SEO can feel like the holy grail for website traffic, so tempting yet always so distant. Being such a big buzzword these days, it should go without saying that it takes time, effort, and patience to create organic web traffic for your online store, business or blog. Paying for advertisement is expensive and often a wasted targeting the wrong audience. If done properly, paid advertising can be a valuable resource when used in conjunction with some beginner SEO tools, but alone, its best to stay away, despite your best intentions. So, don’t fret as you, the beginner web builder can easily generate your own traffic that is better suited and better target for your customer.
Let’s not parse words, SEO is complicated in concept and implementation if you look at it as one, giant marketing monster. However, broken down into its individual components, SEO for beginners will allow you to take digestible bites off without overwhelming yourself. Whether you are managing a website for an online store, private business, blog site or all of the above, you no doubt have put a lot of time in. So for all of your hard work what have you gotten in return? Crickets.
Yes, anyone who has created a website has quickly learned that search engines will not magically drive traffic to your site. Just like a brick-and-mortar store, a little elbow grease is needed to get people through the door. So, what can you do without tearing out the rest of your hair? First, understand that this is an unavoidable step for every website. The site itself, no matter how graphically appealing, will not be enough on its own.
For starters, there is an enormous amount of competition for attention through just a few primary search engines. The scale of the world wide web is mind-blowingly immense and your need competing with everyone marketing even remotely similar product. Magnify this over the entire world and all the budding entrepreneurs and it gets quite intimidating. Do you just give up? Not even close.
The second step after building the basis of your website has options. First, you can hire an expert to optimize your domain. These services are invaluable and will save you a lot of sleep but will lighten your wallet significantly. Furthermore, the upfront cost is not the end. Despite the upfront cost, any future changes made to your site will also need to be optimized. This includes any new products, blogs or services that also need attention. Therefore, without unloading your dollars, what next can the side-gig entrepreneur do? You can learn it yourself!
As I mentioned earlier, SEO is intimidating. However, once you break it up, you CAN manage to learn and implement some aspects of it in a reasonable timeframe. The key is to understand how search engines work and that any website, needs time to mature. Before going there, lets first discuss what exactly this “SEO” is all about. After all, you just read 5 paragraphs and I haven’t even removed the cloak of secrecy over this nasty abbreviation.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. Simply put, it means by implementing SEO, search engines will be able to identify what you are promoting and how best to present it in search results. Despite search engines being extremely smart and capable of analyzing billions of pieces of data every second, they still are computer programs. That may not be a fair assessment but discussing how incredibly complex their algorithms are will have you tuning out immediately. Therefore, calling them “computer programs” may be overly simplistic, but for our purposes, it iworks.
Explaining this another way, think of SEO as making your website easier for search engines to read. There is no randomness when Google or Bing answer your request. What you type in the query box might seem instantaneous, but a lot of work has been done preparing for that moment. In the next section, you can continue demystifying the search engine and learn how they work. However, before moving on, it is important to keep in mind that throughout this process, the goal is for search engines is to work for you in an incredibly efficient manner. Once you get rid of the notion that search engines are bad, you will start understanding that organic (free) web traffic is possible. Not only will you’re site be discoverable in searches, your not wasting money on advertising to uninterested web surfers.
How Search Engines Work
Knowing some of the basics on how search engine work is important in further pulling back the veil on why your site is getting so little attention. Remember when I mentioned that search engines are computer programs? Let us keep that overly simplistic perspective going, even at the risk of offending some highly skilled engineers that do the heavy lifting.
Search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and others need to rank sites based on a lot of criteria so that your search comes back with the most relevant results. To accomplish this, search engines need to index all of the data you are providing like a giant card catalogue at the library, only much, much bigger. Ok, I may have lost some of you younger readers on that but just think an analogy where organized data is compiled, sorted and available for easily access.
