You’ve heard the term SEO, know what it stands for (search engine optimization!), and, by now, probably know it’s important. But as you launch your brand, create content, and start to build out your online presence, you’ll likely still find yourself wondering: What are SEO best practices, exactly? How do I make sure my company gets found in the vast sea of the internet?

To demystify those tricky rankings, I spoke to SEO expert Jill Laise of Techwood Consulting. Read on to learn more about what (really) matters to search engines and how to integrate SEO into your content strategy.

What factors most impact a brand’s search engine ranking?

Since search engines don’t publish their algorithms, knowledge of how a website gets ranked comes from research, experimentation, experience, and a few other sources. That being said, there are a few “accepted” truths to a brand’s ranking, which is determined by hundreds, if not thousands, of onsite and offsite factors. For example:

Onsite Factors

Make sure you have unique, high-quality, and relevant content on your site—both the content the user sees and the meta data that only the search engine reads (which includes the page title, meta description, and image tags).

What does this mean, exactly? Create your content with the user in mind, making sure to focus each page or article around the keywords and phrases you’ve decided to target. [For example, if you know you want to be associated with phrases like “eco-friendly fashion,” create blog posts and post photos that relate to that topic.]

Offsite Factors

Search engine spiders are constantly crawling the Internet and indexing content to understand the purpose of it. So, the more Google sees your company referenced in relevant content on other sites, the more your search engine rankings will benefit.

For example, let’s say I am a New York realtor who wants to rank highly for the search term “New York realtor.” If Google sees 10 articles about New York realtors on high-trust, high-traffic real estate publications and online newspapers that point back to my website, it views this as 10 votes of trust. In theory, these 10 sites are recommending my site, so Google is more likely to recommend it to users. The more topically relevant the referring site is, the better.

How important is content creation—really—in raising a brand’s ranking?

Very. Search engines are designed to get you off their site as fast as possible by helping you find what you are looking for on the first try. On that first engine result page, they are going to serve around 10 results that have a diversity of information to “shotgun” a wide array of information to the user. Creating good and unique content on your site gives Google a reason to elevate your listing.

For example, if a person types in “eggs,” Google may give pages for egg recipes, the definition of an egg, and news about eggs. So if you are a recipe site, the more original recipes you have about eggs (versus just having links or recipes you’ve pulled from other sites), the more robust your content looks to Google, and the more likely you will rank for that coveted recipe slot for “eggs.”

What’s the biggest misconception about SEO (and the way that companies approach it)?

Often, companies put too much emphasis on the keyword rankings and not enough emphasis on the results. How highly you rank means nothing if visitors don’t actually click on the result.

Also, don’t be afraid of the “long tail keywords,” (those that have 3–5 words in the phrase) which often have much higher conversion rates. By the time a searcher has drilled down to “men’s black North Face fleece,” he is much closer to the point of purchase than when he started his search with “North Face fleece.”

How should brands pick the keywords they use for SEO?

Picking a word is both an art and a science. The art is getting into the mind of users and knowing what they will type into the search field to find what you offer. Think about yourself as a user—what would you search for to get to your site?

The science is picking which of those search terms will bring in the most high quality traffic. Google Adwords offers a free keyword tool that can help you get started.

In your opinion, what’s the best way that companies can measure their SEO success? 

Set and begin monitoring realistic goals early on. Whether your goal is sales, lead volume, web traffic, in-store foot traffic, or something else, there is a tool out there to help you track it. Need some inspiration? Check out Mongoose Metrics, a call tracking solution that tracks the source of the lead and the keyword the call was tied to. Another great tool is Google Places for Business, a free portal that manages your Google Places listing and provides stats on how it is performing.

Regardless of your business goals, make Google Analytics your best friend. This is one of the best free sites out there for monitoring your web traffic and providing insights on which keywords bring in the highest quality traffic.

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