Free Guide to Simplify Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
How do you know if your website is optimized for search engines?
Websites that rank high on search engines have five common ideas, or principles. If your website doesn’t have all five of these components, your digital ecosystem will be off balance. As a result, your site is not likely to rank well against your competition.
If your competition is ranking higher than you, they are getting a lot of free organic traffic that could be coming to your site instead. Sign up for a free search volume audit with one of our digital marketing experts to find out how many people are passing over your site and going to one of your competitors instead.
Websites that rank high on search results pages use these five main components:
If you can apply these to your site, you will see higher search engine rankings. It’s that simple.
In fact, a study conducted by SEMrush on over 600,000 high-ranking websites showed that these were the most important factors in determining how high a website will rank on Google. Once you learn the simple concepts behind these principles, you will have a clear understanding of how to rank higher on the first page of Google.
Applying these principles and improving your SEO is not as confusing as you think. When combined, these five principles form what we call the “Digital Ecosystem.”
We have simplified everything to help you learn search engine optimization terms in plain English
Once you understand these SEO concepts, you will be better prepared to talk about your online marketing campaigns with your digital marketing provider.
Please let us know at the bottom of the page if there are any words or concepts that we need to explain better. Our goal is to be the most helpful resource for entrepreneurs to understand the ins and outs of digital marketing.
The principle that is most in common with websites that rank high on search engines is Brand Awareness.
Search engines track your brand awareness in a few different ways:
- When people search for your website using your brand name.
- When people visit your website directly, by typing your web address into the browser.
- When other websites create links back to your website using your brand name in the “anchor text” (we will explain “anchor text” below).
If your brand name is getting searched a lot, then the search engines know that people are specifically looking for your company. Even better, if your brand name along with the name of your products or services are getting searched a lot, then the search engines know people are specifically searching for your brand name related to the products or services you offer.
Branded Search Term: Technicare
Branded Search Term + Product or Service: Technicare Carpet Cleaning
In this example, if people are searching “Technicare Carpet Cleaning” and clicking on the search result that takes them to Technicare’s website, then the search engines know that when people just search “carpet cleaning” they are likely looking for Technicares website.
Case Study: This case study was conducted using a browser plugin tool called “Manual Geolocation” to simulate searching Google from specific locations throughout Technicare’s service area. Technicare is a home services company serving affluent homes in Columbus, OH, Atlanta, GA and Louisville, KY.
Process: The Google searches were conducted with keywords related to services offered by Technicare in locations where they advertise in N2 Neighborhood Magazines. The geolocation searches were performed in concentric circles starting with the center of the neighborhoods they advertise in and progressively moving outward.
Result: The case study shows that Technicare’s local search rankings are higher in neighborhoods where they have increased their local brand awareness by advertising in neighborhood magazines.
This concept is especially important for local search. Search engines not only consider what people are searching, they also consider where people are searching from. You will have better search engine results in locations where people are searching specifically for your brand.
It is important to find ways to build your brand name within your target market. For local companies, it is important to find advertising opportunities such as highly targeted local publications that target your local service area in order to increase your local brand awareness.
Local brand awareness will help increase your local search results and increase your leads in your local service area.
Websites with high Google rankings have both relevant content AND other websites that link back to their site. This is called link building.
Why is relevant content important? If your site doesn’t have the content your visitors need, they will never find you.
Of course, you will have to first understand what the “right content” is. Keyword research will help you see what search queries your potential customers are using to find your product or service.
Don’t make the mistake of putting information on your site before doing your research. First, you need to know what search queries people are using to search for your products and services. Afterwards, you can start to write content around those specific “search” words.
Think of it this way -- you didn’t find this page by accident.
Instead, you searched the words that are on this page, because we knew which search queries you would most likely use.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help you find the exact words that people are typing into search engines. Once you find the search terms (keywords) that real people are using, you can write content around those keywords and phrases. One tool that we use on a regular basis is KWFinder.com to find out what internet users are searching for and THEN we develop content.