To accomplish this, these search engines send out “bots” that “crawl” through every website, gather pertinent information and then catalogue it. The moment you create a website, especially if you use WordPress or other major platforms, the process begins. These bots will crawl through your website, clicking links, just as a user would, collecting any relevant information and taking note of key elements. According to Google, keywords and freshness are two of the primary signals collected.
This is where SEO enters the picture and will help the bots collect all of the data AND interpret it correctly. As smart as these programs are, they need some “assistance” for your data to be properly recognized. If your photos or text are poor representations of your business, you might be out of luck. If you’re selling floral arrangements in Boise, you don’t want your focus region to go unnoticed. Sadly, this is often what happens on new websites and why utilizing a few basic tools, you can make certain the next time your site is crawled, the proper data will be gathered and the likelihood of search for floral arrangements in Boise will begin to rank your site and eventually convert to sales.
Simply put, on-page SEO is what you can control on your webpage. This includes the use of keywords, internal links, ping-backs, rich-snippets and pictures. Using some of these basic concepts explained in more detail below, will allow your website to start appealing to the crawling process.
We have all heard of keywords yet it they are often misunderstood. A keyword is not a word that you feel best describes your product or blog. Instead, a key word is what a person searching might enter in a search engine. For example, you might be selling men’s clothing, but a customer may be type in “men’s cotton socks”.
Even though the keyword is actually multiple words, it still falls into the definition and how you should start to view your product descriptions or other content. In fact, the shorter the key word, the more volume a search will produce making it increasingly difficult to rank. Adding a more specifics will reduce your audience but rank you higher. How you proceed may depend on your product. For example, “banana trees for sale” is not going to appeal to cold-climate audiences. So perhaps specify with more detail by saying “banana trees for sale in Florida” will find the audience you are trying to reach.
To find a keyword, you can type it into Google and review the results. Better yet, search engines will also provide you with a list of other suggestions that people are actively searching for. You have most of what you need by just performing your own investigatory searches. Take what you find and utilize those keywords.
Let’s break down the 4 primary types of keywords:
- Informational keywords provide an answer to a general question or specific search. If someone wants to know the average resting heart, your fitness blog will potentially rank if these keywords are included.
- Navigational keywords are when web searcher looks for a particular site such as Starbucks or Pizza Hut.
- Commercial keywords help a person search or research information about a known brand or service. A good example is when someone is trying to compare FitBit vs. AppleWatch.
- Transactional keywords show a specific intent to act, such as “where to buy…” or “mobile homes for sale”.
On page SEO cannot solely rely on keywords because although search engines still look for them, your user’s experience will be lousy if you overload your site with them. This area can become a little too technical for the novice but worth touching upon a few points briefly.
One item that can help assist both the search engine and end-user is to have clarity in your URL. For those using WordPress, this will mean eying how your title is written. Ideally, your keyword is at the beginning of your title and thus to the far left of the URL and easily found by search engines. You also need to keep slang or non-proper words out of the text. Saying “Yo place to crash for vacation” will confuse the average person and bots alike. Lastly, keep the URL’s short and to the point while not being boring. This is a fine line between losing the potential customer and losing the search engine. Again, do your own search and see what the top results are doing.
Next, make sure your meta tags are teaching the search engine and end user what it is you are trying to accomplish. These meta tags are the brief synopsis you see below a search result and are key to giving both the reader and bots the quick overview of your page. Off point or too wordy and you will lose your potential customer. In WordPress these are call excerpts and easily added when creating a post or page. Some web builders automatically take the first few sentences as a default, and this may suffice for many. But unless you put a lot of care in how your page or blog starts off, you may want to manually create your meta tags. Yoast has a nice overview of how to create your own in their “How to Create the Right Meta Description” tutorial.
Title tags are a direct factor in search engine ranking so get them right. Title tags are often automatically your post or page name (this is the case for WordPress) so it is another reason to make sure the titles contain the information you want to convey.
Off page SEO is often thought to all be about the links, which in many cases is accurate, but it doesn’t stop there. Think of off-page SEO as any way to get your website ranked by search engines.
