What is SEO?

SEO, also known as search engine optimization, is the process of increasing rankings for websites and local listings within SERPs (search engine results pages). Some more formal definitions include:

“SEO is short for search engine optimization. Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.”

Source: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/SEO.html

How does SEO work?

Contrary to popular belief, generating rankings and reaping the rewards of a well-executed SEO strategy doesn’t happen overnight. The adage of “if you build it, they will come” may have worked out well for Kevin Costner in The Field of Dreams, but when it comes to the digital marketing environment, all bets are off. In an age where search 15% of all daily search queries have never been processed before (hence the introduction of RankBrain), it’s highly unlikely that any new website will be able to rank highly for competitive keywords within a couple of days. Competition within organic results is at an all-time high due to the expansive nature of the world wide web and accessibility of themes that make it relatively easy to build out websites in a matter of days. As a result, search engines have implemented safeguards, also known as webmaster guidelines and complex algorithms, to appropriately assign rankings based on hundreds of different factors. While I won’t break down all “suggested” ranking factors those of us within the SEO community have been able to surmise, you can break them down into four main segments:

  • Age
  • Relevancy
  • Content
  • Authority

Each of these will be broken down within this article.

The Age Factor: What if I have a new Website?

Unfortunately, studies indicate that age does play a factor with regards to organic search rankings. While the age of a domain may be a good measure of determining how long a website has been around, Google places a higher priority on the date when a website was first indexed.  For example, a website that has been around since 2001 and subsequently indexed on Google for over 10 years will carry greater clout than a website that was registered in 1995, but only made available to the world wide web in 2010. If you’re just starting out with digital marketing, chances are you’ll end up having a brand new website on a newly registered domain. If that’s the case, you’re already one step behind the competition and need to invest in other avenues, such as content marketing and link building, to catch up organically.

Mastering Relevancy and Content

This should go without saying: the more relevant your website is to a search query, the greater your chances are of ranking highly on search engines (assuming your web pages are indexed). Now, how does one convey the topic and main keywords of a website to search engines? Unfortunately, this is where most websites go wrong. Here is a sample of issues that are likely impeding your ability to rank organically:

  • The home page meta title (page title in laymen’s terms) is set to “Home Page”. It’s very likely that Google crawls thousands (possibly millions) of pages that have this title…so if you want to rank for “Home Page”, you’re in luck.
  • Flash content is still being used….just no. The Flash is an awesome superhero (my preference for Marvel notwithstanding), but flash elements are worthless and should be expunged from your website if you plan on converting smartphone users.
  • Little-to-no content on the website. This is the most common issue I have come across when evaluating websites. Unfortunately, even some of the biggest brands and corporations have this issue, where their websites have a dearth of content and no real keyword strategy.
  • Duplicate content and meta titles used across various pages. This usually comes hand-in-hand with the issues noted above (once again, a symptom of a misguided or non-existent keyword strategy).
  • URLs are not structured in a search engine-friendly manner. Website developers may be awesome at building interactive websites, but most of them often forget one of the most important elements of search engine optimization: coding the website to be search engine friendly. This is why URLs such as “www.company.com/category/id=490583” exist rather than “www.company.com/marketing-services/search-engine-optimization”.

…and the list goes on. In order to kick ass at search engine optimization, you need to make sure you nail down the following points to establish your relevancy to specific search queries:

  • Develop a keyword strategy and map out your focus keywords for every page, as well as other variations to use within the content, which we’ll call phrase matches and latent semantic indexing matches. For example, if your target keyword is “seo services montreal”, you may consider sprinkling some of the following keywords within your content: affordable seo services montreal, strategic seo serivces in montreal, seo consulting services, etc.
  • Tighten up your website on a technical level to ensure you’re submitting as much data to Google as possible. This includes properly implementing schema markup, optimizing your sitemap and robots.txt file, adding a breadcrumb navigation structure, etc.
  • Once your keyword strategy is developed, write content for your web pages based on your chosen keywords. Doing so will require you to plan ahead and optimize your meta title, meta description header tags, and web content.
  • Implementing additional onsite optimization tactics such as interlinking, image alt attributes optimization, etc.

Unfortunately, the activities listed above may not be properly handled by small businesses as it’s a rather exhaustive process to optimize a website and may require additional help from a consultant or an agency. With regards to bigger businesses, they may suffer from marketing myopia and not be able to understand how end-users would search for their products and services. Being able to deploy a search engine optimization strategy based on keyword research requires the usage of multiple tools, continuous refinement of keywords, a ridiculous amount of hours on research, and an expert-level understanding of how search engines operate. However, once you properly deploy a search engine strategy and create the foundation upon which you can capture organic traffic, you’ll be able to reap the rewards….as long as you can establish your authority.

