What? Another digital thing we have to keep in mind?! We know, and apologies in advance.
But in our constantly-evolving digital world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a critical component for online success. Understanding the fundamentals of SEO — yes, even for authors — is essential for improving your online visibility and driving organic traffic to your website.
Okay, so what’s a search engine?
We promise you’ve used these before. They’re your sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo — you get the gist — and with them, you can search for, well, whatever you want really. Search engines exist so you can find answers to questions you have, directions for places you’re going, products you’re interested in buying, etc.
So, how does search engine optimization work?
Search engines run various algorithms (some weird computer formula) to help you find the data you’re looking for; in essence, they’re combing the entire World Wide Web to narrow down the results to get you exactly what you need. By utilizing SEO, your aim is to get your website on the first page of results for search terms that mean the most to your target audience. Which means it’s important to understand your target audience: If you’re a YA romance author but a majority of your web traffic is from politically-active men in their 60s, you might not be hitting the right spot.
But why is SEO important?
With good SEO practice, your website will rank higher (or highest) on a search engine’s results page. The higher your website is situated on a page, the more likely someone is to click on your site. Think about it: If you’ve ever searched something, you’re unlikely to go past the first page of results — sometimes you might not even get to the bottom of that first page. Ultimately, the higher you rank, the more people are going to visit your website.
And it’s a circle: Good rankings mean good traffic, which means new customers (or in authors’ cases, new readers), exposing you to a larger and larger audience. The ultimate goal is to increase organic (nonpaid) traffic to a website by optimizing the site’s content, structure, and other elements, aligning them with the algorithms used by search engines. Speaking of organic traffic…
Paid vs. organic SEO
Have you ever searched for something and noticed the top result says “Sponsored” above it? That’s an example of a paid ad. The more general a search, the more paid results you’re likely to see. Searching for “blue dress” will net you a LOT of sponsored results. But searching for “blue dress Michelle Obama wore in 2011” will get your more specific results for images and articles. (A note: the results you see are going to be different from what someone else might see because search engine algorithms are taking into account your personal habits and practices!)
Now paid results are great, but a majority of clicks are going to come from organic SEO. Why? Have you ever almost clicked on an ad, realized it’s an ad, and then kept scrolling? That’s why. Many customers are averse to paid results because they feel they aren’t truly getting an accurate result for their search.
SEO is a cost-effective strategy for driving traffic. While it can require an initial investment, the long-term benefits can outweigh the costs, especially for sustainable organic growth. Google alone processes billions of searches daily, and organic results are a large portion of that. Plus, with organic results, every click that sends traffic to your website is free. And who doesn’t like free?
How can I make my website more SEO-friendly?
There are a few easy steps you can take on your end, the first being to actually have a website.
General website tips
- Make sure your site is user friendly: Factors like page load speed, mobile responsiveness, and easy navigation contribute to a better user experience, which can positively affect search rankings.
- Create good content: Search engines prioritize high-quality, relevant content. Creating valuable, informative, and engaging content not only attracts visitors to your site, but that also signals to search engines that your site is a credible source of information.
Keep an eye on links
- Utilize internal linking: When something on one page of your site links to another page.
- Backlinking: Whether it’s through guest posts, interviews, or various other content, whenever something about you appears on someone else’s web page, see if you can have a link added that takes people back to your website.
- Fix broken links: Keep an eye out for broken links; sometimes an interview you did might not be available online anymore, or a website might have changed the URL, breaking the link you have.
Analyze your site’s copy/text
- If you have a blog, take a look at the titles you’re using: Are your titles engaging and appealing? Can you make a title into a list? Or a question? Would you want to click on that title if you saw it?
- Within your general website copy, also make sure you’re utilizing keywords that would appeal to your target audience. If it’s a keyword that would make sense for Amazon, it will likely make sense to have someone on your website as well.
Hire someone who can take an objective, third-person look at your website and see what improvements can be made.
When will I see results?
Like most things, results usually don’t happen overnight. Keep an eye on your website traffic for a period of months — not days — to see how traffic has been affected by the steps you’ve taken to make your site more SEO friendly.
By understanding and implementing the key components of SEO, you can enhance your online visibility, attract your targeted audience, and build a sustainable online presence. And as search engine algorithms continue to evolve, staying informed about SEO best practices and adapting to changes will remain crucial for achieving and maintaining those high rankings on search engine results pages.
You’re truly never done optimizing your website; make sure you are regularly updating and checking on what improvements you can make. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed doing it on your own, look into hiring a service that can help!
Jennifer Vance is a publicist at Books Forward, an author publicity and book marketing firm committed to promoting voices from a diverse variety of communities. From book reviews and author events, to social media and digital marketing, we help authors find success and connect with readers.