Have you found yourself asking “What is SEO?” Do you constantly hear the term SEO and want to know why it’s relevant? By the end of the article, we hope you’ll have a better understanding of the definition of SEO, how it works, and why it’s imperative to grow your business in the months and years to come.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “search engine optimization”.
To simplify, SEO is the process of taking steps to help improve a website or piece of content, gain more visibility, and rank higher on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
When a page has better visibility in search results, you’ll gain more attention and attract prospective clients and customers along with your already existing ones. Note, the higher the website is listed on search engines, the more people will see it.
It is best to always follow current SEO best practices to maintain the quality and relevance of your website. SEO best practices will also ensure your website is fast loading, easy to navigate and most importantly, user friendly.
Why is SEO important?
SEO is a fundamental part of any digital marketing strategy, especially in today’s competitive online market. Search engines serve millions of users a day looking for specific questions and answers to their everyday needs and problems. The majority of search engine traffic goes to the top 5 results.
The most important SEO tasks have to do with the following, but are not limited to:
- Identifying what users are searching for that is related to your products and services
- Creating high quality and engaging content that matches the users’ search intent
- Following SEO best practices that best satisfy what the search engine algorithms are looking for
If you have a blog, website, or online store/business, SEO can help you get targeted, qualified traffic from search engines that can be used to grow your brand, increase sales, and promote business growth.
Why are SEO organic search results important?
Organic search is a massive part of most businesses’ website performance and a critical component of acquiring a customer through a purchase or engagement.
Those that are ‘organic’ results are ones that are earned through effective SEO, not paid (i.e., not advertising or pay-per-click advertising), organic search results are based on the relevance to the user’s search, links, and domain authority on top of other organic factors. Simply, you can’t just pay for your page to rank higher in organic search results.
Developing a strong organic SEO strategy will not only provide many benefits but also provide key insights into your visitor traffic. Here are just a few of the reasons why it’s important:
- Costs less compared to other marketing strategies
- Improves long-term ROI
- Provides important data to guide future efforts
- It nurtures leads through the marketing funnel
- Helps build your overall authority and credibility
- Attracts the right kind of traffic that you need
How do Search Engines work?
Before diving into SEO further, let’s talk about how Search Engines work as SEO is all about getting better visibility in the Search Engines.
Search engines (like Google) are the ones that provide you with all the answers. They scour billions of contents ultimately determining which is most likely to provide you with your final answer. By sifting through all available content on the Internet (via web pages, images, podcasts, videos, PDFs, etc.) via a process called ‘indexing’ and then filtering how well it matches your query is then referred to as ‘ranking’.
Search Engines are the directories of the Internet. Imagine the Internet as the largest library in the world. Now picture finding an image or article in this vast library. Unless the image has some defining terms to enter into the library directory, that picture is just a piece of paper floating around without categorization in the miscellaneous drawer. Now envision the billions of pages that users around the world have deposited onto the internet.
Search Engines were originally created to sort through all the information uploaded to the web daily. Search Engines use spiders to find and crawl the information on each new page. The Search Engines must then decipher how this information fits with every other page on the Internet. The page is then categorized and added to an index so that it is faster to recall and show in a Results page for a relevant search.
There is a big difference between what Search Engines actually show in results and all the possible results they could show that are stored in their results. In fact, Google uses more than 200 factors in its algorithm and is continually updating the formula to meet user demands.
Most experts agree that Google makes between 500 and 600 changes to its search algorithm each year (Search Engine Land). This means that SEO is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process that needs to adhere to both current best practices and expected future best practices.
How do Search Engines like Google rank websites?
Before any website can be shown in Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) the Search Engine must be able to:
- Find your website.
- Crawl (or spider) your website pages.
- Understand what information is on your website.
- Categorize each of your website pages in the indexes based on what it understands from your Source Code.
- Understand the intent of any Search Query by a person and display the pages in its index it believes are most relevant.
This means that your website must be easy for Search Engine spiders to find, to crawl all your pages, understand what is on your pages (including text and images) and be confident that your web page is the most relevant. Sound like a lot of work? This is where Search Engine Optimization comes in.
Why does SEO organic traffic matter?
