A Guide to Search Engine Optimization
Search Results are Earned
Search Engine Optimization Strategy
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fundamental digital marketing tactic used to increase the likelihood of achieving the valuable first-page ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This is achieved through a variety of techniques: link creation, SEO title tags, content optimization, meta description, and keyword research.
These SEO strategy results are referred to as either “organic” or “earned” search results. Organic search results sometimes referred to as “natural”, are produced by strong keywords, metadata, and backlinking. Organic results are more valuable as they show up higher on the results page due to relevancy. Whereas earned search results achieve that top spot because they paid to be there. Therefore, a more prudent strategy is to focus on creating better, more relevant content, which results in searchers staying on your website longer, than it is to spend money on paid results, which appear less authentic. As evidence, organic search results generate 8.5 times the number of clicks than do paid search results1. In fact, between 70% and 80% of users ignore paid advertisements2
Why should SEO matter to me?
Based on a study conducted by Google, 71% of B2B buying research begins with a generic search online3. The study also found that those involved in the B2B buying process are, on average, 57% of the way done with the decisionmaking process before they ever perform an action on a brand’s site, such as filling out a contact form or downloading a whitepaper. Because search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo drive a significant portion of website traffic, it is important that B2B companies continue to place a high value on optimizing their search results, ensuring their placement at the top of search results.
A Brief History of SEO
The history of SEO dates back to the beginnings of the public internet in the mid-1990’s. Initially, webmasters would manually submit their website’s URL to various search engines for indexing, which in turn, would download that page to their servers and identify specific keywords to determine the page’s content. Now search engines use crawlers to evaluate the legitimacy of websites by reviewing and indexing the website content against their constantly evolving and proprietary algorithms. The search engine then compares these results against the searcher’s query and displays the most relevant (and best functioning) pages.
The ever-increasing demand for more accurate and valuable search results has helped to whittle down the competition to those that can do it best: Google, Bing, and Yahoo. These three search engines handle nearly 97% of all searches conducted in the US (96.1%, 23%, and 11.8%, respectively)4. As an example of the competitiveness, it is interesting to note that Bing now powers Yahoo’s search results, as well as their own.
As user expectations grow and internet capable devices become more and more prevalent, search engines must constantly adapt their methods of indexing and serving information. SEO best practices, in turn, must constantly change according to the new parameters that search engines use- you can’t set it and forget it. From the days of keyword and Boolean-based searches on manually indexed search engines to today’s natural language search (by voice, text, or even image searches), the tactics of SEO are ever changing. In the “content is king” internet of today, being able to present your site in a relevant way is critical to driving traffic to your digital doorstep.
SEO: A Few Factors That Matter
While we have discussed how major search engine algorithms are largely secretive and ever-changing, patterns and best practices do exist. Consider the following examples:
- Search engines, to a degree, want you to understand what they desire in a webpage: they create support articles, they give interviews and speak at trade events, Google and Bing even provide free, web analytic tools.
- Keywords are losing ground to better, more comprehensive content5. The value of keywords in title tags and H1s is dropping year after year. It is better to spend time on creating authentically valuable content that causes searchers to stay on your site and visit other pages within your site.
- Because of the massive market dominance, Google has with mobile, it has started to prioritize indexing mobile content over the desktop6. This increases the importance of having a well-designed responsive website, as there is not the need to maintain two versions of your website.
What are the SEO elements?
Effective SEO is comprised of many elements that can impact the effectiveness of your SEO strategy. A few of the more significant elements are titles, headers, descriptions, and keywords. Understanding and maintaining these elements is essential to successful search engine optimization.
Title & Meta Tags
Probably the most important meta tag on your site is the page title tag. It not only defines what the user’s browser shows as the title, but it also plays an important role in how search engines display your site’s result. The title should be specific and concise, explaining the content of the page. Title tags are controlled by using the syntax: <title> Yout Title Here</title> in the header of the page. In the example below, the title tag is<title> Insite Software | Built for B2B™ </title>. Since the title is one of the first things a searcher would see on a search engine results page, make the most of its limited area.
Titles are generally displayed on the search results page as the title of the page as well as identifying your brand or company name, separated by a pipe (“ | “) or hyphen (“ – “). Since search engine results and browsers only have limited page real estate to work with, it is recommended that title tags are kept under 70 characters. It is also very important that every single page on your site has an individualized and unique title so that the specific page’s relevance is highlighted in search results. Today’s algorithms penalize for having “duplicate” content.
The second piece of content that shows up on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) is the meta description. Meta Descriptions are the short paragraphs commonly displayed on search engine results pages as a preview of the content of the page. Meta descriptions are not usually used for ranking purposes, instead, they play a large role in enticing a searcher to click through on your search result. Again, since search engines have limited page real estate, keep meta descriptions under 160 characters to limit the possibility of truncation by the search engine. The page title and these descriptions are your only chance to grab the searcher’s interest, with the goal of them clicking on your site. Therefore, it is important to use these elements effectively to communicate the purpose of your site.
Aside from the already discussed title and meta description elements, which appear in the head section of the webpage, there are elements in the body section that are also important. As mentioned earlier, one-factor search engines rely on is usability, laying out information in an easily understood format. Header tags help bring order to a page for easy reading, and they help a web crawler dissect what’s going on within the page.
Header tags come in a variety of flavors, H1 through H6, as the number becomes larger it becomes less important in the hierarchy of the page, as well as for SEO purposes. Not all the tags are required, but an H1 tag is very important and should always be included. The H1 tag can contain either the same information as the page title or the optimized page keywords. H2 tags and lower are analogous to chapters (and subchapters) within a book, with the book title being the H1 tag.
