calendar. Schedule some time to generate a list of content ideas, and spread them out over the next couple months in a manner that you can sustain. You don’t have to update every day, but if you can commit to one article every one or two weeks, commit to it and keep consistent. Creating the calendar in advance will help you keep to this.
This helps your SEO in a couple of ways. For one, Google likes it when a website updates regularly; it tells them that your website isn’t stale, and is more likely to give consumers accurate, rather than outdated, information. It also creates a better experience for consumers, keeps them coming back to your website, and gives them content (with your domain) to share on social media (we’ll talk about this more later in the article). It also helps establish you as a trustable source.
Consider hiring a copywriter
If you find yourself underequipped to produce content on a regular basis, or if you just aren’t good at writing, consider hiring a copywriter to create content for you. Not only could it save you a great deal of time that may be better spent on other aspects of your business, but if you are not comfortable with writing it will likely create a better reading experience for consumers. Happy readers stay on your site longer, improve your SEO, and increase the likelihood of them purchasing your product.
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. High School teachers have access to technology that checks your work for plagiarism… you think Google doesn’t? In this case it’s not so much the problem of stealing (but please, don’t steal other peoples’ content); from an SEO perspective, it tells Google that your content is stale and unoriginal, not good news for your ranking. If you want to quote someone from another website or article, that’s fine, just try not to do it too often. Make sure to have enough of your own original content to outweigh the quotes. And please, please always give credit where credit is due! That one is just coming from a moral standpoint. To my knowledge Google isn’t in the business of calling out plagiarism.
Additionally, this originality rule applies to your own content; try not to use copy+paste too often throughout your website. Even though you wrote it, so it’s fine to reuse, too much of the same text throughout your content will again tell Google that you are stale and irrelevant. It also will diminish the consumer experience if they see the same blocks of text splattered throughout your site.
Give readers the option to subscribe
If you do produce articles on your website, and have a regular posting schedule, why not give people the option to subscribe to updates? This not only enables you to build a prospect list, but also makes it easier to drive core readers to your website every time you post something new. Quality web traffic = better SEO ranking.
Please, please don’t use clickbait
This is in part a personal qualm I have, but it can also hurt your SEO if you use clickbait titles for your content. It may get people to your article, but more often than not they won’t stick around. Most often clickbaity titles do nothing more but give false promises; if people click through and are then disappointed with the content, be prepared for a high bounce rate.
Instead, use quality titles; make sure to let readers know what to expect, and keep your keywords in mind. Without quality titles, it is hard to say that people will want to click through, or be able to find your content in the first place. Make sure your title A.) is unique/eye catching B.) is explicit in what you deliver and C.) includes relevant keywords.
Does your content deliver?
This is essentially what it comes down to: are consumers happy with your content? Did they get what they came for? Will they to recommend your content to others? All of these questions you should be keeping in mind and striving to answer confidently with a “yes.”
If you were around in the digital arena when SEO just came about, you may remember some of the more sketchy tactics professionals would use to more or less trick the ranking algorithm into ranking them higher. I’m thinking specifically of link farms, websites you could pay to backlink to your website, in hopes of improving your ranking. Luckily, Google has vastly improved their algorithm, and tactics like this will actually hurt you now. However, the basic concept of having other websites linking to yours is still around.
If you have relationships with other companies that have quality websites, it wouldn’t hurt to see if they could link to your site in a meaningful way. Perhaps they can mention you in a blog article, or give you a shout out on social media. As long as it isn’t spammy, having your website linked to from other quality sources tells Google that you are relevant and trustable, and will help out your SEO.
Another component of this is having sharable content, and people then sharing that content on social media. Each share is another small indication to Google that you’re doing something right.
In addition to having sharable content, you must dive into social media and make yourself available to consumers in as many ways that 1.) make sense for your ideal customers and 2.) you are able to maintain given your resources. And don’t just set up the accounts, use them regularly. Use them to answer consumer questions, interact with others in the industry, and share updates on your company and website. Social media is especially useful for sharing new content or articles you publish, and getting those juicy juicy re-shares. The larger your social media following and number of interactions, the more opportunities you have to get quality links and show Google you are a trustable source to send its searchers to.
Once again it boils down to whether or not Google thinks your content delivers. Establishing your brand on social media and building a following on there, so long as it’s not spammy, will help you out in Google’s rankings. Just make sure you social media accounts are properly linked to your website, or it may all be for naught. Make sure to list your social media on your website, list your website on your social media, and if possible use consistent usernames.
Based on my experience, these are five key points that should be useful in helping you improve your SEO on the front-end, especially if you don’t have coding experience.