What is SEO (and why should you care)?
By now, you’ve probably at least heard of SEO.
But if you haven’t, here’s how it breaks down:
Short for search engine optimization, I like to think of SEO as the martial arts of marketing. Everyone claims some affinity with it, but few are true masters, and even fewer need to be.
Because while SEO is important — and it is, more on that in a second — understanding the intricate, interconnected parts of it isn’t likely to benefit small businesses.
The weeds are too thick to wade into if you’re not intent on becoming a marketer yourself, and the flora and fauna of search engine marketing are constantly changing as Google updates its algorithms to serve users better.
After all, conservative estimates put Google’s updates at 500 to 600 times a year.
The only thing you need to know about Google’s algorithms as a creator is that they want the same thing you do for your customers: the best possible experience with their product.
So if what you’re creating delivers that with better content, stronger customer experience, and usable design, Google will take notice of you and improve your rankings.
Have you noticed how I’ve only mentioned Google?
Although SEO applies to any search engine, the best practices are dictated by Google for purely practical reasons. As of December 2018, Google’s search engine claimed 92.25% of the market, and as you can see, that’s not a sudden lurch from obscurity.
So for now and the foreseeable future, the only search engine you need to care about is Google.
And, according to a lot of marketers, appeasing Google should be one of the most important goals for your business.
At least, that’s what over half of 6,200 global professionals from a wide swath of industries told HubSpot in their latest State of Inbound report.
Hands down, the most pivotal priority for inbound marketing projects is improving organic search traffic through SEO.
At this stage, you might be thinking: OK, great, SEO matters a lot to marketers, but how does that translate to you?
Because SEO, and more specifically Google, drive the overwhelming majority of traffic on the internet.
57.8% of referrals come from Google, with its nearest competitor, Facebook, driving only 5.2% of referrals on the web.
Stop and consider that for a moment.
Facebook, the social media network that’s been called ‘the everyone network,’ can’t hold even a waning candle to the level of influence that Google has over your online business.
So, what is SEO?
SEO is synonymous with visibility for digital creators.
Now, with that squared away, here are those four no-headaches tips I promised to improve both for your business.
Tip #1: Prioritize user experience.
SEO is associated with keywords, and in the days of algorithm yore, they did carry a lot of power — but they’re not the be-all of your website’s worth in a search engine’s eyes.
In fact, they fall pretty low on the ranking totem pole by themselves — see our next tip — and factors that relate back to your user experience (UX) and traffic matter the most today.
Ranking signals like direct website visits, the time users spend hanging out on the page they land on, and the number of pages they visit during their session all vastly outweigh keyword density.
What do all of these factors have in common?
They each communicate to Google about the engagement level of the user they send to you. If your metrics show a positive engagement with multiple page visits and a lot of dwell time, Google assumes that it’s done its job and delivered what the user was looking for.
If, however, the user doesn’t linger on your website and heads back to the SERP within a few seconds, you’re likely to have other issues that do impact engagement.
In that case, the search engine will most likely* interpret that they aren’t providing the best experience with your ranking and potentially demote you.
(*Google’s algorithms are proprietary, so any statements made as definitives in this article or any article on SEO are made with the caveat that these are guesses. Data-backed guesses based on rigorous experimentation from other marketers, but guesses nonetheless.)
And make no mistake, when it comes to search engines, they value protecting their customer before delivering yours.
Incidentally, those same engagement-damaging issues bode poorly for your business on a revenue level, as well.
40% of customers will head straight to your competition’s doorstep if you provide a poor experience for them on your website, while 15.8% are more loyal if the experience is solid.
So your first and most important step to stronger SEO is one that benefits both Google and your business: making the customer’s experience as stellar as possible when they arrive at your site.
Removing unnecessary clutter, offering clear paths of navigation, and providing useful — not filler — content are just a few of the steps you can take towards improving customer experience on your website.
(Those are all great steps for improving customer retention and successfully monetizing your audience, too.)
But if you’re looking for an example, I can’t think of any website that does this better than Help Scout.
Check out how their navigation is set up: you can find what you want when you want it. Need help with their product? There’s an entire navigation link for you that provides an avenue of contact, classes, and help documentation.
And if you do head to their contact page in search of help, there’s no frills or barriers to getting what you need: it’s just a simple, clean form — a definite must-have for engaging visitors — that puts you in touch with who you need to reach.
Every page on their website is designed as if the business is allergic to friction, and if you want yours to shine in Google and users’ eyes, it needs to follow suit.
Tip #2: Target user intent with content.
On the point of keywords, they aren’t the plug-and-play traffic attractors they used to be.
In modern times, they’re matched to user intent, and if you think a search engine can’t determine intent as well as a human, you’d be wrong.
Or you might be part of Google’s engineers that were outshined by their own creation, Rankbrain, the self-correcting AI-powered algorithm that sorts Google’s indexed pages.
If you’re getting flashbacks to certain movies with actors named Arnold in them, you’re not alone. But far from the apocalyptic future, Rankbrain is actually a great thing for users and businesses alike.
Thanks to Rankbrain, searchers are able to find more than just content related to their query, they’re able to find the content that satisfies their query, whether it’s informational, transactional, or navigational.
The search results are more relevant, and thus the leads that arrive through them are more qualified because they’re likely actively looking for the type of product or content you have.
So if content is king, context is emperor for digital product creators and marketers.
Which is probably why 57% of them say that content creation — versus only 49% for keyword research — is the most effective SEO tactic in their arsenal.
Now, how can you use this to your advantage?
While you’re putting together your keyword research (check out our previous article on blogging and SEO for a walkthrough and tools you can use), think about more than how to work those terms into your blog — think about the person behind them.
Are they ready for a sales pitch when they’re looking for terms like “what a marketing consultant does?”
Probably not. If you build your content around that search term without taking context into account, users are likely to skim through it, see they can’t find what they’re looking for, and leave.
And as you’ll recall, that isn’t going to help your website’s SEO — or more importantly — your prospective customer.
Make your content useful to the people who find it by targeting the context around keywords rather than their mere presence. The secret to successfully running a blog isn’t hitting every keyword in the book — it’s hitting the right ones for the right people.
Consideration, not density, is the litmus factor of a successful keyword.
Tip #3: Optimize for mobile users.
While you’re targeting user intent, take into account that a lot of the people who find your content aren’t going to be reading it on a desktop.
Mobile traffic now constitutes a majority of the web with 52.2% of pages being served up on handheld devices.
A great mobile experience isn’t a supplement to your website anymore — it’s a necessity, both from a business perspective and SEO point of view.
On the business side, 74% of people are more likely to come back if your design is well-tooled for mobile phones.
And on the SEO side of things, Google officially began indexing pages based on their mobile versions early last year, which means if your pages aren’t optimized for mobile, they could be giving the competition an edge and suffering lower ranks than they should be.
Put simply, the mobile version of your website is now considered the primary version of your website for search engines, while the desktop-side design is the auxiliary version.
This is something that 80% of the top-performing websites in the world have taken note of, as well. In fact, of the top ten websites in the world, 90% have responsive designs to fit different-sized devices such as desktops, smartphones, and tablets.
Wondering if your website is optimized for mobile?
If it’s a Podia Storefront, it’s seamlessly mobile and we’re constantly making improvements to enhance the experience of smartphone users.