SEO best practices: Understanding and optimizing your website for SEO

Seems like everyone is talking about “SEO best practices” these days—but what does that even mean? Put simply: by implementing SEO best practices, your website becomes more search-friendly. The more search-friendly your site, the higher your rankings will be—increasing the number of people who visit your site.

And as every CEO knows: more website traffic means more sales—and that’s why SEO best practices are so important.

Understanding search

First off, let’s start with some SEO basics. SEO (or search engine optimization) is essentially a set of website improvement tactics you can deploy to generate more search traffic. So when we talk about SEO best practices, we’re talking about the very best ways to approach and implement your search strategy.

Now, there are many people who will tell you they know the secret SEO sauce to “ranking first on Google,” but in truth, Google uses over 200 different ranking factors when filtering through sites (and most of them are kept secret). Plus, nowadays Google uses machine learning to return results—meaning those search engine results pages are constantly changing.

Despite all this, SEO experts work to understand what Google likes and what Google doesn’t like. The result is a set of SEO best practices you can implement to improve the quality of your website, therefore showing up in search more often.

SEO best practices are split into two areas: Technical SEO and Optimized Content

While these areas require different expertise, both are key to driving traffic to your website.

How to improve your technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to just that: the technical side of your website. While this is probably under the auspices of your IT department or web developer, a cursory knowledge of technical SEO will keep you from falling prey to companies who sell black hat tactics and tricks (that ignore your audience and promise impossible results).

There are three steps to improving your technical SEO:

  1. Find a technical SEO expert you trust.
  2. Get that SEO expert to run an SEO audit on your website to identify and then fix technical SEO issues.
  3. Understand that improving technical SEO is usually an ongoing process—not a one-time, quick fix.

Currently, two of the top technical SEO issues to address are the security of your website (if you haven’t made the move to HTTPS, now’s the time) and improving your user experience across all devices. To keep your users happy and satisfied, your website must be mobile-friendly. Mobile leads now account for 63% of user traffic and that number is only expected to grow in the future. Addressing these two technical factors will keep your website from being penalized with lower search rankings.

Additionally, no matter how slick your website, that SEO audit is likely to reveal several areas in which you can improve your technical SEO. If terms like broken external and internal links, redirections, sitemap, plugins, meta descriptions, and alt tags make your head spin, don’t worry! There are plenty of SEO experts who understand how to identify and fix these housekeeping problems. (Just don’t go with the first one who spams your inbox!)

 

How to optimize your website content for search

The second leg of SEO best practices is all about creating great, user-friendly content. We all know that anyone can put content out on the web, but at the end of the day, Google (and other search engines) value well-written, authoritative, current content. This means you shouldn’t view your website as a static fixture of your business. Instead, regularly update your content to provide more answers as searchers generate more questions.

Content must be well-written and thorough. Every piece of your content should focus on one topic—and that topic should be easily summed up in a few keywords. (When discussing SEO, the term “keyword” comes up frequently. Keywords aren’t mysterious or magical. At the end of the day, a focus keyword is simply a summary of: What is this page/post/piece of content about?)

As you craft content to reach your audience, you may want to conduct keyword research—explore who’s searching for what in your industry and learn what users are already searching for when they land on your site. You should also look at your competitors’ search rankings and learn what queries drive users to their site instead of yours.

Use keywords throughout your website, especially on your site’s homepage. When customers visit your business online, they should immediately know who you are and what you offer. All content should be singularly focused, well-written, clear and authoritative.

Why are SEO best practices important?

The internet is based on search-driven communication, so much so that “google” has become a verb synonymous with query. Optimizing your website and content for search is extremely important if you want customers to find your business. Realize SEO is a long-term strategy, not a one-time fix. Your content must be interesting, well-written, relevant and optimized. Your website needs to meet your customers needs and answer every question they google.

Implementing SEO best practices may seem daunting, until you realize that at the end of the day, it’s simply an extension of marketing your brand. A well-optimized website will clearly and concisely communicate with your customers. It will capture your story and explain who you are, what you do, and why you are the one who will solve your clients’ problems!

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If you aren’t selling, do you need a secure site?

Need A Secure Site

 

You may have heard about TLS or “Transport Layer Security” (also commonly referred to as SSL), a security protocol that ensures communications between your website and server are encrypted and can’t be intercepted. With big companies reporting data breaches seemingly daily (everyone from Facebook to Target to Verizon at this point), it’s no wonder your customers are increasingly concerned their sensitive data is secure.

