Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essentially the process of using website design, code, content, and linking strategies to show up on search engines, such as Google. It’s not the witchcraft that the non-techie world thinks it is, but it’s close. It’s extremely important, because you’re either fighting with it or against it.
At the core of everything, quality content rules. If you’re creating high-quality content (stuff that people actually care about and use), then you’re going to be fine – so long as you’re not breaking the basic SEO rules that allow Google to read and process your content. BUT… if you optimize the content for search engines, you can facilitate people finding it and using it much faster. Crap content can climb if it’s been optimized too, but it will be penalized for being crap content, and Google will see that people aren’t engaging with it. So, step 1 – create good content. With step 2 being the optimization of that content, you can skyrocket past the posers. Without step 2, you’re fighting against them.
There are two basic kinds of SEO, on-site and off-site. On-site is going to involve tinkering with the guts of your content to make sure search engines can read it and know what it’s related to. When those settings are focused toward a single keyword or set of keywords, Google will begin to display it for that keyword. As it performs better and better, it climbs the rankings faster and faster. From achieving a good balance of keyword mentions to having alt-text on images, title tags, descriptive URLs, and on and on the list goes – there’s a LOT that you can do to make it as easy as possible for search engines to read your content and pass it along to users performing searches.
Off-site SEO is even more complex, but here’s the basic theme – the more that the rest of the internet says “yeah, this page on this website is a great piece of content about X,” the more search engines see it as just that. It shows that the content is being engaged with (as we mentioned above), which gains you bonus points when it comes to rankings. Unfortunately, it’s not a secret, and there’s a good chance that your competition is already doing it, so we can’t think of them as “bonus points” – they’re a necessity. There are a myriad of tactics that can be utilized to optimize off-site, and the quality of those connecting to you does matter. The grassroots approach would be to personally reach out to sites and individuals who are authorities in your field and ask them to feature your content (or create some mutually-beneficial arrangement). However, chances are that you don’t have time to do that. There are a number of providers who can facilitate this process for us but give us complete control.
The moral of the story here is to first focus on creating killer content that people will use with or without optimization, and then use optimization to get it in front of more people.
You can actually utilize SEO tools before you even create your content. Performing keyword research with free tools will help you figure out what people are already out there looking for information on. You’ll probably be surprised to learn how people are searching for things that you can help them with – humans are weird. Once you see what they’re searching for, you can evaluate the search volume and competition on the keyword to determine if it’s something you want to go after ranking for. This is a tool we use to determine which route we’re going to take for a keyword. We might discover that organic competition is quite high for a given keyword, but paid search competition is wide open. In this case, we may utilize SEM instead.
SEO vs. SEM is always a debate. Many people preach against SEM because it’s an ongoing expenditure, but even if you’re doing on and off-site SEO manually, you’re sinking resources into it. They both take resources – deciding where to focus yours should be a per-keyword process.