What is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
What goes into SEO?
To understand the true meaning of SEO, let’s break that definition down and look at the parts:
- Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for HP computers when really you’re a farmer selling oranges, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
- Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
- Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.
Organic search traffic is specifically any unpaid traffic that comes from SERPs.
How search engines work
You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type a question on Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of results of webpages that could potentially answer your question.
That’s true. But have you ever thought of what’s behind those magical list of results?
Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. When you type a query into a search engine, the crawler looks through all the pages in its index and tries to return the most relevant results.To do this, it uses a computer program called an algorithm.
How SEO works
SEO works by demonstrating to search engines that your content is the best result for a specific topic at hand. This is because all search engines have the same goal, to show the best, most relevant results to the internet users. Precisely how you do this depends on the search engine you’re optimizing for.
If you want to get more organic traffic to your web pages, then you need to understand and Google’s algorithm and it’s requirements. If you want more video views, then it’s all about YouTube’s algorithm.
Factors that Affect Search Engine Ranking
1. Content quality
Content is effective in both attracting the search engines and helping your organization make connections with site visitors. Google wants to rank the most reliable and useful results — always.
The more quality, relevant content pieces that 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 effective content you have on your site, the more likely your visitors will be to spend some quality time on your website.
The secret to creating content that is optimized for both the search engines and your site visitors is to create different types of content pieces that are well-written and on topics that are most relevant to your audience.
Here are just a few types of content that you can focus on to help improve your content offering and, thus, your search engine rankings:
- Blog posts and articles
- Social media content
- E-books and whitepapers
- How-To Guides and Tutorials
- Videos and audio recordings
- Infographics or other visual content
Another important 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 relevant products and 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 thus your search engine ranking, is how fresh your content is. Freshness basically refers to how often you post new content to your site.
However, creating 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 effective, 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 like great content and consumers need quality content to better understand the value your organization can provide.
Start off 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 work to create different types of media to attract and engage new leads.
2. On-Page SEO
The on-page SEO factors are those elements that happen on your website. These are the things that you have complete control over, meaning 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:
- Title Tag — The title tag on each page tells the search engines what your page is about. This should be 70 characters or less, including both the keyword your content focuses on and your business name.
- Meta Description — The meta description on your website tells search engines a little bit more about what each page is about. This is also used by your human visitors to better understand what the page is about and if it’s relevant. This should include your keyword and also provide enough details to tell the reader what the content is about.
- Sub-headings — Not only do sub-headings make your content easier for visitors to read, but it can also help improve your SEO. You can use H1, H2, and H3 tags to help search engines better understand what your content is about.
- Internal Links — Building internal links, or hyperlinks to other content on your site, can help search engines learn more about your site. For example, if you are 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.
- Image Name and ALT Tags — If you are using images on your website or within your blog content, you will also want to include your keyword or phrase in the image name and alt tag. This will help search engines better index your images, which may appear when users perform an image search for a certain keyword or phrase.
When strategically placing your SEO keywords and phrases on your pages, it’s important to avoid over-optimization. Google and other search engines will penalize your page if it attempts to use keywords too many times throughout the content.
In addition, 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 un-focused 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 both help improve your site’s crawlability and give your search engines a better understanding of your content.
Another concern when it comes to your site’s architecture is whether or not your website is mobile-friendly. Many consumers are searching for information and brands on their mobile devices.
You need to make sure that these users are able to 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.
3. Off-Page SEO
In addition to the on-page SEO elements that you have 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 — Trust is becoming an increasingly 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 by building quality backlinks from sites that have authority.
- Links — One of the most popular ways to build off-page SEO is through backlinks. You want to be careful here as spamming sites with your links is a quick and easy way to get your site banned from the search engines. Instead, take the time to build relationships with influencers and fans who create quality content and will link back to your site in their own content.
- Social — Another important off-page SEO factor are social signals, such as likes and shares. When it comes to boosting SEO, you want to look for quality shares from influencers. The more quality 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 simply by creating quality content that others will find valuable.
The more relevant and interesting 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 as well.
Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO
When it comes to SEO, there are two different approaches that organizations take to optimizing their sites for the search engines — black hat and white hat SEO.
Black hat SEO
Some organizations are only interested in SEO so that they can rank their content quickly and make some money in the short-term. Black hat SEO involves tactics that focus on optimizing content only for the search engines.
This means that organizations are not considering the human visitors that will read and navigate their site content. These organizations will bend or break the rules in order to improve their site rankings to make a quick buck.
In the end, this approach to SEO produces pages that are often difficult for people to read and look a whole lot like spam. Though the sites may rank more quickly than those that are optimized properly, these sites are often penalized or banned by search engines rather quickly.
Overall, this get-rich-quick approach to SEO ruins the organization’s chance of building a site that is sustainable and able to bring in new leads for years to come.
White hat SEO
On the other hand, white hat SEO is an effective approach to optimizing your website for search engines and building a sustainable business online. This approach to search engine optimization involves focusing on the human audience that will be clicking on and reading the site’s content.
The goal of this type of SEO is to produce the best content possible on a site that’s easy to read and navigate while also following the search engine’s rules for optimization.
It’s important to note that though black hat SEO tactics might help you rank quickly, it is inevitable that the search engines will eventually figure out what you are doing and penalize your site.
Depending on the severity of the offense, your site may not be able to come back from the penalties. The only way to build a sustainable online business that will bring in more organic traffic over time is to follow SEO best practices and create effective content that your visitors will find valuable.
Search engine algorithms change frequently and SEO tactics evolve in response to those changes. So if someone is offering you SEO advice that doesn’t feel quite right, check in with the specific topic page.