(10-15 minute read)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it's a large convoluted and messy term. But it doesn't need to be. In this post we're going to focus on a few key actionable items that provide the best returns. We will start with some of the typical questions we at EvenVision hear from clients, and follow it up with a basic audit and more holistic review. The sections will be broken up as:
- S - Strategy
- E - Evaluation
- O - Optimization
First thing first: What is SEO? "It's the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of resulted by a search engine." --- As defined by Google (a search engine).
For more information on the basics of what SEO is, I'd highly recommend checking out our previous post, which you can find here: "What is SEO."
Commonly asked SEO questions
Alright so let's answer three basic strategy questions we at EvenVision hear a lot.
Question 1: "I really want more people to visit my site, how do I get them to my site?"
Answer: Awesome! SEO is one way to achieve your goal. But even with that goal, if people visit your site and don't find what they are looking for that is a problem. So before we try and find out how to get more people to your website, we should focus on the people who currently visiting to help them be more successful (and if no one is coming, then it's still best to prep for when they do). This is important to remember because paying for SEO ranking, or online advertising can seem like a great option, but often results in poor returns.
Question 2: "I've heard a lot about SEO, how do I do it?"
Answer: SEO isn't something you do once and then wash your hands of. SEO is a constant thing that requires time, energy and effort over the course of your entire businesses website existence. Think about it like a lifestyle change in comparison to a quick fast diet. Cutting out doughnuts for a week will feel great, but true value will be found in a lifestyle change. SEO is not solely focused on Keywords, while this may have been the case years back, search engine crawlers have come a long ways since simple keywords. They are now capable of monitor hundreds of different variables. Here are a few (addressed in more detail below):
- User Friendliness - see section on Responsive Design
- Content Relevance - see section on Information Architecture & On-Site SEO
- Social Proof
The most important thing to remember is for good SEO you need content. Content is King.
Question 3: "What does my website's content have to do with SEO, I'm just trying to get to the first page on Google?"
Answer: We are trying to get people to not only find you but to find value from finding you. If your website has a single page of content, what value would this single page be in comparison to a site with hundreds of pages rich with valuable content? These are all elements considered by search engines. One of the worst things we see happen all the time is people that create a website with great content, but then never touch it. The content will become stale, and crawlers will pick up on that quickly, pushing you down in the ranks.
I cannot stress it enough, if you want a great search ranking, have good* content and update it often.
*Good content is defined as relevant and current which has authority (see more below).
EvenVision SEO Audit Basics:
As easy as 1, 2, 3, 4
Now that we've addressed some commonly asked strategy questions, we are going to dive a little deeper into a SEO evaluation and run through some of the key topics we address commonly during SEO audits. They are ordered based on the maximum value added principle. Which goes something like: "what will provide the highest impact with the least amount of effort." We're all busy people, so we want to maximize our returns.
The following items are website specific.
1) Information Architecture
This is a fancy term for how content is structured on your site. We already talked about the importance of good content, but now that we've got good content it is important the structure of the content makes sense. By making sure your content is structured properly you'll find a higher engagement by users and increased satisfaction. Remember, before you go hunting for more people, let's make sure people already visiting your site are successful. If there are two sites with the same content, but laid out differently, with one being easy to navigate and another being hard which do you think will rank higher? The easy to navigate website will.
Another aspect of information architecture is Content Relevance. For instance, on Nike's website, they sell shoes, t-shirts, and many other items. But all of them are neatly cataloged according to their relevance to one another - shoes are with shoes, t-shirts are with t-shirts. In a like fashion, your website should feature relevant content to your business and content should be broken into relevant chunks. It would not behoove a Pest Control business to talk about Unicorns or Nuclear bombs, but they are encouraged to post as much content as they can about pest control, prevention, detection...etc There are internal relevance metrics, and external relevance metrics. The key thing to remember is the content should be cohesive, intuitive, and logically distributed through your website.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Is it intuitive for people to land on your site and find what they need, or do they need to look around a bit?
- Are there internal links directing people naturally from one location to the next?
- Is the content relevant internally, and externally?
- Is it intuitive to navigation from one section of content to the next?
- Are there any "dead-ends" on the site?
2) Responsive Design
Responsive Design refers to a system that provides high-quality user experiences on any screen. At EvenVision we've been developing responsive website's as standard for many years. This item provides better user experiences and increases satisfaction for users that are already visiting your website. Furthermore, since April 2015, Google has placed more weight on mobile friendly websites on their search engine. Check out their Multi-screen guidelines here: Support.Google
While this is increasingly important metric, it should not be assumed to be "most" important. Depending on the business, and what demographic utilizes your services or products, you may find the vast majority do not access your site via their phones, which means that while this is an incredibly valuable item... it is not always. Analytics data is available for this information and should be checked.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What does your website look like on a phone?
- Is text formatted properly to display on mobile devices?
- Is it easy to navigate and read on a phone?
- What percentage of your users access the site on their phone?
- Is the site optimized to display information on mobile devices?
3) On-Site SEO
Content is content, but not all content is built equally. There are ways to emphasize key bits of content on a website to help search engines understand what your most important point is on a page. This is known as on-site SEO. We can go even more specific with on-page SEO. For example, just look at this article. I've utilized header tags (H1, H2... etc) to highlight key information for you to understand the content quicker. In much the same way, search engine crawlers will tap into the same systems looking for importance and weight. Here keywords start coming into play.
One key aspect of on-site SEO is to take a look at "rich" media (images, video... etc). All of the website's EvenVision builds provide room for "Alt" and "Title" tags for media that is uploaded on the site. These tags not only allow for ADA compliance (check out this article from WebAIM regarding screen reader compatibility) but also allow search engines to better understand the images on your site. These search engine crawlers are now smart enough to determine that a picture is showing a tree, but are unable to determine that it's a Redwood tree from the Trees of Mystery. By providing this additional information the images gain more value for the visitor and the search engine.
