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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SEO to Know: 5 Ways Small Businesses Can Compete With Giants

Small businesses are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to competing in a crowded marketplace—and no marketplace is more crowded than the Web. That’s a lot of competition for those precious few spots on the first page of search engine results.

SEOIn almost every industry, there are giants. You know them; everyone does. They’ve been around since the beginning of the Internet, have a natural audience, and have everything they need to dominate in the realm of search engine optimization (SEO).

How can a small business hope to compete?

The secret is in how SEO works. If you have the answers your customers are searching for, you wind up on top. Here’s how to get attention.

1. Work Your Niche

Big businesses try pretty hard to be all things to all people. You win if you concentrate on one thing. Find your niche and dominate it. Make your content relevant to your niche and repeat your message in different ways on every page. What’s unique about your business? Find your unique selling point and let it permeate your company culture, social media, and website content.

2. Go Hyper-Local

Small businesses have the advantage when it comes to location-specific goods and services. Google’s Pigeon update put local businesses at the forefront of mobile search. Using geo-location built into smartphones, Google shows users businesses that meet their needs and are in closest proximity. By mentioning specific neighborhoods or location-specific ingredients or interests, you move closer to the top of the search.

Location-specific ingredients, you ask? Local brewery Black Husky Brewing makes a beer called Sproose II IPA, which has the true taste of the great Northwest. It’s made with spruce tips. Chipotle grew quickly from a small business to a big business with a unique selling proposition: “fast casual dining.” It’s fast, but not fast food, locally sourced, fresh, and far more nutritious than traditional fast food…but still cheap and ready to serve.

3. Become the Authority

Remember, big businesses don’t have to work that hard. They concentrate big budgets on traditional advertising. Your best bet is to do the opposite and drive traffic through content and social media. Share your industry expertise on your blog and on major publications. The more relevant content you can produce, the more likely you are to add the value Google is looking for.

Every business has the opportunity to become a publisher. Use your platform to provide as much information as you can—and be sure it’s the information your customers are searching for.

4. Spread Your Fame

Link juice is still valuable. To gain valuable inbound links, you can approach influential writers in your industry or write interesting content and submit it for publication on big-time or industry sites. You can also sponsor an industry report. Good quality reports, like Deloitte Digital’s survey “Navigating the new digital divide,” earn more inbound links and mentions than any other type of content.

5. Be Human

Big corporations can appear to be cold and faceless. Call them and you may spend hours on hold, or get lost in the phone system twists and turns. Small businesses have an easier time being warm and human. Make everything about your customer service and social media personable and friendly—and that will become your reputation. Personal service makes you stand out, plus, it earns you recommendations and social media mentions, which pump up your SEO.

One last thing: If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, build one. It’s useless to work on SEO if more than 60% of your potential customers won’t see your website when they search on their mobile devices. It’s time to go mobile in 2016!

Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Use the free and easy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out. Now’s the time to go mobile, but how? Check out this handy and comprehensive FREE guide to making your website mobile friendly.

Download: The Smart Marketer's Guide To Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

Getting to the top of search engine results and staying there takes constant and consistent content marketing maintenance—and it’s totally worth it. Solid SEO strategy can help you compete with the biggest of the big boys for prime real estate on search engine results pages. Try these 5 tips to work your way to the top!


Your SEO Checklist: 6 Starter Steps for an SEO-Optimized Website

SEO-optimized websiteThe goal of SEO (search engine optimization) is to build up traffic flowing to your website. Great SEO means your site is easy for search engine crawlers to find and categorize, plus, it helps determine where your site will land within search results. Your goal, of course, is the highest possible ranking you can achieve: the first listing on the first page. That’s the listing that’s going to attract the most visitors. Hands down.

SEO isn’t a one-and-done thing. It’s a constant, ongoing process that takes strategy, monitoring, and refinement.

There are far more than six constantly moving parts to building and maintaining your SEO-optimized website, so consider this checklist the bare essentials of SEO.

Your starting line

1. Semantic Content

Just a few years ago, this #1 item on your SEO checklist would’ve been “Keywords and Phrases.” The launch of semantic search changed all that. Today, your website content has to be relevant to your industry or products. Repetitive keywords are out, concepts are in.

That simply means that all of your website content and copy needs to relate to your industry, your products, or your company. Forget random clickbait and keyword-stuffed articles. Instead, concentrate on providing real value: information your customers are searching for.

2. On-Page SEO

Before you publish, make sure your meta-data is in order:

  • Keyword-based titles unique to each page. To help search engines categorize your pages, include the site name and the page title. For example, our Contact Us page title is “Get In Touch – Grow With Cultivate | Cultivate.”
  • Clear, succinct description tags. This is a succinct description of each webpage—and it should contain at least one keyword. Use no more than 145 characters and be sure to hook the reader. This is what appears below the page title, so it’s valuable real estate you can use to persuade the reader to click.
  • Optimized images. To ensure fast loading time (which also influences your search rank), be sure your images are sized and optimized for web viewing.
  • Simple, but complete sitemap. With both an HTML and XML sitemap, all your search engine bases are covered. Sitemaps make it much easier to submit your site to search engines for faster indexing.

3. Analysis Tools

SEO-optimized websiteAlways use the most current site tools to help you analyze your website to find flaws, broken links, and other issues that affect SEO. You can also analyze competitor sites to find out how your site compares and what you might do more successfully.

One critical analysis no self-respecting webmaster can afford to overlook is backlinks. Be sure you don’t have incoming or outgoing links to low-quality sites. SERPs hate that.

4. Regular Monitoring

With your SEO boosted, you’ll want to monitor your campaigns and new content to see what’s most successful (which content or ad earns the most clicks, conversions, likes and reshares). By adjusting your SEO strategy to make your audience happier, you boost your traffic organically. It’s all one big circle. SEO builds traffic, and traffic boosts your search engine rank…which results in more traffic.

