The Web has been a powerful tool for internet marketers – Amazon being the obvious success story – but it has also been a source of frustration for every business owner. Trying to keep up with what’s required to build an online presence eludes so many business owners that they give up – rationalizing that it doesn’t really matter. But when the people you care about can’t find you online it does matter. The good news is that much of the process is within your control.
Establishing an online presence for my clients is a large part of what I do as an SEO (search engine optimization) consultant. I’ve learned not to be discouraged by search engine algorithms – which we can’t control – and to focus on what we can control, both on and off the website.
Take Control of Your Website
Search engines want to scoop up all of the information on the Web in order to answer, “What does all this data say, and how can we deliver the best results to our users?” You control your website – it’s your cyberturf, so to speak – and what it says about your organization.
There are innumerable checklists and free SEO audits to point out which boxes your website hasn’t checked. There are just as many SEO vendors to help you get those boxes checked. But what does it all mean, really?
Search engines want to know, “What is this page about?” Of course, people coming to your website want to know that as well.
Just how search engines figure out the topic of a web page has less to do with an algorithm and everything to do with the actual content.
Think of the data/information on your website as performing these functions:
• Labeling: The Web is a giant file cabinet, and labels – WORDS – are necessary to organize it.
• Hierarchy of Information: There’s a lot of information on the page, show what’s important.
• User happiness: The ways you help people find what they’re looking for.
• Technical performance: The ways you help search engines gather and organize all that code.
Let’s take a typical blog post to see how these elements function.
• Title Tag – An HTML field that can be edited in the website CMS (WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, etc.); here you sum up the topic in 60 – 66 characters. For a blog post, this is usually the headline. Search engines make the title tag the first line of the search result, so including keywords will help people find your content.
• Bold and italic text – When you read, you understand the author is emphasizing words that are italicized or in bold. Search engines also pick up on this, so emphasize words that are relevant to the topic.
• Alternative text for images – Graphs, charts, pictures of people and places support the article, but search engines can’t “see” them. Labeling them with alternative text in the media file is useful data.
• The name and address of your organization – If you want the website to rank for the company name then the name and address must be on every page – as text, not embedded in an image.
Hierarchy of Information
• Category – Organize your blog with 6 to 12 main categories, and assign one category to a blog post. This helps readers find what they’re looking for and tells search engines that the specific post relates to a larger topic.
• H1 headline and H2, H3, etc. – The headline and subheads communicate the hierarchy of information, i.e. what is the most and least important information on this page. H1 is special – it’s the queen of the page. In WordPress, the title of the post is usually H1 by default. Therefore, identify the topic of the post succinctly, and include a keyword, if possible. But SEO aside, the headline must resonate with your readers. Subheads (H2, H3, etc.) are helpful when they’re in sequence (most to least importance) but it’s ok if they’re not.
• First paragraph – The engineers at Google must have had topic sentences drilled into them from an early age. They have developed ways to essentially figure out the rest of the post based on what Google finds here. Getting to the point quickly also helps the reader determine if this is the topic they want to read about.
• Internal links – People who specialize in information architecture get pretty geeky about this. What you need to know is that a website is created through links, and the links (to pages, PDFs, videos, etc.) nearest the homepage have the most weight. Within each page, your links to other pages are presumed to be related content.
• Meta description – Another HTML field that can be edited in the website CMS. Search engines sometimes use the copy as the snippet of information in the search result. Don’t underestimate its power to get people interested in the content. The rate at which people click through is uber important data to search engines.
• Tags – While your blog post should have just one category, it can have many tags, i.e. other ways the content can be labeled. They help readers find similar content in your blog.
• External links –Help your readers pursue their interests by connecting them with quality content. By doing so, your post conveys how it’s related to the greater Web.
Varvy.com is my favorite tool for seeing the technical issues at a glance. Varvy uses color codes to identify problem areas and explains them very well. You might still need help from an SEO vendor or web developer to understand the issue, whether it’s important, and how to fix it. For example, to improve the page speed, you can implement caching so that the page loads faster. Other recommendations that concern code could be difficult to do. (There’s a lot of attention being given to page speed, but for most of us there isn’t enough ROI in getting to perfect load time.)
Search engines scoop up data from all over the Web. Some of it is outside of your control, such as user reviews and links from other websites to the content you published. Other, very important things, are within your control and include an up to date Google My Business account, social media profiles, and directory listings. (See resources to learn more.)
By scrutinizing the search results pages for your competitors, you’ll get more ideas where search engines look for data.
Am I ever frustrated by what search engines do? You bet. But being proactive is very rewarding. I encourage every business owner to take charge of her digital presence!
• Keyword research for SEO: the ultimate guide https://yoast.com/keyword-research-ultimate-guide/
• A beginner-friendly guide to long tail keywords https://cyberturfstrategic.com/seo-tips/guide-long-tail-keywords/
• Headings and why you should use them; H1, H2, etc. headings: https://yoast.com/headings-use/
• To improve your digital presence, start with Google: https://cyberturfstrategic.com/internet-marketing/to-improve-your-digital-presence-start-with-google/
• A beginner’s guide for getting listed in business directories: https://cyberturfstrategic.com/directories-citations/
As the principal of CyberTurf Strategic Media, Janet Chiu has been guiding business owners through the SEO process to better websites since 2009. She loves the Hera Hub community and interacting with the fabulous members. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-461-5588.