By this point, you know what SEO is. If you’ve been in business longer than 6 months, or you’ve been reading around this blog for even just ten minutes, then you’ve at the very least heard of it.
But for the sake of argument, let’s do a rundown:
SEO is the practical, yet tedious way of letting search engines know you exist. More so, it tells them what you’re all about, and makes it easy for people to find you, assuming you’re relevant to their searches.
And the whole process involves finding optimal keywords that relate to your business. The higher your content output, the higher quality it is, the higher your site will rank in searches. But it involves a bit of optimization to bring it all together. Setting things up, if you will.
And that’s changed a lot in recent years. Adding in keywords in titles, meta descriptions, or H1 headers used to be the ticket, but… that’s really outdated information these days.
Google is smart enough to pick up on these words, so you don’t need to be obsessive about keyword stuffing anymore. It knows that when you search for the “best digital marketing tips,” what you’re really looking for is information geared toward growing your audience. It will throw out results having to do with social media marketing, best copywriting practices, and tips to growing your audience online.
It’s also smart enough to pick up on the descriptive terms that set searches apart. Like “best digital marketing tips” versus “best game developer digital marketing tips.” It knows when you’re being very specific, and when you’re open to a little more flexibility.
So, if you’re still handing SEO like you’re in the early 2000s, or even more so, if you’ve never touched any SEO practices before, then you’re in the right place. Let’s get started on the only steps you really need to make SEO work in your favor.
Optimize for Search Intent
The go-getter mindset is one everyone wants to get behind, at least in theory, right? It says “If you want it, go and get it!” It’s the code every entrepreneur lives by!
But… there’s a time and a place, isn’t there? Not everything works with that mindset. For instance, not to get cheesy here, but imagine trying to make the Olympics. To enter, you have to be a top-notch athlete, capable of keeping up, putting on a good show, and maintaining perfect form in the toughest of conditions.
So, unless you’ve been training for several years, you’re not likely to be selected. And sure, you could start training now, but odds are depending on your age, level of dedication, and physical characteristics, you’re always going to be overshadowed by the athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to competing.
What does this have to do with SEO exactly?
Well, when you translate this to websites, only the top-notch make the ranks. If you’re a newbie, and you’re in no way offering the same level of quality and information as your competition, you can’t expect to make the top of the list of results. It’s just not going to happen.
That’s why you have to dedicate some time building up what people want to see. What does the audience care to click on when they type in keywords related to what you’re all about?
Only by knowing the types of results they click on the most (top 5) will you have an idea of what it is you need to be publishing on your website.
Ensure A Fast Site Speed
It’s been said for a while. Google has been saying it as far back as 2009. Site speed matters more than any marketer, content creator, or entrepreneur cares to admit.
If your page loads anywhere between a single second and 3, the bounce rate probability goes up by a whopping 32%.
Let that sink in. That’s a hefty percentage for 1-3 seconds of loading time…
And if it takes upwards of 5 seconds, it goes up by 90%.
The numbers only get worse. One second more, and it goes up to 106%. And 10 seconds means a 123% chance that people will click back out before it’s ever done loading.
They won’t see a thing you’ve published on the site.
After years of telling marketers and website designers to increase their speeds, Google finally started cranking down too. They were no longer asking, they were laying it out plain and clear: those who couldn’t compete would be left behind. No possibility to rank higher.
So, long story short, it’s time to bring your site up to date. Your landing pages, your blog, everything. Otherwise, you could have the world’s best designed landing page, and no one would ever care, nor even see it. And that doesn’t allow for business growth or shining potential.
If you’re unsure where you stand, don’t hestitate to check your site speed with Google’s own tool. And remember, there are always ways you can improve it:
Reduce image sizes so they load faster.
Use Google Analytics to determine the slower sections of your website.
Don’t Discard the Old Tactics
Here’s the thing: the old keyword stuffing ways of using H1 headers and meta descriptions is pretty dated…
If you’re leaning onto that method like it’s 2001, that’s a problem, because there’s so much more you can do with SEO these days. More effective tactics, for that matter.
But that doesn’t mean that you should completely forget about those simpler, wholesome methods either. Using them along with all the new, shiny tactics is the key to success.
Using these old methods still counts for something, albeit on a smaller scale. For instance, it lets your audience know that your site is a relevant result for their query.
If you searched for “new white plates,” and got two results:
“New white plates.”
You’d pick the latter, right? It’s the exact match. And it’s the exact match because it has your keyword right in the title. It sets you a cut above the rest, even in these modern times.
That being said, you shouldn’t shoehorn keywords into titles if they just don’t work. Whatever sounds really unnatural and spammy should be omitted. Instead, go for titles that make the most sense, that remain truthful to your topic, but that still sound catchy enough to be taken seriously.
