Developing an SEO strategy that works is vital to your digital marketing success today. With an estimated 2.4 billion websites on the internet today, search engine optimization (SEO) is more important today than ever. In the early days of the internet, SEO was more about how many keywords you could cram into your content and have it somewhat make sense (or not make sense). Then Google changed everything 20 years ago when they started dominating the search engine market. Google required content to be readable at the human level. That changed everything.
One of my first clients was in the rodent removal business in 2016. The owners would write a blog post, add it to Google My Business and then wait for the phone to ring. After running a couple of ads, they were making great money doing what they loved, helping their customers.
As early as 2018, I was having a great deal of success with my marketing efforts that were converting into sales as a freelance web developer. I would write a blog post on WordPress, post it on Google My Business and I would get two or three projects from it. That was then. This is now.
What Changed with SEO in 2021?
A few short years ago, search engine marketing changed. I even wrote about it in this blog post. The world was changing and I knew it. I couldn’t figure out what was happening quite yet. I didn’t get the same traffic as I used to. Many other clients that I have had over the last few years have had similar experiences with SEO. I found other ways to find clients and that has sustained me for a while.
With the advent of artificial intelligence, search engine marketing is definitely a different beast but search engine optimization is still a vital part of digital marketing.
Now, it’s time to figure out what happened, what changed, and to get focused on search engine optimization again.
Here is what happened in 2021. According to this article, voice search happened. Voice search is when people talk into their mobile device and have the search field populated by voice. Google reported that they had a 60% increase in natural language queries in 2021. This led to over 5,000 changes made to the search algorithms that favored natural language queries (voice searches) over traditional searches. Google also said these changes reduced irrelevant searches by over 50% in seven years.
Google’s search algorithm is in constant change. Google is in so much change that as of November 8, 2023, Google stated that their algorithms are being improved at “a regular and ongoing pace.” This means that Google will no longer be tipping their hand on changes. This also means that AI will be playing a greater role in SEO and that changes will be more real-time.
Today, Google dominates the search engine market with 91% of the worldwide and 87% of the search engine market in the United States. Although Bing search is using AI more effectively than Google (at least outwardly at the time of this writing), Google still commands the search engine market.
Here is what I have come up with on building an SEO strategy for small business or niche sites.
1. Understand Your Audience and Their Search Intent
Knowing what your audience could be searching for is huge. My first site was for a promotional products catalog and there were so many products, there was no way I could list them all. This was also back in to the days of the <meta keywords> tag, so the work would have been daunting when your catalog has over 20,000 products. Think of your product or service. What would potential customers ask for if they were walking into a store asking to find your product or service? This gives you a huge insight into their search intent and what keywords they might use to find this. Knowing your customer is a vital part of your SEO strategy.
2. Keyword Research
When you get an idea of what keywords your ideal client may use to find your site, the next thing to do is to evaluate these keywords. What variations of keywords Are there long-tail keywords that might work better than others? If you are considering getting into paid search ads, are there keywords that fit better into your budget?
3. Optimize Website Structure and Content
Optimizing your website structure and content has to do with how your content is structured. Content is more than a bunch of words on a website. Your content should be structured so it is logical for the crawl bots to follow. This means your heading tags are in logical order and only one H1 tag per page. Some developers will assign a font size to a heading tag and use that heading tag where ever they like. This practice will hurt your page ranking. Meta descriptions must be within guidelines. Only 155 characters of your meta descriptions will be seen in search. And don’t bother with meta keywords tags. Those haven’t been relevant for years. Which meta tags are relevant? Here is another great article straight from the source.
4. Technical SEO
Technical SEO refers to your sites page loading speed, mobile responsiveness, and other technical information. Google has said they are removing this data from Google Search Console but they haven’t removed it yet. Core Vitals and Page Experience now get a score of “Good” or “Failing” but they are still in the Search Console (if you have enough web traffic). There are many other aspects of technical SEO. Your SEO professional can run reports and show you work that needs to be done on your site to improve technical SEO. Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss it further.
5. Backlink Building
Backlink building is the process of reaching out to other sites with more authority than your and ask to write a blog post for them or ask to backlink to your site. This is the original ranking metric for Google and still a metric with a great deal of influence in your search engine results page (also known as SERP) ranking. There are many other things you can do such as post blog posts to social media as you write them. Adding new content will always be attractive to search engines and have a link to that content can certainly be another powerful tool for helping your site rank higher.
6. Local SEO (if applicable)
Local SEO may or may not be desirable. For example, if you have a store or restaurant that relied on foot traffic for your business, local SEO might be important for you. If you have a home-based business and would prefer for people to not visit your home, then local SEO would not be a priority for you. Even if you have a home-based business but live in a major city, local SEO may be a priority for you but you may not want to list your home address. This is just another option to consider when deciding what the best SEO strategy is for your business. Google My Business can play a huge role in your site’s local SEO and ranking in general if you post regular updates.
7. Content Marketing
Content marketing is a massive part of SEO. Publishing new content to your site (blogging) can dramatically improve your ranking. Adding keywords that work not only for your blog post but for your business in general can also help improve your traffic and sales in many cases. The problem with content marketing is that it can be a lot of work unless you are in the habit of updating your content frequently. Having a freelancer or agency handle this for you can help free up the owners to run their business and service clients or customers.
8. Monitor Your Performance
Monitoring your SEO results are vital to improving your results. If you want to improve something, measure it. The two main tools for measuring how your SEO strategy is working are Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Microsoft Clarity is another analytics tool that can be very helpful in monitoring your progress with your search results.
9. Evaluate and Adapt
Your digital marketing success depends on your ability to evaluate your search results and adapt to changing market conditions. Your SEO strategy must be constantly updated to keep business coming in the door. Losing track of how your website is performing can have you playing catch up later instead of consistently getting great results.
Determining whether your search results are improving is a vital part of your day-to-day marketing. Yes, artificial intelligence is changing search engine marketing but it isn’t changing search engine optimization. Your web site still needs to be in top shape to be attractive to search engines and to rank higher.