What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

Modified date: September 11th, 2022

SEO stands for search engine optimization. SEO is the process of taking action to improve a website's visibility in the search results of Google and other search engines.

A website's search engine visibility increases when its pages are listed (ranked) more prominently in a search engine's organic SERPs (search engine result pages).

Higher positions often lead to more people finding your site when they search online. Ranking high for relevant keyword searches can lead to more targeted, quality traffic.

Why is SEO Important?

SEO is important for ranking higher to get in front of more potential customers.

With estimates of around 5.6 billion Google searches per day and growing, most people use search engines like Google on their devices to find information on the web.

People use search engines to find an answer to a question or solution to a problem, research a product or service, purchase an item, or browse for entertainment.

However, for any given search, most people only click the results that appear on the 1st page of the SERPs (search engine result pages).

Because of this, it's worth understanding how search engines work and incorporating SEO into your digital marketing strategy to increase web traffic, leads, and sales.

SEO can ultimately help your site and business appear on the 1st page of the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a higher number of relevant keyword phrases with traffic-generating potential.

The Benefits of SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) provides a number of valuable benefits:

  • Generate organic web traffic to your site.
  • Increase conversions like leads and sales.
  • You don't pay for ads to generate traffic.
  • Can be cost-effective with high ROI long-term.
  • Improve potential for business opportunities.
  • Grow website authority in your niche.
  • Boost credibility and brand awareness.
  • Collect data and insights for future decisions.
  • Increase effectiveness of PPC campaigns.
  • Gain a competitive advantage.
  • Encourages a focus on user experience.
  • Helps keep you informed about your niche.

How Does SEO Work?

Search engines like Google use algorithms or sets of rules to determine which website pages should be indexed, shown, and in what order for a given search query (keyword).

The index of a search engine is the collection of web pages available that can potentially show in search results based on the given search query entered.

Google uses over 200 rankings factors or signals as part of its algorithms. Many of these ranking factors are being tested and adjusted on a daily basis.

For example, there was much more volatility in Google Search results in 2021 than in the previous year, with results 68% more volatile on desktop and 85% more volatile on mobile devices, due to an increase in algorithm updates.

Based on the experiences of others and public feedback from Google, the primary metrics or core aspects evaluated by search engine algorithms to determine page rankings can be narrowed down to site content, links, accessibility, and performance.

Search engines discover website pages using web crawlers. These web crawlers scan website content by following links from one page to another.

Search engines such as Google use links and their anchor text (the words that make up the link) to better understand the importance of a page and its topic compared to other potential pages to show in the search results.

Search engine crawlers crawl links between individual pages on a site (internal links) and the links from one website to another (backlinks).

Content

By crawling links and reading the HTML code of website pages, search engines are able to make sense of the page content connected by links, a site's architecture, and how a site connects to other sites in the search engine's index or collection of sites.

Search engines like Google look at many page-level elements found in a page's HTML source code. Examples include page titles, headers, words, URL structure, meta tags, image tags, and structured data.

Search engines analyze these elements to gain as much understanding as possible about a page compared to other pages that exist across sites in its index.

Accessibility

Websites and their pages need to be accessible in order to rank in Google and other search engines.

Meta tags in a page's HTML code are used to control the behavior of search engine crawling and indexing. For example, a noindex meta tag is used to prevent search engines from indexing a page with thin content.

Another method of controlling crawling is with the use of a robots.txt file. This file tells search engine crawlers which URLs the crawler can access on your site.

A robots.txt file is primarily used to manage crawler traffic to a site and keep specific files out of search engines.

Performance

Google wants to provide the best experience possible for searchers. Because of this, performance metrics related to faster page speed and better stability are increasingly important factors that Google uses to determine page rankings.

For example, Core Web Vitals are used as signals by Google to measure experience across web pages. Google and other search engines want to provide website results that load fast for users on both desktop and mobile devices.

A code-optimized website theme and a fast reliable hosting provider are essential to creating a foundation for optimal website and SEO performance.

Different Types of SEO

There's a lot to learn and cover when it comes to SEO. Oftentimes, SEO experts specialize in one or a couple of the following types of SEO.

SEO efforts fall under the following categories:

  • Technical SEO – Optimization of website architecture, accessibility, and performance, including making sure search engines can crawl links and index pages.
  • On-Page SEO – Optimizing web page and blog post elements such as content, title tags, headers, internal links, structured data markup, and images.
  • Off-Page SEO – Optimization outside of your website, such as sharing content on social media sites, submitting press releases, and building backlinks.
  • Local SEO – Optimization of your Google My Business listing, other local business listings and citations, local website content, and getting reviews.

