Having people visit your website is one of the hardest things about being online. You can do paid advertising but that will only get you so far and often are not the key people you are looking for. When it comes to search engines you have paid and organic with organic being the free part of the search engines. Today we are going to talk about the organic parts of search engine optimization or SEO. Everything we outline is items you can do yourself (e.g. you do not have to hire a company like JM2 Webdesigners & Marketing out of Valparaiso Indiana – we hope you do but we know not everyone has the money and does have the time to do it themselves).
When it comes to the search engines the very first thing we want to be very clear on is you will not have an overnight success with your results. It takes time. This time sometimes will feel like an eternity and the more patient you are the better. If you want immediate results you do paid but we are talking about free and organic growth here. Often you do a combination but we will not get into that tactic here so be patient, don't waiver (wavering is bad!).
The first step you need to do is "make a plan". Yes, you always hear this but having a plan is critical to your success. The core items to think about in this plan is setting goals (what you wish to achieve), budget (your time isn't free nor is the person you have doing it), how you will achieve the results, who will be doing the updates and changes (there will be many), defining your audience (analytics will help you verify you are hitting the right audience), and social media plan (yes this is extremely important to your overall plan – don't focus on just one medium).
You most likely already have your website. If not, then use this as your basis. If you do have a website which will be most people reading this article you should make note that everything discussed is the search engine best practices and not everything you should do. By doing what we've defined below you will have built a solid foundation to continue your efforts and grow on the search engines. When it comes to the search engines there is no "magic bullet" that will give you page 1, position 1. What you need to do is be (1) consistent, (2) provide quality, (3) write for the user and not the search engines, and (4) answer the questions your visitors are looking for.
The absolute first thing you need to do, even before you start planning, is to setup your analytics. This is free (awesome price!!!). We always start out with Google Analytics who is the leader in this space, especially since we are talking free. There are many great paid programs that can cost tens of thousands of dollars but for the small and growing business you do not need this. To start you will need a Gmail email account and then you will go to https://www.google.com/analytics/ to setup your free analytics account. In most cases if you had someone help you build your website they will have done this step for you.
Note: Read NAP and security below before creating your analytics as we want you to be consistent.
Name, Address and Phone Number or NAP
You know your business name, you know your address (you can hide it if you work out of your home), and your phone number. There are a few key things you want to think about as you do this entire process. Your NAP needs a lot (like perfect) consistency. This is on your website, pages you create, your signature in your email, etc. NAP allows Google to learn about you even when your web address is not used. This means be consistent 100% of the time. Key items to think about are:
- JM2 Webdesigners
- JM2 Marketing
- JM2 Webdesigners & Marketing
- With or without ", Inc", ", LLC", ", Inc.", etc.
- 403 Lincolnway
- 403 E Lincolnway
- 403 East Lincolnway
- Using Zip or Zip+4
- Phone Number – Choose how your phone number is displayed
- (855) 456-2669
- 855 456 2669
- Then you have with and without the country code (e.g. 1-855-456-2669)
We all want our information to be secured and our customers to trust that we will keep it secured. The first step beyond keeping your website updated and patched is to have a TLS or SSL certificate. TLS is the naming convention you should use as it's the newest but many today will refer to SSL as this is the name we've almost all become accustomed to. This is the green padlock that appears on your website. Every page, yes every page, should be encrypted with the TLS certificate. Google Chrome, and other browsers, will mark your site as "insecure" or "not secure" if your pages are not encrypted. Modern web browsers have already started this for pages that have password or credit card fields and soon will be doing so for every page. Plus, having the green padlock will help you on the search engines.
Note: Whenever you link to your website always lead it with the S (e.g. https and not just http). Start your users off with the S (secure) which will also help your website load faster (speed is king when it comes to the search engines – and your users).
Adding planning after telling you to do a few steps may seem counterproductive to a solid SEO strategy and in some way, you are right but in this case, you wouldn't be. The reasoning is the planning and strategy can take a while to achieve. By setting up your analytics first you can start gathering information while you develop your plan.
