What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Is it Still Important?


I’ve worked in SEO for a while now. When I first started, it was all about meta-keywords, keywords in the title, keywords in the text, and perhaps keywords that you couldn’t see in the footer (don’t hate too much – remember flash?).

But things have changed for the better. Now we are all about great content. In fact, this article from “The Death Of SEO: The Rise Of Social, PR, And Real Content” sums up the transition fairy well:

Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it.

With one slight understatement: SEO is still extremely important. It is not dead.

Having great content is the equivalent of having a great product. A great product still needs marketing to sell. The same is true for SEO. Great content needs search engine optimization.

So, what are some of the best On-Page SEO techniques that are still valid?

*On-page SEO refers to the process of optimizing specific pages and sections of your site content to make it more clear for users and search engines. The goal is to have any given page of your site — from top to bottom — be aligned with a certain topic.

*Off page SEO refers to techniques that can be used to improve the position of a web site in the search engine results page (SERPs). Many people associate off-page SEO with link building but it is not only that. In general, off Page SEO has to do with promotion via Social Media, Publications, etc… (Off-Page SEO won’t be discussed much in this article)

An Ideally Optimized Web Page (On-Page SEO)

An ideal web page should do all of the following:

  • Provide unique content for your audience. Content that people are looking for and want to read.
  • Be relevant to a specific topic (usually an idea or specific product)
    • Include subject (keyword) in title tag
    • Include subject (keyword) in URL
    • Include subject (keyword) in image alt text
    • Specify subject (keyword) several times throughout text content
  • Internal Links
    • Link back to its category page
    • Link back to its subcategory page (If applicable)
    • Link back to its homepage (normally accomplished with an image link showing the website logo on the top left of a page)

The Need for SEO

When you start a website (or a small business), you begin with strangers. Strangers are people who have no idea who you are.

Strangers don’t know your logo or your brand. They have no idea that you exist right down the street, let alone that you have a website. The hope for you is that this unknown, unfamiliar website, name, sign, logo, will become a trusted figure in the community that people will seek out, but how do you get there? How do you get to know these strangers?

No matter how great your services are, your writing, or what your credentials are, if people do not know about you, they won’t get on a computer and find you by Brand (let alone search for you by name – if they don’t know it).

Creating Websites that Attract Visitors

So many times, when working with business owners, they spend hundreds of dollars on promoting their brand when people have no idea who they are or what they do – let alone their brand name. They promote “One Solution”, but if people do not know of the One Solution – how will they ever find it?

1. Your aim on the website is to attract strangers so that strangers become visitors, and visitors become clients. To make this happen, you need to create interesting content that is synonymous with who you are, and optimize that content in order to invite viewers onto your website.

2. Once those strangers become visitors, they create pageviews.

And although they are unique people (and they are reading your content), they don’t pay the bills. Those visitors are leads.

3. Next step, get those leads (the people on your page) to contact you, or come and visit you – to become paying customers.

A website / blog is just a platform for you to get people to come to your offices.

4. Once you have those customers, you have to delight them, gain their trust, so much so that they promote your brand, write positive reviews about you, and keep coming back for your services (no matter what they are).

Aka: People come alot. Huge LTV.

See the Funnel?

So how do you get strangers to look at your site, then take those visitors (who were strangers) and then turn them into customers and brand advocates? Website Optimization.

What is Optimization?

Optimization is making something as effective and functional as possible. Optimizing your website is setting your site up for success.

Optimization, for this article, will cover how to get people to your site (strangers to visitors), and what do you do with them once they get there (visitors to potential customers). If your site is not optimized, you cannot attract strangers. Optimized sites help you reach out.

Who do you optimize your site for?

You must optimize your site for the visitors and search engines. You have to optimize your site for both because a) if you optimize your site for visitors only – by adding tons of images, little text, and making a graphics heavy website – Google won’t notice it, but b) if you optimize only for Google – and do not write compelling, interesting content – you will not have repeat visitors, let alone customers.

Optimize for website visitors.

Visitors are people who come to your site. (If you do not already have it, you can add Google Analytics to your site to track your visitors.) Visitors are important because they mean more potential customers. But how do you get visitors?

Write articles to your buyers. Write content that they want to read. If you are a mechanic, write about potential problems and how to fix those problems.

For example, since the majority of searches are phrased as questions, write a blog post like, “How do I change my oil? Tips for Changing your Oil in Charlotte”. This is content that a) appeals to your audience, b) interest your audience, c)makes you the expert, and d) could potentially become a lead for oil changes.

If you have been blogging for a while now, but are not seeing any success, think about your audience for a bit. Who are they? What would they want to read? Marketing professionals like to call your audience “target audiences,” “buyer personas,” or etc… but honestly, don’t think of them that way. As a business owner, think of them as the person sitting next to you on the couch.

