If you want customers to discover your business, there is no getting around it: You need to implement an SEO, or search engine optimization, strategy. After all, 36 percent of consumers find new businesses by doing an online search and 53 percent of consumers search for local businesses online at least once a month.

So get ready to learn the most important steps needed to build your SEO strategy and increase your web traffic. Here are nine tips for making your business more discoverable through online search.

1. Know Your Audience

Relevancy is the key to quality new business leads. It doesn’t count if you receive 5,000 hits on your homepage if 4,975 of them bounce within a minute because they don’t find your business relevant. Before you produce any content or do any keyword research, learn everything you can about your audience:

  • What questions are they asking?
  • What are their persistent problems?
  • What vocabulary do they use?
  • What is their intent when they do an online search?

Once you’ve answered these key questions, make sure your web content addresses your target users’ needs. Speaking the same language as your target customers and offering meaningful content makes it easier for them to find you.

2. Keywords and Phrases

Keywords are probably the most recognizable form of SEO and can drive traffic to your site if you use them correctly.Once you determine your keywords and phrases, you need to place them where search engines will find them most readily:

  • Title Tag – shows the search engines your page topic.
  • Meta Description – though it does not impact your search engine rankings, it is helpful for human searchers deciding whether to visit your page.
  • URL – your keyword should be integrated into a short, readable string.
  • Headings (H tags) – at least one heading must contain your keyword.
  • Image title and ALT text – include keywords to tell search engines and screen readers about your image.
  • Content – keywords should be in content in a readable form; no stuffing or you will get penalized by Google.

Optimize each piece of content for no more than one or two keywords or phrases. Some web and blogging platforms, like WordPress, have plugins or apps to help you remember all the places to put your keyword. (Here’s a great list of SEO plugins and tools for WordPress).

3. Link Building

Link building may not be as important within SEO strategy as it once was, but it’s still an important tool. When it comes to link building- inbound, outbound, and internal – all links must be relevant to your topic and website.

  • Outbound links – This means linking to authoritative sites with more in-depth information to increase the relevancy of your content. Outbound links may send trust signals to Google, improving your ranking. Don’t overdo it, though.
  •  Inbound links – Any inbound links, or links to your site from outside sources, should be from authoritative sites as well. Request links from relevant influencers and sites via email. Do not use any so-called link farms.
  • Internal Links – Linking your content to other relevant content within your own website helps search bots crawl and index your site faster. It also improves the user experience and keeps users spending more time on your site.

Relevant links that tie together content and information on a particular topic is the best way to build trust with search engines and increase your rankings. But be aware that having too many irrelevant links will get your site penalized.

4. Link Maintenance

Nobody likes to click on a link and receive a 404 error; it ruins the user experience. Too many broken links cause search engines to consider your site to be old and neglected and negatively impact your ranking. Use one of the many tools and apps available online to help you find and repair broken links quickly. You can easily and quickly check your whole site for dead links with free tools like Dead Link Checker or the Google Chrome extension Check My Links.

5. Page Load Speed

Another user experience issue, slow page load speeds can drive visitors away. Also, Google and Bing consider page load speed when ranking sites. There are multiple methods of increasing page load speed including caching plugins and minimizing redirects. Clean, streamlined code helps with page load issues as well.

6. Image Optimization

Image optimization helps page load speed and increases the relevancy of your content.

  • Use appropriate keywords in your image file name, ALT tag, title, description, and caption.
  • Use images that retain good quality when resized and reformatted.
  • Use a PNG file format if available as it creates few if any compression artifacts to degrade the image.

If you must use JPEG formatted images, load them “progressively.” This does not increase load speed but does improve the perception of performance. Relevant images enhance the user experience which, in turn, improves your ranking.

7. Mobile First Indexing

Mobile, which includes tablets, has overtaken the desktop as the most popular device used to access online information. Google reports receiving more searches via mobile than anything else as well, prompting the search giant to institute mobile first indexing for mobile content for rankings.

It’s likely that mobile user experience and search intent will feature more heavily in future rankings. Therefore, you need to ensure that you have a responsive website that displays well on any device. Most website and blog platforms have tools that allow you to build a responsive site and to display your site as it would appear on a mobile device.

8. User Intent

According to Joey Kercher of Air Fresh Marketing, SEO is beginning to emphasize intent. In other words, what are searchers “intending” to find when they search for your brand? Intent clarification includes not just your website content but your cross-channel marketing content on social media and other channels. Learn what your target audience wants to find when they search for you and your solutions.

9. Quality Over Quantity

If you have a high volume of new content but little relevancy, your rankings will suffer. Users prefer high-quality content that provides value to them and their search for solutions. Fresh web content still counts, but it is more important for it to be of high quality and relevancy. High quantities of new content that have no value will not help your SEO efforts.

The Takeaway

SEO remains a prominent pathway to higher search engine rankings and discoverability. However, never forget that you are writing for a human audience first, not an algorithm. After all, search engines continually tweak their algorithms to devalue SEO trickery and shortcuts, which makes it essential that you follow best practices for human search and avoid so-called “black hat” SEO practices that will cause your site to be penalized. The nine tips listed above are all considered to be “white hat” SEO practices that put people ahead of algorithms while boosting your search engine result page (SERP) rank for your keywords.

Nicole Letendre is the marketing coordinator for Bonafide, a digital marketing agency in Houston, Texas. She loves writing, social media and keeping up with the latest marketing trends.