Many uninitiated website owners expect that once they set their site live for the very first time, they’ll be overwhelmed by the deluge of new traffic to the site. While there are some stories that turn out that way, more often than not, the actual results are a little bit disappointing for people who aren’t prepared.
If you think about it, though, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There are millions of sites out there on the internet, and they’re all competing with yours for the limited time and attention that your prospective users have for browsing. For example, every second someone spends scrolling for new stories on Facebook is another second that they aren’t paying attention to you.
You’ll see a lot of articles out there aggregating different platforms or tactics you can use to increase your SEO, and while there’s good information in many of them, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the strategic differences, the pros and cons, and the situations where each approach can really shine. I’ve grouped them conceptually, since I don’t personally see a lot of value in a list the puts Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram as separate items, for example, because they’re all part of a social media SEO strategy.
This is the basic building block of SEO, and it’s actually becoming even more important than it used to be. Search algorithms are getting harder and harder to fool with sneaky black-hat SEO tactics, and their ability to evaluate organic content from a variety of perspectives has never been better.
Good content development is essentially the sine qua non of audience engagement. Pretty much nothing else on this list will work if people don’t find something of value when they get to your site.
Also, making human-readable content is important, but make sure to remember to keep your focus. If you want search engines to pick up on a specific keyword or phrase, it is important to actually use that keyword or phrase in your content.
You’ll also want to do what you can to get your content in front of as many users as possible. Make sure you pages are listed in your sitemap, so that search engines can index them and begin to show listings.
Technical Knowledge Needed: Minimal – CMS management
Time Required: High. Content development is a time-intensive process.
Cost: Essentially free
You may be able to get away with having a slow site or a site that’s unfriendly to mobile devices if you have really good content or a built in audience with a lot of brand loyalty, but that’s a fairly dangerous bet. If you have some traffic, but are having trouble attracting enough users to really grow your site, you should consider using a battery of speed test tools and optimization checkers to determine how your site performs and how it benchmarks against similar sites.
Our favorites are Google’s PageSpeed Insights and the speed tester at Pingdom. These will give you a huge amount of information that you can use to speed up your site. Some of insights you’ll get may be really difficult to address (short of changing servers, you can’t do much about the fact that it takes 400ms for your website server to respond, for example), but some of them are dead simple.
One of the biggest things that Google throws a fit about is if your images aren’t optimized. Essentially, Google can estimate whether your images are too big for the spot you’re using them in. If you are trying to show a 200px by 200px thumbnail, for instance, Google will tell you if you have a 20 megapixel image uploaded for that space. Google knows and complains if you do this, since it will take longer for the site to load, making it a slower experience for their users. However, they’ll helpfully provide you with a full folder of what they consider appropriately compressed/optimized.
If you’re serious about optimizing your site for performance, you’ll almost certainly need to involve a web developer if you aren’t one yourself. A good web developer should know pretty much exactly where to look for each of the suggestions that these tools come up with, even if it takes a while to finally solve the problem.
Technical Knowledge Needed: High, especially at the very top end of performance optimization
Time Required: Moderate
Cost: Varies, depending on developer costs
Metadata, Keywords, Internal Linking
I don’t really know of a good umbrella term for this set of initiatives, but the basic idea that unites them all is the concept of optimizing your metadata. This strategy is almost a fusion of the first two tactics, and a significant step up in terms of specificity. Whereas for normal content writing, you’d focus your efforts on the human-readable side of your side, there’s another subset of content writing that focuses on all of the information that is only visible to computers.
There are all sorts of ways to tackle this data, but the most common ones are the page title tags and meta descriptions. Those are often something that your CMS, if you have one, will let you directly edit. You’ll need some special tools or knowledge of code to actually confirm that your content looks the way you want. The free tool at SEOSiteCheckup is limited but will at least show you your page titles and meta descriptions as the outside world can see them.
The next step in metadata optimization is looking at some platform-specific optimizations. Google has structured data, which is their way of allowing you to tell them explicitly what is relevant on the page that you’re giving them, and explaining to them the hierarchy of information on the page. Facebook uses a set of standards that called Open Graph for similar purposes, the difference being that Open Graph essentially defines how your content looks on social media when they are shared.
Finally, internal links can provide a lot of strength to your site, if they are relevant and people frequently move from one link to the next on your site, spending time in each location (i.e. they find several pages of useful content on your site). One important note is that it isn’t just the links themselves that are relevant, but the actual text that the link contains. You can use tools like this one to see all the internal and external links in a specific page.
Technical Knowledge Needed: Moderate to High, depending on your website infrastructure.
Time Required: Low to Moderate
Cost: Varies, depending on developer costs and site infrastructure.
Social Media, Outside Links
I bundle these two ideas together because the approach is more or less the same. You want to pick platforms that your target audience will be using, and get your content placed on those platforms. This pairs well with content development, since one of the faster ways to make new content readily available is to post links to it on social media.
When using social media, you’ll want to make sure you pick the right social platform to connect with your users, or else you may be wasting your efforts. You’ll want to stay relatively active and engaged, as well: Facebook even shows the public how often you respond to customer inquiries!
If you really want to expand your reach, a tactic to consider is syndication, and there are many sites available that aggregate content from various different places. If you are regularly blogging and posting new content, you may want to consider checking if your favorite news site in your field allows for syndication.
The overall weight of the new links being generated on several different platforms can build up over time to increase the value of your domain to search engines. Keep in mind that not only do search engines give value to the content on certain pages, but they also give value to entire domains that consistently produce good content. Once you begin to be known for creating useful information for their users, your history can more or less act as a tiebreaker when your are compared to other, less-established brands.
Technical Knowledge Needed: Basically none
Time Required: Moderate to high
Cost: Very low, potentially none
Paid Digital Advertising
There are many different ways this can go, but Google’s Pay-per-Click marketing is probably the biggest single player. Quite apart from every other type of user acquisition on this list, you’ll be directly paying for the traffic delivered to your site, but it’s also the only one where you can more or less guarantee that people will be delivered to your site if you spend click money.
In order to be successful, though, you will need to pick a good set of keywords. You can’t just advertise around every phrase. You’ll want to specifically target the combinations of words and phrases that will be best suited to bringing your customers to your website to complete transactions.
Technical Knowledge Needed: Basically none
Time Required: Low, to get started
Cost: High, potentially very high
eLink Design is a national web design, application development, SEO, and business consulting firm, founded in 2001 that specializes in custom solutions for over 800 clients around the country. With this blog, we hope to provide insights into what we are working on, areas where we think we can help shed light on problems we hear, and sometimes just cool things we have come across.