The value of SEO has everything to do with the quantity and quality of organic traffic (unpaid Search Engine traffic):
Quality of organic traffic
At the end of the day, quality traffic is what accelerates business success.
The quality of organic traffic is just as important as the traffic itself. Just think, when you’re searching for something and a product or business pops up that isn’t relevant to your inquiry, you’re likely to exit. This goes for the same as your website. Ensure your content is what your visitors are truly interested in. Google Analytics will sift through your engagement, conversion, and relevance metrics to show you where you can improve. Ensure your site, social media, etc. all clearly identify your objectives.
Quantity of organic traffic
This is the number of users who reach your site through organic search results. Search engines prioritize pages with high-quality content over those that are spammy or don’t provide valuable information. As we are aware, a search result that appears at the top of the SERP is more likely to get clicked on. The more visitors you attract to your site (quality and relevant ones), the more likely you are to see an increase in valuable conversions.
How does SEO work?
Search engines are used by people when they have a query and are searching on the Internet for an answer. Search engines link Google, Bing, and Yahoo each have their own set of ranking criteria that they use to rate and rank a website’s relevance to a search query. This is done through three steps: crawling, which is the discovery stage; indexing, which is the filing stage; and ranking, which is the retrieval stage.
- Crawling (or spiders): refers to following the links on a page to new pages and continuing to find and follow links on new pages to other new pages. Therefore, developing a great internal link structure as well as earning high-quality backlinks are essential to successful SEO.
- Indexing: When a search engine indexes a website, the site content is stored in the search engine database so it can be retrieved when someone makes a relevant query that matches the web page content. The search engine then delivers the web page content in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Web pages are first crawled by the search engines, then indexed. Spam pages or pages that are blocked or contain duplicate content are generally not indexed and omitted from the SERPs.
- Ranking: Provides the most relevant answer to the query – the SERPs are in order with the most relevant websites on the first page of results.
How to make SEO work for you
In general, the search engines want to provide the best answer possible to a searcher’s query so search engines like Google recommend using only SEO best practices that not only help the page’s ranking but also gives the best user experience.
- Keyword research
- Social media
- Header tags
- Meta descriptions
- Proper website design and development
- Page speed
- Link building (including Citations)
Your content will directly engage with current and potential customers, thus driving traffic. Your content tells your audience who you are and what you offer.
Each year, Search Engine Land creates an updated Periodic Table showcasing SEO ranking signals that impact a website’s visibility.
What are the types of SEO?
There are generally three types of SEO:
- On-page SEO: involves any optimizations on your website including optimizing individual webpages to help the perform better in the ranking and attract targeted traffic.
- Off-page SEO: refers to SEO tactics that are not part of the physical website that impacts your ratings within search engine results. This practice helps strengthen your relationship with other sites and builds your online reputation (the most common way is via backlinks).
- Technical SEO: refers to both website and server SEO, which will help the search engine spiders to more effectively crawl and properly index the site content (helping to improve organic rankings).
What is a good SEO strategy and process to get better visibility?
At 1st on the List, we like to break SEO down into 5 stages that work together to make the website most accessible to the Search Engines and most relevant to what visitors expect to find.
1. Technical Audit or Site Analysis
Taking stock of the current state of any website with a Technical SEO Audit provides a good strategy for moving forward and determining what needs to be fixed to make it easier for the Search Engines to access and crawl your website.
- Review the site to make sure the Server and Hosting are set up properly, to make it as easy as possible for the Search Engines to access any page on your site at any time.
- Review the website for duplicate content, spam, slow load times, broken links, and other things the Search Engines will demerit your website for.
2. SEO Keyword Research and Planning
A large part of Search Engine Optimization is making sure that the words people are using to search for a company like yours are visible on your website for the Search Engines to read. Keyword research provides the basis for optimizing the content on your website and seeks to discover:
- What phrases people are using to search for your company? (These are your “keywords”)
- What SEO Keywords are the most popular (search volume), have the fewest competing pages and are most relevant to the content presented?
- What phrases are most attainable for your website and will attract the most qualified traffic?
3. SEO Content Optimization and Creation
Once the research stages of the Site Analysis and Keyword Research are completed it is time to start optimizing the content on the website. This SEO work includes but is not limited to:
- Proper page source code
- Internal link structure
- Meta Data
- Alt Tags
- Page headings and sub-headings
- Sitemap creation
- Body text content that supports the keywords searcher’s use.
