Let’s get this out of the way: there is no “special sauce” when it comes to boosting search engine rankings. This is confusing and frustrating to a lot of small business owners, and with good reason. They are used to following the same pattern when it comes to their marketing: linear and focused. If you need to place an ad, create a logo, or create an effective website, there are best practices to follow. The steps might be complicated at times, but they follow an orderly, sequential process.
But once that website is launched and business owners need users to find it, they quickly discover that search engine optimization is a different beast. That’s because the factors that lead to high rankings in search results are highly dependent on each other. So let’s shift our thinking. The way to great SEO is not like following a map, but more like building a Jenga tower.
Approaching SEO from all sides
SEO efforts often fail to yield results. We hear this from business after business. They have read an article that one facet – let’s say linking to social media – is the way to top search results. Or they heard from a neighbor that you need to register your site with a paid link directory, only to have their listing disappear from Google altogether. Or they were told by a peer at a business lunch that using a mobile website service will boost their traffic, only to have wasted their time and money with an outdated service.
We’d like to broadcast one thing loud and clear. No single task will yield you top-of-list search results. And beware of any company claiming that is the case. The proven approach: implement SEO in layers.
The first layer: coding structure
Search engines start by reading the code of the website. Knowing this, HTML and other programming languages have evolved to include structured information for them. To be properly indexed by a search engine, the website has to be built from the ground up with fundamentals like:
- a coding structure that includes properly written and updated keywords and item tags;
- a mobile-first coding structure that prioritizes smart phones. This is different from responsive design, as the code loads first on mobile, then checks for desktop (and cancel that separate mobile site now!).
- a secure connection, especially for eCommerce and blogging sites;
- a site structure that loads as quickly as possible.
The second layer: content that puts the user first
Google and Bing have been very clear that their mission is to provide relevant responses to any question posed to them by a user. In order to do this, they prioritize websites that provide organized, honest, relevant information. Their algorithms figure this out by checking a website for:
- Descriptive, detailed and logical content for your site. Put as much information in regular text as possible – avoid fancy graphics that include text as search engines can’t read it.
- Natural links to and from other sites. The algorithm guesses that if others link to your site, it must have useful information. Social media links are definitely helpful, but shouldn’t be your only strategy.
- Organize your pages logically. Called site hierarchy, the search engines prioritize sites that have clear navigation and page structures. This not only helps them scan the site, they know it is proven to help users scan sites as well.
- Refresh your site content often. There are so many sites out there, search engines prioritize sites that have newer content. There are simple ways to keep your site updated. You can update your services descriptions, add photos from projects, use a new client list, or try a blog.
“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors.”Google’s SEO Starter Guide
The third layer: avoid any tempting shortcuts
Search engines have been around almost as long as the internet itself, and have seen some crazy behavior. Almost twenty years ago, some entrepreneur registered “Whitehouse.com” and created a porn site. Besides helping to launch the porn filter business for schools, search engines quickly realized they had to guard against people who tried to earn rankings they didn’t deserve. So, if you don’t want to be blacklisted from Google or Bing, please don’t do this:
- Don’t use a link-buying service to boost your incoming links.
- Don’t plagiarize from other sites.
- Don’t “keyword stuff”. In other words, don’t add lists of words that you think search engines would like to see but have no value to your users.
- Don’t try to use hidden text to sneak in more keywords. Having text in white on a white background is easily found by search engines. To put it mildly, it won’t get you the result you were hoping for.
Lastly, keep an eye on your stats and be patient.
The only way to know how to keep your site performing well in rankings is to keep an eye on your Analytics. Or, to keep it simple, just do a search for your website and see how it does. One reason the Bombastic team redesigned our site in 2018 was that it was losing position in rankings. We realized the underlying code structure had become out of date, and changed to a mobile-first coding structure.
If your underlying structure is sound, then try small changes and look for improvements. (FYI: it’s easier to check on those with Analytics than checking your search results.) Set a monthly reminder to think of a content refresh idea, or join an organization that helps get your website out to a broader audience. You might need changes on more than one layer, and testing will help you figure that out. Keeping an eye on all aspects of great SEO will get better results for your business and your users.