SEO 101 For Entrepreneurs

Recently I conducted a roundtable presentation at Station Houston and thought it would be helpful for people to see what was presented.

After talking to and working with dozens of entrepreneurs, I found a few things that reign true:

  1. They are passionate
  2. They usually have a very specific area of focus they are working on
  3. They need Marketing and SEO help

So I decided to help them out by creating this presentation. This is NOT an SEO 101 document for SEO’s, but one that helps folks who know nothing about SEO better understand what they need to know about SEO and why.

What Does SEO Actually Mean?

We all know that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization…but what the hell does that actually mean? Most SEOs explain it as the means to ensure your terms rank #1. But again, what does that actually mean?

To put it in easy to understand terms, your goal is to have people find your company, right? SEO is a practice that ensures you have the best chance of showing up when people search for the services or products your site focuses on. So, if you sell clothes to a specific niche, you want them to find you when they look for a product you may sell. SEO is the practice that allows your site to show up for your users.

I’m going to break this down into to very easy to understand buckets.

  1. Make your readers happy
  2. Make Google happy

1. Make Your Readers Happy

When you think of websites that you really like, what comes to mind? Most will say they like sites that are well designed, have the information they are looking for, are easy to read/navigate, are fast and are mobile optimized.

These are all true and I’ll go into each one here:

Make Your Site Fast (Page Speed)

No one likes a slow site. In a world of instant gratification, speed is king. According to an article from Cloudflare, one of the most recognized names for website performance and security, page speed impact not just customer experience and abandon rates, but also conversions:

  • Pages that loaded in 2.4 seconds had a 1.9% conversion rate
  • At 3.3 seconds, conversion rate was 1.5%
  • At 4.2 seconds, conversion rate was less than 1%
  • At 5.7+ seconds, conversion rate was 0.6%
Slow pages can kill your conversion rates

Other companies have experienced similar results:

  • Walmart found that for every 1 second improvement in page load time, conversions increased by 2%
  • COOK increased conversions by 7% by reducing page load time by 0.85 seconds
  • Mobify found that each 100ms improvement in their homepage’s load time resulted in a 1.11% increase in conversion

This one just makes sense, when you get slow service anywhere, you get frustrated or leave.

So, what can you do to help your page speed? Well, one of the easiest tools to test your page speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Just put your web address in and go. Google will test the mobile and desktop versions of your site and show you what they see. It will show you page load times, items that need to be addressed to speed up the site and provides you with an easy grade/color to show you how your site ranks.

Google PageSpeed Insights Scores

Now there are other tools out there that go into a lot more detail on your page speed (GTmetrix and Pingdom to name a few) and what needs to be addressed, but this is something that Google owns, so if you can get good grades here, you’re likely to do pretty well.

Make Your Site Mobile Ready

Did you know that until 2018, Google used to look at your desktop site, determine how you should rank, and that impacted what showed up whether you searched on a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.

But, as mobile traffic has grown and now accounts for roughly 60% of all web traffic. That number fluctuates based on demographics and geo, but if you looked back 5 or 10 years ago, that number was likely in the 20-30% range.

Not only is mobile usage up overall, but more and more ecommerce business is conducted on mobile devices. According to Search Engine Land, nearly 60% of all ecommerce business took place on mobile in 2018. And if you look at this chart, you’ll see overall spending is up year over year, but desktop’s portion of that business has been relatively flat for the past several years.

So almost all the ecommerce growth is coming directly from mobile! See point #1 above, if you’re not optimizing for mobile, your way off.

I’ve worked for several companies looking to update their website. And my approach is to find an agency that will work on redesigns in a ‘mobile first’ format. Meaning, I don’t even want to see desktop versions of their designs until I see mobile first. I want my internal constituents, my designers, agency and everyone else to think about the mobile experience before they ever look at the desktop version.

This sometimes caused problems.

Some of these companies would challenge this approach saying, “But 70+% of our traffic comes from desktop now. Shouldn’t we focus on that first?” To which I would simply reply with all the stats and data showing that they are way behind the mobile revolution. Especially when our target audiences may be Millenials and Gen Z where mobile usage can get even higher than 60%.

Make Your Site Trustworthy (EAT)

Have you ever gone to a site and just thought…..is this legit? There are a lot of unscrupulous sites out there and people are catching on.

But how exactly do you make your site appear to be trustworthy?

Transparency

Make sure no one questions the validity of what is on your site. If you create all your content, put your name on your work. Have Bios of all your content contributors. Showcase your founders and employees on your ‘about us’ pages.

Be extra cautious if you are selling products or services that are in the medical or health fields. Don’t post claims that are not validated by authority figures or backed up by transparent data.

Google is monitoring this closely these days. In late 2018 there was a major algorithm update from Google monitoring Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT). And lots of websites were negatively impacted with this update. Primarily in the medical fields, but they were not the only ones.

If you are making claims that impact people’s lives, you need to make sure they are substantiated and that your info comes from authoritative figures in your field.

If you are that figure, make sure your Bio is easily found on your site and that it links to anything external validating your expertise.

