SEO is an acronym that stands for search engine optimization, which optimizes your website to get organic (unpaid) traffic from the search engine results page. Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. It’s about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re using, and the type of content they wish to consume. Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to connect with the people searching for the solutions you offer.
SEO involves making specific changes to your website design and content, making your site more attractive to a search engine. In “How to Create Content for Your Website,” an article by Chad Barr and Alan Weiss, content is defined as anything which focuses “on your visitors’ interest and addresses the question of what’s in it for them and how to improve their businesses and lives.” You do this in the hope that the search engine will display your website as a top result on the search engine results page.
Though search engine optimization can get complicated with all the different factors impacting your ranking, the basic process is not as difficult to understand.
Search engines want to provide the best service for their users. This means delivering results on the search engine pages that are not only high quality but also relevant to what is being searched.
To achieve this, search engines will scan, or crawl, different websites to better understand the site. This process helps them deliver more relevant results to those who are searching for specific topics or keywords.
Similarly, the search engines will scan the site to determine how easy it is to navigate and read, rewarding user-friendly sites with higher rankings on the search engine results page.
Let’s say, for example, that you have an article about how to build a birdhouse. SEO is the process organizations go through to help make sure their site ranks high in the search engines for relevant keywords and phrases, like “how to build a birdhouse.”
There are many benefits of SEO for your business. By improving your SEO, you can work to expand your visibility on the search engines. This helps you reach and engage more potential customers. By creating more engaging and effective SEO-focused content, you can increase your chances of bringing in more targeted organic traffic.
In his article “How SEO Works, Exactly,” Sergey Grybniak points out that search engine optimization evolves and changes all the time. Every year, certain methods are embraced by the SEO community as “must-have tactics.” In contrast, others get pushed to the brink of history, thanks to Google’s algorithm updates.
Considering this, SEO is believed by many to be a never-ending battle between search engines and SEO professionals who continue to puzzle out updates to gain more traffic and increase search engine results page (SERP) for a short while. However, this is not quite right.
The SEO Landscape
When you enter a search on Google, here is what you see first:
You typically only see actual search results halfway down the first page. Then, even more ads and more related search terms. What it comes down to is this: Google and other search engines suppress organic results from search. Although Google displays seven organic results per page, they are designed to draw attention to ads, answer boxes, “people also ask” sections and other widgets.
It is hardly surprising that organic click-through rate (CTR), defined by Google as “a ratio showing how often people who see your ad end up clicking on it,” has dropped by 37% since 2015 and is predicted to continue declining moving forward.
Fundamental Principles of SEO Today
- Links Still Rule
Links have been relevant from the earliest days of SEO and are still among the most reliable indicators of a website’s superb performance to Google. The more high-quality, related links you acquire, the higher your website’s SERPs will potentially become. In short, links are still fundamental to SEO, so it makes sense to invest in link building as part of your SEO efforts.
- Relevant, Optimized Content Wins
The links vs. content problem is somewhat like a chicken-or-egg dilemma. You need compelling content to attract links, yet your content needs links to boost your site’s ranking in search results and help drive traffic to a content piece. Ultimately links and content are the backbones of SEO.
If you want to crack the first page on Google, you need links to your relevant, well-optimized content. Here are some things to bear in mind when crafting and optimizing your content:
- Keywords matter in context. Keywords are still of substantial relevance to Google. Instead of scanning the page for “keyword appearance,” its crawlers now analyze the context and related secondary keywords that share the searcher’s intent.
- Titles, meta descriptions, ALT attributes, H1 tags, and URLs are still important. Yoast defines meta descriptions as a snippet of up to 155 characters, acting as a summary of the page’s content. HubSpot defines ALT attributes as text that appears in place of an image on a webpage if it fails to load on the user’s screen. The H1 tag is used for the title of a page or post. It is also essential to include targeted and relevant keywords in these elements.
- Increase your expertise, authority, and trust (E-A-T). E-A-T is an acronym that stands for the top three considerations Google uses for determining the page quality of online content: expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. You can read Google’s search quality guidelines for guidance on content quality. Google states, in part, that “the amount of content necessary for the page to be satisfying depends on the topic and purpose of the page.”
