Misconceptions About SEO & How They Harm Our Businesses
SEO is one of the most misunderstood types of digital marketing. Many business owners and general marketing practitioners believe it is too technical and complicated for a non-expert to do. As a result, they feel forced to pay large monthly retainers to have someone manage their SEO. Others believe that SEO is losing its relevance. Both of these beliefs are false.
Unfortunately, the mystification and confusion surrounding SEO enables unethical practitioners to take advantage of even the savviest marketers and business owners. Some overcharge for simple and quick services, while others – who don’t provide SEO services – convince customers that SEO unnecessary. Both beliefs can harm businesses. The former wastes money, and the latter causes business owners to miss out on the financial gain that fully optimized websites provide.
How this Article Will Guide You
This article is long, but worth your time if you have a website and want to maximize its ROI to your business. You’ll learn the most important aspects of SEO. You’ll also learn the information you’ll need to make educated decisions regarding which tasks you can do yourself, which you can delegate to your staff, and when it makes sense to outsource.
The Website is King
The bulk of SEO occurs in the design, development, and content creation of your website. Certainly social media, and pay-per-click (PPC) are critical elements to any integrated marketing plan; but a rock solid website and SEO strategy lead to high rankings in Google and more exposure to prospective customers.
Google rewards websites that are highly relevant to the search criteria and enhance user experience. All of the suggestions below fall in line with that goal – and if you follow them – your site will rise through the ranks!
YOUR ROLE IN SEO: 9 ELEMENTS OF CONTENT
As a non-web developer, you can play a significant role in your website’s SEO because you have control over content (text, pictures, videos). Tasks listed below are ones you don’t need web building or coding experience to complete. You can perform them yourself, delegate them to staff, hire professionals, or a combination of all three. Who you hire and if you hire will depend on the skills and tools you have in-house.
Hi quality content is essential. Over the years, Google’s algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to judge content quality. Now, Google actually uses artificial intelligence to judge content quality, and rewards pages with high quality content, while it penalizes those that fall short.
How can you create high quality content? On each page of your website, the content must meet the needs of the primary users of that particular page and take into consideration the actions you would like them to take on that page. The text must be well written and visuals should look professional. There are more details on creating top-quality content below.
2. Mixed media Content
A. Text, Photo, & Video
Google ranks sites that have a mix of text, photo, and video higher than it ranks sites that just have one or two of these media. Most sites already have text and images, but many lack videos. According to Search Engine Land, 64% of internet traffic is video. You can’t afford to miss out on that! Video length also matters; shorter videos (30 seconds to three minutes) perform better.
B. Quality is Essential
When adding mixed media to your site, remember that all photos and videos should be relatively high quality (clear sound and crisp images).
C. A lot of Content
Sites with a lot of content rank higher than sites with less content. Make sure your site has a lot of content, but only in the right places. The best place to add a lot of content is a blog. Do not load your site’s pages with a lot of content just to add content.
If load your non-blog pages with a lot of text, pictures, and videos, you will lose readers. Online readers have short attention spans. If they visit a page that has enough content to require a lot of scrolling, they will likely leave your site quickly. If too many readers leave your site quickly, this will drive up your site’s bounce rate, which will counteract your SEO efforts.
Do it Yourself or Outsource?
You should be able to capture decent quality photos on your own (with a smartphone or mid-range camera). If you have a Go-Pro or a decent quality video camera, you should be able to capture high-quality videos. If you don’t have these tools available to you, hire professional photographers and videographers.
Do make sure that your graphics don’t significantly increase download time, as visitors to your site will only give you a few brief seconds of their attention before moving on. Currently 1080p provides plenty of resolution without impacting site speed for the vast majority of users.
Additionally, if you plan to use auto-play videos, use them sparingly. If overused or improperly placed, they can ruin the user-experience and lengthen the load time.
When writing copy for your website, there are a variety of considerations, the most important of which are listed below.
A. Copy Structure
Google ranks pages higher when their copy is structured as an inverted pyramid. What does this mean? The most important information and main ideas should appear in the beginning (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?). Then, the important details about the main topics should appear next. The loosely relevant background information should come last.
B. Copy Relevance
Google ranks pages highly when the text is relevant to the customers who will be using that particular page of the site.
Example: A page on which a customer can purchase a specific package of flavored coffee should contain only information on the specifications relevant to that coffee and that package. The page should not contain an explanation about how coffee beans are harvested and roasted in different areas of the world. This information would belong on a page that viewers visit to learn about coffee.
