If you are publishing content to capture organic traffic to your site, understanding how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) figures into the equation is critical. Some describe SEO as the science of getting pages to rank higher on search engines like Google, but I believe it is all about identifying the keywords people are looking for so you can describe your product or service with the right language so potential customers will find it.
With that being said, there are some technical, backend things your website needs to make sure the search engines will notice your content and value it enough that they will reward it with a ranking on the first page. As high as 92% of all search traffic takes place on the first page of Google search, so ranking as high as you can is really important. What’s more, the top two or three search positions account for over 50% of all clicks.
You have two audiences
Even though your primary audience is probably the readers or site visitors you want to share your content with, if you neglect the search engine spiders that regularly crawl your site, you’re not only ignoring a very important part of the audience, your primary audience probably won’t see your content at all.
With that in mind, there are some things you need to do to make sure your site is seen by the search engines. Let’s talk about some of the basics, but think of these as what you need to get started.
Make sure your site works
This probably goes without saying, but make sure the site nav works, that links aren’t broken, and that people (and spiders) can navigate around. Make sure all the pages load properly—and quickly. In much the same way people get frustrated when it takes too long for a page to load, Google doesn’t appreciate it either and will look less favorably on your site.
I once heard a user experience expert say something like, “You have about three seconds before a visitor will get frustrated and bail on your page.”
I think that’s about right.
More importantly, even if your site was working perfectly a couple of weeks ago it doesn’t mean it’s working well now. I’ve noticed that something always seems to break—it might be as simple as a link that changes or a button that stops working. Operating a website and keeping everything running smoothly is a never-ending job. Make a periodic website health check part of what you’re regular practice.
Don’t forget an up-to-date sitemap
This isn’t something the people who visit your website will be regularly looking for, but the search engines will. It’s part of how they know how to crawl your site. What’s more, you need a dynamic sitemap that updates automatically every time you post something new, or you’ll wind up manually updating your sitemap.
Don’t ignore the site meta description
This one not only benefits the site visitor, it also helps Google identify what they can expect to see on the site. If you do nothing, Google will assign the first line or two of your content which may or may not be a good description of the page (and more likely not). Take the time to thoughtfully create a brief description of no more than 160 characters that is interesting enough people will want to click through for a visit.
Remember, the description needs to match what’s actually on the page or the search engines will look down their collective noses at your content. You need to be concise and accurate.
Give visitor a reason to stay
Make it easy to navigate your site and find more information that they might be interested in once they visit. Giving people a reason to stay longer on your site is also good for the search engines. They pay attention to how long and how many pages they visit and the longer people stay, Google sees it as an indication that the information you’re sharing is relevant and valuable.
Post regularly and consistently
Not only do the human visitors to your site appreciate regular posts, the search engines also like to see a regular cadence of new content. What’s more, don’t be shy about updating content that becomes out of date. Google recognizes updated content the same way it views new content and keeping your content fresh is considered a best practice.
Give other sites a reason to link to your content
If you share information that is considered universally helpful, other sites will reference it and link to creating what’s called a backlink. Backlinks help give your site credibility, which is an important attribute the search engines look for. Well-written and engaging content is what your readers—and other sites—are looking for.
Don’t forget internal linking
As you write articles, take the time to link from new articles to previous articles that might discuss in detail something relevant to your topic. This makes it easier for your readers to navigate around the site and is appreciated by the search engines.
Do the keyword research
Don’t just assume that you automatically understand the search terms your audience will use when looking for your content. Spend the time to dive into some keyword research with tools that will tell you how frequently certain keywords are searched so you can strategically make sure you show up in search where you need to be.
Hire a consultant or head out on your own
Depending on how deep into SEO you want to get, it might make sense to hire a consultant to help with some of the technical aspects of SEO beyond writing informative content. Nevertheless, it is possible to roll up your sleeves and tackle the problem on your own provided you’re willing to dive into learning as much as you can about it.
I look at SEO as a framework to help create content that will show up in search and give people a reason to visit my site. That being said, stuffing keywords and focusing exclusively on SEO at the expense of quality content isn’t the best long-term solution. You have to speak to both your human audience as well as the bots (spiders) that will be visiting your site.