H2 tag: How do I boost my authority?

As with the initial strategy development and onsite optimization, building your authority around the web is no simple task. Then again, how do search engines gauge the authority of a domain? Back in the day, it was relatively easy: the more links you had pointing back to your web page, the most points you gained in the eyes of search engines. In fact, there was an important metric that guided lino building initiatives, which was known as PageRank. Named after co-founder Larry Page, the metric was based on a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the most authoritative. However, black-hat SEO tacticians abused this simple rule by building spammy links all around the web via blogs, forums, paid text links, and more. By circumventing Google’s guidelines and attempting to manipulate search results, Google eventually changed the rules, after which other search engines followed suit.

Nowadays, Google and other search engines want you to establish your authority by earning inbound links rather than using deceptive and ethically equivocal methods. Numerous algorithm updates have reinforced Google’s position on the subject, which have forced search engine marketing strategists to find other ways to build viable backlinks. When it comes to link building, you can employ any of the following tactics to adhere to the guidelines set forth by search engines:

  • Create listings on highly relevant and local directories. Of course, this tactic is often abused as well, which has led Google to devalue backlinks originating from “free” and “seo-based” directories. If you’re ever wondering about the legitimacy of a directory, err on the side of caution and don’t set one up on anything that says “free”, “biz”, or “seo”. Stick with local directories and relevant websites.
  • Develop a foundation of linkable assets. This is a rather time-consuming activity, but can be very rewarding in the end. Investing resources into research will give you the foundation upon which you ca develop a myriad of content assets such as whitepapers, infographic, ebooks, videos, etc. The more engaging and relevant your content is, the increased chances are that it will be sourced and shared to social media networks. Search engines especially love content that goes viral.
  • Reach out to publishers within your niche. Websites around the world are craving content that they can either reference or re-spin for their own audiences. There are also a myriad of opportunities out there to share your expertise with others in a white-hat manner, which includes guest posting on relevant websites. If you find the right partners to work with, you’ll be able to submit content as a guest contributor, which may also earn you a highly valuable inbound link.

With regards to developing linkable assets, this is where the elements of content, authority, and relevancy become intertwined. If you’re consistently updating your website with fresh content, search engines will pick up on that and give your domain more weight with regards to organic search. However, an additional benefit of adding new content to your website is the ability to generate inbound links every time you share content to social media platforms. My favourite example of this is an infographic I made several years ago. While I was still trying to master the nuances of digital marketing, I developed an infographic (within paint – I believe this was before I realized I could use Canva as an alternative to photoshop) on relating social media platforms to beer. The infographic was published and shared to social media as a pet project, but within a couple of months, it had gone viral on Twitter and generated a significant amount of links back to my website. Let’s cheers to that success.

If your goal is to dominate search engines,  spend time developing kickass content and making sure as many people see it as possible.

Summing it up

As exhibited throughout this article, search engine optimization is no easy task. Each strategy must be uniquely crafted to a myriad of factors, such as the ideal niche audience (based on demographic, geographic, behavioral, and psychographic varaibles), the opportunities available on search engines, and the compeititon within the market. There are also a plethora of other factors to consider that we have not touched upon here, such as:

  • Local SEO: this is the specific segment of SEO that focuses on claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listing, as well as other lisitings on Yelp, Bing Places, and more. Should you want to dominate the page for regional searches, local search engine optimization is vital to capture an increasingly amount of mobile traffic. Rankings for the local pack are based on relevancy of a query to a business, the proximity of a user to the business, and the prominence (aka – reviews on Google and around the web) of the local spot.
  • Mobile Optimization: the ubiquity of smartphone usage has actually helped boost Google’s projected ad revenues, as more users are searching on mobile devices for information than ever before. Making sure your website is up to snuff on mobile devices is essential, especially with Google’s mobile index coming soon, which will crawl pages differently on mobile devices than the traditional desktop index. Don’t even get me started on Google AMP, which I’ll cover in more detail in a future article.
  • More technical stuff: while I touched upon certain technical tasks, such as optimizing your sitemap and robots.txt files, there’s a whole basket of things to consider when it comes to optimizing a website to be search-engine friendly. SSL certificates, site speed, canonicalization, broken links, and more web elements factor into the user engagement of a website. The more broken elements you have, the more your website will be hampered on organic search because they collectively bring the “enjoyment” factor of your website down.

Mastering search engine optimization does not happen overnight. If it was possible I would have written this article from the Caribbean rather than on a flight during my vacation. That said, once you mostly understand how search engines operate (not fully – search engines will never reveal their secrets), you’ll be on the path to boost your rankings and reap the rewards of a well-executed SEO strategy.