Make Your Site Easy to Navigate

Once again, I’ll ask you to think about a time when you went to a site and could not for the life of you find what you were looking for. You click on links, pages, menus and anything else you can find, but just seem to wander around the site without finding the content you are looking for.

This is a common issue with many sites. Don’t let it be yours!

Think about your site as an outline (some would refer to this as your sitemap) I encourage you to draw it out either on a white board, excel file or good old fashion paper. It should look something like this:

Super Basic Site Outline or Sitemap

Make sure that your most important pages are easily seen in your top navigation section of your site. Then be sure all the supporting pages are categorized under those options.

You’ll see some sites with dozens and dozens of links in the header, footer and under each menu item. They want to get every single page seen from any page you’re on, but this is a horrible experience. Other times this is done because people are trying to game the SEO system by manipulating their internal linking structure. This is a more technical SEO strategy for another time.

For now you want to focus on getting your most important and helpful information in front of your readers as easily and simply as possible.

It’s a tough one, because you might think, “every page is super important!”, but I urge you to keep it simple and clean. Make it as easy and intuitive as possible.

Because this is more of a personal preference item, you might want to do some research on how to organize your content on your site.

One big item to think about is having a search function IN your site. Just in case someone gets lost, it’s like a lifeline for them to use.

Some may argue that if your site is well designed, you don’t need it, or that if Google sees people using it on your site then they are frustrated and it’s a bad sign.

I tend to think it’s very helpful for any site to have. Just because people use it does not mean they can’t find what they are looking for, they may just want to see what else they can find on your site.

Think about some of the largest sites in the world and you’ll start to notice most have a very prominent search feature on every page:

Also, when you enable people to come to your site and search, Google Analytics tracks those search terms. This is HUGE for any site, as it allows you to see what people are looking for.

If you see some patterns in people’s search terms, you may see that there is something that a lot of people are looking for that you should prioritize on your header or footer.

If you start to see a lot of search terms for pricing or shipping or return policies etc, you may want to make access to those spages more prominent. Then you’ve used your own site search data to make your user experience even better!

Make Your Site Engaging

This is a broad recommendation for your content. Content is king and can be many, many things.

Content can be, but is not limited to:

  • Copy
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Quotes
  • Infographics
  • Gifs
  • Charts and Graphs

So as you think about your site and content, remember to apply everything I spoke about above to this one.

Great content is nothing if:

  • It’s slow
  • Does not work well on mobile
  • Does not seem legitimate
  • Is hard to find
  • Is hard to read or understand

This is where you can add some personality to your site and brand, discover your voice and create a content calendar and strategy.

Creating content scares people, and I’m one of them. I’m not a great writer, I don’t have a clue how to edit video, but I can learn, research and find others that know how to do this and do it well.

Another great thing about this is that you’re on a digital site with the capability to add, edit, remove, start over and re-do pretty much anything you post. If it’s not resonating, change it, update it, remove it, start over.

But keep creating something. Fresh content on a site also sends signals to Google that your site is actively being managed and not just sitting there being stale.

Bottom line, delight your readers!

Credit: Anchorman 2

2. Make Google Happy

In the world of SEO, Google is the King of all the land. Yes, you still get traffic from Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go and several other sources, but if you can make Google happy, you’ll do well.

To put this in more digestible terms, here is what Oberlo has to say about it:

Google has a whopping 78+% share of global search! So if you like to practice the 80/20 rule, Google is pretty much your only focus when it comes to SEO.

% Share of Search Engines Globally

SEO is a complex world, and you could read 100s of articles before you really felt like you understood what was needed to actually make Google happy. And in my opinion, that is their plan…make it as ambiguous as possible to really understand their ranking algorithms.

If you were to ask Google about how to make a good site that ranks they’d reply with something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about the algorithm, just create a site that delights your customers.”

And at it’s root, they are dead on. Think about everything I said above in the “Make Your Readers Happy” section and apply all of that here then add these:

  • Clean Sitemap
  • Accurate Meta Tags
  • Accurate Canonicals
  • Header Tags
  • Accurate Schema

I’ll go into each of these in more detail, but first I want to explain why I decided to focus on just these

  1. Most of these can be easily created, updated, maintained by non technical site owners using most of your common CMS systems. WordPress, Wix, Craft and most of the other big ones allow you the capability to manage these
  2. Google tries to search for and crawl (Google Bot) every page on the internet…yes you heard that correctly…every…single…page! And even with their size and budget, it would take forever to actually crawl every single page of every single site. So these 5 topics are ones that help Google crawl your site as easily and quickly as possible.
  3. These are items that a lot of people forget or don’t even think about when addressing SEO. They focus on links, and keywords and how many words are in your articles. But if your site is not easy to crawl, they may all be for not.

Clean Sitemap

I addressed sitemaps above briefly, but this is slightly more technical. An HTML sitemap of your site can be loaded into Google Search Console showing Google exactly what your site looks like.

Think of a sitemap as exactly what it says…a map of your site.