It is important to keep these tips in mind when choosing keywords:
- Choose keywords that are relevant to your products and services.
Most importantly, your keywords should help solve your customers’ problems.
- Choose keywords that give you the ability to rank on the first page of Google.
It doesn’t do any good to rank on page two, three, or below (do you look at page two of Google when you search? Of course not). KW Finder and other tools can help you determine how likely you are to rank on page one for any given keyword.
- Choose keywords that have commercial intent for your product and services pages.
This means that someone who uses them is looking to purchase something. For example, if you are a swimming pool maintenance business, you don’t want to choose a keyword phrase like “public swimming pool summer membership.”
People searching that keyword are more likely to buy a membership rather than hire a pool maintenance service.
- Write quality content using keywords that can help your potential customers.
If you are a swimming pool maintenance service, you can choose keywords like “pool cleaning,” and write a blog post about the best five ways to keep your pool clean.
This post will be valuable to your potential customers and will list you as an official source on how to keep pools clean. When a potential customer is tired of cleaning their own pool, they are more likely to call you. Even better, search engines will start to see you as an authority on pool cleaning.
- Choose some low competition keyword phrases that have five or more words (long tail keywords) to start out with.
Low competition keywords tend to have less monthly searches and/or less commercial intent than high competition keywords. Once your website gains authority, you can target keywords that are more competitive.
- Choose a few low competition keywords that other businesses haven’t discovered yet.
Make sure your keywords have enough traffic to make your time worth it. Even though you might not compete for high traffic keywords in your industry right away, you also don’t want to waste your time. Don’t bother using keywords that may only bring you one visitor a month.
Once you choose your keywords, you need to use them in a few specific places so that search engines will be able to find them.
Page Title and Page Description
Start by putting your keywords in the title tag and the page description tag. Meta tags are not seen on your website by visitors. These meta tags are read by search engines and used in your organic search result on Google.
Headings and Alt attributes
You should also include keywords in your headings (H1, H2, H3) and throughout your copy. The trick here is not to use them too much.
You don’t want to cram your keywords into your content unnaturally. This is called keyword stuffing. Both search engines and potential customers will notice this (and penalize you for it). Keywords should also be used as “alt text” for your images. As of now, search engines can’t see the topic of your images. Adding your keywords to the alt text tag helps search engines understand your content better.
You can even use your primary keyword in the web address (URL) of your page, using hyphens to separate each word (www.YourWebsite.com/key-word).
Don’t stuff keywords into your content left and right. Instead, write meaningful copy that naturally includes your keywords.
You can also use words that are semantically related to help people (and search engines) understand what you are talking about. You don’t need to use the same word over and over again for Google to know what your page is all about.
Keyword optimization is important, but it is even more important to give your visitors the quality content they are looking for. Your content should help readers solve their problems, which will naturally include words that they are searching. You can use the free Yoast WordPress plugin to help optimize your keyword density and manage your meta tags.
When creating content, remember to give people what they are searching for, and they will find you! If you need help researching keywords to help you rank higher on Google, you can apply for a free keyword and search behavior analysis with one of our digital marketing experts.
Other free tools can be used to make sure your content is readable and SEO friendly. For example, the Google Docs add-on called SEMrush Writing Assistant compares your content readability to other sites that are trying to rank for your keywords. If all other factors are equal, the site that is the most readable will rank higher.
Internal and External linking
Once you have your web pages built with relevant content and keywords, you need to start showing search engines that your website is relevant with:
Internal Links (within your website)
External Links (link from other websites)
Have you ever noticed blue underlined text on a web page?
That is called a “hyperlink,” or just a “link” for short. The text that is underlined in blue is called anchor text. Think about what happens when you click a link. Most of the time you are taken to another page, right? And you click on the link because you are interested in whatever the anchor text in the link is related to.
The blue underlined words let you know the topic of the page they link to.
For example, if you saw “the pool cleaning chemicals we use are safe for the environment,” you would expect the link to help you learn more about those chemicals.