Use synonyms or stop words if you have to—Google is smart enough to pick up what you’re putting down.
Following in the same vein of old tactics that somehow withstand the test of time, you should absolutely be optimizing your images. And that means a series of things:
Clearly labeling your image file names.
Using alt tags for images.
Making sure your image size is something your site can quickly load, ideally within the first 3 seconds.
Add in the fact that 57 million Americans have some sort of disability, especially a visual impairment, and you have quite the need for optimization.
For example, alt tags can be used to describe images, because the text will always show up, even if the images fail to load. Or better yet, if there’s a special screen reader involved, for the blind, this will read the image description for them, so they can visualize as they listen along.
This is why descriptions matter so much. Clearly labeling your images allows them to have a fruitful experience when spending time on your landing page, blog, newsletter, etc.
Imagine the screen reader saying “image385672” rather than “A picture of an agile Border Collie soaring up into the sky to catch a ball.” One of them gives you no pleasure, no sense of understanding. But the other paints a vivid picture that they can take in with the context.
On another note, it’s also useful for search engines. Sure, having an image in your post and not using an alt description won’t kill you. But by having that there, and keeping it relevant, you’re further signaling to search engines that your content is ripe for the picking.
Now, this used to be much more impactful than it is now. It’s an old tactic. But if you can help those with disabilities while still maximizing your resources, why not? It may only help searchability a bit, but it still counts for something.
Use Schema Markup
If you don’t know what this is, here’s a condensed rundown: this is what tells search engines what your page is all about. It’s kind of like keywords in that sense. However, things like reviews and images are the direct result of Schema markup.
That means it increases the level of enticement that your result contains within the context of a list of search results. You could have the same title, the same link, but the one with an image to look at, and a rating, is always going to seem more put together and credible, than its counterpart.
And it makes sense. When you see anything with a visual image that breaks up a wall of text, you notice. Imagine a list of search results with no images. Nothing, except the third one down, with the image of a nice floral arrangement. Or cookies. Anything relevant and shot with quality in mind.
Your eye will travel to that result first, regardless of what the other results seem to portray, all because this particular one has an image. And, oh, look at that. It also has a high rating.
It goes without saying, businesses that benefit from this are far and wide, but it’s especially true for restaurants, food truck websites, coffee shops, and anything else in hospitality.
Of course, there’s no need to use Schema Markup on every single page you have. Some pages, like your contact page, or about page, won’t benefit from this at all. Only pages that really make sense should have it, like menu pages, or product listings.
If you’re still unsure of what requires markup, consider the top-ranking pages for the keyword you’re targeting. If a lot of those pages have it, then yours should too. Follow the pack, so to speak. You’ll stand out if your content blows them out of the water anyway, no worries.
Oh, and as a side note, now that we’re touching on quality content, remember that you can always outsource work that you can’t fathom doing yourself. If you’re technologically challenged, feel like your copy leaves a lot to be desired, or just plain lack the time, there’s always the option to hire a freelancer.
And furthermore, you could work in conjunction with a marketing consultant. They are trained to come in and assess what you have, determine the annual goals that make the most sense for you, and then set everything up for you.
Use Short URLs
Ever wanted to share a link with a friend, only to be annoyed at how long and complicated it is? If it weren’t for Apple sharing, texting, or email, we’d have a terrible time. Get one letter wrong, and you’re frustrated you spent that long typing in something that bared absolutely nothing.
More so, when you see a URL that’s that long, it doesn’t even have the level of detail needed to know what the link is going to take you to. It’s a series of numbers and letters that essentially mean nothing, unless you’re a search engine.
This is why shortening your URLs matters. It’s condensed into the parts that actually matter to more than just search engines. Suddenly, it’s not only easy to share, it’s also easy to recognize whether it’s something you even want to click on or not.
Just compare these two:
Which one can you understand clearly? And which one leaves you scratching your head in confusion? There’s a clear distinction here that makes it easy to click on the most friendly one, #2. You know what it’s about, and it interests you because it’s all about puppies.
Plus, remember what we said about relevancy? How people are much more inclined to click on the result with the keyword that sets it apart? Well, this falls under the same umbrella. People who are searching for a specific type of information will be able to deduce if you offer what they’re looking for. Maybe they need a list of the top lead generation ideas, and you just happen to have it—clearly labeled in both your title and your short URL.
No guessing games here, just time-saving tips for the people you hope to serve. Now that is how you run a business and grow beyond your wildest dreams.
Here are some quick tips:
Titles should be 4-5 words long, and read well.
3-5 words in your URL is fine. Anything longer than that, and algorithms will consider those words less impactful.