A site must attract visitors and it must hold the visitor’s attention. Google uses engagement metrics as one of its ranking factors. The more people who visit your website and stay on it for a long time and look at a number of pages, the more often the Search Engine will show the site in Search Results.
Content optimization focuses on accessibility, reliability, readability, currency, credibility, and more as these affect site rankings. Content optimization also focuses on giving visitors the exact information they are looking for, plus anticipates what additional information the visitor will need to complete a conversion, such as purchasing a product or signing up for a consultation.
4. Website Analytics
Once most of the initial grunt work is complete to bring a website up to Search Engine standards the best way to increase value is to monitor its progress and growth. This stage is called “Analytics” and includes analytics & reporting plus:
- Monitoring visitor traffic to the site over a set time period
- Tracking and understanding visitor motivations
- Tracking where and how visitors use the website
- Tracking and measuring sales conversions
Often Analytics can give additional insights to go and tweak items from the Technical SEO Audit, Keyword Research and Content Optimization stages.
5. Ongoing SEO Maintenance
If you think SEO is a one-time task you are wrong. SEO is always ongoing as the Search Engines like to see fresh and new content on your website. With more than 500 websites created every minute and with your competitors working on their SEO strategy you can’t afford to just sit back. Ongoing website optimization and maintenance keep web content current, relevant and maintained to meet the changes that the search engine algorithms make, changes in HTML standards and what visitor searching habits indicate.
Search Engine Optimization has changed drastically in our 25 years of experience. However, our general process for optimizing websites has remained stable and is able to achieve lasting results for clients.
Is there a difference between SEO and Digital Marketing?
Digital marketing is a huge term that encompasses a lot of activities. Often people are mistaken that SEO and digital marketing are the same. The quickest answer to that question is no, they are not. Digital marketing is just marketing using digital tools which is where SEO falls under. Check out this post to learn more about SEO vs PPC.
SEO involves multiple strategies for improving on-page and off-page performance including optimizing on-page content, page speed, core web vitals (CWV) and the user experience (UX). Digital Marketing is more about capitalizing on available media platforms to support your website including posting videos, blog articles, social media, and online paid advertising.
What is the difference between SEO and SEM?
SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of improving your website to get better organic rankings and organic search traffic. The goal is long-term, unpaid visitors to the website.
SEM (search engine marketing) is the practice of deploying paid search engine advertisements (like Google AdWords) to appear in search results. The goal of pay-per-click ads is to gain instant, paid visitors to the website.
What is white hat SEO? What is black hat SEO?
White Hat SEO – In general terms, white hat SEO uses strategies and tactics that follow Search Engine guidelines aimed at improving user experience and building your brand. Essentially, white SEO activities help improve your rankings while also having a direct benefit to your user as well. White hat SEO has long-lasting effects and does not risk your website’s integrity or ability to rank well into the future.
Black Hat SEO – This type of SEO uses a deceptive approach aimed at manipulating the Search Engines. Often these tactics will go directly against what Search Engines say is acceptable or dabble in a very grey area. Black hat SEO is typically very short-lived and runs a high risk of getting your website blacklisted by the Search Engines.
Should you be using SEO?
The shortest answer is yes! We understand that optimizing your site for search engines might sound like just another task on the to-do list for building your website, you can trust us when we tell you that it really pays off.
SEO is an intentional, proven and fact-bearing approach to increasing the quality of your business’s digital marketing and the visibility your business receives. The benefits of SEO can only help your business with gaining endless opportunities, making it worth the time and energy you will put forward.
As with anything, new technology is always emerging and evolving, including the workings of SEO. At the end of the day, SEO drives traffic, promotes your brand, engages with customers, and directly relates to user experience making it an integral component of your business’s successful digital marketing.
SEO is best implemented after you have fully outlined your business objectives and confirmed your priorities.
Have more questions for our SEO Specialists?
Are you still needing help with your SEO? Do you have questions about your current SEO campaign, management, strategy, progress, reports, or website in general? Call our SEO experts at 1-888-262-6687 or send us a message to chat. We’re ready to help give insight into your SEO status to identify areas for growth and improvement.