Basic Search Engine Optimization – Get the Fundamentals Right
How to Improve Your Organic Rankings for Keywords, Images, Videos and Featured Position 0 Snippets
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a dance of art and science. The science is paying attention to what Google’s AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm values. The art is paying attention to what humans love when they engage with great content. The best dancer gets to the top of organic search results.
Your Adventure Context:
The grace and power of the expert slalom paddler effortlessly placing her C1 exactly where she wants it to go, all while understanding and integrating the exact science of water dynamics, paddle blade angle, and boat lean in real time – with micro adjustments the human eye cannot see. The result – first place on the podium.
In this post, we’ll help you:
- Understand how to assess your website’s organic SEO strength.
- Get detailed tips for how to improve your organic search results.
- Get Your Basic SEO Checklist for how to improve your organic SEO.
Good SEO Requires Dedication and Human Brainpower
SEO is incredibly important – what worked last year may not be as effective this year, especially if your competitors improved their websites. Google is also always tinkering with its algorithm and trying out new ways to measure a website’s relevancy. Sometimes Google outright makes a big shift that causes a lot of sites to tank, and some don’t recover without help. It is important to stay on top of tracking how well your website is showing up organically for your most important terms. The off-season is usually the best time to work on your website’s search engine optimization. It is an opportune time to take advantage of fewer competing business priorities and jump into powering up your website with better SEO.
Be Smart about Your Customer Experience Journey
Reviewing your website’s SEO goes hand in hand with reviewing your site’s customer experience journey and filling any gaps with high quality, engaging, & relevant content for your site. You are looking for opportunities that will help search engines understand what your website is about, so that they will show your pages in search results. Capitalizing on these same opportunities will help visitors to your website understand your brand’s products, engage more deeply in learning about them and get inspired to experience them down the road. Missing content and missing SEO opportunities are tightly related.
What Google Looks For in its Search Algorithm:
Google rewards E.A.T.: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness
To demonstrate your brand’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness:
- Your website must have high quality, relevant and accurate content that is consistently updated and expanded.
- Your social channels should be active, updated and sending regular, engaged traffic to your site.
- Your content should match the user’s query result that brought him/her to your page in the first place.
- You should have relevant outside links coming into your website that further confirm what your website content is about. High quality links will increase your website’s credibility and trustworthiness.
- Examples of strong external links include media articles, influencers posts, authoritative high traffic tourism directories (e.g. Colorado.com, VisitNC.com, etc.).
Remember: Google’s mission is to serve up the “best answer” to a user’s search question (or query).
Note: Focus your attention on Google – no other search engine matters unless your business is in China or depends heavily on Chinese tourists. If so, get on Baidu. Otherwise, work on your Google SEO and then get outside!
You Only Have Two (2) SEO Goals
- Show up at the top of organic search results for your most important “topics” – the terms that visitors use to find and buy your adventure company’s products.
- Ensure that your search results are engaging enough for the visitor to actually click on it to get to your site. (or if it’s a video result, they will click through to that channel).
Once visitors are on your site, your content efforts take over. Great content, easy mobile-first usability, and appropriate calls to action will engage and ultimately convert your visitor as they “journey” through your site and learn about your adventure experiences.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing on winning the top organic (or paid) placement, only to fail at engaging the visitor who clicks through to your site.
Note: Most of us know that paid search is the fastest, guaranteed way to “win” a top slot for your search terms. Adventure companies with experience products (trips, tours) use Google Adwords. For retailers, Google Shopping Network and Amazon Seller Central are the behemoths of choice. If your competition is super steep, and/or your site needs a lot of SEO work to start to gain organic placement traction – paid search is your go-to for immediate pay-to-play results. Depending on how competitive your product/region is, the cost can be steep to win the #1-3 slots. You must be sure your website can convert!
The Six Most Common Types of Search Engine Results
Search engine results pages (SERPs) typically contain several different types of results for any given search. You want your site to show up in as many of these placements as possible, depending of course, on your search terms.
These are the most common placements:
- Organic Listing results
- Paid Ads position
- Local Places results (Local GMB listings/map pack listing)
- Image Search (organic)
- Video Search (organic)
- Featured Position 0 Snippet result
We will focus in this article on your keyword rankings, image search and video search results. We will also introduce featured position 0 snippets.
We won’t be covering tips for Local Places optimization (for Google my Business), link building, or paid search ads. Later posts will cover those topics and Advanced SEO tips for schema markup using structured data.
So – What Do These Organic Results Look Like?
Here is an example of Search Engine Results for my search “ohiopyle rafting lower yough”:
In this example of search result listings, we see three out of the six of the possible typical placements.
