Take a quick look at most marketing blogs and you’ll find yourself floating in a sea of acronyms. From CPC to SEO to KPI, it would appear that the marketing world’s favorite lunch is alphabet soup. We’ve picked out two of those acronyms — SEO and PPC — from our soup bowl for a closer look at the two key elements of what is called Search Marketing. In part one, we explore Search Engine Optimization. Click here for part two to learn more about PPC (pay per click) advertising.
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
SEO is likely the acronym you’re most familiar with but have the hardest time explaining. Trust us—we get it. SEO is one of those dark arts that involves a little of this, a little of that and then POOF: you’re the first organic search result on Google.
In reality, search engine optimization is a tangible series of checks and balances designed to make sure your content is surfacing during the right searches. The ultimate goal of SEO is to get you to the top of a search results page “organically”—that is, without paying for ads (more on that here). It can be a slow, methodical process, but it is a necessary one. It requires patience and diligence, especially as the parameters that define and dictate search engine results are always changing.
For starters, let’s break SEO into its two main components: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. In the most basic terms, on-page tactics are measures that you can take on your own site to improve search results. Conversely, off-page SEO involves relationship building with other websites to position you as a source of information and educational content, thus building the amount of links back to your website (aka “backlinks”). Both types of SEO play off of one another, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus more heavily on the improvements you can make on your own site.
Any good SEO project begins by identifying your target audience and the keywords they would use to search for your service or product. Constructing “buyer personas” can be very helpful during this process if you’re unfamiliar with how your audience behaves online. It’s a good idea to map out all of the keywords that would be relevant to your audience and business first, and then narrow the focus by figuring out how to tailor specific pieces of content (either existing content or future content) to those keywords.
Make sure to identify both basic keywords (such as “SEO”) and what are known as “longtail” keywords (like “search engine optimization dog daycare”). You will typically have a harder time ranking for basic keywords unless you’re a major brand, but the basics will help give you a starting point to funnel into your more specific longtail keywords.
Do you know how customers are searching for the answers you provide?
Once you’ve identified the keywords you want to rank for, you can begin inserting them into your existing content and building out new content around those keywords. A key point to remember is that adding your keywords to content has to be done tastefully and naturally. Simply peppering your text with as many keywords as possible will not achieve any lasting effect, and might even hurt you in the long run.
Formatting & URL Construction
Once you’ve got your keywords identified and plugged into your site copy in an organic way, you’ll want to work on formatting your headers and images. Search engine “spiders” (the bots that crawl through web pages and index them for search engines to find) don’t just scan your body text—post headings and image “alt text” is fair game, too!
The way you title your post and construct its URL will also play into your SEO efforts. For example, you’ll want to make sure the keywords you’re trying to rank for appear in the URL “slug” (e.g. the part of the URL that comes after your primary domain — bouvierkelly.com/quick-look-public-relations). The H1 headings in your post (in this post our H1 heading is “SEO: Search Engine Optimization”) should also use keywords whenever possible, still making sure that you’re not simply stuffing your post full of those keywords haphazardly.
Site Speed & Hierarchy
Two internal mechanisms of your website play a crucial role in where you surface on Google: how fast your site loads on various devices and how easily Google can “read” the overall structure of your website. As mobile web browsing becomes the standard across the internet, even differences of milliseconds in load-time can affect how Google favors your website. This is, of course, assuming that you have a mobile-responsive version of your site: In 2015, Google announced that it would no longer index websites that did not include a mobile version.
Without a proper sitemap, search engine spiders can’t find or index your site.
The hierarchy and organization of your website — referred to as the “sitemap” — is a guidepost for Google’s spiders to see just how easy it is to navigate through a website. Does the organization of your pages make sense? Is it easy to get “stuck” on a particular page without being able to easily navigate away? Without a coherent sitemap, Google could be penalizing your page for a feature your visitors can’t even see.
Creating Reputable Backlinks
The most crucial aspect of off-site SEO is the practice of generating quality backlinks. That is, external links from other websites and blogs that point back to your page. Not only do these backlinks create more external traffic for your site, but backlinks from a reputable website can also significantly boost your search engine rankings.
This can be done by establishing relationships with other websites and blogs (often through social media and public relations efforts), but it’s not always a free tactic. Sponsored content and partner programs can help establish these quality backlinks, but you must account for these strategies in your overall marketing budget.
The more websites you have pointing back towards yours, the stronger your search ranking will become.
Do-It-Yourself SEO Tools
Feeling adventurous? There is a slew of great DIY tools out there today (primarily for WordPress-based websites) that allow you to tackle some of the nitty gritty SEO parameters yourself. Here are some of our favorites:
- Yoast SEO: Allows you to set keywords for any post or page and gives you an SEO score, letting you know where you can improve and what you’re doing right. Yoast also allows you to edit the Meta Descriptions of your pages (e.g. what appears when the post is Googled or shared on social media).
- Google XML Sitemaps: Gives you the ability to create a proper XML sitemap without any major coding or back-end knowledge.
- BJ Lazy Load: Hides images and other elements of your page that can slow down site speed while they’re not being displayed on-screen.
- Website Grader: Plug in your website’s URL and let Hubspot’s tool tell you just how good (or bad) your SEO is, and where you can make improvements.
- SEM Rush: This site allows you to explore what backlinks your site and others have, what site traffic is like, what organic searches are creating traffic — a whole host of valuable SEO data. The free version offers great data, and the paid upgrades make this tool even more robust.
So now that you’ve got a handle on at least one of these particularly complicated acronyms, let’s start exploring how you can bolster your organic SEO efforts with a paid PPC strategy. From driving more web traffic to generating targeted conversions, PPC campaigns can be a powerful part of any marketing campaign.