This article originally appeared on the Prime Design Solutions website.

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Most people are familiar with the term SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, and understand that it’s important in the world of digital marketing. But what is it exactly, and how do you get it?

Search engine optimization means that your company’s website is written, formatted and built to put its best foot forward to search engines (the major ones are Bing, Yahoo!, and above all Google, which dominates with an estimated 85-90% of the market), in order to maximize the chances that your site will come up in the first few listings when a user is doing a search. In other words, the goal is that search engines will deem your site to be so interesting, high quality, and relevant that it will rank your site higher in search results. SEO does not mean, however, that the site is misrepresenting itself, or in any way trying to trick search engines into giving it a higher ranking than it deserves.

As such, SEO is a vital part of your marketing effort if you’re prospecting for customers on the web – no matter what your business is.

SEO is, as you might imagine, an incredibly complex topic, and is constantly changing as search engines evolve and become more sophisticated. But here’s a quick primer to what matters in SEO:

What you can see

Some parts of the SEO equation are obvious to anyone perusing a website. These include:

  • Keywords and important phrases.  Copy on your site should include keywords and important phrases – the words you’d expect people to use when they’re trying to find your company in particular, or are trying to find a company that provides similar services and products. Your headlines and subheads should include relevant phrases. However, be warned that search engines have become more sophisticated to “keyword stuffing,” a deceptive tactic that’s exactly what it sounds like.
  • Headlines and header tags. Headlines and header tags, or subheads, on your pages should be descriptive of the content, as this helps search engines determine what the body copy is about.
  • Well-written content.  Is your site well-written, free of typos and grammatical errors? Search engines can tell, and your site will be penalized if the content is poorly written.
  • Fresh content. Does your site include a blog, or other content that’s regularly refreshed and changed – for example, the Learning Center section of the Prime Design Solutions website that you’re reading now? Anything you write about for your business’ blog will contain relevant phrases and terms people might search for — that is, it will be stuffed with keywords. What’s more, Google prioritizes sites that are updated frequently because that’s a clear signal that the content is relevant, that your site is more than just a brochure on the web. The more content there is for Google to index, the better. (Content marketing is one of the hottest trends in the industry – read more about it here). 
  • Mobile-readiness. Is your website responsive – that is, does it look and function great on mobile phones and tablets as well as on desktop computers? Search engines want to provide people with the most useful information, and today 50-60% of all web searches are performed on mobile as opposed to a desktop or laptop. Sosearch engines penalize non-responsive sites because they are difficult to read and navigate on mobile devices, and are therefore less useful to someone searching on a mobile phone.
  • Speed and size. To maximize SEO, your website should load quickly. Larger websites with more information may be seen as more credible by search engines.

What your web developer can see

Other parts of successful SEO are “under the hood,” so to speak, and have to do with the construction and architecture of your website. These items may or may not be obvious to the end-user, but are important features of the site to web developers. These include:

  • URL construction. URLs should be short and include relevant keywords.
  • Meta tags. Meta tags are HTML tags that consist of a short paragraph, maybe a sentence or two, summarizing the content on a website page. They are not visible on the page itself, but are present in the “head” section of the page’s programming, and provide search engines with valuable information about the content. Well-written meta tags should include keywords.
  • Site crawlability. Search engines scan through sites very quickly, indexing the contents of the pages. The engines then refer to that index, not the original websites from which it was created, when someone performs a search. Certain types of web programming, such as Flash or embedding important content in images, can hide important information from search engines. That information won’t make it into the search engine index, which means it won’t be referenced when someone does a search.
  • Page structure. Search engines look at the structure (that is, the HTML markup) of the page to determine what content is the most important. So, if your website has a poorly developed structure, it can have a negative effect on the SEO rankings even if the content is good.

How visitors interact with your site

How visitors interact with your site is an important part of SEO, although this is not something you can control directly. However, providing strong content increases the chances that your visitors’ behavior will help your SEO. Some of these factors include:

  • Links. Many people realize that SEO improves when quality sites link to yours. However, it’s also true that outgoing links to quality sites from yours can be helpful.
  • Shares on social networks. It’s helpful when articles or pages from your site are shared on social networks. Web developers often place share buttons (like the ones at the top of this article) to help facilitate social sharing on networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others. The more often these are used, the bigger the SEO benefit.
  • Engagement. Search engines will measure how long visitors stay on a site, also called the “bounce rate.” In other words, does your site provide your visitors with the information they wanted, so they spent time there to read it? Did they visit several pages, or just one?

A special note about social media and SEO

Social media has an impact on SEO to varying degrees, depending on the platform. Social media profiles, including Facebook Pages (especially the “about” and “basic info” sections – don’t leave these parts of your Page blank!). LinkedIn Business Pages, Instagram profiles, and Twitter profiles are indexed by search engines and will come up when someone searches for your company.

But your website’s SEO is helped directly when any visitor (including you) shares, recommends, “likes,” or tweets links to blog content and other pages on your website on social platforms, an effect that’s maximized when it’s done using share buttons from the site itself.

Incidentally, if you haven’t claimed your Business Profile in Google, you should.  The Business Profile appears when someone searches for your business by name, like a large ad to the right of the search results (see what happens when a search for “Innovative Tomato” is performed on Google) — the search results include a big box to the right of the screen featuring basic business information such as hours, phone number, photos and more. When you “claim” your profile, you’ll be able to edit this information and even add status updates.

The bottom line

Competent web developers are careful to design a site in a way that maximizes SEO, but regularly adding fresh content to your website is key.