Have you ever had someone tell you how to get somewhere by telling you, “Take route 1 to smith street, take a right, then take your second left and a right at the red house, then I’ll be the 5th house on your left.”?

Image result for bad directions
Bad Directions

This may work, but there is a strong chance you miss something or get lost.

Now imagine you have their address plugged into your phone with navigation directions on, telling you exactly where to turn and when.

Which do you think is more efficient and more likely to produce a positive outcome?

The second one, right?

Step By Step Instructions

This is what a sitemap can do for Google when it crawls your site. It shows the bot exactly where all your pages are, how they are arranged and therefore produces more efficient and likely more thorough crawls of your site.

The easier you make it for Google to crawl your site, the more likely they will crawl more pages and possibly crawl new pages faster.

Accurate Meta Tags

Meta Tags are the descriptions of your pages that show up in Google’s Search Engine Results Page or SERPs.

They allow you to explain more about what users can expect when they come to your page:

Meta Tag Examples

Why does Google care? Well they want to be sure this provides readers an accurate and clear description of the page they are about to see.

Also, Google will try to make these themselves if:

  1. They think yours is not accurate
  2. They feel like you’re stuffing keywords into them for ranking purposes
  3. You don’t have your own
  4. Just because Google feels like it

Again, you want to make things as easy and clear as you can with Google, so they don’t have to do any more work than they should.

Most of the time if you don’t create accurate and helpful Meta Tags, Google will take the first few sentences from your page and use those. This is not ideal as it likely does not actually do a great job of telling the right story.

So, put some thought into each key page of your site and ensure you have solid Meta Tags for your most important pages.

Accurate Canonicals

This one can be tricky and may not apply to all sites, but if it does apply to you, this is a BIG one.

If you have a site that sells variations of a product, this is something you really need to learn.

Let’s say you sell shoes. And for simplicity sake, you sell mens shoes. You have some categories like dress shoes, running shoes, casual shoes etc. Then under each of those you may have color options, size options, brans etc.

This means you likely have a LOT of pages that talk about mens shoes. So what happens when someone searches for ‘mens brown dress shoes’?

You need to help Google decide what page that person should go to.

You may very well have dozens or even hundreds of brown dress shoes for men, so what do you do?

Well, you use Canonicals to help tell Google where to go. You likely want that search inquiry to lead to your ‘Dress Shoes’ product page that shows all the variations a customer may be looking for so they have the chance to filter and search for waht they really want.

Otherwise they may land on a page that Google thinks best represents that search query and may send them to a page with a specific style, size or brand that the ready may not care for. They may quickly leave your site because that page is not relevant to what they really wanted. But if ALL your brown dress shoes for men have their canonical properly pointing to the brown dress shoes for men product page, then you’re more likely to make that customer happy and convert them.

This can get tricky, so check out these articles to help put more clarity and examples to this one:

Canonicalization 101

rel=canonical: The Ultimate Guide

Canonicalization

Header Tags

This is likely one of the more well known items for SEO, but sometimes entrepreneurs don’t fully understand what they really do.

I like to think of Header Tags like an outline. Each Header Tag is a new section of an outline.

Header Tag Cheat Sheet

Once again, the goal is to help Google understand the content on a page. The more we help them and guide them, the better.

Each page should start with a headline or h1 tag that is most important for that page. This one line should clearly tell you what the entire page will be talking about.

Take this article for example,

SEO 101 For Entrepreneurs

Pretty straight forward, nothing cute or creative or witty, just a clear description of the page.

Then I break it down into two primary principles:

Make Your Readers Happy

Make Google Happy

Those are my h2 Tags

Then I have sections under each of these two h2 options, those are my h3 Tags.

This structure and labeling tells Google the exact structure of the page and what readers can expect to learn by reading my blog post

Accurate Schema

Ever notice that when you search for something in Google and you see all these different things show up under each result?

Schema Examples

Those are all controlled by schema. And you can choose which ones to use and how to use them.

BUT, you need to be sure that you use them correctly, otherwise Google can remove them and even give you a manual action which can completely remove you from search results in extreme cases.

So how do you ensure you’re following the rules? Every schema markup has detailed directions on schema.org. Be sure that if you want stars or pricing to show up for your products, that you follow the rules as closely as possible.

How does this make Google happy? They want users to have great experiences, so if you do this to help provide more rich details in the search results pages, Google is happy.

But if you don’t do it right, Google may see this as an attempt to manipulate readers into clicking on your site vs others in the results.

Conclusion

SEO is very complex, it changes daily and if anyone tells you they know everything there is to know about SEO, they’re lying.

So much of SEO is opinions, testing, guessing and just trying to not mess up. But these simple essentials are universally recognized as items that must be optimized in order to help your SEO.

As an Entrepreneur, you have a ton going on, so don’t knock yourself out trying to learn everything about SEO, because as I just mentioned, it’s impossible. Focus on these items, look at what other well ranking sites do and just make sure your readers get what they want and that Google is happy.

And if you want some help, don’t hesitate to reach out us and we’ll guide you in the right direction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s