What is SEO?
According to Moz, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is defined as the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Let’s break that down to dig into what that means exactly.
Quality of traffic:
You can have all the visitors in the world come to your site, but if they are there looking for something else, or your product/service/information doesn’t help them, then it doesn’t do anyone any good to have all that traffic. Quality traffic means you are attracting people who need and want what you have to offer. They are part of your target market and these are the visitors that are going to convert and use what you are offering. That is quality traffic.
Quantity of traffic:
Once you have the right people coming to your website through search engines, the more quality visitors you get, the better.
If you have used Google over the past few years, and I’m assuming we all have, you may have noticed that when you run a search query, the first few results tend to be ads. You can tell because of the little blue “Ad” market to the left of them. Those results, while probably relevant to the search query, show up at the top because that company has paid Google to put them there, and Google charges them every time someone clicks on that link. This is a find strategy if that is what you choose to do, but SEO is focused on the free organic results. Organic traffic is that which comes from the natural results pulled up by Google where the searcher can fine and click on your link and you aren’t charged for it. Those are the results we are looking to maximize with SEO.
While SEO practices can be applied for all search engines, today we are going to specifically focus on Google because it is the world’s most popular and most used search engine with over 70% of the worlds search engine market share and over 85% of the mobile searches performed every day happening on that platform. With that being said, let’s breakdown Google so we can get a better understanding of what we are working with while optimizing SEO for a website.
Search Engine Results Page (SERPs)
Put simply, a Search Engine Results Page or SERP is the page displayed by Google in response to a search query being made. If you have ever searched for anything on Google, the page that pulls up the results is a SERP. It is as simple as that.
As was briefly alluded to earlier in this article, there are different kinds of results on a SERP with paid results and organic results. There are also other elements that we need to understand on a SERP such as rich snippets and featured snippets.
As was mentioned before, paid results are the links that show up at the top and bottom of the SERP with the little “Ad” symbol next to them. These results are there because companies pay Google to show up on the first page, and then pay for every click on their link from that ad. The cost to show up first and for each click varies depending on how popular the SERP they show up on is, but this is a common strategy used by companies to drive traffic to their website through essentially buying visitors.
Because we talked about this already when going over the definition of SEO, we will just briefly rehash what was already said. Organic traffic is that which comes from the natural results pulled up by Google where the searcher can find and click on your link and you aren’t charged for it. These results come up naturally because Google determined that they are relevant to the searcher and are Google’s attempt to naturally answer your query.
There are two types of Snippets in Google that matter when talking about SEO, rich and featured. Rich snippets can be controlled by the website owner, but featured snippets are 100% controlled by Google. Let’s dive into both types of snippets so you can see what we mean by that.
According to Moz, featured snippets are selected search results that are featured on top of Google’s organic results below the ads in a box. Featured snippets aim at answering the user’s question right away (hence their other well-known name, “answer boxes”).
These results, sometimes referred to as spot 0, appear before everything else in a search result with a short snippet of information, or pictures, or whatever Google believes will answer the search query in a quick and effective way for the searcher. Sometimes these are definitions, image carousels, shopping results, or various other things that Google believes will answer the query right away.
Because Google is the one determining what they believe is the best answer for the query, a featured snippet cannot be controlled by website owners, but it can be optimized for. For a more in depth analysis of how to optimize for featured snippets, check out this article from Moz as they do a great job of explaining different techniques and tactics that can improve your chances of landing the coveted “spot 0”.
Rich snippets on the other hand can be controlled by the users, and are a great way to optimize your link on a SERP to attract more traffic for your website. Rich Snippets is the term used to describe structured data markup that site operators can add to their existing HTML, which in turn allow search engines to better understand what information is contained on each web page. In other words, rich snippets allow the site operator to beef up their search result to display not only a link and description, but also things like reviews, menus, recipes, products, videos, events, and so much more.
Rich snippets not only help the search engine better understand what is on your page, but they are also very useful in standing out from the crowd and helping the searcher find exactly what they are looking for in a more efficient way. Again, helping to improve the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search results.
Now that you have a better understanding of what you are looking at when you pull up Google, let’s dive into Google’s ranking system and how understanding SEO can help improve where your website shows up on various search queries in order to drive more traffic where you want it to go.
