An Introduction To SEO: What Is It?
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, can have major benefits for your business if it is implemented effectively. As an SEO content writer myself, I want to believe that most of you reading this article, business owners especially, already understand how essential good SEO is for a business’ success. Yet, even those who understand that good SEO is important may fail to realize why that is the case in 2020. In this article, I’m going to explain what SEO is, how search engines work, and why you should use SEO in your marketing strategy.
What is SEO?
When you search for something on a search engine such as Google or Bing, you are presented with a seemingly endless number of pages that are closely related to your search query. What’s more impressive is that these results appear almost instantaneously. How can a search engine do that? The answer is actually pretty interesting.
Think of a search engine as a filing system in a library. The library contains billions of books with trillions of pages covering many different topics. Imagine a person goes to the library in hopes of finding a book or a page in a book that pertains to a specific topic. The library will quickly scour through all of the books and pages in its index and will try to provide the person with the most relevant information to their desired topic. The most relevant books and pages will appear at the top of the list of results. The relevancy of each book and page is determined by the library’s complex algorithms that rank all pieces of content found within the library’s database.
Nobody, not even SEO professionals, can honestly claim to know exactly how the library’s algorithms function. Luckily, however, we do have a fairly good idea of what the algorithms consider when ranking each book and page.
Let’s now imagine that you’re the author of a book that is in the library’s database. As the author, you have spent time and energy writing and editing your book and, understandably, you’d like people to read it. Well, nobody is going to read a book that they aren’t even aware exists. Therefore, your book needs to rank as high as possible in the library’s search results so that your readers can find it. For this to happen, your book’s content needs to be displayed in a way that pleases the library’s algorithms. Ensuring that the content is easily legible and relevant to a specific search query (or multiple search queries) is the key to that book’s success.
In this metaphor, your book is your business’ website. Naturally, you want your business’ website to appear at the top of a search engine’s results so that you can reap the benefits of high organic traffic. This is where Search Engine Optimization comes in.
Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing both the quality and the quantity of the traffic that visits your website through organic search engine results.
Organic search engine results refer to those that are not directly paid for. If a webpage has effective search engine optimization, Google will rank it higher than other pages that have poor SEO.
Paid search engine results, on the other hand, are a popular way for webpage owners to have their page appear at the top of Google’s search results. A webpage whose position has been paid for will be displayed with a little “Ad” icon next to weblink to show that it is not an organic result. Although this method is still a fairly popular strategy that is used by many, recent statistics show that 70-80% of people ignore paid search results, choosing to only click on organic search results.
On-page SEO has changed a lot over the past few years. Back in the day, keyword optimization was all about stuffing your page with relevant keywords that Google would use for rankings. Back then, Google’s algorithms were much more simple and were easier to cheat. Today, basic strategies like keyword spamming don’t really work anymore and can actually hurt your webpage’s performance. Similarly, Black Hat SEO strategies, or SEO shortcuts, can severely hinder your webpage’s ranking.
How do search engines work?
All major search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo use algorithms and sometimes human labour to determine the relevancy of a webpage based on various criteria. Google very briefly explains their process on their “How search works” page with the following statement:
“To help ensure that Search algorithms meet high standards of relevance and quality, we have a rigorous process that involves both live tests and thousands of trained external Search Quality Raters from around the world. These Quality Raters follow strict guidelines that define our goals for Search algorithms and are publicly available for anyone to see.”
With Google dominating the search engine market share at a whopping 92%, it is most worthwhile to optimize your webpages for Google rather than for other smaller competitors. Remember, the goal of SEO is to reach a larger target audience and you should, therefore, aim to rank higher on the most widely-used platform.
As I mentioned earlier, nobody knows exactly how Google’s algorithms work. If they did, they’d hold the key to unimaginable wealth and would unfairly monopolize the SEO game, which Google would prefer not to happen. Google’s “How search works” page also provides some insight into how to best optimize a webpage by highlighting a few important factors:
“To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query – for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”
Other factors that are known to be considered by Google’s algorithms while ranking sites include how mobile-friendly a webpage is, a page’s loading speed (or pagespeed), a page’s authority (or credibility), and the quality of a page’s content. Keeping all of these factors in mind, SEO specialists can best optimize a webpage to meet Google’s specifications. However, before Google can rank a page, it needs to be aware of the page’s existence. Google uses a method called crawling to discover new content that is available on the web.
Google uses crawlers, otherwise known as spiders, which gather information from all edges of the web that is publicly available. A crawler’s process begins by revisiting a list of URLs that Google may have previously crawled. These URLs are commonly known as seeds. The crawlers follow the hyperlinks that are found on the seeds to discover new webpages. After the crawling process, Google’s algorithms consider factors such as keywords, content quality, and content freshness to rank webpages. This is a continuous process that allows Google’s servers to grow their already massive index of information while providing users with the best, most relevant results for their query. Crawling is one of the reasons that good backlinks are so important in SEO.
Why should you incorporate SEO into your marketing strategy?
I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” Well, this phrase applies to the position of your business’ webpage in Google’s search results. If your page isn’t being viewed by web users, why would you even bother having a website in the first place? Ranking on the first page of Google’s search results is so important because, according to recent research by HubSpot, 75% of today’s search engine users never even scroll past the first page of search results.
As the owner of a business, you should also want your target audience to visit your webpage before they even see your competitor’s page. With only about 64% of marketers actively investing in SEO in 2020, you may have the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage over your competition by utilizing the power of search engine optimization. With SEO, you have the opportunity to reach massive online audiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
Search engine optimization can even be done for free if executed in-house. However, you will likely have much more favourable results if you choose to hire a professional SEO agency, which can be done for as little as a few hundred dollars. Once your webpage has established a high ranking, your organic traffic can help to produce more consistent leads and conversions. SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) only have a 1.7% close rate.
Related: How To Hire The Right SEO Firm
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