Search engine optimization: a buzzword you often hear. But what is the importance of SEO, and what are some Google SEO best practices?
SEO is when you make changes to your website and content to make your site more attractive to Google and other search engines. The better your SEO, the higher your site will rank in keyword search and website visibility. Whether you are a website developer or an online business owner, adequately adapting your SEO strategy will only improve your website metrics and the satisfaction of your customers.
Brief history of SEO (and the two most revolutionary updates so far)
Before you dive into learning how to execute timeless SEO techniques, it’s important that you first understand its history.
SEO actually pre-dates Google, although it was limited in the beginning. The only way to optimize your results was to integrate the following: relevant content, long-form text, accurate HTML tags and adequate internal and outbound links. You also needed to repeat your keywords constantly throughout your website to rank. Nowadays, keyword stuffing is looked down upon.
It wasn’t until 2000 when Google was introduced to the scene that SEO really started to make a name for itself. Unlike the early days where SEO was only based on on-page actions, Google began to also look at external factors that could affect ranking. Over the years, Google continued to integrate SEO best practices that made it harder for websites to be visible on the search engine.
The most revolutionary Google updates
Panda in 2011: Google introduced a search filter that no longer allowed sites with poor quality content to rank on their search engine. Websites were not able to cheat their way into the ranking by keyword stuffing their content just for the sake of ranking, rather than for the benefit of their audience. This changed SEO and created a level playing field for those using white hat SEO techniques.
Penguin in 2012: Soon after, the search engine introduced Penguin to help back up Panda in its fight against websites defrauding the SEO system. Penguin helped ensure the legitimacy and relevancy of the links on websites and fought other “black-hat” methods that were at bay.
Google still implements a lot of the components of these two revolutionary updates, and they can be seen as the cornerstone of what SEO has become today.
The importance of SEO has evolved over the last 20-plus years. It has adapted to our ever-changing online culture and different demands of audiences behind the computer screen. Nevertheless, there have been some common threads throughout SEO’s lifetime – some Google SEO best practices that have stood the test of time. Even though different SEO updates pop up year after year, the substantial updates have not been forgotten. You want to make sure your site stays up to date with the new and some of the old.
The importance of SEO and the key benefits
To dramatically increase your organic traffic, grow your business and vamp up your online presence, you need to invest your time in understanding and acting upon the importance of SEO. The task can be tedious, and you will need to be prepared to put new tools in your toolbelt to successfully execute SEO on your website.
At first, SEO can seem daunting. You might have an urge to tackle the highest SEO mountains first: How do you find the right keywords to rank your site highest on Google? How do you get your content to rank alongside experts? Although tackling these questions isn’t bad, you should first start by looking at the bigger picture: site legacy. This is ranking for the long-haul. By looking at the long-term, big picture of SEO for your site, you will begin to see an exhaustive list of benefits. Below are four key benefits of SEO for your website:
SEO builds your credibility
Your audience will trust your website more the higher you appear in their search. Why? Because they see that Google trusts that you are a legitimate site. How many times have you Googled something, only to conclude that the top few articles are most credible? If you scroll to the bottom of the search results page, you will often find that there are hundreds of pages to choose from. Yet most people only look at the first page.
SEO improves your visibility
The better your SEO, the higher you will rank on a search result listing page. Why is this important? Not only does it build credibility, but it also means your brand will be seen by more potential customers. The more visible you are, the higher your volume of traffic.
Running an SEO audit can help you understand what your website is lacking that is affecting your visibility.
SEO offers you cost-effective marketing
SEO is an investment in your website’s future. Quality SEO does not happen overnight, but when executed properly, always reaps great benefits over time. Obtaining organic traffic through SEO is a wonderful way to market your website and build rapport with your audience. There are hundreds of websites that can help in optimizing your performance. These include both free options (such as Google Analytics or Google Keyword Planner) as well as paid SEO tools (such as Ahrefs or Buzzsumo).
These SEO tools go above and beyond to help you understand what keywords your website is capable of ranking for. But be prepared for this process to be time-consuming and even confusing at first. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so you should not expect your SEO strategy to be.
SEO will give you measurable data
You can measure important metrics with SEO that will make your website and your marketing goals more successful. You can measure your KPIs through Google Analytics. The more data you have, the more you will be able to see how your traffic volume correlates with other performance goals you have set.
