In 1998 Peyton Manning was selected first overall in the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. 18 years later he is about to take to the field in his 4th Super Bowl. He is undoubtedly going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He sits at or near the top in every significant statistical passing category and in addition to being an example of excellence on the gridiron; he also parlayed that into quite a lucrative endorsement career as well.
Over the past 18 years the rules of the NFL have changed and evolved making it a far different game from the one he played in his early years as a Colt. However, his elite skillset and mind for the game has led him to 5 NFL MVPs, 14 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring.
The last 18 years have also brought a lot of changes in the reach and power of the Internet as well. Heck, Manning was drafted 5 months before Google was founded on September 4, 1998. Now we carry the answers to all of the world’s questions in our front pocket, and in these 18 short years Google has revolutionized how we discover information. With an ever evolving algorithm that grows and adapts with the way people search, wonder and need, subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) changes are made to determine what results show up when a query is made.
Another major stride that has been made in the past decade is the importance of web presence for small businesses. People are busier and more connected than ever before. Convenience is superseding price and a business’ online location (in terms of search) is as important as their physical location. So how exactly does a business owner improve their ranking when a potential customer or client searches for a product or service that they offer? A simple way to answer that is by explaining what Google looks for in a website when they refer it to a searcher. There are actually some similar parallels between what the “Google Bots” see and what a quarterback sees at the line of scrimmage. Here are 5 key elements of SEO (search engine optimization) that any and every business owner should follow.
- Content: Content on a website is just like play calling in football. If you run the same play over and over again, it becomes predictable, stale and ineffective. Content on your website in terms of site pages, blogs and offers are the same way. If you have the same pages with dated content, Google is going to ignore that page and your site in general. However, if you are creating fresh, relevant and new content on a regular basis, Google is going hear those signals and recognize that you are alive and well. Also the more content you create the more possible answers you are providing for a wide range of search queries that can get customers to visit, call and convert. Just as a coach has a book full of plays to deploy in any given circumstance, and the quarterback can audible from the field, these fresh plays and differing looks are intended to keep the defense on its heels.
- Back Links: Back links are links back to your website from a third party. These links provide authority and credibility to your website and its corresponding content. These links are evidence that you have something important and helpful to say and other sites want to share this information with their visitors as well. However, the quality of these backlinks can be just as harmful as they are helpful. For example, if you get a link back to a blog you wrote from the New York Times or Forbes or any other high quality source, Google will recognize this as a very good piece of content and they will want their searchers to find. But, it you have back links from on-line casinos, exotic destination travel sites or any other potentially incredulous source, you can be penalized. Think of these back links as the alumni base of a football team. You are the company you keep. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a much different ring of honor than say the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Mobile Optimization: Mobile (phones, tablets) is quickly becoming the preferred way to search. It is becoming such a crucial element that executives at Google spend at least one day a week working only from the their phones in order to connect with searchers on a mobile device and to learn how to improve that experience. Just as a quarterback needs to be able to move in the pocket, extend plays with his feet and respond to what the defense is doing; your website needs to be able to respond to whatever platform is being used to display it. Last April Google added an element to its algorithm that actually penalizes websites that do not have mobile-friendly sites. Having a website that isn’t mobile-friendly, or responsive, is the equivalent of having a quarterback that can’t move his feet.
- Page Titles: The way you title your pages is the first, and one of the most important things that Google looks for. Page titles should be set up to look like this: “Keyword” | “Keyword”. These two keywords tell the search engine what each particular page is about. Using generic words like “home”, “product”, “services”, etc. makes your site compete with every other website that is using these same words. Using a long tail keyword strategy can help your site stand out and attract qualified visitors. Long tail examples would be: “eco friendly products”, “roof repair services in Baton Rouge”, etc. Not optimizing your page titles would be like calling your pass plays “pass” and your running plays “run”.
- Alt Tags: As smart and sophisticated as the Google algorithm is, there is one thing it can’t do. See pictures. It can read, but it can’t see (if that makes sense…). Therefore you need to ensure that any pictures on your website are optimized with “Alt Tags”. These are tags that describe a picture on your site. Often times web images are tagged with whatever source code they came from. However, if you have a picture of a dentist working on a patient on your site, label it as “sedation dental specialist in Louisiana”, as opposed to “dentist” or a line of unintelligible code. This is one more element that the Google bots can use determine if you site or page will be relevant to a searcher. Ignoring alt tags would be like a wide receiver wearing the other team’s jersey and helmet, just blending into the background. Even if he was wide open, the quarterback wouldn’t be able to differentiate between him and anything else on the field.
These are only a handful of examples of how to optimize your website for search. Of course no one knows the exact secret recipe, but these ingredients are definitely included, and fairly easy to come by. The power of search and its importance to business is only going to grow. The truth is any business, of any size, can leverage it.