Why is search engine optimization important for websites? Websites that rank in the first position on Google search engine results pages (SERPs) earn nearly 2x as much traffic as the site that ranks in the second position. That's prime positioning for the potential to pull in more profits.
Whether your website is built with WordPress, Drupal, Shopify, SquareSpace, or Wix – the more organic web traffic you can earn the better it is for you.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimizatin (SEO) is the practice of optimizing web pages to be more likely to appear in more and/or specific SERPs. SEO is a mix of implementing on-site best practices like improving the time it takes your website to load (i.e. page speed) and leveraging off-site competitive advantages like strategic link building and inbound marketing. SEO sets up your website to be more discoverable by helping search engines identify it as being a good solution to their user's problems.
Showing Up More
Increased discoverability means your site shows up more often and for more searches. Anyone who grew up in in the 1990's and watched G.I. Joe cartoons knows that showing up is half the battle. Simply showing up in search results gives your links the opportunity to get clicked.
More Clicks More Better
More clicks on inbound links leading to your website means more people on your website. Higher amounts of web traffic provides you with more opportunities to convert clicks to customers. You'll have more chances to sell your services or products, generate leads, get more subscribers, and grow your brand. More clicks, more visitors, and more sales means you're doing more business – and if more business is generated through organic search results then you're doing more business for less.
- More Better SERPs Rankings
- More Inbound Link Clicks
- More Organic Web Traffic
- More Opportunity to Convert Clicks to Customers
- More Sales
- More Profits
- More Ability to Know Your Target Audience
- More Effective Advertising
- More Efficient Marketing Budgets
- More Business for Less Effort
SEO is Highly Competitive
Search Engine Optimization is a highly competitive industry. Showing up is half the battle, but the other half is maintaining position and converting. You want to maintain high and high-quality SERPs rankings to continue getting organic website traffic, so you have more opportunities to convert clicks into customers, but you also need to ensure you're converting or you won't be able to hold the ranks.
Speaking short-term, it's always been possible to launch ahead of the curve to game the system and trick a search algorithm to rank in search results. But, search algorithms – especially Google's – are smart and can quickly determine whether or not your website is a helpful result for the people it's showing you to.
Algorithmic ranking systems are using analytic data like time on site, pages per visit, bounce rate, sessions per page, entrance and exit rate, and demographic information to match and rank your site against the queries they're trying you out with.
Constantly Auditioning for the Top Spot
In reality, that's what ranking for search terms is – a continuous live audition for the gig of playing the best result for what someone has typed into the search box.
If you can show up and deliver then you stay. If you show up and don't meet expectations then it's on to the next guy.
Better User Experiences
One way to improve your website's SEO is to offer a better user experience.
A good user experience is slightly subjective, but can be gauged by on-goingly examining your website's analytic data and achieved through thoughtful planning and continuous improvements.
Looking at data, you can ask and answer a handful of questions about how your website is performing. Imagine your website is an employee – and give it regularly scheduled performance reviews. Is it doing great work for you or does it need to go on a performance improvement plan?
Some questions you can ask and review month by month are:
- Where are visitors coming from?
- Is your advertising and marketing working?
- What pages are visitors landing on the most?
- What queries are people clicking through to your site from?
- What pages are visitors leaving from the most?
- How many pages are people visiting per visit?
- Are people taking the path you expect them to take?
- Are people clicking on your call-to-action buttons?
- Are the people visiting your website the types of people you expect to be visiting?
- What can you do to help more people get to where you want them to be?
Yes, a lot of these questions are relative to your individual website, goals, and objectives. But, they're a good place to start and data will save you from poking around in the dark while you try to engineer the best prospective solutions to these questions (and more). Making changes for the sake of making changes is fun and all, but if you make a change and can analytically see that the change you made isn't improving operations then at least you can confidently decide to revert back to what was working and have the chance to move in a better direction.
Organizing the content on your website in an intuitive way can also help to improve your website's user experience.
It's fair to assume that most people who are searching for solutions to problems don't want to spend a lot of time looking for an answer. Give the people what they want and give it to them in a way that is succinct and easy to find. Provide as much instant gratification as you can.
Imagine walking into a retail store and the first thing you see is products and inventory strewn all over the floor. There's no signs to direct you towards a department. And, no one's around for you to ask for help.
That's bad juju and your first instinct is probably to get out and go somewhere better.
It's the same for websites. When someone visits your website they want to be able find things easily, so there should be order and a sense of structure to your content.
Consider improving user experience by organizing your content into a few simple categories and keep the good stuff close to home. You don't want to take your best prospects on a wild goose chase down a labyrinth of a convoluted sitemap and rabbit hole of links on links on links.
A solid simple organizational structure might look like: Home Page → Category → Product (or article)
My rule of thumb for structure is that if it seems complicated then it probably is. Try to avoid that feeling of over-complexity at all costs. Try the simple solution first.
For posterity, it's worth mentioning that most every website ought to include a few basic stapes. Namely, a home page, about us page, and a contact link. If you're truly rolling out lots of content or operating an ecommerce store then it's also best practice to include some sort of search feature. These are all ways to add credibility to your website and build trust with your visitors – which leads to better looking analytics and healthier websites.
