The world of online marketing is fraught with consultants that will do their best to convince you that their services are the only thing that will get your business noticed by search engines. However, many of these “experts”, while very good salespeople, are not involved in the actual implementation of campaigns and in that regard have little to offer in the way of actual skills. This is particularly true in the world of search engine optimization (SEO), where individuals often mask their lack of ability by invoking complex-sounding jargon and promising too-good-to-be-true results (i.e. 1st place ranking on Google for a competitive keyword).
With this in mind, Skunkworks decided to put together this blog post, which describes the basics of search engine optimization, so that our clients will be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff the next time an SEO consultant comes calling.
Two Major Components of SEO
The two main focuses of search engine optimization are:
- Content Building
- Link Building
That’s it. Although Google’s algorithm takes over 200 factors into account, the combined power of keyword-laden content and external links pointing to your website are really what determines where your page shows up on Google. If your SEO consultant fails to mention either of these topics and focuses instead on meta-tags, keyword stuffing, and gateway pages, you should see it as a red flag.
SEO Optimized Content
There are several methods for attaining good “On-Page SEO”, which is the term SEO specialists apply to any optimization method that is achieved through the manipulation of the site’s content. The most common On-Page practices that SEO professionals will endorse include:
- Placing relevant keywords (e.g. Vancouver Insurance Lawyer) throughout your website.
- Including keyword variation (e.g. “Vancouver Insurance Lawyers” as well as “Insurance lawyers in Vancouver”) throughout your website to ensure that your page appears in various long-tail searches.
- Maintaining a reasonable level of keyword density. Although some SEO consultants will recommend placing keywords wherever possible, this tends to impact the quality of your writing. As a result, more people might find your site but few will be swayed to actually retain your services. Place keywords throughout your site to catch the attention of Google’s bots, but don’t forget that you’re also writing for human beings.
- Using proper descriptive alt tags for images.
- Using descriptive anchor text for internal links and, where possible, external links pointing back to your site.
Backlinks and Off-Page SEO
While optimization methods that are achieved through the development of strong content are categorized as On-Page SEO, optimization techniques that depend upon link-building are often referred to as “Off-Page SEO”.
In short, Off-Page SEO is achieved when a third-party website decides to link back to content that you post. Generally speaking, the more reputable the third-party website linking to your pages, the more your content will rise in Google’s search results. For instance, a link from www.Britannica.com will do a lot more for your website’s position in Google’s search results than a link from a rarely updated personal blog (More detailed articles on why this is the case can be found on The Economist and Wikipedia). To further impact SEO, the best results for backlinks will occur when a highly reputable third-party site links back to your online content using keywords as anchor text:
Great Resource on changes to The BC Family Act (good for SEO)
Click here for a Great Resource on changes to The BC Family Act (not as good)
*NOTE: Some SEO consultants will advise you to take part in link farms. These practices are considered Black Hat SEO and can get you into a lot of trouble with Google. We advise against getting involved with any SEO consultant that endorses link farming.
Other Important Factors
It is possible to optimize the title tags of various pages on your site by adding up to three additional keywords to the page’s meta-title. The new text included in your title tags (ex. <title>Text + Keyword + Keyword + Keyword</title>) will not appear as the new title of your blog post or web page within your actual post, but will appear as the post or page’s new title in Google’s search results. These title tags are fairly easy to customize through a site’s html, but can also be manipulated through SEO plug-ins if your website is built on WordPress. Whether you put your brand (e.g., your firm name) or keywords first is also something to consider depending on what you are trying to achieve.
Header tags are the H1, H2, and H3 tags that are placed around website content to indicate that the wrapped text is a header. These coincide with subheadings within the text of your website. Think of them like the descending headings in an index. Keywords wrapped in these tags tend to carry more weight with search engines, when compared to regular text, as they introduce the topic that is about to be discussed. Wherever possible, place keywords in headings being careful to make sure the heading accurately reflects the content. There is a balance that needs to be struck between using sufficient keywords and phrases and making sure that page content is useful to the people who will be reading it i.e., your potential clients. The underlying rationale for Google’s algorithm is to promote sites that contain relevant and useful content. Unfortunately, some SEO consultants forget that content was meant to be read by people, and not just search engine spiders. In order to have any real prospect of converting viewers to clients, the material has to make sense and demonstrate the expertise of the site owner.
It’s important to note that meta descriptions do not directly factor into the search algorithms of major search engines and will not influence where your website ranks on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. However, meta descriptions are used as snippets to describe web pages when they appear in search results and are often more attractive than the snippets of text that Google automatically pulls from your website. As a result, people may be more likely to visit your website if you include meta descriptions, increasing the organic traffic that your website receives.
More information on SEO can be found at Moz or in Google’s SEO Guidelines. You can also read other articles on our blog dealing with Black Hat SEO and Five Questions to Ask a Law Firm SEO Consultant or you can call us for a consult to see where SEO fits with your market strategy.