Basic Practices to Improve SEO
A primer on audience and keyword research, content building and page optimization
By Jordan Beck
Jordan is a BECK Digital enthusiast with a love of compelling content and search engine performance.
Search Engine Optimization
After developing and launching a new website, it’s time to think about improving search engine placement and attracting your ideal users. Much of SEO success begins with knowing your audience and their search behaviors, and properly creating content centered around those variables.
If you want more site traffic, you must know your audience, what they’re searching for online, and how to stand out among your competitors. But how do you apply that information to improve your messaging and approach, and thus, your SEO?
Here are some basic practices to jumpstart SEO efforts and optimize your online presence.
Audience Research - Define Your Ideal User
To make sure you clearly know and understand your ideal customer, his preferences and his online behaviors, it’s helpful to step inside his shoes and construct a detailed fictional persona (or buyer persona) of said consumer. Personas help us understand and relate to the consumer we're trying to attract and his perspective.
This persona helps you understand the mindset of your idea customer and what he is seeking. Knowing how your ideal users search, browse and interact online helps you target them more effectively, and build content, campaigns and pages that attract, engage and retain them.
While many personas are created based on market research, you can easily create your own for your business. Think about all the various types of consumers who would be attracted to your services - there will likely be multiple! Refer to your database, sales team or social media channels to explore more audience characteristics.
Think about how, when and why they would search out your business. What would lead them to seek out your services? What problems do your services solve? What goal would you help them fulfill? Define the basics (age, location, gender, etc), but also think about his interests, behaviors, online preferences and lifestyle. For more ideas on creating an ideal customer profile, check out these ideas from Hubspot.
Ask Your Audience
Directly asking your existing customers what they want can steer you in the right direction. If you already have a business, it’s likely you have customers who can share valuable feedback on their online behaviors, and even your business. To tailor campaigns and optimize your website accordingly, you need to thoroughly understand their preferences, opinions and desires. Then go straight to the source and send out online surveys – SurveyMonkey is a handy resource – to request their feedback.
Research Social Media
Social media platforms can be instrumental when learning how, when and where your key audience hangs out online. Using key demographics (gender, interests, location, age, etc), Facebook Ads Manager can help you estimate the size of your ideal audience, regions and how many people you’d reach with an online Facebook ad campaign. While not everyone is on Facebook (approximately 60% of Americans use Facebook), this will still give you a solid estimation to anchor your research.
Similar research can be done on other social platforms, such as Twitter Analytics, LinkedIn Advertising, or within the Insights option in Instagram (if you have a business account). For a broader understanding, the Pew Research Center offers a robust analysis on audience online behaviors across social media channels. Or, check out MarketingCharts to see a breakdown of social media channels based on age, gender, education and more.
When it comes to tackling SEO, keyword research and targeting should be a top priority. To drive visitors to your site, you should not only understand their needs, but the language they use to search and the content they seek online. Well-optimized websites and content incorporate the same language as their ideal users, and cater specifically to their needs.
The goal in using keywords on your website is to improve your rank in Google search engine results pages (SERP). Integrating the right keywords on your site or PPC ad campaigns significantly improves search engine rankings and helps you reach the right users (and consequently, increases leads and sales).
Researching keywords for your users, business and market helps you learn more about which terms and phrases to target (which to use in your content). Start by generating a list of topics and keywords specific to your business, services and ideal users. Think about how you would like your business to be found online, the questions your ideal user would ask and how he would seek out your type of services. Ideally, you want around a hundred keywords or phrases on your list. From there, it’s smart to rank them based on search frequency and relevancy to your business.
If you need help brainstorming, we suggest platforms like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush and Keyword Discovery to help you generate, refine and plan keywords relating to your business. You can also try Google Auto- Suggest and view examples of what users typically enter in the search box, or explore the related search terms Google provides for every search (very bottom of results page).
Here’s another tip: Don’t think solely about keywords. Remember to think about industry-specific topics. For example, say you sell rain boots. If your ideal user wants to find and buy pair of red rain boots online, she may begin the search by typing in keywords specific to what she seeks – say, “red rain boots.” Or she may search more broadly for best footwear for rainy weather, what makes a good pair of rain boots, or how to find the perfect rain boot fit. These wide-ranging topics provide great jumping off points for researching and using less popular keywords related to your industry – ones that everyone else won’t be targeting.
Also, be mindful when creating a list of keywords to target. You want a healthy mix of head terms and long-tail keywords for a variety of topics. Head terms are phrases of one to three words in length. Long-tail keywords are longer and more precise, generally more than four words. Head terms are usually more competitive and harder to rank for, as these are the terms most frequently searched and the ones for which everyone tries to rank. Long-tail keywords, on the other hand, won’t be as popular, and may help ideal users find your specific services right away.
Along with your main keywords, be sure to generate related terms and synonyms. You not only want exact-match keywords in your content, but also Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords. These types of terms make your content less forced, less awkward and more organic in nature. Most suggest using roughly 20% exact-match keywords and 80% LSI keywords.
Researching what your competitors are doing online, who uses similar keywords and who has similar services provides useful insight on how to construct your own keyword strategy. And exploring competitor search results helps you refine and evaluate your own keyword list.
If a competitor is ranking for keywords that you wish to rank for, it’s time to integrate those keywords, and work on content building and ranking! Not all keywords used by your competitors will be applicable to your business. And on the flip side, you may have keywords your competitors won’t rank for at all. (The latter could be a great opportunity for your business to carve out ownership in that space!)