Another core component of on-site SEO is the idea of "original content." Not all original content needs to be new, but new content will always be deemed original. Original simply means your not plagiarizing some other site by copying all of their content. Doing so is bad, and will get caught quickly. That said, providing your expert, or professional opinion on another sites content in the form of a blog is considered original content. Sites with a wealth of original content will naturally rank higher than their counterparts. This is especially true for rich media.
Here are some questions to ask:
- What does a standard page of content look like for you?
- Are you using H1 and H2 tags to differentiate content?
- Are there alt and title tags on images?
- Is the site optimizing SEO benefits from images?
- Is the content on your site original?
- Does the site have an SSL certificate?
- Do you rank on local searchs?
4) Site Speed
No one likes to wait for stuff. We know this as a basic truth. For SEO this is another metric that is growing in importance as more and more people turn to searching via their mobile phones over slower networks. What can cause a website to be slow? Well, it could be a slow server system, but more than likely the problem stems from the uncompressed content or code bloat.
Here an example: When a 12 MB image is uploaded to a site, depending on the system the image may display on their website uncompressed, meaning that to see the image a visitor needs to download the entire 12 MB image. However, there are ways around this, such as the systems EvenVision utilizes which display compressed version of the same image. These systems act to speed up the sites load time for a visitor because instead of downloading a 12 MB image, they only need to download a single megabyte. When a user can access information quicker they will be more satisfied.
Once again there are free sources out there to test your website's loading speed. We highly recommend taking a look at them for yourself. Pingdom is a fantastic free resource for this type of test.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Is your website slow to load on a desktop, on a mobile phone?
- What is causing your website to be slow?
- Are there uncompressed images?
Additional Resource: We've written another Insight regarding Website Speed specifically. Check it out for more information.
EvenVision's SEO Holistic Audit
The ABC's that follow the 123's
Now that we've addressed some of the low-hanging fruit, it's time to tackle SEO more holistically to optimize you search ranking. This is where we take a step back from strictly focused on your website to examining factors surround it and your business.
Authority is the concept of looking at your website in conjunction with the whole internet. For instance, do other websites refer back to yours as a reliable resource - known a back-linking? Is your website sharing information from other websites - known as link sharing? All other factors aside, Authority is perhaps the most powerful part of SEO for a website. We see Authority come to life with highly regarding websites such as BBC. All they have to do is merely mention a phrase within a larger article and it will pop up high in the search ranking.
There are many techniques that we can use to help create authority, but ultimately they all hinge on the quality of your content. Remember: good quality content is relevant and current.
- Directory link control - adding your website/business to the relevant business directories and making sure the content is accurate
- Guest posting - writing posts on other websites blogs
- Backlink Building - developing strategies for getting your website listed on relevant websites - always focus on getting quality backlinks over quantity.
- Internal site link monitoring - checking to make sure that your own site's link are fully functional
- Content Marketing - simply building great content that attracts traffic by its own intrinsic virtue
B) Social Proof
Social Proof is simple to understand and is quickly becoming an important metric within the SEO equation. It's the concept that other people are confirming your website/business to be valuable. Once you've got great content, people still need to find it, so why not share it? Utilize social media channels to distribute your content. If people like it, they'll share it. The more that do the better, because it's proof your content is valuable and authoritative. Aside from simply sharing content, online reviews of your business or organization also factor into this social proof metric. Aside from outside sources, additional ways to boost social proof metrics are to integrate customer reviews on your website. Let visitors produce content on your site and confirm that your products and services are good. This is one reason Amazon always appears at the top.
We can think of social proof as "buzz." Are people talking about your business, are people interested in your services and website. If they are, you will rank higher than your counterpart who has no social proof.
Here are some of the items that we look for with social proof:
- Social Media Spread - is your social media presence spread equally through top sites?
- Business Reviews - are there reviews of your business online?
- On-site Product Reviews - does your site feature a location for on-site product reviews?
C) Brand Strategy
Finally we can start talking about keywords (notice I left it out until the very end). Old school SEO focused heavily on keywords, but this is no longer the case. The current generation of SEO focuses on everything I mentioned above and on new more complex metrics such as "Long Clicks" (for more see Moz's article on "The Long Click and the Quality of Search Success"). This begs the question, are keywords even still relevant? Yes. But they need to be executed properly if you simply stack your site full of 1 word repeated 1 million times, you'll never show up in search ranking.
The first thing to do then is to define your brand strategy. Who are you, what are you, who benefits from you? These questions will define your content strategy. Your content strategy should encompass methods for keeping the quality of your content authoritative and trustworthy, in addition to being comprehensive and current. With a great content strategy, your content itself is able to target a specific audience, delivering the information they need to have a successful visit. Furthermore, by having a content strategy in place your content should be able to drive your keyword selection and contextualize them, adding weight and value for visitors and for search engines.
Brand Strategy > Content Strategy > Content > Keywords = Success!
The trick is to use the right words in the right places to catalyze those words from the get go. But it's also important to remember that this is not a simple one week diet, but rather a complete life change. It takes constant vigilance to update, create and craft high-quality content that speaks as a single cohesive brand.
Content is king. Good content is vital and should be current, relevant, and authoritative. This is your strategy. When we at EvenVision look at SEO, we will evaluate the following:
- Information Architecture
- Responsive Design
- On-Site SEO
- Site Speed
To optimize your SEO we need to develop strategies for the following:
- User Friendliness
- Content Relevance
- Social Proof
- Brand Strategy
SEO is easy, but it takes a little time, energy and effort here and there. It takes intent. But rub a little elbow grease and the returns will be surprising.