Imagine you’re selling Apple headphones from your website but you keep attracting visitors looking to buy organic apple chip snacks. They’re not happy to find out you’re selling headphones and you’re not happy they’re using your marketing resources. You wonder what’s causing this issue and find out your product pages keep making references to the apple fruit, which confuses the search engine in miscategorizing your site and sending your pages to the wrong audiences.
Of course, this is an extreme example to illustrate how search engines act as an intermediary between websites and audiences. The reality is much more subtle but the effect is just the same. But we can fix this by making adjustments in both your content and back-end information. We refer to these tweaks as Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—sending the right messages to search engines, which then connects your website with the right audience.
Search engines are much like librarians cataloging content before delivering the resource to a patron. Consider SEO as the process of making the search engine’s cataloging easier. To do so, search engines need clear information with quality content so their algorithms can interpret your web pages fast and accurately.
Why Invest In SEO
Search engines today have grown into sophisticated platforms employing machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand both the intent and the context of your content. They also consider the end user’s browsing history, geographical location, and other dimensions in a fraction of a second to deliver relevant search results. However, there are limits to their power, and search engines reward websites that make their job easier.
Consider this: 51 percent of all website traffic comes from organic search, 10 percent from paid search, 5 percent for social, and 34 percent from all other sources. This means optimizing your content for SEO generates five times more traffic than investing your money on paid search ads. It’s a more effective way to use your existing resources for a greater return before investing in paid ads.
Basic Principles of SEO
In working with college and university websites, I saw many SEO best practices ignored, which compounded the problem as they built thousands of pages over the years. These best practices were simple: provide the metadata information and structure the content into sub-topics for search engines to interpret. Metadata is the “back-end” information search engines use to help understand your content, such as page title, description, tags, and other technical information. Structure content means “chunking” your content into sub-topics through different headings or section titles.
Most of my clients were unaware of SEO or felt these best practices were busywork since the effects are not immediately apparent. But remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and it can take some time for search engines to catalog your content. After cataloging, it takes some more time until users engage with your pages and send the proper signals to search engines. Treat this process as building your organization’s reputation online.
What I saw with my clients were websites with thousands of pages but were beaten by competitors who only had a tenth of the content. I’ve also seen businesses with a similar fate and a simple 2-minute adjustment of the SEO is worth at least a dozen pages of original content that probably took 40+ hours to create.
Improving SEO is doesn’t have to be a chore if done right the first time. Maintenance commitment is relatively low when you complete the metadata and structure the content appropriately. As your content becomes clearer to search engines, they’ll connect your content with the right audience, which in turn earns your website a better reputation and rankings on search results, creating a feedback loop.
For questions, comments, or suggestions, find me on Twitter @muzel_dh.