What You Need to Know About SEO, But Don’t Want to Ask
Search engine optimization. This marketing discipline focuses on growing the visibility of a business or brand through non-paid search results. These organic results are generated through creative and technical elements that are structured into your website.
When done correctly, you can drive traffic to your site. You can improve site rankings. You begin to build a general awareness of what you offer to people and search engines.
When you start talking about SEO, you’ll find two passionate groups. One side thinks SEO is a complete waste of time and money. The other group believes a website can never maximize its full potential without it.
At the end of the day, the SEO conversation always comes down to the value you provide. If you provide valuable content, then you create more opportunities to be found.
That is something both sides can agree upon.
Evaluating the Different Levels of SEO
You’ve probably found some websites which follow zero SEO principles, yet still rank pretty high for your search terms. That leads to an important question.
Why should I put time or money into SEO when other sites rank without it?
Here’s the deal. There are four different levels of search going on for every search term you use.
The results you generate are based on the assumed needs you have from your current location. Although it doesn’t happen every time, local search tends to be prioritized. That means the most valuable website for a business closest to your current location will achieve a top result on your keyword term.
If there are no valuable local resources that could meet your needs, then the search moves to the best regional option, then the best national option, and so forth.
For most businesses, a focus on local SEO must become the top priority because of this apparent structure. If you know a website with zero optimization ranks highly for your searches, imagine where an optimized site with proven value could rank?That’s why understanding the basics of SEO helps every domain owner. Just adding a few elements to improve the value of your site, for people and search engines, can make a world of difference in the number of organic results that can be produced.
Why Local Search Matters When Building Your Brand
In the 1990s, 97% of people would find local businesses by using the phone book. By the 2000s, 97% of people were using search engines to find local businesses.
Local search matters, even if you’re building a national or international brand because it provides the foundations of optimization. It is based on how your business is able to serve your community.
If you get the search ranking factors right for local users, the content you publish will extend into the other levels of geographic SEO.
What are the factors which influence local rankings?
Nothing is more important than an appropriate category association. When you register your website, especially through a Google local listing, you’ll be asked to pick a primary category. If you serve pizza or pasta, an appropriate category association would be “Italian Restaurants.”Without the proper association, it becomes more difficult for users to find you.
Here are some other factors that should be developed within your content to improve the local search value of your site.
- Your Address. Your physical address in the footer of the website provides authenticity for your business. It is a way to say that you really are who you say you are.
- Citation Consistency. Every listing of your business, no matter where it happens to be, should match the listing you create for yourself. Check various online directories, like the online White Pages, to make sure there are no typos, incorrect phone numbers, or incorrect websites for your business.
- Reviews. The number and quality of your public reviews matters to local search as well. It only takes a handful of reviews to create star ratings on today’s search engines. Always address poor reviews immediately. Encourage customers to leave an expressive review about their experience to improve your SEO as well.
It must be pointed out that testimonials are not the same as a public review.
Testimonials are reviews that you personally collect about your brand. You can make a testimonial say anything you want, any many businesses do just that.
The business writes the testimonial, then asks their customer for permission to use their information with that content. That makes it feel like a review, when really, it is just another form of creative content.
That is why there is so much value placed on native, independent reviews.
Because of that value, there are some agencies which promote the purchase of third-party reviews to boost local SEO as a way to boost other optimization levels. This will not work. Fake reviews, posting reviews yourself, and other spamming techniques offers few benefits for the number of risks involved.
Other techniques to improve local search results through content include using your city within your content naturally or placing products or services in your titles and headings.
Is There Still Value in Keyword Research?
Keywords have never really been about a specific “word.” They are short phrases that are essentially a user question.
If you can anticipate the questions that your potential site visitors would ask, then you can create content which answers them. Providing answers offers value, which is then recognized by the search engine.
More value means better search rankings and results over time.
Here’s the problem: the questions your visitors will ask will change over time. Your content must be able to change with it to remain relevant.
That means you must develop three different categories of content for your website to ensure all your bases are covered.
- Pillar content.
- Evergreen content.
