The world of search engine optimization (SEO) can pose many challenges for marketers. SEO is constantly evolving and there is a bit of unpredictability involved, making it a difficult field to master. Anyone can create and post content, but a strong SEO strategy will ensure that your content is found and read.

At its core, SEO is the practice of increasing website traffic through organic search engine results. In other words, it’s the process of obtaining high-ranking placement on a search engine results page (e.g. Google). While the concept is relatively simple, the execution is far from that. With endless amounts of online content, marketers must take the necessary steps to improve rankings, drive traffic and increase awareness.

Search engine algorithms are complex and incorporate many different factors. To make it easier for you, we’ve outlined eight best practices for SEO success.

1) Game Plan
Before building your content, it’s important to identify your target audience and understand the current landscape. Who do you want to attract and why? What sites are already performing well? Is your goal to boost engagement? To boost content downloads? For users to register for a webinar or virtual event? Consider the purpose or end goal of each asset you promote and the actions you want users to take as your guide.  Start by creating a general outline including important keywords and topics. Google your term and review the top 5-10 results to determine common story elements that are driving a strong search result. Check out the ‘Related Searches’ section at the bottom of the search page. Use this information to plan sections and sub-headings that reflect important aspects of the main topic as well as address related topics. Accurate and relevant titles, sub-headings and body content will all help boost SEO.

2) Content Is King
User behavior signals such as time on site, pages per session and bounce rate all influence website rankings. If you can provide high quality content, readers will spend more time on your webpage and interact with links, watch videos, etc. Your content must satisfy the need of a reader and be presented in an engaging manner. Be sure to format your content properly to optimize the user experience, and to consider what stage of the buyer’s journey your target audience is in to ensure the utmost relevance. The content should be easy to read and digest; a good suggestion is implementing sub-headings (including your keywords!), concise paragraphs and bullets when applicable. For more insight on creating compelling content, explore our MarketingFit Content Marketing 101 guide.

3) Own Topics, Not Keywords
While keywords are important for any SEO strategy, it’s critical to analyze how keywords relate to each other to form over-arching topics. For example, if you’re writing an article on cloud computing, you should include other relevant phrases (e.g. related 3rd platform technologies) to help contribute to a larger topic and improve SEO performance. If you solely focus on cloud terminology, you’re limiting your audience and reach. For a hot topic, try to incorporate 7-10 related keywords to help elevate the performance of your article.

4) Evergreen Strategy
Do you have evergreen content (e.g. event listings, directories, etc.) that you can update regularly? If not, it’s something you’ll want to consider. Evergreen content keeps organic search ranking high while providing visitors the most current information on perennial topics. A good rule of thumb is anything that is both helpful for readers and designed to be updated on a consistent basis should perform well. Essentially, your evergreen content should always remain relevant to readers, regardless of current news or events. Look at content that continues to perform well as an indicator for what assets you want to update as well as similar topics you should cover moving forward to add to your evergreen arsenal.

5) Mobile Matters
Google will index the mobile version of your site first! Because of this is, it’s vital that your content is accessible and readable on a mobile platform. Most users today search using their phones so it’s important your mobile page is engaging and easy for readers to navigate.

6) Speed Is Key
Users have high expectations when it comes to web page performance. If your pages take too long to load, users will not hesitate to move on – regardless of how great your content may be. This of course will have a negative effective on key SEO metrics like time on site, pages per session and bounce rate. Learn how you can test your page speed for free.

7) A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words
It’s no secret that audiences enjoy captivating pictures and video. Your goal should be to add related photos, illustrations, video and infographics to as many of your articles and pages as possible. Relevant visuals will help readers better understand the content while enhancing the user experience. An image that is surrounded by related text ranks better for the keyword it is optimized for; Google understands the location of keywords near related images so keep the images close to related copy. Captions also help with keyword and engagement metrics. Where applicable, also add a title and ALT text to your images for improved SEO.

8) Think Links
To help bolster your content, it can be helpful to incorporate links to relevant internal and external content – especially as you work to build link sharing. A good practice is linking to knowledgeable sources to help bring credibility to your own content. You can also add links to new content within established high-performing content on your site.

A robust SEO strategy will drive quality traffic to your website, resulting in better ROI and higher credibility for your brand. When implementing these best practices, remember that balance is key! Every aspect outlined plays an important factor in your SEO performance – whether it’s content and keywords, user behavior, page speed, backlinks, etc. Take the proper measures to execute each step for the best SEO approach. Ultimately, your goal should be to show authority and relevance while providing value to the readers.

In addition to these best practices, there are plenty of tools to help shape your content and improve SEO. Here are a few of our favorites:

•  Answer the Public
•  Google Analytics
•  Google Keyword Planner
•  Google Search Console
•  Google Trends
•  Moz Tools: Moz Pro, Keyword Explorer, Fresh Web Explorer & More