“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” That age-old philosophical question is relevant to your website as well. “If your website exists on the internet and no one is able to find it, does it help your company meet its objectives?” The short answer is “No.” or at least not very much. Therein lies the value of search engine optimization or SEO.

In layperson terms, SEO is the art and science of getting your website noticed and highly ranked by search engines like Google, Bing, etc. The data shows (and your personal experience likely confirms) that people simply do not go beyond a few pages of search results to find what they’re looking for. In fact, many people won’t go beyond the first page. Consequently, if you haven’t focused on SEO and your website listing is languishing on Page 5, your website probably isn’t seeing a lot of organic traffic, meaning people who find you through search rather than by clicking a paid advertisement.

On the flip side, if you understand what the search engines are “looking” for (fresh content, keywords and “semantically related” words, etc.) and you take steps to make your site appealing to them, it may earn a ranking that generates significant traffic.

Thinking Like a Search Engine

In order to provide you with helpful results when you perform a search on the internet, search engines have to know what’s out there. They do this by sending out automated digital “robots” that “crawl” the web. This means that they go to websites, navigate to all of their pages, and assess how well the content will meet the searcher’s needs. They make this evaluation based on two things:

● Relevance – How closely the information on a site matches the person’s search terms
● Popularity – How many visits the site gets, how many other sites link to it, etc.

These determinations are made by mathematical algorithms that take hundreds of variables into consideration. And, the algorithms change periodically as the science of search advances. So, it can be very challenging to know with any certainty how your site will be ranked. But, if you stay informed about the latest SEO rules and make modifications to your site as needed, you can greatly improve your chances of earning a high ranking.

Understanding Your Audience

While you want your web content to make the search engines happy, that must go hand-in-hand with making your site visitors happy. And that requires understanding what people want. Generally speaking, people execute a search for one of three reasons:

● They want to do something, like making a purchase.
● They want to learn something, like which Las Vegas hotels are most popular.
● They want to go somewhere on the web, like the website for their favorite band.

How well your website meets their needs affects how well it is ranked by the search engines. This is measured in many ways, including how long they stay and how many pages they visit.

Designing Your Website for Easy Crawling

The specifics on how to make your website easy for the “spiders,” as they are called, to crawl could fill volumes. What’s important to know is that there are ways to make your content easier for the spiders to find. For example, the easiest way for spiders to move around your site is using links from a menu or page to other pages. If you have pages on your site that are “orphans,” meaning there are no links to them, they are effectively invisible to the search engines.

Another example is the images on your site. Spiders don’t “see” images like people do. But images can be labeled behind the scenes with information that describes them. Spiders can use that information to better understand whether a page would be relevant to a searcher.

Keyword Research

While many factors affect your website’s search ranking, the words on the pages are, of course, hugely important. There are many tools for determining what keywords are important to your target market. Ultimately, what’s critical is that the focus of the content on a web page, the keywords within the content, and the searcher’s needs are in sync.

For example, you may discover that the term “beer” is highly searched in your area. But, if you sell shoes, peppering your site with the word “beer” and related language simply to generate more attention might bump you higher in the search rankings, but you’ll be disappointing many thirsty site visitors and the search engines will not be happy with you.

Actually, the reality is that the search engines are smart enough not to rank your site highly in the first place, but you get the point. What you’re offering and what you are saying about what you’re offering must match.

The Importance of Usability and User Experience

While not as crucial as page content and other factors, how people perceive your site can affect its ranking. You may be providing fresh, relevant information, but if it is presented in a way that is confusing or frustrating to site visitors, your site won’t rank well. If, however, visitors have a positive experience and it leads to bookmarking, sharing, inbound links, and return visits, the search engines will take notice. They also are increasingly aware of how “mobile device friendly” a site is.

SEO in Summary

As you can see, SEO is a fairly complicated topic. However, you can make great strides by focusing on five key areas:

1. Content. It should be fresh, engaging, and relevant.
2. Links. If sites viewed positively by the search engines link to yours, that’s very helpful.
3. On-page factors. This includes all the ways that data is “tagged” in the behind-the-scenes code on your pages.
4. Page load time. People want their information fast. If your site can’t deliver in fractions of a second, this will hurt your ranking.
5. User experience. Years ago, there were tactics for “fooling” the search engines into thinking a site met the searcher’s needs (you may have heard the term “keyword stuffing”) even though ultimately it was a big disappointment. Today, the search engines are smarter and focusing even more on ensuring searchers are happy with the sites they visit.

The great thing about SEO is that with a little guidance, you can make significant strides in improving your site and ultimately elevating your search ranking. Contact us to learn about how we can help.

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The Fundamentals of SEO
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