C. Titles & Subtitles
Titles and subtitles serve two SEO purposes. (1) They are important places to put keywords, as Google values keywords in subtitles and titles more than it does in body text. (2) Subtitles organize/break up long blocks of text for an easier/quicker reading experience, which Google rewards.
D. Anchor Text
Google rewards pages that feature anchor text with relevant keywords. Anchor text is text that is linked to another website or to a page within the same site.
Example: Say your keyword is “financial planning services” and you want to link your visitors to a page that describes your company’s services in that area. A good anchor text choice would be (A) “Read more about our financial planning services,” rather than (B) “To learn about our financial planning services, click here.” “Click here” doesn’t tell Google anything about the topic of the link, whereas “financial planning services” does.
E. Meta Descriptions
Google tends to rank pages higher when they have Meta descriptions. Having a Meta description increases the chances that readers will visit your site, which also indirectly improves SEO.
The Meta description is the short paragraph of text that appears under your page’s URL in the Google search results. The Meta description of a page should clearly describe what the page is about, and should include the target keywords for the page in question.
If you don’t have access to the editing functions of your website, provide your web developer with a Meta description for each page on your site. Search Engine Watch makes useful recommendations regarding how to write a good Meta description.
F. Copy Succinctness
Google rewards websites that have succinctly and clearly written copy. Verbosity is penalized, and so is redundancy. Other than keywords, nothing on your site should be repeated. If you must restate a concept in two different places, there are two solutions: (1) Link the reader to the page on which the concept is originally described or (2) Reword your description so it doesn’t seem repetitive. If you overuse this second option, Google will still penalize your site.
G. Grammar & Spelling
Google penalizes poor grammar and spelling.
H. Sentence Structure
Pages that use many long sentences (three lines or longer) rank poorly. As a rough rule of thumb, no sentence should exceed three lines, and those that reach three lines should be relatively rare. Sentences ranging from one to two lines are usually best.
I. Word Usage
Pages that are filled with long words and complex jargon rank poorly. If the purpose of your page is to speak to experts in a certain field, jargon is acceptable if and only if professionals in that field commonly use it. If that’s not your page’s purpose, then avoid long obscure words when simple, short, more commonly used synonyms would serve the same purpose.
J. Paragraph Structure
Pages that have many long paragraphs of text are penalized. For internet reading purposes, every three to six lines should be a new paragraph. The breaking-up of long text blocks makes the text more reader-friendly.
Google ranks pages higher when they are optimized for certain keywords.
A. Selecting Keywords
It’s important to do legitimate keyword research to ensure you are optimizing your site to rank for the best keywords. Those who make assumptions about which keywords to use often miss the mark and fail to recognize new opportunities to outrank competitors. Here is a helpful blog article that can guide you in your keyword research, even if you are a beginner!
B. Keyword Research: Do it Yourself or Outsource?
You can do either or a mix. You don’t need special skills to do keyword research. What you do need is solid knowledge of your business goals, your customers’ needs, and how customers will use your site. You also need the time to read the article suggested above and the time to actually do the research.
C. How Long Does Keyword Research Take?
Research can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day. This largely depends on how many pages your site contains. Any time a brand-new page is added to your website, you should do new keyword research. Researching for a single page will obviously take less time than researching for the whole site. If you and your staff don’t have the time, outsource the keyword research.
D. How to Optimize for Certain Keywords
Once you’ve chosen your keywords, it’s important to know how and where to use them. Google ranks sites highly when they have:
E. Keyword in Titles, Subheadings, Text, and Tags
Feature keywords multiple times in titles, subheadings, text, and alt tags without the content appearing repetitive, awkward, or appearing as though it’s stuffed with keywords.
F. Keywords Accompanied by Other Relevant Words
Feature keywords along with other words and concepts relevant to the keywords.
Example: If you write about the keyword “gourmet coffee,” then Google would expect to see words and concepts related to gourmet coffee, like “beans,” “flavor,” “aroma,” “mug,” “French press,” “brew,” etc. If relevant words and concepts are absent, a page will be penalized…even if the keyword is there.
For instance, if you write about Ronald Reagan’s life, and mention 10 times that he loved “gourmet coffee,” this page won’t rank as highly as the page that features gourmet coffee as the main topic of discussion.
G. Feature Relevant Keywords
The keywords on each page should be relevant to the purpose of that page.
Example: On a page that sells gourmet coffee, the keywords should resemble the intent to buy gourmet coffee. “Purchase gourmet coffee,” “Gourmet coffee online,” and “Where to find gourmet coffee” are great examples of keywords that reveal the intent to purchase.
