What is SEO, and how can I improve my website’s search ranking?

When it comes to your website, just publishing your content doesn’t mean it will get seen. In order to get that traffic, you’ve got to have a strategy to get on the search engine results pages when people search for your content.

Search engine optimization, abbreviated SEO, is an umbrella term for improving a site’s ranking in the search engine results pages– in other words, trying to get to the top of search results.

There are two aspects of SEO that concern site owners. The first is known as technical SEO, or on-page SEO. Basically, this means building your site and its content in such a way that Google can easily process it and know what traffic to send your way. It also encompasses technical aspects like how fast your website loads and whether visitors using mobile or adaptive devices can use your website.

As a web developer, making sure your new website checks all the above boxes is a high priority for me!

But there’s another aspect of SEO that it’s necessary for you as a site owner to give priority to if you want to have a successful website. We can call this external SEO, or off-page SEO. This refers to all the steps you can take outside of your website (or even without your own website) to rank better in search engine results.

The four aspects of SEO below are an introduction to the basics of off-page SEO, and none of them require any knowledge of code or websites. They are all aimed at owners of businesses rather than web professionals.

Local citations

If you’re a local business serving your own geographic area, getting local citations is the most important step towards getting the traffic you need. Local citations are instances of your name, address, and phone number on the web.

Whether you’re starting from scratch or you’ve been in business a while, the first thing to do is give your site a visibility checkup.

Check how visible online you are right now, and get a list of directories to submit your site to, with this free tool from moz.com.

When you search for a local business, you may notice that there are a lot of results near the top that aren’t actually websites, or that aren’t the actual company’s website, like Google My Business (when a business listing appears on a Google Map) and Yelp results.

These links, even though they’re not your website, count toward your “popularity”– as long as your name, address, and phone number match! So if you have multiple phone numbers, or variations on your company name (with and without LLC, for example) pick one to use online and stick to it everywhere.

Where to get local citations: Google Maps, industry-specific directories, local chamber of commerce, industry awards, newspaper articles

Link building

Link building isn’t just getting a link to your site out there on lots of sites. If it smells like spam, it’s probably not going to help your site (or not for long). As a result, SEO professionals will often consider the strategy of link building out-of-date, and not as important as it used to be. In a way, this is true because the strategy of artificially producing loads of low-quality, spammy links to your site used to be a good way to improve search ranking, but is no longer effective.

But good, old-fashioned natural links, from real people who found your content helpful? Those are still a valuable part of your SEO strategy. Organic, natural links will send Google good vibes about your website’s importance, authority, and trustworthiness.

To get links naturally, absolutely do not participate in online conversations with the solitary goal of linking them to your site. Instead, be active and helpful in the communities where your customers are. Examples of communities:

  • Facebook community pages (for your industry, for your local geographic area, or maybe fans of your product niche)
  • Niche online forums
  • Twitter hashtags
  • In-person conferences or workshops.

If your real goal is to help, you can become an authority in your niche, and a helpful resource will get natural links, in time!

Video marketing

After Google, what’s the second-largest search engine? It’s not Bing… it’s Youtube. So take advantage of video marketing. If you sell products, make a walk-through video, a video on how to use or maintain your products, or an “unboxing” video showing how the product will arrive when it’s ordered. For services, ideas include an interview-style video for your about page (great for customer trust), an explainer video for a particular service, or a video testimonial.

Speaking of testimonials…

Reviews & testimonials

Customer reviews will also signal to Google that you are popular. So be sure to ask customers for reviews. If you sell physical products, include a printed request for reviews and an easy-to-type link and/or QR code. If you provide a service, send an email asking them to review when you’ve completed or reached a milestone in your service. Ask them to explain 1) what the problem was when they came to you, 2) what the solution to their problem was, and 3) how they felt after. If they can mention your service keywords right in the review, that’s a home run!

Where to get reviews: Google My Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook