If your company or brand has an online presence, it’s likely you’ve heard recommendations to improve your search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a board term for a lot of different strategies and techniques for making it clear to the search engines that a site is a good resource and therefore worth ranking highly in search results. Done right, SEO will increase your website’s chances of showing up in organic search engine results. These are the sites recommended by the search engine, rather than the paid results. Each search engine uses a different algorithm to filter the list of results when a user enters a certain keyword, location, or phrase. The goal of the algorithm is to provide the best search results. By implementing various SEO tools, techniques, and strategies you can increase the chances that your site will appear in top results. MLT Group provides expert services for digital marketing, content creation, and organic, white hat, SEO.
While the help of a digital marketing and SEO provider will likely be the most effective way to increase your audience, grow your brand, and improve your user interactions, there are many ways to improve your own SEO. To start your understanding of SEO, it’s important to differentiate between good and bad practices.
White Hat vs. Black Hat
Practices for SEO are often labeled either “white hat” and “black hat.” SEO techniques that are white hat are the ones you should utilize. These good SEO practices follow search engine rules and are implemented to help users and bring better value to search results. Black hat SEO, on the other hand, attempts to trick search engines, spam results, and manipulate users. These practices can be effective in increasing site traffic, but if you get caught, your website will be penalized. Penalized sites are often removed from any search results or blacklisted in other ways. Black hat SEO is also widely considered unethical business behavior.
Each search engine has a set of principles on which they base their search result algorithms. Not only do search engines want to help websites that use white hat SEO practices, they also often offer SEO guidance and tools to increase your own abilities. For example, Google has a helpful community search console, analytics that can track traffic, and many other products available to website owners, largely free of charge.
The algorithms change over time and vary between search engines, but for the most part, they will include the following for site owners to follow:
- build your website for users and not for search engines
- don’t trick or lie to users or search engines
- use white hat SEO
- create a website that is valuable and unique (don’t duplicate content)
- build your website to be clear, accessible, and relevant
- incorporate social media platforms
- build a fast-loading website
- avoid automatically-generated content
- don’t hide text or links
- do not cloak your website so search engines see different content than users
- do not duplicate your own content
- don’t overfill or “stuff” keywords into your content
- have short, descriptive URLs that include relevant keywords
- do not have non-character letters in your URL
- insure that title tags, description tags, H1s and H2s include relevant keywords/keyphrases
- add relevant original content to your site regularly
- encourage related sites to link back to your site
There are many other SEO techniques and practices that you can utilize to make your site more attractive to search engines, but these general rules can get you started. It’s a good idea to thoroughly read the fine print of Google’s guidelines as well. Google is by far the search engine that will impact your SEO tactics the most.
How Search Engines Work
There are three steps to how search engines work to find and sort search results. They use site crawling to analyze content on the internet, looking over the code and content of each website. Crawling bots examine keywords, the date content was published, URLs, duplications, and much more to determine which sites best fit a user search. This determination process is a part of their indexing.
When search engines index pages, they are organizing, categorizing, and storing all the information gathered. Indexed content is then available for search engines to rank when a query is made. Ranking is triggered with a search, and the engine will provide results in an order that answers the query according to their algorithm. With SEO, you are providing information to crawling bots that can change how your site is indexed and ranked.
There are ways to see how much of your content is indexed in a search engine. With Google, if you enter into the search bar “site:yoursite,” Google will tell you the number of hits that come up. The social media platform of instagram.com brings up about 631 million hits. Our site, mltgroup.com, brings up 940 hits. You can also use the Google Search Console to get more accurate and specific index reports. You can measure additional SEO success with key performance indicators (KPIs).
Key Performance Indicators
There are many KPIs that sites use to measure audience demographics, site traffic patterns, conversion rates, and SEO success. Common KPIs include sales, downloads, reviews, email lists, submission on contact forms, phone calls, and more. Establishing your KPIs will depend largely on the goals of your brand and intent of your users. Is your goal as a company to sell a specific product? Do your users come to your site through a search to find a local service provider? By knowing your goals and your users’ needs, you can build a website with the right SEO and KPIs.
Local, National, or Global
Another thing your goals and user intent will determine is whether you should be using local, national, or international SEO practices. Local SEO will usually include keywords with geo-target searches. For example, a user might search for “sushi near me” or “best sushi in Minneapolis.” Building keywords tied to target locations will help you increase local SEO results. However, many businesses want to reach broader audiences, and in that case using geo-targets might actually reduce the effectiveness of your SEO. If you want to use national or international SEO, there are other ways to reach users, such as using country-targeting or language-targeting.
With local, national, or international SEO, you can help to fulfill the different intents of users. The majority of user intents are informational searches (such as, “what should I wear to a spring wedding?”), navigational searches to specific sites (such as, “Nordstrom”), or transactional searches (such as, “spring dresses on sale”). One way to determine user intent is to Google a keyword you have incorporated into your website and look at the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). You’ll see your top competitors, images, hit counts, and more information that can help you choose the best keywords and ways to improve your SEO. Google Ads also offers keyword planning services.
Pairing with SEO
SEO practices can be paired with different ad services like pay-per-click marketing, retargeting, and Google ads, as well as enhanced through social media marketing.
These basics can help you get started on an SEO and digital marketing plan. When you begin implementing your own SEO strategies, keep in mind the importance of keywords, valuable content, white hat practices, user intent, and your goals as a brand. To learn more about SEO, check out our blog for more related articles. We offer practical, informational advice and more about different kinds of SEO and content creation tactics.