On the surface, SEO is scary. It’s complicated, convoluted, and always changing. In fact, all it takes is a few minutes reading an “ultimate guide” article or watching a YouTube video to quickly feel in over your head.
Part of the reason for the mysteriously intimidating aura of the SEO scene is because in many ways it’s indefinable. Unlike most things in a coder’s life, you can’t reduce it to ones and zeroes. In fact, as Google’s search algorithm has become increasingly more refined, SEO has come to look less like a science and more like an art form, with everyone claiming to have their preferred style and their own set of rules that they operate with.
So what does that mean for you, the humble entrepreneur blindly thinking of getting into SEO because someone told you it will help your business? Will tinkering with SEO actually help anything? Do you need to become an SEO master in order to see results? Let’s break it down.
What is SEO?
It’s helpful to start off with a quick definition, just to make sure everyone is on the same page. SEO stands for search engine optimization. The basic goal of SEO is to optimize your site in order to get organic traffic from search engines without the need to use paid advertising like PPC ads.
In other words, well-executed SEO tells search engines precisely what your website contains, thus enabling them to put your content higher on relevant search engine results pages (or SERPs).
Ah, but how does SEO actually work, you ask? Well, there are a variety of techniques that can be implemented in order to boost SEO. Typically these focus on driving more traffic directly to a website that belongs to a company or an individual. While the specific techniques are always evolving to one degree or another, good SEO tends to focus on things like:
- Keyword usage
- Internal and external hyperlinks
- Human behaviors (e.g. time spent on page, bounce rate)
- Length of content
- Site speed
As was already mentioned, each of these factors is utilized to varying degrees by different SEO professionals. However, the goal is always to siphon off as much organic traffic from search engines as possible.
How SEO Can Transform Your Business
Of course, the natural question that must be asked at this point is: how can SEO help you, in particular? The short and simple answer is that good SEO will give you online exposure, which can help to build your online brand. Beyond the basics, there are a couple of other reasons that SEO can make a difference, depending on your particular situation.
SEO: Entrepreneurial Edition
If you’re an entrepreneur who has a fledgling digital business, you may have your website humming along like a well-oiled machine — you’re a coding expert, after all — but you may not be getting any traffic. By properly utilizing SEO techniques throughout your site, you can help your website be better “seen” by search engines.
As your traffic builds, it naturally leads to things like sales or ad revenue, depending on how you’re monetizing your online business.
SEO: Freelancer Edition
The other way SEO can have a significant impact on your digital efforts is if you’re a freelancer. The difference between an entrepreneur and a freelancer is subtle, yet significant. While an entrepreneur typically invests in creating a source of passive income, a freelancer still gets paid to work. In other words, if you aren’t assigned work by a client, you can’t get paid.
As a freelancer, then, having SEO experience can do two things. First, it can help boost an online portfolio, naturally making it easier for clients to find your website. Even if you’re still early on in your career and no one is likely to find you that way quite yet, though, the simple fact that you have knowledge in the SEO industry is still a huge plus that can impress potential clients.
Most businesses that operate in the gig economy have to sift through hundreds and thousands of applications within days of posting a job advert. With so many vanilla applications coming in, often clients are looking for the little things that set a freelancer apart from the competition. The simple knowledge that you’re aware of what it takes to get a website to succeed with the search engines can be the difference-maker in landing a client.
SEO: Basic First Steps
If you’re sold on incorporating SEO into your online marketing strategy, there are a few basic steps that can help you get the biggest bang for your buck as you get things started. While there isn’t room to flesh each one out in detail, here are a few quick tips to help you launch your SEO efforts:
- Keep your priorities straight: SEO is about search engines, but at the end of the day your content should always be focused first and foremost on the reader. This will increase things like customer satisfaction and even dwell time as people happily spend time on your site, reading your customer-centric content.
- Consider your market: Who are you trying to reach with your products or services? Are you a freelance coder that’s looking for work building websites anywhere in the world? Or are you offering your computer repair skills to a local audience? SEO tactics can vary depending on the geographic region you’re trying to market to.
- Specialize your efforts: While it’s nice to be a jack of all trades, you don’t want to do that online. Particularly if you’re a small or medium-sized business, you’re going to want to pick a niche to focus all of your energy on. This will give you a greater chance of breaking through the white noise and beating out the competition.
- Use long-tail keywords: Akin to specializing your efforts, it’s important to use long-tail keywords in your content, as this can help you cater to hyper-specific audiences within your niche, thus gaining traffic that larger companies don’t have the time or budget to target.
- Create authoritative content: In the same vein as prioritizing the reader first, it’s important to create lengthy, informative, deep-dive content whenever you can. This will provide genuine value to your readers and will help establish you as a forward-thinking authority within your niche.
- Nurture your social following: Again, larger companies struggle with maintaining a personalized connection with their followers. As a smaller company, take the time to nurture your followers on social media. This can lead to greater engagement and, by extension, better SEO for your site.
- Speed up your site: Finally, make sure to streamline your site’s loading speed. There are many ways to do this, and it can directly impact how you rank in the search engines.
Using SEO to Reach the Next Level
As a final exhortation, don’t be afraid. SEO can feel intimidating at first, but when you boil it down, it really is just a series of exercises, all of which are aimed at helping the search engines better understand what you’re writing about.
Don’t be turned off by the complexity of the SEO industry, either. You’re not talking about becoming a surgeon, here. If you commit to teaching yourself SEO on the side as you launch a website or start a freelance career, you can naturally learn about the subject enough to genuinely benefit from it without needing to put your life on hold in the process.
If you can commit to learning more about SEO, you’ll be able to draw greater traffic to your site, engage with your audience, and ultimately meet those financial goals that likely pushed you to launch your own business endeavors in the first place.