Your plan should encompass how you plan to market your website. This would be what you define your website from a purpose standpoint. Is your website an electronic brochure, customer portal, lead generation, eCommerce, customer support, or does it have another overall purpose? How often does your information change (change is good on the search engines)? Who will be updating the information and how often (monthly at a minimum). Some might say even weekly but realistically unless you hire a company to do your SEO the odds of you consistently doing weekly we know are slim to none. This will hurt your SEO efforts a small amount (not a ton). At a minimum do it monthly! Key items you will look for each month are:
- Analytics – what pages are being looked at, what keywords are being used (this also tells you the keyword phrases that are not being used), how many visitors, browser types (desktop, tablet, and mobile), screen sizes, times of the day, and age/gender/demographics (if you enabled – this isn't 100% accurate) are the most common areas to start looking
- Broken Links – covered more below
- New/updated content – covered more below
- Keep your URL's on your website short and simple. If your site structure is domain.com/A/B/C/D/E/F/G/H you are going to confuse your users. You should never go more than 3 layers deep (e.g. domain.com/Products/Category/ProductName). Your URL also should never be over 2,000 characters but in our book we state your URL should never be over 200 characters.
- Use friendly URL's on your website. If you have a page about yellow sponges don't put yellowspongesarelarge. Try breaking it up into something a person can read. Two ways are:
Own your business
You may think you own your business, but do you? You may own the name, your LLC or INC but what about your listings on the internet. There may be many but the one we are going to focus on is your Google Business listing. Yes, we are referring to Google a lot here and there is reasoning for it. Google is the leader and by adhering to their best practices that we cover here you will be able to achieve success on the other search engines like Yahoo!, Bing, and even AOL (yes it still exists). To claim your Google Business Listing go to https://www.google.com/business/ and click on the Green "Start Now" button.
Quality Content & Page length
Your content is why people are coming to your site. Having solely pictures will hurt you. Have the bare minimum amount of text will hurt you. When we create websites the hardest part of the entire project isn't the design, layout, or colors. The hardest part is creating/receiving the content of the site. It is this content that makes or breaks a website. Content seems like the easiest thing in the world until you have to start creating it. In fact, this is the fourth revision of this article (the others all went to the chopping block with the first one being over twenty pages long). We still think it's long but covers only the most basic of items.
What makes quality content?
Quality content is content that is:
- Human readable – not written to manipulate the search engines
- Answers a specific question. Think of each page of your website as a chapter in a book. Each chapter answers a specific topic. If you need more topics, create more pages on your website.
- Is not SPAM. When we speak of spam this means your page should not have the same word/phrases over and over again to try and rise on the search engines.
- Be between 1,000 and 2,000 characters in length. You can go more or less if the page requires it but strive to be 1-2 printed pages. If you need a lot more – create a new page.
When we were talking about quality content we stated that it needed to be human readable. Part of being human readable is that everything is spelt correctly. In fact, the information should also read well in a consistent "voice". Every page on your site whether written by just one person or multiple people should sound as if it is written by one person. The exception here is a blog which should have the tone and voice of the writer while maintaining the character, branding, and theme of the overall website.
Your website should be fast! This is one place to not sacrifice. You won't get a speeding ticket for speeding here and in many cases, will be rewarded for being fast. Ways to be fast is keep your pages short and concise, images optimized (covered below), and take away those distracting animations (unless they add value!!!).
Images & Alternate Text
Below are the major tips to optimize your images and improve your SEO.
- Images of your website should not be the size of a billboard. If you need them that big utilize a thumbnail, make the user click on it, and then load. Images that big will take a bit of time to load and remember speed is critical.
- Use the right image type. There are four major types of images.
- JPG – Great for pictures with no transparent background.
- PNG – Great for images that have a transparent background.
- GIF – Great for images that have a transparent background (if you can't use PNG) or if the image itself is animated.
- SVG – SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics and are "flat" images that are not pictures, are two-dimensional, and scale greatly. Logos are a great example of what SVG's can be. There are exceptions to this but most logos are basic and concise two-dimensional objects.
- Make certain you compress your images to the smallest size possible
- Behind every image is a description of what that image is. No matter the size you should have a description. If the image is just a blue dot then label it "blue dot" or something similar. If the image is a picture label it "girl and boy playing frisbee with their dog in the park".
When you have links on your website the text that is used is called "anchor text". Do not use anchor text that just says "click here". Utilize text that says "Click here to learn new principles regarding SEO". This uses keywords as part of the link. A key item to remember is part of that anchor text should also exist on the page you are going to. Don't mention SEO if your page is about puppies.