Historically meta keywords, which exist in the HTML of your site versus as text on the actual web page, told search engines which keywords were related to your page. However, over time, the usage or value of the keyword tag by search engines has drastically diminished due to keyword “stuffing” and other abusive black hat SEO practices. As a result, search engine algorithms have become better at understanding web page content and today web pages are crawled looking for keyword usage within the context of the page. Where, when, and how often words are used have become important factors in determining the relevance of a page. These keywords are a major part of what search engines compare against when looking at the search terms used by search engine users. Therefore, creating a unique keyword focus for every page on your site should be a goal to avoid duplicate content or diluting your optimization efforts.
Since search engine algorithms aren’t human, they utilize text and certain structures and coding indications to understand what the particular page in question is about. Some of these elements are not readily visible to humans, such as alternative text (usually referred to as alt text) for images. Alt text is important as it provides greater context to crawlers as well as providing indexable keywords for use in image-based searches. Screen readers also rely on alt tags to help give context to what’s happening on a page for people with vision impairments, as well as other uses. Usability is an important factor in the way search engines rank sites today, so alt text should not be ignored. In a simplified explanation, the best content to search engines is content that fills a need. In order for content to fill a need, all of the following aspects should be considered:
- Unique & Valuable Content
- This can include thought leadership information, unique content, exhaustive product information, demonstration images or videos, and more.
- Deliver an Excellent User Experience
- Ensure the user can easily understand how to navigate the site as well as the content on the pages.
- This should include responsively designed layouts that can be viewed across many devices and software platforms.
- The content must load within a reasonable amount of time
- User-Intent Aware & targeted
- Pages should target a single intent, such as product purchase information, or perhaps a process video and FAQ. The focus of the page should be clear.
- Built to be Shared & Referenced
- Sharing and gaining valuable links to pages helps search engines understand the value content is conveying to users through links internally on the site as well as external web pages.
- Crawler/Bot Accessible
- A website must crawler/bot accessible before a search engine will even consider listing it on a search results page.
The manner in which a website’s URLs are constructed is largely important to search engines. The better structured your URLs are, as compared to a natural user’s browsing path, the more likely the page is to rank better for the targeted intent and keywords. A well-constructed URL also improves helps users to share and understand the site structure and context.
The composure & SEO Importance of a URL is as such:
- Protocol -The protocol, http or https, should be monitored separately in Webmaster Tools if they both can be accessed by end users and crawlers.
- Subdomain – Subdomains have the possibility of being counted as a separate site, and should be avoided so that search engines do not split credibility and results
- Top-Level Domain – TLD’s usually indicate a region-specific site, such as using .ca for Canada, or .fr for France. This is helpful for search engines to index results across their country-specific search engine. However, TLD’s are not the only way to indicate region or language.
- Folders/Path – Folders and paths should be descriptive and concise. Use hyphens (“ – “) to separate words instead of underscores (“ _ “).
- Page – The page name should follow similar recommendations of Folders/Path.
- Named Anchor – Anchors send users to a specifically named spot on a page.
With mobile internet usage soaring over the past five years, actually surpassing desktop usage in 2016, providing search results local to the searcher is more relevant than ever7. Since mobile devices are not reliant on a physical location or Wi-Fi, search queries often include terms local to the searcher, such as: “steak restaurant in Chicago” or “uniform rental services near Minneapolis”.
To assist searchers in obtaining locally relevant information on their mobile devices, websites should have a robust responsively designed mobile presence. Allowing mobile devices to access websites in a similar manner as desktop users is critical. If a company has physical locations, such as branches or stores, a strong store locator function should be present on the website, as well as separate landing pages for all the locations, including important location-specific information such as phone number, address, and hours open.
Both Google and Bing provide a platform for businesses to list and verify their physical addresses (Google My Business, and Bing Places for Business, respectively). This assists businesses in being listed on the map and providing directions, as well as having that information be eligible to show up in organic search results with the relevant information.
B2B eCommerce SEO Factors to Consider
While the aforementioned SEO factors are applicable to all websites, a growing number of new data points exist that search engines are beginning to support in their quest to bring as much information as possible to their searchers as quickly as possible. In the following, we will cover two of the main eCommerce tactics widely used to increase product presence in organic search results.
Rich Text Snippets
Rich Text Snippets (also referred to as Structured Data Markup) are additional coded data implemented on sites for the purpose of allowing search engines in finding relevant, commonly searched for data points. The most relevant example of rich text snippets is Products markup.
This allows eCommerce sites to highlight prices, reviews, sales, stock-status, and more to display directly on the Search Engine Results Page (see screenshot above). Products, however, are not the only structured data markup that search engines support. Some other types include:
- Events (such as concerts)
- Software Apps
- Articles (including byline information)
Google & Bing Shopping and Product Listing Ads
Similar to rich text snippets for products, Google and Bing both allow eCommerce sites to submit product catalogs, on a regular basis, for inclusion in their product-specific search engines. This data is occasionally used to display product information at the top of organic search results when a user is specifically searching for products (see screenshot above). This data is often used with paid search ads to promote products on both Google and Bing’s networks.
Continual SEO Advancements & Changes
As search engines continue to advance and update their product offerings to match the consumer demand, so will SEO strategies and tactics. As demonstrated above, the major search engines continue to introduce new extensions of native organic search to enhance results for searchers and to allow sites to deliver that content in a new, relevant, and well-presented manner.
In addition to core search engine product updates, to ensure relevant results, search engines will continue to evolve to technological advancements which will shape the way users search for and receive information. This was immensely present when Google released their search by voice capability for example. Technology will continue to change and, consequently, SEO tactics must continue to change. Although SEO can be laborious, the rewards can be very beneficial and worth the investment in
time and energy.
As we gear up for Q3, we can’t help but reflect on the successes we’ve seen so far this year. We owe it all to our customers, partners and employees.
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