SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is a digital marketing strategy aimed at improving search engine visibility using targeted keywords, well-placed links, attractive formatting, social shares, and carefully developed metadata. SEO’s primary goal is to meet the criteria of different search engine algorithms to rank website pages at or near the top of search engine results pages.
SEO is a form of digital advertising that primarily focuses on improving organic (non-paid) website traffic. SEO uses keywords and website content to draw targeted leads to a site through search engines. When done correctly, SEO is quite possibly the cheapest and easiest way to find and retain leads, to improve company brand, and to reach a broad, targeted audience.
Furthermore, effective SEO improves both the quantity and quality of website traffic by providing the content that the target demographic finds valuable. For example, a company that sells CBD products online will attract more useful leads by optimizing for the term “best CBD products online” as opposed to something vague like “health products.” Specifically, they attract leads who are already interested in their product (CBD products) and very few — if any — who aren’t.
The best part? SEO is both cheap and effective. SEO, when used as part of a larger inbound marketing strategy, is more than five times as effective as paid advertising according to a recent HubSpot survey. In fact, the most expensive part of SEO is simply the time involved in setting up and maintaining it. Though many services can help with the endeavor, outsourcing quality content production is perhaps the quickest and most effective way to get started.
How Search Engines Determine Content Quality
Search engines aim to deliver the best, most relevant information for every search inquiry. They do this by crawling websites to determine their authority, popularity, and relevance for any given search term. Those who want to rank well in searches (i.e., those who want their web pages listed at the top of a search results page), must not only meet the required criteria but also outrank competitors for the top positions. SEO ranking can be challenging for businesses with extensive keyword competition, but in the young cannabis industry, there is still plenty of time to grab those top spots before everyone else.
Search engines must believe that a website is of high quality if they are to rank well on search results pages. Though the specifics of search engine algorithms are unknown, we do know that there are five key elements search engines use to determine the quality of a website or page: keywords, website authority, backlinks, publishing frequency, and metadata.
Search engines only want to show the most relevant information to their users. They determine which pages to display in a search results page by scanning websites and pages for keywords and phrases that match a search inquiry. If a user searches for the phrase “cannabis content marketing in Denver,” pages that display those words (especially in that order but not necessarily), will be among the first page shown to match that query.
Marijuana marketing firms with pages that optimize for the key phrase “cannabis content marketing in Denver” should have a relatively easy time ranking for that specific term but may have difficulty ranking for “content marketing” because of its increased keyword competition score. Therefore, the more targeted the demographic, the longer or more detailed the key phrase should be. Keyword variations further help search engines narrow down the topic (and thus the relevance) of a given web page.
Do not take keywords for granted; they are merely a foothold into search ranks. In fact, too many keywords (especially if they are seemingly unrelated) can damage search engine rank due to a perceived “keyword stuffing” practice. To ensure keywords rank well, a website must have authority over a specific niche.
Search engines determine a website’s authority in several ways, including content quality, website traffic, social metrics (likes, shares, etc.), and the quality of both internal and external links.
The purpose of linking is multifaceted. To begin, links help build authority by telling search engines that a website contains valuable information. The theory is that authoritative websites will have many links pointing to it from other websites. To be clear, a link is a clickable object that redirects website visitors from one site to another. They can be in the form of text (hyperlinks), images, or buttons, and serve as additional reading resources.
There are three different kinds of links that websites should employ for an effective SEO strategy: inbound, outbound, internal. Inbound links, as the name suggests, are links from other websites that link back to a specific website. Outbound links are the opposite; they link from the site to other, credible sites. And finally, internal links are those that point from one page to another all within the same site.
Though internal links are the easiest to create, inbound links are the most valuable because they reinforce a website’s authority regarding a specific subject. Outbound links are also easy enough to add to a site but must be done with care to ensure that they link only to credible, valuable sources.
Inbound links are by far the most valuable link type. An abundance of inbound links tells searches that many sources view a specific website as an authority. There is heavy weight given to inbound links, but they are significantly harder to acquire. High-quality content, guest blogs, and back-linking services can all help increase the number of inbound links to a website.
Updated and Fresh Content
Search engines want to display content that is relevant now, not five years ago. The best way to maintain on-going authority is, therefore, to maintain a regular stream of high-quality content and to update old or outdated content regularly.
One great way to maintain updated website content is to regularly publish articles on a blog or newsfeed. Articles should be current and focused on popular search terms, or at least offer some value in terms of entertainment and/or engagement. When publishing new content, always try to link back to another page on the site to maintain a robust link-building strategy, as well.
Another tactic for maintaining current content is to include a call-to-action or CTA at the end of each article encouraging comments and other discussions. Though user-generated content (UGC) removes some degree of control over a website’s contents (and may require third-party spam filters), it is an excellent way to keep content fresh, promote conversation, and learn about the needs and concerns of readers.
Metadata is simply data about data. It summarizes the contents of a webpage, including webpage summaries, image description text, and page tags. Though typically hidden from visitor view, metadata is a vital part of search engine algorithms.
Metadata is easy for search engine crawlers to find and analyze. Because metadata is short, it must offer plenty of descriptive (keyword-friendly) information in minimal space. For example, a meta description (the text displayed directly below a page title in a search results page) should only be between 150 and 160 characters long and include the target keyword or phrase at the beginning. Tags and alt text should also be short, ideally containing the optimized keyword and (if possible) at least one variation.
Search engine optimization is an on-going process. It is not a formula you can simply implement then sit back to watch the visitors roll in. For an effective SEO strategy, marketers must continuously improve their credibility, their value, and their visibility among searches.