Search Engine Optimization (SEO), a fundamental component of website building and digital marketing, has been around long enough that we in the business already look back fondly at the “good old days” of SEO. Once upon a time, getting your website to rank was as simple as cramming enough keywords into a page, a practice that now has the opposite effect. These days, SEO is a complex set of best practices that is constantly being changed and updated, so keeping your website optimized can be a full-time job.
Before we go any further, to understand SEO we need to understand how search engines work. Basically, Google, Bing, etc. send robots all around the internet that “crawl” every website they can find. They pull all the data from these sites and, using a very large set of complex algorithms, attempt to identify which ones have the most valuable information for their users.
For example, when you type “e-commerce” into Google, it attempts to sort the search results in order of what you are most likely to find useful. The problem with this is that robots are not that good at deciding what is and isn’t useful to humans.
The practice of search engine optimization then is to find ways to tell those robots that your website is the one people are looking for. But this comes with a problem as well, which is that even poor or spam websites can still have good SEO, and so Google, etc. have to constantly improve their algorithms in order to filter out the sites that are trying to “trick” them into thinking they’re useful and return only the best possible results for their users.
So as search engines get smarter, SEO practices have to get more sophisticated. Let’s have a look at some of the key elements of SEO and how you can use them to increase your online visibility.
Terms you need to know
Keywords: Keywords are the terms or phrases browsers are searching for. Search engines catalog the keywords you’ve incorporated in your website and use them to rank your site appropriately in their results pages.
In-bound and out-bound links: Search engines consider how many other websites link to yours, as well as which websites you link to, to measure the legitimacy of your site. The quality of the in-bound and out-bound links will also influence your score.
UX: User experience is a broad category of its own which includes ease-of-use, intuitive navigation and quick loading times. Search engines consider how pleasurable it is to use a website when ranking them in their results pages.
Bounces: When someone clicks through to a site only to discover that it is not what they were looking for, they will hit “Back” to return to the results page. This is called a “bounce” and it signals to search engines that your site is not what visitors are looking for, so they will rank it lower in future search results.
Tips to get you on track
Don’t Get Comfortable
If you haven’t updated your SEO practices in the last year they’re at least partly out of date, but there’s another reason why you need to be constantly tweaking and maintaining your website. Search engines rank websites lower if they appear stagnant – if the content of your website is updated infrequently, it may do damage to your SEO score.
Understand Your Audience
The main function of SEO is to leverage keywords. By modifying the structure and content of your website, you can incorporate keywords that are relevant to your products and that your target market is using to search for similar products on the web. However, it’s important to focus on target keywords very specific to your potential audience. Popular search terms are a double-edged sword – avoid common keywords unless they’re definitely favored by your specific audience, otherwise you risk a high bounce rate.
Analytics can help you keep it fresh. By keeping a watchful eye on your website analytics you can identify which of your SEO campaigns are performing well and how to deploy your resources most effectively. Pay attention to your bounce rates, paid vs. organic traffic, brand vs. non-brand keyword performance, and long-tail vs. short-tail traffic.
Search engines also use analytics to identify the legitimacy of a website. If you can increase the average time your visitors spend on your website, search engines will see that as a vote of confidence that your website is indeed useful to their users.
Optimize Your Site
There are a few ways to optimize your site:
Pages more than three levels deep into your website are rarely going to be seen by a human being, so keep all the important information close to the surface. If users have to click more than twice from your homepage to get to the information they’re looking for, most of the time they will go looking for it somewhere else.
Trimming unnecessary pages from your site and eliminating duplicate content can increase your score since both of those are interpreted by search engines as spam.
Search engines consider loading times and broken links when ranking sites, so make sure your site is running smoothly at all times.
Leverage Marketing and Social Media
Good customer service never goes out of style – it’s even more important to the overall success of your business than SEO. In the age of social media, a bad review can spread like wildfire and severely impact your ability to reach new customers. Social media is a boon to SEO practitioners for its utility in link building, user-generated content and reputation management. Signals from social media, including the number of followers, community engagement and content sharing tells search engines that your brand and website are valuable to their users.
More traditional forms of marketing can be effective as well, such as email marketing, maintaining a local physical presence, and getting your business reviewed by popular blogs and news outlets.
We are far from the age of “If you build it they will come”, especially not in the crowded and competitive online retail industry. Search engine optimization is the key to standing out in this market –9 out of 10 consumers use search engines to make purchasing decisions, and SEO is the way to compete for their attention. If you have any further questions about implementing good SEO practices for your website, leave a comment below, and keep visiting the Payza Blog for more tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your e-commerce business.