“In very simple terms, search engine optimization (SEO) is how you get found online – how you optimize your web presence, so that you get found by the customers looking for you,” explained Corey Daigle. Daigle is a Maine-based web designer and business strategist. Her business is the WanderWeb. She also serves as a specialty advisor for the Small Business Development Center (SBSC) of Maine and presented SEO tips for DIY web designers during a SBSC webinar.

There are two types of SEO: organic (also called on-the-page) and paid. Daigle focused on organic, which is free. It’s simply a marketing tool that helps websites improve their rank in organic search results.

When Daigle discusses SEO, she is almost exclusively referring to Google because that is where most people search for content. For the DIY web designer, learning how to “interact” with Google is critical.

“When you create your website and all your content online, Google searches each of those pages and reads them,” Daigle said. “There’s a bot that goes and eats all the words online. They go from site to site, and they collect information on all the places online about your business as well as your competitors’ business and every other thing that’s on the internet. And they put it all in a giant library of content. Then, if you add content to your website, they add it to your library.”

When a user keys “Pennsylvania lamb” into the Google search engine, for example, Google then uses about 200 different metrics to decide what content it will bring up.

Daigle said knowing the customer is the first step in improving SEO. Business owners need to know which keywords and phrases customers will use to find the business. For example, if the customer looking for lamb is using the words “organic,” “pasture-raised” or “natural,” then it’s important to use these words on the website. Increasing the depth of content in this way is important because Google is able to cross-reference and use its algorithms to link things together.

In the lamb example, Google can understand that the words “organic” and “pasture-raised” go together, so a customer typing in either phrase may be directed to the lamb producer’s website.

“Picking the right words and getting into your customers’ heads about what they will be typing into Google in order to find the product or service that you provide is very important,” Daigle said. “And all of those words work together in order to give a full picture of what you do to appeal to your customer who’s looking for you.”

A different kind of organic

Web designer Corey Daigle

The next suggestion she had for improving SEO is to optimize the “hero message.” According to Daigle, the hero message should be the first thing a customer sees on a website, and it should be short and sweet. She equated a hero message to the front-page newspaper headline that appears above the fold.

“What I see a lot is really cool slogans and really cool branded language, but what I don’t see enough is a very clear message about what you do, why you do it and who you do it for,” Daigle said.

She also said that there should be a clear call to action near the hero message. If the lamb producer wants people to shop for lamb, then there should be a “buy” button close to the hero message.

Daigle said it’s important to pay attention to meta descriptions – the short descriptions of each page of a website that appear on the browser. The goal of a meta description is to get people to click into the website. For instance, if the theoretical lamb producer has a history tab on their website, the first part of that page should include a short, compelling message because this is what pops up on Google.

The next strategy Daigle highlighted is to pay attention to the names of images, referred to as alt tags. “The potential benefit for this is huge,” Daigle said. “Google doesn’t read images yet. The words that you use to label your images are important because Google doesn’t scan images and assign content to them.”

Many people search Google images, including people who are visually impaired. If there’s an alt tag attached to an image, which includes appropriate keywords, it can lead customers to the website. The lamb producer will want to use alt tags, which include words their customers will search for such as “grass-fed” or “grain-free.”

In a world where most people are looking at screens for a large part of the day, Daigle’s next piece of advice was to keep content simple. “Take all the clutter away. Make your content skimmable and leave space for the eye to rest. Keep it simple. Nobody cares about anything other than what you can do for them, so everything should be through the lens of your customer. It’s not about you,” Daigle said.

Finally, she suggested using analytics to understand what people are doing on a website and optimizing the right things. She recommended looking at where people are landing, how long they are staying on the website and which pages they are consistently abandoning.

Ultimately, Daigle said that knowing the consumer is the most important part of SEO. When the consumer is known, the web designer can create a cohesive package of keywords and phrases, a well-crafted hero message, meta descriptions, alt tags and simple language. This takes time and commitment.

“SEO takes months to years. It’s a really long game, so looking in the short term is probably not your most efficient way to think about SEO,” Daigle said.

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin