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SEO Fundamentals

The What, Why, and How of Search Engine Optimization

Imagine Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine, as a filing system at a library. The library has millions of books, with hundreds of pages detailing varying topics. Search engines have the ability to extract information relating to the topic of interest, and then rank it in order of relevance.

For example, if you were researching self-driving vehicles, the search engine would extract pages with the words “self-driving vehicles,” or related phrases. The search engine is able to understand that pages containing content about self-driving vehicles are extremely relevant to that search query, but it also knows that pages about robotic cars are very relevant, too. It knows that websites promoting car accessories or winter tires might also be relevant to that search query, but perhaps to a lesser extent.

The search engine does not supply these results in a random order; instead, it tries to return the most relevant results first by using sophisticated algorithms. Google is so good at this that we rarely ever have to go to the second page of the search results.

The role of an SEO specialist is to make it easy for search engines to understand what a website is about. By understanding the process and the influencing factors, it is possible to optimize a website and consequently increase internet traffic. This is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

For any business with an online storefront, organic search rank is a critical metric. Not only are conversions from organic search traffic more valuable than paid search conversions, but a higher rank is also the key determinant of visitors to your website. Ranking in the top five results for a keyword indicates that your content is relevant and high quality. Results on the first page of a Google search receive nearly 95% of clicks, of which more than two-thirds go to the top-five listings.

If your website doesn't appear on the first page of a Google search, it might as well not exist.

How to Approach Keyword Selection

A general first step of the SEO process is determining the language used by a target audience. This provides insight into the type of keywords or phrases that should be used to let both Google and potential customers know what your page is about. The easiest way to find relevant keywords is to brainstorm from the perspective of the consumer. For example, a dog groomer in Toronto might logically assume individuals seeking their service would search: “Dog groomer in Toronto,” or “Toronto dog groomer.”

An essential second step is using an online keyword explorer to determine the search volume of those specific keywords of phrases. An online keyword explorer also provides the parent topic, which has the highest traffic potential. In other words, the parent topic is the combination of words most often used by consumers. To illustrate this, suppose the phrase “Dog groomer in Toronto” possessed a search volume of 60 searches per month, while its parent topic, “Toronto dog groomer,” possessed a search volume of 1200 searches per month. It would be more effective for your site to employ the second combination of keywords, as this is the combination of words most often used by consumers.

This is called on-page SEO, and it is the process of making your site more relevant by using language that is familiar to your consumers within the site’s content or coding.

As a dog groomer, you might introduce yourself by saying: “Hi, I’m Ben, a Toronto dog groomer.” You would not say: “Hi everyone, my name is Ben and I make it my duty to make your pets look good.” While both seem to convey the same message, the first contains the parent topic. This inclusion of a few keywords makes it that much easier for Google to understand what your page is about, and in turn, this leads to higher rankings and more traffic.

It is important to note, however, that you should not inject keywords into places where they do not belong in an attempt to mislead the search engine’s algorithm. Your first priority should be optimizing your site for your consumers.

Titles, URLs, and Descriptions

In addition to optimizing the site’s content, marketers must also make an effort to optimize title tags and meta descriptions. These appear within the search results. Each result contains a title tag and a link, with a meta description underneath.

Title tags, meta descriptions, and even links exist to encourage users to click through to your page. Google recognizes when there is an increased amount of user activity, and it translates this increased activity into relevance. In order to optimize this, marketers must ensure that the heading tag, or the first few words one sees when they enter a site, is relevant to the parent topic. Thus, Ben the groomer would likely use: “Toronto Dog Groomer” as his site’s tag.

The About, Services, and Information pages should all be optimized using relevant keywords that make sense in the context. While your About page may include the keywords “Toronto dog groomer,” your Services page may contain “puppy grooming.” An efficient tactic is to refer to competitors that rank within the first few search results.

The process of finding keywords that relate to the Services or Information pages is similar to the process outlined earlier. Step into the shoes of the consumer and make a list of words that relate to the services you offer. After, plug those keywords into the keyword explorer to determine the search volume. Use the combination of keywords that offers the largest potential for high internet traffic.

The final step is to include primary keyword phrases into each page’s URL. For your dog grooming services page, your final URL may be:

Establishing Credibility: Link Building and Content Creation

Off-page SEO refers to link building. A webpage that displays a link to your website is almost like saying: “I trust your content and I am willing to send my traffic to your site.” In general, the more quality referrals you receive from relevant pages, the higher you will rank within the search results.

Quality referrals consist of links from editorials and blogs, and not links from forums or directories. Links from forums or directories hold less value as posting is not regulated.

As a marketer, you will want to develop an outreach campaign as a means of acquiring referrals. This consists of locating individuals who are interested in what you do, identifying a good reason to contact them, and providing them with a benefit. A benefit could be as simple as allowing them to repost your content.

Your outreach campaign also consists of content creation such as blog posts. By producing content that provides practical value, you are creating relevance and authority. Individuals are more likely to link to your content if it is helpful, actionable and solves a problem.

Executing SEO

Ultimately, search engines exist to generate results that individuals deem useful and helpful. If you, as a marketer, build credibility through quality content, include keywords within title tags and URLs, and do it in a way that is friendly to both the consumer and the algorithm, the long term goal of the search engine is to reward that effort.

Understand that it takes time to develop and execute an SEO strategy. Research your keywords and understand their intent, create valuable content, and resolve any technical issues within your site. Doing so will bring you closer to SEO success.

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