But if you’re not really selling directly through your website, do you need to go HTTPS? The short answer is YES. Here’s why…

Why you need a secure site

It’s no secret Google has made security a top priority over the past several years. Part of this process includes a focus on making sure websites accessed through Google (so, pretty much all websites) are secure. Thus, in 2014, Google introduced an initiative called “HTTPS Everywhere.”

While this HTTPS protocol isn’t mandatory (yet), not going HTTPS will increasingly affect your customers’ ability to gain access to and interact with your website.

If your site doesn’t have a TSL/SSL certificate installed, your customers may receive a warning, letting them know your site isn’t secure. This will come in the form of a notice (a red triangle with an exclamation point) in the URL bar as they search, if they use the popular Chrome browser. Since Chrome users account for 53.9% of the browser market worldwide with 2 billion installs, chances are high your customers are using it as their primary window to the web. While they can still access your site, the warning is certainly off-putting, causing your prospects to navigate away from your site before you’ve even had a chance to impress them.

The decision to add TLS to your site is one to undertake with care. While it’s not a major site overhaul, it IS a process that requires IT expertise and careful implementation, especially when handling sensitive information.

Does every business need a secure site?

If you sell products and take credit card information on your site, then you absolutely need to move to HTTPS ASAP. You may not need it for all pages on your site, however. You could simply opt to install a security certificate for your storefront and checkout. If you use a third-party payment processor (like PayPal, Square or Cash App) you may not require TLS as urgently, since you aren’t directly accessing customer’s payment information, but it should still be a priority.

Other times you need a secure site? If your website requires membership access. For example, if customers subscribe or log in to their accounts with a username and password. You also need to keep customer data safe if they’re including any sort of personal information on your site. This might include photos, reviews, reservations, endorsements, their business name, GPS location…or any other personal data you might be storing on your site.

The only time an SSL/TLS is optional is if your website is a straightforward, information-only site. Do customers simply visit your site to read your blog? Do they only access your site to find information about your services and hours? In this case, the security protocol is optional for the time being. However, due to the increasing chance of your readership encountering a browser or security software warning and the fact that HTTPS protocol will soon be required by Google and other entities, we still recommended moving to HTTPS.

The positives of using a security certificate on your website include:

  • Protecting customers’ sensitive data
  • Reassuring customers that your site is safe (no warning on Chrome or elsewhere)
  • Your business appears up-to-date and tech-savvy

How painful is the switch to HTTPS?

In most cases, making the switch to HTTPS and installing the security certificate is relatively painless. There are steps your webmaster should take to properly implement HTTPS, including setting up proper redirects (301s) and canonicals, ensuring all of your internal links transition, protecting social sharing data (if needed), and more.

These aren’t challenging problems for an experienced web developer but there are enough variables that implementation should be handled by a trained expert to save you headaches and heartaches down the road.

To make the switch, you’re looking at a small yearly cost to purchase the certificate (typically under $100, depending on the size of your business site). Plus the cost for an experienced webmaster to spend a few hours setting up and ensuing the site transition was successful. Be aware there can be issues that could arise during the switch, but for the most part, it’s a relatively easy project for a trained expert.

At the end of the day, updating your site to an HTTPS probably won’t make a huge difference in your search traffic or customer response—right now. Your biggest draw, as always, comes from great, relevant, customer-centric, regularly updated content.

However, providing customers with the peace of mind that comes from a secure, certified site is worth the effort. Beginning June 2018, Google will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure” with the release of Chrome 68. If you’re looking for motivation to transition your site, now’s the time. Keep your customers data secure and the internet safer for all!

They keep moving the marketing goalposts

Moving Goalposts

There’s an inherent mystery around the art and science of optimizing a web site for search. The optimization process changes nearly every week as Google works behind the scene, changing the rules to make their engine’s results more search friendly and relevance-centric. For SEO specialists, it’s like playing a soccer game where the goalposts keep moving every 15 minutes.

It’s rumored that some SEO gurus burn incense and go into a trance when they do their magic. Add to this that no one really sees the results of their optimization efforts for months as Google bots scan the entire content of the internet.

In the old days (4-5 years ago), you could load your web site text with searched keywords and Google would help people find you. Now, Google is going beyond the keywords and is “reading what you’ve written” to determine the meaning and relevancy of your content using more than just keywords.