- We see 2 organic placements, no paid ads are running at this time, a video search result splitting the #1 and #2 organic results, and a local 3-pack of GMB placements.
- The local pack typically shows only 3 placements at a time, with a link to “more places” for the user to click on. You want to optimize your GMB listing to show up in the first three placements for your products.
- There is also no Featured Position 0 Snippet.
- We see our client Wilderness Voyageurs knocking it out of the ball park on this search result dominating with #1 organic, #1 and #2 video search, and #2 GMB local places listing. This is what you can achieve, too. We’re showing you how.
What is a Position 0 Featured Snippet Result?
Position Zero (0) is the information Google offers at the very top of the search results, before anything else – like ads, local places pack, video search or organic listings. That’s why it’s called “position zero” – it’s ahead of everything else. Position zero is also called the featured snippet, and is exactly that: a “featured snippet of content” from someone’s website, that directly answers a search query.
Why do you care about this?
- First position gets the most clicks! You want to “win” that position 0 placement!
- How? By offering up the very best answer to the searcher’s question, in the AI eyes of Google.
- Can you control your placement or buy the Position 0 slot? No.
- The good news is any brand can win if Google thinks they have the best information. Tiny sites can beat out huge brands.
Here is an example of a Position 0 Featured Snippet for my search “Grand Canyon Fishing”: Note that below the snippet is Google’s suggestions for “People also ask” – we’ll cover that as well, later in this post.
How do you determine what the top questions or keyword search terms are?
You must understand what visitors are looking for that relates to your products and services, and how your site ranks, in order to identify what content you need to create to provide the best answers.
Step 1: Find out how your site is ranking now for your most important business topics.
If you don’t know what your most important business topics are – go to your Google Search Console (or your analytics if you have connected GSC to your analytics account) and pull your last 3 to 12 months of query data out. That will tell you what keyword search terms (Queries) visitors are using, how many searches there are (Impressions) and what terms your site is winning clicks up for (Clicks and Average Position). Filter your terms into topics, or themes, so you can better understand everyone looking for your products.
If you don’t have your site set up in Google Search Console (GSC), do that first. You will need to verify your authority to add your site property to GSC. The best way to do that is to use either your admin privileges in your site’s google analytics account, or use your publish privileges in your site’s google tag manager (GTM) account.
Now on to the data wonk heaven part:
Pull Your Query Data for Analysis
- Go to GSC, go to Performance on the left sidebar, and pull the date range for the date range you want to analyze.
- Then be sure to select “queries” and click all 4 boxes of data as you want to be able to see total clicks, total impressions, average CTR (click through rate) and average position (ranking of your site for that keyword over the time period you selected).
- Note that GSC may not have 12 months of data for your site. This example only has 3 months of data because the site was not claimed on GSC prior to that.
Mine Your Query Data For Insights
- Based on your current data, carefully review your impressions, clicks, and average position. (Your click through rate is just a mathematical expression of clicks divided by impressions.)
- If you see a keyword term that has very high impressions and limited clicks, but has good first page position, then you know visitors are not choosing your search result. Look at that result. Is it compelling? Would you click on it?
- If you see high impressions, low clicks and an average position on page 5 – well, crap – you know a lot of users are searching for that term and your site is basically invisible for it. The good news, your efforts will be “nothing but net”! That keyword term is a good candidate for developing better content on your site. (Being buried on anything after page 2 counts as invisible.)
- Let’s say you see high clicks, low impressions, and a strong average position. You have found a “long tail keyword” that has limited traffic, but the traffic that does find you has a very high success rate of clicking through to your site. Build more content for them!
- Your content efforts may include any or all of: a new landing page, a new blog post, better meta titles and descriptions, stronger on page copy, revised H1, H2 and H3 subheaders, better alt image tags for every picture with your important keywords in them, or all of these things.
Additional Tools to See What People Are Searching For
- Google: “People also ask” Suggestions
Google will also show you what people are asking about, when you type in your question (query) on desktop or mobile. Voice search will not show you these suggestions. Pay attention to these suggestions – it matters what Google says are the most common questions people are asking! Google is pulling their data from gazillions of searches daily, and oh – by the way – they also know what people are talking about in the bazillions of gmail accounts we (the online world) use and in the wazillions of PPC ads we (the online world) run. Don’t think for a minute that they don’t mix all that “behind their online curtain” for better insights.
2. Answer the Public Tool
In addition to looking at your own query data in analytics and GSC, this tool offers some excellent insights into what people are asking about, related to your topics (with their own humorous presentation twist): Answer the Public
This is a good way to learn what the top questions and phrases are around your keywords. It doesn’t give you relative data on the volume of questions per keyword terms. It just shows you the total universe of what people are asking about. From there, you determine if you have content already or want to make new content, that will answer relevant questions related to your products. Match up their suggestions to your own query data – what do you find? Data is available in visual format (see example below) and less exciting CSV files…
Example Visual Data: Santa Barbara Channel Islands
Step 2: Review which landing pages are ranking for your important keywords.
