Lesson 1: SEO

Search engine optimization is one of the most successful and cost-effective ways to increase visitors to your website. Businesses consistently cite SEO as a primary factor in their marketing strategy. So what is search engine optimization or SEO as it is more commonly referred? In simple terms, search engine optimization is the process of increasing a website’s rankings in the search engines. Increasing rankings of a website leads to increased visitors which typically leads to more business. So SEO affects the regular, unpaid results of the search engine. SEO best practices don’t attempt to fool a search engine by using tricks to create false relevance. But SEO focuses on understanding searchers and their intent. Search engine optimization helps you understand the words that your potential customers use throughout their decision making process. Then, you implement those words into copyrighting and programming of your website. In addition to increasing your rankings, there are multiple benefits of using SEO for your company. The initial benefit is gaining more visibility for a wider variety of search terms. In this way, your website increases visibility and search engines for many different searches and types of searches. This leads to a dramatic increase in visitors to your website. The typical result of increased visitors is increased business. A side benefit of increased rankings and visibility in the search engines is greater brand recognition and credibility. Searchers trust search results and companies that show up more have more credibility for searchers. Of course, you’re more than familiar with search engines like Google. But I’m going to walk you through the SEO terminology of this very familiar process. First, the keyword. The keyword or the keyword phrase is the primary focus of SEO. A keyword is what the searcher types into the search box in order to find an answer. An example would be a search for best restaurants in Miami. By knowing the keywords that prospective customers or clients use, we can then use that in our content. Second, when the keyword is typed into the search box, the search engine runs an algorithm to find the results. An algorithm is simply an automated set of rules or calculations run by a computer. This is critical as there are billions of web pages on the internet. And the algorithm enables a search engine to run a complex series of processes to find the best results. Third, these results are presented in the search engine results page or the SERP. This is the goal of SEO. To be visible for relevant keywords in the rankings on the search engine results page, the SERP. Fourth, as you look at the results, you’ll see that each website or file presented has a consistent format. The blue link, the address to the page, and the text describing the page. This is called the snippet. The snippet is a way of fairly presenting the content of each web page or result in a consistent manner. Well there it is. Now you know the SEO industry terminology of a process you probably do everyday or multiple times a day.

If your website isn’t built right, it won’t show up in the search results. And so that’s why search engine optimization is so important to understand. Let me walk you through how search engines work. The first part of SEO is understanding the search engine results, which results are paid, and which are from the ranking algorithm. Paid results are typically at the top and bottom of the results page, and have the word ad in the left side of the snippet. The number of ads displayed on the results directly depends on the type of search performed. A more commercially-oriented search, like shopping for shoes, will result in more ads. While a general question, like, “What is the largest “mammal on earth?” probably won’t have any ads. Non-paid results are known by a number of terms: organic, regular, or natural results. We use these terms, even though the results are generated by the search engine algorithm. But most people trust these results more than the paid results. Now, and this is a critical concept for SEO, the search engines can only run their algorithm against websites they can find and download into their database. This database is also called the search engine’s index. Search engines use programs called spiders, also called bots or crawlers, to follow links across web pages. As they find new pages, they download them to their index of information. So, when you perform a search, you are not searching the live internet. You are actually searching the search engine’s database of documents found on the web. That is how they can apply their ranking algorithm, and provide you with links to the websites, images, or videos that match your search. Because of this, a major part of SEO is to make your website findable and spiderable by the search engine’s spiders. This requires your website to follow a few principles of website architecture. First, the words that searchers are using should also be found in primary places on your website. It makes it easy to find what we are looking for, when the word we want is used in headlines and navigation choices. Second, the taxonomy, the organization of the content, should be easy to find and follow. Third, the search engine should be able to figure out what your website is about from the context of words used on the pages, navigation links, and organization of the website. SEO can also assist the search engine by creating an XML Sitemap, which is a map of the website organized into a hierarchical structure. Top level pages to lower level pages, with links to every page listed on the map. By making your website more spiderable to the search engines, they are able to see, or more accurately, to download, more of your content more frequently to their index. It’s a complex process, but it shows the importance of building a website correctly. From proper coding, to the organization of pages and content, it helps visitors and search engines find the information they need.

