What steps do you take when you need information fast? If you don’t begin by pulling up Google, Bing or another search engine, you are in the minority. Forrester found that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. Google, in particular, is held in such high regard for its information-finding capabilities that the company name has become a verb. If you want to find information, you “Google it.”
How does this apply to your business and its marketing efforts? It’s all about the modern buyer’s journey. We live in the Digital Age, which is an age of information. Computers, tablets and especially smartphones allow buyers to find endless amounts of information in a matter of seconds regardless of where they are. As a result, buyers are no longer reliant on salespeople and company propaganda to discover and learn about products and services. According to VentureBeat, today’s buyers can be 90% of the way through the buying process before they reach out to a salesperson.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that your business has an online presence. Not only that, you have to have a strong online presence that makes it easy for prospects to find you. How do you do that? With search engine optimization (SEO). In simple terms, SEO is the process of making a website more easily located by search engines, which will lead to increased web traffic. In the digital marketing realm, SEO is one of the most effective and impactful tactics.
SEO is constantly evolving, and many marketers are still working to fully understand its intricacies and implement practices that will lead to better SEO results. The purpose of this post isn’t to be an SEO how-to. It’s a complex process that can be overwhelming for beginners. Before you can dive into strategies and tactics, it’s important to have an understanding of how SEO works and learn about relevant terms you will come across.
How Search Engines Work
Unless you’ve worked on an SEO strategy, you’ve probably never thought about how search engines actually work. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of SEO, we want to take a brief look at the search process According to MakeUseOf, search engines work in three phases:
- Crawling – This is the data acquisition phase. The search engine company utilizes automated bots (called spiders) to scan websites, specifically the HTML code that makes them up. They gather a complete list of everything on the page: titles, images, copy, links, etc.
- Indexing – This is the organization phase. Once the crawl is complete, all of the information is sorted and placed into a giant database.
- Ranking & Retrieval – When a user performs a search, the search engine uses an algorithm to find web pages containing information that is most relevant to the search. Results are ordered based on perceived relevance. The algorithms vary by search engine and are kept secret to keep competitors from gaining an advantage or for individuals/companies from unfairly setting up their websites to rank better than others.
Content & Keywords are King
It’s a game-changer for your business to have top organic ranking in a search. According to InFront Webworks, 91.5% of web traffic goes no further than page 1 in the search results, so if you aren’t there, you likely won’t be found. In fact, SEO Made Simple identified recent studies that show the top three natural search results on page 1 of Google receive more than 65% of all search engine clicks.
What factors are most important to the search algorithms? It’s likely you’ve heard the phrase, “Content is king.” Content is critical in the modern marketplace (we discuss content marketing in-depth in this post). We also have a post on keywords, although it’s more focused on their importance during message development, rather than SEO. You may have heard that keywords are no longer relevant. That isn’t accurate; they’re just being looked at differently.
Search engines used to be all about keywords, but just the keywords, not the context in which they were used. Search engines search for keywords embedded in the code of websites (meta tags, image tags, etc.). For a while, not all companies had their websites coded correctly, so those that did had an advantage. Additionally, companies would “keyword stuff,” which is using the most popular keywords over and over on the page to make it easier to be found by the search engine and get top ranking. As a result, content typically was poorly written and hard to read. Optimizing for the search engines was more important than providing good content for site visitors.
Today, keyword stuffing is considered a “Black Hat” technique, meaning it violates search engines’ terms of service. Black hat techniques are rule-breaking practices done with the goal of getting a better ranking. However, if discovered by the search engine company, the offending website will receive punishments that can range from being placed lower in the search results to being blacklisted, which is being completely removed from the search results.
“White Hat” techniques are practices that fall in line with the terms of service set by the search engine. It’s doing things the right way, which is providing quality content that is easy to read and includes the right number of relevant keywords. Instead of picking out one or two keywords and using them over and over, the current best practice is to use a variety of related keywords a couple of times each, enough to be found by search engines without bogging down copy.
It’s also important to consider competition when identifying and utilizing keywords. On the one hand, you want to use keywords that are relevant and popular to your target segments. However, popular keywords will be utilized by more companies, which will make it more difficult to rank and stand out from the competition. Less common keywords may not receive a massive volume of searches, but there will be less competition for them as well. That means you have a better chance of ranking well and standing out when the term is searched. A good practice is to use a combination of each.
Google has made several updates to its platform that affect SEO. Until you begin developing an SEO strategy, don’t worry too much about the details. However, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the terms.
- Google Hummingbird – Released in 2013, Hummingbird is an update to Google’s search algorithm designed to return better search results. It does this by judging the context of a search to better respond to the searcher’s intent. Rather than returning results based on each word of the search individually, it looks for results based on the entire search phrase.
- Google Penguin – Released in 2012, Penguin is an algorithm update aimed at decreasing the search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It’s a way to crack down on Black Hat techniques.
- Google Panda – Released in 2011, Panda is a change in Google’s search ranking algorithm aimed at lowering the rank of low-quality sites and rewarding high-quality sites with higher ranking.
In today’s marketplace, it’s essential to have a website that is updated regularly and contains quality, relevant content. Most buyers utilize search engines at least once as they progress through the buyer’s journey, so SEO is a critical part of any marketing strategy.