For an industry that is more than a decade old, it is surprising how many professionals still have a hard time understanding what SEO is. To many of my clients, Search Engine Optimization is just the “internet magic” that I do behind the scenes that makes their site rank. So don’t feel like you are alone if you are not clear on what SEO really means in 2016. There is a lot of misconception out there, but if you look at SEO in the right way it is quite easy to understand.
First, let’s set things straight. “Search Engine Optimization” is somewhat of a misnomer and can imply a dangerous way of thinking. Optimizing your site for the actual search engines is really only a small part of ranking a page. You want to make sure that your site has a proper sitemap and that the pages are crawlable by Google, but those are just web best practices and only qualifiers when it comes SEO. The bulk of SEO is about search user optimization. To rank your site (or more specifically your SEO target pages) you have to give Google what it wants. Many SEO experts will tell you that Google wants structured data, high keyword densities and the like, but this is the wrong way of thinking about SEO. Google makes it clear in its mission statement that it wants is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Now I am not saying that the traditional SEO factors are not important, but to give Google what it really wants the search user should be your primary focus. Ask yourself “What core need does my site satisfy?” Then make a list of all terms that customer may search on Google if they were seeking to satisfy that need. It is important to have a good understanding of what a searcher wants when they search for these terms; this is called “user intent.” Every search term has its own Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and every SERP is comprised of search engine listings that link to sites that should satisfy the user intent of that particular search query. Take a look at the listings and websites that rank on the first page of Google for your target terms. Does the verbiage of the search engine listings speak to the user intent of the SERP? Do you think a user would find what they are looking for on the pages that rank? Most of the time the answer to both of these questions is more or less yes, but rarely is there no room for improvement. Scan your competitors site’s and make a list of possible improvements. If you can create a web page that provides a better experience than the pages that already rank, Google will reward you for it.
You can control your search engine listings by modifying your page’s title tag, meta description, and url permalink. The title tag is the blue headline of a listing and is limited to approximately 70 characters. The meta description is the gray paragraph and will get truncated after 140 characters. The URL permalink is the green part of the listing and can be modified by most modern web platforms. If you are on a WordPress site try the Yoast SEO plugin. It will show you a preview of your search engine listing and allow you to click and modify it with no coding.
You see, if you want to rank in the top results of Google it’s not about a myriad of technical SEO factors. It is about designing a webpage that meets the needs of your users better than the competition, and crafting a search engine result listing that speaks to those needs and encourages users to click through to your website.