You’ve built and launched that new company website, and now it’s time to get that traffic. For most websites, the bulk of the traffic will come from search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the practice of adjusting a website so it’s more likely to show up in the search results for the topics that are important to your business.
It might sound a bit mysterious at first, but the good news is there are things you can do to affect your site’s SEO. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the basics of SEO, and show you where to start with your own company website:
- Why search engine optimization is worth your time
- A brief, tech-free explanation of how search engines work
- How search engines evaluate and rank different pages
- Things you can do that search engines like…and don’t like
- Checklist: How to get started with SEO
Why is search engine optimization important?
SEO is important because if your website starts appearing in search results, you’ll get more visitors. It’s also important because good SEO can get you the right visitors—people who are already searching for something that you provide.
Most people click on websites on the first page of search results. So if you can get your website to appear there, you’re in business!
The nice thing is that search engines don’t necessarily give this honor to the website that’s the biggest, the prettiest, or the most expensive. They ideally give it to the website that has the best answers to someone’s search question.
Bottom Line: The trick to SEO is to 1) start with good website content that clearly answers people’s questions, and 2) make sure this content is also “readable” and understandable to search engines.
How do search engines like Google work?
A search engine is a constantly updated list, or index, of pages on the web.
Search engines use web crawlers (sometimes called “spiders”) that travel around the web looking for new pages. Perhaps the best way to understand it is to actually picture a spider crawling around in the invisible parts of the web code, all day, every day. The crawlers start with popular pages and follow their links to other pages, creating an ever-larger network.
When the crawlers find a new web page, they add it to their list of pages to index and then try to get a sense of what it’s about. They’ll look at the text, images, headings, links, and more to understand what information it’s providing.
Once they find and gather this info, the search engine uses a search algorithm to rank the page for various keywords and phrases.
When you publish your website, search engine crawlers will find it eventually. To speed up the process it’s a good idea to submit your website to Google Search Console.
How does a search engine algorithm rank different pages?
Search engines don’t share their exact algorithms because they don’t want people to be able to game the system. But it’s clear that certain factors—e.g. clear text, headings, alt text, keywords, and inbound links—are very important. Search engines also reward factors that make a website easier or safer to use, like mobile-friendliness and HTTPS security (both of which Evolve Media provides automatically).
In fact, there are over 200 “ranking factors” that people believe make a difference in how much a search engine likes your website. Some are pretty definitive, others are speculation. Looking at the list, you can see why there is an element of mystery to SEO. This also explains why there’s often a bit of a fuss when Google updates its algorithms, as people scramble to find any new ways to get an edge.
It’s also a reason to be skeptical of any SEO “experts” claiming that they can get you more traffic. In many cases, they could just be selling snake oil.
Read on, because in the next section we’ll focus on the factors that are easy to adjust and that are proven to make a difference.
What parts of SEO can I do myself?
Once you know how search engines work, you can customize your website and content to reach as many Google users as possible. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start. And considering many people never open their SEO settings at all, if you do this you can get a leg up on your competition.
Some things that search engines like to see:
- Unique, valuable, engaging content that’s written for humans, not for search engines
- Keywords and phrases used naturally. By using keywords in your text that users typically type into their search queries on Google, you’re more likely to be found.
- Structured content. Put 1 Large Heading (H1 tag) at the top of each page, with medium and small headings further down to break up the content into understandable sections.
- Filling in a site title and page titles in your SEO settings. These determine how your site will appear in search results.
- Inbound links from other reputable websites. An inbound link is a link from someone else’s website to your website. When someone links to you, they are in a sense vouching for you and saying that they like your content enough to send their own visitors over—and that makes your site more appealing to Google.
- Internal and external links. Links to other pages on your website (internal) or to other websites (external) help search engine crawlers understand how your content fits together. No website or web page should be an island.
- Alt text to describe what’s in your images.
- Mobile-friendly websites that follow good mobile design habits.
- Clear navigation menus that are easy to follow and understand.
- Up-to-date content that you refresh regularly. This indicates to search engines that your website is current and accurate.
SEO tactics to avoid:
Some conventional SEO wisdom from a few years ago is no longer up to date. Over the years Google has added more nuance to its ranking factors, which has improved searching overall and made it harder to trick.
For example, people used to fill their text with keywords to achieve a certain “keyword density,” thinking this would help them rank higher. Nowadays, Google rewards natural language and actually penalizes pages that sound fake because they are stuffed full of repetitive keywords.
So you might hear people recommending some of these outdated tactics, but it’s best to skip them so you don’t get penalized.
- Keyword stuffing
- Using irrelevant keywords
- Pages with little or no content
- Pages with duplicate content
- Participating in link schemes
- Hidden text or links
Bottom line? It’s always a good idea to do a quick Google search (what else?) to check if an SEO rule someone swears by is still up-to-date.
SEO Checklist: Getting started
Phew, you’ve made it this far and you understand the basics of what you’re trying to do. Now it’s time to check out the list, follow the links to each resource, and start working your way through it.
You don’t need to make all these changes at once. Just work on them over time and you’ll start to see your results improving and your traffic increase.
- Connect your custom domain (website address)
- Make sure your site is indexed
- Start with some keyword research
- Optimize your images for search engines
- Add an FAQ page
- Make your site more mobile-friendly
- Learn more about getting a Google Answer Box
- Try these 5-minute SEO fixes
- Learn more about Local SEO
- Get started with building links
- Update your Google My Business Listing
How long does SEO take to work?
SEO doesn’t provide instant results. Instead, it’s a long-term way of getting free traffic to your website.
You will need to review results regularly and update your website accordingly. Over time you will build a strong search position that is hard to take away.
Think of it as making your website ‘a pillar of the community’. You don’t achieve that in one sitting. It takes dedicated effort, but it’s well worth it.