After years of hanging out on the relative obscurity of page 5, I’ve finally bumped my search rankings up to page 2! Obviously, there’s more to do. I’m still working to attain that desirable first page spot, and to achieve it for a wider range of keywords. But I thought I’d take this opportunity to celebrate and to tell you which SEO techniques worked for me.
Search Engine Optimization – an Overview
If you’re already lost, have no fear! I’m no SEO expert so if I can understand it, so can you.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of making your website/blog/content user friendly.
But… what about the “search engines”? That’s perhaps my favorite part of some of the recent developments in this field. SEO used to be comprised of mysterious algorithms and what worked one month would fail the next. Websites could achieve high rankings by hiding keywords in white on a white background – invisible to the viewer but alluring to search engines.
There are still tricks of this nature, often called “black hat SEO.” But search engines have gotten a lot smarter and they catch on to these kinds of tricks about as fast as people can invent them. The ultimate goal for Google or Bing is to provide a good experience for their users, so they want to pull up the most usable and informative websites possible.
So all I have to do is be user-friendly and informative?
Yes and no. Content does take first priority in your search rankings at this current time. So what you write and how you write it is the most important thing. You’ve probably heard the saying “content is king.” BUT there are also a seemingly infinite number of things you can do on the back end to optimize both for Google and for your users.
Speaking of Content</h3
We’ll start with content because it’s the easiest thing to implement if you’re not tech-savvy or don’t have access to the back end of your website.
Keywords and Title Tags
Your keywords should be the search terms you think people will use to look for your services. My primary keyword (or phrase, I suppose) is “graphic design Newark, DE” because trying to compete with every person and resource that uses the phrase graphic design is just unrealistic. But I can make myself available to people looking for a designer in their area.
Once you figure out what your keywords should be, you’ll want to use them throughout your content. There are a lot of tools available for keyword research, as well, but I’ll be honest. I haven’t utilized any of these thus far and have had pretty decent luck just brainstorming the search terms I think my clients will use to search for the services I’m providing.
This means in your title tags (aka headers and subheaders), in the body content, and in your meta data, which I’ll get to in a minute. You don’t want to go crazy with keywords, like “SEO Tips to Optimize SEO for Your Website’s SEO” both because it doesn’t read well for visitors and because search engines are smart enough to realize you’re BS-ing. But if your content is about that topic, it’s not hard to include those words naturally, in a way that will read well for your viewers.
Remember, search engines are looking for the best experience for their users, so put the users’ needs first.
Blogging and New Content
Content is king (yep – there’s that phrase again), which can make it tricky for a small company or startup who doesn’t really need more than 3 or 4 pages to explain what they do. And even the most beautifully optimized website has limits when the content is static. Blogging solves both those problems by providing fresh, new content every so often and giving you a chance to add more detail on your main topics and keywords.
I worked my butt off to optimize my website and, while page 5 was pretty decent for a new business, the rise to page 2 didn’t happen until I started blogging (along with a few other changes, of course). I also make a point of sharing my blog posts every 2 weeks on social media so that I’ve got traffic coming in from those sources, as well as search engines.
The Back End
This is where I’ll get a little more technical.
If you, or a web designer, is building your website from scratch, it’s important to utilize meta tags properly. Meta data doesn’t have quite the impact it used to, BUT it can harm you if done improperly. The title and description show up in search engine results, so those need to include your keywords and be readable by humans. 123 Reg has a great breakdown for how to use and format meta tags but…
If you use WordPress, Yoast is a fantastic plugin that lets you edit meta data WITHOUT having to know any code. I actually use Yoast for the WordPress portion of my site (the blog) and then hand code the rest of it. Yoast is amazing because it scores your SEO and the readability of your content as you write it. Even after reading tutorial after tutorial about writing title tags, I still adjusted the way I formatted everything after using Yoast for a couple weeks.
In addition to all the content and keyword optimization you do, your website has to function well. Remember all that stuff about focusing on the user? Well if your website is slow, doesn’t provide a good mobile experience, or there are HTML/CSS errors on the pages, they won’t rank as well (or at all). Google is even starting to give precedence to websites that utilize security (https vs http). Part of the reason the Yoast plugin focuses on readability is because being able to easily read your content factors into SEO just like the actual words used.
External Sources of SEO
Other people could, and have, written lengthy tutorials on the subject of backlinking. I’ll be honest; I haven’t done a whole lot with this but the concept is pretty simple. The more websites link to your site, and the higher the quality of those links (trustworthy sites rather than spammy ones), the more it boosts your SEO. I do think having several social media accounts that link to my website helps, as well as the links I get from each client website I design. You could probably do even more with links from well-known blogs by guest-posting and submitting articles to help sites.
My Favorite SEO Resources
If you came here looking for the short answer to improve SEO, it’s reading. I can’t even tell you how many tutorials I’ve read at this point but I am including a list of the ones I’ve found most helpful:
- A Rookie’s Guide to SEO: 8 Simple SEO Tweaks You Can Make in a Day by The Branded Solopreneur (WordPress)
- SEO for WordPress: Boost Your Traffic in 7 Simple Ways by Shaylee Smith (also WordPress)
- 20+ Effective Tips to Drive More Traffic from Search Engines by Twelveskip (this one is long but super thorough)
Hopefully this gives you a basic idea of what SEO is and a few places to get started making improvements on your own website. Good luck optimizing!