Whether you’re just getting started or already have a website for your business, optimizing that site for search can be critical to business success. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however, is also a complex science that requires finesse and time.
“Search is ingrained so much into our daily lives, we often don’t consider how many times we’ve looked something up,” says T.R. Wilhoit, Senior Marketing Manager at FortyFour Digital Agency and SEO expert extraordinaire. “Much of search is also more localized than you may notice, meaning the results you see are likely tailored based on your location. They’re also more personalized, so if you’ve searched for a topic before and changed your search, [search engines] will adjust the results to assume the next thing you’re looking for.”
While algorithms may change, Wilhoit says the overarching principles never really do. Search engines are looking for unique, high-quality content that meets searcher’s needs. If you’re not providing an answer to a request, whether that is informational or a product/service, it will be hard to be effective in organic search.
“While you may not have a lot of SEO equity as a new business, you have a blank slate to determine how you’re found and perceived by potential customers,” Wilhoit says. “And most importantly, it’s free. Learning how to optimize for organic search is more about sweating than spending. For a new business, that’s extremely valuable.”
To help get you started on search, we’ve outlined 5 steps to SEO:
Get familiar with the basics
The internet already offers a lot of (free!) resources about SEO, and Wilhoit recommends this guide by Moz to get really familiar with the basics like writing good alt tags and creating crawl-friendly links.
And while knowing the basics is good, it can also be a little overwhelming. Some people just do SEO and SEM, and it is very technical work. But if you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’re trying to get a whole ‘nother business off the ground rather than become an SEO expert. So…
Pick a website platform that makes it easy for you
WordPress is great because it offers free plugins like Yoast SEO that do the heavy lifting of SEO for you. “If you’re publishing a lot of articles, it will actually grade your pages and tell you how your page may be perceived, which is great for blogging and optimizing efficiently,” Wilhoit says about Yoast.
Other platforms like Squarespace also offer built-in SEO and analytics capabilities, and some light research can help you determine which will best fit your needs.
“The great benefit of Content Management Systems like WordPress or Squarespace is how easy they are to learn and manage, especially for SEO,” Wilhoit says. “Wordpress has many SEO plugins that help you optimize your pages easily and Squarespace keeps your metadata in easy-to-find places.”
Figure out your keywords, but use them naturally
Wilhoit suggests you start with a plan to categorize the topics you are likely to be relevant for, and catalog the pages that either currently reference those topics or could potentially reference them. More specifically, you need to know what your niche is, what words people may use to search for your products or services in that category, and have those words on your website.
This comes with a word of caution, though: In the early days, people tried to game the system by overloading their webpages with keywords to up their place in search results. “This practice is now called “black hat SEO” and will get you banned by search engines for spamming,” Wilhoit says. “Search engines also analyze a number of potential indicators for quality, including related topics and actual customer feedback on and off the website.”
Get on board the Google Analytics train
Knowing whether your website is “optimized” is going rely heavily on knowing how your website is performing in terms of traffic and conversions. Google Analytics is free and fairly easy to install with WordPress or any other CMS. “I would also recommend setting up Google Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools), which gives you direct insight into what people are searching and clicking to get to your website,” Wilhoit says. “It can be synced with Google Analytics for easy performance analysis.”
Level up: determine whether paid tools are right for you
Sometimes, it’s less about skill than it is about time. If you’re at a point where you know you need to maintain SEO but your time could be better spent on other parts of the business, it may be time to consider paid tools.
“Moz is great for businesses looking to increase their site content performance,” Wilhoit says. “Similarly, SEMrush can help you identify issues and also identify competitive opportunities for potential new content and pages.”
As bonus, these paid tools also often offer free advice through their blogs, so you can learn even more along the way.