Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been a buzzword among web-savvy business owners for years. SEO is the basic supporting pillar of every good digital marketing strategy, but it’s too often treated as an arcane mystery rather than what it actually is: a set of relatively simple principles that pretty much anyone can implement in their website content and design.

Current SEO principles can be divided into two major categories: technical SEO, and on-page SEO.

Technical SEO concerns the building and functionality of your website — Google favours websites that are designed efficiently and that are accessible for all users, including those with disabilities.

On-page SEO is the kind you usually hear about in articles about how to improve your search rankings. This type of SEO is all about targeting a specific audience using keywords, meta descriptions, and well-developed content.

It’s important not to put all your SEO eggs in one basket. A highly functional and responsive website isn’t worth much without content. And likewise, you can have pages and pages of beautifully written content, but if your website is difficult for users to, well, use, Google won’t bother showing it to your potential audience.

Below are six SEO strategies that we currently use when developing a website or a digital marketing plan.

  1. Content Optimization

    Content is king when it comes to digital marketing, and when it comes to SEO. For on-page SEO, it’s crucial that your content is both readable and relevant to a user’s search intent.

    The classic way to optimize on-page content for SEO is to make sure that your target keywords or key phrases appear in the content — but not too often. A decade ago, you might have been able to get away with inserting as many keywords as possible onto a page, but Google’s algorithm has evolved to be a bit more sophisticated since then. As of winter 2021, keyword stuffing is heavily penalized by Google. Instead, the number one goal of your website content should be readability, with keywords inserted only where they make sense and sound organic. Three to 5 keywords per page is usually sufficient. It shouldn’t be difficult to have keywords in your copy — if you’re having trouble fitting them in, your content might not be as relevant as you think it is.

    Keywords are also weighted differently depending on where they appear. Part of content optimization is structuring your content in both human and machine-readable terms. This means organizing your content into short paragraphs, with headings, subheadings, and lists where appropriate. People tend to skim online articles rather than reading every word. When an article is divided into short paragraphs and clear headings, the average user will have an easier time getting the information they need. When Google crawls your content it will note the inclusion of HTML markup tags like <h1> or <h2> and it will know that your content is logically structured and therefore more useful to the average reader.

    Keywords inserted into an <h1> or <h2> tag are more heavily weighted by Google. If you have a heading with the keyword in it, that indicates that the entire text is probably very relevant to that keyword, whereas a keyword embedded in paragraph text doesn’t necessarily mean the whole page is relevant to a specific term.

    In terms of hierarchy, headings are the most important place to include keywords. And keywords in hyperlinks are still more valuable than paragraph text.

    The number of words on an individual web page should be at least 500 and if you’re publishing blogs or news articles on your site, they should ideally be at least 1500 words.

  2. Meta Tags and Alt Text

    When you search for something on Google, you’ll notice the results come in the form of a website page title (the meta title) followed by a short blurb, called the meta description. These two features are jointly referred to as the meta tags.

    Often, the meta description is populated from the content that already exists on the page, but smart website owners know that customizing the meta tags is a great way to bump up keyword counts and improve SEO. The meta tags also serve as a user’s first impression of your webpage. Ensuring that the description is highly relevant to a given search term will help encourage people to click through to your website. Google wants to show users the sites that are most relevant to their searches, so writing good meta descriptions can help bump up your rankings.

    Alt text is the descriptive text for images on a website. Alt text isn’t always visible, but if, for example, your page loads a little slower for users in a certain region, it will be visible as the image description in the image frame. For users with vision impairments, alt text can serve as the input for screen readers. Obviously, alt text improves usability metrics. It also serves as a place where you can put in additional keywords without being penalized for stuffing.

  3. Using Links in Digital Marketing

    Including links in your website content can be a great way to boost your SEO if you do it strategically. We’re talking about inline hyperlinks specifically here — the kind that appear as blue or underlined words or phrases within paragraph text. Hyperlinks can be internal or external; internal hyperlinks lead to other pages on the same website, while external links go to pages on websites other than the one where your copy resides.

