The marketing discipline of search engine optimization (SEO) continues to change rapidly; many marketers can barely keep pace.
Advances in technology and Google’s algorithm updates require businesses to continually optimize their SEO strategy. Complacency can quickly extinguish rankings and online visibility. Since 93% of online experiences begin with search, any business that wants to build a thriving brand online must be familiar with SEO.
The basics can be overwhelming. Here’s what you need to know.
The value of SEO
You may think most people are aware of the importance of SEO and digital marketing. However, marketing CEO Annette Welsford says that’s not the case. “I still encounter business owners using mainly old methods to market themselves. Ads in the Yellow Pages and your local newspaper do not work as well as they used to—it is as simple as that,” Welford explains.
“Marketing is just like technology—it is constantly evolving. So, you have to keep up with what is current and market yourself where people are looking.”
Businesses often don’t know how to differentiate themselves. They try appeal to the whole market and become indistinguishable from their competitors. The focus is largely on acquiring new customers and not enough on repeat business and referrals. A good SEO and digital marketing strategy is centered on reaching the right audience, with the right message, at the right time.
Technical SEO, content and backlinks
In the world of SEO content still reigns king. Search engines reward websites that publish great content. Content helps search engines understand which search queries your website relates to – the most important part of organic search.
Technical optimization then allows webmasters to structure sites in ways that allow search engines to find and prioritize content. Technical optimization can also resolve any penalty devaluations affecting the organic performance of your website.
Backlinks are important too, especially from established and relevant websites. If a site has many authoritative backlinks, it suggests the site is publishing great content – exactly what Google wants to serve to its users. So, in short: content is a necessity to gain visibility within organic search results. Technical optimisation and backlink acquisition further improves the quality signals associated with your website. Together, this ensures that search engines favor content in response to a user’s search query.
Interesting and useful content is now more important than ever. It doesn’t need to be all about products either. In fact, this is one area where the focus should be on interest rather than selling.
Have a look at what larger brands are doing for inspiration: food stores are competing with each other to provide the best recipe and culinary how-to resources, travel companies offer tips and how-to advice, and even ‘drier’ companies (think, home improvement) can liven up their content with fun, listicle type blog posts. The key is content is being used to cater to customer interest – not sales.
White hat vs. Black hat SEO
White hat SEO is a term used for ethical strategies, tactics and practices that improve organic search visibility. Focusing on a human audience rather than search engines, white hat SEO maintains the integrity of your website (and your business), whilst abiding by the rules and policies of search engines.
Generally, white hat SEO is the opposite of black hat SEO, which was very prevalent until 2011. Black hat SEO “techniques include keyword stuffing, invisible text, doorway pages, adding unrelated keywords to the page content or page swapping (changing the webpage entirely after it has been ranked by search engines).” Black hat SEO uses aggressive SEO practices that usually disobey search engine guidelines and focus purely on search engines, rather than real people.
Is SEO all about link building?
Google’s emphasis on backlinks as a ranking factor may have slightly reduced in recent years. That’s not to say that they are no longer important – they are! However, other factors have become increasingly valuable. Therefore balance the contribution of links within your overall organic SEO strategy.
Strive to produce great content that attracts high quality backlinks and user-engagement. Focus your efforts on ‘earning’ links rather than ‘building’ them by taking a user-centric approach to your campaign.
Does PPC help organic search performance?
Running paid search campaigns and building your quality score will not have any direct effect on your SEO performance. PPC advertising (pay-per-click) can, however, complement your SEO strategy where you have less organic visibility, or help dominate SERPs with your brand presence.
If your page ranks in the top five organic results and you have a prominent ad placement in the top three paid listings, you’ll begin to collect a greater number of impressions. This can have a positive effect on brand awareness, which means an increase in brand searches and ultimately more direct traffic. This tends to yield a higher conversion rate than any other marketing channel.
How long will it take to see results with SEO?
In most circumstances, SEO is viewed as a medium to long-term channel. The time that it will take to experience an uplift in performance often depends on your starting point.
Was your website built in a search-friendly manner?
Does it experience technical barriers and obstacles?
Has your domain ever been penalized for breaching Webmaster Guidelines?
Has any previous search engine optimization activity ever occurred and, if so, what did it consist of?
How much time are you willing to invest into your monthly efforts?
All these variables can play a part, and as with anything worth having, good results takes time.
This article has been edited.
Selene Nelson is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. She has worked in digital marketing and copywriting for the past five years and has a passion for writing, reading and travel. Connect with @Selene_Nelson on Twitter.