- UX Signals Have an Impact on SERPs
User experience (UX) plays a substantial role in how your website does with the search engines. Unfortunately, user experience depends on too many factors (e.g., site infrastructure and layout, content, etc.), and is often too hard to measure. Figuring out what your site lacks from a UX perspective can be a painful experience. Thus, some SEO pros choose not to deal with it whatsoever.
Yet, if you want to win your SEO game, mastering UX is what you need. You can partially outsource the design and layout parts of the process, but you will need to:
- Ensure that dwell time and CTR are high, and the bounce rate is low. While these signals have been around for some time, and Google does not use them as direct ranking factors, optimizing your site for high engagement can’t hurt and could even indirectly help.
- Improve site architecture. The critical part here is to improve a website’s navigation ensuring search engines can crawl all the pages, and users can easily find a page they are looking for. “The simpler, the better” approach works perfectly here.
- Optimize for speed. Regardless of the platform, your site must load in two seconds or less. Image compression, code and structure optimizations, and faster servers will help.
- Attract a UX professional to optimize the customer journey in-line with user intent. Since SEO has evolved to become more user-focused, you should work together with UX experts to provide a great digital experience at each stage of a customer’s journey. In other words–your goal is conversions and sales, not just traffic and leads.
In summary, UX optimization has already become a fundamental part of SEO.
Focusing on the visitor will likely play an even more critical role in looking to the future (since Google evolves for the user’s sake), and you need to learn at least its basics.
- Mobile SEO Can Make or Break It
As Google is determined to use its mobile-first index to rank and display search results on all devices, it is time to polish your website, mobile-wise.
Although Google’s move makes sense, with more than 50% of traffic worldwide generated on mobile, making your site perform smoothly on both mobile and desktop is no simple feat.
You will also have to make your content consistent across desktop and mobile devices, ensuring your website is fast and easy to use.
What it all means:
- Optimize your content for mobile users
- Accelerate your page speed
- Enhance mobile-friendliness
Ultimately, you will need to up your mobile game; or find yourself ranking poorly on Google.
Combine and Experiment Through Trial and Error
SEO success most often comes from best practices plus some trial and error. It can take up to six months of experimentation to settle on an effective SEO strategy. Nowadays, the fundamental principles described above are for you to combine and experiment.
Unfortunately, SEO rules are not set in stone. The rules and tactics are evolving all the time. There is no universal SEO formula; only trial and error can help you determine which SEO methods work and which do not work for your website, in your niche, at a particular time.
The secret of SEO is simple: You must learn how to combine and experiment with multiple methods and then analyze the results. Bear in mind that all your work may go to waste due to Google’s latest algorithm update or what your competitors are doing.
In the process, you sift out well-performing tactics, while cutting out those that do not work anymore. Remember–this is an iterative process.
In doing so, you will never end up with a linear SEO strategy. Although it may provide success for a short period, it can prove dangerous in a matter of days. Google is usually pretty quick to figure out when someone discovers a way to cheat their algorithms.
Factors that Effect On-page and Off-page SEO
- Content Marketing
Content is effective in both attracting the search engines and helping your organization make connections with site visitors. The more quality, relevant content pieces you have on your site, the more likely search engines will be to rank your pages higher on the search engine results page.
Similarly, the more engaging and compelling content you have on your site, the more likely your visitors will spend some quality time on your website. Perhaps, even make a purchase.
The secret to creating content optimized for search engines and your human site visitors is to develop a variety of content pieces that are well-written and on topics most relevant to your audience. Here are just a few examples of content that you can focus on to help improve your offering and your search engine rankings:
- Blog posts and articles
- Social media content
- E-books and white papers
- How-To guides and tutorials
- Videos and audio recordings
- Infographics or other visual content
Another vital thing to consider when creating content for your site is SEO keywords and phrases. These are relevant words and phrases that a search engine user might type in when looking for answers to their questions or related products/services. When you create content around these keywords and phrases, you improve your chances of ranking higher for these keywords on the search engine results page.
Another factor that can impact your content and your search engine ranking is how fresh your content is. Freshness refers to how often your organization posts new content to your site. However, creating brand new content is not the only way to keep your content fresh. You can also freshen up your content by updating posts, rewriting them to make them more productive, or adding new information and statistics over time.
