Intro to Search Engine Optimization
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
Search engines are constantly updating—adding new features that serve additional consumer needs for research, shopping, entertainment, navigation, etc. Some 3.5 billion daily searches are performed on Google (2019), which equates to 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.
Pillars of SEO
- Information architecture. Internal file structures should follow a clear hierarchy.
- Crawl and indexation. Robots must be able to access the pages you want indexed (and none of the ones you don’t). Structures and tagging help make crawls more efficient.
- Meta tags. Tags for titles and descriptions should reflect what pages are about and include keywords.
- Structured data. Behind-the-scenes code added to you pages can help give bots additional context on your content.
- Keyword research. How are people using search engines to find what they’re looking for? How often do they use specific phrases?
- Copy and content. How well does our content and copy cater to what search engines are looking for? Where is there room for improvement?
- Headers and hierarchy. Are site content elements organized in a logical way for search engines and users?
- Internal linking. Can users/bots easily find the most important pages when they land on deeper pages?
- Link building. Build relationships with industry experts, influencers, and any relevant content sources to create opportunities to link back to your website. Create content that is appealing to link to—answer common questions and provide needed information.
Common SEO pitfalls
- Crawl traps. Search engines crawl websites by going from link to link. A "crawl trap" takes a crawler in an inescapable, circular loop.
- Duplicate content. A URL with a trailing slash is different than a URL without one. A URL on the www version of a site is different than the non-www version. That's just one way that search engines can become confused—they see whole pages of duplicated content and are unsure of which version is the best version to serve to users.
- Speed. Users like fast websites, so search engines like fast websites. Historically, page speed has been a minor ranking factor—unless you're vastly slower or faster than competitors, it won't have a huge impact on rankings. But your site can never be too fast.
- Mobile usability. Every year, the share of traffic between mobile and desktop users inches toward mobile users. "Mobile-first" design prioritizes the mobile experience over the desktop experience.
- Broken or redirected internal links. Broken links stop crawlers and frustrate users. Redirect chains can sometimes send both to three or four (or more) URLs before a final redirection to a "good" URL.
- Poor anchor text. Anchor text gives search engines information about each link. "Click here" is less informative than "See prices."
- Bad code. "Technical debt" is real. A clunky website may be slow, broken, or simply convoluted for search engines to process. Clean code benefits SEO performance, improves the user experience, and makes it simpler for marketers to make changes.
- Penalties. Penalties are increasingly rare in the SEO world, but they still exist for those who try to manipulate search engines intentionally with link-based schemes or cloaking—showing users one version while showing search engines another.