What Does SEO Mean? [10 Best Practices]
SEO | 10 MIN READ
SEO = Search Engine Optimization.
If that was all you were looking for, then you don’t need to read any further. But if you didn’t know what SEO stood for, then you probably aren’t entirely sure what search engine optimization is.
Don’t worry – – we’re here to help!
By the time you finish reading this article, you will not only understand SEO more clearly but know how to implement best practices to get your content to rank. How do we know it works?
Well… you found our article, right?
Don’t have much time to read everything? Jump to what you need:
Why Does SEO Matter?
SEO is the strategy used by marketers (and more specifically, content producers) to strengthen the likelihood that you (the online searcher) will find their content/website.
There are entire professions built around SEO because of the importance it has on inbound marketing. You may have the greatest content that has ever graced the internet, but without a sound SEO strategy, your content is likely to rarely see the light of day.
There is a caveat to the statement above, though. If it’s truly great content, then Google will typically find your page. SEO will just help you get that page found faster and ranked above other quality content that may be addressing the same topic (or doing business in the same industry). Truly content also tends to naturally have strong SEO indicators within it, as well.
Google averages approximately 40,000 searches per second (and that number increases each day). This translates to 3.5 billion searches per day! Wow…
With that kind of volume, many marketing strategists focus their efforts exclusively on how Google ranks content; and why not? It makes the most sense to center a strategy around the platform that will offer the best bang for your buck, right?
With Google’s daily algorithm updates, SEO specialists spend a quantifiable amount of time keeping up.
But there is an argument to be made that not focusing some of your efforts on optimizing for platforms like Bing and Yahoo is basically like leaving money on the table. After all, Microsoft (the creators of Bing) might be behind in the game, but they are stealing a bit more of the pie each year.
After all, if everyone is focusing on Google, who’s focusing on audience members using the other search platforms? Search engines like Badui, Bing, and Yahoo still hold approximately 15% of the search traffic, which is a number that is significant enough to take notice.
Still, SEO practices across platforms are similar, and Google is king right now; so this article will focus on SEO ranking strategies for them.
So now that you know what SEO is, what should you do next?
If you don’t have time to keep up with Google (and if you aren’t an SEO specialist who really does), then follow some of these best practices below to assist in getting your content to rank better:
SEO Best Practices
- Create great content
- Establish pillar pages and link articles to them
- Include long-tail keyword phrases in your content
- Optimize your site for mobile-first
- Maximize site-speed
- Keep images under 100 kb (but DO include them)
- Avoid text walls
- Link to at least one external site
- Submit your sitemap to Google
- Acquire or disavow backlinks
Create Great Content
This had to be number one because it’s consistently the factor for getting your content to rank on Google, and we predict this will become an even stronger ranking factor in the future. If you have a business or blog you are passionate about, creating great content should be relatively easy.
Make sure your content is factual, relevant to the intended audience and detailed. An article of fewer than 500 words most likely won’t rank well. I’ve had instances where this isn’t the case, but that’s usually because the article was a definition article or didn’t have a lot of competition.
Great content will have a positive effect on Google rank factors and metrics, so it’s really important to get this one right. In fact, it’s more important than anything I type after this.
Establish Pillar Pages and Link Articles to Them
In digital marketing terms, pillar pages are a newer concept (not much more than a year old). I personally like to think of pillar pages as the pages that are most likely to convert someone from prospect to customer.
Often, pillar pages are the main pages for your various lines of business, but they can also be other blog articles. Pillar pages can be more difficult to rank for but have the best potential at finding your target audience (or rather they find you).
Picture a bicycle wheel. Pillar content is at the center, with the spokes of the wheel acting as links that connect the center of the wheel with the tire (or supporting content).
It’s important to make sure that your supporting content follows sound SEO practices, but also that it is relevant to your pillar page.
When writing an article that supports your pillar page, make sure to include the keyword phrase that you want Google to begin recognizing as being associated with your pillar content.
