In part 1 of this series, Website Traffic and Search Engines, I cited recent estimates that 14 billion searches are being conducted each day and stated the almost obvious: the higher up within the results that a site is found, the more likely it will get some traffic from search engines.
Part 2, Website Traffic and Search Engine Marketing, provided an overview of organic and paid search results and how both pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and organic search engine optimization (SEO) – the two main practices of search marketing – can be used alone or in combination to build website traffic.
In this post, I’ll take a closer look at SEO and the process of optimizing websites for better placement within organic search results.
What Exactly Is SEO?
SEO is a practice that uses a collection of techniques to achieve the following goals:
- Get as many of the site’s pages included in the search engines’ index as possible.
- Get those pages ranked as high in the organic area of the search results as possible.
- Keep those pages that are ranking well at the top of the search results.
Since search engines list individual web pages in search results, not just home pages, each page that ranks well for a given search becomes a potential point of entry for website traffic.
Because the overarching goal of any search engine is to return those pages it believes most relevant to the keywords used in a search, the aim of any SEO campaign is to make the individual pages within a website highly relevant for specific keywords and phrases.
What Factors do Search Engines Consider?
Search engines are very secretive about which factors count for strong rankings. Both what’s important and the weight of each ranking factor change frequently – without notice. Plus, differences exist on what’s important and what isn’t among the big three search engines – Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
Despite all this secrecy and constant change, since relevancy is the primary goal of any search engine, making your pages seem relevant from a search engine’s point of view should include at least these basics:
- Make sure the content of the page is relevant to the keywords you are targeting.
- Make sure certain items within the code of the page reinforce that keyword relevance.
- Secure links to the page – both from within your own website and from other websites, blogs, social networks, etc. – to further reinforce that relevance.
Other key factors search engines look at include the age of the website and even the depth of its content(number of pages) on the subject and related subjects.
Search results have become more and more personalized, to the extent that two searchers using the same keywords in the same search engine may see different results.
All of this seems very intimidating doesn’t it? However, if you keep relevancy in mind, make sure your site or blog doesn’t contain barriers that make it difficult for search engines to index, continue to build your content and secure quality incoming links, you’ll be on a path to success.
The SEO Process
Optimizing a site for search involves several steps that fall into two phases:
- Initial site review, strategy development and optimization
- Ongoing maintenance and continued improvements
First Phase SEO Steps
The first phase of SEO involves the largest investment of time and money over the shortest period.
Steps in the initial phase of the SEO process include:
- An evaluation of the website and its competitors to identify search engine challenges and opportunities.
- Comprehensive keyword research to find the best keywords – both for the site as a whole and for individual pages within the site.
- Developing an SEO strategy with an action plan that addresses how to overcome the site’s shortcomings that may exist in indexation, competition, site architecture, navigation, content, coding and link popularity.
- Implementing the SEO action plan.
The Second SEO Phase
The second phase of SEO is an ongoing process that meets the site’s needs and the budget limitations of its owner. This SEO phase includes:
- Monitoring results and making adjustments to adapt to changes in the business, changes in what the competition is doing, changes in search engine methodology, and – longer-term – changes in keyword popularity.
- Building the site’s content on a steady basis by continuing to focus on targeted keywords and by optimizing new content as it is developed.
- Continually improving the site’s search engine visibility, through promotion on social networks and blogs, for example, and through continued link building.
In all cases, a regularly scheduled review period is necessary – usually monthly – to measure results and monitor any significant rankings and traffic changes.
Search rankings change constantly – usually within a relatively narrow range – so checking rankings daily or weekly is pointless. What’s more important is measuring and monitoring website traffic.
If your website ranks first in the search engines for a keyword phrase but that ranking doesn’t translate into traffic, its number one ranking is irrelevant.
SEO results take time to bear fruit, but unlike PPC, SEO can have a long-lasting payoff in building targeted website traffic.
Have you tried search engine optimization (SEO) in the past? What kind of results did you see, and what do you find worked and/or didn’t work for you?