SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, it’s the stuff that helps search engines like Google find your website when users go looking for content like yours. Seems simple, right? Well, it can take a mixture of art and science to prepare a site to compete for the top spot on the search results list – and more importantly, to put your content in front of the people who are looking for it! Here’s a brief introduction to SEO.
A brief history of SEO
The algorithms comprising search engines today are amazingly sophisticated, but in the early days, things were a lot simpler. They looked to match your search query with an identical string of text on a website. That led to a lot of unscrupulous sites stuffing all kinds of common queries into their keyword tags or embedding that text in the footer of a page, often in a tiny font the same colour as the footer making it functionally invisible. That left a user on a page that may have had nothing to do with what they expected to find, which created frustrating user experiences. Today, search engines consider a wide range of signals, along with user intent, to serve up the best possible matches. They evaluate everything from the speed that a website loads and how long it’s been around to the amount of content it contains, along with the location of the user doing the search, among other elements, in determining which sites to serve up first on the results page.
The mechanics of your site matter when you’re trying to boost your ranking. If your page loads slowly or isn’t optimized for mobile (Google rewards mobile-friendly sites!), your ranking will drop. Technical SEO is the most obvious place to start to determine how likely a user will see your site when searching. A competent webmaster will be able to ensure your site’s code is working with you, rather than against you! Fixing dead links, adding alt tags to images and using meaningful file names is a good place to start boosting your technical SEO.
Content optimization is a more complex process but can have a noticeable impact on your search ranking. Where technical SEO can be described as a process that helps your overall site ranking, content SEO is an exercise that is specific to the exact queries you imagine your users will use to find you.
That may involve some research to understand what people search for in your business niche. For example, say you sell safety equipment. You may refer to one of your products as “protective eye wear,” but if your potential clients search using the phrase “safety glasses,” they may not find you. If no one finds your site by querying “protective eye wear”, then having a page that relies heavily on using that phrase doesn’t help you very much. But resist the urge to just wedge “safety glasses” into the content! Many websites have tried to game Google by including odd or unusual phrases in their content only to find that their ranking doesn’t improve. Why? Because Google rewards sites that are readable and consumable by humans, meaning that it penalizes content that is awkwardly stilted. Google’s reputation rests on serving up the best possible content to its users, after all!
So optimizing your content for SEO means having a clear understanding of what users are looking for and providing clear, readable, authoritative information on your site. Having multiple pages with near-identical content, too little content, or content that sits in isolation (that is, content no one else has linked to from their sites) will drop your ranking.
Many small businesses rely heavily on local traffic to their websites and stores, and Google recognizes this fact. If a user searches for “sandwich shops” (even if they don’t explicitly say “near me”), Google knows that they are unlikely to be interested in sandwiches in another city or country. So, if you hope to get foot traffic to your restaurant, you need to make sure that your address and operating hours are correctly coded on your site – and that you’ve optimized for that keyword, even if sandwiches are not your only product.
Recently, I was in a local strip mall shortly before lunch, and I asked Google to show me nearby sandwich shops. Unsurprisingly, the Tim Horton’s in the strip mall was the first result returned. What surprised me, however, was that the shop selling wraps and the one selling shawarma did not get returned, even though they were in the same strip mall! Where Tim’s was optimizing content for one of their products, the wrap and shwarma shops were not thinking like a possible customer – they didn’t consider that someone could begin a search with a generic term similar to their products and then get interested in their specific wares.
SEO is a complex and demanding process that requires both attention to tiny details on your website as well as the ability to imagine how a new customer might think: what content might they need to know to understand your products and how might they describe your services as non-experts. Understanding search trends and ways you can promote your content (without necessarily spending money on advertising) and expertise might require that you bring someone in to help you.
If you’re interested in improving how your website ranks for your products and services, why not contact us for an SEO audit and discuss a custom solution?