SEO: An Introduction to the Basics
If you’re new to website development or looking for information to best optimize your website, all of the information on SEO available can be a little scary. We break down SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and give you a crash course on the basics in this article. You’ll be able to find how optimized your website SEO is, and make it better if necessary.
What is SEO, and Why Does it Matter?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is used to make website pages more visible when people are using search engines. If you have great SEO, your website shows up at the top of the page when people search for what you do. A plastics manufacturer, for example, wants to show up when people search for ‘plastics manufacturing’.
An optimized website means the right people are finding their way to your site, and you get more traffic over time. The more people that see your site, the more likely someone will buy from you. SEO ensures you get the best traffic, since visitors are already searching for your industry.
SEO is based on a lot of factors, both on your page and from links to your page from other places on the internet. Some of these you can control, some depend on other factors. You should optimize the things you can control, and do your best on the things you can’t.
Parts of SEO
On Page / On Site SEO
On Page SEO is one of the biggest factors affecting your site’s rankings on search engine results. It affects the search engine result rankings more than anything else, so always optimize it to target keywords.
Your on page / on site SEO is all of the information coded into the site. This includes all of the words in an article, all of the sidebar information, everything on the page of the website. When the website developer codes the site, site titles are presented cleanly to the search engines and it is clear what each page of a site is about.
There are many facets of on page / on site SEO, and they all serve different functions.
The meta title of a webpage is one of the most important parts of the site from an SEO standpoint. When you hover your cursor over the browser tab, the text you see there is the meta title. See the above image for an example of what it looks like.
It is the first thing google and other search engines look at when returning search results, and should reflect the page contents. Through the use of good meta titles, you tell google what your page is about so they show it to the right people.
Say your company is a plastics manufacturer in the Northeast United States named ‘Plastics McFakeCompanyName’. A good meta title for your home page would be “Plastics McFakeCompanyName – Plastics manufacturing and molding in the Northeast United States”. It gives both your company name and a description of your business. A bad meta title would be “Plastics”, which gives almost no information. Anyone searching for your company by name has a harder time finding you if your meta title is not optimized.
Never leave the meta title blank. It is a vital piece of information that search engines need, and your rankings can fall if it is not optimized.
To see if your page is optimized, go to your homepage and hover over the tab to see the meta title. If it’s blank or vague, then your page probably isn’t optimized. When you go to your ‘about us’ page and the meta title is just ‘about us’, that’s not optimized. Every page should have a meta title detailing the specifics of the page.
On our site we have a free tool for auditing your website’s SEO. To use it, put in your URL and you’ll get a report on the SEO optimization. Or if you want to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we can give you a more in depth report and go over it with you.
Off Site / Off Page SEO
Your off page / off site SEO is composed of all backlinks leading to your website from other places on the internet. If someone mentions you in a blog post and links to your website, that’s a backlink. Backlinks are relevant because they show how much traffic you’re getting from outside sources, and Google sees them as other people verifying your credentials and authority to talk about what your website talks about.
By creating content, you’re creating more and more places for other people to link back to. For every piece of content you produce, it should have it’s own landing page on your website so people can link directly to it. Content creation helps to increase your page’s traffic quite a bit, as it encourages other people to link to it.
Backlinking was incredibly popular 5-10 years ago, as a way to ‘hack’ the google algorithms and drive a lot of traffic to a page quickly. The more backlinks, the higher google ranked pages, since the agorithims saw it as more reputable. Google knows that trick now, so you will get penalized if you go crazy with backlinks. Be wary of people or marketing firms that say they’ll drive yourtraffic by creating backlinks, since it is now ineffective and will result in your site being penalized if Google notices.
Focus on getting higher quality links, instead of a large number of them. Publications in your industry are a great place to be linked from, as well as other sources like newspapers and blogs focused on your trade. If you get three really good backlinks from three great publications, that does more than 500 backlinks going nowhere.
Organic Rankings for SEO
When you search for a phrase, you’ll typically get a list of search engine results. There are maybe 2-3 ads at the top and then websites related to your search phrases. Organic rankings are where a website is ‘ranked’ in that list, with the best spots being at the top of the list, since they’re more likely to be clicked. They’re called ‘organic’ because sites have to rank based on their SEO, not how much they pay to be at the top. You can pay to be at the top of the results, but those sites have the ‘advertisement’ tag and most people ignore them.