- Present-value content.
Pillar content describes the core of what you do, who you are, and what you hope to accomplish.
Evergreen content provides information that is consistently relevant over long time periods without requiring frequent updates.
Present-value content addresses issues which must be handled immediately and are usually temporary concerns.
70% of searches that search engines process involve long-tail keywords. Instead of searching for “pepperoni pizza,” a long-tail keyword would be, “best pepperoni pizza of all time.”
Although shorter keywords have more monthly searches, long-tail keywords produce better results because there is less competition for them.
To find these keywords, you’ll need to use a research tool which can show you what your competition is using, where they rank, and what alternatives exist for your specific brand or business. This will help you identify under-valued keywords within your industry where content creation could provide you an SEO boost.
Ignoring this process is why many SEO efforts fail. You cannot immediately compete with the value of mass-marketed products from international brands on the most popular keywords. What you can do is be specific with your content, be authoritative with your value propositions, and show interested users your expertise.
Then watch as your organic results begin to build in volume and frequency over time.
4 Ways to Improve Website Value Immediately in SEO
Because search engines rank the value of your site, improving how it performs in 4 key areas can improve the results you achieve almost immediately.
Value is a subjective term, so how it is defined for optimization purposes is also somewhat subjective. We do know, however, that the best websites which achieve the most consistently high rankings have four key elements in common.
- They are extremely easy to understand, with clear navigational instructions for users to follow.
- They provide information that is actionable and direct for the keyword words or phrases related to the user search.
- They are responsive to the browser and device of the visiting user, allowing the information to be easily obtained.
- They offer content that is authentic, credible, and legitimate.
If you can improve how your site functions in just one of these areas, then you immediately improve the value it provides. In return, you may see a boost in site rankings or organic traffic levels.
The first three options are based on the actual structure of the website.
You can create clear menu titles to help users find their way around your site. Provide deep menu access from the primary screen, including sub-menus, for one-click access to the content visitors want immediately.
Templates are available to help your website become responsive immediately. Most templates today, including on drag-and-drop site building platforms, offer responsive options. Then make sure your content is able to provide answers for the search queries that are being initiated.
Most websites have optimized these functions already. That means your core improvements come through content composition.
You can tell if your content is effective because you’ll see three traits develop within your site analytics.
#1. There are linking patterns to your content.
The internet is like one big popularity contents. If more websites link to your content, then it is like they are giving you a vote. More votes for your stuff means a higher rank and more organic traffic. It is a basic principle which still holds true today. If you can build links to your content from sites outside your network, you’ll see success with your SEO efforts.
#2. There is high-quality content available.
Since 2011, Google has used machine evaluation of website content to determine value. If your content is copied from other content, does not use proper sourcing or linking, or takes content from copyright-free directories, then there’s a good chance your site will not be highly ranked. Even product descriptions, taken from a distribution source, can create optimization issues if multiple retailers are posting the exact same content on their platforms.
#3. There are proven levels of engagement.
Search engines also look at value through a user’s time of engagement on a site. If you click on a top-ranked website, then immediately leave that site, it is an indication that the content value there, for you, was low. What a search engine wants to see is a long time of engagement. Longer engagement times on your site can equate to better ranking value too.
To make this happen, you must develop great content. To do that, your mission must be to solve problems for the people who come to your site.If you can do that through your text, digital images, videos, infographics, and other content formats, then over time, your search rankings will improve.
Outdated SEO Techniques You Must Avoid
In the late 1990s, when search engines began to take off in popularity, websites were asked to manually submit their site for evaluation. Once you submitted your information, the search engine would crawl the site in 48-72 hours.
You had to submit a request to every website that you wanted to be found on. If you didn’t submit a request, the search engines wouldn’t acknowledge your existence.
That process was quickly automated. A basic set of value terms was introduced into that valuation process, which could be spammed fairly easily. Unfortunately, many of those spamming techniques still show up in SEO practices, more than 20 years later.
These are the outdated SEO techniques you should avoid, even if a current professional is telling you that your site may benefit from it.