Well, search engines understand this concept and will use links to figure out what a page is about. This includes the links that are within your website (internal) and links from other websites (external).
If you want to create valuable content on your website, your copy will need to be engaging.
These are the four main steps:
Make your organic results more engaging than your competitors.
Write quality content on each page.
Optimize your content for all buying cycle phases.
Optimize all of your conversion elements.
Write Engaging Content For Your Search Engine Organic Results
Engaging content brings site visitors through organic search results.
These results appear on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), which includes your page title and page description. These are called meta descriptions and meta titles. You can think of your page title and description as the “organic ad” for your web page. This is your organic search result, and it should be more compelling than your competitors to get more clicks.
Getting more clicks through a strong organic search result will improve your click-through rates. Your click-through rate is the amount of times a searcher clicks on your organic result compared to the amount of times it appears on the SERP’s.
Pages that rank at the top of Google have high click-through rates. If you would like to improve your click-through rate, you can apply for a free click-through rate audit with one of our digital marketing experts.
Once a searcher selects your organic result, they should be taken to a page that grabs their attention with relevant and interesting headlines.
We call this your organic landing page. Your organic landing page should be divided into readable pieces and structured to keep the reader's attention.
You can use tools in Google Docs to make sure your copy is readable for your audience (more on this in a little bit). If all other ranking factors are equal, a page with a higher readability score will rank better on search engines.
An 8th grade reading level is what you want to aim for.
More importantly, your content should be easier to read than that of your competitors. Readable content also keeps your visitors from clicking the back button or closing the browser tab, which is called a “bounce.”
There are no shortcuts here; just make quality content that people want to read! If you don’t have the time to write content, there are many ways to hire qualified writers who can do it for you.
You can increase visitor engagement by providing different types of content. Your website might be designed to sell products or services, but it’s important to understand that searchers are rarely ready to buy something right away. If your content only tells visitors to “Buy now,” you will probably end up with a high bounce rate.
Your “bounce rate” is the amount of times your visitors navigate to a second page (or interact with your site in any other way) compared to how many visitors click on the back button or close the browser tab. This shows that they didn’t find what they were searching for when they clicked on your website’s organic result. Search engines want to make sure that internet users are getting good information, so your bounce rate is very important.
You also want to provide enough information to keep the reader's attention for a few minutes. Search engines want to see more than 300 words per page, and some statistics show that pages with 1500 words rank the highest. When it comes to ranking, the number of words per page depends on how many words are on the web pages that rank higher for the same keywords.
“Session duration” refers to how long a visitor stays on your site. If your bounce rate is low and your session duration is high, it is a very good indication that you have created engaging and relevant content. This is exactly what search engines will reward you for, because that is what they want to deliver.
Optimize Content For All Buying Cycle Phases
A “buying cycle” can last anywhere from a couple of minutes to months or years.
It is important to develop content for each stage of your buying cycle, which usually falls into one of these five phases:
Awareness (Searchers see your organic listing or ad and compare it to other options on Google)
Interest (Searchers show interest in your organic listing or ad and visit your website)
Research (Visitors compare your website to other sites they find on Google)
Preference (Visitors show preference and become a lead or prospect)
Decision (Visitors purchase your product or service and become a customer)
Each page of your website should be focused on one or more of the phases in your buying cycle.
Once you know the “buying” or “search” intent for specific keywords, you will know which part of the buying cycle to structure your content around. This is called a funnel, because the goal is to funnel your visitors through each phase to make a purchase.
Try not to emphasize “BUY NOW” on pages that are targeting keywords with very low buying intent.
Pages with low buying intent can focus on content that is informative and helpful to your potential customer. You can then use conversion optimization to move your visitors through your funnel. New websites typically focus their pages on the “bottom of the funnel” keywords. As your business grows, you can build content around your “top of the funnel” keywords to attract more potential customers with low competition keywords.
Low competition keywords bring a lot of opportunity when your content focuses on the top of the funnel. If your site is new and has low authority, a good strategy is to target low competition, “top of the funnel” keywords.
