What is SEO and how can it grow my business?

 
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If you landed on this page and are reading this blog, there is a high probability you found this content through a search engine. In fact, 93% of all website traffic comes through search engines.

It’s also safe to assume the reason you are here is that you want to learn more about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Maybe you want to ramp up your SEO efforts this year to drive more qualified traffic and ultimately win more customers? Or perhaps you want to learn more about SEO as a marketing tactic to determine if it is a good fit for your business?

If you are looking for answers to those questions then congratulations, you are in the right place.

We are going to show you how to focus your SEO efforts on what matters so you can improve your rankings, drive quality web traffic, and ultimately win more customers for your business.

Let’s dig in.

What is SEO and how does it work?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results section.  This is often referred to as organic or earned traffic.

Driving organic traffic today is more than keywords. It is a multidisciplinary effort executed to improve organic rankings, increase quality website traffic, and drive lead generation.  

Now that we’ve defined SEO, let’s examine the different areas and tactics you need to focus on to drive more potential customers to your website.

Developing your Ideal Customer Profile and Buying Personas

The best place to start developing your SEO strategy is the beginning – knowing your customer.  SEO is constantly evolving, but the one constant factor you can rely on is knowing your customers and how to best serve them.   

To begin, you want to develop a profile of your customers with all the relevant information you have available.

Keep in mind demographics:  are they male or female, within a certain age group, or at a certain socioeconomic level?  Do you know geographically where most of your customers live?

Once you’ve identified these key pieces of information, you’ll want to consider what they are seeking.  

What needs, desires or problems do you resolve for them?  What common questions do they ask to gather information to find a solution?  What is their typical path to interaction with your business that leads them to ultimately make a purchase from you?  

Once you have these answers, you have developed your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP).

Now that you have your ICP, you can build a Customer Persona.  Your goal is to describe your customer in a simple narrative that brings them to life. Name the person and describe them in a way that somebody could clearly picture where they live, what they do, what they care about, etc.  Not only does this bring clarity for whom to target, but it also establishes a base where you can begin to develop your content strategy.

Create Relevant and Quality Content

Once you have nailed your ICP and buying personas, it’s time to start working on content development.  

Creating relevant and quality content that answers your customers’ questions is a key component for improving your organic ranking and driving website traffic.

Why?  

Google (along with the other major search engines) strives for relevancy — in other words, they want to provide the best response to the person doing the search. Creating quality, original content relevant to the more than 5+ billion daily searches will result in your website being rewarded with a significantly better overall organic ranking.

Now think about the impact this can have on your business.  Executing a content plan that is designed to speak directly to solving your ideal customer’s problems not only positions your company as an expert but also nurtures prospects through the “customer journey” along the path to decision and purchase.

It is key that your content is written for humans and not for machines. Sure, it matters that your content is optimized to rank by using header tags, meta descriptions, page titles and geotags but it is people who will be reading the content.  If customers deem your content to be valuable – by consuming and engaging – search engines will reward you.

This means more quality traffic to your site, more potential leads and ultimately, more customers.

Pay attention to your Off-Site SEO

Simply stated, Off-Site SEO refers to any actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings on a Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).  This ranges from ensuring your business is accurately showing on relevant business directories all the way to link building.

In fact, 50% of SEO professionals that participated in a Moz survey considered link building to be one of the strongest ranking factors for your website.

But what is link building exactly?

Link building is the process of getting other sites to link back to your own. This is important because every site carries authority in its own right.

From a macro level, the more links you have from multiple sites, the greater your authority and trust is shown to search engines. In turn, this tells search engines that your site is both valuable and trustworthy which causes search engines like Google and Bing to reward your site by improving its organic rank.

Another major key factor in Off-Site SEO is having consistency in your name, address and phone number across the nearly 300 different directories. This is also one of the easiest, albeit time consuming, ranking factors that you can control. You don’t have to be a web expert or fantastic content writer to assist in this part of your SEO strategy, you just have to clean up your business listings on sites like Yelp, Google, Facebook, etc.

