So you’ve gone through the seemingly endless stages of creating a website. You’ve brainstormed, mapped, wireframed, designed, programmed, tested, fixed and launched your website. But what good is a website if it doesn’t show up in search results of engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo? How can you stand out against your competitors?
One approach is search engine optimization (SEO).
As with most marketing techniques, SEO is evolving. Gone are the days when an SEO expert could quickly manipulate algorithms to ensure a website would be at the top of Google’s rankings. The algorithms have gotten smarter, and the skills required to execute a successful SEO campaign have gotten more advanced. Newer, more efficient practices are less manipulative and more constructive. In other words, an SEO expert understands it’s more about making websites accessible and transparent to search engines than relying on cursory, temporary search engine manipulation tactics.
It’s really no surprise that the Internet is the single largest sales and marketing channel, and search engines have become the No. 1 tool for consumers as well as businesses to gain information on prospective services and goods providers. As a result, search rankings are highly competitive, and the longer you wait to implement a comprehensive SEO strategy, the tougher it will be to stand out.
SO, WHAT IS SEO EXACTLY?
In a nutshell, SEO is the process of improving your website’s visibility in organic (unpaid) search results primarily through optimization of the website’s content, coding and external backlink profile. To really understand SEO, however, we first need to take a look at the search engines and how they analyze pages. Search engines represent a system of bots that crawl the Web and index content according to keywords, which are determined based on the words used in metadata (e.g., titles, URLs, etc.) and content. Once a website is indexed for keywords, the actual search engine ranking of its pages is determined by the quality and quantity of inbound links as well as approximately 200(!) other minor ranking factors.
SEO involves a search engine visibility analysis (all of your content should be indexed, not just some of it); keyword research and optimization (all of your content should be indexed for the most relevant and high-volume keywords); as well as link building (your content should be shared and linked to give your site authority).
In response to a high number of over-optimized, low-quality websites, in 2011, Google introduced its Panda algorithm update. The idea with Panda was to reward quality content as opposed to rewarding content riddled with keywords and optimized links. The Panda update was later followed by Penguin and Hummingbird updates that made search engine algorithms even more sophisticated in determining high-quality websites by analyzing the quality of their backlinks and user experience. With search engine algorithms getting smarter, it’s now more important than ever to provide helpful, shareable content and to find the best way to tell a story while avoiding search engine manipulation that could result in penalties by Google.
Google’s algorithm updates have made optimization loopholes ineffective by raising content standards. Social media is now becoming an important variable in organic SEO as it helps to spread content faster than traditional media channels. Although social media backlinks do not contribute directly to the overall website’s quality, they may help to get sites noticed and gain valuable high-quality links, boosting the website’s reputation. It’s through platforms like Facebook and Twitter that content is spread through their easy sharing capabilities. While keywords still factor into page ranking, their value diminishes without quality subject matter.
HOW WILL IT AFFECT MY BOTTOM LINE?
If an SEO campaign is implemented and maintained properly, the process can have a dramatic effect on the amount of traffic directed to your website. One of the first steps in any inbound marketing effort is making your company and its services readily available.
A primary function of marketing today is helping you stand out from all the companies (your competitors included) making noise online. A good marketer will help you engage your audience, share your message and build a following. It’s a difficult task that marketing communications agencies tackle with many different effective tools—not least of which is SEO.