What is SEO and How Does it Work?
What Does SEO Stand For?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
What is SEO?
SEO by definition is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular webpage / URL by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
In other words it is the technical processes and strategies that when implemented will help to organically (‘free’ search traffic) rank content and webpages in major search engines such as Google, or Bing.
Why is SEO Important?
The number one reason SEO should be important to you is.. Traffic.
The higher your page ranks, the more likely it is that your link will be clicked, and boom you’ve just found a way to increase the traffic to your website.
New, highly relevant traffic delivered directly to your website, blog article, or any other important URL on your website can result in any number of important conversions for your business.
Such as: Newsletter / blog signups (email marketing conversions), lead form submissions, product purchases, call bookings, and more!
Traffic to your website is often at the top-of-funnel when speaking about the journey that a prospective customer will take before making a decision about doing business with you. By effectively utilizing an SEO strategy, you’re investing in the long term future of your business.
Before digging deeper into how we actually do SEO, what some of the most important ranking factors are, or some of the limitations to SEO, let’s take a look at a typical search engine results page breakdown.
The Anatomy of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page)
Understanding the Results - What Exactly Are We Looking At?
Before being able to master all the various SEO tactics and strategies, we need to have a thorough understanding of the typical results you can expect to see online when making a typical search. The image above shows you what Google displays when the key-phrase “Search Engine Optimization” was used.
- Firstly, you have the search bar. The starting point of any search online. A single word used here is referred to as a keyword and strings of multiple keywords used together can be called a keyphrase or long-tail keywords.
From the SEO perspective, we want to match user intent. Our goal is to rank our content to the specific keywords associated with our business, product, service, etc.
- Next, you see the total search results. This can easily reach over 100 million for any given search. Within only a few milliseconds, Google and other major search engines sift through all available results and decide on the top ten or so most relevant results to show on the first page. It’s not a perfect machine, however over the years it has become better and better at knowing exactly what we want to see.
- The first four results you see are paid search ads. As indicated by the bold ‘Ad’ beside the result. These results immediately dominate the visible computer screen, and is where Google generates a large chunk of their revenue. It’s evident just how much Google prioritizes their paying customers.
- Finally you see the first organic search result. Only after having to scroll down can it be viewed. This elusive first organic position is the link that typically generates the highest percentage of clicks on any given search page.
- The next feature visible is a rich search result. This one is in the form of a drop down FAQ box. Here, Google has pooled some additional results to answer some other relevant questions related to the initial search phrase. Read more about how to show up in rich results like this here.
- And finally, after scrolling past all that, you finally get into the rest of the organic results on the first page. Google typically displays up to ten organic results in total on the first page for any given search. These ten positions are the most coveted for any search engine marketer. Beyond the first page results, impressions, traffic, and clicks drop off heavily.
So it is the goal of SEO to rank your given website, content or URL as high as possible. Ultimately aiming for the 1-10 positions. Resulting in the most organic traffic to your website as possible.
Perfect, so we now have a goal in mind, and a better understanding of what exactly SEO is, so what’s next?
How to Get Started With SEO
The first step begins with awareness and knowledge. If you're reading this article, that’s a good sign. You either want to know more about SEO or you're probably my mom. There’s so much information (almost too much) available for free online, you have no shortage of the resources to get started.
Once you’ve decided that you do want to implement a sound SEO strategy, you’ll have to decide on whether this is something you’ll be taking on yourself, internally within your organization, or something you’ll want to outsource to a professional or agency. This completely depends on where you currently are and what makes the most sense for you and your business overall.
If outsourcing is something you're thinking about, feel free to book a strategy call to see if working together makes sense, or at least guide you in the right direction!
Questions to Ask Before Getting Started with SEO
- What exactly am I trying to rank? (Website, specific page, etc) And why?
- What role will SEO help in reaching immediate and long-term business goals?
- What Keywords Should I rank for? What keywords are important to my brand and business?
- What keywords do my customers use to find my business, product or services?
- How will I cross promote this content to generate greater impact online?
How to Do SEO?
This is done through a number of specific techniques and strategies. These techniques are ever changing and evolving over time as the search engine algorithms also become more adapted to the present day, along with other technological adaptations.
SEO Ranking Factors
The actual ‘elements’ that determine your ranking position in the search engines.
These are the things that we look at to optimize and improve upon, thus pushing your content higher and higher up the SERPs.
There are at least 200 known factors built into Google’s search ranking algorithm. Google weighs each of these factors differently on their level of importance. These ranking factors are also ever changing and evolving as we the users change our online search behavior.
Other potential reasons for algorithm changes may include geo-political factors or updated government regulations, new devices from which searches online may occur and more. For example, since the advent of widespread smartphone usage, we are now seeing that mobile optimization (meaning how well the user experience of your webpage is to someone who has accessed it on a smartphone) has become more and more important.
For a complete breakdown of each one of these 200 ranking factors, you can check out this amazing summary here.
