If you have a website, you’ve undoubtedly heard those 3 magic letters a million times: SEO. Search Engine Optimization.
Understanding (and utilizing) the power of SEO is like the modern-day Holy Grail of the web. But so many people don’t understand it, and if you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve likely heard a thousand different opinions and even more “best practices” on how to use it, many of which likely conflict with one another.
In this post, we’re going to unearth some of the mysteries surrounding SEO by helping you discover what it is, what it’s not, what works best today, and how it relates to ophthalmic websites.
What SEO Is
First, a definition. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid results – often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results. Most SEO strategies use a combination of keywords, images, links, and social media activity to drive traffic to a certain website, all of which are designed to get the specified web page higher in search engine results.
In short, good SEO is a way of systematically presenting content so that search engines find the content that is on your website and present your content to users higher up in search results. Even more importantly than the search engine finding what content is on your website, good SEO practices place the needs of the user above the desires of the search engine.
That sounds complicated, but it’s really not. We’ll explain more soon...but first, we want to tell you what SEO is not.
What SEO is Not
There are many myths and urban legends surrounding the practice of good SEO, but very few people understand what SEO is. SEO is not:
- A magic bullet or a catch-all solution
- A sure-fire way to get #1 in search rankings
- An overnight tactic that will instantly drive more traffic to your website
- A way to “beat the system” and achieve higher success
Google and other search engines have literally spent hundreds of thousands of man hours and millions of dollars developing advanced algorithms that discern which content is most relevant to the user’s search, and then display the best results to the user. We don’t mean to offend, but you’re not going to get around it and see overnight success with some new SEO “trick” or a sure-fire “best practice” that someone sold you on the Internet for 5 easy payments of $19.95.
How SEO Works
Let’s think about search engines for a second. A search engine is not a real person, but it still has to decide what content exists on a website (this is called “crawling” a website), categorize the content and file it away, and then display that content when a user searches for something that may be related to it (for example, a phrase, the name of a business, an image search, etc).
A good SEO strategy focuses on the content. Good SEO will implement a variety of practices to ensure two things:
That search engines have the most opportunities possible to categorize their content; and,
That the website has the highest possible chance of appearing at the very top of results when a user searches for a similar topic.
Good SEO strategies will focus on content – they will place keyword-rich content on web pages, place links to other websites and other pages within their own website, utilize description tags for images and graphical elements so that search engines can understand what images are of, and so on and so forth.
Seems simple, right? Well, not so fast...SEO strategy changes a lot.
What Used to Work
In the past, the Internet saw dozens of “best SEO practices,” ranging from the slightly underhanded to the downright spammy. When the term SEo was first coined, pretty much anything went – if you could link to 1000 different websites from your own, you would be guaranteed to be #1 on Google.
This took on a variety of different forms, all of which can be categorized as “Black Hat SEO”:
Keyword stuffing was a SEO technique used by web designers to overload keywords onto a Web page so that search engines will read the page as being relevant in a Web search.
Another Black Hat SEO practice was to make text “invisible” by adding white text on top of a white page in order to fit more keywords in and get a greater chance of being discovered by search engines. Users couldn’t see it because it blended in with the background of the page, but search engines could read the code, pick up the text, and file it away to be displayed in search results.
A Doorway Page is a web page designed specifically for the purpose of gaining high placement in a search engine rankings. The doorway was meant to capture the attention of a search engine by containing keywords and phrases that it would pick up on. Often the doorway page would contain hidden text in order to load the page with occurrences of a specific keyword or phrase.
Adding Unrelated Keywords
Another practice was to add unrelated keywords to increase the likelihood that users would stumble upon a given website even when they searched for something completely unrelated.
This involved changing the webpage entirely after it has been ranked by search engines, thus trying to “trick” the search engine into displaying a website with unrelated results.
These may seem like quick or easy tricks to “game the system” and achieve page one (or even spot #1) rankings, but they don’t work anymore. In response to the growing number of websites that were using such methods, Google (in the interest of the best user experience) changed their algorithms drastically, not just to cease rewarding those sites with page one status, but to penalize the websites that utilized these spammy practices.
Best Practices Today
Don’t get us wrong: SEO isn’t dead. There are still many best practices that can be used to form a complete and comprehensive SEO strategy and see wonderful results. These include having a responsive website that works well on mobile devices, adding keyword-rich body copy to your website, linking your social media profiles to your website (and posting regularly), using descriptor tags for images and other graphical elements, and having a link-rich content, both linking to external websites and other pages within your website.
At the end of the day, it’s all about helping search engines understand and correctly categorize what’s on your website...and helping users find it by providing an exceptional user experience. While search engines are not dumb, they aren’t humans either, and so they need a bit of help.
What this Means for the Ophthalmologist
Content is king.
Perhaps the best advice we can give to ophthalmologists is to be regularly posting content and tweaking content on the website, most likely through a blog or “newsroom” of sorts. When it comes to modern SEO, content is king, and there’s no better SEO strategy than regularly posting informational, keyword-rich content on a variety of topics to increase the chances that a search engine – or a real person – will stumble upon what you have to say.
Within the last year Google has updated their search engine algorithm again to reward those websites that are “responsive,” or that work well on mobile devices. Again, this is all done in the interest of user experience, and websites that don’t display legible fonts and content tailored and optimized for mobile devices will be penalized.
Sounds too good to be true? It probably is.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to SEO, there aren’t any magic bullets – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The Internet is a wonderful place, but it’s full of people and companies promising that they can make you #1 on Google or increase your traffic 200% overnight...and it just isn’t true. There’s no way to game the system.
In the long run, good SEO strategy is an investment.
It takes time to see a real return on investment on an SEO strategy...but it’s all worth it. Once you have implemented a good SEO strategy, it will focus on content and both users and search engines will be rewarded by finding what they are looking for.
SEO can seem overly complicated, and if you don’t live and breathe the Internet 24/7, it’s easy to get lost. But good SEO isn’t really that hard to understand – it just takes a methodical, well thought-out approach, hard work, and lots of patience to see a result worth the investment.
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