You can do this in GSC, but it is time consuming and clunky. This is where the right SEO tools can save you a lot of time. These tools are expensive though, which is why getting reports from an agency that is expert in SEO can save you time and frustration and recommend exactly what weak organic rankings to improve and how. We can run reports, for example, that will show you exactly which pages rank for every one of your keywords.
In GSC, here’s how to do it:
- Go to Performance > Search Results.
- Select your timeframe, and select Queries.
- Then click on the keyword you want to look at, and select Pages to see what pages are ranking for that keyword. You can only do one KW at a time.
- This data, together with your query data on the volume of searches, will help paint your picture of what content you need to create.
Step 3: Review and optimize your meta page titles and descriptions.
So now you know what people are looking for, how they find your site, and where you are may be weak in keyword themes and content. Now, let’s look go inside your website house. Let’s start by looking at internal SEO scores for your most important landing pages and blog posts using whatever SEO tool you have on your site. There are many tools out there; the most popular for WordPress websites is Yoast. Yoast is solid. We are pretty tool agnostic; we focus on tools that work. Is your tool suggesting ways that you can improve your metas and on-page content?
- With Yoast, your SEO on-page optimization goal is to get in the “green” for your page. Yoast is pretty good at tips to help you maximize your content on a page around your chosen keyword terms.
- Note that it’s not always possible to get a green – don’t sweat this, just use your brainpower to make sure your page is consistent and unified in covering your topic for that page. After all, Yoast is not as smart as you are and it’s a tool that is incapable of nuance.
- If you don’t have enough actual copy on your page, you can’t make Yoast green. Ever. Some pages are ok with limited copy (like a Contact Us page), but not pages that you actually want to rank. Remember, Google can’t “read” your page without copy and/or alt tags and schema markup. Have a video or photo gallery page? Put a helpful, keyword rich description on that page.
Be sure you have the best possible meta page titles and descriptions! Meta page titles are for Google’s search bots. Meta page descriptions are for humans.
What does a well optimized Meta Page Title look like?
Be sure you have the best possible meta page titles and descriptions! For example, if your page is about Grand Canyon Rafting Trips, your meta page title should not say something like: Classic adventures in the Grand Canyon. It needs to say Grand Canyon Rafting Trips!
How long should Meta Page Titles be?
The best practice is to keep your titles to about 55 characters. Why? Because this is about how many characters will be visible to humans in your search results. Google will put “…” at the end of title that’s too long and readers can’t see the rest of it. Be sure to put your most important keywords first or at the front of your title. Why? Because Google search bots read left to right, just like you and me. They “read” the top of a page and leftmost copy first. And remember, Google does index everything, whether it’s visible to humans in search results or not. Keep to Mark Twain’s philosophy – shorter is better here.
Here’s an example of a strong Meta Page title. The important keywords are: Durango Jeep Tours, La Plata Canyon. Note that this shows up in the browser window. Your meta page title is not the same thing as your on-page title.
What does a well optimized Meta Page Description look like?
Your meta page description should closely match or align with your overview description on your actual page. Google likes that; it signals trust in your page. If it is not aligned, Google won’t use your meta description. It will pull something else, possibly quite random, from your on page content, instead. Google may also just choose to pull something else on your page, even if your meta description is closely aligned, if it likes that better. That’s what we see happening here with Mild to Wild’s Durango Jeep Tours page:
- Meta description in Yoast:
- Actual description Google is pulling to the search results page:
- Actual on-page content that Google pulled from:
We can see that the descriptions are closely aligned, and the visitor gets a compelling search result that encourages a click through to the Mild to Wild site. You can also see that Mild to Wild has successful review schema markup on this trip page search results, too. Great stuff – we helped them set this up and did their SEO when we created their new website. We’ll cover schema markup in an Advanced SEO post down the road.
How long should Meta Page Descriptions be?
The best practice is to keep your descriptions to about 160 characters. Why? Because, just like with the meta titles, this is about how many characters will be visible to humans in your search results. Google will put “…” at the end of description that’s too long and readers can’t see the rest of it. Be sure to put your most important keywords first or at the front of your description, too, just like you did with your titles. Why? Because most humans read left to right and you want them to quickly grasp the essence of your page and click through. And remember, as with your titles, Google does index everything, regardless of whether it’s visible to humans in search results or not. Note that Yoast will ding you for titles and descriptions that fall outside the tool’s pre-coded length parameters. I don’t worry about going over a wee bit. After all, Yoast can calculate, but it can’t think. If you have a good reason for a few more characters or words, don’t sweat it.
