Welcome to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR)! Many people remember from high school learning about the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century that steam engines brought about and how it changed human society from being composed primarily of self-sufficient farmers to specialized factory workers, but there have been several other industrial revolutions since then of equal importance to human society.
Henry Ford pioneered the Second Industrial Revolution (2IR) with factory line automation and inventing the field of Industrial Engineering. The robotics revolution of the late ’70s was the 3IR, and the internet today is the backbone of the 4IR, the digital age.
Never before in history has it been possible for an individual to be able to easily market and sell products across the world from your home. The downside is that people need to be able to find you, and this is the domain of search engine optimization (SEO).
If it is easier than ever to create a website to sell a product or service, then it is also harder to stand out from thousands if not millions of others doing similar things. Search engines, like Google, specialize in helping people find what they are looking for – which has spawned the business necessity of creating an SEO-focused website.
How Google ranks a website is a special part of their algorithms, and this is difficult to explain as Google and any other search engine (hi Bing!), does not explicitly tell us how they rank anything, which is good.
There are entire cottage industries spawned around “gaming” SEO page ranking algorithms, artificially causing spammy products to become more visible and suppressing actual useful links. Yet there are industry best practices that should be followed to ensure that your website can be found by those who are legitimately looking for your product or service.
Building brand credibility is hard and requires a comprehensive SEO strategy in order to gain the “trust” of a search engine.
Remember, none of this has anything to do with knowing your web address (URL) but the game is how do you ‘give directions’ to your website? The 4IR is all about making the most of digital infrastructure to help you succeed, and succeeding on the internet largely lies with people being able to find you.
1. What is an SEO-Friendly Website?
Human nature, being what it is, means that most people will never look past the first page of search engine results (SERP). No one is really going to scroll through 12 pages of results before finally clicking on the link to your website on the 13th page. To be found organically (by a search query) is be ranked on that first page for the keywords you choose. A long time ago, before Google, getting ranked by a search engine more or less meant including the target keyword more than others. This often yielded incredibly unhelpful search results, e.g., Wall Street investment articles appearing in a query for ‘how to build a wall’ because of the repeated use of the keyword ‘wall.’
Google changed this by analyzing more elements and including them in their machinery that spits out the SERP.
Before we explain the technical details, first, let’s discuss the basic heuristics of what makes a website good for SEO.
SEO is Not Advertising
This is a nuanced distinction, as both require money and strategy, but SEO comes from the structure of your website and the content included in it while pay per click (PPC) advertising is a way of paying Google, or any search engine, to promote your website. They work together, but we are focused on organic search results via SEO and not inorganic (paid PPC campaigns). To be successful requires
Does your website load fast? Do you have pictures? Do you use HTTPS in your URL? All these things are important for your website in order to be considered SEO’d. Google will rank your website higher if it loads faster. Likewise, Google will suppress, or lower, your website SERP if you contain lots of duplicate information. To be SEO-friendly is to be useful for someone looking for your product via a search engine.
Use Appropriate Schema Markup
Every webpage searched and indexed by search engines should use available classification properties and microdata. Metadata is data that is present on every website that is for search engines. Things like a title tag explicitly inform that an element is a title.
This may seem obvious, but it is analogous to a blueprint for a home – the better labeled and clearer it is for someone else to read, the more likely the home will be built to specification according to the design. The same is true for a website – explicitly telling Google where the elements of your website help make it clear the context of your website, and therefore make it better for ranking purposes.
In a vacuum, your website is meaningless without context, and having the appropriate schema filled out gives Google the context for your website. Conversely, not having the appropriate metadata means that Google, and other search engines, will suppress your SERP ranking.
Content, Content, Content…
SEO rewards websites that have more information, and thus more context for your website. It is a good practice to have a blog on your website. A blog is nothing more than web copy, and copy provides context. Writing a blog that lists FAQ’s or contains recipes, or even the history of your field is rewarded for SEO purposes.
Even if no one ever reads this section of your website, the mere existence of this content greatly helps your website’s page ranking.
Is your website optimized for mobile – or for viewing on your cell phone screen? Consider your website as viewed from a traditional computer. Now consider it shrunk down to the size of your phone. That is likely a terrible experience because everything is now too small. How are you supposed to click on something when your finger is much larger than a mouse cursor?
Most often, a website will have two sets of instructions, one for telling your web browser how to display it on a laptop or desktop computer and another set of instructions for displaying it on a mobile device. The content should be the same in either case, but how the content is displayed will be optimized for the particular device in use. Good mobile responsive, or mobile-first website design accounts for this. This gives your user a better experience, and with that comes a higher page ranking.
