But if I dare say so myself, even the most visually appealing and the most user-friendly websites imaginable aren’t worth much if nobody sees them… in other words, you’re really only half-way there if you’ve built a website without also elaborating a way to bring in quality traffic.
Now, I realize it’s tempting for some to want a website up and running as quickly as possible. With over 500k new websites created globally every day, it can feel like you’ll otherwise be left behind.
It’s also easy to overlook the bigger picture... but never forget that your website should exist to serve as a complement to your business; it should work alongside you and contribute purposefully to your objectives and growth.
With that in mind, there are countless ways to generate traffic to your website, all of which vary in terms of how time-consuming and expensive they are. How effective they’ll be will also depend on the behavior of your target audience.
But the focus of this article isn’t to get you thinking about which strategy is best - hold that thought for another time 😉
The point of this particular post is to shed some light on my favorite but often misunderstood digital marketing strategy: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short.
Why opt for SEO?
Proper SEO is what gets your website ranked higher in Google Search results; the higher your ranking, the less web-surfers have to scroll and click on to other pages to find you.
But beyond being one of the most effective customer acquisition strategies out there, especially for locally focused businesses, in my view, SEO is also by far the most robust and durable. The digital landscape is constantly evolving, but if I had to guess which digital marketing strategy would remain the most relevant down the road, I’d place my bet on SEO.
The reason for this is that unlike the in-your-face pop-ups and banner ads, SEO is non-disruptive. However, it also differentiates itself from other strategies in that it offers the opportunity to communicate with potential customers at an opportune time: the moment they’re actually curious and receptive to new information… i.e. the moment they’ve actively begun the search for an answer to their question using Google.
At the end of the day, what this means for you is a non-aggressive form of communication with an audience that will also most likely have higher purchase intent, which further translates to higher quality traffic on your website - or traffic that’s more likely to lead to conversions.
But not so fast!
Because while the potential is undoubtedly huge and exciting, there are no tricks or “hacks” when it comes to SEO.
You won’t see results overnight. In fact, you shouldn’t expect any results before several months on the job... but if you ask me, that’s a good thing! If it was easy, everyone would do it, leaving you with a significantly smaller piece of the pie.
In reality, SEO is a profession in itself, of which success is achieved through deliberate effort and consistency in time.
To understand why this is and/or to understand the key aspects to keep in mind when developing your own SEO strategy, it’s helpful to go back to basics and look into how Google’s ranking algorithm (PageRank) actually works - I’ll make this quick!
The origins of Google
Before Google, search engines used to analyze and classify websites based solely on the amount of times a given keyword appeared on the website itself.
Just to illustrate this, let’s say you searched Google for “Valentine’s Day Gifts”. The first result that would be displayed after hitting the search button would be the website that features the keyword phrase “Valentine’s Day Gifts” more than any other site. The second result would be the site that features this keyword phrase with the second-highest frequency, and so on.
At first glance, this might seem reasonable enough. However, this method of filtering search results led to some interesting problems.
These algorithms had blindspots that were often exploited in order to artificially improve a website’s ranking in search results. For example, one common tactic was to cram website backgrounds full of keywords with the font color the same as the background. This way, the algorithms could identify the keywords and thereby boost rankings, but humans wouldn’t notice.
This made website owners happy because they'd rank higher in search results, but users would pay the price, receiving potentially irrelevant results to their queries.
But that’s where the founders of Google saw an opportunity to make a difference. Their priority being simply to provide a better user experience online, Google’s search algorithm and ranking system was built around identifying websites featuring content of the highest quality.
Unsurprisingly, the fact that Google provided more relevant results to user queries made people want to use it more than other search engines, which eventually allowed Google to emerge as the reigning champion, with 70% of search engine market share still today.
So quality content is the key, but what exactly does this mean? What on your website is under scrutiny and by what criteria is the content on your website judged?
SEO ranking factors
Interestingly, this is actually a topic of debate; even Google employees wouldn’t be fully capable of outlining a clear formula for optimizing your ranking in Google search results because the algorithm is constantly evolving to fit the times.
There are also over 200 ranking factors, and in general, in an effort to continue filtering out the schemers like those mentioned above, the most difficult things to manipulate on your site are often the most important ranking factors.
But not to worry!
It’s true that there are many aspects to consider when constructing your SEO strategy. But as long as you keep in mind the fact that Google’s priority is delivering quality content to its users, and you generally understand how Google’s algorithm “crawls” and indexes websites, you’re already way ahead of the curve.
All that being said, in general, websites that appear on the first page of search results contain the following criteria:
1. They allow Google’s algorithms to easily understand what the website is about:
- Content that speaks the algorithm’s language: proper heading structure, metainformation, alt tags
- Technical components: XML sitemaps, robots.txt
2. They demonstrate quality content:
- Website build quality: proper code structure, fast loading time, responsive and mobile-friendly design
- Content relevance with respect to user queries: content featuring relevant keywords and keyword phrases
- Domain authority: a composite score between 1-100 that indicates the strength of your digital presence, determined by the number and the quality of your website’s “backlinks”, or references made my other reputable sources to your website. Domain authority is also determined by your actual domain name as well as your domain’s age.
How to get there
A misconstrued belief that I’ve often seen when working with clients is that in order to appear on the first page of Google search results, all it takes is a bit of research to find relevant keywords to plug right into the content on your website. This misconception is the main reason I felt inclined to write this article, because as you can see if you’ve read up to this point, there’s more to it than that.
1. Website build quality:
An effective SEO strategy begins with the structure and build of the website itself. This is the responsibility of the developer, whose job is to code your website in a way that minimizes loading time and is accessible despite a user’s screen size.
It’s also the developer's responsibility to ensure that Google algorithms understand what the website is actually about. This is done through several means, most of which anyone accessing the website can’t even see, such as proper labels and descriptions for all information on the page including imagery.
These aspects are crucial to success because an efficient build structure essentially provides the groundwork for your SEO strategy. Without a solid base, your website simply won’t be found by algorithms, eliminating any chance of improving your ranking in search results.
2. Quality content
Next is the work that takes more time and effort: producing quality content.
Here, in order to rank higher in search results, the end goal is essentially to become the most credible source of information within your area of expertise. This is why results take months - as they say, nobody becomes an expert overnight…
Building quality content can be done through various means, such as blogging, making a podcast, YouTube videos, social media, you name it.
There are many ways to go about it, but in general the idea is to demonstrate expertise on a given topic by producing quality content within a given topic as well as other conceptually similar topics.
For example, a website that wants to improve their rankings by demonstrating their expertise around the topic of Business & Money might blog/vlog/speak/post on social media about the role of money in business, ideas for getting a business off the ground, or general money management tips - Google’s algorithm will find you based on the associated keywords in your content.
As you continue to produce more and more of your own content, you’ll be increasing your credibility as a provider in your area of expertise, in the eyes of potential customers as well of course, but especially in the eyes of the algorithm, which will positively affect your rankings.
In doing so you’ll also expand your reach on the web, thereby increasing the possibility that you’ll be found for any given search, and increasing the amount of possible spaces to include backlinks, which as mentioned contribute to your domain authority and your rankings as well (check your domain authority here).
SEO is a complex and competitive game, but it is still by far the most effective way to drive sustainable traffic to your website. So long as you remain consistent, the effort you put into your SEO will add up over time which will equate to even more traffic.
If you’re still here, thanks for taking the time. I hope you’ve learned something, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out 😊