If you’re interested in learning how to optimize SEO, this article will provide you with a strategic framework and practical tips for getting started today. This information is useful for learning how to do SEO yourself and for knowing what to ask if you decide to engage a professional SEO agency or freelancer.
Search Engine Optimization - How to Think About It
Any good how-to SEO guide starts with a definition of SEO. Basically, SEO is a set of activities done to your website and on other websites to make your important website pages more visible on Google organic search when people are searching for the things you sell.
That last bit, when people are searching for the things you sell, is very important. When you do SEO for your website, your goal is to convert organic search engine traffic into leads or online customers. Getting a lot of organic traffic in and of itself doesn’t do your business much good. Getting super-high rankings on Google in and of itself doesn’t do your business much good, either.
The key to how to optimize SEO on your website, then, is to:
- Identify the pages of your website that are most likely to convert visitors into leads or online customers. These are typically your product/service pages, or at least some of the most important ones. We’ll call them your SEO target pages.
- Conduct research to determine the best keywords (search phrases) to associate with those target pages — that is, the keywords most likely to drive the most conversions.
- Set up your SEO campaign by making whatever changes are necessary to your website to make it as easy as possible for Google’s website crawlers (called Googlebots) to scan your website content and place high importance on your target pages. The more important Google believes those pages are, the higher they will rank when people search using your selected keywords and variations thereof.
- Work steadily on-site to improve the strength of your target pages and/or add target pages to your campaign. On-site SEO activity typically involves creating internal links to your target pages from other website pages, adding fresh high-quality content, and regularly checking the back end of your site to fix technical problems that interfere with Google’s ability to index and appropriately rank your content.
- Work steadily off-site to build the SEO power of your website’s domain and your target pages. Typically, this work involves writing guest articles on other sites to build links to your website, and sometimes encouraging customer reviews on leading review sites. Both of these activities — link building and customer reviews — signal to Google that your company and website are credible, popular, reliable, and supply useful information products and services. In other words, you’re signaling to Google that you’re exactly the type of company it wants to highlight for its search engine users.
- Track and analyze SEO data to continuously improve your campaign. If you’re wondering how to do SEO yourself, you’ll be way ahead of your DIY competition if you include this step, which is often forgotten. The key things to monitor are your sources of organic traffic, how those sources are trending, rankings for your targeted keywords — and most important, conversions resulting from organic website traffic. Those conversions are what pay for your SEO! When you analyze your data, you’ll be able to tweak your campaign by shoring up underperforming keywords, discovering promising new keywords, making your site content more persuasive, and a host of other improvements that will gradually but almost inevitably lead to greater organic visibility, more qualified traffic and more conversions.
Practical Tips — How to SEO on Your Own
Study, study, study how to optimize a website for SEO.
Books could be written on each of the six parts of an SEO campaign we just described. If you want to know how to do SEO for website success, you’ll want to read reliable online SEO sources to deepen your knowledge in all six areas. Continuous education is important for SEO success because things change rapidly — user behavior, keyword preferences, Google’s ranking algorithm and industry best practices, to mention a few. Reliable sources of SEO information include our Straight North website and blog, Moz, Search Engine Watch and Google Webmaster. Google provides a lot of SEO-related information here because it wants you to structure your site and produce content that its search engine users will love.
Avoid the common mistakes in SEO for your website.
Having worked with thousands of companies to set up and execute SEO campaigns, we’ve learned a lot about the issues that need attention before SEO will work. Here is a list of mistakes to correct or avoid when you’re mastering how to do SEO on Google.
- Not having target pages. Trying to optimize just your home page is not a great SEO strategy, because the information on the home page is too general and probably involves too many clicks to create conversions (phone inquiries, form submissions or online orders). Google wants to display organic results that are as relevant and specific as possible to the searcher’s query. This is why optimizing specific product/service pages, and then giving them content that is highly relevant and specific, is the best way to move up in the rankings.
- Not fixing back-end and technical website issues. Scores of problems interfere with Google’s ability or willingness to rank your content. Every page must have relevant title tags incorporating major keywords. Site pages must load quickly. Navigation must be as simple as possible, as intuitive as possible and highlighting as many target pages as possible. Duplicate content issues must be resolved. A sitemap must be created. You’ll need to partner with an SEO-savvy web developer to diagnose and fix all of these and similar issues. It can get pretty complicated on larger websites or sites built on outdated, SEO-unfriendly platforms.
- Not setting up proper tracking. We already mentioned it, and because it is so important, we’re mentioning it again. Here is helpful insight on form tracking and phone tracking.
- Picking the wrong keywords. If you select the wrong target keywords, you’ll get poor results in terms of traffic and/or conversions. Choosing keywords with the highest search volume isn’t always a good idea, since those are usually the most competitive keywords and you’ll have a hard time moving up the rankings. Keywords that are too general, not relevant enough or too low in search volume also tend to be bad choices. If you want to know how to do search engine optimization yourself, one thing you ought to seriously consider is paying for a bit of professional keyword research to set up yourself on a solid foundation. Keyword research is complex, and once you commit to your keywords, it’s a long-term proposition. SEO takes time.
- Expecting results too quickly. Google is looking for a long-term, sustained effort to improve website performance and content. Google doesn’t want to serve content to its search engine users from flash-in-the-pan or shady companies. Instead, it wants to serve content from companies that are serious, committed to their business for the long haul, reputable, efficient and knowledgeable. It takes time to establish these qualities. If you expect overnight results, you’ll give up too soon or make changes to your campaign too soon. Give your SEO campaign at least six months to a year before passing even a preliminary judgment.
- Not having a mobile-friendly website. Mobile-friendliness is growing in importance as a ranking factor with Google, which stands to reason since more people go online from mobile phones than desktops. It’s become essential to have a mobile-friendly website, which can usually be accomplished by adopting or installing a responsive web design. Responsive websites adjust automatically to best fit screens of whatever size. A responsive website will not only help SEO, but also will help improve conversions from visitors from all sources.
- Not having high-quality content. In the old days, site content could be written by a goldfish and still be effective for SEO if it included a bunch of the right keywords. No longer true! Google can judge writing quality pretty effectively now, so content must be spot-on to get its attention and make it rank. High-quality means content that is coherent, helpful, engaging, authoritative, relevant to its targeted keywords and free of grammatic errors. Using professional copywriters and/or editors will help you publish content you can be proud of and enable the SEO for your website to be successful.
SEO is still one of the best ways for a company to generate sales leads or online revenue. In fact, for many organizations, SEO is the top source of new business generation. This brief how-to SEO guide will get you started on the right foot.