When I think of searching for stuff on the internet, I think of the effort it takes to develop the right word or phrase to get me the results I want to answer my question. The question could be, “Who has the best Indian food in Edmonton?” Or it could be, “Where are the best campgrounds in Alberta?” Or it could even be, “Is Sam Heughan married”? (That’s an Outlander TV series reference for those who might not know.)
If you’re like me, you’ve spent too much time to count going in circles, refining search results, changing the wording, and trying again only to end in frustration. Searching but not location quite the right website to answer my question is a dismal disappointment. However, I never knew the websites are also trying to find me.
In today’s online marketing and research world, we all must understand and use keywords effectively. It’s as if we all are roaming around a darkened forest, sweeping our flashlights back and forth, calling out “Marco,” and we’re yearning to hear the right “Polo” in response. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is like tailoring our website to call out “Polo” to that lost soul looking for us in the forest. To continue with the metaphor, SEO makes our website shine brightly so that the searcher barely needs any effort to locate us. We want to be the brightest, loudest website in the forest.
The following is a summary of LinkedIn Learning’s SEO Foundations course by David Booth. I recommend LinkedIn Learning’s videos. Super informative and digestible.
Overview of SEO
David Booth (2020) says the point of Search Engine Optimization is to improve search engine results so that your website sees increased traffic.
SEO, done well, actually focuses on “organic results” – meaning people are searching for something and your website shows up as a result, or as an answer to their search.
Even if you’re not trying to sell something directly, you could benefit from learning about search engine optimization. For example, you may be running a non-profit or you simply want to share your thoughts about life. Wouldn’t you want the most amount of people to find you as possible?
Our goal with SEO is to become attractive to Google, according to Booth (2020). We want Google to RANK us higher, thereby making it more likely that we’ll show up in the search results.
Valdo Pavlik (2021) says in his blog post about SEOs that since Google currently dominates the internet world, instead of SEOs we could name them Google Optimization (para. 3).
Relevance and Authority
Booth (2020) says search engines want to return the most relevant results. There’s that weird personification. It’s kind of creepy thinking of search engines wanting to show me results on my searches. That said, it’s also handy because when I’m searching ‘Sam Heughan,’ I get websites about Sam Heughan. Alternatively, if I have a fan site about Sam Heughan, my website shows up in someone else’s search results.
How does it work?
The SEO collects all kinds of information on our website. It indexes it and then uses an algorithm (that allusive, mysterious and powerful tool we’re not supposed to look too closely at) to return the most relevant and reliable results to the search word or phrase (Booth, 2020). Cousin Algorithm is sneaky that way.
Another factor to relevance is that while SEOs want to return the most relevant information, they don’t want to leave anyone out who might be even a little bit relevant. That means when I enter a search for Sam Heughan, I will also get results for Outlander, Scotland, Kilts, and Whisky because they are related to him.
Authority is about trust.
For example, someone might put in the keywords, Sam Heughan, but end up posting about knitting on their website. They used those keywords to attract visitors to their site, which seems like a clever idea. However, like bees to honey, visitors get drawn in, but when they see knitting instead of sexy Sam, they feel duped. In response, they might leave a nasty review resulting in the website losing trust.
On the other hand, if someone visits a website and finds all the juicy details of Sam Heughan they could ever desire, they declare their trust by linking to that site. Like I’m doing with this one: https://heughligans.com/
The critical thing to understand, aside from my assurance that I’m not as crazy as I sound about Sam Heughan, is that we earn authority and relevance over time. The more a website proves itself to post relevant, reliable, and trustworthy information, the more trust points it deserves, and the higher up in the SE rankings it will climb (Booth, 2020).
Search Engine Result Pages
There are many kinds of search engine results. As the internet and market change in what gets posted, so do the results that might appear. Videos, news stories, images, and social media links are some examples.
Booth (2020) explains that there are two types to be aware of: paid listings and organic listings. Paid listings are what they sound like: paid advertisements. Google, for example, allows advertisers to bid on prime spots. Organic listings are the kind found by searchers naturally. Results will generally show ten organic results, called “blue links.” Within these blue links are specific information such as a headline, description, and visible URL. It’s this information that will be learning to customize (Booth, 2020).
Setting SEO Expectations
As mentioned, earning and gaining valuable ‘trust votes’ from other sources linking to our website takes time and effort. We must curate relevant and exciting content, post useful ‘links,’ and keep on top of managing technical issues. Not only does it take time for us to develop our websites in this manner, but it also takes time for these changes to show up in the search engine results (Booth, 2020).
