Keywords, backlinks, internal links . . . What do these all mean? And how much do you need to know in the mental health or nonprofit space?
I find it easier to approach SEO through understanding these two key concepts:
- Why SEO exists in the first place.
- What search engines (i.e. Google or Bing) are looking for from you so that you can improve your ranking.
If you understand why Search Engine Optimization is a thing, you can structure what you do to be compatible with the overall purpose so you stay ahead of most minor changes. Complying with the intention keeps you from getting bogged down in the details.
The First Key to Understanding SEO: It’s Not About You.
There’s a saying that goes around Facebook every time they make a big change — “If you’re not the one paying, you’re not the customer.”
Unless you’re paying for stats or ad placement, you’re not Google’s customer, you’re it’s product.
How Search Engines Make Money
Search engines make money by selling ad space (and user data . . . shhh!) to people who want to advertise to search engine users (people who are searching). If users don’t stay happy, they’ll move on to another service. Then Google can’t collect that data or show those ads to people who aren’t there.
And they can’t keep users happy if they give them lousy search results.
Google needs to lead their users to websites that answer their questions, instead of lame websites that don’t do much more than replace the Yellow Pages ads of old.
If you happen to be one of those websites that provides those answers, you benefit, over and over again. If your website is just sitting there as a holding place for your contact information, you won’t.
A History of How Google Decides If You Have a Worthy Site
Even though Google is GINORMOUS, they still don’t have enough people to search sites and figure out which are awesome and which are boring or lame.
But what they do have are bots — web crawlers that search the web when a search query is made.
It would be very bad if a search engine regularly sent users to sites that were irrelevant or hadn’t been touched in years. I know I’d find another search engine.
Since these bots aren’t sentient (yet…hello, Skynet), they can’t really tell if a site is mindblowingly awesome, they can only tell if a site behaves like it’s mindblowingly awesome.
So the search engine developers wrote an algorithm that told their bots to be on the lookout for websites that behaved like an awesome site:
- A good site talks about what it’s there for (keywords).
- A good site gets traffic (hits).
- A good site gets people linking to it (backlinks).
- A good site changes (content).
However, it wasn’t long before people started cheating. They tried to improve their rankings through methods like “keyword stuffing,” paying for traffic and backlinks, and loading a site with content — bad content.
How Search Engines Decide Now . . .
Google can’t let their quality drop due to these cheaters, so they devote a lot of time improving their algorithm — always moving closer to a formula that can deliver the best websites to their users.
They still have criteria, but each of the original categories (keywords, traffic, backlinks, and changing content) matter much less than they used to.
Search engine algorithms are constantly moving away from being a tedious checklist to recognizing the organic qualities in an active site that is working hard to support its clients.
Search Engine Optimization is about getting the search engines to trust you enough to recommend your website to their users. Your site has to look a trustworthy site. The best way to do that is to BE a trustworthy site.
Just like with people, building trust takes time. But you’ll never improve your rankings if you don’t begin.
The Second Key to Understanding SEO: Search Engine Optimization is the LONG GAME
A colleague who is an SEO guru posted an insightful chart on LinkedIn. It showed how rankings grew for his active client sites over the course of a year. For most of that year, the growth was slow and gradual.
However, in the last three months of the year the improvements in ranking started showing significant gains.
Bisecting the chart right down the 6 month marker was a bold, red line. Right next to that bold, red line were bold red words —
“This is where most businesses give up.”
I wish I had the visual of that for you. Only two hours after I took that screenshot, my laptop plummeted off my desk to its doom. I haven’t been able to find the graphic again.
Search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting to the front page is an investment in your enterprise — and it’s best done through combining good content strategy and putting yourself out there on social media — investments of time or money on your part, or both.
The Absolute Best Way to Increase Your Rankings
The best way to behave like a quality site that Google would recommend is to BE a quality site that Google would love to recommend.
Post quality content, often. Don’t just do this for Google. Do this for your visitors and your current clients and donors. Keep them informed. Educate them. Nurture that relationship on a regular basis — it doesn’t have to be every day or every week, though 1-2 times a week is really good.
Give them something good to keep that relationship going — blog articles, videos, a podcast — whatever fits your services and your clientele.
Keywords can be useful, but longtail keywords are better — phrases that come close to what people actually type in when they search. There are services that help you find good options, but we’ll go into that later.
You should only use the keyword a few times, use synonyms.
In the end, if you’re writing regularly about your practice or organization (or having someone else do it), you’re hitting your keywords. It’s much more important to write a good post. Adding keyword research or backlinks should be an additional boost, not your entire strategy.
Create your own backlinks & internal links. The plus to creating good content is that you have something to post on social media and to send to your email list (which is the end goal of all of this, but I’ll talk about that in another post). People then come to your site from those social media links (backlinks…whoa). Voila — organic traffic.
When you have content that people can engage with, you can link to similar articles or pages on your site, so site visitors stay on your site longer and read more. People have a tendency to leave bad sites quickly.
Lengthy visits mean a higher quality site. The bots notice that.
Don’t ignore your actual website pages — don’t be a minimalist. You’d be surprised how few website actually have enough words on their site about what they do, who they are, and how they help their visitors. If you don’t have content, how do you expect to have KEYWORDS?
Have a good Home Page, About Page, Service Page, and whatever else is pertinent.
Make sure your site is responsive. This is a specific term that means “a site that can be easily read on different-sized screens, particularly smartphones.” 55% of all searches now take place on smartphones. If people can’t read your site on their smartphones, they leave. Google penalizes sites that are not responsive.
If your website template or theme is over a few years old, it probably isn’t responsive. Time to update.
You Mean I Have to Wait to See Results???
The good news is all this work is not only contributing to the long game, but it’s doing double-duty. It’s called “content strategy,” and it’s one of the best marketing strategies ever. It’s not sleezy, it’s not underhanded, it’s not pushy.
While you are building your rankings, you are also strengthening relationships, educating people about what you care about, and establishing your authority in your area of expertise.
You’re staying in front of the people who are interested in you — people who are most likely to turn to you when it’s time. You’re also strengthening relationships with those who you already have a bond with.
Working on short-term strategies — social media (well, medium-term), web content, and your email list all will show results along the way to building your search engine ranking.
Begin Reaching Out
In order to grow, you need to tell people that you exist and how you can help them.
Write that blog post, update that website, start that email list, or post on Twitter. Pick something and begin — it doesn’t have to be everything all at once and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do it.
One step at a time.