February 4, 2016

Best Practices for Optimal Search Engine Optimization

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So you’ve established your brand and launched a new website. Great! Now what? What good is a great brand and a shiny new website if nobody knows about it? Enter: search engine optimization (SEO).

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Why SEO Matters

Many are searching for a silver bullet that will result in a coveted page one listing. The truth is, there is no silver bullet. But we’ve identified a series of SEO best practices you can use to boost your search engine rankings. It may surprise you to know how simple they are. But at the same time, you might be shocked that you’ve overlooked them.

Research & Strategy

Sometimes, the best SEO strategy is a simple one, built on well-known reliable SEO practices. Developing an effective strategy begins with research to determine relevant keywords that your target market is actively searching for.

It’s tempting to go with a general term, like “web design”, but these terms are far too broad and way too competitive. You’d have to dedicate a significant amount of time, money, and resources to garner a competitive listing — and even then, there’s no guarantee. It’s better to target more specific keywords, like “Philadelphia web design”. By adding a geographic location, you’ll significantly reduce the amount of competition vying for a page one ranking.

Geographic location is only one example, however; you can increase the specificity of your target keywords by considering demographics, use cases, and more — and enjoy the added benefit of more qualified leads while you’re at it. Think about it: Instead of going after a broad, high-competition, low-yield keyword like “website design”, you could try ranking for “Philadelphia website design for law firms”. Your keyword is much more specific, and anyone who’s searching for that term is definitely looking for the service you provide.

Landing Pages

This specificity of search keywords shouldn’t only apply to your page content, either. Apply it to your site architecture as a whole. Let’s say you’re a Law Firm and you specialize in a dozen practice areas. You’ll want to create individual pages for each practice area. Each page with very specific page content, page titles, descriptions, and relevant calls to action. When a user searches for “corporate tax law in Philadelphia,” there’s a good chance the search engines will display your landing page, not your main homepage.
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Page Content

Search engines crawl the content of your site and identify keywords that match users’ searches. Logically then, it makes sense to be sure your site content is chock full of keywords, right? Wrong! As they say, “too much of a good thing is never a good thing.” Keyword stuffing is a nasty practice that started in the early days of SEO as a way to “hack” the rankings. But now, it does far more harm than good.

Google updated algorithm now spots when you’re trying to cheat the system, and you can be severely penalized for overly repetitive content. Just make sure you accurately describe your business and offerings and write it in a way that helps your readers. Remember: always write for people first, search engines second.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t be strategic with your placement of keywords. Focus on page headlines to be sure they contain your most vital keywords and ensure your headlines are wrapped with “H1” tags, meaning that content will receive higher priority from search engines.

Page Titles And Meta Data

When users perform a search, the resulting listings display the “page title” as the primary link and the small paragraph below is pulled from the page’s “Meta Description.” The page title should be up to 55 characters, filled with relevant keywords to be displayed in SEO listings as well as the title bar of the browser.

Descriptions can be up to 160 characters, written in sentence form, and will be displayed in SEO listings beneath the title. Descriptions do not show up on the front-end of the website.

Although page titles and descriptions are easily implemented, we found these vital SEO ingredients are often overlooked. If your current page title reads “Welcome to Our Homepage,” you have much room for improvement and it should be corrected ASAP. Remember, title tags are the second most important factor for effective SEO, just behind page content.

Get Local

Another way to increase specificity and decrease competition is to submit your business for a Google local listing. Using location software, Google prioritizes relevant local results to show over results in locations far away. As the old saying goes, fish where the fishes are. Submitting your company for a local listing on Google is quick, easy, and free. While it’s a no-brainer, it’s often forgotten.

The Holy Grail: Inbound Links

Anybody can say whatever they want on their own website. Google knows that doesn’t make it true. But what if dozens of other, reputable, high-traffic websites tout your services and link to your website? Better yet, what if the links themselves have keywords in them? This is the concept behind inbound links and why these types of links are so important to good search engine placement.

Social media, blogs, and directory listings on industry websites can all be great ways of generating valuable inbound links. In addition, your content strategy should attempt to boost your off-site content. For example, if you get an article about your company published on a reputable industry website, any links back to your site can make the article infinitely more valuable than if the content lived only on your site.

Performance, Accessibility, And Mobile

When a user visits your homepage and leaves without making a click, it’s called a “bounce.” If a site has a high bounce rate, that’s a red flag to Google. Google will stop recommending a page if users aren’t able to find what they’re looking for on a given site. To limit bounce rate, focus on sound UX (user experience) principles. Always make sure your site has a logical architecture, solid interface design, and compelling calls to action.

Likewise, Google prefers sites that score well with regards to accessibility. You’ll want to ensure that images and other items are properly tagged for accessibility purposes.

In 2015, Google began penalizing sites that were not mobile-friendly. If a user is on a mobile device, your site will rank lower if it doesn’t have a responsive interface that can adapt to provide an ideal user experience on a wide variety of mobile devices. If you have an older site that doesn’t feature a responsive interface, it’s likely a signal that it’s time for a redesign.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Campaigns

Obtaining page one listings in organic search results can be challenging. After all, there are dozens, even hundreds, of other websites vying for a page one listing and there are only a handful of positions available on page one. Despite your best efforts, what if your site is not ranking well in organic listings? Google AdWords to the rescue! Google provides the ability to buy your way onto page one in the form of pay-per-click advertising. However, PPC isn’t as simple as throwing money at Google. You’ll want to plan and implement an effective PPC campaign centered around your most important and relevant keywords.

In Conclusion

SEO is often complicated. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a growing newbie, there’s always stuff to learn, techniques to master, and areas of knowledge in which to grow. But no matter how near or far you are, the fundamentals always matter.

An effective SEO strategy is never truly complete. Your listing will fluctuate over time and it’s imperative to keep your site up-to-date with fresh, relevant, keyword-rich content, otherwise, search engines might penalize your site for becoming stale.

We recommended creating a Google Analytics account and installing the tracking code on your site, so you can track your site’s performance over time. You’ll learn what’s working and what’s not, enabling you to maximize ROI on your SEO efforts. As with many Google services, Analytics is a free but an invaluable tool for long-term SEO success.

While search engine marketing is a complex field, much deeper than what we’ve outlined here, following these basic best practices will lay a solid foundation from which to build upon.

What else goes into the recipe for successful digital marketing?
Check out step 4 of our Seven Steps to Digital Marketing Success series, covering Tips for Effective Social Media Marketing.