#1. Keyword Stuffing
Search engines used to care about the number of times you mentioned a specific keyword. You could, in fact, rank extremely high by just repeating the same phrase repetitively as your content.
That was then. This is now.
Search engines don’t care about keyword densities or frequencies. They care about authentic, high-quality content.
Your visitors care about authentic content too. If someone reads the same phrase repetitively, it lessens the value of your brand and business.
“Contact your locksmith in Chicago for your locksmithing needs. Your favorite locksmith in Chicago will answer any locksmithing call, day or night. Call your locksmith in Chicago at…”
Can you guess what the targeted keyword is with content like that? Stay away from stuff like this to maximize your SEO.
#2. Paid Link Acquisition
If you visited the average website between 2000-2003, there was a good chance you saw a reciprocal link page. These “exchange programs” were a way to build linking networks that could improve your overall popularity profile.
As search engines evolved, they began to spot trends like this. Instead of looking at the total number of links, they looked at the content value contained within the link.
That means buying links, accessing link farms, or using directory links with pay-for-placement requirements are no longer beneficial to the SEO process.
Think of modern link-building for optimization as a research paper. If you write a good research paper, you’re conducting your own research and listing references and citations within your text. In time, other researchers will compose their own papers and list your work in their references and citations.
When that happens, you have good SEO value. Even if it doesn’t happen, a zero-link value is better than the many negatives associated with manipulative link-building techniques.
#3. Canonized Content
The amount of content you published used to matter. If you had a large volume of content on your site, that meant you had value. No consideration of the actual information contained within the content was used to rank sites.
That has also changed. Content that is affiliate-based with little external value, duplicated content, copied content, or spintax-generated content are all treated as low value. When recognized, it will reduce the overall value of your site, which then reduces your rankings.
Unique content on each page is almost always necessary. This takes time to develop. It can be frustrating sometimes too, because other sites might copy your content directly. As the value algorithms have increased, this is less of a worry. If you published first, you receive the content value equity and the others do not.
The bottom line is this: write content for your visitors. The search engines will recognize this value over time. There are no real shortcuts that provide long-term results.
Understand the Analytics You Should Be Tracking
There are dozens of different metrics you could be tracking for your SEO efforts. In reality, there are 5 specific metrics that will show you the current health of your optimization efforts. Here are the ones you’ll want to monitor closely.
- Search Engine Referrals. 95% of search traffic comes from three search engine providers and accounts for about 35% of all site visits. Knowing where your traffic originates helps you understand your current position. If all referrals drop, you have an accessibility problem. If only one drops, you may have a search-specific issue to address.
- Top Referring Phrases. This metric lets you know what specific terms and keywords are bringing people to your site. You can then structure more present-value content around these terms to boost traffic levels.
- Conversion Rates by Search Query. You’ll discover what search terms lead to the most sales with this metric. This allows you to target the highest-performing queries to boost your revenues over time.
- Search Engine Share. There are numerous search engines available to internet users today. If you keep track of where the majority of your traffic originates, you can identify weaknesses which may exist in your optimization campaign. You create a baseline which allows you to understand the month-to-month health of your site.
- Pages Receiving at Least 1 Visit. SEO performance is monitored by the number of pages that receive referrals. As you add more content to your site, this metric should continue to rise. If it falls, then you know there is an issue with your value proposition.
What about the bounce rate metric? Isn’t this important too?
Your bounce rate is a percentage of people who visit your website, stay on one page, then leave. Although this metric can be important if you have specific landing pages you’re tracking for conversion rates, as a general SEO metric, it is not as important.
Internet users today seek out quick pieces of relevant information. If they find it on your website, then they will have a positive interaction with your brand. They’ll remember this and eventually come back.
Search engine optimization is an ever-evolving practice. What works yesterday does not work today. What works now will probably not work in the future.
That means we must never be fully satisfied with our content or our approach to our visitors and customers. Their needs are also changing over time. We must change too.
It is the process of change which is the essence of SEO techniques. Within the desire to change is a desire to provide value. It is in that value, when it is accurately described, where brand-building success is found.
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