When you type a query into Google and can’t find what you’re looking for on page 1, you probably reword your search and try again. You’re not alone.
An estimated 75% of web users click on the first page of search results, with only 25% moving on to page 2 and beyond. This means if you’re not on page 1 for a given keyword, your site basically doesn’t exist in the eyes of potential customers.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting your website to rank well. Even a one spot improvement in the rankings can boost your traffic by an average of 30%:
- Imagine you own a local gym in Phoenix, AZ, that ranks #7 for “fitness training” — a keyword that attracts 100 visitors daily.
- If you’re able to grab the #6 spot for “fitness training”, your daily traffic could increase to 130 visitors.
Not bad. But how do you use SEO to accomplish this?
How Does SEO Work?
The algorithms that search engines, such as Google and Bing, use are closely guarded secrets. There are lots of different factors that go into successful search engine optimization.
But, if you’re just starting with SEO, below are the three most important components on which to focus. Master these key strategies and you’ll be way ahead of the pack.
1. Choosing the Right Keywords
Keywords are the backbone of SEO, since they’re the phrases and questions that users type into the major search engines. Thus, the most important step involves compiling a list of ranking-worthy keywords.
Many businesses rely solely on intuition when building their lists. So, to revisit our earlier example, you might start with the keyword “gym memberships in Phoenix”.
Free tools such as Google Keyword Planner are far more effective at creating lists since they use real queries that have actually been searched. Therefore, you might end up with less obvious keyword ideas such as:
- “weight loss tips”
- “best gym in Phoenix”
- “local Pilates classes in Phoenix”
There also are many paid tools that can help with keyword research, including Ahrefs, SEMRush and Moz. Like Google’s free Keyword Planner, these tools also show you common terms that users actually search.
2. Weaving Keywords Into Content
Once you have keywords, it’s time to start weaving them into your online content (e.g., blogs, infographics, white papers, press releases, and articles). Your keywords should feature prominently so search engine spiders can find them easily. That said, keyword inclusion should be such that visitors enjoy a natural and positive user experience.
The more content you create, the better — since each published asset lives online in perpetuity, potentially generating traffic for many years.
If you lack the bandwidth or know-how to generate large volumes of keyword-rich content, you may be better off hiring a professional copywriter to help. Just understand that without content, your site cannot and will not rank in the major search engines.
3. Building Backlinks to Your Site
Imagine that there are several gyms in Phoenix, all of which create the same volume of keyword-rich content. How does Google know which site to rank higher?
The answer comes down to backlinks — i.e., citations (or links) from other sites that point to yours. For example, here’s a backlink to Straight North, an Internet marketing firm that specializes in search engine optimization.
The more backlinks you generate, the more authoritative your site appears in the eyes of Google. Webmasters wouldn’t point to your most recent article if they didn’t believe it had value.
However, it’s not just about quantity. Quality is also extremely important.
If you own a gym, you want backlinks from sites within the same industry (i.e., fitness, dieting, and health) instead of links from unrelated industries (i.e., wedding planning, language translation, or guitar repair).
Keep in mind, however, that building backlinks is incredibly time-consuming. Some links will happen organically simply because a webmaster really likes your most recent article. But you’ll likely need to reach out to site owners and request a link or offer to write guest posts for them.
You may need to hire a professional link builder if you don’t have the bandwidth to handle this step in-house. Thanks to the sharing economy, you can easily find short-term freelancers on sites such as Upwork or Guru.
On Your Mark, Get Set …
Given how critical search engine rankings are in today’s competitive business world, SEO has emerged as an industry in and of itself. The strategies outlined above should simply serve as a starting point before diving into all of the smaller (but still important) components that go into successful search engine optimization.
Only after locking down keywords, content, and backlinks should you turn your attention to other SEO strategies such as page load speeds, sitemaps, canonicalization, permalinks, image compression, and more.