The average American spends nearly seven hours online each day, but very few people have even a basic understanding of how ranked content works. Politicians complain about unflattering search results and blame big tech. Business owners get frustrated by lower-quality competitors generating more web traffic and blame the marketing team. In both instances, the complaints demonstrate a clear lack of understanding when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) and the investment it takes to climb to the valuable top of a Google search.
SEO is a widespread, comprehensive process with the end goal of increasing a website’s page ranking or placement on search engine results pages (SERPs). This is accomplished through about 200 “ranking factors” companies like Google use to determine the best or most relevant content to display for a specific search.
The factors include high-quality, keyword-optimized content, authoritative backlinks, web page speed, social signals, and mobile friendliness just to name a few of the most impactful ones. It can be easy to get lost in the many technical aspects that happen behind the scenes at the hands of a skilled web developer, which is another SEO topic altogether.
Given the complexity and constant algorithm adjustments, getting started with SEO can feel like a murky journey into the unknown. It’s not something you can learn by reading a few articles, watching some YouTube videos, or attending a weekend seminar. This presents difficult challenges for businesses interested in ranking their websites and product pages at the top of search results or identifying the right SEO agency to help drive more qualified leads through the top of a marketing funnel.
You already have the answers to the SEO test
Reverse engineering is one of the easiest ways to begin to understand SEO from a content perspective, but it takes a difficult leap of faith. Remember that Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
To navigate this ecosystem effectively, you must assume Google’s mission is successful and the ranked results you see after searching any keyword phrase are the undisputed outcome of a massive popularity contest. Once you accept what Google is presenting as the best or most relevant result for your query, you can begin to pinpoint the variety of elements it takes to compete in that area of knowledge.
How to analyze search results without tools
You don’t need SEO tools or training to quickly analyze search results, but you do need to put your browser into private or incognito mode to ensure your past searches don’t affect what you’ll see. Select a keyword phrase that’s relevant to your business and search it in Google.
- Focus your attention on the first three search results—the organic content you see, not the sponsored ads. Nearly 50 percent of users will click on one of these three results.
- Ask yourself if you’re seeing a major publication, established national brand, large government entity, or other long-standing domain that’s not in your website’s weight class.
- If you see Amazon, Wikipedia, or Leafly, then you know Google wants to present authoritative content from websites with millions of monthly visitors. This isn’t an area where you can expect to compete.
- If you see your direct peers or companies you’ve never heard of before, then it may be reasonable to assume your high-quality content could rank here.
- Determine the format of the content you’re seeing in the top search results and look for any patterns.
- If you see a collection of product listing pages from a manufacturer’s website, you know Google has deemed this a transactional search for folks who are ready to make a purchase. If you have similar product pages, the right SEO effort could help elevate your products here.
- If you see a mix of news sites and blogs reviewing a number of products in your category, then you know Google wants to present a variety of options for potential shoppers with commercial intent who aren’t ready to make a purchase decision. In this instance, it might be a good idea to focus your efforts on getting backlinks from these top-ranking pages.
Analyzing content is all about deciphering the users’ search intent
The verbiage may differ slightly, but most SEO professionals and platforms discuss search intent through the same four categories: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. Learning how to spot the search intent allows you to craft content that aligns with someone’s search goals.
- Commercial: The user expects to find a variety of similar products and services to compare before deciding which one to purchase.
- Informational: The user expects to find an answer to a specific question, like how to get started in SEO.
- Navigational: The user expects to find a specific page, like the log-in screen for a delivery service.
- Transactional: The user expects to find a specific product to purchase quickly.
If you’re unable to align your website, product pages, and content with the users’ search intent for any keyword phrase—which you can often determine by what already exists within the top three search results on Google—you’ll never be able to break through the sea of competition. With this in mind, you want to treat each piece of content as a campaign that must convert.
How to find the right SEO help
Individuals or agencies that promise specific ranking or traffic results are waving a red flag. If a person or company could guarantee the top search result and deliver millions of monthly page views through organic search, they’d be worth their weight in rhodium and probably wouldn’t be taking your calls—no offense. But really, that person doesn’t exist.
When finding the right SEO help, experience matters. In fact, past results are the only thing that matters as far as you’re concerned at this stage. Think of it like hiring a driver to manage your racing vehicle and get behind the wheel on race day. You want a driver who’s got experience working on a car like yours, one who knows how to make the car run better throughout the week, and one who knows how to maximize its performance on race day. While you may have Ferrari dreams, you don’t want to get distracted by a former Ferrari driver’s results and assume they can achieve the same speed and results with your much slower vehicle.