Pages, not Websites
The first thing you need to understand when talking about SEO rankings, is that Google doesn’t rank whole websites on its SERPs, but instead the links that pull up are to specific web pages on various websites. Imagine Google is like a giant library, and the search bar is the librarian. When you search for something, you are essentially asking the librarian your question, but instead of just suggesting various books that might help you, Google takes it one step further and recommends the exact pages in those books that have the information you are looking for. Bye recommending pages instead of the whole website on SERPs, Google is trying to improve the user experience to help you find exactly what you are looking for as quickly as possible. Pretty cool right?
So what does this mean for SEO rankings? Well, in short it means that instead of trying to promote your entire website as a whole, you need to create each page of your website with a specific purpose in mind. A very effective way of doing this is by focusing on certain keywords or phrases that when searched for in Google, you want that specific page of your website to pull up. For example, if you run a farmers market, and you want to appear in a search for how to determine the best watermelon, maybe you could write a blog post about the signs that a watermelon is good, and then point the reader to your market as a place with great watermelon.
Each page you create needs to have a focus in mind in order to be successful on Google, and that is because Google primarily focuses on two things when determining which results to pull up. First, the relevance of the content on that page to the searchers query. Your page needs to be relevant to the search for Google to pull it up. Second, the amount of links a site has. Now that you understand what Google actually brings up on SERPS, let’s go a little more in depth on content and links to help you create pages that rank well.
Importance of Good Content
Good content as we just covered is content that is relevant to the searchers query. If you understand what searches you want to show up for, then it becomes easier to determine what content you need to create that will be relevant for that search. That may sound simple, and in reality it is. Relevant content is critical for web pages to show up in search results. But there is more to good content than just being relevant. Good content at a minimum needs to meet these three criteria:
- As was just explained, content has to answer the search query for Google to bring it up in the search results at all. If you don’t understand what searches you want to show up in, it becomes very difficult to write content that will be relevant for your target market.
- Well Organized
- Well organized content is important for two reasons. First, it helps Google determine what is actually on a web page so it can determine if the content is relevant. Second, it helps the user determine what they are looking at and if it is what they are looking for. You can have the best content in the world, but if it is organized in a way that makes it difficult to determine what it is, then it won’t help Google or your users, and in turn won’t rank well.
- Easy to Understand
- That brings us to the third point of being easy to understand. If your content is easy to understand both because it is organized and relevant, it has the potential to actually be useful for your user, and in turn you will receive more traffic to your website and higher ranking.
If you have a lot of traffic coming to and staying on your website, that is an indicator for Google that your page is useful to people, and in turn can help boost your ranking on SERPs because Google will have determined that it must have met those three requirements. A good rule of thumb to follow when trying to create good content is to create it with your user in mind. If you are focused on giving your users the best experience possible, the content will naturally be relevant, organized, and easy to understand and consequently will also rank higher in Google.
Importance of Links
Links as you have probably seen throughout this post are ways that users can cite their sources for content, recommend other websites, or link to other pages that the user might find useful or interesting. There are two types of links, internal and external, and both serve a unique purpose on a webpage and are used for different things when it comes to Google and SEO optimization.
Internal links are links that go from one page on a domain to a different page on the same domain. They are commonly used in main navigation. These type of links are useful for three reasons:
- They allow users to navigate a website.
- They help establish information hierarchy for the given website.
- They help spread link equity (ranking power) around websites.
Essentially, internal links are used to help drive traffic from one page of your website to the rest of it. These can be hyperlinked texts on a post, or menus at the top or bottom of the page. Anything that directs users from one part of your website to another is an internal link. While these don’t count as links for your SEO link count, they are an important part of your website because it not only allows users to navigate through, but it also allows Google to navigate your website. Any page that you don’t link to is essentially invisible to Google so it is important you take internal links seriously and make sure everything you want accessible is linked to on your site.
External Links are hyperlinks that point at (target) any domain other than the domain the link exists on (source). In layman’s terms, if another website links to you, this is considered an external link to your site. Similarly, if you link out to another website, this is also considered an external link.
In SEO, external links are critical. These links are essentially the currency of the internet because the more links you have pointing to you, the higher the chances a page ranks highly in Google. The reason being, every time someone links to your page, it is like that person or company is recommending your page to Google and the website’s users. Just like in real life, if you heard a lot of independent people recommending the same restaurant, the more likely the restaurant is really good. These recommendations tell Google that people like whatever page is receiving these links, and the more links you get, the more people like it and the more consideration Google will put into ranking that page highly.