For instance, if I want Google to recognize The One Degree as being associated with the phrase SEO marketing agency, I would hyperlink that phrase and connect to the page I wish to rank (as demonstrated).
Beware: you should only link supporting articles to pillar content 10-15 times total. Google may look (manually or via their algorithm) at those links and start to suspect you are keyword stuffing. The result could be a rank penalty, dropping your page and the connecting pages significantly.
Include Long-tail Keyword Phrases
If you want your content to rank, you have to start thinking about how your audience searches on the internet. Whether it’s a cost question, a how-to, a comparison or something else, ask yourself how you might search for that phrase in Google.
If you don’t have a tool like SEMrush or Yoast at your disposal, you can still do your keyword research, it just might not be as insightful (still, if it’s content people want, it probably won’t matter).
Also, did I mention how awesome Google is?
As most of us are aware, Google has a multitude of products that are free to use. Google isn’t in the software business, but it is in the ad and data collection business. The more people using their products, the more valuable their ad space becomes.
One of the free tools Google offers is Google Search Console. Simply put, you allow GSC to analyze your domain, and in return, it gives you the information on how people are searching for/finding your website. This means every combination of keyword that currently brings traffic to your site.
This valuable information will help you understand how people find you, but more importantly, where there is an opportunity for more growth.
A keyword that is ranking low on page one might be a great opportunity for a blog that targets that keyword, or you can see what page is ranking for that keyword already and beef it up a little more.
A simple way to do a little keyword research is by typing in the phrase you think will be searched in Google, scroll to the bottom of the SERP and view the other search suggestions. The example below is what comes up when I type in “Best Restaurants in Atlanta”
From there, I might choose to write an article titled, “10 Trendy Restaurants in Atlanta You Didn’t Know About.” Since I know Google has already suggested it, I can believe it to be a logical topic to write about. Notice, I didn’t write a verbatim title that I saw in the search results. This is because I needed something that would catch my audience’s attention.
RELATED: 5 Simple Steps to Dramatically Increase Clicks
Optimize Your Site for Mobile-first
It’s official! Google has gone on record to state that your website must be mobile-first, and websites that aren’t will not rank as well in the future. But what does that mean?
Making sure your page speed is as high as possible is a great place to start. This isn’t only a great practice for your website in-general (people don’t like to wait for websites to load and will leave if it takes too long), but it’s a must for mobile-first websites.
Many marketing platforms like HubSpot have mobile-first integration built into their interface. This means that your site will automatically alter its layout to offer a better user experience for smartphones and tablets.
Gone are the days where it’s okay to land on a site and be expected to expand a web page to view its traditional (desktop-first) layout on a tiny smartphone screen. Google will penalize your site for this and will allow mobile-first websites to rank ahead of yours.
“But my customers don’t really visit my site on their phones. We just aren’t that kind of business…”
I completely get that line of thinking. I have worked with B2B companies that thought the exact same thing. And it was true – – until it wasn’t.
When we first looked at their metrics, their web traffic was less than 7% mobile. After optimizing their site and revamping their content, their website now has mobile traffic at over 20%!
This still isn’t the majority of their traffic, but it is a significant increase and proves that people do search that way. If people don’t visit your site on mobile, stop and ask yourself, ‘is it because our site isn’t optimized for mobile?’
If you have a site that’s slow to load, you will get penalized by Google (and your audience for that matter). Here are a few things that need to be done to get your site-speed up:
- Make sure your site hosting service is based in the country you wish to rank best. This will help you significantly if it is currently overseas.
- Make images as small as possible (more on this one below).
- Allow Google AMP when a page is particularly media rich.
- Make sure your servers (hosted or owned) can accommodate the traffic you expect to manage at any given point on your site.