If you were to put your own company name into a search engine, your site should be at the top. Do it now, and see whether or not you actually show up in the rankings. Are you on the first page? Second? If you’re searching for your company name and you’re not the very top spot, your SEO is in serious need of some TLC. Ranking for keywords is a little harder, since more sites are trying to rank for ‘plastics manufacturing’ than for your company name.
To take a look at a broad overview of your rankings, look at google analytics. If you don’t have google analytics set up for your site, do that first. Google Analytics is free and it’s one of the best tools to look at your website traffic. Go to your account and find how many people visit your site from organic search traffic. Organic search traffic is great because if you’re ranking for the right keyword, you’re already getting traffic looking to purchase your services. You should be putting effort into making your organic search traffic go up over time.
The other thing you can do is look at the information available on what keywords your competition ranks for in search engine results. Agencies like ours can provide a more in-depth report on what your main competitors rank for, since we have web tools that allow us to see where they are. For a shorthand version, start putting in search phrases and seeing where you rank and where they rank for the things you compete on. If you’re higher than they are, that’s good, if not, you need to work on your SEO.
The Two Types of Competitors You Face with SEO
For all companies, there are two broad types of competition – those you compete with in person, and those you compete with in search engine rankings. The second category may not be one you’re aware of, but it is equally important to take care of.
If you search for your industry, does your website appear? If not, than who does? Businesses pop up you may never have heard of, but they take traffic away from your site. You compete with them for traffic, and should be aware of that competition as much as you are with your in-person competitors.
Even if you don’t do any business against them directly, be aware of your competitors in keyword search phrases. Keep an eye on your rankings and their rankings, and see what they do. If you come to an agency like ours, we can tell you what they’re trying to rank for organically, what they’re trying to achieve, so you can better plan your strategy. We can look at what percent of their traffic comes from search engine results, what position they are for each result, and what they’re aiming for.
Optimizing Your Keyword Phrases
Once you know what your competition aims at, pick phrases to aim for. Optimizing specific pages of your website pushes you towards the top of the search results, since you can optimize different pages to rank for different phrases. Say you do plastics molding and specialty prototyping. If you wanted to push your keyword ranking up, one page of your site should just focus on the phrase “Custom plastics prototyping”, while another page focuses on “plastics molding”. With the two pages targeted at different phrases, they would rank higher when people search for those phrases. Both pages add together to push your homepage higher up for any related keywords.
Use all tools available to hone in on the best phrases to reach for. Don’t just go by your instincts, ask other people to help find the best keywords. In the example above, the head of a company focused on plastics prototyping might be unable to distinguish between the knowledge of someone in the industry for 30 years and what the average person knows. If there’s a specific type of plastic used in all prototypes called “bestplastic”, it wouldn’t necessarily be the best idea to go after that name. People searching for a prototype may have no idea where to start, so they wouldn’t know that kind of plastic was the best. The best option might be to rank for “best plastic to use in prototyping” and then have all the reasons why “bestplastic” is clearly the top choice.
Look at what google autofills in the search bar. The autofill suggestions tell you what people are searching for, and what you should aim at ranking for. You can also search for a keyword and scroll to the bottom of the first page. There is usually a list of related searches, and that list gives a good idea of popular phrasings for searches. Frequently, those give a much better picture of what to aim at.
The way google ranks pages means all the individual pages of a website add together for the homepage. More individual pages on a site dedicated to specific keywords means more push towards the top. Have a page for every service or product you do on your website, and optimize them for each service.
If you’re making and distributing content (and you should be!), apply keyword optimization to that as well. Instead of writing an article on what you think people want to read, try to find out what people search for. Write an article on topics with higher search volume and you generate more traffic.
Take The SEO Basics and Do Something With Them
We threw a lot of information at you, and now it’s your turn. Take what we taught you and do something with it. Go over your company website and make sure you know what pages are driving at specific keywords and phrases. Do some research into what phrases you should aim at. Write content based on keywords google says get traffic.
Don’t procrastinate. Don’t talk yourself out of it. If your website isn’t doing everything it can to drive new business into your sales funnel, it needs to change. Do the best for your company and optimize your website so you have the best chance to get new customers coming to you.