How do you think search engines come up with results for your queries? With thousands of websites offering similar products, services, and information – what determines the top results?
To understand the mechanisms that the search engine uses and how to leverage them for your website, you need to familiarise yourself with SEO – Search Engine Optimization.
Search Engine Optimization might seem a little complex for those unfamiliar with it, but it can simply be described as a list of things you can implement on your website in order to actively engage with search engines. Demystifying SEO is all about understanding the components of this loose framework of best practices.
So, what is the aim of SEO?
While searching for the desired product to buy, you are most likely to go to a preferred search engine and type your query/apt keywords. The results that pop up show you what you are looking for. Similarly, if you are an e-tailer and people are looking for your product in the search engine, you would want your website to pop up on that results page.
Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing use complex back-end technologies and algorithms to search the internet for the most relevant pages related to a search query. This happens in a split second but involves a lot of factors. For your website to show up on the top results, you will have to convince the search engine that it is most relevant to the query.
And how do you do that?
This is where Search Engine Optimization comes into the picture – optimising your website (content) so that search engines are able to read all the relevant information and push up the ranks.
Content writing provides a structure that facilitates the best SEO practices. Without your keywords, you cannot make good title tags – without a set of blogs and pages, you cannot apply internal links, and the list goes on.
Before you get started, you need to identify the top keywords relevant to your website. Based on this, you need to build your content, and then execute your SEO tasks. When you commit to an SEO and content strategy, get a firm grasp of the purpose of the website and plan the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to optimising it.
Here are ten ways you can improve your SEO strategy.
1. SEO Writing begins with Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Think of the search engine crawler as an impatient customer scanning through the website rather than going through it in detail. Grab its attention by giving your web pages defined and easily identifiable labels – congruent with what people are searching for.
The Title tag is an SEO friendly catch-phrase that describes your website content and appears on the search engine results page (SERP) in the large blue ink text. Correspondingly, Meta description is a concise summary of the web page used to answer a searcher’s query.
Let’s look at two examples – good and bad – for a better understanding.
The first snapshot captures an accurate description of Moz explaining a ‘meta description’ in its meta description. Although we cannot ignore the lengthiness of the snippet (and you should ideally stick to the number of characters suggested by Google), Moz has managed to explain the contents of the page to the point while maintaining a good mix of keywords.
However, in the second example, the title tag is crisp and highlights the objective of the article efficiently. But, the meta description has been cut midway. And if you read it carefully, it looks like the descriptions have been picked from the following page by Google to describe the contents best. So, either the original description did not explain the page content well, or there was none to begin with – which is a big no-no!
2. Page URL Optimizations
Adding a high-frequency keyword in your URL is one of the most efficient ways for the search engine algorithm to recognise your content faster.
Your URL structures should follow a natural navigation path that users experience to find the product. The ‘folder-subfolder’ structure is a good way to build links. It allows users and search engine crawlers to quickly identify the keywords with the added context of the categories and sub-categories.
Search engine crawlers index well-structured URLs faster than automatically produced strings (dynamic URLs) which don’t include keywords.
Look at this illustration from Techwyse, one of Canada’s biggest digital marketing agencies. The search engine bot in the middle clearly identifies the static URL (with actual words – to the right) ahead of the dynamic URL (bare template with alphanumeric string – to the left).
3. Attract search engine crawlers with Breadcrumbs
Bad navigation can affect user experience. Searching for similarly themed products becomes difficult if the product pages do not follow an organised format. You have to keep clicking on the main pages to retrace your steps or use the internal search. Breadcrumbs are visual aids that improve navigation on a website – they let people know which categories and sub-categories they have entered.
Location breadcrumbs describe the page you are on by showing the layers of locations navigated, usually in this format – ‘Main Page>Category Page>Product Page’. Apart from the user experience, breadcrumbs are also good for SEO. Use product keywords in your breadcrumbs, so they are identifiable by search engine crawlers. Location breadcrumbs encourage users to explore the categories (increase time spent on site) while preventing instances where they will click on something they don’t want (reduce bounce rates).
Look at this screenshot from Redwolf. The breadcrumb is placed immediately after the navigation/menu bar - >Official Merch>Rick And Morty Merchandise > Space Cruiser – Rick And Monty Official T-shirt.
It accurately describes the path leading to the product page. It also includes specific product descriptions, such as “Rick and Morty” and “t-shirts”. These terms get identified by search engines when someone types for the product.
4. Expand your SEO with Blogs
Your SEO strategy cannot solely depend on your core website content.
Search engine algorithms usually give preference to websites that are constantly updating content. You cannot update your ‘Home Page’ or ‘About Us’ page all the time, and the same goes for your product descriptions. Blogs are the best way to update content consistently.