SEO also allows for more targeted traffic and guaranteed sustainability for your website eventually. When starting out on your SEO research, remember this: don’t be intimidated. The more you learn about SEO, the easier it will be to implement on your site. Even though your goal will be to rank #1 on Google for a specific topic, first start with a simpler goal, to drive more traffic to your website than you did the previous month. You might want to start with a modest goal of increasing traffic to your site by 5%. You can trust that if you tweak your website according to some Google SEO best practices, you will be shocked by how well your website will perform in the coming months. Incremental improvements can lead to substantial change.
8 SEO best practices that have stood the test of time
Now that you know the importance of SEO, you are probably wanting to know Google SEO best practices you can adopt to make sure your website is ranking high in search results.
Improve your site loading speed
Have you ever navigated away from a website because it took too long to load? Waiting 15 seconds for a website to load is just too long for a culture that was built around microwaves. People not only want speedy results, but they also expect them.
The speed at which your site loads matters. Your customers want a quick turnaround when they are searching for something on a website. You will turn many users off your site if it takes them too much time to find your content and then allow it to load. It is important that you look at your competitor’s page speed to see how you compare.
First you need to analyze your webpage loading speed, then determine how you can optimize your speed compared to your competitors.
The quality of your content is king
Though this phrase is thrown around in the marketing world more than almost any other, it is done so for a good reason. Content is king, and the reputation of your content matters in the online space. If this just sounds like marketing jargon, let me break it down for you: The quality of the content you produce for your audience is important, and you want to make sure that you hold it to the highest standard of excellence. Why? It will make or break your presence online. Your ability to successfully execute SEO rides on your ability to produce content that is relevant to your audience.
Teagan West from Scrunch says, “Good content, whether it is in the form of a blog post or social media update, encourages users to engage with the brand, whether they realize it or not. If the content is genuinely good, users will pause to consume the content, understand the brand message and perhaps even comment, like or share the piece of content. If it’s not, they’ll continue scrolling past and the content will disappear into the black hole that is cyberspace.” She also went on to explain why good content is imperative for SEO: “A higher ranking ultimately exposes the brand to more digital consumers searching for content in its industry. Second, consistently publishing great content creates authority and opens up opportunities to build a glowing backlink profile.”
Long-form content between 2,500 and 3,000 words performs better than shorter content. Don’t skimp on content length, because Google will flag that as well.
By analyzing your metrics and keeping track of what content performs the best, you will be able to produce more content that you know your audience will love. You can also buy a website that already has proven quality content and is high ranking in SEO. This gives you the opportunity to maintain the website’s SEO while reaping the benefits of an already-great foundation.
Content maintenance will help you
Not only is it important that you generate high-performing content for your target audience, but you should also perform regular content maintenance. Willemien Hallebeek from Yoast writes, “Staying on top of your content maintenance always pays off. Not only will you save yourself the effort of cleaning up a load of posts in one go but your content also stays fresh and relevant. Both search engines and users like that. What’s more, keeping track of your content and the topics it covers helps you avoid keyword cannibalization. And you don’t want to impair your own chances of ranking by offering too much similar, competing content.”
Most companies will house a document with articles that need a content refresh. One way you can do this is by creating a spreadsheet with content that has performed well on your site, but that needs a bit of cleaning up to maintain its relevance.
Yes, this might seem like a tedious task, but it is one of the SEO techniques that you will see pay off overall. If this is not a strong suit of yours, do not be afraid to delegate. What is most important is that the content continues to be maintained.
Your audience should be your top priority
This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it is one of the most important facets to SEO. Your audience should be the driving force behind everything that you do. Why? The more you captivate your audience, the higher your traffic volume and the longevity of their stay.
The acronym WIFFM – what’s in it for me – applies when it comes to the content produced to rank for SEO. When you create articles that directly speak to the benefits for the audience, you will find greater site performance. You want to know the questions your audience are searching for and answer them in your content. Think to yourself: how will this benefit my audience’s life? How will this add value to their already-busy schedule? Remember, the world is constantly evolving, and the internet is learning new ways to grab the interest of customers. If you are not strategic in what you are writing, what question you are answering in your writing, and who you are writing for, you will just become background noise to all the other competitors trying to vie for your customers’ attention.
