The best marketing techniques often don’t require expensive ad campaigns, but rather optimal use of resources you already have. Google search engine results are a prime example: while only 10% of all web traffic comes from paid search ads, over 50% comes from organic, non-promotional searches. In other words, effectively-designed web pages represent a low-cost, high-return marketing strategy — which is why search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial in 2020.
With 5.5 billion web searches processed every day — roughly 63,000 per second on average — search engines are an opportunity marketers can’t ignore. By optimizing your sites to rank for these searches, they can become evergreen sources of value that generate high volumes of organic traffic. The challenge lies in understanding what keywords users are searching for and how Google prioritizes search engine results.
As part of PostFunnel’s Nuts and Bolts series, we’ll delve into the world of modern Martech to shed some light on the tools and best practices being used by you — our fellow marketers — in your day-to-day strategies. Every month, our experts will sink their teeth into another aspect of this fascinating field, hopefully inspiring you to elevate your business through smarter marketing.
What is search engine optimization?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing web pages to rank prominently on search engine results pages and, as a result, generate organic traffic. It covers a broad range of technical and syntactical practices built for the search algorithms that analyze web pages and evaluate their relevance to given search keywords. The vast majority of SEO practices are built around Google’s search algorithm, which accounts for 94% of global search traffic.
Google’s search engine is powered by a bot network that rank websites using the following process:
- Google’s bots crawl the web and collect data on websites
- Machine learning algorithms extract keywords appropriate for individual pages
- Google ranks individual pages and web domains for keyword expertise, domain name ownership, and other factors
For marketers, SEO is primarily used to create evergreen web pages purposefully-designed to rank for industry keywords. Most evergreen pages represent high-funnel marketing content that generates brand interest while guiding prospects to lower-funnel content through calls-to-action. If evergreen content is well-optimized and periodically maintained, it will perpetually generate organic web traffic and pay exponential dividends.
What are keywords?
Keywords are the phrases, topics, and terms that users enter into a search engine in order to learn more about a topic, access specific information, or navigate to a particular part of the internet. From the perspective of a search engine algorithm, each web page and domain has a set of primary keywords that summarize its content. A Postfunnel article, for example, might feature phrases like “retention marketing” or “customer-centric” as primary keywords. By understanding what keywords you’d like a page to rank for, marketers can optimize their content to appear in the search results of prospective customers.
To obtain these benefits, however, marketers need to ensure their website earns a high search ranking for a keyword. In any given search, 70% of clicks will go towards the top five results. Marketers can avoid this problem by optimizing their page for more specific keywords that attract the attention of relevant customers. This detail makes initial keyword research one of the most critical SEO skills for modern marketers.
Any text represented in your content should feature the keyword with enough frequency to ensure it is relevant. Marketers should be careful to avoid overt keyword repetition since Google’s algorithm is programmed to lower the ranking of these pages. Ideally, a keyword should appear two to three times in a 1000-word blog post.
What is metadata, and how does it relate to SEO?
For all its complexity, SEO is a relatively straightforward process when it comes to helping determine which web pages are relevant to a particular search query. In addition to optimizing the actual content of a page, effective SEO also involves leveraging a page’s metadata to encourage search engine algorithms to rank pages favorably.
Within the context of web design, metadata refers to information within the non-visible parts of HTML. While this information isn’t shown directly to readers, it is analyzed alongside page copy by Google’s algorithm and should feature your primary keywords.
When applying SEO techniques to branded websites, there are several metadata elements marketers should consider:
- Page titles: If your keyword doesn’t appear directly in the page title, why would a customer — let alone a bot — click on the search result? Why Google’s algorithms are flexible enough that a keyword variant is acceptable, title metadata tags should never be overlooked.
- URLs: Marketers should always resist the instinct to let their blogging software automatically generate a URL. Go into the URL manually and create a human-readable phrase that includes your keyword whenever possible.
- Meta descriptions: While meta descriptions don’t always appear directly on web pages, they are prominently featured in metadata and will be displayed in Google’s search results.
- Image alt tags: To a search engine bot or algorithm, images are simple blocks of HTML code. By inserting your keyword into an image alt tag, you create another opportunity to enhance the relevance of your page.