Though creating content takes time and resources, it will more than pay off in the end. Search engines love great content, and consumers need quality content to understand better the value your organization can provide. You can start by creating a few blog posts and work to build a following on social media. Once you have a group of loyal fans and followers, your organization can create different types of media to attract and engage new leads.
- On-Page SEO
The on-page SEO factors are those elements that happen on your website. These are the things that you have control over so that you can work to improve these factors over time by following best practices for SEO. This goes beyond just your content marketing to the deeper levels of your site’s HTML.
Here are just a few of the on-page SEO factors that can help you improve your search ranking:
- The Title Tag on each page tells the search engine what your page is about. This should be 70 characters or less, including the keyword your content focuses on and your business name.
- The Meta Description on your website tells the search engine a little more about what each page is about. This is also used by your human visitor to understand better what the page is and if it is relevant. This should include your keywords and provide enough details to let the reader know what the content is containing.
- Sub-headings make your content more accessible for visitors to read and improve your SEO.
- Building Internal Links or hyperlinks to other content on your site can help the search engine learn more about your website. For example, if you were writing a post about the value of a specific product or service, you can link to the product or service page in your blog post.
- If you are using your images on your website or within blog content, you will also want to include your keyword or phrase in the image name and alt tag. This will help the search engine better index your images, which may appear when users perform an image search for a particular keyword or phrase.
When strategically placing your SEO keywords and phrases on your pages, it’s crucial to avoid over-optimization. Google and other search engines will penalize your page if it attempts to use keywords too often throughout the content. Also, you want to make sure that each piece of content focuses on just one or two keywords. This helps ensure that your content is specific and relevant. Trying to tackle too many keywords at once may negatively impact your search engine optimization as it often makes for unfocused and thin content.
While site content plays a vital role in your search engine rankings, it’s also important to consider your site architecture. You want to use a website design that makes it easy for search engines to scan or crawl your pages and content. Building internal links between your pages, creating a sitemap, and submitting your sitemap to search engines can help improve your site’s ability to be reviewed and give your search engines a better understanding of your content.
Another concern when it comes to your site’s architecture is whether your website is mobile-friendly. As mentioned earlier, many consumers are searching for information and brands on their mobile devices. You need to make sure that these users can view, read, and navigate your website from their mobile device. Not only does this impact the user experience, but it can also affect your SEO.
- Off-Page SEO
In addition to the on-page SEO elements that your organization has control over, there are also off-page SEO factors that can impact your ranking. Though you do not have direct control over these off-page factors, there are ways that you can improve your chances of having these factors work out in your favor.
Here are a few of the different off-page SEO factors that can impact your search engine rankings:
- Trust is becoming a more important factor in a site’s Google ranking. This is how Google determines whether you have a legitimate site that visitors can trust. One of the best ways to improve trust is building quality backlinks from sites that have authority.
- Backlinks are one of the most popular ways to build off-page SEO. To avoid getting banned from a search engine, be cautious with backlinks becoming spamming sites with your links. Instead, take time to build strong relationships with influencers and fans who create quality content and link them back to your site with their own content.
- Another off-page SEO factor is social signals, such as likes and shares. When it comes to boosting SEO, you want to look for quality shares from influencers. The more content you publish, the more likely you will be to get people to share your content with others.
Though you do not have direct control over what happens outside of your organization, you can increase your chances of improving off-page SEO by merely creating quality content that others will find valuable.
The more relevant and engaging your content is, the more likely others will be to link to your content and share it on social media. The more people trust your content, the more the search engines will, too.
Remember, many factors impact your SEO ranking. The most important thing to consider is whether your content is valuable and relevant to your intended audience. Keep in mind that search engine optimization takes time to work its magic. You won’t experience the benefits of SEO overnight. In fact, it may take months to enjoy the results of your hard work.
SEO is a never-ending, ever-evolving, multidimensional science. Every SEO would love to find the magic formula that could explain how SEO works, with specific rules and concrete equations on the table. Unfortunately, SEO is too complex to fit into a template. Although it does evolve around principles and particular practices, its inner workings are all about analyzing and applying tactics that work and sifting out tactics that do not.
If you would like to see how well your websites’ SEO compares, use this free SEO Audit tool to quickly see where your website is performing well and not so well.
If you have questions or would like some guidance after running your audit, feel free to contact us, we are here to help.