But before you go getting all excited thinking of ways to pull in as many links as possible, understand that not all links are created equally. Just like in real life, there are people with more authority and credibility on certain things, so when someone with a lot of authority and credibility recommends something, that recommendation should be weighted heavier in the consideration of where to rank a page. For example, if Forbes linked to a page on your website, that link is going to be more valuable than if some small startup blog linked to you. The reason being Forbes is a very respected and authoritative company with a lot of consistent traffic, so Google is going to take their links more seriously.
The other aspect of this as was mentioned is the credibility on certain subjects. If you run a website about phone repair, and a flower shop links to you, that is an odd link and thus Google isn’t going to weigh it as heavy because the two businesses aren’t related in their industries, so that link probably doesn’t come with expertise on the subject.
Authoritative relevant links are critical to rank highly in Google, and because of that you need to do everything you can to ethically obtain links that will boost your site in order to improve your rankings. Be warned though, that Google is not stupid. If you try to trick them in anyway by buying links, or other backhanded tricks, you run the risk of being penalized by them and being removed from the search results altogether. So don’t mess around with backhanded deals and instead focus on good ethical ways to get links, some of which we will discuss below.
How to Get Links
There are several ways to get links to your website, such as creating and promoting great content, asking for links from people who have mentioned your content elsewhere, giving links to other sites and working on building relationships in your industry. Those are all great and effective tactics for getting links and should definitely be part of your SEO plan. That being said, there are three tactics that have the potential to help you get going quickly and at scale: Press Request Alerts, Guest Blogging, and Business Directories.
Press Request Alerts
Press request alerts are requests that are put out from journalists looking for sources of information. These are great ways to get links because if you can provide quotes, stats, or other information to a journalist to write about in their article, most of the time if not always, they will link back to your website in their cited sources, thus earning you an easy link from a reputable source. On top of that, this is a great way to build relationships in your industry as well because it allows you to do a favor for these journalists, and the more you help them, the stronger the relationship gets.
Press request alerts are great, and there are several free and paid services that you can sign up for to get these alerts. Some we would recommend are:
- Source Bottle
- NARO PR
- Muck Rack
Signing up for these alerts is an opportunity to help others, build relationships and earn some links along the way. Be advised though that these journalists get hundreds of responses at times, so it is key to respond quickly with easy to understand and well organized content if you want your information to be used. If you do that though, these services are a great way to build links.
One of the benefits of building relationships in your industry is the opportunity to guest blog. Guest Blogging is a content marketing and SEO technique where someone writes and publishes a blog post on a third party website or blog to promote their personal/corporate brand. Essentially, you get to write a piece on another website that will be beneficial to them, but also gives you the opportunity to link back to your content while creating opportunities for their audience to find you as well. This is a simple and easy way to build links if you have connections in your industry.
A business directory is an online list of businesses within a particular niche, location, or category. One way local businesses can get found by online searchers is through inclusion in business directories. Like an online phonebook, these are lists of businesses that searchers use to find new businesses, but it is also a great way to build some easy links to your website. While these are not the most authoritative links you can have, it is a great way to get started because you not only can build a lot of links, but you also open new sources of traffic to your webpage with every link you create. This is an easy way to get links fast as you are starting out.
For a list of free and paid directories to get started with, check out this list from Hubspot.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into SEO and making sure your website is the best it can be for users and search engines alike, but know that the effort put in will be well worth it as more and more organic traffic rolls in and you are seeing conversions at a higher rate than ever before. This guide was meant to give you an overview and basic understanding of how to get started in SEO, but by no means is exhaustive. If you are interested in a more detailed course to go in depth on each of these topics and so much more, here are a few recommendations:
- W3 Schools
- This last one is a link to a school to teach you HTML, CSS, and Java script. You don’t have to understand these in depth for SEO, but having a basic understanding goes a long way in organizing and creating websites.
Using these resources will help you understand how to best position your website to reach its maximum potential and develop skills that are in high demand in today’s world. For other articles, tips, tricks, and ways to improve yourself check out the rest of our website here.