Conventional wisdom says “if you build it, they will come”, but that doesn’t really work online. The number of websites competing for visitors boggles the mind. With over 20 billion webpages indexed by Google at the time of writing (!), even if you have the most spectacularly well-designed and useful website, it will quickly be buried among your competitors.
That is, unless you promote it using search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization or “SEO” is a process that enhances “free” and “organic” (unpaid) traffic by taking advantage of the algorithms used by Google, Bing and other search engines. Search engines are in competition with each other to provide web surfers with the most accurate and useful results. They achieve this with a set of algorithms designed to recognize focused, high-value content while filtering out spam and highly promotional material. See the chart below from Search Engine Land for a summary of the major factors to focus on for search engine ranking success.
Used effectively, SEO is a powerful tool. It allows you to tailor your website to “communicate” with search engines by designing your content to be attractive to the algorithms. By doing so, you can ensure that your page ranks highly in search engines results, which in turn increases traffic and consequently sales. There are 6 key factors in the execution of an effective SEO campaign:
1. Be Targeted. Since search engines use keywords to recognize whether your page is relevant to a user’s search query, it’s important to use the appropriate keywords in your content in order to attract your target audience. If you attract the wrong visitors, they will quickly return to the search results page, in what is called a ‘bounce’. If your site has too many bounces, search engines may conclude that your site is not relevant to the search query (keyword) and thus will rank you lower in their results. Search engines will also penalize you for using too many keywords – this is called “keyword stuffing” and is considered a form of spam. Using targeted keywords will keep your site visitors, and the search engines, happy.
2. Be Linked. As in any industry, external sources show legitimacy. Search engines will favour pages which have more external relevant links pointing to them, so cultivating authoritative backlinks can add a lot of weight to your SEO strategy. Keep in mind that the sources of these links are ranked by the same criteria as your page, so be sure to prioritize quality over quantity.
3. Be Social. Mentions in social media also add value and validity to your site in the eyes of search engines. Social backlinks pointing to your content on your website or your blog will act as social signals, building more visibility and help boost your ranking in search results. Be social and be seen!
4. Be Visual. YouTube is second only to Google in the total number of searches per day. Google (which owns YouTube) often gives preferential treatment to videos by including them on the first page of Google searches. You can optimize your videos by uploading them to YouTube and including the relevant keywords in the video’s title and description, thus boosting your presence on the first page of search results.
5. Be Ethical. SEO strategies can be lumped into two broad categories: “White Hat” and “Black Hat”. All of the recommended techniques above are “White Hat” or “ethical” SEO practices. Black Hat practices are designed to take advantages of loopholes in search engine algorithms and include keyword stuffing and various techniques for deceiving search engines into mistaking a spam website for a high-value website. If a search engine discovers that you are using Black Hat practices on your website, they could ban your site from their database and you may never recover.
6. Be Adaptive. Another way that search engines fight Black Hat SEO practices is by updating their algorithms to detect such practices and penalize the associated sites accordingly. In fact, search engines constantly update their algorithms in an effort to bring the most useful and high-value results to their users. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said that in 2010 alone Google updated their algorithms over 500 times. This means that the best SEO practices today may not be the best practices next year, and the only way to remain highly ranked in search engine results is to frequently re-evaluate your SEO strategy, allow it to evolve according to its needs and to closely follow the SEO best practices at all time.
These 6 SEO guidelines only skim the surface of search engine optimization. There are many more factors which can influence your SEO success, both positively and negatively. Familiarizing yourself with all of them is a big step towards building your business’s success.