I’ve had a lot of questions recently about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). What’s SEO and SEM? Techie terms for the ways you can improve your website’s ranking on search engines like Google.
The concepts of SEO and SEM understandably scare off a lot of people, because search engines are complex and mysterious things. They algorithms they use to decide which websites to rank in what order are constantly changing. SEO can also be very technical, involving metadata that’s encoded “behind the scenes.”
But here’s the big secret SEO specialists already know: to be an SEO expert in 2019, you don’t need to think like a computer—you need to think like a human.
Search engines and SEO in 2019
Let’s put aside all the technical stuff for a second and ask ourselves: as a search engine, what is Google’s main goal? To provide us with the most relevant results to our query. How does it find this? It’s a complicated process, but let’s focus on two major parts:
- Google can tell if a site is relevant, based on information on the website itself, like keyword matches and metadata.
- Google can tell which of the relevant sites are most popular, based on many factors. These include website traffic, how many links to the site exist online and the length of time people send on the site.
Web marketers and SEO consultants know it’s easy to make a site relevant (or at least seem relevant to a computer). We’ve been doing it for over a decade. But popularity? That’s outside the realm of computer code and back into human behaviour.
So what is SEO and SEM really about these days? Creating websites and content that is genuinely valuable to human beings. Here are the SEO best practices for 2019:
Step 1: User Experience (UX) lines up with SEO
Although we’re not sure exactly what technical processes Google uses to determine the user experience of a site, we know it’s a major factor that Google takes into consideration and will continue to hone in on.
Which is great, because user experience on your website should be important to you anyway!
Want to improve your user experience? Ask yourself these questions:
- Does my website clearly explain what I do (what services I provide or products I sell)?
- Is my website easy to navigate? Can people easily find the information they’re looking for on my site?
- Is my site easy to skim read quickly? Do I have huge chunks of text on my front page, or is everything broken down into bite-size pieces with skimmable titles?
- Are links and buttons easy to find on my site, or do they blend in with the rest of the text and graphics?
- Is my text readable? Does it use a lot of jargon or difficult words, or does it sound the way an actual human being would speak?
If you really want to put your user experience to the test, ask an acquaintance who hasn’t visited your site yet to take a look and see if they can find what services you offer or your phone number. Don’t ask your best friend or your mom—you need someone who isn’t worried about hurting your feelings. You can also contact me for a UX consultation.
Step 2: Get the technical details right
Part of improving the human experience on your website is making sure things are set up properly “behind the scenes” in the design itself. If things aren’t set up properly, it can make viewing your website a real pain for certain people—and Google and other search engines will rank you lower because of it.
- Is your site mobile responsive? When you view it on cell phones or tablets, is the text large enough to read? Are the links easy to click with a finger on a small screen?
- What speed does your website load at? Do you have unnecessary scripts running in the background? Have your images been compressed so they don’t take forever to load?
- Is your site accessible for people with disabilities? Do all images include alternative text for people with visual impairments? Are navigation links marked with <nav> tags so that screen readers can find them? This is a major point I take into consideration for my Toronto clients, since new Ontario Accessibility Laws are taking effect January 1, 2021. By then, websites for all public sector organizations and large private or non-profit organization must comply with AA level accessibility.
- Is your site secure? To check this, visit your site and look in the browser bar. Do you see HTTPS with a closed lock icon, or HTTP with a “not secure” warning? If you see the latter, you need to add SSL encryption to your site. You may be able to add a Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificate for free (included with my web hosting package).
- Is your metadata in order, particularly for shareable content like blog posts? Just because meta tags are no longer the be-all and end-all of SEO doesn’t mean they aren’t still important.
Step 3: Content creation is SEO gold
For anyone truly serious about boosting their search engine ranking, there’s no better method than content creation. As search engine algorithms are getting smarter, the SEO conversation has turned from technical specifications to producing engaging content.
There’s no way to fake good content. In fact, Google punishes sites that plagiarize, write spammy content or squeeze a suspicious number of keywords into a post (known as “keyword stuffing”). It’s even picky about duplicating text that’s already online elsewhere, like copying your recent blog post for a LinkedIn article.
Valuable content takes expertise, good writing skills and—depending on whether you write your own posts or hire a qualified person to do it for you—either time or money. There’s no way around it. But the SEO benefits you get for all that effort are powerful:
- Writing a monthly article or blog post for your site inevitably increases your stock of those tasty keywords that search engines are hungry for.
- Google values both very new and very old content, so it’s best to post new articles on a regular basis. This way, you always have fresh content, plus you eventually amass an archive of older work.
- Producing shareable content gains you popularity, especially with the help of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. While social media platforms don’t directly impact your SEO, they do have an effect through factors like brand recognition. If people see your articles or posts through Facebook and google your company name, that tells Google that your brand is well-known. Brand recognition is one factor Google uses to determine your popularity, and popularity directly affects your ranking!
- By creating content that gets shared on social media, you’re increasing the number of linkbacks to your site on the Internet, another big SEO booster.
Writing it yourself or hiring an SEO and content marketer?
If you don’t have time to write regular content yourself, you may consider hiring an SEO and Content Marketer. No paid writer will be as much of an expert about your field as you are, but a qualified ghost writer can preserve your expertise. I work with business owners, collecting accurate information about their companies and field and matching the tone of their brands. My SEO and content creation services also include some technical perks, like keyword optimization, URL optimization and customized meta tags for each post.
Want to up your SEO game for 2019? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and let’s take a look at what will work best for your business!