Try to stick to a max of 60 characters whenever possible.
Use hyphens, not underscores.
Stick to lowercase letters.
Stop words will not hurt you, nor do you any favors. They’re just there as needed. If you can help it, don’t use them since it’s a waste of resources, but otherwise, let it be. Here’s a list of common stop words:
Use a max of two folders per URL. If this sounds confusing, consider the websites with the neverending menu system, where everything is categorized and then subcategorized, and it’s just… lengthy. That makes for a long URL, which defeats the point.
Target no more than 2 keywords. 3 is fine, but not ideal, since the objective should be to keep the URL short, focusing only on what absolutely matters.
And finally, don’t repeat keywords within the same URL, because that’s just messy and confusing.
Increase Topical Relevance
Not to get too nerdy here, but there’s a lot of terminology associated with SEO. For instance, a big one is something called “phrase-based indexing” and it’s the act of using relevant words to convey the overall topic.
Let’s say you wrote a recipe for four cheese mac n’ cheese. Sure, your title would probably mention that, and therefore it’s obvious…
But imagine if it was paired with relevant words like:
Grated monterey jack
Salt and pepper to taste
When Google sees that your page also mentions all the ingredients normally associated with some delicious mac n’ cheese, it has a lightbulb moment. It says “Oh, so this is about mac n’ cheese, it even lists ingredients, and surely tells people how to make it.”
You can’t write a recipe without listing the ingredients, afterall.
But what if you carry on a technical business, something more… crafty, like high-end coffee brewing?
Laugh all you want, but brewing a good cup of Joe takes some knowledge of working parts. For instance, when coffee beans get ground, a good coffee shop will ask you what you’re using to brew it will, whether it’s a coffee maker, a french press, or Chemex. Why? Because your answer determines how they grind it.
So, say you outsource content and your writer isn’t an avid coffee drinker. He or she doesn’t know the first thing about coffee equipment, but that’s what you’re trying to sell. But you know what? This writer is great, puts out quality works, meets your deadlines, and has amazing research skills, so you know it’ll get handled.
In a span of an hour, a good writer with no prior knowledge would know words like “burrs,” or “grind range,” and even “moka pot.” They would have a grasp on terminology that they could then use within the copy, hence increasing topical relevance.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But what if this means we’re shoehorning keywords in the content, and it reads funny?”
You’re right. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.
You should always be aiming to explain what you’re all about in the simplest way possible. If an absolute newbie came across your page, you want it to be just as valuable to them as it is for longtime coffee drinkers, in this case.
Will a few more complex words thrown in hurt you? Not if they’re not forced in. And certainly not if they are explained in a way that’s easily understood.
Only select words that are a tiny bit more complex when you have to. This will usually happen when you have no prior knowledge of the topic at hand, which makes sense, because you’ll be so new to it all, that you won’t know what’s really basic.
This is where tools like Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool come in handy. It will help you dig around for the top ranking results, and essentially give you keywords you should be using. It will focus on the most common, most basic, and easily understood terms relating to that subject.
It won’t give you synonyms though, just topically-related terms.
Keep It Simple
Okay, here are some cold hard facts. Take a seat, because these are pretty shocking:
More than 30 million American adults cannot read, write, or do math above a 3rd grade level.
If you’re the illiterate parent of a child, that child has a 72% chance at being in the lowest levels of education for the rest of his/her educational lifespan. That means if you are terrible at reading, odds are your child will get poor grades, repeat school years, and possibly even drop out.
1 in 3 people Americans drop out of high school.
And perhaps reflective of that, 1 in 4 American families lacks the skills and education to improve their economic status.
Yikes. This is a sorry state for Americans, the level of literacy is in crisis. And it’s always been pretty terrible throughout history.
But why the statistics? What’s the point of this?
Well, when a huge chunk of Americans are reading at a middle school level, it’s time to rethink your complicated, flowery language. That one blog post that sounds like a scientific thesis is just not going to hit the mark you hope it will.
This is why so many copywriters promote themselves with approachability in mind. They want potential clients to know that their writing won’t put people off with complicated use of language. In fact, they will adapt their style according to the audience.
Here’s what I mean:
Let’s envision two different brands. One of them is fitness and health oriented, posting content like recipes and fitness challenges. The other is a small clothing brand that caters to local corporate employees. They sell business casual and dressy attire. That means their content is all about putting together polished outfits.
Now these two businesses will have two very different audiences.
One audience will likely want healthy recipes and mini workout tutorials. The other will want fashion tips for the workplace.
One audience will want a more casual vibe from the content, because fitness and health are things we all focus on primarily outside of work, with the exception of maybe lunch time. The other audience will want a more serious tone from the content, because it’s work related. They want to know that they can trust a brand to deliver the vibe and style fit for the office.
