So…what is SEO?
Even if you’re an SEO expert, defining SEO can be a bit difficult. Since its inception, SEO has gone through a lot of changes, and some original best practices have become completely obsolete, replaced by new rules and standards.
On the heels of a new Google algorithm update – don’t worry, we’ll get to that – we’re updating our definition of SEO and its best practices, to give you a strong foundation for your SEO strategy in 2021.
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of improving the visibility – or rank – of your website in search results for a particular keyword or search query.
SEO strategy is often made up of a combination of strategies to influence your website’s ranking in search results. SEO requires a multi-faceted approach, targeting different factors to improve your website’s authority, relevance, and navigability, such as on-page optimization, content creation, social media management, link building, and much more.
If I’ve already lost you with some SEO jargon here, take a look at our SEO Basics Guide to get up to speed.
Why does SEO matter?
According to a recent study of over 1 billion web pages conducted by Ahrefs, 91% of pages online get zero traffic from Google.
In 2021, 68% of user experiences online begin with a search engine. 86% of Americans report that they get their news on their smartphone, tablet, or computer, and 97% look online to learn more about a business. We conduct our lives online more than ever before, so how you appear online can have a huge impact on your business’s reach, reputation, and overall success.
Even the best businesses can get buried in results if they don’t have an SEO strategy. Where your website shows up in search results is determined by several factors, but an SEO strategy can help you have some control.
And when it comes to SEO, where you rank matters. As many as 95% of users never go past the first page of results, and the top three results in Google account for over 75% of clicks, with the top spot securing 31% of clicks on its own. To make the most of your online presence, your business needs to not only need to rank well, but always be striving to secure spot #1 – to do so, you need to have an SEO strategy.
What’s more, a strong SEO strategy will not only ensure that your website shows up in search results, but that it shows up well. SEO strategy can impact
- Brand awareness and audience engagement
- the functionality of your website – which can have a huge impact on bounce rates
- Branded search results
- And, ultimately, in 2021, SEO has a huge impact on the overall success of your business
What determines best practices in SEO?
Best practices in SEO refer to the methods you can leverage to give your site the best chance of ranking well in search results. While many of these factors are external – links to your website, engagement from website visitors, etc. – there are many factors that you can control or influence when it comes to your online assets.
A lot of it comes down to Google (and other search engines, though Google reigns supreme with nearly 93% of the market share as of June 2021). Since SEO is all about visibility in search results, the factors that determine that visibility determine best practices, and those factors are determined by Google.
When it comes to search, Google’s primary goal is to provide users with relevant, trustworthy results for their queries. To date, Google has about 200 ranking factors that determine how search results look for a particular query.
Not all ranking factors are created equal. Some of the more important ranking factors are:
- Relevance: how relevant your website, web page, or other owned assets are to the user’s search query.
- Site Speed: how quickly your website loads.
- Mobile-Friendliness: how well your website is formatted for mobile users, or how your website performs on mobile devices.
- Backlinks: how many backlinks your website has received.
- Engagement: how many users click through to your site, how long users remain on your site, or if users bounce when visiting your site.
- Content: how well the content of your page addresses the search query.
In addition to its ranking factors, Google releases several algorithm updates per year that can also have a significant impact on how your website ranks in search results. An algorithm update is a change in the processes that determine how Google ranks websites in search results. Google rolls out these updates to improve search experience, relevance, and quality of results for users. The impact of these algorithm updates can have quite a range, with some going unnoticed, while others can have a major and nearly immediate impact on search results.
To learn more about Google’s algorithm updates, and some of the most significant updates, read our updates article here.
Top 10 SEO Best Practices
There’s always more to learn when it comes to SEO, but keeping in mind the core best practices will help you build a strong foundation for your SEO strategy.
1. Know Your Keywords
Perhaps the most significant focus of your SEO strategy is the keywords you choose to target. In SEO, your target keyword or keywords are the search queries that you want your website to rank for. While some of these keywords may be branded – meaning specific to your business – your company’s name will not be the only search query that leads prospective customers to your business.
When it comes to determining the keywords you want your website to rank for, think like a customer. What would someone search for that could lead to your business? Search for your business, industry, and product offerings and take note of the results. Where does your website rank (if at all)? What terms populate in suggested and related search? What keywords do your competitors seem to target on their website?
Worst Practice: Keyword Stuffing
Knowing what terms you want your website to rank for will help you set your goals and begin formulating your SEO strategy. To learn more about conducting keyword research, read our guide here.