Don’t depersonalize or dehumanize the person. What is the person in your business (let’s call her Mary) interested in? What would help Mary solve a problem? What would be troubling Mary? What type of content would Mary want to read about [your business]?

You know your audience better than many marketing professionals. Why? Because you’ve had a personal conversation with most of them (or someone like them).

Once you have defined your audience, write to them.

Everything that you do on your site, should be controlled by who your audience is. Your blogging, offers, CTA’s, contact forms, everything should be directed to your audience. Create a website and content that is marketing to your audience (Mary).

Use language that they are comfortable with. Your audience doesn’t know (or care) about the new mufflers, or the technical terms when they are reading online. When they visit you in person, Yes!, they want and need to know that you can expertly work, but when they are reading online – they want and need you to use language they are comfortable with. Keeping it simple markets you to your audience, but also to the search engines.

Optimize for Search Engines

Google receives over 100 billion search queries a month (according to Search Engine Land), and most of those searches are looking for answers. People are more personal with Google than they are with counselors. People are seeking answers for their strained relationships, worries, problems, business, etc…

And although over 500 billion searches are made, 70-80% (according to Search Engine Watch) of users do not look past the first page of search results. So, this inevitably leads to the most important and most asked question by businesses (concerning their internet marketing):

How do I rank on Google? (or “How do I show up on the first page of Google?”)

SEO – Search Engine Optimization. Your job is to make it easier for the search engines to understand your content (internet crawler). Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc all use robots to crawl billions of sites. Your job, in addition to making great content for the user – is to make content readable for the crawlers.

The search engines crawl your pages with a robot, gather data by looking at a few key areas, identify what it is about, index it, and then serve that content to someone searching for that phrase or content. Confused yet?

Let’s make it a little simpler: Let’s go back to the first goal: Write content that appeals to your audience. But how do you write content to your audience and search engines?

You select keywords that your audience would be searching. If you are a counselor, you may have a list of keywords including: marriage counseling, career counseling, addiction counseling, etc… You pick a list of keywords “topics’ and write about those.

Use the same terminology that your audience uses. You want to use the same terms they are using because these are the terms they will use to find you. You have to think like your audience, because if you do not use they keywords they use, they will never find you.

There are five different places that you will want to consider adding your keywords to (let’s just be honest – there are millions of factors in SEO – but these 5 will certainly help):

1.Page Titles

The page title is one of the most important places to include your keyword phrase. The title lets your users know what the content will be about. Although a visitor may not notice this, the search engines will. If you are writing an article about Counseling in Boston, you would want your title to include the keywords “Counseling in Boston” or “Boston Counseling”.

2. URLs

Domains. It is great to have the domain describe what you do, such as: “BostonCounseling.com” or “CounselingBoston.com”. In fact, if you are just starting out in practice, considering removing your brand name in the domain, and focus on your keywords (no one knows your brand name anyway). Those domains describe what you do, and they include your keywords. If you cannot get a domain with your keywords, you need to include them in your URLs, such as www.thriveboston.com/marriage-counseling.

3. Page Headers

When you are in WordPress or your website text editor (even Word), have you ever noticed: Heading 1 Heading 2 Heading 3 Heading 4 Paragraph … These headings are important for both the user and the search engines. For the users, they show a subtle progression. For the search engines, they tell the robot that this content is important. Some people (SEO snobs) will say it is not important, but it doesn’t hurt. And with there being 7 billion websites out there, do you really think the robots read every word? The heading tags help the robots understand the content faster.

4. Content

Just make sure you use your keywords in your content. Don’t over use it. Just make sure you cover the topic. If you are writing on marriage counseling – just write on the topic. Trust me – you will use the words a lot. You will not have a problem with that.

5. Meta Description

The meta tag is visible on the search engine results. It is the 70 characters that are shown on the results pages (underneath the blue links). The meta description tag doesn’t play into the robots SEO algorithm (so they say!), but it will determine if your visitor clicks on your link or not. Your meta description is a brief synopsis of your article.

Other On Page SEO strategies (not touched upon):

  • User friendly navigation (breadcrumbs, user sitemaps)
  • Optimized internal links
  • Image optimization (image size, proper image names, use of ALT tag)
  • User friendly 404 pages
  • Fast loading pages
  • Google Authorship verification for all pages
  • External links (no broken links or links to ‘bad’ sites)

Wrapping up:

  1. Define your audience.
  2. Build a website and content directed on them.
  3. Structure your SEO on-page elements so they can actually find it.

But, that’s not the end. Just the beginning. Once you get those, you’ll engage in link building, redirects, Hcards, server optimization, authors, etc…



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