By Brad Shorr, Straight North
New to the world of SEO? Search engine optimization, or SEO, refers to the multifaceted process of improving your site’s rate of traffic and its ranking on search engines. While many may think SEO is difficult to do without an IT background, that is simply not the case. Anyone can learn and apply SEO best practices to enhance a website and increase the number of visitors and — more importantly — conversions.
In this quick guide, we’re going to go over the basics of SEO, how it works and a few of the numerous ways it can benefit any e-commerce platform.
What Is SEO?
The best place to start is by flushing out the definition. As mentioned above, SEO is a methodical process. This process involves modifying content, monitoring the site’s technical health, and making key changes to appeal to search engines such as Google and Bing. Unsurprisingly, Google is the top dog with 75% of searches starting on the Google search/address bar.
SEO is different from paid advertising as it focuses more on “organic” ranking. Organic search results are, “the Web page listings that most closely match the user’s search query based on relevance.” Essentially, it’s methodically optimizing your site, as well as your content on-site and off-site, to make your offerings show at the top of the search results. These days, users rarely click beyond the first results page when they type in their query. This makes being on the first page and above your competitors essential.
SEO is always evolving. Not only must each piece of content be optimized, but it also needs to be in line with the latest guidelines as well to rank high. Beginners should focus on ensuring content is up to date and engaging, and includes relevant backlinks and keywords, plus much more.
How Does SEO Work?
Now that we went over what it is, let’s discuss how SEO works. Search engine bots “crawl” through web pages collecting information and then use that info to create an “index.” Sophisticated algorithms then review the index. Using hundreds of ranking factors, the algorithms determine the placement of each site page on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Basically, this procedure of complex computation governs where your page is displayed when a user types in a specific and relevant search. SEO serves to optimize pages and persuade these search engines to better recommend your content as the best answer to their user’s search.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Search engines are designed to provide the most helpful and relevant results to best satisfy their users. How do they judge what is best? The first parameter is keywords and how they are incorporated into the content. Somewhat of a misnomer, keywords refer to likely search queries or the combinations of words expressing a problem or question. Understanding which keywords and keyword phrases to include in your content starts with having an extensive understanding of your audience.
Thoroughly researching what an audience is saying and how they’re saying it can help a business better find its market and stay ahead of its competitors. A company selling shoes, for instance, may wish to include slang or other related vernacular to appear in more search results. On the other hand, that same company shouldn’t pigeonhole the results. Standard terms should also be included to offer helpful solutions to all customers and, in turn, improve ranking. SEO tools are available to better track and follow the keywords in your market as well as to see what your competitors are doing successfully.
Other on-page SEO parameters include writing high-quality content and posting it regularly. Having dull, keyword-stuffed copy is not going to help with ranking. Tailoring content to be benefit-driven for customers is essential. Informative aspects of the site, such as a frequently asked question section and a clear call-to-action to direct visitors to the next step, are examples of how to increase ranking.
What’s more, metatags and titles need to be well-written and rich with effective keywords. These are how users see the article or page before they click on it. First impressions such as these are crucial and need to be appealing and intriguing based on the search query.
Then there are off-page SEO parameters. These are the happenings off the site itself designed to drive traffic to it — or “backlink” — through relationship building and sharable content. Off-page SEO has a lot of moving parts, but it is integral to overall performance and success.
Lastly, Google and other search engines want to provide not only the right content but also the right user experience. Attractive site design, speedy load times, high-quality images and videos, mobile friendliness and so much more go into a great user experience. Keep these in tune with your audience to ensure Google and other search engines determine your content is deliverable as well as desirable.
Ways SEO Is Beneficial
After going over how SEO works, let’s explore how it can further benefit those who utilize it properly. Google and other search engine algorithms evaluate the aforementioned parameters, or signals if you will, to establish rank. However, boosting these rankings isn’t the only upside to SEO. It’s really a means to an end with the real goals being related to traffic.
When done well, SEO will bring “free” traffic to the site. You won’t need to pay for ads or clicks if your page is optimized and answers user inquiries adequately because it should be at the beginning of the search engine result page. Of course, on that same SERP, there could be paid results as well. These are identified by the “Ad” icon to the left.
While being able to pay to be at the top is nice, drawbacks include having the advertiser pay the search engine for each visit. Investing in effective SEO can save the price tag associated with adverts of this nature and beyond. Plus, most Google web traffic comes in the form of organic searches anyway.
Not only can you get increased traffic with great SEO, but it also can lead to consistent, passive traffic. Unlike social media posts and email marketing campaigns that see traffic spikes swiftly fade away, highly ranked results can potentially see steady performances month to month. This is due to design differences. Social media and email put the freshest content at the top while search engines choose the most sought-after content instead.
Ready To Get Started?
Hopefully, this guide has set you on the right path along your e-commerce SEO journey. Be sure to avoid any shortcuts you think will get your content to the top. Google and all its algorithms in place now — and those in the works — catch such loopholes and tricks.
The last piece of advice in terms of search engine optimization is to be patient. Beating the competition isn’t easy and seeing results takes time. Hanging in there, staying on top of your content with regular updates, and continuously checking in on the latest and greatest SEO strategies are important for success.
About The Author
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, a Chicago-based internet marketing company that specializes in SEO. With decades of marketing, sales, and management experience, Shorr has written for leading online publications including Forbes and Entrepreneur, and for the American Marketing Association.