Why is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) important? According to Hubspot, 68% of online experiences begin with a search engine, 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search, and 93% of global traffic comes from Google search, Google Images, and Google Map. Optimizing your site for search is a great free way to get in front of new customers, build trust with new and existing customers, and build site traffic organically, instead of just paying for traffic.
When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) people often think of it as some sort of magic that you sprinkle on your site, and just like that you'll rank first on Google. But it takes a lot of work to create and maintain an effective SEO strategy. There are many best practices to help you optimize your site for search, and there will be different ones that work better for you than others. With all things SEO, the biggest rule is this, "Write for people first, then optimize for SEO." If your content doesn't serve your audience, they won't be searching for it.
Before you decide what to say, you need to know who you're saying it to. Like we just mentioned, it's always important to write for people first. So, before you dive into all the how-tos of SEO, establish the personas of your audience. If you don't yet have personas, here's a little tool we use: Character, Obstacle, Goal. We adopted it from our friend Brian McDonald, who teaches the concept in this episode of "You Are a Storyteller."
Think of the customer you are trying to attract as your character. Now, what is their goal? And what is the obstacle keeping them from achieving their goal? How does your product or service help them overcome this obstacle to reach their goal?
Imagine you are selling an amazing instant coffee called Instant Cafe. Now, think of a customer. We'll call her Jill. Jill is in her mid-twenties and loves to enjoy a cup of coffee at home before she heads out for work. However, she always wakes up late and doesn't have time to make a French press every morning so she often goes coffeeless to work. Instant Cafe can help Jill overcome her problem of waking up late by providing a quick cup of coffee she can make in a minute, instead of the several minutes a French press takes.
With this example, Instant Cafe now has one persona it can specifically target through content.
Next, it's important to set up Google Analytics and Search Console. These two resources will help you know what you should be trying to rank for, what's working, what's not, and how to improve. If you don't have these set up, then you won't have the information you need to make informed decisions about the keywords you should be going after. Set up Google Analytics and Search Console quickly, following these links.
It's also important to make sure your sitemap is uploaded to Google. Hubspot put together a great guide that explains what site maps are, why they're important, and how to submit yours. In essence, a site map works as a roadmap for search engines like Google to see every nook and cranny of your website—every page, paragraph, photo, video, and any other files you have. By knowing everything your website has to offer and better understanding your content, Google then knows how to find your customers.
Using Google Search Console, you can start by seeing what content you're already ranking for. This is important because it's easier to improve than it is to start brand new so you may as well improve what's already working before going after something new.
There are two kinds of keywords: branded and non-branded. Branded keywords use the name of your company. Branded means people are searching specifically for you, such as Instant Cafe. It's important to be found first by the people looking for you, and then you can expand out to non-branded keywords, which expands to your industries, your products, and customer problems, things like, "How to make a quick cup of coffee," or "No time for Chemex."
What you do for each of those will be the same. Use your performance report to pick the top 25 keywords for your website. Highlight each of the metrics:
Then see which queries you can improve the fastest. For example, if you notice you're appearing on the second page for "how to make instant coffee" and the fifth page for "what's faster than a French press," you'll want to go after "How to make instant coffee" first, as moving from page two to page one is easier than page five to page one.
SEO is an art and a science. There are a number of ways you can implement SEO on your site, some will work better than others, and you won't be able to do them all today. Just do what you can and slowly build on that. Here are a few SEO strategies you can try to get started.
This is simple yet highly effective if done correctly. Your title is usually the first piece of information users will see before making a decision on entering your site. When it comes to titles, clarity over creativity is important for SEO. Titles should help readers know what problem you're going to help them solve or what question you will answer. Intentionally select keywords that relate to your audience's preferences as well as long-tail keywords that cater to search engines. A long-tail keyword is a keyword that is more specific than a generic keyword. Long-tail keywords get less traffic but often get more conversions. A keyword title would be something like, "How to make instant coffee." A long-tail keyword title would be, "How to make a dairy-free latte with instant coffee."
Title tags are the silver bullet of SEO. When used correctly, you can see an increase of traffic anywhere from 20-100%! While every CMS is different, you'll want to find where to add title tags, metadata descriptions, and image alt tags, and be sure to add them for every post. Adding image alt tags is not only another way to increase SEO, but also improves your site accessibility, which in turn improves your organic ranking!
Link building is critical to increasing your authority and relevance as well as your Google ranking. Inbound links come from other websites linking to your content. For example, a local blogger decided they liked Instant Cafe, so they wrote a blog post about their new morning routine and linked to Instant Cafe's blog post "How to Make a Quick Cup of Coffee." An outbound link is when you link to another website's content. For example, Instant Cafe wrote a blog post about what to pair with your coffee to enhance the flavor and linked to a granola bar's product page. This sort of linking helps search engines identify what your content is about while increasing your page authority.
And don't miss the internal linking opportunities within your site. Internal links help both users and search engines navigate through your site. They also help increase the authority of certain pages (the more quality links to the page, the higher its authority). So, Instant Cafe makes sure that when they create "How to Make a Quick Cup of Coffee," they link to their Instant Cafe Product, and their pairing article and both of those articles link back to how to make your morning cup of coffee.
If you find a site with similar information to what you believe your audience is searching for, don't just duplicate. Expand on the information and always be transparent. Hopefully this is common sense, but in order to follow best practices, you must produce original content and credit where credit is due. Posting non-original content is actually penalized by search engines as copying and plagiarizing can be viewed as spam. You'll notice that we've linked to a lot of posts throughout this article, that's our way of giving credit to the awesome community who helps us improve our SEO strategies every day!
At Assemble, we believe in quality over quantity and people over technology and sales. Even if you become a master of SEO, you will not provide useful information or products if you do not cater to your customers’ needs. As mentioned above, finding your user personas and sticking to your roadmap is crucial. So, once you have successfully applied SEO strategies to your website and driven customers to you, it's all about how you keep them there. The easiest way? Provide the resources and information that is actually what they are looking for.
This post was written in collaboration with Kelsey Duffield and Joel Cummings.