Search Engine Optimization: The Basics

seoWhat is search engine optimization (SEO)? And why is it so important to your business?

SEO is the process of maximizing the visibility of an organization’s online content (e.g. web site, blog, video, etc.) in a search engine’s “organic” (unpaid) results. In a recent webinar, Hubspot Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrella said that “without a doubt, organic search rankings are viewed as more trustworthy than pay-per-click (or paid) advertising”.

From a business standpoint, search engine optimization (SEO) is about generating inbound leads. Inbound leads are generally more qualified because searchers are actively seeking specific products or services.

The higher the content is ranked on search engine results pages, the more visitors it will attract. In an extensive study released by Optify, it was determined that 60% of click-throughs, the number of people who click on a link when it appears in search engine results, go to the top three ranked links.

This is why SEO must be an integral part of any business development strategy. But how do you do it effectively in order to raise your ranking and to get your fair share of inbound leads? Successful SEO requires a two-pronged approach: On-Page and Off-Page.

ON-PAGE SEO: Is your website RELEVANT to what your prospects are searching for?

On-page SEO starts with keywords, the common language between searchers, search engines, and web sites. To increase the chances of your website showing up on the first page of a search engine’s results, you must structure it around keywords that drive traffic. Your main navigation and web site pages must be aligned with keyword categories that make it clear to search engines what the pages are all about.

Along with web site structure, there are on-page “must-do’s”.

Page Title
Appears at the top of an open browser page and corresponding browser tabs. Best practice is to keep your titles under 70 characters and to start with keywords.

SEO friendly URLs
Customize your page URL’s to be keyword rich and separated-by-dashes.

H1 Headings
The main headline of your page. H1 Headings must be keyword rich.

Meta Description
A brief, concise summary of your page content (150 characters max.). Try to be consistent across all of your website pages.

Meta Keywords
List of keywords to indicate what your web page is about (5-8 meta-keywords maximum).

Optimized Images
Include keyword rich “alt-tags” on any images. Alt-tags are titles or brief descriptions of the image. Search engines cannot read images, but they can detect alt-tags.

Optimized Content and Internal Links
Use keyword variations in any of the following ways to offer variety:
Singular versus plural
Change the word order
Long-tail (multiple word) keywords
Bolded phrases

OFF-PAGE SEO: Does your online community view you as an AUTHORITY?

Link Building is the process of building quality, relevant links to your website, resulting in online authority and higher search rankings. Search engines are placing more weighting on what others think of you, versus what you say about yourself. Therefore, having links to your site from credible sources is extremely important for search engine rankings.

The key to effective link building is to identify your link targets, prioritize them, build relationships and develop them over time. Start with the obvious ones such as directories and associations, and work on the more difficult, higher value, links over time.

Examples of link sources are:
Blogs
Directories
Suppliers/Partners
Press Releases
Reviews
Associations

White Hat versus Black Hat SEO

There is a right way and a wrong way to perform search engine optimization; methods that search engines recommend, and those techniques of which search engines do not approve. These two approaches have been classified as White Hat SEO and Black Hat SEO. If you are employing a third party to assist with your search engine rankings, you must make sure they are committed to White Hat practices.

White Hat SEO is about creating and sharing valuable content for communities of interest – in other words, being good online citizens. SEO activities are considered white hat if they conform to search engines guidelines and involve no deception. You must do what the search engines require and expect, but not make them the primary audience. “Over-optimizing” is considered bad practice.

Black Hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are discredited by search engines. Black hat techniques can include using keywords that are only visible to search engines, or using “link farms” that provide links deemed as useless. Anything that is done to gain favour with search engines, but creates no value for searchers, is viewed as black hat.

Search engines may penalize sites they discover using black hat methods, either by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from their databases altogether. Such penalties can be applied automatically, or by a manual site review.

Search engine optimization must be part of any organization’s lead generation tactics and marketing priorities. If prospects are searching for what you do online, and they don’t find you, it’s a missed opportunity. And with more potential buyers going online every day, it is imperative to be visible in search results.