5 SEO Improvements to Increase Organic Traffic

by Alex Roth

Before the web, optimizing for search meant having a good entry in the phone book. You could pay more for a bolded listing, or choose a company name with an alphabetical advantage. Then, when someone started flipping through the yellow pages, they were more likely to notice your business and give you a call.

Now, in the age of SEO or search engine optimization, the goal is the same: be one of the first results when a potential customer is searching for a product or solution to generate organic traffic and (hopefully) drive conversions. Of course, competing for a spot at the front of the pack is a lot more complicated than putting AAA at the beginning of your name. When it comes to SEO, a little advice can go a long way.

In my career as an editor and a content strategist, I’ve helped publications, clients, and Sparkpr itself maintain high SERP (search engine results page) placement for competitive search terms. In general, SEO breaks down into three main categories: There’s on-page SEO, which is streamlining pages like blogs and landing pages with efficient coding and proper keyword density to gain traffic. Then there’s off-page SEO, which is the effect that backlinks and other external factors have on your site. Finally, there’s technical SEO, which is all the under-the-hood elements like your content tagging and internal linking structure.

Anytime is a great time to improve your SEO, so I thought I’d share a few essential tips that are relevant whether this is the first or fiftieth time you’ve thought about optimizing for search.

Develop an informed keyword strategy
Good instincts can only take you so far – for truly effective SEO, you need a keyword strategy informed by data. Keywords are words or phrases commonly searched by users on Google, and using ones that are related to your content is key to drumming up search traffic. If you’re already using keywords on your site, now is the time to make sure those are right ones.

When choosing keywords, think about the intent behind them: what is a user looking for when they Google this? Are they looking to perform a transaction, or do they just want to learn something? Whatever you think the answer is, make sure you can provide it – otherwise, it’s not worth pursuing that term.

Google Trends is an excellent tool for kicking off your research. It’s free, and it will show you how much a given term has risen (or dropped) in popularity over a given date range. It’s also useful to use the suggestions on regular old Google search to optimize your keyword phrasing. Just start typing into the search bar and look at the suggestions to optimize your wording towards the most popular search terms. Just make sure to ignore the blue phrases that appear – these are terms you’ve searched for in the past, which aren’t necessarily the most popular terms to target.

For a more advanced keyword research tool, it’s worth checking out Moz, which is a paid suite of SEO tools with some free offerings. Moz’s Keyword Explorer will let you see the exact search volume behind a term. It’s best feature, though, might be its keyword suggestions, which will show you keywords related to a term you’re exploring. There you might find hidden treasure, like a keyword with higher search volume or a related search term with less competition.

Content is still king
Think of your website as a roadside attraction: keywords and backlinks are road signs enticing potential customers. They can get people to pull over and check you out, but it’s the main attraction, your content, that will get them to stay. If too many people quickly “bounce” from your site after coming in from search, Google will notice, and it’ll hurt your rankings. If you put up signs saying “world’s largest ball of twine,” then you better have a darn impressive ball of twine that’s visible from the parking lot, or guests are going to flee in droves and your reputation will tank.

Same goes in the world of SEO: On Google, your keywords make a promise that your content needs to fulfill. If people follow a keyword search to your site and don’t find what they want, all those visitors who quickly “bounce” will hurt your ranking for that term.

That’s why it’s better to target a low volume keyword that perfectly aligns with your site and your content, rather than a high volume term that doesn’t quite fit. For example, suppose you’re running a site about black holes. Your keyword research tells you there’s huge search volume behind the term “vacuum” and only a modest level of interest in “black holes.” Even though black holes are vacuous, having a bunch of people who want to buy a Dyson vacuum bouncing from your site won’t do anyone any good. Instead, target the right term and help the astrophysicists of the world – more satisfied searchers mean a better ranking for you.

Pursue backlinks (and give some of your own)
When another site links to you, it’s like an endorsement, and the more authority a site has with Google, the more weight that endorsement carries. If you’re CNN, you’ll have people linking to you all day, but smaller sites need to hustle – so reach out, introduce yourself, and ask for a link.

Let’s say you own a bed and breakfast in Albuquerque and you’d like to rank for “best vacation spots in New Mexico.” Search Google for that keyword and see who comes up. Go through the sites on the first page of results and see if any of them link externally – maybe they have a roundup of best B&B’s that you could be featured in. Find some contact information for the site owner or article author and send them a friendly note asking if they would consider linking to you now or in the future. Offer to link to them in an upcoming piece of content or on social media. Be polite, and to the point – follow up once if you don’t hear anything and then move on.

It’s also important to create your own internal backlinks on your site, especially on your homepage and on your highest trafficking pages. Backlinks on a homepage help users navigate your site, and they tell Google what your site contains. Backlinks, to related articles for example, get users exploring your site, and are another chance to show your content to Google. Remember, Google treats anchor text like a label, so make sure to label your content accurately and with keywords you want to rank for.

Write descriptive title tags and active meta descriptions
If Google is a newspaper, then the title tag is the headline for your website. It’s the blue link text in a search results, and it’s often the first thing a user will see when they find your site in search, so make a good first impression. Make sure to include the full name of your business plus one or two of your most important keywords. For example the title tag for The New York Times is “The New York Times – Breaking News World News & Multimedia.” See how they are barely bothering with punctuation? It’s all about the name and what they offer.

After the title tag comes the meta description. This is the text below the blue link that further describes a page. A good meta description is specific (focused on the individual page it’s describing, not your site as a whole), contains a keyword or two (don’t use so many that you’re not writing a real, readable sentence), and active (try ending with a verb and a call to action, like “find out more,” or “sign up now for free”).

If you’re wondering what your title tags and meta descriptions look like, try searching Google for your site and its various pages. See what comes up – it might surprise you. If you have pages without meta descriptions, Google might scrape a bit of text from your site to fill in the blank. Sometimes it works well, other times you may not like the result. Take a look and see where you’re lacking.

Keep reading and learning
SEO is a rabbit hole: poke your head in and it’s easy to spend all day, even all week, down there. That’s why I tried to keep my tips small and actionable, but if you’re ready for more, I can recommend some excellent resources for learning and optimizing.

Moz – an excellent source of both free and paid SEO tools, including my favorite keyword research tool. You get a limited number of keyword searches each month with a free account, but Moz has tons of free educational resources in its SEO Learning Center.

Yoast – if you have a site built on WordPress, don’t overlook Yoast, which has an excellent WordPress plugin to help with meta descriptions, page length, internal linking and keyword use. It’s also an excellent source of information, especially when it comes to meta descriptions and title tags.

Google is always trying to improve its algorithms, and as a result SEO is always changing. Part of truly mastering it is staying up to date, or working with an agency like Sparkpr who can teach you the best practices while implementing them for you. If you’re interested in knowing more, drop us a line, or find us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin – basically anywhere but the phone book!

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About the Author

A seasoned tech and service journalist, Alex Roth has bylines at publications such as The New York Times, Wirecutter, IGN, and TechRadar. He’s also worked in Media Partnerships at Facebook, where he managed scaled educational content for a global audience.