The Top 5 Google Ranking Factors
Here’s a list of the 5 Google ranking factors that many of the top experts in SEO would agree to be the most impactful when it comes to your SEO efforts. In no particular order these include:
First and foremost, these are links to your website from other relevant websites. The quality of these links also matters and depend on the domain authority of the linking site. More backlinks typically means better SEO rankings however not always. The quality of these domains matters just as much!
- Domain Authority
This is a measure of the might and power of your website. It can be influenced by a number of factors itself such as website age, size, backlinks, overall quality of those backlinks and much more. Although it will impact your ability to rank content to a degree, this factor is more or less a byproduct of all the other SEO and web development work that you do.
- On-Page SEO Factors
This is really the meat and potatoes of SEO, which includes everything you can do to the content itself. This is really a ‘bundle’ of factors that are relevant to each other. Things like optimizing the Title, Meta description, Content Structure, Keyword Density, Internal Linking and more.
- Schema Markup (Rich Metadata)=
Schema Markup is a piece of text (code) that is placed inside your website, and used to identify key pieces of information (metadata) on that given web page. The information is sent back, interpreted and used by the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.). It’s used to display search results in a much more rich and user friendly way. I’ve written a complete How-to on Schema Markup that you can check out here.
- Content Quality
Lastly, the content you are trying to rank needs to provide value to the consumer first and foremost. By leading with value, everything else becomes secondary. Rather than focusing on trying to ‘game’ the system, focus on actually bringing something amazing to the table. Naturally Google will recognize the best content available for a given keyword(s) and rank accordingly.
If you write a more complete and detailed article on a topic that covers a wider range of perspectives, offers better visuals, and more, it would make sense that Google’s going to want to rank it higher.
You could think of the on-page or technical SEO work as similar to the foundation of a house. It is essential, but it is also not really seen. It needs to be done right, but once it’s done, you’ll shift your focus towards building the most beautiful house.
Without great content, that actually provides some value in one way or another, all the other SEO tactics won’t save you. But when the technical SEO comes together with great content, results start to come easy!
Unfortunately the purpose of this article isn’t to break down exactly what makes great content, how to structure or create it. Although that article is coming soon so stay tuned!
Limitations to SEO
How long will it take to get Results from SEO?
The answer to this question isn’t quite so simple. But in general SEO takes time. Along with more time and consistent effort. Progress does not happen overnight however online data does allow us to ensure we’re moving in the right direction.
Progress can be observed within as little as a few hours, to a few weeks or months. It really depends on what specific result you are looking for and the level of action you're taking.
Results could simply mean, increased website traffic which can be achieved much more quickly than, say, a purchase conversion that can directly be attributed to SEO efforts.
Conversion Follows Traffic
I’ve found the easiest way to track progress over time is by monitoring organic traffic and CTR over time. If you're moving forward, and your business and website are growing then this number should also increase each month.
Setting clear goals, timelines and expectations will set you up way better for success
Acknowledging and accepting that this is and will always be a key component of your digital marketing mix. It’s a long term play that produces long term and residual results!
The purpose of this article is not to go into detail on the technical execution of every single possible ranking factor (Meta data, content structure, keyword research etc.) However, you should gain a better understanding of SEO as a whole, and now have some direction moving forward.
SEO: What to Focus On?
By simply focusing on these three elements of your SEO strategy you’ll be sure to see some improved results immediately!
- Quality High Value Content
Here’s a few questions to consider. How relevant in the content you’ve created around the topic you’re trying to rank for? Is your content unique or different in any way from the thousands of other results? What about the layout, use of appropriate headlines, spacing and more. Could it be improved?
These are all factors that will affect the overall impact and quality of your content. Simply put, high value, quality content should be the cornerstone to your success with SEO. Follow this, and Google will reward you.
- Keyword Research
The calm before the storm. Keyword research prepares you for success by equipping you with a better understanding of the current online landscape for the search terms that you are actually trying to rank for. Take the time before setting out to rank for certain keywords to determine if it is even worth ranking for. Is there even enough traffic volume and CTR to make it worth your while?
Here at Socialscape Marketing, we use Ahrefs.com Keyword Explorer to get this done. However there are many many other alternative options out there that will do just fine.
Stay tuned for one of our next articles covering the topic of SEO tools in much more detail! Subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss out!
- Content Promotion (Social Media & Paid Online Ads)
As the ranking among the search engines becomes more and more competitive as the internet ages. Content self promotion is essential to drive more traffic to your webpages, signalling authority to Google. This can be done as simply better utilizing social media to cross promote your website / URLs, or with more advanced techniques using paid advertising online. By using one or both in conjunction with everything else your doing, this can be a difference maker.
Just think about it for a second, if you have two relatively similar websites, however one is getting thousands of additional referred traffic via social media, we can assume which one Google’s going to rank higher than the other.
Only One Thing Left To DO
Hopefully this article has successfully equipped you with some baseline knowledge to get started on your SEO journey. Now the only thing left for you to do, is to take action. Set your goals, do your research and start producing high value content that will have you soaring up the SERPs!