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Best Practices SEO Basics

SEO 101

By Estes Media on September, 18 2020

Oh, SEO. You gigantic, scary, ever-evolving monster. What are you? How do you work?

 

We’ve deconstructed SEO into its most basic functions to give you a more digestible understanding of what parts make up the whole and how you can maximize your search engine potential. Instead of trying to tackle all of SEO at once, take things step by step: H1 tags, sitemaps, schema, keywords. Altogether, it can be a bit overwhelming. SEO is effectively a catch-all term for a bevy of smaller parts. Understand each of the individual elements and suddenly you’ll be a master of the whole!

In digital marketing, there are few terms that inspire as much awe, fear, or misunderstanding as search engine optimization. Afterall, it’s an immensely competitive landscape that requires patience before results are obvious. At first blush, it may seem like too much to tackle, however, it will pay dividends in the long run when executed properly.

WHAT IS SEO?

SEO is short for “search engine optimization,” which is the art and science of improving your website’s content and infrastructure in order to rank higher on search engines for relevant queries. This is best achieved by following an ever-evolving list of technical and practical guidelines across on-site or off-site channels, which include indexing, HTML, content, and backlinking. 

 

In other words, it’s the catch-all term for figuring out how to rank higher on Google for the keywords and keyphrases that people are asking. 

 

Anyone can pay for clicks, but how do you organically bring more visitors to your website? Below is a high-level overview of the main areas of focus for anyone when beginning their SEO journey towards ranking on the first page of Google (or Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, if you’re into that sort of thing).

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TITLE/H1 TAGS AND METATAGS

The title of any given webpage, also known as it’s H1 Tag, is the most prominent and, from an SEO standpoint, influential on-page identifier. This should clearly signal the topic or theme of the page and/or reflect the actual name of the page itself.

 

Crawlers assign a lot of weight to the content of these titles, so it’s very beneficial from an SEO perspective to include keywords that are most relevant to the content on the page and to be as descriptive as possible within the limited character count.

 

An example of strong H1 tags for our own digital marketing website could be along the lines of “New Jersey Digital Marketing Agency,” “Where’s the Best NJ Marketing Agency,” or “Digital Marketing Agency Helping Brands Scale Their Marketing and Sales Strategies with a Data-First Approach.”

 

Meta tags are an HTML attribute of a webpage that provide brief descriptions of the content of that page. They’re similar to your H1 tags in terms of the content and the keyword exposure you want to maximize, but because of their higher word count, you can be slightly more descriptive. 

 

Google relies on meta tags as descriptors for the on-page content. Without a meta tag to gall back on, Google has to pull content from the page itself to fill that gap and may not pull in the most relevant information to attract visitors from search results.

 

Meta tags can be hardcoded into your HTML but most CMS platforms have very simple ways of inputting and updating meta tags without requiring any coding. According to 2019 study by Backlinko, pages with meta descriptions get 6% more clicks than those without.

 

To continue with our previous example, an example of a strong meta tag that complemented our digital marketing-oriented H1 tag could be: “Get more leads, acquire more customers, and improve your web traffic. As a NJ digital marketing agency, we help with website design and development, content management, and advertising. See why we’re NJ’s #1 SEO agency.”

Local SEO NJ H1 Tags

SECURITY REVIEW

Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, is a security protocol that encrypts your computer’s information so that only the destination computer can understand, keeping your data secure and away from prying eyes.

 

SSL tells search engines that your website is secure, meaning it’s able to privately transmit personal data utilizing encryptions. Without an SSL, personal information like your name, phone number, and email address will be transmitted from a server to a browser via plain text, making that data vulnerable to eavesdropping hacks.

 

Unsecure websites lost SEO ranks for two major reasons. 1) Google warns visitors before revealing unsecured sites or content, meaning there will inevitably be a high bounce rate. 2) Google prioritizes websites that are properly secured web results, so secure sites have inherently better organic reach.

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SITEMAPS INDEXED PAGES

Search engines need a sitemap to understand how to navigate your website and find information within it.