Links, in the most basic view can be defined as anything that brings you somewhere else after clicking it. These can be in the form of a text, images and even video. Regardless of the form, they all have the same purpose which is to encourage the user to explore a new destination.
- An outbound link sends you to another website. These are highly regarded when search engines rank a website. Websites often use these to lead you to a location where additional information or products can be found on another domain (website). These are easy to add and the domain your sending traffic will love you for it. For example, Semrush is an industry leader in online marketing and a go-to source for SEO tools and optimization. Not only did I provide you with a great resource for additional learning, I provided you with an example of a outbound link.
- An internal link is one where you send visitors from one page to another within your own domain. For example, a blogger might include an internal link to another article that the reader might find useful. It both helps the reader and the blogger by promoting more material within the domain. Here is an internal link where you can learn more about SEO in a previous article I wrote discussing how to learn SEO, while avoiding the pitfalls of YouTube influencers. These hyperlinks make it easy for your guest to navigate and helps promote your products to a larger audience.
- An inbound link or backlink is when another domain sends traffic your way. Backlinks that occur naturally or without any effort or permission on your part are rarer than manual. Manual backlinks are often be done by building relationships with other websites, exchanging links are requesting for them to add a link to your site. Both natural and manual backlinks and huge in this competitive game and search engines place high regard as they legitimize and place a high value on your content.
The next off-page SEO you need to learn, if not master, is utilizing social media with your domain. This does not mean to just self-promote your products or blogs (which you absolutely should do) but also sharing relevant stories that will draw people to you. Once there, they will be more enticed to click your links, some of which will redirect them to your domain. The key to social media is to share relevant content and redirect any traffic back to your site. This shows search engines that you have content that is interesting, and traffic is being sourced from multiple platforms. Social media can easily be self-taught but needs time and dedication. Take a few moments each day to keep profiles active even if it is as simples as a retweet.
Optimize your Images
A few final pointers will have you well on your way to increasing web traffic. One overlooked item is to optimize your images. Avoid using too many images that are decorative and focus on ones that search engines can utilize. However, don’t assume that your image that is easily digestible by a human means it is for a bot. Be sure to provide an image description so that Google knows how to define it. In WordPress, you can just click on the image and add your alt text. It is a simple description, ideally with your keyword, that allows the image to be viewed as text by bots. I like this article provided by Microsoft that helps describe the proper use of alt text.
Google heavily relies on page speed when ranking websites and while there are many other ways, often quite technical, we can start with a continuation of your use of images. Too many and too large of files will drag your speeds down. I am sure we have all clicked a link and had to wait for images to load, sometimes far too long. This will lose you customers. Optimizing the images includes making sure you are using the proper file type such as PNG for images or JPEG for photos.
In the age where mobile users rule, you need to make sure your domain is mobile friendly. I like this article by Tarakeet that has an easy-to-read approach and explains how vital it is to remove bloat from your site and stop losing visitors because of slow load time.
You hear it said but sadly, many sites including small retailers add a blog but fill it with gibberish. Search engines want a lot of content, and they want it fresh. Once your postings sit for months without new material, the bots will stop ranking your site. The more you write (think in terms of word counts), the more informative it is and how often new material is posted, will go a long way in getting the attention of the next crawl.
Beyond content quality, quantity, and freshness, you need to make sure your providing content that the reader can understand. Using humor and avoiding too much technical jargon is perfect if you are trying to appeal to a broad audience that may not be as sophisticated as you. As smart as you may be, don’t let that discourage your visitor from sticking around. This applies to blogs, landing pages and even product descriptions when showing off your knowledge excessively will not appeal to a newbie.
Lastly, SEO is not a sprint. Your domain will succeed if you put some time and effort into it. Additionally, you must acknowledge that it will not improve overnight. Most sites take a year before they become legitimate to search engines so do not lose confidence and never stop learning!