September 19, 2017
If you’ve worked on a website or have perused the Internet for tips on digital marketing, you are sure to have come across the term SEO. It is one of the most talked about strategies. With so much information around the topic, it’s very easy for a newcomer to get confused or get the wrong ideas about it.
This article is for beginners who are looking to understand what SEO is all about. It could also serve as a primer for intermediaries who are looking for a quick reference.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process that enhances the visibility of a website, specifically from organic (mainly search) channels via various on-page, off-page and technical implementations.
There are millions of webpages on the Internet, and search engines have become the de facto method for people to discover useful webpages and content. As more and more webpages are added to the interweb, it becomes extremely important to increase your website’s search presence. This is one surefire way to ensure a continuous inflow of high intent traffic, regularly.
Practicing good SEO hygiene from Day 1 sets up your website for long-term success. Over the course of my career, I’ve heard people associate so many negative words with SEO. For most, this part of digital marketing still remains a mystery.
How does one go about doing SEO
To understand the on-ground implementation of SEO, I’ll first break it down into its various facets. Broadly speaking, there are three types of SEO implementations:
- On-Page SEO
- Technical Hygiene
- Off-Page SEO
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of each of them.
On-Page SEO Implementation
On-page SEO is an umbrella term, referring to anything that you can do on your webpage to increase its search presence.
The on-page optimization for a webpage takes the following into consideration:
- Title Tag: Create the Title Tag with the target keyword placed toward the beginning.
- URL: The URL needs to be reader friendly and not some coded gibberish. WordPress lets you add custom URLs, thankfully.
- Creating engaging content: Mix it up by adding multimedia content. Infographics, images, video clips, etc help increase time on site and reduce bounce rate (two factors critical for rankings).
When adding images, ensure you have added the relevant Alt and Title tags.
- Well-structured content: Google and other search engines prefer content that is well structured. This means that instead of writing in a long, single paragraph format, you break down your content into smaller sections, each with its own subheading (Adding H2 tags).
- Keyword enrichment: When writing your content, sprinkle keywords through it, but don’t overdo it. Add some closely related terms and avoid using the primary keyword repeatedly. You wouldn’t want to be under review for keyword stuffing.
- Internal and external linking: Add a few internal links to pages on your site within your text and maybe a few outbound links. Internal links help spread the link juice, while outbound links provide relevancy signals to search engines.
- Meta Description: Meta description is the snippet of text that is shown under the title on the search engine’s result page. A good meta description has a couple of variations of the target keyword and a call to action, compelling users to click on your link.
Tip: Yoast SEO is a handy plugin when you’re looking to optimize your pages for search engines.
Though this section is closely related to On-Page SEO optimizations, and most people on the Internet don’t separate this. I’ve kept it separate considering this to be more of a dev task than the content creators.
Technical hygiene constitutes the following:
- Site Structure: When creating a website, one of the most important factors is planning the site structure properly. The main navigation and secondary navigation (if applicable) needs to be configured properly, keeping the information hierarchy in mind. The idea behind this is to ensure that information is structured properly and is easy enough for users to find.
- Sitemap: A sitemap is like a blueprint of your website, it tells the search engine crawlers what links are present on your website, the URL hierarchy and how often your site gets updated. There are a number of plugins that automatically create your WordPress website’s sitemap, but you’ll need to manually submit it to webmaster consoles.
- Robots.txt: Robots.txt is a text file that lives in the root directory of a website and is meant as a directive for search engine crawlers. Webmasters typically create this file to tell the Web crawlers which parts of the website they should crawl, not crawl, and even the behavior. A handy example of a robots.txt file usage is when you’re looking to disallow indexing of your ‘thank-you’ page.
Tip: Yoast SEO plugin lets you create both your sitemap and robots.txt file.
- Site Speed: Page load speed is an important factor from a user’s experience point of view. Slow loading pages lose half of their visitors even before the page loads. But how does it relate to your SEO efforts? ‘Pogo-ing’, people bouncing off your website as soon as they land on your site via the search engine is a major red flag.
- 404 errors – There’s been a lot of debate on the Internet about the correct way to handle 404 errors. Changing page / post URLs should be handled with a 301 (permanent) redirect, but if a user lands on a 404 by entering a wrong URL, a nice 404 page asking users to go back to the home page should work.
Off-page SEO implementation
Any activity done on a third-party website with an aim to improve search engine rankings on your website falls under the purview of Off-Page implementation.
One of the first things that comes to mind when talking about Off-Page SEO is backlinks. Let’s start this with a bit about backlinks:
What are backlinks and anchor text?
Backlinks are nothing but outbound links from other sites to your site. The text that hyperlinks to your site is called the anchor text.
Simple? Well, it sounds pretty simple, but getting backlinks from worthwhile sites takes effort and a bit of time as well.
Why are backlinks important?
Think of backlinks as a referral system.
A search engine (for example Google) uses backlinks as a vote of confidence. The higher the authority of a site giving the outbound link, the more weight the vote carries. The context of the link, along with the anchor text, determines what the vote of confidence is about.
The more the number of heavy weight backlinks, the higher the chance of good SERP rankings.
Until recently, people were indulging in mass link building activities, without considering the context of the backlinks. Bad/low quality and spammy backlink strategies, might show results fast. But as the search engines are getting smarter, sooner or later a black hat strategy will get penalized.
While working on a link building strategy for your website, ensure that you only indulge in activities that ensure a good, contextual and relevant backlink from a high authority site.
Good SEO practices form the bases of growth marketing – and should be taken care of before jumping into growth hacks and other fancy Internet marketing terms. Young companies especially need to be patient and keep working toward building a solid digital foundation. Generating organic traffic from search engines is one of the most sustainable ways to ensure a long-term growth.
Akshat Goyal is the founder of Ghaas, a growth marketing agency focused on helping startups and young companies achieve long term, sustainable growth, fast. With more than six years of experience in growth marketing, he loves dabbling with product, technology and working on challenging problems. Connect with him on LinkedIn.