by Arnie Kuenn
It’s amazing to think that just over twenty years ago, internet marketing wasn’t a concept most businesses found important, mostly because internet marketing had hardly been born. Nowadays, it’s rare the company that doesn’t have a website. Companies now understand the importance of establishing a position online and are always working to provide the best experience for their audiences while ensuring their great content is found easily by search engines.
It can be difficult for start-ups and small businesses to grasp best practices for search engine optimization when they first publish their websites. In order to gain more traffic, leads and sales through a website, each page and piece of content needs to be properly optimized. Luckily for small companies, this can be accomplished regardless of budget or amount of resources—every website can benefit from these SEO tricks to get on the right track.
Optimizing your website and content
Poorly optimized webpages or content can result in lower website rankings, as well as poor user experience, which will prevent visitors from returning to your site. From bad links and meta descriptions to duplicate content, many setbacks are fixable through basic SEO practices. By optimizing your pages, promoting and publishing new content, your website will be on its way to the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs).
Target keywords and phrases
Use careful consideration when choosing your keywords and phrases to target your ideal audience. It is much more important to create a lot of good content that people are actually searching for rather than creating just a few pages targeting your “money terms.”
For example, if you are in the hotel business, you might be tempted to only target keywords like hotel deals, discount hotels, or Scottsdale hotel. But those terms are extremely competitive, which means you may never even show up in the Google search results. Instead, think like your prospective customers and create content based on real-world searches that relate directly to them.
Are you near a national landmark? Why not try targeting your phrases toward a specific geographic location and use keyword phrases such as hotels closest to the Grand Canyon, or visit the Grand Canyon in March. This optimization of targeted keywords or phrases allows you to rank for lower competing keywords, while directly connecting with the audience’s needs.
Identifying target keywords and phrases is an important part of every content marketing strategy. The days of keyword stuffing and masking are long gone. Though putting your target keywords on every page seemed like a great idea at the time, such practices can now be very damaging to your SEO strategy and results in the SERPs.
Depending on how over-saturated your pages are with keywords, it might take some time to remove all the cannibalized phrases. Over-optimization and cannibalization can be remedied through a robust canonical SEO strategy, which clearly assigns a keyword to a single canonical page. This sends a clear message to search engines, telling them which page is the most relevant for a given keyword, and provides a better experience for the user, as the most pertinent page will be displayed. In time, the search engines will crawl and rank your newly optimized pages, placing them in a better position in the SERPs.
Titles and title tags
Webpage titles and title tags are a very important part of good SEO for several reasons. Title tags can help with page rankings, while the title shows up in the SERP and is displayed when the page is shared on social sites like Twitter and Facebook. Take a look at your title and title tags for each piece of content you’ve published. Ensure that each title is not any of the following:
• Too long: Search engines only display the first 60-ish characters of a webpage title tag; longer tags will be cut off.
• Too short: Give the reader something to click on. This is a prime location and needs to be optimized in order to get visitors to your site. If the title is too short, it won’t provide enough information to entice the reader to view the page.
• Irrelevant/wasted space: Including words like home or your domain name is a waste of space. With a finite number of characters to work with, your title tag needs to include the most important information and a relevant keyword or phrase for that specific page.
The meta description is typically displayed in the search results as the descriptor text about the content or page. Meta descriptions are hugely important and should make it clear what visitors will find when they click on the link.
Be sure to avoid generic descriptors like Welcome to our home page. A good description is a complete sentence that concisely states the purpose of the page content. It’s your opportunity to sell the user on clicking through to your page. It should include the primary keyword or phrase and should make sense to the person reading it. Keep in mind that as with title tags, search engines limit the amount of real estate they give to descriptions in the SERPs, which is normally about 125 characters. Anything more than that length is likely to be cut off.
Image optimization is also a significant part of a SEO strategy. Unlike text, search engines can’t exactly see images, which means images aren’t easily indexable. In order to best optimize images on your website, be sure to include proper image meta data with relevant keywords and phrases. Here are a few ways to optimize your images:
• Alt tags: Alt tags serve as alternate text when an image is not able to be displayed, so when there is a slow Internet connection or text-reading software is being used, the alt tag explains what the image displays.
• Image tags: Image tags contain the words that appear when an image is scrolled over, providing additional contextual clues.
• File name: The file name goes one step further in providing context—more specifically, how the image relates to the other content on the page. Search engines search for relevant keywords within file names, so make sure they are relevant and contain keywords.
By optimizing the images associated with your content, you will gain better rankings in the SERPs. This could mean the difference between bringing more traffic to your website and missing out on reaching a massive audience.
Link building has changed drastically in the last five years. Although link building is still a very important part of SEO, not all links are good links. Bad backlinks, such as links from irrelevant pages, link directories or spammy websites can actually hurt your search engine rankings.
There are quite a few tools that companies can use to find and fix bad backlinks. Though this typically isn’t an easy feat to accomplish, it is imperative to maintain your search engine rankings and credibility. Use Open Site Explorer or MajesticSEO to fix bad backlinks, gather backlink data or even remove bad links that look unnatural. Additionally, you can use Google’s link Disavow Tool to tell Google not to consider certain links when ranking your site.
Most of us know that duplicate content is a big no-no when it comes to publishing information online. But did you know that most of all duplicate content is unintentional? Unfortunately, search engines don’t take intentions into consideration when ranking sites, so identifying and editing duplicate content is necessary.
Unintentional duplicate content can happen for a number of reasons, like secure HTTPS pages, URL parameters and CMS templates. Fortunately, there are many different tools available to detect duplicate content, such as Screaming Frog, Link Sleuth and Moz Crawler. Once you have found it, you have to decide how to best to tell search engines not to index certain duplicate pages, either through the noindex or nofollow tag, or by using rel=canonical.
Common SEO Mistakes
Being conscious of the most common SEO issues is essential in achieving high visibility in the SERPs. Here are some common SEO mistakes and tips on how to correct them:
Low-quality content and forgetting about the user experience altogether is a common mistake we see. The answer to generating great content is easy: talk to your audience! Answer your audience’s questions through useful data, tips and visuals. Since the first Panda update, Google has been doing its best to disregard results that aren’t useful to users. This can be easily combatted by always keeping the audience in mind when creating, publishing, and promoting content.
Keyword misfocus is the term for when a primary keyword in the title tag doesn’t match the H1 heading, page URL, body content or images. Keyword misfocus can be effectively corrected through strategic internal anchor text links, content consolidation and proper rel=”canonical” tag implementation to effectively strengthen the primary page with its intended keyword.
It’s simple: If a page can’t be indexed, it won’t be included in the SERPs. Everything from blocked and missing pages to broken links and redirects can cause indexabilty issues, making it crucial for website owners to consistently monitor each page. If a search engine cannot get to your page, neither can your users. As a result, the page won’t be indexed or viewed, which can cause an increase in bounce rate and a decrease in traffic.
By following these simple SEO practices, any website can improve their rankings in the SERP and generate more traffic, leads, and sales for their business. Companies should take a holistic approach toward SEO, creating an ongoing strategy that can be changed and improved depending on audience needs and search engine updates.
Arnie Kuenn is the CEO of Vertical Measures, a full-service Internet marketing agency dedicated to helping clients drive profitable growth through content marketing. Arnie has held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 25 years. He is a frequent speaker and co-author of Content Marketing Works. In 2014, Arnie was honored as the Interactive Person of the Year in Arizona. You can find Arnie on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and LinkedIn.