Google Analytics has a great (and free) way to test the site speed of any page on your website. Simply integrate your Google Search Console information into GA and click “Site Speed” under the Behavior tab on the left-hand menu. The image below illustrates what you will see:
As you can see, one of the options is “Speed Suggestions.” This is where you would go to see if there are any pages that are particularly slow. These pages will most likely have several large media files on them that can be compressed into smaller files. More on that next.
Keep Images Under 100 kb
100 kilobytes! Will you even be able to see the image quality at that point? That’s exactly what I thought when I first learned this, but the truth is that mobile sites (remember, mobile-first) don’t need 3D quality images on a tiny screen.
Plus, the downgrade in quality is not as significant as you might think – after all, the images on this blog post are within that optimization range. You be the judge!
So how do you compress files easily? I use two tools:
- Extension: View Size Info (I know, it isn’t a great name), to see which of your images are beyond the goal of 100 kb. Like everything else with Google, this is a free extension.
- Compress your PNG image files (Bonus: PNG’s are made for screens, as opposed to JPEG files) using the tool: Compress PNG. This is a free tool that doesn’t require an email address to download the completed file.
This will dramatically improve your site speed, and as a result, increase your search rank. If you can’t get a file below 100 kb, it isn’t the end of the world. Just make sure you are doing your part in making the file as small as you can before you upload it.
Avoid Walls of Text
This really isn’t a rank factor for Google, but it does have a dramatic effect on your bounce rate and long-click rate (which are rank factors for Google).
We’ve all clicked on the articles on our phone that look like a wall of text. Seemingly an entire article with no paragraphs.
Now, you know better than to write an article with no paragraphs, but because most of us publish articles from our computers, we don’t think about what that same text will look like when it gets converted to a mobile format with a significantly smaller screen.
Think about the article you’re reading right now. The paragraphs in many cases are only two or three sentences. The reason is purely for optics to make sure it doesn’t look daunting to read on a mobile device.
Plus, white space makes everything look better, and who doesn’t like to read small paragraphs? It makes you feel like you are making SO much more progress!
Link to at Least One External Resource
While I completely understand this line of thinking, the truth is that Google needs to see that you are part of a greater online community. Unless your website is the thought leader in your industry, you need to connect to other sites to show you didn’t simply makeup everything on your page.
Just make sure that the following happens when you link to external sites:
- External web pages are opened in new browser tabs (we want people to be able to get back to your site easily).
- Link to a domain you believe to have high authority on the topic you’re discussing. Websites with high domain authority have more “search engine juice” to give.
If you don’t want to share some of your link power with that website, you can tell search engines not to follow that link. This is not recommended unless you feel that linking to that page will confuse search engines, and therefore, hurt your ranking.
Bonus: You can link a high performing piece of content on your site to a low-performing piece of content to give it some SEO love and a potential boost in your rankings.
Submit Your Sitemap to Google
A sitemap is a simple “schematic” of your website’s navigation. It shows Google how your pages flow and creates a hierarchy for its bots to be able to determine which pages are most important.
If you don’t have a marketing platform that automatically keeps your sitemap organized and available for Google, then you will want to create one. Here is a sample of the sitemap for The One Degree.
You can submit this directly to Google by following their step-by-step instructions on how to do so. You will need to download Google Search Console, though, in order to complete this process, but you will want to do this anyway (see long-tail keyword point above).
Acquire or Disavow Backlinks
If you’ve ever heard about manually acquiring backlinks, then you probably know it isn’t a super attractive strategy to marketers. Not because it doesn’t work, but because it takes time.
Backlinks are generated when another site links to your site. They are incredibly powerful for getting your content to rank stronger and something that should absolutely be on your SEO radar, though, link building has taken a backseat to quality content and Google RankBrain.
Writing great content and getting backlinks organically is the best way to achieve this, but it is possible to email individuals and offer your content to their website. You can use tools like SEMrush or Moz to find out where your competitors are getting their links and start there.
