Using SEO To Drive Relevant Traffic To Your Conversion Content and Sales Copy

A comprehensive step-by-step guide to everything you wanted to know about SEO as a business owner but were afraid to ask.

At SCC, we focus on creating great content and sales copy that converts browsers into buyers. But we also understand the value of targeted traffic generation that brings you relevant visitors ready to buy.

After all, there’s no point in creating powerful conversion content if you can’t get it in front of people! SEO (search engine optimization) is a powerful tool for driving relevant traffic. And in today’s day and age of smartphones and search engines – it’s an absolute “must” for any online marketing strategy. 

Understanding SEO as a beginner can seem overwhelming, so we asked our project manager Steve to break it down for us. While Steve is a talented project manager and content creator, he’s still fairly new to the world of advanced SEO, which makes him the perfect escort to walk you through this step-by-step guide to understanding the fundamentals and critical elements of search engine optimization. 

Take it away Steve!

——————————– Enter Steve ———————————-

Let’s start with a really simple scenario – Imagine that you’ve started writing a new blog where you review the best pizza restaurants in New York City. You’re passionate about pizza, and you want to share that passion with as many people as possible by helping them discover which New York pizzeria is the best.

There’s just one problem – nobody is reading your blog.

Your friends and family, who’ve taken a look after you shared it from your personal Facebook page, have told you that it’s great. The reviews you wrote were entertaining, informative and accurate. So how do you get the rest of New York City to start reading your blog?

You need to get people to your website – but not just any people – specifically, you want people who are looking for the best pizza restaurants in NYC. Or at the very least – want general food and restaurant recommendations for NYC.

That’s where SEO comes in.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of manipulating your your website so that search engines will rank your online content higher in their listings so it shows up at the top of a user’s search results.

It is about giving that little bit extra to help potential readers or clients find you. When someone types searches for “best pizza restaurant in NYC” you want your website to be the first result they see.
SEO is the series of steps you need to take to make that happen.
Let’s look a bit more closely at that:

Why Is SEO Important?
How Does Google Work
On-site vs. Off-site SEO
Understanding On-site Fundamentals
Understanding Off-site Fundamentals
White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO
Get Help With SEO

Why SEO Is Important?

why seo is important

When someone searches for something online, they’re expecting their search engine (usually Google) to find the best result, or the result that is most relevant for them. This is something Google takes very seriously since they know the more effective they are at finding answers to your questions, the more you will trust them going forward.

Because Google has proven itself capable of answering users questions with extreme relevance and accuracy, the majority of people don’t even click onto the second page of results. In fact the majority of users (two thirds or more) only click on one of the first five search results – meaning even those on the bottom of the first page are often overlooked.

If you’re not able to crack the first few results, chances are people simply won’t find you. This is why SEO is so important – to make sure you capture all of that traffic clicking on the top of page 1 search results. 

How Does Google Work?

Many people believe that when you search for a term in Google, it searches the whole web – the truth is that each time you type something into the Google search bar, it searches its own index of the world wide web. Google updates its index by sending out what is known as ‘spiders’ which “crawl” from link to link, assessing what each page is about.

spider index crawl

When you search for a keyword, Google checks its index and assesses which page is most relevant to the topic by asking a series of questions such as:

  • How often do the keywords appear on the page?
  • Do the keywords appear in the title?
  • Are the keywords in the URL?
  • Have other people searching for similar things found this page helpful?
  • Does the page appear to be quality or potentially spammy?
  • How many other websites link to the page?

In all, Google uses over 200 factors to assess the relevance of a page, and while we don’t know them all (Google keeps their algorithm a tightly guarded secret) – we as SEO professionals have managed to work out some of the key factors through lots of testing and monitoring.

These ranking factors form the foundation of your SEO strategy.

Updating its index regularly allows Google to return to the user potentially thousands of results in less than a second, ranked by how relevant they are for the search keywords. The end user receives an answer to their query almost instantly and clicks on one of the first few links. If you’re not there – you need a new SEO strategy.

Now lets look at the different elements of SEO, which work together to bring you to page 1.


On Site Vs Off Site SEO

Now that we’ve got you a basic understanding of the concept of SEO, it is time to introduce you to the two main categories
– On Site and Offsite SEO.

Broadly speaking, On Site SEO refers to all of the factors that affect your ranking on the actual page or website itself. (i.e. anything you do ON your website) This is going to include elements such as:

  • What your content is about and how it is organized
  • Headings
  • The structure of your URLs
  • How easy your site is to use, etc.

