Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 101

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Last week we talked about not relying on SEO alone for customer acquisition. This week we’re touching on the basics of what SEO is, and what to consider when looking at how you attract the right audience to your website.

As we discussed last week, always define your target audience. Are your ideal customers businesses or individual consumers? Do you provide services to a particular demographic (e.g. parents with young children who might need childcare services, small business owners looking for an accountant, large contractors who need to improve their small business engagement for government contracts)? Notice how each of those examples was very specific? That’s because the first step is to know who your potential customers are and what they need. Not all parents need childcare, for example, so your targeting should be designed to include stay-at-home parents. For small businesses, you don’t want to target people who will never need your services nor be able to make a decision about using them (e.g. a warehouse worker is completely removed from selecting an accountant). Another example is a commercial landscaper targeting everyone in their geographical area when a very small percentage of those individuals are business owners, facility managers, or procurement professionals. It’s a recipe to waste a lot of ad dollars.

Next, make sure your website is intuitive and easy to navigate. Get a professional to help, if you don’t feel confident. A good idea for those who are DIY-minded is to have friends and family take a look and give you their honest assessments — if they’re not-so-positive, don’t take it personally; your customers are likely to feel the same way, so the feedback is very helpful. Make sure to have them approach it from the standpoint of learning about what your company does and how to get in contact with you or your sales team.

If you opt to use paid advertising or paid search results, look at your ideal customer and use that to create targeted advertising to reach your ideal customers. Remember, it doesn’t make sense to cast a wide net if your potential customers fall within a specific demographic profile. Plus, platforms like Facebook and Google allow you to target hyper specifically based on demographics, interests, and online activities and behaviors (e.g. users who have searched the platform for certain keywords or are members of specific groups, etc.).

At the end of the day, SEO is how you optimize your company’s website to improve its visibility and ranking in search engine results. The goal of SEO is to increase organic traffic from search engines like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. This means that, when your target customers search for keywords related to your business, you are at the top of the list (or at least on the first page) and quickly seen by your customer.

Remember when we said a moment ago to make sure your website is intuitive and easy to use? That’s because part of SEO is page optimization (usually referred to as ‘on page’ and ‘off page’ optimizations). The on-page elements are the ‘usual’ things like page titles, headings, page content, images (including alt(ernate) text, which is a short sentence about what the image shows), and meta tags that all come together to make them appealing to and easy for search engines to ‘crawl’ (aka pre-read and rank according to ease of navigation and the applicability of your site versus searched keywords — meaning that it contains those keywords and phrases people are searching for).

The off-page items are things like backlinks (links from other, reputable websites to yours). Search engines view these links as a sort of endorsement of your authority and relevance, and they are a big part of determining where you show up in search engine results.

But SEO also involves technical optimizations, too. Things like page load speeds, being mobile-friendly, and, equally importantly, security.

Overall, the goal of SEO is to improve the quality and relevance of a website so that it ranks higher in search engine results pages, resulting in increased visibility, traffic, and potentially higher customer conversions. A critical element of determining your success is measurement. As you make improvements, be sure to note how you are ranking before and after each change — the last thing you want to do is make a change that hurts your ranking, and nothing flags you that it needs to be fixed! And make sure to give your improvements enough time to be reflected in search engines. Search engines like Google, Bing, etc. “crawl” the web periodically to note changes to websites and then update their rankings accordingly, so you might not see results overnight.

Once your updates are seen by search engines, the metrics are a little techy, but generally easy to understand, once you understand what they mean. Conversion rates, bounce rates, and the like all speak to how your customers behave once they find you. For paid ads, things like cost-per-click tell you how effective your ads are performing compared to what you are spending to achieve those results. Once you get the hang of how ads work (or if you work with a digital marketing partner), you can start using more sophisticated techniques (like A/B testing, for example) to see how variations of your ads perform so you can put your money behind the better-performing versions.

Most business owners can get the basics accomplished fairly easily but, when it comes to more advanced techniques and targeting, it’s best to work with an expert who can deliver the best value for your company’s buck.

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