Do you find it impossible to get clear answers about what it takes to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) successfully? 

In other words: Does finding the right SEO formula feel a lot like looking for the holy grail or wandering the yellow brick road in pursuit of the mythical Wizard of Oz?

Believe it or not, building an effective SEO strategy isn't as difficult as most people think it is.

The complexity comes in when businesses -- and people that work on websites -- get lost in the minutia of SEO. They never take time to step back, get out of the SEO weeds and take a big picture view of what it takes to do SEO successfully.

Effective SEO

Think about Google (or Bing or any other search engine) as a giant service business. The service they provide is to get users to the best information related to what they're searching for (words, images, videos, shopping, addresses, destinations, reviews and more), any place and any time, as quickly as possible. 

Inherently, an effective SEO strategy is simple. It's all about delivering a quality online informational experience to your website visitors so search engines will see value in driving more traffic to it.

Provide a stellar experience, Google will send visitors your way. Deliver a mediocre one, and Google will limit the number of people they direct to your site. Create a terrible experience, Google cuts you off completely. That's the kiss of death for most businesses.

How to do SEO successfully

So, what can you do to provide a high-quality online experience to Google's users? Keep it simple and focus on four key areas, including:

  • Publishing stellar content
  • Generating buzz
  • Delivering a positive user experience
  • Maintaining the mechanics.

Remember: No website gets every aspect of SEO right. A good-faith effort will register with search engines and earn you more traffic.

Publishing stellar content

The purpose of any search engine is to drive traffic to the best content associated with a search term (otherwise known as a keyword.)

The first step a search engine takes to do this is to scan how often and effectively you use the keywords you want to be known for on the pages of your site. This can include individual keywords along with phrases that include them. Not only do search engines scan the copy on your site, they also look at the headlines. In many cases, headers provide the biggest clues to what a page is about. It's important that you find the right balance. Too few keywords and you won't register, too many and you could get penalized for keyword manipulation. 

Then Google monitors how viewers interact with the content in order to determine its value. High bounce rates are a sign that the content may be poor. Adequate time on page and clicks on page links are indicators the content is helpful.

Other things Google looks for is whether sites publish fresh content regularly (they don't want to drive the same users to the same stale content over and over again) and the mix of content types. Including videos, photos, charts, and infographics that support the keywords effectively will register positively. 

Generating buzz

Google alone does not decide whether your site is worthy of driving traffic to. They look for signals from experts and everyday people. These signals include:

Site links
One of the top signals Google looks to in order to determine if your site is a quality one is whether other reputable sites think it's good. Google pays attention to what sites link to yours. The higher the quality of the sites that do this, the better.

Essentially, if Google trusts a site and that links to yours, it will have a halo effect, and Google will likely drive more traffic to you because of it. Authority passes on authority.

Page links
Similar to site links, Google pays attention to sites that link to the content on individual pages on your site. Again, if authoritative and high quality sites add links to individual pages on your site, it's a positive indicator to Google that the content on those pages is helpful. As a result, Google will likely drive more traffic to those individual pages.

Site popularity
Google looks at the amount of traffic going to your site and what happens to it once it gets there. If your site attracts more traffic than other similar or competitive sites, and seems to deliver a decent experience once visitors get there, Google will drive more traffic to it. This is the ultimate pay-off for nurturing a solid site and experience over the long-term. Once your site becomes popular and trusted by search engines, they will continue to push more traffic to it.

Brand rank and trust
Google looks for clues as to whether your brand is a significant and trusted one compared to others in your industry. Google will deliver more traffic to brands that are more authoritative than ones that are not. Press coverage, blog and article mentions, and social buzz about your brand will impact this. The public relations field is rapidly evolving to support this aspect of SEO.

Ratings and reviews
Another powerful signal that your site (and the business associated with it) is a trusted one are positive online reviews. Having customers say something nice is a solid indicator that positive things are happening that are worth sending traffic to. Of course, negative reviews will have the opposite impact.

Social signals
One thing many search engine optimization strategies ignore is that Google looks outside the webisphere for clues as to whether a site is popular with visitors. They also monitor social media interactions looking for signals about website and content quality. In other words, if people on Facebook and other social channels are buzzing about your site, Google will recognize that and pay attention. A smart social strategy is good for SEO.

Delivering a positive user experience

A restaurant that serves great food will likely fail if it's dirty, unattractive or provides bad service. The same is true of websites. You can deliver the best content on the Internet, but if users have a terrible experience on your site, Google and other search engines will not recommend it.

The top user experience factor Google monitors today is mobility. More people these days view web pages on smartphones than on any other device type. Google will not drive mobile traffic to a site that's not optimized for mobile. That can very significantly impact website traffic. 

Other things to look out for include:

  • Readability and scanability. Is it easy to get to the content on your website? Is your website design a clean one that makes it easy to read and navigate? One of the biggest mistakes firms make is inserting barriers to accessing content and key messages. A meaningless photo or unclear subhead that stops visitors in their tracks can impact the user experience and reduce the amount of search engine traffic.
  • Page load time. The faster your web pages load, the better. People have little patience these days, and faster-loading pages will definitely win the Google race.
  • Browser compatibility. Your site should function effectively on different browsers. A poor experience on a browser will likely generate more bounces, which register negatively on search engines.

Simply put, if your website experience is a good one, and Google sees that visitors are spending time exploring it, Google will drive more of their users to your site.

Maintaining the mechanics

Another analogy: You can build a beautiful car, but if it has a lousy engine and transmission, no one will buy it. The same is true about websites. They can include effective content and deliver a decent experience, but if the back-end is broken or unreadable by search engines, the site will be impacted. That's why Google looks at whether certain, more technical aspects of your site are effective, including domain name length, page descriptions, TLD extension, SSL certificate, and other things.

Next steps

Want to learn more about search engine optimization, including the in-depth factors that play into the four categories outlined in this article? MOZ offers a broad-based overview and another interesting one related to on-page optimization. AMP News has a simpler view.

Also, consider talking to an agency experienced in developing smart SEO strategies for financial and professional services firms. Carpenter Group stays on top of the SEO trends so you don't have to. We can help you develop an SEO strategy aligned with your business goals. Then we can implement it on your website and support it by supplying fresh content on a regular basis and promoting it through social media.

What are you waiting for? Contact us today!