5. Testing

To get to that sweet spot where your visitors are coming back on their own and sharing your content with their friends and colleagues, you’ll need to try new things. Depending on your industry, your visitors might be more interested in how-to videos, eye-catching photos, detailed instructions, user-generated content about your product or service in action, lengthy consumer reports, or one-line quips. Figuring out what works best for your audience means trying new things and doing more of what works.

6. Mobile Friendliness

No SEO-optimized website checklist is complete without a mobile component. More and more frequently, your potential customers are using mobile devices to find information. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, your SEO is flatlined more than 61% of the time.

Your SEO strategy should be focused on user experience—on delivering the very best answer to the user’s question. SEO is an ever-changing scenario with a lot of influencing factors, so use this checklist as a bare-bones guide to basic SEO. If you’re not confident in your SEO strategy, let us know in the comments!


Not sure if your site is mobile friendly? Use the free and easy Google Mobile-Friendly Test tool to find out. Now’s the time to go mobile, but how? Check out this handy and comprehensive FREE guide to making your website mobile friendly.

Download: The Smart Marketer's Guide To Making Your Website Mobile Friendly

5 Components of a Comprehensive SEO Audit

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a constantly changing landscape with a lot of moving parts, so it takes a real pro to accurately assess your website. You may be tempted to do your own SEO audit using free tools available online. However, the truth is … free tools are useless if you don’t know how to use them or if you don’t know how to interpret the results.

A professional, comprehensive SEO audit should consider things like: navigation, keywords, incoming and onsite links, content, information architecture, metadata, and most importantly, user experience. The purpose of an initial audit is to identify areas on your site for improvement to immediately increase organic search engine visibility.

However, if you are not overly familiar with SEO, the information within the agency proposal can sometimes feel like a foreign language.

What should be covered in a comprehensive SEO audit?

When reviewing a proposal for an SEO audit for your business website, ensure it includes the following five components:

1. Technical Analysis

If search engines can’t crawl, identify, and index your website, it will not be listed. The first step in any worthwhile SEO audit is to verify the underlying code supporting your site.
What Should Be Covered in a Comprehensive SEO Audit? *Great resource + printable.
When checking your SEO, a knowledgeable professional will:

  • Analyze how duplicate content is identified. Almost every site has some duplicate content, and some have content syndicated from other sites. Canonical tags save your site from duplicate content penalties.
  • Validate your sitemap. XML sitemaps provide search engines with information, including page hierarchy, public pages to be crawled, and when pages were last updated.
  • Assess site speed. The time it takes for your page to load is critical. You probably know users will click away from slow-loading sites, but did you know that you get a ranking bonus for loading speed?
  • Perform a backlink analysis. The links leading into your site also influence your ranking. Links from poor quality sites or sites unrelated to your industry can damage your SEO.

2. Usability Audit

Do visitors find your website easy to use? Usability checks include:

  • Ease of navigation. Every site is different and there’s no one right way to create your navigation structure. No matter how fancy or simple your menus are, the important consideration is this: Can visitors find what they are looking for?
  • Proper internal linking. It’s natural to have links on each page to other pages on your site. It’s great for reducing bounce rate and keeping visitors engaged. During an audit, SEO professionals will ensure your pages aren’t overly saturated with links and the existing links are not blatantly optimized, an SEO no-no.
  • Content grouping analysis. It sounds more complicated than it is. Content grouping is an organizational system that allows you to group URLs for related pages. This logical approach to structure works especially well for retail sites to help users drill down from a general category like “Clothing” to a specific category like “Women’s Knit Shirts.”
  • Semantic markup. HTML tags are designed to inform search engines about specific details. For example, you can use semantic markup to help search engines index your site more accurately and create rich snippets to help users find what they are searching for.

3. On-Page Audit

Each page of your site offers a wealth of SEO-boosting opportunities you may be missing. Your digital assets—all the content on your pages—is scrutinized during an SEO audit. The most important on-page SEO factors are:

  • Title tags. For some reason, title tags are often remarkably unhelpful. Matt Cutts advises title tags on every page. Make each one concise, unique, and descriptive.
  • Meta descriptions. For users, meta descriptions are often the deciding factor between links they click and links they pass up. Page titles and URLs can be a little deceptive. A well-written meta description tells the user exactly what to expect on the page. It’s your bait, and it should be tasty.
  • Headers and subheaders. Optimized text inside header and subheader tags isn’t just for the reader. Keywords turn your headers into categories search engines can recognize.
  • While semantic search has changed the way keywords are used, their importance hasn’t diminished. Keyword oversaturation will kill your SEO…as will missing or misleading keywords.

4. Page Layout and Design Review

The way your page is laid out helps users find their way around, and also helps search engines make sense of your content. Your review will evaluate ease of use, overall design, calls-to-action, and how and if the pages are connected for a natural flow.

5. Content Analysis

Well-written content is foundational and essential to SEO. Customer focused and industry or brand specific content attracts both visitors and higher rankings. During a comprehensive SEO audit, your content is assessed for its value and consistency.

Use this guide as a cheat sheet when reviewing an agency proposal for an SEO audit. Print this document and check off the aforementioned terms as you see them appear within your proposal. Use this simple checklist to ensure all your bases are covered:

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Ongoing SEO, Content Strategy and Deployment

When choosing an SEO specialist, knowledge and Geek Speak are important, but also look for someone who is personable and can work well with your team. After your website’s comprehensive SEO audit, your specialist will work with you to create a plan of action. An SEO expert will then collaborate with your team to help execute solutions and move forward with those goals.

Make sure these five areas are covered during your site’s SEO audit to ensure you have a clear and detailed road map to success when defining your strategy.