This leads us to the 4 golden rules of SEO (which might change by the time you read this):

  1. Content drives SEO and content must be relevant. Making content relevant requires you to know WHO you are writing for and WHAT they want to know. You can’t just wing-it like you did with half your essays in high school. Google does semantic* searches now and they want content that has a take-away – a pay-off for the reader that addresses what he/she/they is searching for.Some research firms have discovered that Google likes comprehensive and thorough long form content more than short form. At the same time, content must be layered. Give readers a taste and lead them, using links, to more comprehensive and detailed content at the levels below. By the way, the essence of “comprehensive content” can mean adding videos, white papers, slide shows, etc., not more text. Bottom line, your content must be relevant and RESONATE with the target reader. The best content is meaningful and always meets the needs of the target reader.
  2. Back links are critical. Get back links to your site from AUTHORITATIVE domains. Getting other industry authorities to link to your mouth-watering, high value content can make a difference. It’s other websites with cred giving your website cred. Create great content and then promote it using social media.
  3. Think Mobile. Google indexes mobile-friendly sites first. If your site works well on smart phones and other mobile/pad devices, Google will give you extra brownie points. RESPONSIVE content that works well on any device is a must.
  4. Technical Factors
    • Encrypt your web site using HTTPS encryption. It prevents Google from labeling your site “unsafe” which can hurt your ranking.
    • H1 and H2 headings. These are in your site code and your technical specialist or SEO guru can help improve them.
    • Avoid pop ups and interstitials. Exceptions are log in dialogs, small banners which can be dismissed, and legally required interstitials. Most of these are annoying anyway

Much of the above advice may be too technical for some readers and that’s why enlisting a SEO specialist may be in order. But remember, you need to have a helicopter view of the SEO process in order fully understand what the specialists do.

Plus, much of the burden lies in the creation of content. So put whoever is creating content in the same room with the SEO specialists. They should be working shoulder-to-shoulder.

Want to dive deeper into SEO and how Content is a critical element? Download our eGuide: The Batman and Robin of Modern Marketing: Search Engine Optimization & Content

*Semantics: the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.

New Google AI search technology could kill traditional SEO

Google may soon expand its use of artificial intelligence (AI) to power its search results, according to a recent article from Social Media Today. This development could render traditional search engine optimization (SEO) techniques obsolete. At the same time, it will dramatically increase the importance of strategic content marketing.

The move toward behavior-based search

implications of AI powered searchTraditional SEO has been based upon optimizing your web pages for specific attributes, such as making sure that page titles, headlines and headings contain the keywords and phrases you want to rank for on Google.

The incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI) into Google Search, already used in about 15% of all searches, enables it to make intelligent inferences based upon searcher behavior. It may consider factors such as:

  • How long did they spend on a web page?
  • Where did they come to it from?
  • Where did they go next?
  • How does the page they visited compare with their search history?

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

Artificial intelligence can discern patterns within massive amounts of data and make inferences about it, without human intervention. The most amazing aspect of this technology as that AI systems can “learn,” adjusting their algorithms to deliver more accurate results.

Google has been developing its own AI technology since 2011. Since then, it has been incorporated into a variety of Google products, including speech recognition, image recognition, street view and self-driving cars. It is currently used in about 15% of Google searches.

Based on our analysis of the Social Media Today article and several other recent reports (here, here and here), it’s clear that AI will soon completely transform Google Search. The most significant development is a recent change at the head of Google’s search operations. Amit Singhal, who ran it for the 15 years, has retired. He was replaced by John Giannandrea, who oversees the company’s work in artificial intelligence. This move clearly signals Google’s deep commitment to this new technology.

What does this mean to marketers?

As the Social Media Today article points out, “SEO-friendly” is giving way to “user-friendly.” To translate that into plain English, publishing high-quality content that’s focused on the needs of your audience is more important than ever. Why? Follow this logical progression:

  1. The more compelling and targeted your content is, the more your audience will engage with it (e.g., invest more time reading it, share it, and click on links within it).
  2. Engagement is nothing more than a set of desirable behaviors – which Google is already measuring and using to rank pages in search results.
  3. As Google Search analyzes your audience’s behavior, it should reward your valuable content with better positioning in search results. Not because it’s properly tagged and “stuffed” with the right words and phrases. But because your audience considers it to be valuable, based upon their actions.

What should you do now?

