• Ben Theis, SKOL Marketing

Guest Blog: A Beginner's Guide to SEO

So, you’ve finally decided to start your journey into the world of SEO, short for Search Engine Optimization. First off, we commend you: SEO work can offer potentially huge increases to your website traffic and your lead generation, and if you ask us, you’ve made the right decision. SEO is a complicated subject that encompasses so much information and so many possibilities, but if you’re wondering “how do I start doing SEO?” then this guide will give you a primer on the simple steps you can take to begin fundamentally changing your business’s web presence.


What is Search Engine Optimization?

If you’re unfamiliar with how search engines work or what search engine optimization is on a fundamental level, we encourage you to read through our guide “Why is SEO Important For My Website?” to give yourself a solid basic understanding of the premises.


Having said that, here’s a quick refresher for you anyway: Search engines work by using AI algorithms to crawl (or “scrape”) millions of sites across the web and catalog them based on a variety of factors from website loading speed to content keywords and much, much more. Once cataloged, a search engine will then rank websites based on how useful and relevant it thinks the site will be to a search user. Because search engines want to build the trust of their users, higher-ranking websites will appear first in searches.


Search Engine Optimization is, at its core, creating a long-term business relationship with Google. A collection of building, updating, and populating your website in a way that pleases the algorithmic rankings, helping your site show up more frequently in searches and higher in the rankings. We know that 75% of search engine users don’t even look past the first page of organic results, so ensuring a high ranking for your website has obvious and far-reaching benefits for your web presence and potential lead generation.


Make Your Website Fast

Did you know that bounce rates (the number of visitors who leave your site without ever going past the homepage) more than doubles if your site takes more than 2 seconds to load? We promise you that Google knows this fact, and that’s why page loading speed plays a huge role in search engine rankings. The longer your page takes to load, the more Google begins to think “this is probably going to turn off search users; they won’t want to see this page” and your ranking begins to tank.


Fortunately, most of the common web design platforms (Wix, Squarespace, etc) are built on the infrastructure meant to help pages load quickly and effectively, but there’s plenty that you can do on your end to influence site speeds. For starters, check to see if your web page has lots of content (such as images and videos) that take up a lot of digital space. That gorgeous, full-resolution image of your storefront may make your site look beautiful, but it could take forever to load--check to see if any images on your site can be compressed to a smaller size without losing too much quality; you may be shocked at how much your site speeds improve. Or, for example, if your website has lots of video content, consider segmenting videos onto different pages rather than having them all load onto your homepage--small and fairly simple steps like these can get people onto your website and navigating around quickly and easily, making the search engine algorithms happy.


Make Your Website User-Friendly

Speaking of navigating your website quickly and easily, the user-friendliness of your website is also a consistent factor in Google site rankings. We mentioned bounce rates earlier, but people don’t only leave a site because of slow load speeds. Every search user is looking to have a question answered or a need fulfilled, and if your website is clunky to use, unintuitive to navigate, or doesn’t put the pertinent and relevant information right up-front for users to find quickly right off the bat, they’re much more likely to hit that “back” button and go right back to the search screen--telling Google that your site is no good.


A huge part of user-friendly web design is making sure your site is optimized for mobile devices. It’s now been a few years since mobile web traffic surpassed desktop traffic, and as of 2020, mobile traffic makes up 55% of total internet use. That means that if your website isn’t mobile-responsive, you’re likely missing out on showing up in all the right searches.


Make Your Website Trustworthy and Secure

A huge part of search rankings is trust. If Google’s algorithm is given good reason to trust that your website is a reputable and safe source of information, then it will prioritize your site in search rankings. In recent years, web security has played a huge role in Google’s trust, with SSL Certificates (the security tool that gives your website an “https” url instead of a standard “http” url) helping boost search rankings. Google even now displays websites without an SSL certificate as “not secure” by default, which can sow further distrust amongst search users.


Building trust is more than just security, however--it’s also about reputability. “Backlinks”--links to your website from other (preferably high-ranking) websites--are an important ranking factor for Google because they show that other sites that Google trusts also trust your website for reputable information. And of course, the best way to get other trusted websites to link back to your website is with high quality, useful information, and an attractive website.


Make Your Website Attractive

When Google wants to find a website users really like, one factor it looks for is how long a user stays on a website. If a high bounce rate can hurt your rankings, then having a website that’s inviting to users, answers their questions, and addresses their needs will only help. An attractive website isn’t just beautiful pictures (although great visual content is part of the equation); a big part of making your website welcoming is how you present information. You’ll want to write web copy that’s not only informative but also conversational and easy-to-read. If a user just finds an empty website, an impenetrable wall of text, or endless data points, they’ll turn around and leave. If your eyes glaze over when writing it, then your potential customers’ eyes will probably glaze over reading it! And of course, you want to make sure to anticipate visitors’ questions or needs and fill your site with info that helps them find what they want.


A Word About Keyword Strategy

Usually, if someone only knows one thing about Search Engine Optimization, it’s about keywords: the words and phrases users are searching for, and for which you want your website to show up. In the olden days, websites could get away with “keyword stuffing,” or just putting as many keywords and phrases into a block of text as they could. But Google and other search engines wised up quickly, and now they prioritize keywords in the right places--that is, in website metatags, and used naturally and sparingly in website headlines and body text. Keywords can be hugely effective and are vital for any SEO strategy but be smart and judicious: if your website looks and reads as obviously nothing more than a delivery vehicle for keywords, rework your web copy to better integrate these words and phrases into info that’s actually useful and relevant to your visitors.


Would YOU Visit Your Site?

If a lot of this advice sounds like more general tips on building a great website, you’re spot on! At a fundamental level, search engines are looking for websites that offer users a great experience--the info they’re looking for and the answers they seek, all wrapped up in a package that’s easy to navigate, pleasing to the eye, and isn’t a source of any unnecessary frustration. So, if you set out to build a site that makes sense for your users, odds are you’ll have at least a solid starting point for more in-depth SEO practices.


Now, SEO isn’t all intuitive--there are plenty of oddly specific tips, hidden features in web platforms, and search ranking factors that most people would never guess. So, if you’ve done the basics and want to take your site’s SEO to the next level, consider reaching out to a company specializing in SEO like Skol Marketing. If you’d like to discuss how our assistance can help your business reach more people through Search Engine Optimization, please don’t hesitate to contact the local SEO experts at Skol Marketing.


Author, Ben Theis is the President and Founder of Skol Marketing, a digital marketing agency headquartered in Minneapolis, MN and trusted partner of The Resultants. Since 2012, Ben, a former Google employee, and his team have come to master the market of marketing for small businesses through their digital expertise, professionalism, and results-driven mentality. Check them out!

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