Making your website faster is another way to improve the user experience.
There's a ton of studies that show visitors expect sites to load within a matter of seconds – we're not using dial-up internet and browsing on AOL anymore, folks! Regardless of whether the study says your site needs to load in 2 seconds or 10 seconds, the point and takeaway is that faster is better. I blame it on the mass proliferations of mobile smart phone usage, but the masses have quickly grown to not only want, but expect instantaneous satisfaction.
I know they look cool, but one suggestion to improve the speed of your website is to avoid image sliders and carousels. They're usually made with large images and extraneous inflated amounts of code that takes time to load and run. Besides, no one is staring at them long enough to see or care about what's on slide #3.
To further that note, avoid and remove any scripts or apps that are non-essential and running in the background. Are you loading a script on every page, but not using it on every page? Get rid of it – at least on the pages it's not doing anything for.
Singular Sources of Content
You should be sure you're using a responsive theme for your website. Responsive web design allows you to incorporate a single set of content across many different screen sizes, allowing your website to look good across a multitude of devices. Recent internet browsing statistics show close to 50% of all internet users access websites using a mobile device – and search engines know this, as mobile-friendliness is a ranking factor you can optimize for.
Leveraging Search Intent
Knowing what people are searching for is another way to direct the how you're able to optimize your website's SEO. Understanding the different types of content people are looking for at different phases of their customer journey (aka buying journey) helps you define which keywords to use in your effort to provide people with the right information at the right time. This is often referred to as knowing a searcher's intent.
Broadly speaking, there are four different types of intent – reasons people search online:
- Navigational – people searching for a specific website
- Informational – people seeking answers to questions
- Investigational – people looking for information that may result in a purchase
- Transactional – people ready to buy now
Who Are You Talking To?
Intent is important not only because it guides the type of content for you to create, but it also helps you decide how to optimize it for the expected audience.
For example, blog articles vs product pages. Are you using an educational blog article to frame potential problems for people in a way that allows you to provide your products as potential solutions? Or, are you focused on providing products as a solution to people who already know a clear path to solving their issues?
Intent provides the insight about how to communicate paired with who you're communicating with because you know why you're doing it. As in, you don't need to push for a hard sale when you know for certain the person visiting your website is only there for research or still needs to discover what problem they have where your services are a viable answer to their needs.
More often than not, your websites is a place where you're communicating in many ways to people at every stage of their purchasing decision process.
Knowing who you're speaking to and why you're speaking to them is priceless marketing fire power.
Outwitting the Competition
Another way to generate new keyword ideas is through competitor analysis. Examining keywords and content your closest competition is targeting is an easy way to bring your own SEO efforts up to par and create an even playing field, as well as create an opportunity for you to spot holes in their game plan where you're able to strategize an improved execution. Through competitive analysis, you can achieve more and climb the ranks by running similar campaigns and tactics, but doing them slightly better.
Stay ahead of the competition by keeping an eye on the competition. As they say in the art world, good artists borrow and the best artists steal. Imitation is the best form of flattery is another great quote, but simple imitation isn't likely to be found flattering in a competitive business environment.
Without straining your creative muscles, there's also a decent amount of technical SEO you can do to help yourself.
- Add META tags
- Have proper heading hierarchy
- Properly size images
- Use alt tags
- Be ADA compliant
- Be mobile-friendly
- Be mobile-first
- Reduce cumulative layout shifts
- Reduce time to first paints
- Have a faster website
- Use next gen images formats
- Align on-page signals (i.e. all content and meta tags) with searches
- Get more and more relevant backlinks (inbound links to your site from 3rd parties)
Setting technical goals, as well as monitoring and measuring them gives you a baseline to proceed from. If you know how well your website is working from the start then you can gauge whether or not the changes and optimizations you're making have a positive influence on how your website is working in the future.
Technical SEO improvements are widely documented by SEO practitioners and most everyone – developers and digital marketing companies – are offering these things as a baseline out-of-the-box service for clients. They've come to be expected as a qualifying form of existence in a competitive online world, as there are only so many technical things you can do, so therefore you should – at least, until Google changes the game and technology advances.
The Magic's in the Messaging
In my opinion, it's easy to do technical SEO. Everyone can add meta tags, alt tags, have proper heading hierarchies, reduce the footprint of their website's codebase, optimize the size of the images, and get their site to run fast. Those are mechanical affordances any decent developer can tick off a check list. Technical SEO involves a lot of mechanical execution that signals your website is able to be in the running as a competitor in SERPs.
Humanizing information using technology is where you can gain a higher degree of separation from the crowd and a true competitive advantage over others.
Going above and beyond to understand your customers and tell your story is what really sets websites apart. And, not only telling your story but telling it in a way that people can connect with because when someone is visiting your website it's not about you – it's about them.
It's simple to sell a solid solution or service, but it's a special mix of talent, foresight, thoughtfulness, and integrity working together to create levels of trust and likeability that sways people to choose you over the competition. SEO opens doors and helps people find you online – high-quality user-experiences and consistent clear messaging helps to convert clicks into customers. The more immersive an experience you can offer the more you'll be able to achieve.