What are backlinks?
When it comes to SEO, it’s not enough to construct an optimally-designed website. Marketers also need to ensure the site is considered an expert in any field their chosen keywords reference. Google primarily measures expertise through backlinks or inbound links, which occur when another website creates a URL reference to your domain or individual web page. If your web page has a high volume of backlinks shared across the web, Google will consider it a valuable reference for a keyword and adjust its ranking accordingly.
Over the years, marketers have tried to game SEO backlink practices in various ways including keyword stuffing and paid link building. Google’s algorithms no longer give credit based on these practices, which means marketers must put greater effort into creating valuable content that generates backlinks organically.
On top of incoming links, Google also tracks outbound links to third-party websites. These backlinks show that a web domain is referencing other expert sources and generally engaging with the broader online ecosystem. When creating any blog post or web article, optimal SEO practices usually require three outbound links for every 1000 words of content to have an impact on search ranking.
What is local SEO?
SEO techniques are not one-size-fits-all, and local SEO is unique. Web designers and marketers should always make a distinction between optimizing for generic keywords and optimizing for a specific purpose, such as conversions. Perhaps the most common examples of the latter are locally-optimized web pages that attract customers to a particular store location. These can include everything from searches for local businesses to searches for local branches of a major chain.
In these cases, the goal of local SEO is to optimize each page for the surrounding area using regional and geographical keywords, usually on top of generic keywords for a given industry. This additional step may seem unnecessary but is highly relevant — research suggests that local smartphone searches are more likely to generate sales than non-local searches for similar products or services.
So how can businesses enhance their web presence for local sales? In brief, here are the considerations to keep in mind:
- Include local audience insights in your web copy: Incorporate any details that relate to customers from any locations your brand serves. What does an ideal customer expect to see when arriving on a page, and what exactly are they looking for?
- Feature local details in metadata: When your metadata includes information about your customer’s location, it will enhance the relevancy of their search. Consider adding your city name or other local details in the page title, meta description, keyword tags, and other metadata as appropriate.
- Optimize pages for mobile users: Over half of all searches come from mobile devices, so businesses need to optimize their web pages accordingly. This includes making the page readable on the mobile web and including localized lander details — like street address — that will appear in proximity searches.
Local optimization guides like this one from Neil Patel elaborate on these points from a more technical perspective. But as long as marketers can find ways to incorporate local details onto a page, the more likely local customers will be able to find you.
How do you measure SEO performance?
For most marketers, SEO performance is something that can only be measured through observation. The exact calculations behind ranking improvements and reductions are decided internally by Google and other search engines. Thankfully, there are a few reliable ways to determine the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.
As with many questions, the most straightforward place to find an answer is Google! A quick search can help you determine whether a web domain or page has increased in rank. While you can never be sure which HTML element change increased the ranking, it can tell you how much it’s improved and how much farther you need to go.
Businesses generally don’t want to increase their Google rank for its own sake — they want the organic traffic that comes with it. By measuring web traffic before and after an SEO campaign, marketers can internally calculate their performance. Just don’t forget to distinguish traffic from organic searches and inbound links. While the two are related within Google’s algorithm, only the former is a result of SEO efforts.
For an emerging website, dramatically increasing web traffic can be a genuine challenge. Your goal is to ensure that most visitors find exactly what they were searching for, thereby converting them into prospective customers. SEO can directly impact conversion rates if you optimize pages for targeted keywords that will engage your most valuable audience segments.
Third-party SEO analysis
While SEO analysis without Google’s data is mostly guesswork, some third-party organizations have made it their business to provide educated guesswork. SEO platforms and tools like Moz or Yoast offer a variety of free and premium tools that recommend improvements to web pages.
Search engine optimization is not the only marketing technique at a brand’s disposal, but it is undoubtedly one of the most powerful. SEO strategies are typically low-cost but generate a massive return in the form of perpetual organic traffic. If you can remember the myriad ways Google searches have informed you about interesting topics, you can quickly grasp the power SEO can offer your business. That’s an opportunity any marketer should be aware of in 2020.