SEO: What You Really Need to Know
SEO is ever evolving. Changing alongside technology and search algorithms, gurus will swear by certain techniques, only to have them change when Google makes an update or user behavior heads in a new direction. So, while the tactics change from time to time, the principles you need to know – and their value – stay the same.
Let’s get the “why” question out of the way first. Maintaining good SEO practices will take work, and require some extra time as you develop your website and publish blog posts… But it’s all worth it. The true value of SEO is right in the initialism it stands for: search engine optimization.
Search-friendly SEO practices mean that search engines can find your content with ease, and will therefore display you more prominently in organic search results: earlier pages on Google, larger snippets, more links… All things that help drive traffic to your website and/or social media profiles.
For paid marketing efforts, you’re still competing with other companies using their ad spend on your target keywords. While budget is certainly a factor in visibility, SEO also helps the ranking of your ads, and helps reduce cost per click. For both paid and organic traffic, SEO is definitely worth the effort.
One of the guiding principles of SEO is establishing relevance. Not only do your keywords and site content let search engines know what your business is all about, freshly published content also let’s the “crawlers” know that you’re steadily updating your site – and still in business!
Relatively recent changes to search engine algorithms are designed to fight back against nefarious practices like keyword stuffing and duplicate content, and instead look at your site’s content in context. That means that while specific practices may vary across platforms or evolve over time, it’s always a good idea to keep your blog posts, page content, and everything else relevant to your business, your industry, and your target audience.
Search engines also tend to favor websites that are user friendly, and developments in algorithms have been steadily moving in that direction. First and foremost, this means making sure that your site is optimized for mobile devices, and scales according to the browser/display being used.
Similarly, clear headings and sections on pages are often viewed favorably, and blog posts containing headings, subheadings, bulleted/numbered lists, and the like are both easy on readers’ eyes, and smiled upon by the algorithms that populate search results.
The internet runs on links, and as such, internal and external linking has always been an important part of any SEO strategy. Context and relevance are still important here, but where and how you set up links is a strategy of its own.
Internal links help crawlers establish a hierarchy of information, and help search engines build more of that ever-important context for what your site is all about. External links, though they do more in terms of SEO for the site you’re linking to, also help establish context and related industries/niches. Be sure to link relevant key phrases and words, and help Google get a better sense of how your website is interconnected.
As with the readability and formatting mentioned above, the algorithms are designed to deliver ideal results to people performing searches, and they view poor performance as poor user experience, penalizing pages accordingly.
The rest of the guiding principles of strong SEO come down to small actions and attention to detail. The pieces of your website searched by the crawlers are too numerous to name here, but an overview is applicable regardless of specific plugins or platforms. These little details include:
- Metadata and description
- Image alt tags
- Relevant page titles
- Keywords and phrases in titles, URLs, and slugs
- Tags, categories, and other dashboard tools
- HTML tags (like H2 for headings)
- SEO score plugins
- Site health checkups
- Title tags
- Fixing broken links
- Snippet copy
- Focus on user experience (pop ups, poor navigation, etc.)
This is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but these are the kinds of details to keep an eye on. Whether you’re building a site or maintaining an old one, all of these little things matter. Take the time to pay attention to them, and build their importance into your routines.
SEO will continue to play a role in how traffic moves around the internet, and your efforts directly affect how people find and interact with your website. It’s worth spending the time and energy to get to know the best practices within your industry, and to keep up to date with big changes from Google, but these core ideas should help steer you in the right direction regardless of your specific design, audience, or budget.