Even the smallest difference in your listing can throw off your organic ranking. For example, if your address on Yelp is “700 Montgomery Highway” but on Facebook you’re listed as “700 Montgomery Hwy” that small difference of abbreviating “highway” can negatively impact your organic ranking. The good news is that these mistakes are 100% preventable if you commit to consistency, which will better your rankings for Local SEO as well.

Why does Local Search matter?

Local SEO is optimizing your site to show up in local search results. When people do a query that search engines deem “local” in nature, they’ll produce local results.

There are three main components to local search:

  1. Proximity: How close is your business to the searcher?
  2. Relevance: How relevant are your products and services to the searcher?
  3. Prominence: What are your customers saying about you online? (Google Reviews, Facebook, etc.)

Why does local search matter?

For starters, 46% of all searches on Google are for a local business.

So think about what your daily searches look like. Sure, a lot of the time you are searching something for work or how-to’s but oftentimes you’re searching for things like “dry cleaners” or “chinese food.” When these searches are performed, the majority of the results will be local businesses relevant to your search.

This is an important component of your SEO strategy because most every business at some point relies on local customers as part of their growth and sustainability plan.

This chart shows the many factors that weigh into local search results.

https://www.chatmeter.com/blog/2018-local-ranking-factors/

Image Source: Chatmeter

One of the ranking factors above that might surprise you is probably social signals. While it’s believed that social media is not necessarily a direct ranking factor for Google, it does play a big role in driving in-direct traffic to your website. Platforms like Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc send trust signals to search engines helping to prove your business’s relevance to consumers.

Technical SEO, Simplified.

Technical SEO, as you may have guessed, is anything but simple.

In short, Technical SEO is anything that you do to your website to help it become more indexable by search engines. While On-Page SEO focuses on what users actually see, Technical SEO focuses on search engines and crawlers.

For Technical SEO to be effective, you have to first ensure that the back end of your website is healthy and ready to be indexed by search engines.

Here are some Technical SEO elements to look out for:

Have a Mobile-Friendly Website

Having a mobile-friendly website is becoming increasingly important. As technology continues to advance, and more searches are done on mobile devices, having a website that looks good on mobile, as well as desktop, is essential.

For many sites and content management systems, the hard work is done. For more technical website builds, making your site mobile friendly will typically need help from highly experienced developers.

What is your Site Speed?

Following the trend with more sites focusing on mobile experience, site speed is another technical component to focus on. The faster a website, the better the user experience, which directly correlates with conversions. You can easily check your page speed with services like Google Page Insights and Pingdom Web Tool. These tools can give you an accurate read on your websites speed and also provide insight into what needs attention to improve that speed. Sometimes page speed can be improved by adding a couple of easy plugins, but in many cases, you’ll need to call on a skilled developer to get the job done.

Beware of Duplicate Content

Duplicate content, titles, and descriptions all have a negative impact on a website’s ranking factor. Seeking to show the most relevant information at all times, when search engines come across content that appears to be duplicated, a decision has to be made.

Without fail the search engine will choose the page that seems to be the most important to users — meaning the other pages won’t show up.

This can be damaging to your organic rankings because you always want your content appearing to get the absolute most exposure. Not sure if you have duplicate content? No worries. You can use a site auditor, like Screaming Frog or Site Bulb, to identify duplicate issues and fix them.

XML Sitemap: Google’s Guide to Your Website

An XML Sitemap is a file that lists the pages, posts, and PDF’s on a website. Google Search Console accepts many different formats for the sitemaps, but the preferred and most optimal format is an XML file.

The XML Sitemap tells search engines what pages are on a site so they know what to index. It also contains information about pages on the site like priority, update frequency, and taxonomy. Always submit a sitemap to search engines’ search consoles to ensure that your pages are being properly indexed.

SEO is Evolving: Two Key Trends

As if five to six hundred algorithm changes a year isn’t enough, there are other factors that play into SEO’s ever-evolving landscape. Here we are going to focus on two areas that are really the driving force behind the evolution of SEO today: Featured Snippets and Voice Search.

What is a Featured Snippet?

Featured Snippets are not exactly new to Google, but you have probably noticed that over the last few years, their popularity has evolved. They are designed to answer questions searched for to provide a relevant experience to users.