  • Develop detailed personas for each of your target audiences and an accurate picture of your typical prospect’s buyer’s journey. Understand their informational needs at each step, and develop a strategic content plan that is focused on meeting their needs.
  • Consistently produce high-quality content that is focused on the audience needs you have identified. Measure their engagement with your content to determine which topics resonate with them. Then, produce more of that.
  • Build your email list, which will help you communicate directly with more prospects and build trust with them, nurturing them with the information they need at each step of their journey – before, during and after the sale.

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SEO and Content Marketing: The Dynamic Duo

SEO, content marketing and AIDownload your FREE copy of our new eGuide about leveraging the dynamic duo – SEO and Content Marketing – to ensure that the right people can find the right content at the right time.

It reveals:

  • How Google has changed, and why you need to consider more than just on-page SEO.
  • The semantic elements Google is now considering when ranking content.
  • Action steps you can use to improve your content’s performance in search results.

Learn how to fight for truth, justice and first-page search results. Download our FREE eGuide for a road map to leveraging the the Batman and Robin of digital media – search engine optimization and content marketing – to increase sales.

3 Reasons Why an Active Blog is Necessary for Long-Term SEO Success

 
Way back in 1996, Bill Gates declared, “Content is King.” In his essay, Gates predicted that content would be where “much of the real money will be made on the Internet.” In 2010, when blogging really started to gain traction, content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals took that phrase to heart.

At first, we saw an uptick in plain ol’ content—mostly words tossed together in a fashion that appealed to search engine bots, but not people. Meh. As Google’s algorithms became smarter and the masses flocked to the Internet, marketers came to understand that only quality content (content that appeals to BOTH bots AND people) is the only content that will do.

Today, high quality website content has become a major force powering SEO. Why? Because Google LOVES quality content—and if you care about getting found online: when Google talks, you LISTEN!

 

How an Active Blog Helps SEO

So what about blogs? Blogs have become a turn-key content solution used to capitalize on today’s top SEO tactics. When you create a blog and update it regularly with content that attracts your target market, you’ll be edging your way to the number 1 spot on page 1 of Google.

active blogBlogs have only become more and more powerful over the years. They’re simply a must for any business these days, as a great blog has proven to be a major sales-generating tool.

Before we go any further, it’s important to understand the meaning of SEO. Search Engine Land defines SEO as, “the process of getting traffic from the free, organic, editorial, or natural search results on search engines.” Put simply: search engine optimization is what you do to your website to bring in more web traffic.

Why bring in more web traffic?
Because your customer’s purchase starts with search.

When you add a blog to your website (following current content marketing and SEO best practices), you’re giving the search engines what they want, which can really pay off.

 

#1. Fresh Blog Content Can Influence Search Engine Rankings

You may be asking, “Why do I need to update my blog?” Fair enough. There’s a great answer for that, and it’s the key to propelling your content up the search ladder.

Each time you update your blog, the search engines send out a little crawler that reads, then indexes your webpages. When this happens, the chance your content will achieve a higher search rank increases. When creating fresh, new content, keep in mind: Quality Beats Quantity. So “refreshing” an existing blog post won’t always cut it—instead, start new often and tell stories whenever you can. Stories sell.

 

#2. Blog Posts = More Backlink Opportunities = Higher DA

Every website has something called Domain Authority (DA). Developed by Moz, this is a score (on a 100-point scale) that predicts how well your website will rank on search engines. While DA is determined by a lot of different factors, authoritative backlinks pointing to your website can help boost your rankings.

To get those high quality backlinks, you need to give people a reason to want to link to your content. Typically backlinks happen when:

  • Your content is unique and engaging.
  • You have fans (not necessarily customers) who are passionate about your brand.
  • People feel some type of emotional connection to your company and/or your products and services.
  • Your content is quote-worthy and people see a reason to cite you.

 

#3. More Opportunities for Keywords

Keywords are an important part of a complete SEO strategy. With every new blog post you create, you have the opportunity to use new or existing keywords, all of which…you guessed it…get that great content of yours FOUND.

There are two types of keywords: long-tail keyword and short-tail keywords.

 

Long-Tail Keywords: Short-Tail Keywords:
  • Longer (include 3 or more words)
  • More specific
  • Include phrases
  • Target a specific audience

Examples:

  1. Find an SEO Agency in Wisconsin
  2. Hire a Content Marketer in Waukesha County
  • Shorter (1 to 2 words)
  • Less specific
  • Include single words
  • Target a broader audience

Examples:

  1. SEO Agency
  2. Content Marketer

 

Before getting started with blogging for SEO, do understand: it can be a large undertaking. But when it’s done right, an active blog can generate loads more leads and tons more sales. When done wrong, it can end up being a big waste of time and money.

