SEO Made Simple: A Beginner's Guide to Squarespace SEO Series #1
You hear about search engine optimization (SEO) all the time when it comes to websites and wanting to appear on the first page of a Google search. But what exactly does that mean?
For many people, talking about SEO sounds like Greek (if you don’t understand Greek, that is) to them. Believe me, I get it. You probably know that SEO stands for search engine optimization, but what do you need to optimize? How does that even work? Is it the design? Or is it the writing? Or maybe it’s the links.
Yes, yes, and yes - it’s all that and more.
I decided that since I had to delve into the SEO topic as a website designer and SEO specifically related to Squarespace in order to optimize the Squarespace websites I design, others could benefit from this information, too. This blog post is the first one in a series about SEO and more specifically, Squarespace SEO.
So let’s start at the beginning.
WHAT IS SEO?
Definition: According to Wikipedia, SEO is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results.”
Got it? The end! I’m just kidding...let me break it down for you!
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your online content so that a search engine (i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) likes to show it as a top result for searches of a certain keyword.
When it comes to SEO, there’s you, the search engine, and the searcher. If you have a website about hot yoga, you want the search engine (which, in 90% of all cases, is Google) to show it as a top result to anyone who searches for the phrase “hot yoga.” (You’re curious what hot yoga is now, huh? Google it. You’ll see what I mean about showing up on the first page.)
SEO is the magic you have to work on your website in order to make Google very likely to include your website as one of the top results whenever someone searches for that keyword. (This also applies to work on a blog post/article, but for the sake of this series, I’m going to just use ‘website.’) It encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines.
However, SEO isn’t just about building search engine-friendly websites. It’s about making your site better for people, too.
HOW DOES SEO WORK?
On any given day, people conduct more than 2.2 million searches. And that’s just on Google - to say nothing of the other search engines. Therefore, showing up on the front page of Google can be the deciding factor between a business that’s thriving and one that’s bankrupt. Combine that with the fact that the first five results on Google get 67% of all clicks, and you get an idea of why search engine optimization is so important.
According to Moz.com, “Search engines are answer machines.” When a person performs an online search, the search engine scours the billions of documents and does two things: first, it returns only those results that are useful or relevant to your inquiry; second, it ranks those results according to the popularity of the websites providing the information. It is both relevance and popularity that the process of SEO is meant to influence.
While once upon a time during the beginnings of the internet (watch “Valley of the Boom”), today, hundreds of factors influence relevance. Popularity and relevance aren’t determined manually. Instead, the engines employ mathematical equations (algorithms) to sort the best from the worst (relevance), and then to rank the best in order of quality (popularity). These algorithms often comprise hundreds of variables. In the search marketing field, they are referred to as “ranking factors.”
While most search engines guard their search algorithm pretty well and not all of the over 200 determining factors are public, they do provide us with information about optimization and best practices.
For the sake of this article, here are just two, Google and Bing:
SEO Information from Google Webmaster Guidelines
Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine:
Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don't deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, a practice commonly referred to as "cloaking."
Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content. Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs. Provide one version of a URL to reach a document, using 301 redirects or the rel="canonical" attribute to address duplicate content.
SEO Information from Bing Webmaster Guidelines
Bing engineers at Microsoft recommend the following to get better rankings in their search engine:
Ensure a clean, keyword rich URL structure is in place.
Create keyword-rich content and match keywords to what users are searching for. Produce fresh content regularly.
Don’t put the text that you want indexed inside images. For example, if you want your company name or address to be indexed, make sure it is not displayed inside a company logo.
WHY DOES MY WEBSITE NEED SEO?
Still need a little more convincing and understanding?
The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method for most internet users. (Cue previous blog post on why every small business needs a website!)
Search engines provide targeted traffic which is people looking for exactly what you offer. If search engines cannot find your site, or add your content to their databases, you miss out on incredible opportunities to drive traffic to your site - in turn, you lose potential business. And nobody wants that!
Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make or break an organization’s success. IT’S THAT IMPORTANT. It provides publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing.
CAN I DO MY OWN SEO?
The world of SEO is complex, but most people can easily understand the basics. Even a small amount of knowledge can make a big difference. Free SEO education is widely available on the web, including guides like this. Combine this with a little practice and you are well on your way to becoming an SEO wizard.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
If you delve into the web design world even a little bit, you’ll hear the constant noise of what website building platform is the best and why. I’m not going to debate this topic as every platform has its pros and cons. It all depends on what you’re looking for a website to do for you. However, as I am a Squarespace Website Designer (shameless plug...need a website? Let’s talk!), in the next blog post, I am going to talk about Squarespace SEO specifically and how it works.
Do you struggle with understanding and/or implementing SEO on your website? What helps you? What help do you need? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Sign-up below to get my free ultimate Squarespace 24-point SEO Checklist!