Search engine optimization, or SEO, can be thought of as the process of increasing targeted online traffic to a desired web page through a variety of techniques, both “on page” and “off page,” using the search engines as a conduit. For instance, if I own a hardware store in Fort Collins, Colorado, a keyword phrase that I might want to rank for would be “Fort Collins hardware.” A good SEO can use analytical tools on the web to determine where I am currently being ranked for that keyword phrase. Let’s say that I am currently ranked #53 for the keyword phrase, “Fort Collins Hardware.” Through SEO, a skilled internet marketing professional will be able to turn that #53 ranking into perhaps as good as a #1 ranking. This, in a nutshell, is SEO.
On Page Vs. Off Page SEO
On page SEO is just what it sounds like. Anything that is sitting on your web hosting server, of which you have complete control, can be optimized via what has come to be know, for obvious reasons, as “on Page SEO.” Techniques utilizing this strategy include title and meta description tag optimization, heading tag and image alt tag optimization, social media sharing buttons, and creating quality content for your end users, just to name a few.
You may be asking yourself what is so great about ranking #1, as opposed to #53 for a specific search term. Do you get an award or some type of certificate? Well, not exactly. However, by ranking in the #1 position for a targeted keyword phrase, you are going to bring more traffic to your site. And not just ANY traffic, but TARGETED traffic. More on this in a moment.
Suffice it to say that by connecting the people of the web that are looking for a good, local hardware store with your business, your sales are logically going to rise. But bringing the demand to the supply is not enough. Converting would-be customers into actual customers is what good, effective SEO is all about. For each new conversion that a client makes via SEO, his business’s profitability goes up. This is where the baton is passed from the computer geek (the SEO) to the business owner. The SEO cannot be physically at the business when new potential customers arrive to make the sale. Actually closing the deal is up to the business owner/employee on staff. Believe me, this is an important distinction that you will want to keep in mind when executing your SEO campaign.
Traffic V. Targeted Traffic
Notice above that I emphasized the word “targeted” in relation to the new traffic SEOs are capable of bringing to a client’s web page. Some people think that simply bringing generic traffic to one’s web site is what SEO is all about. I could not disagree with them more. This strategy is akin to putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
Simply bringing traffic to a web page is not going to do a thing for the profitability of your business. This is why a knowledgable SEO will instead focus on bringing targeted traffic to a client’s web pages. Notice that I did not say Web site. More on this in a moment. Bringing targeted traffic to a web page is going to drastically increase the likelihood of converting that visitor into a paying customer.
Optimizing a web page for the keyword phrase “Chicago performing arts” is not going to do a thing for the Fort Collins hardware store owner’s sales. Why? Because the new people he is bringing to the Fort Collins hardware store’s pages, via the keyword phrase “Chicago performing arts” are not in the market for hardware being sold in Northern Colorado. They are in the market for Chicago performing arts venues. Sure, the hardware store owner’s page views are going to go up, maybe by a whole bunch, but it will do nothing for his bottom line. This is the difference between generic traffic and targeted traffic. It is also the difference between Black Hat SEO and White Hat SEO
Black Hat Vs. White Hat SEO
The difference between black hat SEO and white hat SEO is very simple, and yet somewhat complex. Black hat SEO can be thought of as SEO techniques that “break the rules.” These rules, or “quality guidelines” as Google refers to them, are very subjective in nature, making them much more difficult to enforce. For instance, one of Google’s basic principles of its quality guidelines says that web developers should “make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.” As an experienced web developer, I understand the spirit of this guideline, but many less experienced developers and SEOs may not. Where is that line drawn between “primarily for users” and “not for search engines”? You could ask ten developers this question and come back with ten different answers. Can it not be a combination of both? Hmmmmmmmm…
Black hat SEO techniques are usually very aggressive in nature, with the end result being instant gratification. I want to rise up to the top right now. Not next week, not tomorrow, but NOW. It certainly can be done, and is done every minute of every day. However, if Google finds out about your black hat SEO techniques, which they eventually will, you will be penalized and your pages’ rankings will be demoted.
Some very common Black Hat SEO techniques include things such as keyword stacking, keyword stuffing, hidden text, doorway pages, cloaking, link farming, mirror sites, and typosquatting. Most of these techniques are quite old and the search engines (Google) have found ways to identify them and penalize the black hatters. But there are new Black Hat SEO techniques coming out all the time and to be honest with you I am not familiar with most of them. I learned a long time ago that these tactics do not work in the long run, and for that reason I do not use them.