We recommend hiring professionals, so give us a shout at Cultivate Communications!
 

5 Great Ideas for Retaining Loyal, Enthusiastic Customers

Loyal, Enthusiastic Customers
Marketing is SO different than it was just a few years ago. While the Web makes it easier to start a company these days, 9 out of 10 startups still fail.

One way to claim a top 1% spot is to fully engage your customer base. A healthy bunch of repeat customers is one step shy of a wild band of brand advocates who will help you sell your product.

Hear that? Brand advocates are loyal, enthusiastic customers who sell FOR you.

No matter what you do, some percentage of your customers are only one-time opportunities. Others will appreciate your company so much they’ll become long-term customers, and they’ll recommend you to their family and friends. These are your potential brand advocates. It’s up to you to provide them incentive to continue to do business with your company.

Ask yourself right now:

  • What do we offer our customers that outshines our competition?
  • How do we show our customers we care?

Hint: If you can answer those two questions, you’re doing your part to generate a repeat customer base rampant with brand advocacy. Could you do more?

 

Try this:

1. Above ALL: Create Evangelists with Superior Customer Service

Loyal, enthusiastic customers don’t just happen. It starts with product and ends—or continues on and on—with exceptional customer service. Understand that customers don’t necessarily have to love you to continue to do business with you. Some will continue to buy your product or services because you offer something unique, because they’re resistant to change, or because your competition has a worse reputation than you do…but they’ll never advocate your brand.

Brand advocates are crazy about you. They love your products and services and their recommendations don’t come with an attached “but…”. As in, “The product is great, but the customer service is terrible.”

The first step to creating brand evangelists is to remove the “but…” with excellent customer service.

2. Offer Up Relevant, Smart, Emotional, Entertaining Content Marketing

How do your customers feel when they use your products or engage in your services? What are your customers’ interests? How can you help your customers solve even more of their most pressing problems?

Most importantly: What do your customers WANT?

It’s your job to learn these answers and provide the information, authenticity, and powerful storytelling they seek through engaging content marketing. Provide the best content on the Web that meets and exceeds your customers’ expectations—and your customers will love you for it.

Bonus: Great content marketing is great for search engine optimization (SEO)—so not only does content marketing help you cultivate brand loyalty, it also helps you gain new prospects and customers.

3. Reward the Refer-A-Friend

Refer-A-Friend rewards both the person referring AND the new customer. Dropbox is a great example. By offering extra storage on both sides, Dropbox increased signups by 60% and went from 100,000 users to 4 million in just over a year. Bam.

4. Create an Exclusive Club

Asking customers to “buy” a “rewards card” seems like a bad idea, but it works, and it works well. Amazon charges $99 per year for its Prime membership, and the rewards are worth it to both customers and Amazon. Perks include free shipping, movies, music, books, early-access deals, and more.

Here’s the kicker: Prime members spend an average of $1,500 a year, about $900 more than the average amount spent by non-member customers.

5. Give Back

TOMS is a company rooted in social good. The concept is simple: For every pair of shoes purchased, Toms provides a pair of shoes to children around the world most in need. The program has become so popular that Toms has expanded; now they also provide clean water, eyeglasses, training, and kits packed with items to help women more safely give birth.

 

Use these 5 great marketing ideas to inspire your customers to want to share their enthusiasm with others—so they tell others how much they like your products, your services, and the perks you offer to earn their business. This kind of ongoing customer lovin’ creates an emotional connection that’s difficult for your competitors to disrupt.

 
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Side Door Thinking: Learn the smart marketing tactics you need to truly engage with more customers.Stop banging on the front door of your customer’s mind …when the side door is wide open! Want to learn more about effective content marketing? Whether you decide to outsource content marketing or not, this eBook is chock-full of great information on content marketing. Download this FREE guide, Side Door Thinking, to discover how content marketing can help you ramp up your website and complete your marketing strategy.

You’ll learn how to:
  • Increase Your Referral Rate
  • Increase Your Social Media Reach
  • Leverage New Product Lines & Revenue Streams
  • Earn Your Customer’s Loyalty & Business
  • Position Yourself As An Industry Leader & Trusted Resource
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