Keyword research directs you to the words that people use when they search so that you rank well for the right words. I’ll show you where to find those keywords and how to start to building target keyword lists. To perform search engine optimization, the first task is understanding the words that your potential customers will use in order to find your business online. Think about it like this. If I needed a local plumber, what words would I use to search? Even more, what words would I use if my faucet was leaking right now? Keyword research is finding the intent or the need of the person searching. When we understand those words and how people find information, we can better optimize our website to match those needs. And it naturally helps our sites to rank better. The first step in keyword research is to find the words that people use when they search. There are a variety of tools for this. One of the more popular tools is Google’s keyword tool, but the keyword data is limited to Google. In this example in Wordtracker, I’ve started with the keyword best restaurants in Miami. What a keyword tool like Wordtracker will do is show me the related words people have searched on in order of how many people have used that phrase. So it shows me that people used the search phrase best restaurants in Miami about 27,000 times last month. Conversely, 10 best restaurants in Miami has substantially less searches at around 140 searches a month. I can see how people search, the words they use, and find words that I may not be using in my strategy. This leads to one of the main concepts in keyword research, short-tail and long-tail keywords. Short-tail keywords are the ones that tend to be most popular and are searched for the most. For example, a great short-tail search term is restaurant. It is a highly popular term but also somewhat generic. It would take significant resources and effort to gain rankings for that term. The long-tail terms are more detailed search terms that are more specific to your business. So a long-tail search would be more along the lines of a search for best restaurants in Miami. Long-tail terms are searched less, have less competition, but are naturally more relevant because it is exactly what people want. The chances of getting a new customer is dramatically higher, because they have told you specifically what they are looking for. Understanding the searcher’s intent is the first key to creating relevance on your website, which in turn increases your success in the search engines. The next time you search for something think about the words you use. You might be surprised how detailed you get when you know what you want.

Let’s get to the bottom line. How do you get better rankings? For the OMCA exam, knowing the primary elements for on-page SEO is essential. It starts by using keywords in important text elements of the page. Now it’s not just for the search engines. This also dramatically improves the experience for your visitors. Here’s how this process starts. The best place to understand the importance of the on-page elements is to start with the search results. This example shows us the importance of writing a clear and descriptive page title. You can see the page title at the top of the page, and how the search engine displays it in the large blue text of the results. It is the first thing a searcher will read about your page, and it is critical in getting them to click and visit your website. Next is the URL or the file name of the page. The gray black text can come from two places. It can be pulled from the content of the page or the meta description. While the meta description is a page factor, it is not used by the search engines to determine rankings. Only to display content to searchers. The next elements involve the content layout of the page. Headings play a huge role. Most important is the headline. And then subsequent headings for each content area. Instead of a full page of text, both visitors and search engines prefer to see the content broken up into headings with a few sentences or short paragraphs. This makes the context clear for search engines and makes it easier for your visitors to read. Breaking up the text with bullet points or bold text or in this case, italicized text. It also makes it easy for visitors to scan and read the content. It lets search engines see which words and concepts hold prominence on the page. Any text links on the page contribute to relevance. Especially if the link contains keywords. This is called anchor text. The anchor text on this page is orange. The underlying link says tour details. The link anchors to another page of content described by the text. These links can be both internal, on the same website or external links, those that go to another website. Behind the scenes in the programming images are connected to alt text. If you’ve ever been on a slow connection and your page loaded without images, this text appears in the place of the image and describes what should be there. Finally, we have the text itself. Also called the body content. People will read through it quickly and avoid paragraphs. But search engines use it to gain the context of the information. When keywords are visibly prominent, such as page titles and headlines, both searchers and search engines use that to determine the purpose of the page. And that is also how you increase your page’s relevance and ranking.

Are you the kind of person that likes to recommend restaurants, places, or experiences to your friends? This is the idea behind the next part of understanding search engine algorithms. I’m going to cover how getting links from other websites increases your rankings, and how to start getting those links. To start, when you get a link from another website, it’s because that website is recommending you to their visitors. For example, if I’m writing an article or a blog post on sea turtles, I’d link to the source of information as a citation. I can also provide the link for readers who want additional resources or information that I don’t cover. Also, if I recommend a service provider or a product, I would link to it on social media. In this way, I’m giving my personal recommendation to others. When you gain links to your website, it shows that other websites or businesses are recommending you to their visitors. They are either citing you as an authority, a resource, or a recommendation. Search engine algorithms use links to measure the influence that websites have on each other. Through tracing links, they determine which sites are more credible, influential, and trustworthy. In a way, they want to know which sites are recommended the most, and then share that through rankings. But it isn’t as simple as having the most links. A link from a highly popular website, like the New York Times, carries much more influence than a link from A low-quality website. Not only that, but when the link is placed in a prominent position, like the homepage of another website, it carries more influence, than if it were pages deep in a directory. So, the more influential website such as the New York Times, that link to you as a reference or resource greatly affect your rankings. And that’s because of the visibility and prominence of that source. These links are also great sources of visitors, since people see them, and they will click on them to visit your site. Plus, the words, or anchor text of the link carries relevance as they describe the content of the link. Here’s a great example; how many times have you seen a link with the text, “click here”? Well, it’s clear they want you to clink on the text. If you were to see that link without the context of the surrounding words, you wouldn’t know what it is for. However, if I linked the text that described exactly what I wanted you to do, such as Register for the sales training webinar, and I linked the words “sales training webinar”, you would not only recognize that the text is a link, but it would also carry meaning as well. That context enables both people and search engines to understand the purpose of the link. So, when another site links to you with the words, “best widget maker”, they are giving you a link and the added bonus of descriptive key words. Search engines love that. Now, how do you get links from other sites? And which sites are the best for links? The best sources of high value and visible links are editorial sites, such as news sites or blogs. Editorial means that stories and articles were written and posted by an author. So the link is vetted, and has a purpose in the article. Also, links from industry sources, directories, and other resource sites, can provide an easy base to build on for other more valuable links. Links on social posts made by you and your customers provide a well-rounded view of your company and reputation. Finally, the best method of gaining high value links to your website, is to publish quality content, such as research, white papers, articles, images, or a video, all of which people will link to if they like it, find it valuable, entertaining, or engaging, and that’s the importance of linking. By creating content that people like, want, and share, you’ll gain links to your website, increasing its popularity.