Conversely, Off Site SEO refers to all of the the factors that Google looks when analyzing how the rest of the web relates to your website. These aren’t directly related to what is on your website, but rather how the rest of the Internet sees and interacts with your website. These include things like:

  • links from other webpages back to your site
  • how much buzz you get from social networks
  • what kind of websites link back to your own site
  • and other factors that help Google understand how much other parties like and trust your page.

onsite vs offsite SEO

Effective SEO requires both of these to be addressed. We’ll demonstrate by using the example of one of the pizza restaurants our blogger might write about.

Imagine this pizzeria is your website. Examples of things the restaurant owner can control would include the items on the menu, how the staff treat customers, and the cleanliness of the premises. In SEO terms, these would be our on-site factors of the restaurant.

With regards to off site factors, if SEO were this restaurant, these might be things such as the safety of the neighborhood, the signage outside helping people find the restaurant, and whether someone writes a good review about it in the local paper.

Now consider what you could do to help this restaurant if it was struggling. You could spend time improving their menu, training the staff, and hiring a top-notch cleaning company – these would be easy wins that could potentially lead to you having the best restaurant in town.

But what happens if the outside factors have not been considered?
Perhaps the restaurant is in an undesirable neighborhood, there’s no signage telling people where it is located, and because it’s not popular, no critics will consider coming to review the restaurant. If that is the case, it is highly likely the pizzeria will not get many more customers. So you see – you can’t ignore off-site factors, even if the restaurant is absolutely perfect when you walk through the door. 

Let’s now consider the opposite scenario to show the importance of on-site. The restaurant owner starts a local campaign to clean up the neighborhood and improve ad signage, and invites a food critic to come and review the place by offering a free meal. However they’ve done nothing to improve the menu, staff or cleanliness – meaning when people do come, most leave instantly and your critic refuses to give a recommendation. Again – you can see that you can’t ignore on-site factors, even if the environment surrounding your restaurant is perfect. 

You can see how both on-site and off-site factors are critical to ensure that the restaurant in this example get more customers. The same is true for getting more people come to your website.

Now let’s break down both on-site and off-site SEO in more detail.


Understanding On-Site SEO Optimization Fundamentals

There’s a lot of different factors to consider when looking at on site optimization. At first it can seem overwhelming and confusing, but the good news is that it is all within your control to change and can have a big effect on your traffic.

on-site optimization factors

We can start by breaking down your on site optimization into three categories

  1. Content
  2. Basic HTML and Content Heriarchy 
  3. Website Design

Content

If you’re able to provide informative, interesting or entertaining content (or preferably all three!) you’re going to have satisfied customers – and Google loves satisfied customers.

SEO Content Rule #1: Provide High-quality Content.

Google is always trying to give its customers results that best suit their needs and satisfy their searches. Providing quality content is still one of the most important things you can do to encourage traffic to your website.

By providing your website visitors with quality content, they’re more likely to stay on your page longer as well as check out other pages on your website. Google will track this as it helps it to understand how relevant your page was to the original search.

and if your content is not relevant (or presented in a way which does not engage the reader) the visitor will leave your page and Google will reflect it in your bounce rate (ie, the number of people who leave your page immediately) – which is one of Google’s many ranking factors. This shows Google that the page was not relevant to the searcher’s enquiry, and could therefore negatively affecting your rankings. 

what is high quality content

SEO Content Rule #2: Update Your Content

Part of Google’s search algorithm involves checking for how “fresh” the content is, and therefore you need to ensure that you update your website (and the content on your website) regularly.

A common way to do this is to ensure you’re adding new blog posts regularly, but you can also achieve a good result in this area by updating existing pages. For example, our pizza restaurant blogger might update his pizzeria reviews after visiting them again, or if anything were to change at this restaurant (change of ownership, chef, menu, address etc) ensuring that there is always up to date information.

SEO Content Rule #3: Know Your Target Market

When writing a new blog piece or article it’s a good idea to know who you are writing for. Find out what people are searching for, and understand how that relates to the content that you can provide. Writing to address the pain points your specific audience has will also help you increase conversions.

If your copywriting skills need a boost:
You can learn more about how to write copy that converts “browsers” into “buyers” here:

There are numerous tools available online that can assist you to see how often people are searching for certain terms. They’ll also make suggestions relating to those terms which will let you know some keywords that you hadn’t considered.

As an example, after some research our pizza blogger may have found that the search term “best pizza near Brooklyn Bridge” is searched for 100,000 times per month – and then decides to write an article to capitalize on its popularity and grab some of that traffic.

