Google has become an integral part of our lives, so much that it’s even used as a verb in day-to-day conversation. (How many times have you heard, “Let me Google that for you?”) With over 11 billion searches per month, it’s clear that optimizing your website for Google presents a lucrative marketing opportunity for your business.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex and ever-changing field, so we’ll only concern ourselves with the basics for now. Even the most fundamental SEO changes can have a major impact on search engine rankings for your website. 

Race to the top

The straightforward goal of SEO is getting your website to appear at the top of search engine rankings. Anything listed after the first page of results is rarely noticed. Since Google takes an overwhelming percentage of the search engine market share, don’t worry about others like Yahoo! or Bing just yet. There are certain SEO basics necessary for Google ‘bots’ to crawl a website, index each individual webpage and display that page whenever a user types in a relevant search query.

1. Onsite SEO

What you do onsite affects about 50 percent of your website’s rankings. This includes:

  • Keyword research
  • Content
  • Website structure
  • and more

Any SEO strategy begins by conducting keyword research. Choose keywords that have high enough search volume, but be wary of competition. If you choose a very broad keyword, such as ‘California health insurance,’ you’ll have less chance of actually ranking on the first page due to extremely high competition. By narrowing or localizing your keyword to a more specific niche, say ‘Laguna Beach health insurance,’ you will have a better chance of ranking highly.

Each page on your website should be assigned a certain keyword, which will reflect in every piece of content on that page. Using keywords in this way helps Google determine what each page is about and how it should rank. Of course, you want to come off as an authority on that subject or keyword. Use the selected keyword for that page in the “meta tag” or title tag of that webpage, and also somewhere inside that content to tell search engines what that page is about. Do not overstuff keywords; these will get you spam points.

Content should be highly informative and relevant. It’s extremely important that you do not simply copy and paste the same verbiage on every page. This will get you banned on Google. Duplicate content makes it more difficult for search engines to decide which version is more relevant to a certain search query, resulting in traffic losses and lower rankings.

2. Offsite SEO

The other 50 percent of search rankings comes from what you do offsite. That refers to the links you have directing to and from your site, sort of like a popularity contest. It used to be that the more links the better; but Google now regulates the quality of your links through algorithm updates. If you have hundreds of low-quality websites linking to you, or the other way around, your website could be banned from Google rankings. So, be careful when seeking out link exchange opportunities. It’s important that you pursue links from other authoritative websites that are relevant to your own business.

Quality definitely trumps quantity in both SEO and link building these days. Guest blogging can be a great opportunity to publicize yourself on someone else’s blog as a thought-leader in your industry while directing a link back to your website. Other methods include:

  • Directory links
  • Press releases
  • Social media

3. User experience

I’ve just thrown out a lot of SEO strategies that can get pretty technical. But above all, you should be optimizing your website for your user. Upon visiting your site, a user should be able to easily navigate and find what they came for, whether it’s specific information, customer support or a free quote. Build trust and credibility with your users by displaying a brand logo, contact information and informative, unique content that keeps them coming back. Some absolutes you should feature on your site are:

  • About us page
  • Contact page
  • Testimonials
  • Privacy Policy
  • Site Map

Believe it or not, Google observes how people interact with your website, and that will reflect in your search rankings as well. If people constantly click to your site and then leave because it wasn’t what they expected or they couldn’t find what they wanted, you will lose authority. That’s where designing for the user experience comes in.

Information about site analytics is accessible through several free tools provided by Google, one of the most powerful being Google Analytics. This free tool allows you to learn the location and demographics of your audience, what websites, keywords and search engines sent them to your website, what social networks visitors come from, how they interact with your content and much more. All of this data gives you an idea of how effective your content is so you can take improve.

By acknowledging and implementing some of these basic SEO guidelines, you can begin to improve your company’s online presence and attract the kind of traffic you’ve been seeking.

For more from Lauren Jaeckel, see:

4 social media essentials for beginners

How to tailor your website to the 65+ market

4 ways to make the growing mobile market work for you