We live in an era where the Merriam Webster dictionary now recognizes the word “Google” as a verb. This is because as the internet has become more and more ubiquitous in our lives, we have become increasingly dependent on search engines, mainly Google, to help us navigate the web and all it has to offer. However, this dependence on Google has also given rise to search engine optimization, also known as SEO.
What is SEO?
Google uses AI algorithms to “crawl” the web and find the content that will provide what searchers seek as quickly as possible. No one knows exactly what this algorithm is, but we have a pretty good idea of what it seeks.
SEO is essentially an attempt to reverse engineer Google’s algorithm so that your content will appear near the top of search engine page results (SERPs).
However, technically speaking, SEO is not exclusive to Google. It also applies to Bing, Yahoo, and other search tools. But Google is exponentially more popular, which is why most SEO experts focus on Google, and that’s what we will do in this article.
Doing SEO Well
Here are some of the most important steps to doing SEO well:
Step 1: Step into Google’s Shoes
Google seeks to make it as easy as possible for people to find the information they seek on the internet. As a result, to rank well in Google, you need to provide that information and then let Google know you have it and are the best person to show it. You do this with:
- Keywords. The actual search terms people use to find information on the internet
- Backlinks. Of all the things that go into search engine rankings, backlinks, meaning links on other sites to your content, are one of the most important. Each links signals to Google that someone else on the internet thinks your content is relevant, and if you get enough links to your site/page, then this will demonstrate you’re an authority and deserve to be near the top of search results. Social media shares also have a similar effect, although links tend to count for more. But not all backlinks are the same. Those that come from high-authority, relevant sites are worth much more than those that come from irrelevant or unknown sites, so keep this in mind as you start building links.
- Relevance. Google doesn’t want people to waste their time. If they put something at the top of search results, it’s because they feel it is relevant and useful. This is usually measured by time on page because this indicates they’ve found the information they were seeking.
- Multimedia. Images and videos tend to make content better. Including them won’t automatically boost your rankings, but if they are high-quality and relevant, they will provide a boost.
- Mobile friendly. Google recognizes that most people surf the web on their phones, which means sites that are optimized for mobile browsing will do better. However, nowadays, most websites do this automatically, but check just in case.
- Load speed. Sites that load faster rank better. This makes sense when you think about it, for people tend to leave sites that don’t load, which reduces time on page and signals to Google that the content is not good.
There are countless other factors in Google’s algorithm, but these are by far the most important. They are combined into a score known as a Domain Authority (DA), or, for specific pages, Page Authority (PA). Typically, the higher your DA and PA, the better your page will do, although this is not a hard and fast rule.
Step 2: Design Content the Right Way
When designing content for the web, you must keep in mind the way people read things on the web, especially because this is also how Google will evaluate your content. Here are some tips to help you create good content that will perform well with search engines:
- Include your target keyword in the title, the first paragraph, the last paragraph, and at least one subheading.
- Shoot for about 1 percent keyword density, but always prioritize writing naturally. If you stuff keywords, you will get punished. Synonyms and related keywords are a good way to improve your content without harming your content.
- Only target a keyword once.
- Use subheadings with related keywords and short paragraphs.
- Include images and edit the “alt text” to include your keyword whenever it is natural to do so.
- Embed videos whenever it makes sense to do so
- Make sure the content reads well and is grammatically correct. Google doesn’t technically look at this, but if readers see bad grammar in the first sentence, they are much more likely to leave, reducing time on page and hurting your rankings.
- Write longer content when it makes sense. Google tends to reward longer pieces, but quality is still always better than quantity, so don’t write more if it’s going to sacrifice the overall article quality.
Do Keyword Research the Right Way
Keyword research is critical to any good SEO strategy. This refers to the process of identifying which keywords you’re going to target.
However, it’s really easy to do keyword research the wrong way, and this can waste time and money. Here are some tips to help you take a good approach:
- Determine the objective of your SEO campaign. Do you want to drive sales? Drive traffic? Get new followers? This matters because if you are going to go after sales, you need to target keywords that people search for when they’re looking to buy, the most common being “Best X for Y,” but “Reviews of…”, “Where to buy…?”, “Comparison,” etc. are also relevant. If you’re just after traffic, you can cast a wider net.
- Be realistic about keyword difficulty and volume. To do keyword research, you’re going to want a keyword tool. Google Keyword Planner is a popular choice because it’s free, but AHRefs is another great option if you’re willing to spend some money. These tools are helpful because they not only help you search for keyword search volume, but they also give you an estimate of how difficult it will be to rank on the first page. If you’re just starting out, go after topics that are relatively uncompetitive, or if you must go after more difficult terms, get ready to build a massive campaign.
- Don’t forget about long-tail keywords. When doing SEO, we tend to get drawn in by terms that promise to deliver tens of thousands of visitors. But the broader the term, the harder it will be to rank for it. For example, ranking for “smartphone” is going to be nearly impossible unless you already have a super high authority site. The alternative is to go after lower-volume, long-tail keywords that are more specific but easier to target. For example, instead of trying to rank for “smartphone,” you could go after, “how to make my smartphone battery last longer.”
Furthermore, you will need to come up with a long list of keywords around which you will create content. But you don’t need to rank for everything. Some posts and pages need to be written about topics relevant to your target keywords so that Google can see which niche you’re in. So, to continue with the smartphone example, you would want to make sure to also have content written about phone carriers, phone features, designs, cases, etc. This will signal to Google what you’re about, which will make it easier to rank for your target keywords.
Invest in Great Content
By now it should be clear that the content on your site must be top-notch if you want to rank well. But you also need links, and this means doing content marketing. You need to either write guest posts for other blogs that are relevant to your niche, or you need to create content you can share and that will attract links on its own.
People have been trying since the beginning of SEO to cheat the system and get lots of links for cheap. Some work, and some don’t, but if your links get identified as scam, you’re in big trouble. As a result, it’s much better to take the high road and just create great content. It might take a little longer, and it will be more expensive, but it will pay off in the end.
To do this, pay writers and other content specialists what they’re worth, and don’t be afraid to pay more for quality. You get what you pay for in this world, and this most certainly applies to the content you create for your SEO campaign.
Entire books have been written about how to do SEO well, so what we’ve discussed is really just the beginning. However, these points are also the building blocks of any good SEO strategy. Learn them well and apply them, but also start training yourself to be patient. It takes at least two to three weeks for Google to notice new links and other changes in your content, and if you’re just starting, it could take up to a year for you to really notice results. But if you create a good plan and stick to it, then SEO can take you and your business everywhere you want to go.