A page that serves to educate readers on making coffee would use keywords such as “How to make great coffee,” “How to choose the best coffee beans,” or “The best way to brew coffee.”
5. Inbound & Outbound Links
Google rewards websites when they feature links to other credible websites and vice versa. Be sure to link your website only to pages that feature information relevant to the information on your page. If you know the owners of other credible websites that feature information related to your field, speak to them to see whether they would be willing to link your site to theirs.
6. Internal Links
Google ranks sites higher when they have internal links than when they don’t. In your copy, make sure you link different pages in your website to each other – but only when it makes sense to do so.
Example: If one page explains your organization’s history, and you mention the name of the CEO and how she started the organization, you could link her name to another page that features her biography.
7. Content Updates
Sites that update content frequently rank higher. An easy way to update content without changing your main pages is to have a blog and update it at least twice a month with text including the keywords you’re targeting. Make sure all keywords you’ve selected for your site are well represented in your blog posts, but not all at once.
The best blog posts, for SEO purposes, are 2,000 words (four pages). This seems far too long to be reader-friendly, but the statistics show that this is the optimal length for SEO. Shorter blogs serve other purposes, such as to solicit comments and encouraging shares. How can you write posts that are 2,000 words and reader-friendly?
A good practice would be to put the most important parts of the article on the first page (first 600 words). Allow that first section to read as an article that could stand by itself. Then, spend the rest of the article elaborating on what you covered on the first page and providing information on relevant topics. Just make sure the four-page piece reads as one cohesive article to those who do decide to venture beyond page one.
Copywriting: Do Yourself or Outsource?
This depends on the skills you have in-house. To do SEO copywriting in-house, make sure you have the following:
- A very skilled wordsmith who will be able to work your keywords into the text multiple times without making the text sound awkward.
- A writer who writes in a grammatically correct, succinct, and clear manner that is quickly and easily readable. This writer should be able to write according to all of the requirements above.
If you don’t have the above skills in-house, your best bet is to hire a copywriter who has experience with SEO writing.
8. Google Registration
Businesses that are registered on Google rank better. Register your business on Google so it pops up as a specific location on a map when people search for it. Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar business and work from home, use whichever address you have registered as your official business address.
9. Evergreen Content
Google rewards pages that have plenty of evergreen content, which is just a buzzword for content that is continuously relevant and never becomes out-of-date. If you do have information on your site that will need to be continuously updated, it’s best to leave this information on a “latest news” page or some other page that you know you will maintain regularly.
YOUR WEB DEVELOPER’S ROLE IN SEO: 6 ELEMENTS
Some critical aspects of your website and SEO program require the help of skilled web developers – or those who know code and have website building expertise. It’s best to address security, responsiveness, navigability, and tags with your developer before building your site.
A. Security Certificates: Google rewards secure sites, especially if the site collects confidential information from users. Secure websites use SSL (secure socket layers) to transfer data safely over the internet. If your site uses SSL, your URL will begin with “https” instead of “http”.
B. Plugins: Website plugins are software components that add specific features to websites (e.g. a calendar, a news ticker, a photo gallery, etc.). They add functionality to your site, which is good. The downside is that they must be updated regularly. If they aren’t, they become vulnerable to hackers, viruses, etc. If your site has out-of-date plugins, Google will penalize it because these plugins can cause security issues within the site.
How can you prevent plugin security issues? Make sure your developer only adds plugins that you’re sure you want and that receive high user ratings. Ask your developer if she will perform regular plugin updates for you in the future. This may involve an additional fee, but the fee shouldn’t be outrageous and it will be worth it.
Your site should be responsive, as responsive sites enhance user experience and improves Google rankings. A responsive website is one that changes to fit various screen sizes (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop). If the site does not fit the variety of screens described, it will be difficult to see and navigate, which will ruin the user experience.
This site will allow you to test your site’s responsiveness free of charge. Just type your URL into the search box on the top left. (Right now, the search box is populated with the zootemplate.net URL, but use your own URL to replace it. Then, on the top right, click the device icons to see what your site looks like on different devices.)
The easier your site is to navigate, the higher your Google rank will be. Your site’s menu should be centrally located, easy to see, and should contain broad and relevant topics (e.g. about us, services, work portfolio, our products, blog, etc.). The subtopics should be well organized under their respective broad topics in easy-to-see and easy-to-click dropdown menus.
4. User Journey
Google ranks websites much higher in search results when they offer clear journeys for each type of user. Every website will have different types of users who will use the site for different reasons, with each taking a unique journey.