2. Optimize Your Website
It may seem redundant to use the word “optimize” in a list of best practices about search engine optimization, but what it means to optimize your website has changed over time. How well your website runs, how it is structured, and how it is formatted for mobile users can all impact where your site ranks in search results.
First things first: make sure your site is indexed. If your website is not indexed, it will not show up in search results.
There are several factors that can result in your site not being indexed, such as your website being recently published, your website not having any referring links or backlinks, or Google experiencing difficulties or errors when trying to crawl – or “read” – your website.
To check if your website is indexed, input “site:mywebsite.com” into Google. If nothing comes up, it means that your website will not appear in search results. If your site is not indexed, you can submit an indexing request in Google Search Console (GSC).
Once your site is indexed, you want to do everything you can to improve your site’s health. Broken pages, broken links, missing meta descriptions, dead ends, and other errors can all bring down the health of your site, which can result in ranking penalties.
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to improving your website, consider:
- How quickly does your website load? Page speed, or loading speed, has a huge impact on user experience and bounce rate, as well as where your website ranks (particularly after the Page Experience update earlier this year). Websites with slow loading times risk being penalized by Google, and tend to experience a higher bounce-rate than those that load more quickly. You can utilize Google Search Console (GSC) or Google’s PageSpeed tool to check your website’s performance.
- Which pages experience the highest bounce rate? Which pages get the most traffic? Utilizing free tools like Google Search Console can give you valuable insight into the pages that are and are not working for users visiting your site. Pay attention to trends, reactions to changes in your site, and any other user info that can help you determine what elements of your site need attention.
- What information is on your site? Why are users visiting your site? It may seem obvious, but what your website actually tells your customers is vital. If a customer can’t find the information they are looking for on your site, it’s likely they won’t stick around for long. Consider the intention behind the searches that may send users to particular pages on your site, and make sure the content on your site addresses those questions.
3. Keep Mobile in Mind
In 2021 alone, mobile users have accounted for 55% of website traffic worldwide, and mobile devices are expected to influence more than $1.4 trillion in sales. As the number of unique smartphone users continues to rise, the importance of mobile user experience on your site does as well, particularly following Google’s 2015 Mobilegeddon update (and the subsequent 2018 Mobile-First update), which prioritized mobile websites over websites formatted for desktop.
While you want to ensure your website performs well for desktop users, don’t forget about mobile users.To put it simply, a mobile-friendly site is a site that operates well for mobile users. What this looks like: a site that displays correctly on a mobile device, loads quickly, and is easily navigable from a mobile device (meaning: no pop-ups!).
Beyond the impact on SEO, websites that are not formatted for mobile users can have a negative impact on customer retention, with over 50% of users reporting that they are less likely to engage with a company again after a poor mobile experience, and users who have had a poor mobile experience reporting that they are over 60% less likely to purchase from that brand in the future.
To see how your site measures up for mobile users, you can utilize Google’s Mobile-Friendliness tool.
4. Leverage Social Media
Social media can be a valuable tool not only in your SEO strategy, but also to increase your brand awareness, build a rapport with your audience, and establish your brand voice online. If you haven’t already, be sure to secure a Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram account for your business.
While optimizing your website can get a bit technical, optimizing your social media profiles is a bit simpler. To get the most out of your social media profiles, make sure that your usernames are consistent across all platforms, that you have filled out your profiles as fully as possible, and that you keep profiles active. Additionally, make sure you engage in conversations around your brand or industry.
Worst Practice: Inactive Accounts
To learn how to utilize social media for your business, read our guide here.
5. Read (and Respond) to Reviews
Reviews can be a huge asset to your SEO strategy; however, if not navigated correctly, reviews can also be a huge thorn in the side of your business. Over 85% of consumers report reading online reviews to learn more about a business – and not only are consumers reading reviews, but they’re taking them to heart. Nearly 80% of consumers report trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family. When it comes to search, reviews make up 10% of criteria for how Google displays results.
Although reviews can be a bit of a double-edged sword, staying up-to-date on your reviews and responding when necessary can help you mitigate the negative impact. Product pages that feature customer reviews convert 58% more visitors than those without, and businesses that feature customer reviews and feedback on their site can increase transparency, credibility, and trustworthiness with current and prospective customers. What’s more, Google has confirmed that responding to reviews can have a impact on your business’s SEO.
To improve your reviews online – either to bring up a rating or to bring up the overall number of reviews – the best thing to do is to solicit feedback. Reach out to customers to increase reviews on platforms such as Google My Business or Yelp, and employees to increase reviews on platforms such as Glassdoor and Indeed. If your business has received a substantial amount of negative reviews, it may be worth responding to those reviews.