After you build authority, you can work towards ranking on the first page of Google with more competitive keywords at the bottom of the funnel. High authority sites have a much better chance at ranking for competitive keywords (which are keywords with high buying intent focused on the bottom of the funnel).
Not sure if your content is optimized for your customers’ buying cycle? Apply for a free content optimization session with one of our digital marketing experts. You can also download our free content optimization guide to learn more about search engine optimization.
Optimize Conversion Elements
The process of moving your website visitors through each phase is called “conversion.” When a searcher finds your website, they become a “visitor.” When your visitor starts to show interest, you can convert them into a “lead.”
One way of converting a visitor into a lead is by providing a “lead magnet,” which is information that you can offer as a free download. An example of a free download that we offer is our free SEO guide. As a reader of this page, you will most likely be interested in this guide because we know the search intent of the keywords you used to find this page.
When your lead is ready to make a decision, you have the opportunity to convert them into a customer, since you have already given them valuable and helpful content. This process is called “conversion optimization.” Improving your conversion is a very important part of engaging your website visitors, increasing your revenue, and ranking higher on Google.
We use tools like Google Analytics, user experience recording, and A/B testing to optimize conversions and increase purchasing. When done correctly, conversion optimization will make your website smarter and smarter every month, and can even double or triple your revenue.
Not sure if your site is optimized for conversion? Apply for a free conversion optimization audit with one of our digital marketing experts. You can also download our free conversion optimization guide.
Conversion optimization has a ton of benefits.
Not only does it increase sales, but it also boosts engagement and search engine results. Companies with great products and services, combined with high quality and relevant content, have top positions on search engines.
Why is this? Those companies know how search engines work and are providing exactly what they are designed to find: relevant, authoritative, and engaging content. Click here to continue learning about conversion optimization.
Web Design and Usability (UX)
The structure of your site and the user experience are very important to overall performance.
If you do not have the technical skills to build a proper site, this is one task you should consider hiring out. There is no substitute for a highly skilled web designer. The structure of your site affects the way search engines index your content and how well you rank in search results.There are many technical web design aspects that can take a while to learn. However, there are some important elements you can look for to make sure your site is technically optimized to help you rank higher on Google.
Your site should have an SSL certificate, which means the connection to your site is secure. You will know if your site has the correct security certificate if you see a green “https” before your web address (https://www.google.com/). Unsecure sites have a red “http” without the “s” (http://www.unsecure.com/).
Google has been telling web developers for a long time that sites without a valid security certificate will be penalized. As such, there is no excuse if your digital marketing provider hasn’t done this for you yet.
You also need a site that is mobile friendly.
There are a few reasons why this is key to ranking on the first page of Google. First, more searches are done on mobile sites than on desktop. To give visitors a good experience when they come to your site on a mobile device, your site needs to be optimized for a mobile screen.
This is also called responsive design, because the site will adapt to any screen size. Visitors are less likely to “bounce” if they have a good mobile experience.
The second reason is because Google will rank your site higher for design and speed if it is optimized for mobile devices. Pages that you want to rank high should load in under two seconds.
Google will penalize your page for slow load times, and you lose a lot of searchers for every extra second your page takes to load.
If you are not sure if your site design will help you rank at the top of search engines, you can apply for a free website design and usability audit with one of our digital marketing experts. You can also download our free web design and usability guide. Click here to take a deeper look at more technical web design and usability elements that can affect your search engine ranking.
The final piece you will need to rank high on search engines is to continually create fresh content and fresh external links.
Think of it this way: would you rather talk with someone who is wearing clothes from decades ago with nothing new to say, or with someone who is wearing modern clothes and has interesting, new information?
Better yet, would you like to talk to someone who has a combination of experience, fresh ideas, and is well respected by others? Web pages originally created many years ago with fresh information and an increasing number of external links are a perfect combination.
These pages tend to rank at the top of organic searches because the Google Index crawls the internet regularly and keeps track of your content and links. Then, they compare your content and links to the previous crawl to see what is new.