Moreover, we need to keep humans in mind. After all, it’s not just about appeasing Cousin Algorithm and the internet Gods. Behind all of the techno mumbo jumbo are human beings looking for what we have to offer. Therefore, everything we learned about personas and demographics is still relevant here.
How SEO Affects Your Business
Everyone has heard the term “Google it.” When we say that we will “Google something,” we mean we’re searching something up. According to Booth (2020), searching marks the beginning of pretty much everything we do online. Since we all have Google machines (smartphones) in our pockets, we’re searching in real-time several times a day.
As business owners, we can measure these search results through our analytics and measure the effectiveness of our search engine efforts at any given time and make necessary adjustments (Booth, 2020).
Keywords: The Foundation of SEO
Keywords can be the ice cream to our apple pie or the thorn in our shoe. When you find the right keywords, they’re sweet and go down smoothly with little effort. However, when you can’t find the right ones, you’re lead on a random chase in a prickly desert land of never-ending useless search results. The good news is that all of those random searches aren’t going to waste. They’re providing all kinds of information. Those search words reveal what our customers are looking for and the words they are using to look. The critical information we need is volume, relevance, and competition. Booth (2020) uses the keyword, car, as an example.
The word, car, certainly has a high volume of searches, but “blue Toyota” will return more relevant results. Since there is so much to learn from keywords, it makes sense that we would need a strategic plan to develop our goals, know what we’re looking for, and ultimately make sound decisions on the information we collect (Booth, 2020).
Marketing is really about understanding our potential customers. How do they think? What are they looking for when they Google something? Knowing our customers is the essence of researching and cultivating a list of potent keywords for our websites (Booth, 2020). Booth lays out how to create a “seed list” with a couple of steps:
Step 1: Brainstorming
- Make a list of the products and services, listing as many specific words as possible
- Attempt to write the words from the customer’s perspective
- Use Google Search Console, Google Trends and AnswerThePublic
Step 2: Search Volume
- Using the list of words we generated, we need to learn the demand for those words.
- Long-tail keywords have more descriptive words but tend to have higher conversion rates.
- Have patience and think about this step as exploration and a path to understanding our customers.
Booth (2020) says we need to be concerned with volume, relevancy, and competition when curating our list of keywords. Pavlik (2021) refers to these as the “Keyword Tripod Rule.”
Booth (2020) says there is one question to keep in mind regarding relevance: does the keyword reflect the nature of the products and services we’re offering? We want people to find us. Therefore, it makes sense that the keywords we employ should be relevant to our offering.
We can think of volume as the popularity of our keywords (Pavlik, 2021). While newer websites won’t rank as high in popularity, we can improve this over time. Using keywords that garner a high volume of searches will help with that endeavour.
Competition (Keyword Difficulty)
It’s not enough to use the right keywords. When someone searches for something using one of our chosen words, we want our website to come up first. Coming first in the results means ranking first in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) (Pavlik, 2021). These words, however, have competitors in the form of higher-ranking websites. These websites have earned higher status in the form of relevance and authority.
Knowing the keyword difficulty helps us focus on words within our ranking, especially when we first start.
Booth (2020) explains that it’s essential we assign the right keywords to the correct pages of our website. Planning your website using an Excel sheet to list every single page will help us optimize the keywords to use. It organizes the keywords, but it can also help manage the workflow for our teams.
Evaluation is often not given the time it needs. Like most projects, we’re most excited about setting it up and reaping the rewards. In contrast, maintenance is that boring part that we would prefer to hand off to someone else. Whether we do it or someone else does, evaluating our results is a crucial step that we shouldn’t ignore. It will tell us if we’re on the right track and when (not if) things change informing us that it’s time to adjust our strategy. Booth (2020) stresses that SEO is an ongoing project requiring constant learning, researching, and adapting.
Content Optimization: How Search Engines and People View Web Pages
Crafting premium content that includes highly relevant and valuable subject matter will attract SEOs to our websites. While this may sound like a lot of work, I find it encouraging. It means that talent, originality, and hard work are still the way to achieve success. One can be the best at identifying keywords, but what is the point of attracting people to your website if there is nothing of value to keep them there?