White hat SEO, on the other hand, is based on principles that are generally well accepted and do indeed conform with Google’s quality guidelines. Creating new content on a regular basis, optimizing your back end tags, creating a Google My Business page, finding and creating good backlinks to your pages. These are all generally well accepted as things that Google really likes. They are not going to make you rise to the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) instantly, but they will over time. White hat SEO goes by the adage that “slow and steady wins the race.” I believe that using White Hat SEO gives the client a much more realistic path to success, which is why I primarily use White Hat SEO.
Search Engines Rank Pages, Not Sites
It is important to understand how the search engines work in order for your SEO campaign to be a success. Search engines rank web pages, not entire web sites. In the end this makes perfect sense. Each page of your site is going to have a slightly, if not completely different focus in terms of its content. A hardware store might have one page of his site be about the location and hours of operation of his business and another one focused on plumbing products that he is currently selling.
With this concept in mind, an SEO can target each page of a client’s web site for different keyword phrases. When someone goes to Google and types in “Fort Collins plumbing products” they do not want to be taken to the page on business hours and store location. If they were, they would quickly hit the “back” button on their browser and the hardware store owner’s opportunity for a new customer would be lost.
With the aforementioned in mind, it is the SEO’s job to find the keyword phrases that the small business owner’s clients are currently using to find other hardware stores in the Northern Colorado area. This is essentially what we are talking about when we throw out the term “keyword research.”
There are a great wealth of services on the Web that can be used to find the optimal keywords and keyword phrases for a particular client. Some of them are free and others are not. For beginners, I would recommend setting up an account on Google Ad Words and use that as your learning curve. I would also highly recommend setting up Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
It really doesn’t matter how you find the optimal keywords. The important thing is that you find them. This will be the foundation for your SEO project and without a sound foundation there tend to come many problems. Do you want to run a successful SEO campaign for your business? Take your time and be uber-meticulous when it comes to your keyword research.
Once your keyword research has been completed, it’s time to start getting your hands dirty, so roll up your sleeves. You are finished with the prep work and now it’s time to put the fruits of your labor to work for you. Your first task will be assigning your harvested keyword phrases to the pages of your existing Web site. Don’t have a page for each keyword phrase? That’s ok, we’ll just make one. Focus on high quality content that benefits the client and her end users and everything else will fall naturally into place. What can you do to communicate the value that your client offers in the products and services that she produces? Do you have some quality photos that you can optimize with a sprinkle of Photoshop? How about video? That’s a great way to go. Whatever it takes, make sure that you are working with the client and the client’s clients in mind. Now you have a solid foundation built, which makes things much easier to progress from here.
Make sure that your designated keyword phrases are contained within the title tags, p tags, h tags, and in your images’ alternative text tags. Do you have h3’s on a pages that don’t have an h1 or an h2? You will want to fix that. This all falls under the category of giving Google what it wants. If you stick with white hat SEO and give the almighty Google what it wants, you are going to be successful. If you do not…well let’s save that for another blog post.
Do What You Love to Do
One of the things that I have learned in my 45+ trips thus far around the sun is that if people do what they love to do, the end results are nothing short of miraculous. Me, I love to do SEO. Really, I’m not just saying that. I love to see my clients pages rise up in the SERPs. I love doing the keyword research and inserting those keywords in just the right places in the code of their pages to make Google raise up its eyebrows and say, “Well, what have we here?” It’s really quite an incredible experience and I am ever so grateful to have had the opportunity to live with passion.
My best advice to anyone who has gotten this far is to do what you love to do. If you are a baker and you love to bake, you should make baking your number one priority. If you are a masseuse and you love to massage, I encourage you to make massaging your number one priority. By doing what we love, we really do make the world a better place, not just for ourselves but for everyone.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a big, big fan of everything local. One of the reasons I love SEO so much is because it allows me to help the small business owners of Northern Colorado to do what they love and make an honest living while doing it. As any small business owner knows, we have to wear a lot of different hats. For the average person to take on the marketing of their small business in addition to producing their best possible products and services, well it’s just too much.
There are only 24 hours in a day. Stick to what you know and please don’t build your own web site on Wix or Weebly and then wonder why it’s not working for you. Allow me to serve you with what I know, what I love, and what I am quite good at. Search engine optimization.