You might be wondering what this has to do with SEO. Bruce Clay, also known as the ‘father of search engine optimization’ says this: “Search engines can detect what’s original and compelling versus spammy or duplicated content. In fact, Google even gives penalty warnings to sites that have thin content with little or no added value… So as search engine algorithms get better at determining user intent, websites must deliver quality if they want to compete for customers and search engine rankings.”
Make sure your site is user friendly and easily accessible
Website accessibility is important to keep in mind when building or innovating your site. There are more screens today to access websites than ever before. One customer might open your website from their iPad, another from their Android phone. You want to make sure that your website is optimized for computer, tablet and smartphone viewing.
Search engines will continue to change their standards for what is acceptable, and as a website owner or operator you will need to keep up with the times. Many web content management systems like WordPress have features that will allow you to see how your website will look on a mobile phone.
You also want to make sure that your site is user friendly and not overly complicated. Stick to simple website architecture and always have clear call to actions visible on your site.
Your SEO will suffer if your site is overly cluttered and confusing for users.
The location of your keywords matter
When you have finally done enough keyword research and are ready to begin writing your content, it is important that you keep in mind that the location of your keyword matters as much as your keyword itself. Backlinko, an SEO training website says, “It’s no secret that you want to use your keyword a handful of times on your page. But you may not know that the location of your keyword also makes a difference. Specifically, you want to mention your main keyword at least once at the top of your page. Why does this matter? Google puts more weight on terms that appear at the top of a webpage.”
But less is more here: you do not want to get flagged for keyword cramming.
Don’t engage in black hat SEO
Black hat SEO are techniques that go against search engine guidelines to rank higher in search results. Look at them like a get-rich-quick scheme: you might make it to the top quickly, but you fall harder in the end. A few black hat techniques include cloaking, keyword stuffing and private link networks. Black hat SEO will not get you the results you want in the end. You will more than likely be flagged by the search engine and be penalized.
Hubspot also warns against black hat SEO: “While black hat SEO is not illegal, it does violate webmaster guidelines set out by search engines. In other words, it’s still against the rules. This means if you engage in black hat SEO, you must be willing to get hit with a nasty penalty as punishment. Getting a penalty from search engines will cause your website to drop down in the search results or worse, it could be removed completely. This means your website will gain less traffic and ultimately, fewer customers.”
Try to avoid black hat SEO at all costs so you can truly earn your organic traffic. Google, your audience and your profit margin will thank you for it.
Don’t neglect your link structure
One of the most important SEO ranking factors is the number of quality internal and external links to your website. Be careful of overloading your site with too many irrelevant links. A good rule of thumb is to stick with around 1-2 high quality internal links per blog post and around 2-5 high quality external links.
The structure of your site can make or break your websites SEO performance. How you organize your site matters and so does your use of internal links. You can think of the worldwide web in terms of a spiderweb. The more connected, the better. “From both a user and search engine perspective, internal links help with the actual discoverability of a page. If a page isn’t linked to it becomes harder to find and is less likely to be crawled as often, if at all,” said Jesse McDonald from Search Engine Journal. “Internal links help with the flow of equity a page has built up. This allows for pages deeper within a site to rank better for related terms.”
External links, also known as backlinking, will help you collaborate with other sites. These are an important piece of your SEO strategy because not only does this help prove your site’s relevancy, but it also helps you rank significantly higher on search engine results.
Link building is important for SEO. According to Kali Bizzul “Linking to authoritative (high-quality and well trusted) websites increases your digital footprint and, as SEO expert Rand Fishkin says, ups “the potential to attract important, relevant, valuable eyeballs.” You are essentially building a history of links between your site and more established ones.”
The importance of SEO is here to stay
SEO has been evolving since its introduction in the late 90s, but there are certain best practices that have stood the test of time. Although Google and other search engines will continue to change their criteria for how websites rank in the future, you can be certain that these 8 principles will be valuable for the lifetime of your website. The key? Remain teachable in SEO, but also solidify the best practices that you know work for your audience and your content. Avoid cheating the system by using black hat tactics and remember that building credibility with your audience and Google takes time. Eventually, you will see that your work has paid off. Before you know it, your ranking will climb to the top.