6. Make the Most of Content
The content you publish on your website has a huge impact on where your site ranks in results. Creating content that answers user search queries, provides relevant information, and highlights your company’s unique perspective can help you rank better for your target keywords and provide value to your customers, increasing customer retention and establishing your business as an authority in your industry. An intentional content strategy is foundational to your SEO reputation management strategy.
When it comes to creating content for your SEO strategy, ask yourself:
- What can I educate about? What questions can I answer?
- What makes my perspective unique, and how can I communicate that?
- What are my customers curious about? What problems are they facing? How can I help?
- What isn’t being talked about in my industry or field?
As you answer these questions, identify three or four themes for your content, and create a content calendar to keep up with a regular publishing schedule. And remember: written content is not the only kind of content. Leveraging all kinds of media will result in a stronger content strategy – in fact, video is the #1 performing form of media, and images and infographics aren’t far behind. Create a comprehensive content strategy, including different forms of media, to make the biggest impression in search results.
Worst Practice: Quantity Over Quality
To learn more about creating content that ranks, read here.
7. Get Creative with Link Building
Link building is the SEO strategy of getting other websites to link back to yours – or, getting more backlinks to your website. Also called inbound links, backlinks are one of Google’s top ranking factors. While it used to be the more backlinks you received, the better, quality has overtaken quantity in backlinking. The ideal backlink profile for your website should show links from a variety of high-quality, reputable websites.
Worst Practice: Weak Backlinks
Receiving links to your website may require patience, but will pay off in the long run. The best backlink profile is one that has a variety of authoritative sources, such as earned and sponsored media, social media shares, PR opportunities, and partnerships. To learn more about sponsored and earned media, read our guide here.
8. Never Forget Users
Whether it’s the functionality of your website, the keywords you target, the content you publish, or the memes you share on Instagram, always keep your audience in mind. It can be tempting to focus on search engines when it comes to SEO – after all, it is search engine optimization.
But the best SEO strategies are those that keep people at the forefront. As Google continues to update its algorithms, it does so with users in mind. More and more, Google is rewarding websites that prioritize user experience. More recent Google algorithm updates have penalized spammy sites, or sites that don’t function well for users – the most recent of which being the Page Experience update released earlier this year, which prioritized page speed rewarded sites with positive user experience.
To gauge if your website is user-friendly, check it out for yourself. Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find relevant information? Is it optimized for mobile users? As we said earlier, Google Search Console can also be a valuable tool in determining the user-friendliness of your website by giving you insight into which pages experience the highest bounce rate, which pages users visit or stay on the most, and other metrics that can shed some light on how users are interacting with your website.
9. Keep Up with Trends
As we stated earlier, keeping up with Google’s algorithm updates can ensure that you’re up-to-date on the basis for SEO best practices. But Google’s algorithms aren’t the only thing you need to pay attention to. Increases in voice search, increase in local search terms, and increase in mobile traffic are all current trends that can have a huge impact on your SEO, just to name a few.
An unsung aspect of a strong SEO strategy is creativity. If you follow what others are doing, you may see some improvement when it comes to how your website shows up in results. But to truly stand out, you need to go beyond what others are doing.
In addition to keeping up with the latest SEO news, consider search trends (you can use this tool to keep up with that), industry trends, and cultural trends to help guide your strategy. What articles are missing for certain queries? What questions come up again and again from your customers? How can you highlight your business online, and differentiate it from the competition? Have any recent events made the next post you have scheduled seem a bit tone deaf?
All these considerations can not only help you find opportunities in your SEO strategy, but can also save your business from a PR hit or PR crisis.
10. Pay Attention to What Works – and What Doesn’t
One of the points we consistently hammer home when it comes to SEO is that SEO is iterative. Just as we’ve highlighted in this post, strategies that used to be foundational for SEO are now considered bad practices, and some SEO considerations weren’t even on the map a few years ago.
Just as SEO best practices change, so should your strategy. What worked for you last year may not work for you next year. A blog post you put two weeks into may not rank as well as you’d hoped. An update to your website’s landing page may have led to an increase in bounce rate.
While it can be hard to see some elements of your strategy backfire – or even just not change things much – accepting the iterative and reactive nature of search results and SEO can help you move through the missteps to hone your SEO strategy.
If approaching your SEO strategy feels overwhelming, or if you don’t know where to start, reach out to Status Labs for a free consultation on how to put your best foot forward online.