Search engines like to see that your content and authority are growing over time. This tells them that you are alive and well. We use a variety of tools and techniques to make sure we are constantly providing search engines with fresh content and external links. This way, we can maintain and improve our search engine rankings.
It’s amazing how simple search engine optimization is when explained in simple terms. SEO may not be easy to implement, but the four principles are easy to understand once you see how closely they mimic the natural patterns that we follow when deciding what information is important in our daily lives. No matter what kind of information you need, you want it to be relevant, authoritative, engaging, and fresh.
Together, these principles create what we call a healthy digital ecosystem. If you are an entrepreneur and you are unclear on any of these SEO concepts, you can apply for a free digital marketing consultation with one of our digital marketing experts. You can also download our free SEO guide.
External links are special because they show relevance and authority.
When one website links to another, Google sees this as casting a “vote” and passing on authority.
You can almost think of “authority” as a popularity contest. The website with the most votes from the most popular websites becomes the most authoritative and ranks higher on Google.
Keep in mind that it is not the website with the most votes that ranks the highest. It is much more important to have votes from popular sites (authoritative) than to get votes from lots of websites. In fact, if search engines see that you have a lot of links from low authority sites, they may penalize you.
Why would another website link to yours?
External linking tends to happen when a page has valuable information that another site wants their visitors to read. If you want your website to be authoritative and rank well on search engines, you need to write content that other sites will link to.
An external link could also come from websites that cite your content as an original source of information. In research papers, we call these “links” citations. In SEO, you may also hear people call these “backlinks”.
Low authority or “spammy” backlinks got a bad name with Google’s Penguin update in 2016. Many shady digital marketers tried to cut corners and trick Google into thinking that their sites were authoritative by using unethical “blackhat” tactics to get thousands of low authority backlinks.
So, how do you get other websites to link to your content? This is where external link outreach comes in.
It is not important to just create valuable content. Smart SEO means you will also have to promote it on a regular basis.
You will need to find websites that might be interested in your content and let them know it is there. This is one of the most time-consuming parts of ranking high on search engines. If your site stops getting links from external sites, the search engines will think that your competition has started to create better information than you.
You can use sites like Buzzsumo.com and other tools to help find other websites that might be interested in your content. Notice that we just backlinked to Buzzsumo.com because their tool is adding value to you, the reader.
We are also an affiliate of Buzzsumo, so we naturally want to refer to their site, which is part of their strategy to rank high on Google. Their site will receive an authority boost because our site is an authoritative source for digital marketing content. There is often a symbiotic relationship when it comes to external link building.
By helping other sites increase their authority, your own authority can increase as well.
Moz uses a term called Domain Authority (DA) to rank each website from 1 to 100. A brand-new website starts with a Domain Authority of 1. There are only a handful of sites with a Domain Authority of 100, like Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, and a few others.
Your entire website collects Domain Authority (DA) and each page collects Page Authority (PA). Domain Authority tells search engines how authoritative your entire site is, and Page Authority tells search engines how authoritative each individual page is.
When higher DA websites link to yours, the search engines will start to understand how important your website is.
Each new page on your site starts out with a Page Authority of 1 until you get external links.
You can spread Page Authority from one page to another by using internal linking.
PA can also be increased by getting links from other relevant and authoritative external websites. Why are DA and PA so important? Because search engines want to give searchers the most relevant AND the most authoritative results.
Although social media mentions can help your search ranking, they don’t always help all that much. If you use social media as a way to better serve your audience, the search engines will pick up on that.
You don’t need to overdo social media just for SEO if it is not a good fit for your company and your customers.
Each search engine displays up to 10 organic results on the first page, so it is important to create quality content on your site AND promote it. After other websites start linking to your valuable and unique content, watch your Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) increase with your search engine rankings.
If you can get more high quality links than your competitors, searchers will start choosing your website instead. If you need help building authority to rank higher on Google, you can apply for a free site authority and link audit with one of our digital marketing experts.