 

Let’s pretend you were driving to a friend’s new house in another state for the first time and you don’t have access to GPS. If you only have an address, you may never find the place. You’d need a map to understand the geography and chart a course to your destination.

 

Similarly, a sitemap tells Google what pages and attachments on your website are most important, as well as details about those specific lists, such as when it was last updated, how often it’s been changes, any alternate languages offered, and other key details.

 

Google doesn’t just rank your website, it ranks every single page. XML sitemaps are crucial to SEO because they make it easy for Google’s crawlers to find and index your content.

 

And don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds: many CMS platforms have tools to create a site map. There are also third party downloadable tools that can help generate sitemaps for you as well.

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SEARCH CONSOLE/GOOGLE MY BUSINESS SETUP AND TRACKING

Search Console is a tool that allows you to manually submit and index your sitemap with Google. It offers a better understanding of why your site is performing well or poorly in search results, and also helps you monitor traffic flow and potential errors on your website. 

 

Google My Business helps boost SEO because it lists your business on major service listings, providing valuable backlinks and helping with location based searches (because all Google business listings have to be verified by Google). This enables your business to appear in maps, allows people to leave your business reviews, and gives you greater insight into performance analytics.

Local SEO NJ Google My Business

VOICE SEARCH OPTIMIZATION & STRUCTURED DATA

Voice search has been on the rise for a long time and will likely overtake traditional search in overall number of searches this year.

 

Voice search is verbally engaging with a search engine to find a desired result. The most common prompts for these sorts of queries almost always begin with either, “Hey, Siri,” “OK, Google,” or “Alexa.” 

 

Voice search optimization, therefore, ensures that your website is easy for search engines to find when a user verbally asks them a question. This requires Google to have a clear understanding of what your site is discussing, sharing, or offering to provide users with helpful and relevant search results, which are often read back to the user aloud.

 

Structured data, or “Schema,” is code baked into your website to better direct relevant content to the most appropriate search queries. Schema helps Google understand the meaning of your content so it can more thoughtfully match it to the searcher’s intent.

 

Schema was created with users in mind and is often referenced as a “virtual business card.” Why? Because when a website is properly marked up, Google should provide all details about what your business does, where it is, and what it offers. Websites with schema will organically rank higher than those without, on average around 4 SERP result positions higher.

Local SEO NJ Voice Search Optimization

ROBOTS.TXT

Robots.txt are files that tell search engine crawlers what pages to identify or what files a crawler can request to read from your website. It helps manage crawler traffic through your website so that crawlers aren’t reading, ranking, or using any content that isn’t visible to the public.

 

Changes you make to your robots.txt can block elements of your website or force crawlers through specific areas so that they’re only reading, analyzing, and ranking the content you want. By making more efficient use of the time it takes for Google to crawl a site, they’ll have a more concise understanding of your content and can better cater it to relevant search queries.

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KEYWORDS

Keywords are perhaps the most powerful tool in increasing and strengthening your search result rankings.

 

Generally speaking, keywords are ideas or topics that define your content, but from an SEO standpoint, they’re the terms that are being searched for by search engine users.

 

Keywords are the bridge between what people are searching for and the content you provide. By organically ranking for the keywords that are not only relevant to your content but match how users are actually inquiring about your products or services, targeting the right keywords has a strong influence over what traffic you’re attracting to your website.

 

It might seem obvious for a digital marketing agency like ourselves to target “marketing,” a high-volume short-tail keyword. The catch, however, is that because it’s such a broad and highly searched term, Google results will be mostly monopolized by the biggest marketers in the world with little room for a smaller agency like us to squeeze in.

 

That’s where high-tail keywords come into play. These are long keyphrases that have more specific intent and can more immediately match your offerings with the needs of searchers. For us, an example could be, “Top New Jersey SEO agency near me.”

