How Google-able Are You?
For those of you who have dreams about being on the first page of Google, search engine optimization (SEO) is your ticket there.
Technically speaking, SEO is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by the search engine.
Fun fact: This was the #1 definition when I searched for “search engine optimization definition” on Google. (SEO at work!) In layman’ terms, SEO is the method of improving your website to be easily found on a search engine, like Bing or Google.
Not only that, but SEO is one of the most cost-effective ways to position your organization within your digital community. If used effectively, being optimized for search will help you get more pets adopted (and faster), increase engagement for your programs and services, boost press coverage for your organization, and most importantly, increase online giving.
How does it work?
For that matter, how does Google work?
Search engines, like Google, scour the entire Internet in order to provide the end-user with the best, most relevant information for each and every query. That’s a lot of data to go through in just a fraction of a second.
So how did they do it? Through a classification system of quality, keywords and relationships!
Each search engine has their own sorting method (called an “algorithm”) in order to judge how your site matches with a respective query or search term.
While these algorithms are different between search engines, there are a lot of similarities between the systems. The important ones that we will focus on today are site structure, quality of content, quantity of content, and external reputation.
Before We Dive In… Some Definitions:
- Keyword: an informative word used in an information retrieval system to indicate the content of a document. (Ex: “spay,” “neuter,” “cat,” and “TNR” would be examples of keywords for a catch & release program.)
- Page Title: The title of a page on your site. This is usually reflected in large header font on the page, as well as in the URL.
- Alt Text: Short for “Alternative Text.” This is a short description of the image, usually using a keyword, that will display in case the image does not load properly. You are usually asked to put in Alt Text when you upload the image to your site, or you can add it in the HTML <img> tag.
(Note: I start with this one first because, not only is it incredibly important, but this is the only one that could potentially cost you anything to implement.)
As someone who works online for 10-12 hours a day, nothing annoys me more (or Google, for that matter) than a slow site that is difficult to navigate. A slow, disorganized site is shown lower in search results, for search engines (“SE”) attribute these qualities to less-professional or credible resources.
Obviously, that is not the case with your organization. So what can you do to combat this? You might find it helpful to begin by answering the following questions:
- Is your site easily navigable between pages?
Can someone easily hop from page to page to search for what they’re looking for? Ask a friend or family member to find your different programs and services. If they have trouble locating anything, brainstorm ways to make the search as easy as possible and implement those changes to your site.
- Does your site work well on mobile devices?
How does your site look on your mobile phone? Tablet? E-Reader? Thankfully you don’t need all of those devices to check. Google offers a good, free resource here.
- Does your site load quickly?
While most sites load in a few seconds, your site may actually be loading “poorly” by Google standards. Again, Google offers another good, free resource for you to check your page speed here.
- Do you provide a secure connection?
While most sites and platforms include this in the basic set up, be sure to check and see if your site is secure.
Does your site fail to meet any of these requirements? If so, you may need to consult a web developer in order to make some much-needed changes. Thankfully, some of these changes can be fast and minor. If they’re more cumbersome, rest assured that the financial investment now will pay off in the long-run.
By the way, did you notice a sleek design is not a condition here? Functionality and ease of navigation are the goals.
Pro Tip: Other factors to consider live within the HTML of the website, such as making sure your page titles contain relevant keywords. Meta-description tags that describe your pages and your headlines and sub-headlines use relevant keywords. Thankfully, any of these changes that need to be made can be done quickly by anyone on your team who has basic website/HTML knowledge.
Quality of Content
Now we get to the fun stuff…the free stuff.
Another vital consideration that SE’s review is your site’s quality of the content. To illustrate this let’s imagine your perfect customer is searching for, “dog training class in [town name].” How can we make sure that your Dog Obedience Classes page is one of the first sites listed in their search? Content could be the key.
To start, I personally find it helpful to think about how easily my content will provide an answer for a specific search query. Why would somebody be searching for dog training in my area? Perhaps they are struggling with house training and they just want to speak to someone for tips. Maybe they are struggling with poor manners and are looking for a doggie school. Or, maybe they want to adopt another animal and want to socialize their pet in a structured environment.
Whatever the situation, the end user in this example most likely is not going to care about cat vaccinations, your latest press release, or even other dog training classes in an area that’s not within driving distance. But, at the same time, if you only list class dates and prices on your site, the site visitor may not be convinced that your services can help them.
So, what do we do?
- Do you have substantial amounts of relevant information on each of your program/pet/service pages? Good-quality posts are usually a minimum of 300 words. Go back to your brainstorming session and answer any potential questions a person may have while visiting the site.
- While writing this content, be sure to use plenty of keyword’s and phrases, such as “obedience,” “training,” “doggy school,” (town name), etc.
- Keep read-ability in mind. It is hard to read endless paragraphs of text on a screen, so make sure to break up your text with keyword-rich headers, sub-headers and even media. Speaking of which…
- You will earn additional SEO bonus points if your webpage contains other media, such as images, news links and video to help enhance your content. (Hint: “Alt text” matters.)
Channel your 7th Grade Grammar Lessons…
Grammar and proper essay structure play a surprisingly big role in your SEO. While it is common place to use internet shorthand on some social media platforms, do not use this method on your website! Google search bots are smart, so be sure to proofread and have other members of your team review.
Pro Tool: If you host your site on WordPress, drop everything and install the Yoast SEO plugin now. It really helps with making sure that you don’t skip any steps and that all of the content you create will help increase your SEO ranking.
Quantity of Content: Updating the Old While Adding the New
Have you ever visited the site looking for information, and then you realize that the page you’re looking at probably hasn’t been updated in the last three years? Isn’t that annoying? Yeah… Google hates it too.
Search engines penalize websites that are not updated regularly. So, go back and update your website on a regular basis. You may even want to set up (at least) quarterly reminders for you to go through every page and simply update the wording or the imagery.
Additionally, you want to consistently create new content. This is where having a blog is particularly useful! By posting a minimum of one new article each week, you can dramatically help boost your ranking. Blog post can be as simple as writing a feature on one of your pets, or you can be more robust by having someone on your team post an article on a particular animal health topic.
Pro Tip: Be sure to use to use your relevant keywords in your articles and pages! This helps the SE’s index them better.
Because Google searches every website on the Internet, they can also track how other websites interact with yours. (Spooky, right?) Therefore, it looks really good to Google when a lot of quality online publications and other sites use you as a reference within their own content – usually through hyperlinks. To SE’s, it signals that you are viewed as an expert in that field by other experts and proves that you are producing content that others find relevant and useful.
How can you help improve your online reputation? This is where social media is especially helpful. Make sure to get your content out there and get a lot of eyes on it. It could make its way to a person who wants to publish your link on their site. Public relations at its finest!
Pro Tip: Do not be afraid to share content on your social channels multiple times. People are always going to want to sign their dogs up for obedience classes, so it doesn’t hurt to share that blog post you wrote every couple of months or so. (But, you can always spruce it up a little bit so it looks new.)
Some things to avoid:
- Do not host pirated or plagiarized content.
- Keep ads at a minimum, at the very least so they are not intrusive.
- Do not spam other blogs or forums.
- Do not purchase links to your site.
Practice and patience make perfect.
Search engine optimization is far from a quick fix. Rather, it is establishing a set of habits that you will use in perpetuity for the rest of your website’s existence. Thankfully, these practices will become very easy and common practice when you get used to them. And, in just a few, you’ll be able to see noticeable progress in your Google-ability.