You’ve set up your website, started blogging to increase web traffic, and… Nothing seems to be happening. First of all, patience is key! It may take a minute before you start seeing the results of your hard work. But also, there’s a bit of a cheat you can use to help boost your rankings, and it revolves around learning the basics of SEO, three letters you may have heard before.
This is an important concept to understand both for your website copy and for your blog content. Ready to dive in? Let’s start by defining it…
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It can refer to either a person who focuses on making sites more search engine friendly, or to the process of making a site more “optimized” for search engines. That is, how we set our site up in a way that makes it more likely to come up when someone searches for dog training information on Google.
And if you do any reading on SEO out there on the World Wide Web, you’re bound to run into enough acronyms to make a whole pot of alphabet soup. SEM, SER, SEP, SERP…. But, honestly, they don’t really matter unless you’re going to go very, very, deep into SEO.
The important thing is to know what Google cares about and a little about how it works, so you can make sure your website is optimized for search.
How Google Works
As a search engine, Google is trying to help people find information on a topic they’re interested in or the answer to a question they have.
When it was first created, the way it did this was fairly simple. It worked a little like a library catalog, indexing all the pages it could find on the internet. As time went on, Google worked to make its machines even smarter, so that they could be more useful.
However, the more people used it, the more website creators wanted their sites to rank well in Google’s search results. So they began trying to figure out what they needed to do to help a machine (which is what Google is, after all) better understand what their website was about and what information it contained.
Sometimes, they’d go so far in their efforts to make their site Google-friendly, that they’d actually make it less useful for people. Since returning search results that weren’t useful for people wouldn’t help Google, Google didn’t like that so much…
And, of course, some people tried to cheat. Another thing Google didn’t like.
So Google became ever more complex.
Today there are likely hundreds of factors that Google considers in under a second when someone types in a search term (also called a search query). And while it tells us a little about them, overall Google is pretty quiet about what those factors are. Still, there are some things we know…
The Basics of SEO
At its most basic level, when someone types in a search, Google goes out on the web looking for pages that include the words they put into that search. It then returns a list of all the pages it found that included those phrases.
Those phrases are often called Keywords.
So, if someone goes to Google and types in “Dog training in Alabama” Google is going to go find pages with the phrase “Dog training in Alabama” on them. Once upon a time, that’s all it would have done. But it’s gotten smarter, so now it might also return pages that have “dog training” on them AND elsewhere on the page, also mention “Alabama.”
More recently, it’s even evolved to the point where it can also start to assume some intent about those phrases — so it may understand that if you search for movie theaters, it can also return cinema information. Or if you search “restaurants near me” it’ll use your location data to find restaurants located a certain distance from your physical location.
But the important thing to know here is that if there are keywords people are likely to search for that are relevant to what you do, it makes sense to have them included in the text on your website.
Further, you want to include them in key places on those pages. Google knows, for example, that content in a heading or in a page title is more important than content in the body of a page. Bold text also matters — it tells Google that text is important.
There are two other pieces of information that are important to have in your code. These are called the Title Tag and the Meta Description. These are what Google will show when that page comes up in search results.
If your site doesn’t tell Google what to include here, Google will guess. Sometimes it guesses well; sometimes it doesn’t.
The key takeaways are this:
- Use words on your website you think people are likely to be searching for when they’re looking for your services. Use them in page titles and in the text itself.
- Make sure you use headings appropriately in your copy. Include keywords in your headings but also make sure they are reader-friendly.
Don’t Forget Your Backlinks
The final ranking factor we’ll be talking about here is backlinks. Backlinks are links from someone else’s website to yours.
Google generally assumes a site with a lot of backlinks is an authority on its topic. After all, if a lot of people are linking to you, surely that means your content is good (and generally accurate), right?
Google is even smart enough to rate the quality of those links — so if the New York Times was to link to your site, that would be a very big deal indeed.
That said, Google is very good at sussing out spammy backlinks; this is one of those areas where people tried very hard to cheat, so things like link trading or asking someone to link to your site whenever a specific phrase is mentioned generally no longer work and may even hurt your site.
The key thing to keep in mind here is that if you are doing an event, write something for another company’s website, get mentioned by someone else on their site for any reason, etc. it makes sense to try and get a link back to your website. If your business is listed with your local chamber of commerce or you earn a certificate with an organization in your field, and they offer you a chance to include a link back to your site, be sure to take advantage of it.
Go Forth and Blog!
This is just a taste of how it all works (there’s a reason why this field has become an entire career!), but now that you’re armed with the basics of SEO, you can make small tweaks to your writing that should boost how often potential clients come across your website. If you’re struggling to find keywords to include in your blog posts and web copy, there are plenty of free tools you can use to help!
The important thing to remember is not to just pad your website with keywords — Google is too smart for that (and will subsequently lower your ranking), and it’s not helpful to anyone if you’ve spent precious time writing something that doesn’t make a lot of sense or provide any substance.
Your unique thoughts and experiences make for engaging content and help current and future clients get to know you, so don’t be afraid to use your voice and be authentic in building your brand online; it’s what will ultimately set you apart from everyone else.