Part of the mystery of SEO is what goes on behind the scenes, in the code. And let’s be honest, not a lot of people are comfortable looking at, or troubleshooting code. But sometimes a website’s code can cause conflicts with search engines. While you may not be able to identify the issues by reading the code, it important to know the common obstacles that cause these conflicts. The first obstacle is duplicated content, which comes in two forms. The first form is duplicate content on your website. This is when blocks of content are repeated on different pages or entire sections of content. In many cases, it is a programming issue that causes pages to be duplicated. The second issue is duplicate content across numerous websites. This is the case with e-commerce websites, that publish the exact same product data. There is no distinguishing content, as it is all the same. In both cases, the search engine will filter the duplicate content. Filtering reduces the page’s authority. So the duplicate sites or pages won’t rank well. In rare cases, duplicated content can be excluded from the search engine’s index completely. If a programming issue causes duplication it may interfere with the search engine’s ability to spider or download the website. The search engine will flag the website as a problem, and it won’t show in the results. If a website is openly copying content from other websites it will be penalized, by being excluded from search results. Another factor, that will reduce visibility, and rankings, is a slow loading time of your website’s pages. Search engines are highly concerned with speed, and presenting results as quickly as possible. If someone is on a smartphone, they have little patience if a website loads slowly. Pages with slow load times will be penalized, by lower rankings, or by not showing up in the results at all, since search engines want to deliver a quality user experience fast. To deal with this, companies have created mobile specific websites, or responsive websites, that will load quickly, and adjust to any device, regardless of screen size. Another obstacle, that may be encountered, is a search engine penalty. False relevancy. A term used in the OMCA exam, is defined by attempting to fool the search engine, through programming tricks, or link building schemes. If a search engine determines that a website has attempted false relevancy, the website will be penalized by lower rankings, or elimination from search results. False relevancy comes in many forms. It can be as simple as a form of over optimization, where a key word, or key word phrase is repeated excessively throughout the website. This creates a bad user experience, and shows an outright attempt to fool the search engine. Another way of fooling a search engine, is participating in link schemes, which attempt to inflate link popularity. Be cautious about buying links, or paying companies to build links, because most of these schemes have negative consequences. Unfortunately, many of the technical issues, that obstruct a website, are beneath the hood. Part of a search engine optimization program is examining the website’s code, structure, and history, in order to prevent these issues from the start.

What would happen if you woke up one morning and the rankings for your business had disappeared overnight? How would that affect your business? I’m going to show you why ongoing management is necessary because search engines are always updating their ranking algorithms to increase the quality of their results. Most changes are minor, but large algorithm changes can affect millions of websites. An example of this was a Google change called the Panda Update. You’ll hear odd names like this, as Google names updates like hurricanes. In its Panda Update, Google targeted websites that had low-quality content. This was defined in two parts. First, duplicating content by copying from other websites. And second, sites built specifically to make money by serving ads and providing little value to users. The next year, Google made a second major update, the Penguin Update. This targeted websites that participated in link-building schemes in order to appear more popular. A later algorithm change, Hummingbird, was the first major content-oriented update. It widened Google’s matching algorithm by including synonyms, contextual and conversational queries. It also emphasized the inclusion of local results. Google’s latest addition is RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence system to process more in-depth or rare searches. In addition to watching the search engines, you also have to watch your competitors. Obviously, competitors are not standing still and are most likely employing their own optimization campaigns. Competitive intelligence is researching what your competitors are doing. This would be like an airline looking at another airline’s prices. While not a primary decision factor, it would be an influencing factor in determining their own pricing. We use competitive intelligence to find how competitors are marketing their website and what keywords they are targeting. We do this by looking at the keywords they are using on their pages and see who is linking to their website. SEO management programs allow you to go in-depth and evaluate the types, recency, and sources of links to a competitor website. For example, if I am selling running shoes, I can see how my competitors are ranking compared to me for the term running shoes, and different variations like cross-country running shoes. I can also see who is linking to my competitor’s websites, and compare that with my incoming links. In this way, if a competitor gained a link from runnersworld.com, I can see that they are actively marketing themselves and gain insight into their strategy. However, the one thing that you cannot gain is the net result of a competitor’s efforts. Without access to their website analytics, they may look active but may not be gaining sales or business from their website. You can only see the marketing but not the direct results of that marketing. As you can see, SEO is not a one time marketing tactic. You have to stay on top of search engine changes, competitor activity, and improve your own campaigns. Otherwise, you might wake up one day to a nightmare of disappearing from Google.