Instead of asking what SEO results someone can deliver, it’s far more valuable to find out exactly what type of work—blogs, migrations, backlinks, directories, etc.—they’ve performed for other clients in your industry and the results of those efforts. Since you’ll be discussing SERP rankings and organic traffic, you can expect to discuss verifiable third-party data without asking someone to break a nondisclosure agreement or reveal any trade secrets. Once you find someone with relevant experience, you can investigate what type of effort and expense it will take to meet your goals.
If you plan to outsource your SEO and content marketing, it’s still a good idea to gain a basic understanding of the tools, features, and language used in this field to ensure you’re able to track and manage the agency you’ve hired instead of allowing them to manage you.
5 traditional SEO tools for cannabis companies
As you’ll find with most established business software, there are many good SEO software options on the market and personal preference plays a big role in choosing one product over another. Most SEO professionals rely on a mix of free and paid tools to analyze data from a different perspective and make informed decisions using a holistic approach.
1. Google Search Console – Free
Initially launched in 2005 as a webmaster tool, Search Console has evolved into an easy-to-understand analytics platform for content creators. Each time you publish a new article, use the URL inspection toolbar at the top of the home dashboard to request a priority crawl from Google that will get your new content ranked as soon as possible.
Search Console provides simple monthly performance reports with reliable metrics about website clicks, impressions, fastest growing pages, top performing pages, fastest growing queries, and top performing queries. Unlike more advanced traffic tools like Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which is not a beginner-friendly platform, Search Console makes it easy to identify the search terms leading to the most clicks and which pages get the most traffic on your site. Success begets success online, so without this data, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand how Google sees your website and its content.
2. Ahrefs – Free to $999 per month
Founded in 2011, Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO tool focused on keyword research, competitor analysis, rank tracking, site audits, and link building. It offers four product tiers for small businesses, marketing consultants, in-house teams, and agencies.
Ahrefs claims to be the third-most-active web crawler in the world behind GoogleBot and BingBot, meaning its content indexing and subsequent SEO recommendations are based on the latest available data. All Ahrefs plans include site audit tools to identify technical and on-page SEO issues across more than 160 categories. Other basic features like competitive analysis provide metrics on the keywords driving the most organic traffic to any website. Ahrefs also includes insightful tools that dive into historical changes in the source code of a web page to identify when changes were made and help measure the outcome.
3. Moz – Free to $599 per month
Moz was founded in 2004 as a blog and online community for SEO experts to discuss new ideas. Since then, it’s developed into a comprehensive all-in-one SEO tool focused on site audits, rank tracking, backlink analysis, and keyword research.
Moz takes credit for developing Domain Authority (DA), which is a search-engine-ranking score that ranges from one to 100, with a higher score corresponding to a better chance of ranking. DA is an incredibly helpful tool for content planning, allowing users to determine whether it’s possible to rank for a specific keyword phrase or subject on any website. For context, sites like Facebook and Amazon rank above 95, while Leafly and Weedmaps rank a bit over 80. Compare your site to your direct competitors and work to make sure your score exceeds theirs instead of chasing an unattainable score of 100.
4. Semrush – Free to $499 per month
Semrush launched in 2008 and broke the one-million user mark in 2016. It’s an all-in-one suite for improving online visibility management and discovering marketing insights with a focus on SEO, pay-per-click advertising, keyword research, competitive research, public relations, technical audits, and campaign management.
Like Moz, Semrush offers a proprietary DA score to measure a domain or website’s overall quality and SEO performance based on the quality of backlinks, estimated organic traffic, and spam factors. When combined with a keyword difficulty score, Semrush allows you to predict whether it’s worth your time and money to create content around a specific keyword or topic with the goal of ranking on the first page of Google.
In addition to basic research tools, Semrush also provides an SEO writing assistant that can be used directly from the platform or through a Google Docs extension. Users enter the target keywords for a specific piece of content, and Semrush provides a wealth of information on the proper length, keyword usage, semantically-related topics to cover, search intent, and other factors to greatly increase the chance of ranking for any topic—all based on the current top-ranking web pages for your desired keyword.
5. Yoast – Free version
Yoast is an SEO plugin with a free option for websites running on WordPress. While its features fall short of the paid all-in-one tools listed above, it’s still an excellent introduction to the subject.
Once you set your focus keyword, Yoast helps ensure you’ve got the fundamentals in place through its content analysis checklist with green, yellow, and red lights to show your progress. Yoast can check your content’s readability score to ensure you’ve hit the right reading level, acceptable use of passive voice, sentence length, and other language factors to ensure you’re publishing content that’s easy to read and understand.
It also holds your hand when setting your image alt text, keyword stuffing, internal linking, outbound links, keyphrase distribution, social media distribution, and many other content optimization factors you’ll want to learn about. Once you have a good understanding of Yoast, you’ll be ready to graduate to a comprehensive, all-in-one tool like Ahrefs, Moz, or SEMrush.