With so much information already available on Google, competitor ranks and keyword results are easy to generate. For a more robust breakdown, we’re particularly fond of SEMrush. This site is great at identifying and analyzing competitor metrics. And check out this list of competitor analysis tools for additional resources.
Beyond competitor keywords, explore the sites, content and social channels of your competitors. Take notes on what they are doing, what is popular and shared, and how they advertise. All variables are helpful in learning more about your audience and market, as well as how to approach your larger digital marketing strategy.
Content & Page Optimization
You can’t expect your website to rank in the top ten (or even the top 20) for Google search results simply by adding keywords to your pages. Content building is essential to improving your SEO, but so is the code, performance and backend technology on your site. Here are ways to begin content building and optimizing your webpages to enhance your SEO efforts.
Let’s start with building content. When it comes to SEO success, content is indispensable. SEO is near impossible without content – search engines need phrases, keywords, links and material to analyze and rank sites.
However, it’s hard to develop a content strategy without a clear understanding of your audience, as they inform your topics, keywords, and content format. Knowing your audience makes all the difference when creating relevant content. Your content strategy should center around providing real value to real people, not just Google bots. Furthermore, quality content can make or break search engine rank; it’s far more favored and trusted by search engines, so put in the time and effort to get it right.
For starters, write content for your target audience that informs and inspires – and be consistent in your posting. Avoid promotion or sales talk, and give your readers valuable industry information. Keep them coming back for more by delivering what they want, not what you want to sell. Focus on building trust with superior content and nurturing relationships with potential customers. Useful content ranks higher with search engines and attracts more readers, thus improving your chances of social shares and engagement.
When it comes to keywords, here’s the chance to apply your keyword research. Be sure to use unique keywords on each page of your website. This includes the body of your content, URLs, meta descriptions, and alt attributes, as well as page titles and tags. Google gives more weight to the title of articles and blog posts, so keywords are vital in these spots.
Placing keywords in these areas should be your first order of business. These locations will help target your content in searches. It’ll take time to rise in the search rankings, but these are fundamental steps in getting started with SEO.
When selecting keywords for your content, use long-tail keywords whenever possible. These are generally more unique and specific, helping you attract the right users and improve conversion efforts. And while you might be tempted to use as many keywords possible, don’t. Avoid keyword stuffing – or adding multiple keywords to your content in attempts to gain higher search rank. This makes for awkward reading, and Google may flag your content as spam if it registers an excess of keywords.
Since content development and marketing is a beast of a topic, so we’ll save that for another post. However, here are some additional tips to help you create content that enhances SEO and engages your audience.
- Make your content longer (1,500+ words). Longer copy increases search engine rank, and converts better than short copy.
- Use images and infographics. 65% of people are visual learners and articles with images get 94% more views.
- Organize and structure your content in a clear manner for readers, as well as for Google spiders that crawl your pages.
- Use subheads and proper tag hierarchy when tagging headlines (H1 and H2) to maintain good structure and allow faster crawling.
- Try, try and try again! Test your content, CTAs and headlines with A/B testing to see what language users respond to most and to maximize engagement.
- Start link building. Linking to relevant pages on your site or other sites improves SEO, as Google gives extra weight to keywords and phrases that include a clickable link. Furthermore, linking to sites with authority (online clout) and trustworthy content also builds your overall trustworthiness!
- And while we’re on the topic, don’t forget to check broken links in your articles and on your pages. Too many broken links increase redirect requests and results in a search engine drop.
- To help readers share your content more easily, place social media share buttons in convenient spots on your page.
The Power of Social
Once you’ve created your content, get your message out there! If you want to build an audience and improve SEO, you can’t neglect social media posting. Sharing your content by social media spreads your message across the web, so you’re more likely to reach interested users. Moreover, social media posts, shares and engagement help you gain search engine credibility, backlinks and site traffic.
When posting, consider the platforms your ideal audience uses most. You may not need to post on every channel. Along with popular social channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), consider posting on social platforms that have more weight (or authority), such as Slideshare, Blogger or Quora. These sites provide more quality content and have more online clout. Try posting here when you can to improve search rank, and build a following.
Even with great content and design, the wrong backend technology for a website can have serious impacts on overall site performance and speed, which has a ripple effect on SEO. Improving page performance is wise for SEO – and, as Walmart discovered, your bottom line.
Believe it or not, slow page loading affects search engine rank and subsequent traffic. Make sure your content and page structure are orderly and organized, as these can affect the speed at which Google processes your site and therefore, how it is ranked. Google prefers pages with clear, relevant content. All aspects of the page’s content are analyzed (keywords, images, tags, links, code, etc.) when determining a good match for a search query, including navigational elements and structure. If these elements aren’t optimized for your site, your search rank could suffer.
The following elements should be carefully refined and integrated to improve page performance. For a more in-depth look, check out our full list of optimization recommendations.
- Make sites responsive and mobile-friendly
- Optimize images
- Properly use secure certificates
- Properly use client and server side caching
- Correctly compress static resources like images and stylesheets
These practices are only the tip of the SEO iceberg. SEO techniques and tips are numerous and ever-evolving. But with 93% of online experiences beginning with a search engine, mastering these skills is essential as you tackle SEO and work towards a more comprehensive digital marketing strategy.
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