In practice, assuming they both outsource their content to the same freelancer, or consultant to plan, the professional will deliver very different work for both brands. One will be more casual, more laid back, conversational, filled with lingo that the audience would recognize. The other will be the polar opposite.
Let’s look at two concrete examples that illustrate these descriptions, shall we?
“For today, I have a functional core workout for ya! The key word here is “functional” so this means that it’s based on movements that you would use and perform in real life. Don’t get me wrong, I think funky ab moves can be fun, but they’re no point during the day that you’re doing a thousand tiny crunch movements while making a figure 8 with your legs. (<— I made that move up, but you know what I mean)”
The Fitnessista, fitness blogger
“The Jenni Kayne mule is one of our most defining styles, and for good reason. We’re celebrating the staying power of this iconic shoe by paying it the attention it deserves, because this shoe ticks every box. It’s got a modernist feel with a sleek, elegant look, and has the power to make any outfit look effortlessly neat.”
Jenni Kayne, L.A. women’s clothing boutique
Notice the huge differences. They are nothing alike, because their use of language is dictated by the people who read it. Imagine if the fitness blogger used stuffy, serious language. It would put her audience off, constantly inducing stress and pressure before a good workout session.
Not a good frame of mind.
So, remember to look at your audience. If you’re unsure, look at your audience personas, which you should have notes on from way back when you started your business. If your audience is predominantly adolescent, it’s high time you learned their latest lingo. If you cater to stay-at-home moms in their 30’s, then it’s time to drop the slang and focus more on relatable lifestyle commentary, such as notes on balancing the mundane home life, while still maintaining a romantic relationship.
Oh, and side note: if you use chatbot marketing, either to increase conversion rates, or just to have someone answer basic questions after hours, you should also be reflecting the right use of language here. Have the bot be conversational, if that’s very on brand for you, for example.
The same applies to video, infographics, ebooks, newsletters, etc. Stay consistently simple and on brand.
Not to get all cheesy again, but there’s only one of you in existence. Even if you have a twin, you’re not really the same. And that’s something you should be leveraging. In fact, you should have been leveraging that this whole time. It should have been the basis of your business, influencing its very identity, and helping to dictate its content.
When it comes to SEO, this is still applicable. To be you, is to be original. And that’s the beginning of everything particularly appealing to the public. It’s what sets you apart from the rest of the results that pop up before and after you on Google.
Now, there’s a limit to this. This is something better illustrated with an example:
Maybe there’s a woman named Sally and she tries very hard to be original. She’s true to herself, sure, but when it comes to her business, she intentionally doesn’t do what her competition is doing. She does everything differently in an attempt to be unique. She doesn’t even use Facebook or Google Ads, because she thinks its too mainstream.
What’s the issue?
Well, the customers, the audience, should get what they want. If they like competitors’ content and products, it’s because it hits the mark for them. It’s what they want and need. And if you’re catering to the same audience, you should give them just that.
But with a twist. Be original in design, in ideas, in concepts, in innovations. But you can totally used the foundation created by others to be original.
Master this delicate balance, and you’ll find it positively affecting your SEO. Your ranking will go up, because your content, your website as a whole, offers something relevant, yet slightly more interesting, than the rest.
SEO is a little complicated when you stop to think about it. Although the premise of it all is simple―you’re trying to let Google know what type of content you publish, so you can attract more traffic and make more sales―the act of getting there can seem a little tedious.
And when you stop to think about all the work involved, it starts to make sense. You’re still ranking for keywords, using them in titles, using alt descriptions, and ensuring your copy features some relevant words and phrases to further solidify its relevance. That your videos are properly titled and described.
And on top of it all, you’re having to make sure your pages load quickly, with image sizes that don’t hinder that, without sacrificing quality and impact.
Quite the tall order.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Every entrepreneur has to do this if they want to rank. And just because you rank, it doesn’t mean you’ll maintain your spot. It’s all about continuously proving yourself, proving that you have what it takes to stay at the top of the ranks.
If you’re overwhelmed, consider outsourcing content, or hiring a consultant to help lay out a plan of action. Otherwise, take it a day at a time. Make every post the best it can be, and be meticulous about its posting methods.
Take advantage of keyword search tools, and read up on things like what makes a good landing page, or what makes up excellent copywriting. Learn the ropes of building good relationships with the press, and building powerful personal brands.
It’s only through knowledge of each part that the big picture can be painted. Or in simple terms, seek to do more than rank. Rank and transform yourself into an industry leader.
So, what was the most surprising tactic that you read in this guide, and why?
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, or offer any further suggestions! That’s what the comment section is for.