The Internet has become one of the most important tools for businesses. As more people publish information online, it becomes increasingly valuable for businesses to distinguish their information from everyone else’s. Marketers often point to SEO as the magical cure-all to that problem without actually explaining what SEO is and how it works.

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. In order to do any optimizing, we must first understand how search engines operate. Remember the end goal: to help people — the families you serve — find what they’re looking for in the easiest way possible.

Google, the biggest and most popular search engine today, is able to provide relevant results to users by constantly updating the information it stores in its databases of web pages. This ever-evolving backlog of information is called the Google index.

Illustration depiction of Googlebot saying hello.Google uses Googlebot to gather this information. Googlebot, Google’s automated program, fetches (or “crawls”) pages online and then catalogues them in ways that affect how prominently they’re featured on result pages. An algorithm determines which sites to crawl, how often, and how many pages to fetch from each site. Google owns huge sets of computers that constantly crawl the Internet.

How successful is Googlebot? The numbers speak for themselves: in 2014, Google sent 89.8% of web traffic worldwide.

Considering that 38% of traffic to funeral home websites comes from online searches and nearly 90% of web traffic is curated by Google, it’s prudent to want to know how your funeral home can show up in top positions on Google’s results pages.

So…what is Googlebot looking for?

What determines the rankings that show up for common searches?

The short answer: various factors play a role in SEO success. The long answer… well, scroll down and keep reading.

While it would be impossible to give a comprehensive take on every detail Googlebot takes into account (people have literally written hundreds of books and thousands of articles about this), I have come up with a list of the most important elements. These items provide indicators to Googlebot’s “preferences,” if you will. The easier it is for Googlebot to find and index your site’s information, the more likely you are to secure an enviably high ranking on Google’s result pages.

Important Elements for SEO Success:

  1. Search keyword appears in Top Level Elements

    “Top Level Elements” refer to the following: title tag, URL, content and image alt tags. Make sure your core search terms appear in these areas.

  2. External backlinks from relevant and authoritative domains

    Similar to how people vouch for a friend when introducing them to somebody new, backlinks from relevant and authoritative domains in the funeral space act as sponsors for your site. Googlebot will take their willingness to vouch for you in account.

  3. Relevant internal links pointing to your most important content

    Within your website, the number of relevant internal links that you have can also act as a vouch system for your most important content. Now, don’t go placing links to every page on every page you have — Googlebot will flag it as spam — but make sure that your internal links emphasize your most important content.

  4. Social signals such as Facebook shares, Tweets and Google +1’s

    Social engagement with the content on your site also shows Googlebot that people find your site and content useful.

  5. Mobile optimization for your site

    How long does it take for your page to load? Does your website utilize responsive design? Do you have a version of your website specific for mobile?

  6. All pages on your website are linked so Googlebot can access all your pages

    Googlebot can only access pages that are linked from another page on your site. If a page on your website isn’t linked to anything, Googlebot has no way to find the content on that page. Chances are, people won’t be able to find it either.

Ultimately, creating a website geared toward the families who use your service is the best thing you can do. Answer your users’ questions. Create content that people want to share. Make it easy to navigate through your site.

Check out the Periodic Table of SEO from Search Engine Land for a handy cheat-sheet of important ranking factors and best practices.

In Part 1 of this series, we examined why search is important and explored the common searching behaviors of the families you wish to serve. In this section, we walked through how search engines operate and explored the factors that determine rankings. Continue to Part 3 to discover how to put these two pieces together, optimizing your site to attract an audience that matters to you.