If you have a website that sells mattresses, then obviously you want your website to rank when someone types the query “mattress store near me.” However, there is a lot of information missing here. A search engine does not know if you mean to build a mattress or buy one, or if you have a back condition and are looking for a Tempur-Pedic brand mattress. This is where keyword research comes into play for SEO.
Obviously, sleep is associated with a mattress, so make sure that your website mentions sleeping. By researching related keywords and including them in your content and schema, you increase your SEO and make your website as user-friendly and findable as possible.
2. What are the Basic Elements of Web Design with SEO in Mind?
Use your research to craft your message effectively. People like narratives, so it is good to consider the narrative or the message of your website. Think of this as creating credibility for your website. Consider asking for directions – you are unlikely to ask a child for directions over their parents. Why is this? You know that the parents have more experience, they are better able to articulate themselves, and to to try to understand the context of your question. The same principle exists with web design based around SEO – to give your website “credibility” to be ranked you need to include these basic elements:
Research the Keyword(s) You Want Your Page to Rank With
This is the most “meaty” part of SEO. Search engines exist to provide you results based on the keywords you query. There is an art to this. How do you search for something that you lack the ability to describe easily?
The more research is done on what other keywords are similar to your target one(s), the more likely your website is to rank on the first page of Google results.
Back to the mattress store analogy from earlier – someone who is looking for a new bed might not realize that they mean “mattress” as their bed frame and box spring are just fine. Therefore bed is another keyword you want your mattress store website to contain.
Identify Which Pages are Ranking with Those Keywords
Do not reinvent the wheel, research your competitors, and notice what keywords are associated with them and determine what qualities these websites possess. Keywords are not really a place to differentiate from your competition.
Create Great Copy
This is more about things NOT to do. As mentioned earlier, avoid keyword stuffing. Do not spam the keywords on your website. This is a naïve approach to SEO, and it is one that is likely to be detected and interpreted as spam, or even worse – fraudulent.
Also, do not create thin content. When it comes to designing your website, do not separate like content into multiple pages. This is inherently confusing for people, and Google’s algorithm does not like this as it comes off as “gaming the system.”
3. How Do I Make My Copy Effective for SEO?
Effective SEO copy is easy to do if you are honest about it. This seems strange, but SEO manipulation is an ongoing issue that many unscrupulous people continually try to take advantage of.
Here are some effective tips for creating good copy for your website:
Pretty pictures are nice, but pictures require a lot of bandwidth to display. If you have pictures of your items for sale, then there is no reason to use a 10 MB filesize when something on the order of 100 KB will do. The extra resolution is unnecessary and just wastes time loading and data. Also, upload images of the correct format. A square image will become stretched if you try to put it in a rectangular element, so upload a rectangularly formatted image to ensure it is always displayed properly.
Make Content Shareable
Include the ability to share your copy at the bottom. Cross website links are a great tool for building authority. This helps your site’s credibility. The more people share and link to your content, the better.
Optimize Content Length
A headline should be a sentence, not a paragraph. Likewise, a blog should not be the length of a book. This is more an art than a science, but depending on the purpose of your copy, there is an ideal length of your copy.
Consider a person’s valuable time. They are likely to read and remember a good short description of a product. Whereas, if the same product has a description that is five paragraphs, or one word, it is likely not to be read or trusted.
Link to Other Pages
Link to your own content. This is analogous to memory – the more things you associate with the memory, the more likely you retain it all your life. Likewise, if your copy links to the previous copy on your website, then the more SEO credibility you give to yourself.
4. How Does Conversion Rate Optimization Play a Role?
Conversion is a simple formula – how many people visiting your site take the action you want them to take – usually filling out a form or calling your business phone. If one million people visit your store, but only one person buys something, then your conversion rate is one in a million (which is terrible, by the way. You’ll want to do something about that.)
Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a matter of analyzing how effective your website is at converting visitors to customers, which is different than SEO, which is about giving people the ability to find your website. CRO has its own considerations and formulas to consider. Successful CRO metrics are different based upon the types of services and products that your website offers.
One thing’s for sure, however. As Google’s algorithms shift their focus from clear-cut criteria like keyword density to a more objective, even human-like analysis of your website, optimizations that lead to a higher conversion rate may very well lead to an improvement in rankings. After all, it’s all about quality.