Optimizing Site Structure
To return to the metaphor of the dark forest, a website that lacks cohesive structure is like walking through a forest filled with random paths with no signs to guide the way. Now imagine you’re walking in the woods. You come upon a park ranger, and you ask them for directions to the waterfall. Instead of giving you clear instructions, they stand there scratching their head for a while. Then they proceed to provide you with a dizzying array of directions that you can’t possibly follow. The SEO is like the park ranger. Without any signage, how can the SEO direct people where to go on your website?
Optimizing Textual Page Elements
URL, Meta Title Tag, and Header
The URL (the address of our website) should be short, easy to understand, relevant to our website, and SEO-friendly. Once we’ve established the URL, we want to make it easy for people to find specific content. We can do that by writing concise and relevant tags and headers (Booth, 2020).
While we still need to keep in mind search engines when creating content, we must still keep the humans in mind. Search engines are mimicking and serving people, after all. (Booth, 2020).
Since SEOs can’t detect images yet, we need to write descriptions that will map keywords to our pictures, which will increase optimization (Booth, 2020).
Optimizing Nontext Components of a Webpage
As mentioned, SEOs do not recognize images, but we can help them by adding keyword text next to and around logos or other images we may use on our websites. The more we can optimize our websites with keywords in strategic elements can help SEOs find us. They light us up brightly in the dark forest.
HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language)
HTML outlines how everything on our website will look which includes the text font and colour, size of content, images, and so on. With HTML, browsers can understand what they’re looking for and translate it to something attractive for us to look at and consume. The code looks like gobbledygook to a lot of us. To others, it makes complete sense because they understand the language (Booth, 2020).
Conicals tags, URLs, redirects, microformats, and Google Search Console include many technical and behind-the-scenes ways of ensuring that you are optimizing your website for search engines. Much of this content swam way above my head; it is a whole new language to me.
One thing it did teach me, however, is it’s not so mysterious why some websites get more traffic than others.
I’ve had a website and blog for many years and have, at times, felt frustrated with how to get more traffic. I thought it just came down to posting consistently and commenting on other people’s blogs. Boy, was I wrong! There is SO much more to it than that. So, while this technical information is above my understanding, for now, I know where to find it when the time is right.
Long-Term Content Planning
Creating a strategy that includes knowing your potential customers well, curating keywords that will attract them to your site, and creating content that will provide value to them are the keys to SEO success (Booth, 2020).
While the amount of content is not the most important part, quality is; therefore, spending time developing the meat of the information is crucial so are things like grammar and punctuation.
Goals and Objectives
We can not escape goals and objectives. It doesn’t seem to matter what subject we study, they mention them somewhere, and SEO is no different. What do we want these keywords to achieve for us? When customers finally come to our website, what do we want them to do once they’re there? Questions like these about our customers need to be addressed and understood by everyone on our team (Booth, 2020).
Don’t overlook your online reputation. As more of us enter the foray of social media marketing and SEO, we mustn’t sacrifice our integrity to get a few more clicks. As we have witnessed in today’s rampant “cancel culture,” we can lose all of our hard work with a few online missteps. Open and frank discussion around this, along with an online behavior policy, can go a long way to safeguard our reputations (Booth, 2020).
Different Types of Content
At first, we may think of context as the written word, but there are many other examples. One such instance that Booth (2020) describes is sharing presentations. He recommends Slide Share. A website to upload slide decks and share online. This one is exciting to me because I love creating PowerPoint slides.
My Take Away – Conclusion
As I mentioned, I was intrigued by the Slide Share website. So, I decided to upload a lesson I created for a group for which I facilitate. The topic is mini boundaries. Please enjoy this presentation, and if you’re inclined, I would be interested in your feedback.
Presentation link: https://www.slideshare.net/DebbieBridge/mini-boundaries
This version doesn’t have audio, but I will add it to the presentation when I do this again. I will also take the time to research keywords to include in both the description and the tags.
Booth, D. (2020, November 16). SEO Foundations. Retrieved from LinkedIn Learning: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/seo-foundations/leveraging-the-power-of-search-to-accomplish-your-business-goals?u=2109516
Crestosina, A. (2021). SEO Basics: A complete guide to the 3 factors in search rankings. Retrieved from Orbit Media Studios: https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/dont-forget-the-seo-basics/
Do You Love Sam Heughan? (2021). Retrieved from Heughan’s Heughligans: https://heughligans.com/
Home. (2021). Retrieved from SlideShare: https://www.slideshare.net/
Pavlik, V. (2021, May 19). The Complete SEO Guide for Beginners. Retrieved from Mangools/Blog: https://mangools.com/blog/learn-seo/#part1