Do your eyes start to glaze over when someone mentions SEO? Do you feel the beginnings of a pounding headache or a panic attack when people start talking about keywords, backlinks, and META tags?
It’s totally understandable! SEO or search engine optimization is a complicated practice somewhere between art and science that people dedicate their whole careers to understanding — yet we online small business owners are expected to understand and practice it like the big guys.
That tends to drive people into one of two camps: either they get excited about it and start to geek out about keyword research and backlinks and SERPs — or they stick their head into a metaphorical hole and hope the SEO conversation goes away!
But the truth is that none of us can afford to ignore SEO completely because it’s part of a suite of important strategies that help us drive organic (ie: FREE) traffic to our websites and grow our businesses.
I rely mostly on organic traffic to sell and grow Business Class, which is why I’ve dedicated an entire Destination Guide to Organic Traffic for Business Class members. If you’re curious if your website stands the SEO test, click here to download our SEO Health Workbook to give your website a checkup!
What is organic traffic?
Organic traffic has nothing to do with pesticides or organic food! It means traffic that comes to your site naturally, without a paid advertisement directing people there — in other words, free traffic.
Whether we’re talking about Google, Facebook, or any other online platform used to try and drive traffic to your website, these platforms all have the same primary business objective: to satisfy the needs of their users. That’s because their success as a business relies on their ability to give their audience what they desire most.
If we’re talking about Google, YouTube, or even Pinterest, it’s making sure that the search results are accurate; if we’re talking about Facebook (or any other community-driven social network), it’s about ensuring that their users feel connected and are consuming content that meets their desires.
It’s all about the user experience.
So in order to master organic traffic, you first have to make sure you have the same business objective too — that you’re constantly focused on satisfying the needs of your users as well and optimizing your website and landing page to be user friendly.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is just a fancy name for making your website easy for Google (and other search engines) to find and understand.
You have to remember that Google is driven by an algorithm — a complex mathematical computer program that allows it to spit out the right answers when we ask it a question. That algorithm is fed information by what are known as “spiders,” (or bots) which are little programs that “crawl” the web in search of information.
As amazing as Google is, we have to remember that it “sees” our websites differently than a human being does. The spiders are trained to recognize certain pieces of information, like keywords, meta tags, and links, which tell the algorithm what information is on the page, and how much authority that information has.
Then the algorithm uses that information to determine if your website (or article, or blog post) is a relevant answer to a searcher’s question or query.
So when we talk about search engine optimization, what we’re really talking about are the tips, tricks, and best practices that make it easier for Google to understand what our website is about, and therefore have our site show up higher and more often in search results.
There is a whole industry of professionals whose entire job is to try to guess what Google’s algorithm wants (because Google keeps it a secret) and then work out ways to game the system and get better rankings.
The good news is that most businesses and business owners don’t need to become an expert in order to use SEO to get more organic traffic. We just need some basic knowledge and tools.
Other important terms to understand
If this all sounds like Greek to you, here are some other important terms to understand when it comes to SEO:
- Keywords — A keyword is simply a word or phrase used by a search engine to identify whether a webpage contains relevant information. If you type “how to start a blog” into the Google search box, Google will look for websites that include that keyword phrase in order to deliver your results.
- Back Link — A back link is when a website not your own links to you. The Google algorithm uses back links to help determine how authoritative a website is on a topic. The number and quality of back links you have are both important.
- Authority — Certain websites have more authority with Google, and therefore links from these sites carry more weight. Sites with high authority are more likely to rank high in search results.
- Page Rank — A a value between 0 and 10 assigned by the Google algorithm, which quantifies a website’s popularity and trust among other (proprietary) factors. The higher your Page Rank, the more authoritative your website.
- META tags — Text included in the HEAD section of an HTML page which provides the spiders information about the page. It is very important to have unique and accurate META title and description tags, because often that is the text a search engine will show in its results for your website.
- SSL Certificate — An SSL certificate is a digital certificate that authenticates the identity of a website and encrypts, or scrambles, information sent to the server so that only the intended receiver can read it. It adds the “s” to the http in your URL (https://) and signals to Google and your customers that your site is secure.
There is a lot of jargon associated with SEO (most of which you don’t need to know!), so if you come across a term you don’t understand, this glossary from Moz is a wonderful place to start.
What to DO with this information?
By now you may be thinking, “That’s great, but what do I actually DO with any of this information?”
As a small business owner, it can feel daunting to try to figure out what you should be doing to help Google — and therefore your customers! — find your website. That’s why I put together our brand new Organic Traffic Guide for Business Class members, but to get you started, here’s a very basic list of things you can do to improve your SEO:
- Choose a seo friendly platform for your website. WordPress and Shopify (ecommerce) are considered to be the strongest in terms of how well they are built for SEO.
- Use premium themes. When picking a theme for your website (WordPress or Shopify), always opt for a premium theme that has a lot of positive user reviews. Even if you find a pretty theme to buy, it doesn’t mean that the code used to build it is clean, which can damage your chance of ranking on search. Elegant Themes (makers of Divi) and Studio Press both offer popular and well built WordPress themes. Shopify also has premium theme marketplace where you can find well built/popular themes.
- Use seo plugins or apps. If you run on WordPress, install and setup the Yoast SEO plugin. This plugin will simplify managing your site SEO. The Yoast website has great tutorials to help you set this plugin up, but if you want help, there are a ton of freelancers on Upwork or even Fiverr you can hire to help you.
- Be cautious with popups. Use of popups can hurt your site SEO if they are intrusive and disrupt the user experience. If you want to use a popup, make sure that they make the user experience better. I recommend only having popups appear upon exit, if at all.
- Activate an ssl certificate on your site. An SSL Certificate creates a more secure connection for your site visitors (via the “https” protocol). Google favors sites that protect it’s user’s security, giving you a SEO boost.
- Work to acquire quality backlinks. Acquiring backlinks is an older SEO strategy that still matters, but the strategy of adding backlinks has evolved. Quality is the name of the game now. Don’t submit your site to directories or other “backlink farms” thinking you’ll improve your chance of appearing in search. Work to network with influencers in related niches and get them to link to some of your best content.
Finally, your next step should definitely be to download our SEO Health Workbook to get a handle on the SEO health of your website and the action steps you may need to take to improve it.