While it may make sense to constantly check your rankings, it can be a waste of time. I’m going to cover which reports to avoid, and those that will help you improve your marketing. Here’s the story. Years ago, measuring rankings was the main way results were measured. However, as search engines changed, the reports were less and less reliable. Unfortunately, rankings reports are a hold-over from time passed. Search engine rankings today are largely personalized. If you are logged into Google, your results will be different from someone who is an anonymous searcher. Another factor affecting the results is the searcher’s location. Google changes the results based on where you are. So if you’re searching for dog obedience training in Omaha, you’ll get Omaha businesses showing up in your results. Not only that, your entire search history affects the types of results you will see. The more Google learns about you, the more personalized the results. If you were type in the word b a s s into a search engine, what would you want to see? The fish, the beverage, or the instrument? And then, would it be an electric bass or an upright bass? Your history would affect what you see in the results. These major factors influence search results and they can’t always be tracked in a traditional rankings report. However, search engines offer reporting through webmaster tools. These tools report the status and visibility of a website, along with any website errors that present problems. They will show you how many people have seen your website in the results and how many clicked on your link. They’ll also give you some limited insight into your rankings. The most valuable part of this service is the communication between the search engine and the site owner. It allows website owners to react to any problems like a broken link on their website, reported directly from the search engine. Beyond these limited tools, the best place for measurement of an SEO campaign is your website analytics. This bypasses the issue of rankings, and goes directly to the results. Measuring increased visitors from search engines is a more tangible result of a campaign. Increased rankings is an effect of SEO, but increased visitors and increased business are the desired results. Finally, SEO management tools can track multiple aspects of your website. While these tools include rankings reports, they tend to be more specialized, and are not the focus of the service. These management tools track the sources and types of incoming links, competitor rankings, keyword research tools and trends. They also provide historical reports to measure your efforts across time. Unfortunately, measuring SEO results suffers from a lot of outdated information, such as ranking reports. Fortunately, as the SEO industry has matured, so have the reporting mechanisms, which makes your job of measuring results much more accurate.

Most companies are small businesses that serve a local area. So how do they component in the search engines? Fortunately, search engines have made local results and local businesses a priority in the search results. That’s called localized SEO. The first step in local optimization is NAP, which stands for name, address, and phone number. Verify your name, address, and phone number in business listings, directories and other citations and ensure that the information is being used exactly the same way in every case. I’m going to show you how this works on a local attraction from my hometown, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When you search for the Hall of Fame, addresses are on almost every result. Check your results to make sure that other websites, chambers of commerce, business listings, and other local directories present your name, address, and phone number data correctly and consistently. Also make sure that they are linking to the correct address of your website. The next big step is claiming your business in the search engine business listings. Complete the profile information, add photos, and use this as a primary method of posting your business hours. In many cases searchers will rely on the business information from your listing. As you can see in this example, the Hall of Fame business listings provide address, phone numbers, and directions. With all this information, many searchers don’t even have to go to your website to get what they need. The next step is gaining business reviews on your listings. Reviews are an important feature in the search engine business listings and they add to your local credibility and visibility in the rankings. Finally, there is a method of presenting business information on your website in a consistent format called structured data, microdata, or schema. If we go to the Hall of Fame website and go to the address at the bottom of the page, traditionally, local businesses have simply added their information to a website without any markup. By the way, as a local business or destination, you should add your business name, address, and phone number in the footer of every page of your website. Now, here’s the recommended format. Using the microdata schema, this format is cross-browser, cross-device, and app-friendly, as each recognized the format of the information and used it accordingly. Looking at the address on the Football Hall of Fame website, if you were to click it on your phone you would be taken to your map app. Phone numbers are recognized by your smartphone and enable you to click and call the phone number on a website. These structured data formats are used for addresses, phone numbers, product listings, online reviews, services, and locations. For local businesses, many of these simple steps and free resources are not widely known. Fortunately, when a local company takes advantage of their business listing in the search engines, it will dramatically improve their visibility in the search results.

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