SEO Content Rule #4: Use Your Keywords Wisely

Once you’ve established what your keywords are, you want to ensure that you use them in the most efficient way. Intuition may tell you to use the keywords as much as possible, however Google has developed it’s technology to be smarter than that.

Known as “keyword stuffing”, this tactic of over-filling your content with keywords in an unnatural way will actually hurt your rankings rather than help, as Google considers this behaviour to be suspicious and will treat your page like spam.

The better tactic is to use your keywords in high- value places on your page such as the URL, titles and other page headings. This also ensures your content looks natural to the reader, ensuring the integrity of your content is upheld.

Our pizza blogger, for example, should can include the search term they found during their keyword research and work it into a headline such as: What is the best pizza restaurant near the Brooklyn Bridge?

You can learn more about the best places to put your keywords here.

SEO Content Rule #5: Answer Questions

If you can answer a question to a common question, part of your post may be featured within Google’s search results, even before the first page result. This will mean that your answer to the question will be the first thing that a user will see, and obviously give you a great chance of having your page clicked on. In the SEO world, we call this coveted spot at the top of search results the “featured snippet”. Like this:

featured-snippet

The key to getting your answer in this spot is to ensure Google understands that you are answering the question. Make it as direct and clear as possible. This can be achieved in many cases by writing an answer using bullet points or numbering.

You can learn more about featured snippets and rich snippets here. 


Basic HTML and Content Hierarchy 

Once your content is solid, the next key is to ensure that your page is set up logically and ensures a quality experience for the user. This means structuring your page to follow a logical content hierarchy. 

Knowing some basic HTML will certainly help with this. You don’t have be a code junkie to be able to make a difference in this area, but you do need to understand some important basics. If you can manipulate a few key parts of your page’s html, you’ll be able to maximize your page’s SEO potential. 

Otherwise read on to see some of the most high-impact areas.

Title Tags

The title tag is the headline of your page – this is what Google sees between these tags when it looks at the source code of your page.

<title>    </title>

This is the place you want to have your most important keywords, as Google considers this an important area of your content. Like “keyword” stuffing throughout your page, you want to make sure the title is written for the reader – in a natural way – not just for search engines. Keep in mind that every page should only have one title tag, and that your ranking will suffer if you include more.

Other Headings – H1, H2, and H3

In addition to your title tag, you’ll also have a main heading – this is known as “heading 1” – or h1. The rest of your page headings are labelled h2, h3 and h4 – with the higher number signifying lesser power and less importance. These headings should be used to reinforce your keywords and include secondary keywords that don’t feature in your url, title tag or H1. Aside from that, like any written document, these headings break up your content into easy to digest nuggets – making it easier for your visitors to read.

Meta Description

When someone performs a search and is presented with the results, they’ll see the meta title of the page, the URL link, and then the meta description, which is the short paragraph of information about the page. This information that shows up in search result listings to represent your page is called “meta data.”

meta title and description optimiztaion

If you don’t optimize your meta description, then it is automatically populated as a excerpt from the top of the page’s text. Ignoring your meta description means you miss out on some great opportunities to bring more traffic to your site by giving searchers enough context about the page and why it is relevant to them. Ideally, you want to create quick connection with the searcher and give them a reason to click on the search result, to go through to your website. This is called increasing your ‘click through rate’ (CTR).

Schema

Schema combines a number of common html tags to help Google and other search engines get a better idea of what your page is about. By adding schema markup to the HTML of your page, you’re giving Google a short description of what to expect, which makes its job easier. This, in turn, makes it easier for them to present your website to their searchers. There are a number of schema tools online that make the process of adding schema simple.


Website Design

The design of your website is more than simple aesthetics. It is also about how easily your visitors can find their way around your site, as well as how easy it is for search engines such as Google to find the content you offer. Good website design should lead to a simple and rewarding experience for the visitor. Remember, the ultimate goal of SEO is to make sure search engines AND visitors see your website as a great resource for their enquiries. 

Page Speed

Even if you get people to come to your page and provide them with great content, they’re not going to hang around for long if they have to wait for your page to load. Especially if you’re hoping for people to move from page to page. There are tools available that can help you test your page load times to get an idea of your current situation, as well as tips online that can help you speed up your page response times.  Tools.pingdom.com will help you analyze your page loading speed, and is good place to start. 

Ensure Your Page Is Mobile Friendly

This is an absolute must. Not only are millions of people using their phones to access websites every day, but it is by far the biggest growth of internet use worldwide going forward. In fact, Google has already started prioritizing mobile-versions of pages in their search results over desktop versions. For some people, especially in the developing world, the internet is something that exists only on phones, so  you need to ensure that your page is easy to use on mobile devices.

