SEO may be one of the most misunderstood marketing buzzwords of our time. It is imperative for all businesses to use at least some SEO tactics, but many people do not fully understand the impact they can have on their company’s web traffic, sales, and overall reputation. Here is a brief overview of SEO and why it’s important, as well as a few tactics that can quickly and easily get you started on your company’s SEO journey.
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is used to improve your website’s rankings in search engines for targeted keywords. The term “search rankings” refers to where your website comes up in the list of results when you type in one of those targeted keywords, often discussed numerically (“My site is #4 on Google for this keyword – it is the fourth search result in the list”) or in terms of results pages (“My site shows up on the first page of Google for this keyword”).
Your company should decide what keywords you want to be found for when people browse the web, figure out what your customers are actually going to type into search engines, and use SEO best practices to convince Google, Bing, Yahoo, and all the other engines that you are the most relevant website for that keyword or phrase. The problem is, your website is most likely one of hundreds of sites that could just as easily answer users’ needs. So how do you differentiate your site from all the noise?
Why should I care?
If you are a small company, it can be difficult to prioritize SEO when you're busy doing all the other activities needed to run a business. However, because of the abundance of information online, 70-80% of potential customers will research products online before ever visiting your store or contacting you online. That means you don’t even know who your customers could be until they decide they want to talk to you. This also means that your website needs to be optimized and easily found when users type, “buy mens shoes,” “pizza delivery near me,” or “local marketing company” in Google, or you will be missing out on tons of potential revenue. Though it seems like a lot of hard work, it is always worth it to put in place some SEO practices before you lose opportunities.
Big companies also need to prioritize SEO, even if they have great market recognition or are already a leader in their industry. There are about 3.5 billion internet users in the world, and it is highly unlikely that your corporation has captured all of them as customers already. Also, 93% of users will never go past the first page of search results, so the goal is to be as high as possible on the first page, no matter what kind of business you’re talking about. Applying SEO practices to any size company has the potential to significantly increase market share, boost your reputation as an industry leader, or just catch a couple extra sales because your company showed up first in the search results.
What can I do?
Here are a few SEO tactics you can implement relatively easily that can help boost your search engine rankings over time. These practices, when carried out and maintained correctly (yes, there's maintenance involved!), can help your business succeed online and bring in more sales as you move up in search rankings.
Define your keywords. Keyword targeting is the first, and possibly most important, step for SEO. Choose 5-10 primary keywords that you think customers will use to find the types of products or services you sell. Don’t pick keywords that you would search for – put yourself in the customer's shoes and figure out what phrases they use when browsing online. At least annually, revisit your keyword list and make sure they are still relevant and are achievable goals.
Optimize your site text with keywords. Perform a content audit of your website. Read through all your existing text on the site and see if there are places to add your targeted keywords. Do not “keyword stuff” – this is when jam as many keywords onto the page just for the sake of having them. Search engines are smarter than that. Their algorithms can read through content and decide if it makes sense contextually, so you have to work keywords into the text naturally. Search engines also like fresh content, so you should regularly audit and update your content.
Decrease image sizes. Bad Internet connection, large file sizes, or messy code can cause your website to take a long time to load. High page load times negatively affect your search rankings, so it is imperative that you have a sleek, optimized site that fully loads in only a couple seconds on a variety of browsers. The easiest way to decrease load times for a not-so-tech-savvy individual is to reduce image sizes (if you have a WordPress site, here’s a nifty tool that “smushes” your images with a single click). You can decrease file size in any photo editor, just make sure when you re-upload your newly slimmed down image, you completely replace or delete the old clunky pics. Always add alt text—the text that shows in place of an image if the site is unable to load it quickly enough—to every image and include your keywords. Search engines will read this alt text whether the picture loads or not.
Sign up for Google and Bing Business listings. When you search for a specific company name, there’s usually a little box on the side of the search results with the company's name, address, phone, website, pictures, and reviews. These business listings are important for people who heard about your company through word of mouth or they happened to search for something similar to the company name. Business listings boost your reputation and allow customers to see all relevant information about your company in one place. Optimize this listing! Add a description, products and services, pictures, and any other available information to the listing (make sure to use your targeted keywords!). If there are any changes to your business, you should immediately update your listings.
Optimize your site for mobile. According to Forrester, smartphones will impact over one third of all U.S. retail sales in 2018 (about $1 trillion), through product research, price comparisons, or actual purchases. If your website looks bad on mobile (or even worse, does not work at all on a phone), you are going to miss out on many sales opportunities. Depending on your website’s CMS platform, you may be able to create a mobile version of your site (Wix websites are great for making edits specifically for mobile, and WordPress has plugins to design a completely separate mobile site). If you are not able to edit your mobile site on its own, there are some tactics you can apply to make your normal desktop site more friendly to mobile users:
Increase text size. It’s harder to read text on a phone, so increasing small text by a few pixels makes a huge difference.
Make call to action buttons big and easy to click with your finger. If your buttons are too small, users won’t be able to click on them on their phone.
Try to only use one column of content. Because mobile users are endlessly scrolling down, they do not want to zoom out or scroll to the side to read more text. Keep your design in a one-column layout to minimize the amount of times your site visitors have to stop their top-to-bottom scrolling and use a different hand motion.
While these tips do not represent nearly all of the SEO tactics and tools today, they are the first steps to improving your search rankings and helping your business be found by potential online customers. A general understanding of SEO, along with applying the basic practices listed above, will help your website gain more traffic, leads, and sales over time.