    Having internal hyperlinks throughout your website content can be beneficial because it helps guide your users through your website more organically. It can improve usability by enabling users to better see the link (pun intended) between pages of information. External links can boost your website’s authority score, provided they link to good quality sources. We recommend that you link to sources that directly support any claims you’re making in your website copy, and that the sources have an authority ranking equal to or greater than your own site. We use SEMrush to find up-to-date authority scores for given URLs.

    When inserting links into copy, make sure that the words you use for your hyperlink text are keywords that you’re looking to target, and that they describe the content that the link leads to.

    Backlinks

    Another linking strategy is to try to build backlinks — that is, links from other websites back to your own. Backlinks are a powerful way to build your authority and reach, but unless you’re already at the top of search rankings for your area of expertise, you’ll probably have to reach out to website owners directly to ask them to link to your site.

    This kind of strategic networking can be time-consuming, and doesn’t always pay off, so it’s not something we necessarily recommend as part of a digital marketing campaign. That said, if you have industry connections that you think would be willing to link to your site in their content, it might not hurt to ask.

  4. Social Media Considerations

    Like it or not, social media has become an integral part of a digital marketing strategy. This means considering your audience’s social media habits, as well as what products and services they’re interested in. Your industry and target market will dictate whether you’re posting on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn (or all three), which in turn will influence how you build a social media post.

    One consistent requirement for posting to social media is an image. A given webpage or blog post should have at least one featured image. In your WordPress dashboard, make sure it’s set to “primary” or “featured”. Ideally you should include the same image directly in all your social media posts.

    If you’re sharing video content, video transcripts are a good way to get a few more keywords in. Keywords can also be used in hashtags, but hashtags and keywords are not always equal. Your hashtags may be more specific industry terms, or social media vernacular.

    A social media post is similar to a meta description on Google in that it’s a user’s first impression of your content. Make sure that the description is clear, and include a call to action, even if it’s something as simple as “visit our website to learn more.”

  5. Boost your Reach via Display Network

    Google’s Display Network is a digital marketing channel built and provided by Google. The Display Network is basically what it sounds like — a network of millions of websites that display ads on their pages. When you sign up for the display network, you can choose from a series of audience categories and have your ads displayed on websites that are targeting similar audiences, and vice versa. You can also block websites that don’t align with your company targets from advertising on your site.

    The display network itself doesn’t cost you anything as an advertiser, however you will be charged a fee for every click that your ad receives. From a brand awareness perspective, participating in a display network can really expand your reach, and give you the opportunity to have your logo or ad displayed on thousands of websites that you might not even have known existed.

  6. SEO Plugins

    We always recommend using an SEO plugin on your WordPress website. At Yardstick we use Yoast SEO, which is currently the most widely-used SEO plugin on the market.

    Yoast allows you to set a target keyword for a given page or post on your site, then it will provide you feedback (visible in the page editor) on how well you’re actually doing in terms of targeting that specific keyword. With Yoast and other similar plugins, you can see exactly what’s working, and what you can do to improve the SEO rating of a given piece of content, like adding more external links, adding a keyword to a heading, or setting a featured image.

    Another important aspect of SEO is reading grade level. There are free reading grade analysis tools out there that allow you to input a block of content to find out what school grade level the content is appropriate for, based on things like word choice, sentence length, and overall complexity. Yoast also provides a grade level on WordPress content. Posts aimed at the general public should ideally hit around a grade 9 reading level. Of course, this target level may vary depending on your target audience and industry. B2B content will generally be at a higher grade level than B2C content.

In Summary

The key takeaway for all of this is that to develop a truly robust digital marketing strategy, you have to know your audience. Not just their demographics, though that can be a good starting point. You need to have an idea of their age group, their interests, their internet habits, and the kind of content that appeals to them.

You also need to have an understanding of what kind of language they’re using — not just in terms of French, English, or Cantonese, but in terms of how they’ll articulate the products and services they’re searching for. In many industries, audience members are going to be using layman’s terms in their discovery searches that are very different from the industry terms that an insider might know. This is where keyword and market research is invaluable.

At Yardstick, we understand the importance of knowing your audience to effectively target them. If you’re in need of a content refresh or a new digital marketing strategy, reach out to us today.