This time over a year ago when the world was still spinning on its axis I was sitting in an office with a view of my computer displayed on an 80” conference room television. My head of sales wanted me to carve out an hour of my day to give him a comprehensive understanding of SEO marketing so that he could better explain it to prospective clients. I told him that while I could give him a primer, a general understanding of the concepts at play, it’s something I’ve dedicated years of my life to. He scoffed, saying “It can’t be that hard.” By the time my lecture was over I made sure he had a thorough understanding of the basics, but he stared blankly at the glowing screen. “I’ll definitely be able to use one or two things I learned here, but unfortunately the rest is like Greek to me.”
I’d like the following to act as the same sort of primer, a general overview of the factors at play in SEO, but just like playing an instrument, there’s an immense amount of depth and research that goes into effective digital marketing. I can tell you about the keys on a piano, but to play a song you must learn chords, progressions, time signatures, and the musical theory behind the scenes. Instead of an hour long lecture, you can read and re-read this article and find out more independently.
The scientific aspect of SEO can be quantified into metrics – there are a number of metrics that are at play and there are some extremely helpful tools to give you an accurate reading of them. But just a doctor taking someone’s blood pressure, they don’t tell you the underlying condition or factors at play. There is, however, a rounded estimation of how reputable and successful a website is when it comes to becoming a digital authority – that number is called a trust score. A trust score is comprised of many factors averaged together to tell search engines how much they should value that website’s content. A trust score is calculated by reading the code of the website and reporting back how well it is programmed – it’s also based on the number of reputable websites linking back to the URL. These are called backlinks, and they can have a profound effective on trust scores. The amount of incoming traffic, ingrained keywords, mobile responsiveness, metadata, and bounce rates also have an effect on this overall score.
Black Hat / White Hat
There are individuals and organizations that have learned to ‘hack’ some of these metrics. That is to say, they can artificially inflate a website’s exposure using artificial means. The morality of doing so falls into a few different camps, but businesses should always be wary of digital marketers that can offer ‘instant rankings’ or ‘guaranteed results’ because oftentimes they are utilizing black hat tactics. Black hat forms of SEO marketing are inherently bad and predatory – they might rely on using fake traffic or tricking people into clicking on fake ads. Search engines like Google have developed technologies to identify these types of behaviors and will severely punish organizations who participate in them. Once you’re caught red-handed using a black hat technique, you’ll almost never rank again on that search engine for the life of the URL that was penalized.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, white hat techniques are ones that adhere to Google’s strict code of conduct. White hat strategies rely on the idea that taking the time to do SEO properly and diligently will pay larger dividends in the long run. White hat strategies can be deep and complex while at the same time ensuring that a website becomes a true trusted authority in the eyes of search engines. One of the biggest benefits of an above-board strategy is that even after a websites starts ranking for a certain topic, they remain in that spot on Google for a long time after.
Keywords and Keyphrases
One of the most important factors when measuring the health and status of a site is seeing how many ingrained keywords the website has. There are multiple ways to achieve keyword rankings, but none of them are fast and easy. Before you worry about keyword rankings you’ll want to a fair amount of keyword research on your industry. It helps to be able to identify which keywords your competitors have targeted so that you can do the same. You’ll also want to break down the keywords into different tiers based on volume – primary keywords being the most searched and secondary and tertiary being less searched.
Oftentimes primary keywords have a much harder ‘difficulty score’ and will take a lot more time an effort to rank. It’s best to target smaller and less volume heavy keywords at first and build up to competitive ones once your website’s authority score has increased. As a rule of thumb, if you achieve first place rankings for 4 keywords that have 100 search volume monthly you’ve actually achieved the same amount of traffic as targeting a highly competitive 400 search volume keyword. It also helps to target related keywords in the same general realm, industry, and atmosphere as highly competitive keywords if you want to rank for them later.
In order to ingrain a keyword in your website there are a couple of best practices and methods. The first is to public pages targeting your keywords. These could be blogs, informational pages, or resource center pages. It’s important that the header tags are formatted properly in the code or Google won’t recognize the keywords you’re trying to rank for. You can also include the keywords as metadata within the images on that page. . Tables, charts, and infographics are another great way to be recognized by Google because search engines want to display helpful snippets of data.
The next step once you’ve done your on-page diligence is to focus on interlinking and backlinking. Interlinking should be done by scanning your website and seeing which pages have the most authority internally. Then, you want to strategically link out to the pages with the desired keywords you want to rank for. It’s important the link anchor contains the keyword, and this applies to backlinks as well. If you’re able to achieve a high value backlink through press, partnerships, or other means, make sure the link isn’t a ‘naked link’ – that is to say the anchor text should be one of those primary, secondary, or tertiary keywords that you’re trying to rank for.
Once you’ve started achieving keywords the amount of traffic coming into any given website can be quantified by an ‘organic search value’. It will give you a dollar amount comparable to the amount of traffic that would be coming in if it were done through paid advertising. The inherit value of a keyword can tell you a lot about its difficulty, competitiveness, and the amount of time you should spend targeting it.
What’s presented here is a very brief overview of the basic foundations of SEO. There are many more techniques and methods used to interplay with these concepts and achieve lasting and reputable online authority. I recommend anyone interested in learning about the subject to do further research through reading, podcasts, or helpful video tutorials. One way that I keep my ear close to the ground is by listening to Google’s weekly roundtable where the head of SEO answers viewer questions and notifies about updates to the algorithm.
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