SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a big subject. If you have a website, chances are you've spent some time thinking about SEO. If you haven't, we should talk. After all, there's no point in having a website if no one can find it. Many small business owners eventually give up on the cost of maintaining a website because they just aren't getting the traffic.
Before you go looking for SEO checklists and start trying to play the game of "what's the latest trick to boost your search engine rankings," you need to understand one thing:
The search engine algorithm wants your website to be safe, trustworthy, and valuable to humans.
It also wants humans to have a good experience.
Bots (aka spiders, or crawlers) crawl the internet for web pages and deliver this data to a big search engine algorithm that analyzes and decides what to show you when you type things like "cute kittens" into your search bar.
How you get your website to show up on that glorious first page of search results is through SEO.
If you're approaching SEO with the idea that you want to game the algorithm and get yourself to the top of the search results, you're doing it backward.
You gain visibility through credibility.
Credibility is why backlinks (aka inbound links) are your SEO bread & butter. It's a "vote" by another website (the more credible that website, the better) that your website is valuable to other humans.
The concept of "credibility indicator" applies heavily to SEO. In business, a credibility indicator might be a five-star review or a certification. A website has its own credibility indicators that affect your rankings, such as:
- SSL (a site with SSL has that little lock icon next to the URL in the browser)
- Easy to find contact information, to include a phone number and address
That's right, in 2020, bots are reading your testimonials.
You gain credibility through quality content and a good experience.
How do you get people to create those bread & butter backlinks to your website? Don't fall for schemes where you pay people to create backlinks for you. That's the sort of activity that tells the algorithm you are spammy or scammy. Real people need to share your website link on other real, credible websites.
How do you get there? Authenticity. The business world is abuzz with the word "authenticity." It applies to your website as well - people and search engine algorithms will see right through "tactics." Some examples of quality content you can craft for your audience are:
- A regularly updated menu on a restaurant website. Useful and shareable.
- A checklist or guide for your niche industry
- A comparison of two things, like WordPress vs SquareSpace (I'll get right on that!)
- A product page, with good photos, a spec sheet, and (real) reviews
A helpful tool to check out what people might find useful is to see what they are searching for: https://answerthepublic.com/
But be careful...
Craft content for your audience - not for your website (or the bots).
You put the content on your website, but the goal is for real people to engage with it. There are a lot of "checklists" and "how-to's" that have no real value. Someone made it because they were checking a box on their SEO optimization list. It's like buying a gift for a friend - you put some thought into it (hopefully). Know your audience, and make something just for them. Don't stuff keywords. Know them, but let them come out naturally in your content. Google's search engine algorithm is smart enough to pick up on synonyms and related concepts.
Deliver a quality experience for real people.
Not only do people who come to your website care about the experience, so do search engine algorithms! You might think, "but how can they tell?" It isn't a robot sitting behind the screen clicking around on the website, right? No, there isn't a robot sitting at a desk analyzing the experience - not yet. We aren't quite to the part in the story where the disgruntled androids take over the world. But the algorithms are smart. And they pay attention to things, like:
- Spacing on mobile menus, so people with fingers can click on the menu item they want
- How fast the page loads and how the content loads, especially for mobile phones
- How understandable the content is
- Whether or not your website is accessible for people with hearing, visual, or physical disabilities
Again, we are talking about search engine algorithms that reward you for prioritizing people (there seems to be a theme, right?). However, we do still have to consider the bots...
Make sure your website's code is talking clearly to the bots.
Many website builders (especially the visual ones in WordPress) don't always talk nicely to the bots. And this does affect your SEO. There are still things like your meta title, header tags, and code-to-content ratio that are crucial. An experienced developer will ensure your code is SEO optimized. And if you're DIY-ing, make sure your platform and template explicitly say that SEO is a priority - and read up on what you need to configure on your end (like image alt tags).
The bots need to read the code, but ultimately it's the person behind the screen that needs to have a good experience.
Put people first, success will follow.