SEO Techniques

The process of SEO involves a variety of techniques that focus on improving a website's search engine rankings.

Common SEO techniques include:

  • Keyword Research
  • Content Creation
  • On-Page Optimization
  • Link Building
  • Structured Data Markup

Keyword Research

Keyword research involves examining a website's existing keyword rankings, competitor keyword rankings, and new potential keywords in order to optimize existing content or create new content for the website.

Keyword research tools are often used to gain insight into metrics like estimated search volumes and how difficult a keyword is to rank for based on competition.

Keyword research helps strategically plan and lay a foundation for the following SEO techniques like content creation and link building.

Search Intent

Understanding the concept of search intent is critical for effective keyword research and creating content optimized for users and search engines.

Search intent is the reason behind searching a specific keyword. For instance, search or user intent might be to gain knowledge about something or to purchase something.

It's important to make sure your page of content is matching search intent with your target keyword in order to have a chance at ranking and ranking well for your target keyword.

If your content doesn't match the search intent Google is looking for in relation to your target keyword, chances are your page will have trouble ranking.

Content Creation

Updating and creating high-quality content is the foundation of SEO. You can't rank without indexable content for potential searchers to find.

Creating high-quality content is necessary to achieve prominent rankings for competitive search terms that have the potential to drive organic traffic to your site.

Competition is fierce as more businesses and website owners invest in SEO.

Quality content also improves the chance that your content is shared online, which can lead to earning backlinks, increasing website authority, and improving rankings.

Alongside creating content, links, which include internal links and external links (also referred to as backlinks) are a major factor in improving search engine rankings.

In an attempt to improve rankings over time, a search engine optimizer incorporates internal links between relevant pages to improve user experience and crawler activity.

Internal linking also involves making sure relevant anchor text is being used to provide additional context about the connected pages to search engine crawlers.

Backlinks provide similar signals to search engines. Backlinks are an aspect of off-page SEO and one of the most important off-page factors for earning higher rankings.

Example techniques for acquiring backlinks include promoting your content on social media or other relevant sites to earn links naturally, building relationships that lead to guest posting on another website, and publishing press release stories.

On-page Optimization

On-page SEO techniques focus on optimizing content, structure, and related elements for a topic and related keywords, with the goal of improving search engine visibility and ranking performance.

Examples of on-page techniques include:

  • Including related words to the page topic.
  • Optimizing page titles with relevant keywords.
  • Updating headings to use related terms.
  • Ensuring keywords are used in the page URL.
  • Adjusting internal link placement and anchor text.
  • Incorporating keywords in image alt attributes.
  • Writing concise page meta description tags.

Structured Data Markup

Also called Schema markup, structured data is a type of code that helps Google and other major search engines understand how to interpret and display a page's content.

While Google has publicly stated that structured data is not a ranking factor, the data markup provides the potential for a page to display unique features in the SERPs known as rich results.

Example rich results include review stars, thumbnail images, product details, and other supporting data, which depends on the type of content and markup used. When shown in search results, these unique rich results can help increase clickthrough rates.

SEO Software

Search engine optimizers use a variety of software tools to perform effective SEO.

SEO software is used to research keywords, analyze competitors, plan SEO strategy, conduct site audits for technical issues and opportunities, create SEO reports, track keyword rankings, and ultimately improve the productivity of SEO efforts.

Here are some of the commonly used paid and free tools:

Google Search Console

Google Search Console or GSC (previously known as Google Webmaster Tools) is a free web tool provided by Google that is used by most SEOs and webmasters to optimize website visibility in Google, submit sitemaps, index pages into Google Search, and see which search queries or keywords are showing site pages and bringing users to the site.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is another commonly used free web tool provided by Google that enables tracking website traffic to a website to gain insight into metrics such as where visitors are coming from and user behavior across the site.

SEO Software

Many useful paid and free SEO software tools are available to increase the effectiveness of your SEO campaigns and save time.

Here are the popular categories of SEO software on the market:

SEO software tools provide a number of benefits for improving SEO performance.

Optimizing Your Site for Search Engines

SEO is an ever-evolving practice that involves a number of techniques and tools for achieving higher rankings and driving targeted traffic to your site from Google.

While SEO is a long-term strategy compared to other forms of marketing such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads, taking the time to learn and invest in an SEO campaign is worth it, especially as more and more people search and transact online.

Once a website has grown to include a base of high-quality content and links developed based on collected data insights over time, SEO can generate impressive results.

Just ranking for one competitive keyword has the potential to drive targeted traffic to a web page resulting in a stream of new conversions and business opportunities.

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