A Featured Snippet, also known as “Position Zero”, is present in about 15% of all searches. Also considered to be in Position Zero, is the “People Also Ask” section on the SERP.

When your website appears in either of these sections, it can drive up to 2X the amount of website traffic as position one in the organic results.

So how do you get your website to appear in a Featured Snippet or the People Also Ask section?

There are a lot of ranking factors that weigh into Position Zero. For starters, you need to be ranked in the top ten on page one of the SERP to get a shot at one of these coveted spots. Also the type of content you produce should be highly relevant to your customers with your site optimized for the questions that you predict your customers will be searching for.  

Something else to consider is your website’s User Experience (UX). Making sure that your customers can easily find the content they are looking for is a huge component that has a significant impact on your chances of getting a position zero rank. And of course, Technical SEO plays a major role in bettering your chances for achieving this high-traffic spot.

Now for the good news: there is no way to guarantee that you get the coveted position zero spot. The best tactic is to write great content and to thoroughly answer questions that you think searchers might type in. Understanding user intent and solving their problems is the best and most effective way for targeting Position Zero. Google will crawl your page and reward you for your effort.

This is further proof that it takes more than just a page one rank for your SEO strategy to be successful.

Hey Siri, why is Voice Search a feature to consider when creating your SEO strategy?

Think about the way we search for things now. We typically type or use voice search and phrase the search like a question. How close is the nearest Starbucks? or How many cups are in a gallon? Our searches are becoming more and more relational so your SEO strategy needs to plan accordingly.

Today, 20% of the 3.5 billion searches performed every day are done by voice on a mobile device. It is predicted that by 2020:

  • 50% of all searches will be done by voice
  • 55% of US households will have a smart speaker – Alexa or Google Home
  • 30% of all searches will be performed on a device WITHOUT a screen

Those are some pretty incredible stats and just goes to show that having a robust SEO campaign today is how your business will be better positioned for success in the future. To target voice search, your strategy should be flexible. Just like with featured snippets, you should strive to answer whatever question a person might be asking the way they might be asking. Additionally, a stronger emphasis on brands is evolving as a result of voice search. People will search Where can I get Chips Ahoy? before they ask Where can I get chocolate chip cookies?

Building a robust digital marketing and branding campaign in conjunction with a strong SEO strategy is the key to dominating voice search.

SEO is not just keywords

SEO is not just one thing. It’s not just keywords, business listings, content or local search, it’s all of these things, and more, working in tandem to create a better environment for your website to rank organically. The stronger your SEO strategy, the more you will see an increase in overall website traffic.

SEO also helps to create brand awareness by putting your website in front of your customers every time they search for answers to their questions and problems.  

The content created for your SEO campaign will also better serve your ICP’s which means you’ll begin to see more high-quality leads filter in.

If you commit to allocating the resources needed to address all of these ranking factors we have discussed, you are going to dominate the competition and win 2019.

SEO FAQs

What is SEO and how does it work?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results section. This is often referred to as organic or earned traffic. There are many factors that weigh in to an SEO strategy that affects your organic rankings, website traffic, and the overall growth of your business through lead generation.
Why Do I Need SEO?
SEO is important for businesses today for a number of reasons. For starters, 93% of all website traffic comes from search engines. If your customers can not find your website quickly, and on the first page of Google, then you will lose them to your competitors that they find instead. Increased exposure on search engines leads to more overall website traffic that ultimately results in a growth of your business.
What is a Featured Snippet?
A Featured Snippet, also known as “Position Zero”, is present in about 15% of all searches. Also considered to be in Position Zero, is the “People Also Ask” section on the SERP. When your website appears in either of these sections, it can drive up to 2X the amount of website traffic as position one in the organic results.
How Can I Improve My Ranking?
To increase the rank of your website you should optimize it for specific keywords and also be aware of the on-site and off-site factors that affect organic rankings. Because search engines are continually trying to provide the best results to a search query, you should also have website content that best pertains to the type of searches you know your customers are performing.
How Much Does SEO Cost?
SEO isn’t technically free, even though the listings are in the “unpaid” section of the SERP.  It takes time, energy, effort, and resources – either internal or through a partnership with an SEO expert to achieve a desirable organic rank.