Search engine optimization (SEO) is complicated and tricky--if you let it be. Yes, Google's algorithms are very complex, and it can take years to understand the significance behind every line of code in your site, but the fundamentals of SEO are actually much simpler than that. While many entrepreneurs and webmasters have found success in SEO by scrutinizing every detail of their websites and making painstaking adjustments at a microscopic level, an equal number of entrepreneurs have seen results simply from adhering to best practices for user experience.
The biggest problem with focusing on technical minutiae is the level of precision it requires; in many cases, it produces fantastic short-term effects, but Google updates its algorithms frequently, and one update can be all it takes to shake up the structure and force another round of nitpicky changes. If you concentrate your efforts on the bigger picture, such as providing a great user experience through a fantastic content strategy, you'll never have to worry about such events.
I put together this five-point plan for long-term SEO success for entrepreneurs and marketers who want to make a substantial, future-focused impact on their business's online visibility without subscribing to questionable black-hat practices or overly-complicated techniques.
1. Make Your Site Easy to Understand. There are a ton of options to consider in terms of your site design, navigation, and structure, but let's focus on the basics first. Your goal should be making it so that a new visitor instantly knows what your business is about, and is able to easily find any piece of information they're looking for without issue.
First, make your brand visible and apparent on every page. Make sure your contact information is in the footer, including your company's full name, address, and phone number, and make a contact page so people can contact you easily.
Second, make sure all your main pages are easy to find. A navigation bar is helpful for this, and you can include a full sitemap somewhere on your site for easy navigation--it's also helpful to search engine crawlers.
Third, start interlinking your pages strategically. Include links to relevant pages within your site on your other pages; for example, on your Services page, you could tell your customers to "contact us for more information!" with an embedded link to the contact page. Tight interlinking translates to easy navigability, which will lead to search engines favoring your site.
It's also imperative that the meta data for your pages--especially your home page's title tag and meta description--are simple and accurate to your business. No keyword stuffing! Just use an accurate description.
2. Create and Manage a Blog. Next, it's vital to have a blog, which acts as your command and control center for your content strategy. Even if you think your business isn't the most appropriate platform for blogging, it's important to follow through. Brainstorm a handful of possible categories--examples could be how-to guides, "top 10" style lists, company updates, industry news, or really anything related to your business that you can think of.
Once you have a solid range of categories, you'll need to start writing. If you want to be successful with a content marketing program, you'll need to develop a brand voice, and in order to reap the SEO benefits, focus on creating quality material. Your articles should be sufficiently long (generally, I recommend 1,000+ words per article), with catchy, relevant titles, and detailed, informative body copy. You should publish at least two new blogs per week, and add images or video to them when you can.
The best type of article to write is one that answers a customer's potential question, such as how-to guides and "what to do when" style articles. Google analyzes search queries semantically, so when your customers search for answers to those questions, your site will be more likely to come up. This is a much more effective and long-term strategy than keyword optimizing.
3. Acquire Inbound Links. In order to build your site's authority, you'll need to have a network of inbound links and brand mentions from outside your own site. However, you'll need to be careful not to build irrelevant links or spammy links; this approach could lead to a Penguin penalty, which will only damage your visibility in search rankings.
There are many ways to acquire great inbound links, but the safest and generally most effective starts with your content strategy; great content acts like a magnet that attracts inbound links as other journalists, bloggers, and authors link to and reference your work. Infographics are fantastic for attracting inbound links, and are often republished on other publications, which helps build brand awareness and credibility.
Guest blogging is my personal favorite tactic, as it has many more benefits than simply building links. For a full list of my favorite tactics for building links, see "Link Building Post-Penguin 3.0: 6 Ways to Earn High-Quality Links."
4. Get Active on Social Media. Social media activity sends ranking signals to Google through social signals (though Google has denied this, despite strong correlating evidence supporting this claim), so maintaining an active presence can only be valuable for your SEO campaign. If you want to start building a reliable stream of incoming leads from your social media following, you'll want to dive into social media marketing, but as long as you stay active, you can reap the SEO benefits.
Claim and complete your profiles on as many social media platforms as you can--Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are the bare essentials. Then, syndicate the content from your blog and share content from other major players in your industry. Engage with your followers often with comments and interactions. Make sure you post at least once or twice daily on every social platform you want to keep active.
5. Claim Your Local Accounts and Encourage Good Reviews. This is especially helpful if your business relies on local customers, but it's an effective strategy for any business. Check out local directory sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and any other major directories that are relevant for your business. Claim your account with them, and verify that all your information is correct--your name, address, and phone number should all match what you have in the footer of your website.
Then, encourage positive reviews from your customers. It's usually a violation of terms and conditions if you try to bribe your customers for good reviews, or even if you ask for them directly, but you can influence positive reviews by giving your users a great experience and letting them know where they can find you online. The more positive reviews you have, the more traffic you'll get from the directory sites, and the more authority you'll have in Google's local ranking algorithm.
If you put this five-point plan into action, and remain consistent with it, you'll gradually gain more visibility in search engines. Additionally, you won't ever have to worry about getting penalized or losing ground with new Google updates, since you won't be engaging in any questionable practices. This strategy is as white hat as you can get, and it's designed to put your customers first. If you can make your customers happy, you'll make Google happy by proxy, and you'll win more customers so the cycle can continue indefinitely.