When your website starts out hopefully you don't have any broken links. Broken links are when you click on a link on your website (or another website that leads to yours) and the page displays the dreaded 404 message. A 404 message is stating the page you are trying to reach cannot be found. When the link is within your website and under your control it is easy to fix. Make the change within your content management system or CMS and save. If the link is on another site and you don't have control then one of the best ways is to create a page that matches the link that is being used. You can find out these links from your analytics.
When it comes to "secret information" or information that is shown "behind the scenes" of webpages this information is called META information. Modern META information is also called structured META data. We are only going to talk about the two main kinds that should be the easiest for you to cover and a third which is no longer used but people still believe it is a critical part of the search engines.
Every page has a title. Consider this the chapter of a book. This title should explain to the user in less than 70 characters (more is allowed but how many book titles do you know that are longer?) and clearly state what the page is about.
The other is a description that explains in greater detail what the page is about. You are allowed more text but only include what you need and don't write a book as the search engines will cutoff information that goes too long. Try to start around 120 characters here.
The third area is a META called "keywords". Keywords back in the 1990's was huge and big. The purpose was to tell people about what the page is about. The unfortunate happened where people lied and falsified what this information is. After years of the search engines tell people to be honest they basically said "fine you win". We won't use it anymore. This is when content started becoming big on pages as within the content the search engines can garner the meaning of what the page is about. You can fill this information in but the key here is the only purpose of this information is for your own benefit. It doesn't help you on the search engines today thanks to people who lied.
Black Hat SEO
Being we just talked about lying let's cover a topic that you will hear. This is called black hat SEO. In a nutshell, black hat SEO is lying and trying to cheat the system. People use black hat SEO as it a business move their website up the search engines at a pace much faster than the normal organic pace. Sounds great, right? It is, but you will be penalized for it.
We had a client that we were doing SEO for. After six months, we got them to page 1, position 1. Sounds great again, right? Can't get higher organically and they owned not just one phrase but a dozen phrases at that spot. Now insert shady graphic designer who came in and promised them even better results. The person implemented several and within a month they were now ranking for another dozen phrases on top of the dozen we helped them get too (in six months). So far seems great…. This is where the trouble came in. Google did an update (they do them once a month or more) and the business dropped to page 10, yes page 10, for every phrase (the original 12 and the new 12). Google learned and incorporated some new rules that penalized businesses for using black hat SEO. The company after 2 years was still on page 10. After being penalized you have to fix it and then "ask for forgiveness" (they never did that).
Do not, again do not, look for those quick fixes. You will benefit (almost always) but the penalties will cost you more in the long run and organic SEO is about the long run and not the "quick win".
A key part of a great SEO strategy is blogging. You'll note we said great SEO strategy and not just a good one. A blog is critical to change. Often when a website is created the core business products and services are covered. Not much on those changes are going to change monthly, quarterly, or annually. A blog though can and should change. This is where you let your expertise shine through. For an effective blog you need the following:
- Consistency – Post at a minimum of once per month. Weekly is the holy grail of blog posting. If you do miss do not apologize for being busy.
- Length – Like the length of your pages you should strive for between 1,000 and 2,000 words. There are exceptions, like this blog, that is long.
- Picture – Have a picture that conveys what the blog is about. You can also include more pictures in the blog article IF they help tell the story. Videos can be shown too but remember that once someone starts to watch a video they will most likely stop reading your blog article.
Other Tips & Tricks
We've covered a lot and here are some other key take-a-ways and tips that will help:
- Have on every page the following
- Name, Address, and Phone Number (remember NAP)
- A great way to be found for "restaurants near me" is to have your latitude / longitude saved in your META information.
- Note: Replace restaurants with your industry keyword phrase that you want to be found under.
- Keyword phrase
- Being found for bike is not likely to happen
- Being found for bike repair in Valparaiso Indiana is more likely to happen
- Voice search
- People are using Siri and other voice assistants to search the internet. People are more verbal. Make certain when you create your great content that you think about the people doing voice search and not just written search.
We are going to end here as we are just over 3,200 words and we don't want to overwhelm you. What we just covered is the foundational elements for organic SEO and to move up. As with anything worth achieving in life the harder you work and the more time you put into something the more you will get out of it. Patience and diligence is key to the success of your SEO. We know you can do it and we know that if you want to move up and be found on the search engines you are willing to put the effort toward it.
If you feel the above is time consuming you are right. If you want to focus on your business and not the search engines let the team at JM2 Webdesigners & Marketing help you. We are here for you and will be glad to assist.