Google offers a tool to test whether or not your page is mobile friendly, and it will make suggestions that will help you get it up to scratch if it isn’t. Head over to search.google.com/search-console/mobile-friendly and test your URL.

mobile friendly website stats

Page Security

The security of your page can be an important ranking tool as well as being important for your actual customers if handling sensitive information. While it can be difficult to set up for an existing page, it would definitely be recommended for those setting up a brand new domain. The two common security protocols are HTTPS (a secure version of HTTP) and SSL (Secure Socket Layer).

Make Your Website Easy For Google To Use

SEO-friendly website design isn’t all about the end user, but also to assist the search engines to map your page. Depending on how your page is set up, the links between your own pages may or may not be easy for Google to get around (or, crawl) which can help or hinder your rankings. A simple plugin that can be used on many different platforms is a Google XML Sitemaps, which will create a full listing of all of the pages on your site, making it easier for Google to crawl. You can then submit this sitemap to your Google Search Console to help the search engine crawl your site. 

Of course, there are tons of different ways to improve your on-site optimization.

Let’s move on to the “turbo boost” of SEO tactics – off-site SEO.


offsiteUnderstanding Off Site SEO

Now that we’ve looked at the factors we can completely control, it is time to take care of the stuff away from our own page. Off-site SEO can be a controversial subject, since there are many methods of approaching this process – some of them more “Google-approved” than others. 

When you hear people talking about “black hat” vs “white hat” SEO, they’re referring to whether or not an SEO tactic complies with Google’s rules for websites. If you violate these rules, you take the risk of being discovered by Google and getting a “penalty” – which means Google bumps you way down in search results as a punishment for breaking their rules. Which “hat” you’re going to wear depends on your priorities, and the level of risk you’re willing to take. We’ll touch more on this later.

Regardless of your philosophy on approaching off-site SEO, understanding the fundamentals of boosting your website’s authority and relevance in Google’s eyes will help you develop an SEO strategy to fit your business’ needs. Here’s some of the most important elements of off-site SEO. 

  1. Trust

The more your website looks like a well respected, established and reputable page, the more Google will trust it and include it in its top search results. Pages that look like spam will not be trusted and will be hurt in the rankings. Google uses tools known as PageRank and Trustrank to establish how trustworthy a page is, and understanding what factors they look at helps us understand how to improve our rank.

So what are the main factors in building trust?

Authority

The authority of your page or domain name is scored between 1 and 100 (100 being the highest) – determined by how well others on the internet trust your page. You can build your authority by receiving links from other pages or websites that already have high authority. When one of these “trusted” websites links to your own site, Google sees this as them endorsing your site for being relevant and trustworthy to similar topics/content. 

There are two kinds of authority in this situation:

  • Page Authority: This is how much authority a single page or blog post on your website has
  • Domain Authority (DA): This score relates to how well known an actual domain name is.
    • For example, pizzahut.com will have a much higher DA than our blogger’s page NewYorkPizzaReview.org

Receiving links from other websites linking back to your own website (known as “Backlinks”) – from websites with high Domain Authority will have a positive effect on your own DA. Examples of high DA pages include those with desirable domains (.edu or .gov) or reputable news websites.

Reduce Your Bounce Rate

As we touched on earlier, if a user leaves your website quickly it is factored into your “bounce rate”. The higher the percentage of visitors that leave quickly or without clicking on subsequent links, the more your page will be hurt in the rankings. 

Ways to ensure your bounce rate stays low include providing good content (to the right people!) and having a user friendly website. Adding video or other audio/visual interactive components to your page can also encourage visitors to stay on your page longer.

Build Your Brand

Like with any business, building your brand online will take some time. One way you can give branding a boost within Google’s algorithm is to buy an existing domain, which will already have some built-up authority that you can build on, rather than starting from scratch. Google’s algorithm rewards longevity, so make use of it.

Continuing to provide relevant, timely, and interesting content will help you build your brand over time as your brand grows, and your domain becomes more well known, your trust will grow.

  1. Links

Receiving backlinks from other websites is a very important aspect of building your trust, authority, and ranking. You can either build your own links from other relevant websites, or get other website owners to give you a link. But how do you get people to link to you? Ask. The key is to provide value in return. Understand how much value a link from a certain source will provide to you, and ensure you’re willing to do what it takes to secure that link.

