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Basics of SEO

people throwing darts

Everything is for naught if you spend time and money building a beautiful, well-functioning website that's filled with informative and engaging content, but then no one visits.

That's where online marketing tools such as social media marketing, guest blogging, participating in forums, email campaigns, collaborating with influencers, purchasing paid advertising, and offline efforts like print advertising, event sponsorships, and networking can all play a role in promoting a site.

By far, our favorite way of generating targeted traffic is by helping sites rank highly in the Google search result pages. Search engine optimization (SEO) efforts can help turn a dusty, ghost town of a site into a bustling, money-making machine faster than any other tool we know of.

"Beginning SEO might feel like you're throwing darts. You'll add a few keywords to the page, reword the title or headline tags, cut or add content, and hope that something 'hits.' With this approach, however, you have just as good a chance of lowering rather than improving your rank position."

A January 2024 study by First Page Sage looked at how much traffic a site can expect to receive when it shows up highly in the Google search results:

chart of serp click through rates for high ranking sites

Source: 2024 Click-Through Rates (CTR) on Google Search Results Pages graphic from FirstPageSage.com

In this screen snapshot, Google shows that they've indexed 3.8 BILLION sites pertaining to this search phrase. Yet, 70% of all visitor clicks will likely go to just those top three 'organically' ranked sites!

(You'll find two types of listings on many Google search result pages: the top two or three spots are usually reserved for paid advertisers. The rest of the page displays 'organic' listings--the sites that Google feels deserve to appear there, according to Google's ranking algorithm. Bing is another search engine worth taking into consideration. For this posting, however, we will refer only to Google since they handle 87% of global online searches as of January 2024.)

"Where do we start? How do I get my site ranked highly?!

Beginning SEO might feel like you're throwing darts. You'll add a few keywords to the page, reword the title or headline tags, cut or add content, and then hope that something 'hits.' With this approach, however, you have just as good a chance of lowering rather than improving your rank position. To further complicate things, Google's ranking methodology changes all the time! (It's estimated that Google made over 5,500 changes to their ranking formula in 2021 alone.)

To help point you in the right direction, here are 10 basic steps for better search engine rankings:

The Basics of Organic Search Engine Optimization

  1. Keyword research
    If you get this step wrong, nothing else on our list matters. While you might generate a lot of traffic, few of those visitors will be qualified prospects who are in the market for what you are promoting or selling.

    Keyword research involves listing all of the 'specific' terms or phrases that your desired audience might enter when searching for whatever it is that you have to offer.

    In all probability, it is impossible for a mom-and-pop car lot to show up highly in search results for a broad search term such as 'auto dealership.' However, ranking highly for 'long-tail keywords' like 'best used car dealer in Asheville' or 'used cars in Asheville under $5,000' offers a much better opportunity of success. (And, by the way, both of those exact phrases are Google 'suggested searches,' meaning that they are searched for relatively often!)

    Just a few of the online tools for helping you develop a list of target phrases are Google Search Console, Google Autocomplete, and the 'People Also Ask' and 'Related Searches' sections found on most Google search results pages./li>
  2. On-page optimization
    Search engines are smart, but they still need the site owner's help to make sure they categorize and understand a website accurately. Some of the 'signals' that Google looks at are contained in the page URL (the web page's address), title tag (located in the page's coding, hidden from visitors), heading tags (h1, h2, h3 tags), the URL and alt tags for any graphics on the page, and visible wording of the page's body copy.

    To lessen the chances of disappointing visitors and Google, periodically check your site for broken links, make sure you haven't accidentally blocked Google by entering incorrect info into your robots.txt file (if your site has one), and make sure that your sitemap.xml file (a listing of all the pages you'd like them to visit and index) is complete and accurate.

    A couple handy on-page optimization testing tools are the SEOquake browser extension (available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and other browsers) and the free (or paid) versions of Screaming Frog SEO Spider program.
  3. Engaging and informative content on the page
    The longer a visitor spends on your site, the more confirmation it sends to Google that you deserve to rank highly. If, however, visitors land on your page, don't easily find what they are looking for, 'bounce back' to the search results page, and move on to a different site, Google begins to question your site's worthiness of being ranked highly.
  4. Intuitive navigation and website structure
    Important signals that Google looks at to better understand your site and its relevance to related searches are: the navigation, if and how the pages are categorized, and the wording used in the internal linking (interlinking between the pages within your site).
  5. Mobile optimization
    Google knows that sending visitors to a poorly laid-out site or one that loads slowly or inconsistently will almost certainly lead to a frustrating guest experience. And it is in Google's interest to ignore or penalize those sites that are likely to lead to visitor disappointment.

    Since 60% of the traffic today is coming from phones, sites have no choice but to make sure that they are optimizing for mobile devices.

    There are many online responsive test tools to choose from. One of our favorites is https://responsivetesttool.com.
  6. Page speed
    According to WebFX studies, if a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load, 53% of visitors will abandon the site and move on. This does not go unnoticed by Google.

    To test a site's loading speed, we suggest running the test at https://tools.pingdom.com/ To see how a site compares to others, run the test at https://lighthouse-metrics.com/
  7. Optimize for local
    If your site serves a local audience, be sure to mention your target market area in your pages. Also, create a Google My Business listing and submit the site to the reputable local directories.
  8. Backlink building
    Generating high-quality backlinks tells Google that other sites will vouch for your site's trustworthiness, authority, safety, and credibility. Unfortunately, backlink building can be time-consuming, frustrating, and slow to pay off. If you are interested, however, visit our Basics of Backlink Building post.
  9. Secure your site with an SSL certificate
    Attaching a secure server certificate to your site not only makes it safer for visitors to interact with you, it also assures Google that the visitors they send will have a better experience. Installing an SSL certificate signals to visitors that you are worthy of being trusted with their orders and personal information. Plus, it provides you with a measure of legal protection in the event that your site experiences a security breach.
  10. Regularly monitor metrics and analytics
    How will you know if your SEO efforts are working or failing if you don't have ways of measuring your visitor counts, time on page, and the keywords that are sending you the most traffic? The best tool for this is setting up and installing the free Google Analytics.

There you have a solid blueprint for SEO basics!

We realize that this post covered an awful lot of details. If you take away just one overriding thing from this post, it should probably be this: You want your site to look and behave as you'd expect from the website of any legitimate, trustworthy, professional company.

Since most reputable companies include About Us, Contact Us, Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service pages, your site should as well. All mentions of your organization's name, address, and phone number (NAP) that appear on your site or social media accounts, press releases, etc. should contain the same information. To better help Google understand the purpose of your site, include schema markup, Facebook OG tags, and Twitter cards in your source code, just like any other authoritative site. Try to grab your organization's name as your social media account ID, and then log in and post to your social media accounts at least occasionally. The same goes for your Google My Business and Google Search Console accounts. Bottom line: Study what Coca-Cola, Amazon, Nike, and Apple do, and then try to do the same.

By implementing these steps, you'll avoid pitfalls that could penalize your site and benefit from ranking-improvement measures that your competitors may overlook. And as a result, you'll greatly improve your chances of generating more potential customers, clients, and followers and achieving your online goals.

Note: The basic steps mentioned here may be enough to get a site to page 1 for low-competition keywords. However, there are thought to be over 200 other signals that Google considers when organizing their search results pages (far too many factors for us to discuss in this post). So, if your site needs more of a boost, please contact us at Joe Web site design in Asheville. We've been practicing SEO since 1995 and would love to help you build your online business. Call our office today.

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