This strategy is best carried out if you can discover a broken link that needs replacing. You solve a problem for them by fixing a broken link on their site (which can have a negative effect on SEO), and they help you by linking to your content.
When Google Penguin made its update back in 2016, a greater emphasis on link quality was established as a major rank factor.
As a result, marketers not only have to make sure they are acquiring quality links, but they have to ensure they aren’t organically acquiring spammy links from websites.
In the past, this was usually a result of a website hosting a forum and having users post links back to their personal websites in an effort to get “organic” backlinks. Google became aware of this method and has developed a way of keeping websites honest.
Disavowing backlinks that you know to be toxic are a great way to keep your site healthy and Google (or Bing) happy. Make sure to ask yourself these questions before attempting to disavow a link:
- Track the link back to its point of origin after running a link audit.
- Determine if the link looks spammy, according to the Penguin update (is it associated with a forum, is it mentioned in context in a manner that makes sense, and does it appear within a trustworthy website)
- If a link is unwanted – before disavowing – attempt to contact the site owner and ask for the link to be removed (make sure these attempts are documented so you can show you made an effort in good faith if Google manually penalizes your site).
The Penguin update also placed a negative emphasis on exact match anchor text. For instance, you want to avoid a bunch of links that are the exact keyword you are targeting.
An example would be if I am trying to rank my article for “best it services” and I always link to the article with the phrase, best IT services. Google is likely to penalize me for this.
That isn’t to say that it can’t be done once or twice, but if you always link to a particular piece of content the same way, Google will see those links as spam and assume you are attempting to game their system. Avoiding harsh Google penalties for easy to avoid mistakes like this should be a priority.
I should point out that some information on the internet will tell you to never use exact match linking, but I have never worked with a site that was penalized for one or two exact matches. Keep in mind the key is to avoid looking like you are spamming your site with the same keyword. One or two exact matches won’t jeopardize this, especially if it is relevant to the content.
Finally, make sure that you never purchase links from someone. It will be a waste of time and will most likely result in you getting burned by Google. The small boost generated from people selling you links isn’t worth the penalty you receive if you’re caught.
What About Bing SEO?
At this point, you may be wondering, “What about Bing?” We actually have an entire article on Bing search optimization, but one thing I can say quickly in this blog is that if you have optimized for Google correctly, Bing shouldn’t be a struggle.
Bing has become a much bigger player in the search engine space as of lately. Including its partnership with Yahoo, Bing is now receiving 30% of all search traffic. That’s a substantial increase from where it was just a few years ago.
Furthermore, if you are in a more conservative market, Bing can’t be ignored because it’s preferred to Google in higher proportions to its more liberal counterparts. Something to consider depending on the demographics of your clients.
Who has the time for an SEO strategy?
If you made it this far, then I hope this information will prove very helpful to you. You might also be saying, “I can keep up with 10 best practices!”
If you are saying that, great! We like to empower our readers.
But keep in mind, these aren’t the only rank factors for Google. I’ve found these to be the most consistent, though, and they have given me the most SEO “juice” over the years. Stick with these and you’ll see a significant increase in your site rankings.
Keep in mind that some sites carry a significant amount of domain authority, so you target those long-tail keywords to get your site to rank regionally and for more specific searches, first.
Does this mean you’ll have to write a lot more content than you thought? Most likely, yes. But really it’s just an opportunity to better educate your audience.
If you don’t have the time to keep up with Google (after all, they do add small updates every day, and usually large updates every quarter), then it might be a good idea to consider hiring out a company that can help you optimize your site, give you counsel on next-steps, and even develop content for you.
These kinds of companies exist and can take some of the stress out of marketing. Typically, you can find quality organizations who will do this for you for less than the price of a single, in-house marketer.
Now, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t hire in-house marketers. You absolutely should! But not every company has the resources to hire an entire team of marketers.
Is it possible to do it on your own? Absolutely!
But you have to decide how you want to leverage your time.