How many backlinks your page receives is important, but so is the quality of those links. As we mentioned earlier, backlinks from pages that already have a high authority will carry greater weight. For our pizza blogger, one mention and link in a New York Times article will likely be worth far more than a bundle of backlinks from from his low authority blogs run by his friends.

How the link is added on the source page is also important. The words highlighted on the source page that link to your page are known as “anchor text” and help to inform your reader as to what to expect when they click. Anchor text is a critical part of off-site SEO, and it’s important to build a diverse “anchor text profile” when building backlinks to your website. 

anchor text

Different types of anchor text include:

  • Topic – a description of your page
  • Brand or URL – the title of your site or the URL of your page
  • Target – an exact or partial match of your main keyword
  • Miscellaneous – simply something random like “click here”.

Ideally you want your backlinks to be as natural as possible – just as if they were developing organically by people discovering and interacting with your website around the web. This means you should aim to have a mix of different types of backlinks with varying anchor text coming from sources with different authority-levels.

  1. Personal

Finally, there are the personal factors of the searcher which will affect your ranking. These can often be out of your control, however understanding how they affect your rankings can help with your SEO planning.

Location

A person using Google will always be given results that are relevant to the location they are in. Someone in Chicago searching for “best pizza downtown” will get results for pizza restaurants in downtown Chicago rather than the page of our pizza blogger in New York (or if they did happen upon his blog, would likely be disappointed with the result, causing them to leave straight away).

One way around this is to include identifiers for locations within your keywords. Our blogger may choose the keyword “Best pizza in downtown NY” which would help those trying to find his page in New York find it, while avoiding any bounce from unhappy visitors.

This can be further exacerbated when searching from a different country where, even in English, words often have different meanings. For example it is rare for anyone outside of the US to ever refer to pizza as a “pie”. Understanding how words can be interpreted differently in different countries (and even within the countries) can help you to choose the most appropriate keywords to target.

local search

History of Searcher

Google remembers! If a searcher has clicked on a link in the past and searches for a similar term, they’re more likely to see that previous result. If you’re continuing to make content that the user likes, Google will think that your page is more likely to be relevant for their next search.

Social Media

Just like if you’ve been to a page before, if you like or follow a person or brand on a social media page, Google likely knows that too. It will therefore be more likely to send a result from that brand to the top of the list for that person’s search. It is a good idea then, to have a social media presence where people can already signal their interest in your brand. Bonus – you can use your social media profile to build backlinks from these profiles back to your website – further increasing your relevance and trust. 

Let’s dig into that a little more…

  1. Maximize Your Social Media

social media purposes

A social media presence can also help your off site SEO positively in other ways. For one it can create another good source of links to your page, but can also help build your brand, and work towards higher awareness, thus building trust.

Like with backlinks, who is sharing your links is as important as how many times people are doing it. Creating a post that goes viral can be a big boost (and great for PR) but an influential social media profile sharing your latest blog will do more than dozens of twitter eggs. If Stephen Colbert decides he loves the reviews on our friend’s pizza blog, his sharing of the page on his twitter account is going to do more than all of our blogger’s friends and family sharing it on their personal Facebook page.

There are tools that you can use to find social media accounts that are influential that you may be able to target to share your page.

You can learn more about developing and managing your social media strategy here.

 


Understanding the Difference Between White Hat Vs Black Hat SEO

Like most marketing strategies, SEO tools can be misused by people looking for a quick dollar. Implementing so called “black hat SEO” involves using the information we’ve discussed in this piece above to quickly receive a lot of traffic in order to sell something – often a spammy product or at times the page itself, by showing how high it is in the rankings. These people will often have content that looks good to Google, but provides no actual value to the reader and often doesn’t stay high in the rankings for a long time.   

Meanwhile, “white hat SEO” involves optimizing great content for long term brand building and success. Unlike Black hats who try to manipulate the current parameters of the Google algorithm to get a quick rankings boost, a white hat focuses on factors that help provide the most number of visitors a valuable resource and build a sustainable business.

white hat v black hat

Note from Rachel: Both ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ techniques have their pro’s and con’s. All of them “work” – some  faster, some more sustainably. The tactics that are right for your business depend on many factors such as your marketing priorities, your budget, your timeline, and how much you are willing to risk in relation to Google penalizing your site.

Many brick-and-mortar businesses opt for safe and sustainable white-hat tactics – or at least exist in a gentle “grey-hat” area. This is preferable since it would be a great loss if they were to lose the credibility and authority of their brand-name website on the Internet. Many internet marketing businesses prefer “black hat” or “grey hat” techniques since their websites and brands are more easily replaceable than traditional businesses, and require quick results to be profitable.