Today we'll be introducing you to a complex, yet critical marketing topic - SEO. SEO is comprised of many pieces and factors, so this will be a general overview of the basic concepts and why they're essential to a high-functioning digital strategy.
What exactly is "SEO"?
SEO stands for "Search Engine Optimization," and is defined by Wikipedia as "the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as "natural", "organic", or "earned" results".
Now that you know the "official" definition let's translate that to understandable English! We describe SEO as "helping the right people find your web content while using search engines in their daily lives." You are basically setting up your web pages to be easily discovered by users searching on websites like Google or Bing.
Why is SEO so important?
SEO is important because it delivers FREE traffic to your website. When a user visits your website through a search engine, they might sign up for your mailing list, newsletter, a free consultation, or even make a purchase online.
Unlike paid search ads or social media ads, SEO costs you no money for your web traffic since it's organic. SEO is an integral part of any inbound marketing strategy since it is non-disruptive of your audience - it lets you meet them where they are already looking.
How does SEO work?
To understand how SEO works, you first have to know how search engines function.
Search engines like Google allow users to search for various things - products, restaurants, entertainment, etc. The user types in a phrase of keywords, and then Google searches the web for the results it believes will be most useful to that user.
Google then delivers a list of web results "ranked" from most helpful to least helpful, along with sponsored web pages (that say "ad" next to them). The higher your website ranks, the more likely users will be to visit your website, so the primary goal of SEO is to rank as high as possible for specific keyword searches.
How do search engines "rank" web pages?
Search engines like Google "crawl" through web pages to determine their value, relevancy, and quality relative to each search. While pages that feature the specific keywords being searched by the user are an important factor in these rankings, it is only a piece of the puzzle.
Search engines use sophisticated algorithms to rank each page against one another, so SEO practices involve a variety of strategies to rank high on these search results. SEO techniques can be narrowed down to two main categories - on-site and off-site SEO.
On-Site SEO refers to your website layout and content on your website. Search engines are looking for the following things when ranking your website:
- Relevant keywords
- Page-load speed
- Links to relevant pages
- Unique content
- Content that is aligned with user search intent
- Mobile-friendly design
Having a high-quality website that features valuable content is a winning combo when it comes to SEO. Choosing the right keywords is also an extremely important part of any SEO strategy. Not all keywords are the same, however, and it is essential to understand the difference between short-tail and long-tail keywords.
Short-tail vs. Long-tail keywords
Short-tail keywords are (as you may have guessed) short and simple. An example would be a user searching for "shoes." Since many people are searching for shoes, the search volume for this keyword would be extremely high. Unfortunately, your competition will be high as well.
Now think about someone searching for "women's black low-heel dress shoes." This "long-tail" search is much more specific and would have both lower traffic and competition for ranking on Google.
Trying to rank for long-tail keywords is beneficial because you have decreased competition, and you know that users are explicitly looking for the content on your webpage. Because of this, conversion rates for specific long-tail keywords are generally much higher than short-term keywords.
That being said, If you can rank for a short-term keyword, you will receive a much higher volume of traffic compared to long-tail keywords. The best companies in the game have effective strategies to rank for both long-tail and short tail keywords.
Contrary to on-site SEO, off-site SEO refers to factors outside of your web pages that help increase your page rankings. You might be wondering "how can other web pages affect the ranking for my page"? The main answer is through backlinking.
What is backlinking?
Backlinking is the process of getting other web pages to link, promote, or refer to your web page. When another reputable web page links to your website, it signals to Google that your content must be valuable to others.
There are three main types of off-site links in SEO:
1) Natural links - These are links that require no action by the site owner. If another blogger links to your blog without your involvement, this would be a natural link
2) Manually built links - These are links that involve direct participation with the site owner. If you specifically email people and ask them to link to your site, this would be a manually built link.
3) Self-created links - These are links that are created by adding your website to a directory, forum, or any other way of producing "low-quality" links.
Search engines have gotten MUCH more intelligent over the years, so we recommend that you refrain from creating "fake" links or trying to game the system. The best strategy is consistently creating high-quality content that is genuinely valuable to your audience.
Who should implement SEO best practices?
Businesses of all sizes can utilize SEO best practices to help increase high-quality web traffic. Even small business owners can use SEO to help their website get discovered both locally and worldwide.
If you want the best results, it might be worth talking to a local marketing agency that specializes in SEO. That being said, you can still start applying basic SEO techniques to significantly improve your web performance today!
SEO is a complicated topic, even for world-class marketing agencies. We hope that this guide helped you understand the central concepts of SEO, and we plan on diving deeper into the "how-to" components in the future!
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