Step 4 – Optimize Your Images for Image Search
- Review your images in your website’s media library and make sure every image has a unique alt image tag associated with it.
- Remember, Google cannot “read” a picture (jpb, png, gif file). It can only read text (or code – which is text). In order for Google to understand what the images on your page are actually about, you must tell it by using the Alternative (Alt) Image Tag. This is the image text that alternatively describes briefly what your image is about.
- Your alt image tag is also the copy that shows up instead of your image, when a user has “images turned off” on their device. This can happen for example, with emails you send.
- Each image should get a 3-5 word description of what the image is about, and we like to always add “- Company Name” at the end of our alt tags. Google indexes everything, and as your image is traveling around the web in image search results, it’s always crystal clear where that image came from! The link of course will go to your site, but we like to double down on brand name indexing.
STEP 5: Optimize Your Videos for Video Search
- In the search results example at the beginning of this blog post, we saw that Google returns video search results from YouTube and Facebook.
- Notice also that these results will pull what Google thinks is the best “answer” to the original search query (question). Google will go back as far as it needs to if it determines that only older videos are the most relevant. It’s important to keep fresh, optimized video content on your YouTube channel, year-round.
- You want to optimize your videos for both channels: YouTube and Facebook. YouTube comes first – it is the 2nd biggest search engine in the world, and Google owns YouTube.
- You want to load your FB videos directly into Facebook, instead of playing them from your YouTube channel. That means you do have to pay attention to separately optimizing your video title and video thumbnail cover on Facebook.
We have created an in depth post that covers How to Optimize Your YouTube Channel. It goes over your profile cover art to your playlists, video titles, descriptions, links and tags. If you don’t know how to do this, make sure to check that post out. Optimizing your videos is the most consistent way to rank organically in video search. Your competitors don’t know how to do this – beat them to it!
YOUR ACTION ITEM: Here’s your checklist for powering up your website for better SEO:
- Identify your high value keywords and keyword themes. Find out what your site is ranking poorly for and what people are actually searching for, by analyzing your GSC query data, Google people also search for, and other tools.
- Identify what content is missing or needs to be improved, to address your high value keyword themes. Do this in conjunction with mapping out your Customer Experience Journey content. (Use this handy worksheet to map out your existing content.) The “holes” for Google and Visitors will become very clear. Not sure what content to create? See this post: Proactive Marketing Content to Strengthen Your Brand Now.
- Add missing content on existing or new landing pages or blog posts. Be sure you are optimizing all your on-page content (meta page titles and descriptions, H1,H2,H3 subheaders, page copy, etc.).
- Power up your meta titles and meta descriptions on your pages, focus on your top landing pages and any key blog posts.
- Optimize all your images on your site with strong Alt Image tags.
- Optimize your YouTube channel and all your videos. Be sure to optimize each video for Facebook before you load it up directly to your Facebook channel.
- Fix any technical site errors like broken internal or external links (404 errors -page not found), missing meta descriptions, duplicate meta titles or descriptions, etc.
- Check your redirects to be sure they are fully updated. For example, don’t send a 2016 link to a 2017 page to a 2018 page to a 2019 page. Send every old page directly to your most current page. If you have really old pages that no-one knows about anymore, drop those off your redirect list entirely. Google will eventually stop reporting those as 404s, as long as the links don’t exist anywhere online.
- Do deep linking on your internal pages within your site. Review your key landing pages and best blog posts to make sure you have internal links to relevant content on other pages and blog posts. You want your user to easily find more information in their “journey through your site” and Google rewards this.
- Once you have updated your site – be sure to resubmit your sitemap to Google via GSC. If you use the Yoast plugin, and have it automatically creating your updated site map, you should still go ahead and resubmit your sitemap url so Google will crawl it faster.
- Last but not least: Test your site speed. Fix everything you can. If you are in over your head, get an expert to optimize your site speed. Speed is now a ranking indicator for Google.
You can do begin to optimize your website in house, or get an expert’s help with any or all of the steps. SEO is a process of art and science. It takes time to do it right and for Google to reward your efforts. Depending on what’s not optimized now with your site, you might be able to quickly make an impact by tackling your most important landing pages first. Good luck! Let us know if you need help – our clients consistently rank in the top positions for their most valuable terms.
Want more tips specific to adventure companies during this period of disruption?
Tips to Support Your Reopening Communications As places begin modified reopenings across the world, effective and timely communication is more critical than ever to reassure travelers. You want to give them the confidence to begin planning their next adventure with you. Use our handy acronym [...]