 

There are a bevy of analytical tools that offer incredible insights into keyword volumes and difficulties, competitor rankings, and SEO challenges. This will be a monumental part of your larger content strategy but plays a huge role in everyday SEO success.

Local SEO NJ Estes Media Keywords

LINK BUILDING/BACKLINKING

Put simply: the more other websites link to your website, the more credibility and authority Google assigns your website. Meaning, the higher you’ll rank! Likewise, the more relevant the content linking to your site is, the stronger its link will be.

 

Backlinks are a huge element of your overall domain authority, a search engine ranking score that predicts how well a website will rank in search engine results. Having inbound links from other websites offers your site more link juice, a term used to quantify the value afforded from the inbound site.

 

More simply put, having a backlink is seen as a vote of confidence in your content, so the more you have, the more credible and authoritative your content becomes.

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PAGE SPEED

Slow pages cause higher bounce rates, plain and simple. In a world where you’re vying for precious few seconds of time, if it takes more than 2 or 3 seconds for a page to load, most users lose patience, trust, or interest. According to Google research, 53% of mobile users will leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

 

Slow pages can also signal to Google that there’s an issue with a site, perhaps even a virus, and Google will rank your seemingly problem-prone site lower as a result. A quick-loading site not only offers more seamless usability for your visitors, but it allows robots in search crawlers to scan your site faster when a query is made online.

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COMPETITIVE SEO & CONTENT ANALYSIS

You need to know where the high watermarks sit in order to properly scale and grow. Without a thorough understanding of search volume or ranking difficulty for specific keywords, you’re driving blind.

 

Understanding your competition is crucial insight that can help you strategize a thoughtful way to beat them. You can identify the keyword or content opportunities you’re missing out on, as well as any holes in your competitor’s armor that you can exploit to outrank them.

 

Content analysis, similarly, is knowing and understanding the performance of your own content. Having that knowledge empowers you to make informed changes that can affect your greater SEO strength and help you rank higher (and ahead of your competitors) for the queries most relevant to you.

Local SEO NJ Comeptitive SEO Analysis

SITE ERRORS

The best thing you can do to ensure site errors is by performing all of the above steps carefully and diligently. Pay attention to what’s broken or not working properly and allot the time to fix those issues before they grow into more affecting problems.

 

Search engines change their rules constantly and if you don’t adapt to them, it can cause errors. It’s an ever-evolving process that requires routine maintenance. Without that due diligence, things will inevitably break.

 

As with most SEO elements, there are plenty of third party tools you can employ that track and manage site errors and will alert you any time something breaks.

Local SEO NJ Structured Data Testing Tool

DUPLICATE CONTENT

Duplicate content is a big SEO no-no. Search engines will only ever choose one of the pages or pieces of content to rank, so you’re effectively forcing Google to rank them for you, regardless of who created the content. In essence, you’re stealing from yourself!

 

It will also have an adverse effect on the trustworthiness Google affords your site, which will have a negative effect on your larger domain or page authority.

 

Make sure not to copy content from any third party sites either. Plagiarism and Google trust aside, only one of those pieces of content will ultimately be ranked and it likely won’t be yours.

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ANALYTICAL TOOLS

Analyze your performance! To have a comprehensive understanding of what’s working and what isn’t, you need a reliable feedback loop and a way to understand your top performing content, keywords, backlinks, third party channels, etc. so that you can continue to scale and grow your SEO efforts.

 

There a plenty of third party tools that can offer all of this helpful data for you, but the owness is on you to make checking and adjusting your performance part of your regular SEO due diligence.

Local SEO NJ Analytical Tools

Nobody would blame you if you felt overwhelmed by the sprawling, evolving, indefinable world of SEO. It’s a massive term with seemingly unending effects on the performance of your business’ marketing efforts.

 

But with a basic understanding of all the key topics we’ve covered above, you’re already well on your way to becoming your own content master. It’s not as scary as it seems, and armed with the basics, you’ll already be more knowledgeable and better-prepared for our digital future than most businesses.

 

Now put on your SEO armor and go take over the internet!

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