If you own a business or run a website, you're probably already familiar with the term 'SEO'—or Search Engine Optimization. It's almost everyone's dream to end up on the first page of Google's search results. But chances are, even after thorough research and trial and error, you still have a long list of questions about how this heavily debated and complex topic actually works. Welcome to a quick crash course on all the SEO you need to know (including an interactive checklist to help keep you on top of the game)!
In a general sense, SEO is all about establishing a strategy for your online content that will rank higher in search engine results, relative to your competitors. Search engines (such as Google, Bing & Yahoo) all have algorithms in place that “crawl” every published website on the internet 24/7 to help filter results based on what it thinks is most relevant to a user's search.
There are a number of factors that search engines look at to determine the validity of any given website, so while it may not seem like you have control over your ranking there are actually things you can do to remind the internet bots that you, your business, and your website are in fact a real, viable, and thriving business!
Here are the five main ways to help improve the SEO on your site:
Content is still king when it comes to developing an SEO strategy! Google wants to see that your site is actively updated, and a great way to do this (particularly if you have a business where you aren't uploading new items to an online store frequently) is to consider writing a blog. If you are just starting out and committing yourself to a consistent blog schedule sounds daunting, then at least aim to update a portion of your site once a month: add a paragraph to your about page, add to your testimonials, or re-write your services description.
Fun Fact: Web pages that are 1200+ words rank higher than pages with less content.
Another element that proves your validity to Google is when other, active, third-party sites link back to yours—and visa versa. Maybe that means you look into becoming a guest contributor for a larger organization’s blog (which is exactly why I enjoy writing these guest posts for The Paper + Craft Pantry, because it’s good for my SEO).
If that doesn’t make sense for you, then at the very least you should consider viewing your social media strategy from the it’s-building-my-SEO lens. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all validated, “high authority” sites according to search engines. When a post on one of those platforms links back to your site, that’s great for your SEO! So it’s important to not only share your information on your social media channels, but also make it easy for visitors on your website to also share your content by adding social media sharing buttons to your site. You can think of back-linking like online karma; by actively sharing the work of others, you are generating the possibility that a wider audience will start to see your stuff and want to give back for your generosity.
Other Actionable Steps: Consider creating a Resource Page on your website where you list your favorite brands, companies, or other resources that complement your business, or share a “Links I Love” blog post every now and then.
3. Mobile Responsiveness
With as much time that we all spend on our smartphones these days, it is no longer acceptable for your site not to be mobile-friendly. And search engines will really punish you (in terms of ranking) if your site isn’t mobile responsive. If you’re unsure if your site is mobile-responsive, pull out your phone and check! You shouldn’t have to scroll left and right to read the content on the webpage, nor should you have to zoom-in to read the text. A mobile-responsive site automatically increases the text size so that you can read it easily, and so the page fits perfectly to the screen.
4. Site Load Time
Large image and video files can slow down how quickly your site loads, and the slower your site loads, the more likely you are that people will leave. In order to limit that possibility of people leaving before they even have a chance to see your amazing content, ensure that your image files are all less than 2 MB. Ideally, your site will load in less than 5 seconds. You can test your site here to see how it ranks in your industry.
5. Meta Data
While a lot of what I've mentioned so far pertains to written content on the front-end of your site, one area that most people overlook in terms of increasing their SEO falls on the back-end—meta data. You can strengthen your meta data by adding keywords to as many places as possible on your site—including, but not limited to the way you name your image files! By renaming your images to a keyword-rich phrase, you have the possibility of ranking higher in the Google Images results. Instead of uploading “IMG_2147.jpg”, you want to rename that image file to something that describes the content of the post that it corresponds to.
For example, the banner image on this post was renamed to “paper-craft-pantry-blog-small-business-school-guide-to-seo-printable-checklist.jpg”. When someone searches for “seo checklist” or "guide to seo" in a search engine, the hope is that this post will show up on one of the first few pages. Now, since 'SEO for beginners' is a pretty popular topic, it’s not likely that this post will end up in the Top 10 results—but each time you publish quality content with a strong keyword-rich title, associated with images that have the same and similar keywords in the file names or captions, you continue to boost your result rankings.
But be warned... there is such a thing as too many keywords (also known as Keyword Stuffing). To ensure that you aren't targeted for this, you'll want to make sure that your keyword phrases are naturally a part of the content you share. For example, if you are writing a blog post about DIY macrame planters, then an example of keyword stuffing would be if you added something like this to the very end of the post:
"DIY macrame planters, Do It Yourself macrame, How to make a macrame planter, macrame 101, macrame for beginners, macrame basics"
Pro-Tip: Consider using those various phrases you found and rename your image files with those keyword phrases. As far as content, pick one phrase, and use it 2-3 times within the entire blog post.
While these 5 steps will definitely set you on the right path to help boost your online presence, SEO is constantly evolving, and it requires that you be patient and diligent in order to see results. Your SEO efforts are cumulative, so the more you add content to your site, the more you contribute to other blogs and the more you keep up with the SEO best practices, the better your rankings will become. If you have the capacity to earmark a budget for Google AdWords, that will also help!
Here are a few resources that have helped me with my SEO over the last two years:
Moz has so many great resources for keeping up-to-date on the latest SEO trends! If you’re wanting to learn more, I would start with their Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Moz also has a Keyword Explorer that is really helpful to utilize as you’re thinking about what to title a blog post, or new ideas for keyword phrases for the multiple images you have for your upcoming post.
Another resource that I use often is Google AdWords Keyword Planner. It’s meant to help you determine which keywords to use during an AdWords campaign, but I use it to help me think of new keywords phrases when I’m getting ready to publish a blog post. It shows you on average how many monthly searches a particular phrase received, so you can adjust your blog titles and the keyword phrases you use when naming images to a mix of those that have a high and medium range of monthly searches.
In order to use this feature, you will have to create a Google AdWords account, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend any money on an AdWords Campaign. To navigate to the Keyword Planner, follow these steps:
Scroll down and click on “START USING KEYWORD PLANNER”.
Click the first option “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category”.
In the first box, type the phrase you would like to search.
Then scroll down and click “Get Ideas”.
From there you’ll see all the possibilities of other keyword phrases that you may use.
To help keep you on track, The Paper + Craft Pantry and I put together this helpful (and interactive) checklist to guide you through the most important SEO requirements you should be focusing on right now...and over the next year! Fill out the form below to have it sent to your inbox.
Looking for a little more guidance?
DOWNLOAD THIS INTERACTIVE CHECKLIST
About the author:
Maggie owns MaggieGentry, where she provides thought partnership & marketing strategy for creative entrepreneurs. She hosts Own Your Why workshops, and is the Creative Marketing Strategist for The Paper + Craft Pantry. You may find her ‘gramming over at @maggiegentry_. If you need more SEO guidance for your business, feel free to check out her one-on-one Strategy Sessions.