As a business owner, if you’re going to grow your business online, chances are you’re going to depend on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! to deliver a large portion of your new business opportunities. I’m going to tell you what search engine optimization (seo) is, what you should know in order to use this important information to your advantage, and give you a list of free tools you can use today to understand your current search engine optimization status.
What is SEO?
It’s no secret that Google is the number one search engine used on the internet. I know my personal preference is Google and with a bit of research, it’s confirmed that I’m not alone. According to an article by Search Engine Watch in January 2015, Google’s share of the U.S. search market is 75.2%.
A search query is essentially a question requiring an answer. A user types their query (aka question) into a search engine and a innumerable amount of behind the scenes steps are taken in order to bring the user the most relevant answer. As part of this algorithm to deliver the most relevant answers to the question asked, websites must make it easy for search engines to determine how their content fits in, and more importantly when and where their website should appear in the results (known as search engine page ranking).
If you type in Google Search “Michigan Beaches” you expect to see a list of beaches located in Michigan, not beaches in Florida or California.
Key rules are followed in order for a website to appear as a relevant result and also in that first page of search results.
What Should You Know About SEO?
Here’s a simple list of important information to get you started in understanding SEO.
— SEO is a long-term effort used to build website authority and rankings over time
— Search engines read billions of pages of content with programs called Spiders
— Key phrases help determine relevance, like “Michigan Beaches”
— Website images, pages, and structure have influence on page rankings
— A solid organic SEO strategy focuses on visibility, authority, and quality writing
How to Use SEO to Your Advantage
The main goal of search engines is to deliver the most relevant results back to the user’s search query. Sounds simple enough right?
Let’s examine what you need to include on your website to ensure that search engines know that you have information that’s relevant to certain search queries.
Odds are that if you have a website, you have a defined focus on what you are offering as a business. This definition is key to further optimizing your website for search engines.
Tell a search engine what it is that your business is all about so that it can serve your information back to users when it’s relevant.
Let’s start with an example: “As a garden shop owner, I specialize in selling organic vegetable seeds and hand painted garden decorations.”
Do The Work: Try this quick exercise to help define your business focus into simply keywords and later in this blog post, you will use this as a guide for your first SEO implementation: …As a…I specialize in…
Optimize Your Website’s Homepage
Start with your homepage and work through each page on your website keeping in mind the checklist below. Let’s start at the beginning — Does your homepage on your website contain the following:
— Page Title (65 characters or less, plus a keyword)
— 500 words or more on the page
— One of the keywords you mention in your Specialize exercise results from above is in your content on the page
— All images have an ALT tag (if it’s a garden gnome, tell Google through the use of an ALT tag that’s what it is)
— Meta Description (brief sentence of 160 characters about your website, plus a keyword)
Based on your specialized service or product offering, take a look at your exercise from above and dive in deeper to understand if your focus keywords are terms the public uses when searching.
Do The Work: Begin your own research by typing in your keyword terms into Google or Bing. Do you see relevant results? Chances are, you are seeing plenty of results. This can be overwhelming, but know it’s a good thing.
Now, let’s go a step further and understand what keywords people are using to find your website today.
Do The Work: Mine your Google Analytics account go to”Traffic Sources”>>”Keywords”>>”Non-paid”. Review the list and confirm that your keywords are on the right track with what your business is specializing in.
Note: if you’re not currently familiar with website analytics, read my article on Website Metrics 101, where I detail the importance of understanding what people are looking for and how they are engaging with your website.
Offer Quality Content
Content is the main reason people and search engines want to go to your website. It’s about creating your own content that relates to your audience and by offering content to support solutions to organic vegetable seed growers for example, this increases your website’s relevancy on the topic of your keyword “organic vegetable seeds”.
On your website, are you relying on an overview brochure to explain your service offerings? Today, that’s not enough for search engines or more importantly your audience.
Do The Work: Create one landing page dedicated to one of your focus keywords from above.
Tools to Use Today to Understand Your Website’s SEO
Google Search Console
The Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) is a place all website owners should visit regularly as it contains free tools and resources to help you monitor your website’s performance in Google Search. While the console may seem overwhelming, know it’s important and well worth your effort. Google Search Console helps you understand how Google crawls, analyzes, and indexes your website. This tool is great for ensuring Google is aware of your website and it also highlights problems with your website that may hurt your rankings.
Do The Work: Get access to Google Search Console. If your website uses WordPress, go to “Appearance”>>”Editor” and find your header.php file. Within in this file you can place the Google required meta tag to verify your ownership of your website as an alternate and quick method.
Know the Technicalities
How do I know if Google indexes my website?
The first resource is Google itself; do a search and determine if your website is found. If not, don’t panic.
— Simply add your website to Google’s index by submitting your website URL to Google.
— Submit your website’s sitemap to Google; this helps Google better understand how to crawl (remember the Spider above) your website and in essence it’s a directory of all site pages that search engine’s need to visit regularly. A sitemap can be easily created with XML-Sitemaps free tool.
If you use WordPress, I highly recommend downloading the plugin for Yoast SEO and using the XML Sitemap creator tool.
Keyword Search Tool
How do I know what people are searching?
Semrush is a complete keyword research tool and it’s one of my top tools in my digital marketing toolbox that I use frequently. You can use this tool mulitple ways; 1) Enter your website URL or the individual URL of a blog post to learn the keywords you are currently ranking for and 2) Enter your specialized keywords to view the search volume and related keywords that you should consider adding to your website.
In my next blog post in the SEO series, I will help you learn how to track your top keyword performance in search engine rankings with the use of a free tool.