According to Hubspot, blog content is a priority for more than half marketers across the globe, and 43% of people visit blogs. Blogs allow you to utilise the latest SEO strategies you learn without disturbing your main product-related content. They allow you a larger field of content where you can insert more keywords and titles, increasing the overall SEO elements in your website. This also encourages more interlinking and backlinking, something which we will cover in detail later.
5. Incorporate Keyword Variations in your Content
There is a great way to avoid repeating words in your content while also maintaining your SEO requirements. Keyword variations allow you to write more natural text and the Google algorithm recognises them while indexing.
Reserve your high-volume keyword for the heading and repeat it in the rest of the content two or three times. Your other keywords can also be utilised in the sub-headers. Keyword variations and long-tailed keywords should be used in the body of the content.
Real-life context is very crucial when determining keyword variations. ‘Shoes, black shoes, tall shoes, short shoes’ – these are a good set of keyword variations and can provide the theme for a single post. ‘Sneaker shoes, Mongolian hunting shoes, evening dress shoes, and beach shoes’ – this cannot be considered a good set of variations as the themes are distinctive from each other.
Use keyword variations wisely, over-dependence may come across as keyword stuffing.
6. Don’t Stuff Keywords - Maintain a balance between SEO and Content
You may have come across pages where every few sentences and phrases include a buying prompt or a forced brand or keyword insertion. Such content comes across as spam, and most users would not spend too much time going through it.
Keyword-rich content should not be confused with keyword-stuffed content.
Search engines do not want to tarnish their own user experience by promoting bad content. Keyword stuffing worked to an extent in the past but now if you want to see your website climb the ranks, user experience and quality content have more weight than sheer keyword presence. Tactics like keyword stuffing indicate an attempt by the content creator to unfairly use system loopholes to improve page rank and can result in a Google penalty. The rule of thumb is – if the content does not read naturally, trash it.
Some experts suggest that keyword density should not be more than 3%.
Here is an example by Neilpatel.com, which is indeed very popular and is used to illustrate keyword stuffing.
7. Keep the writing quality high in your SEO Content
While attending to the intricacies of SEO, do not ignore the basics of writing. Bad grammar and spelling mistakes create a bad reader experience, and this will increase bounce rates. You are also reducing your conversion chances. From an SEO point-of-view, increased bounce rates will drop the page's ranks.
Draft blogs around a selected primary keyword or group of keywords. The terms should fit into a sentence naturally and never forget a grammar check. Tools like Grammarly are very useful for this.
Lists are also very useful in displaying certain types of information. Listicles are more organised for the reader and cater to shorter attention spans of the internet user.
8. Build Internal Links – An important part of SEO Copywriting
As you increase your blog content, use the expansion to redirect readers within your domain. Rather than owning a set of disconnected blogs, add internal links that connect all your SEO content.
This increases the traffic to your other blog posts. Internal linking helps improve Google PageRank score and keeps visitors in your site for a longer period of time. This reduces your bounce rates.
9. Push your content to a wider audience with External Links
External links or outbound links to other websites add legitimacy to your content by connecting it to other players in your vertical or market segment. It presents your blogs as part of a continuously evolving ‘industry literature’.
Business bloggers can connect with others by linking to other blogs. Reversely, other bloggers can send links to your content– adding more SEO value to your domain. These incoming links are called backlinks. Backlinking significantly contributes towards SEO. Getting more links from a popular website that enjoys a high reputation not only provides you authority but also helps you gain trust amongst your audience.
10. SEO for your Image Search
Images are crucial to your content quality. Search engine crawlers do not identify images directly, but there are ways to optimise them for SEO. Describe the image file using the relevant term or keyword. ‘Red-sequinned-dress.jpg’ is more descriptive than ‘DSC276.jpg’. Include the image description and a keyword in the Alt Text.
Give your image a caption and place it where it fits best into the text. Image captions have a 300% higher probability of being read than regular text, according to research commissioned by David Ogilvy.
Slow websites are not received very warmly by search engines so there is no need to upload a clunky high-resolution file when you can do with a compressed version of reasonable quality.
Do not discount the importance of image search SEO. Google Image Search uses the page titles to showcase the images. When you are creating your titles for the page concerned, keep the image in mind. Here is a quote from the Google Image Search Support guidelines – “Google Images automatically generates a title and snippet to explain each result best and how it relates to the user query… We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in the title, and meta tags...”
These are a lot of practices you can adopt to ensure that each element of your website is performing its function smoothly. From adding breadcrumbs and static links to connect your blog posts with reputed and peer external sites, you are essentially creating a footprint of your domain that makes it more visible to search engines.
Content quality remains the pivot of your SEO. Keeping users engaged and maintaining a good reader experience is an intrinsic part of SEO and goes hand in hand with the more quantifiable practices.
Do you have a website that has benefited from any of these suggestions? Share your top SEO techniques with us!