Example: Say you run a non-profit organization that does scientific research for cancer and offers services to cancer patients and caregivers. The website would likely cater to five audiences (physicians, scientists, patients, caregivers, and patients’ relatives), each of whom will experience a different user journey.
Be sure to clearly communicate with your website developer the categories of users who will visit your page along with their needs, the actions you want them to take, and the relevant pages they should visit. Make sure that the finished website follows a logical path to facilitate each user’s specific journey.
Each picture or video added to your site will have a tag. Google ranks sites higher when tags are directly relevant to the subject covered and to the keywords targeted (keywords are discussed below). If your developer is the one adding content to your site, make sure that your tags match the appropriate keywords.
Example: Say your keyword is “bicep exercises” and you show a video or photo gallery of a trainer doing bicep exercises, the tag on the video or photos should include the text “bicep exercises” or something similar – not “Tom lifting weights.”
6. Schema Markup
Pages that use schema markups receive better SEO rankings because schema markups tell search engines what the information on your site means and provide valuable information to users. Schema markups are pieces of code that organize and present information in different ways. What information do they organize and present? The information that appears along with your website link and meta description when your site appears in search results.
This short article from Search Engine Land explains clearly what schema markups do, what they look like, and when to use which type of markup. After reading this article, speak with your developer and have him add schema markups to your website.
7. URLs & Indexing
When a site is indexed, that means that search engines can see it. Certain pages should be hidden from Google and should not be indexed (such as your terms and conditions page, customer complaint forms, and anything you wouldn’t want to be seen unless customers purposely seek it out). Other pages (such as your main pages listed in your menu bar) should be indexed. To gain the attention of Google, make sure your URLS make sense and contain the main topic of each page along with the main keyword(s) of that page.
ANALYSIS: MEASURING RESULTS OF YOUR SEO EFFORTS
After you’ve accomplished all of the above, you’ll need to check up on your website to see if your rankings are improving, how long visitors are staying, and which pages are receiving the most traffic. Google Analytics is a wonderful tool to help you do this. Your website developer can add it to your site, or you can add it yourself if you have access to your site’s editing functions. Here, you can find setup instructions and instructions on how to use Google Analytics.
RECAP: OUTSOURCING VS. DOING IT YOURSELF
Now you know that paying an SEO expert a monthly retainer isn’t the only way to achieve your SEO goals, and you know when using a professional makes sense for you.
What Fees To Expect if You Outsource Everything
If you do choose to outsource, you could get the job done with a web developer, copywriter, SEO keyword researcher, and someone to run analytics reports for you. This will cost you a larger lump sum at first.
However, after the website is built and content added, your monthly expenses will be the following:
- A fee to your web developer to complete website and plugin updates
- A fee to your copywriter to write or edit your blog (if you choose to have a blog and hire a copywriter to write it)
- A fee to an SEO expert to analyze your SEO results
If you choose to pay an SEO expert, make sure you request an itemized bill each month for his services, and make sure that you are only paying for services that you want and need to outsource.
Doing it all Yourself or Doing Some Yourself
SEO is alive and well, as it drives potential customers to one of the few places over which you have full control over content and the customer experience; your website. If you or your staff has the time and expertise to do some of the tasks outlined above, you can save a lot of money. If you don’t, SEO practitioners are available to help!
By Chiara Tedone
Chiara has a passion for helping businesses grow by ensuring that they build solid and well-known brands, credible reputations, and lasting relationships with customers on the internet. She specializes in digital marketing and branding. Chiara works to develop branding and marketing strategies, and to execute them digitally from the ground up via website development, copywriting, content marketing, blogging, search engine marketing/SEO, online advertising, email marketing, and social media marketing/management. She has served clients in the government, non-profit, defense, health, beauty, entertainment, and packaging industries.
Chiara has worked in Washington, D.C., and in Tampa, and has served organizations in the non-profit, government, defense contracting, entertainment, health, and beauty industries. Her educational background includes an M.B.A. with a specialty in marketing, from the University of South Florida, and a B.A. in international relations from American University in Washington, D.C.
She serves on the Boards of Directors in a marketing and management capacity for two organizations: Winning the Fight, a medical research non-profit organization, which she co-founded in 2010; and the Tampa Bay Light Opera Company. Chiara is also a regular contributing author to AMA Tampa Bay’s blog, and serves as a content strategist for AMA Tampa Bay.
Email: Chiara at [email protected]
Social Media: LinkedIn