Last Updated in March 2021 by Lukasz Zelezny
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the process of utilizing search engine guidelines and analytics to lead traffic to websites via search engine results. Following best SEO practices allows search engines (like Google, Bing, and Yahoo) to find and categorize your web content, making it readily available to the millions of people searching online daily.
Implementing best SEO practices on your website allows search engines to deliver your content to the appropriate audiences, generating exposure, traffic, and engagement.
In this article, we will discuss three basic SEO techniques frequently utilized to reach target audiences. After applying these tactics to your online content, you can expect an upward trend in site traffic that will only progress with time.
Learn SEO: the Ultimate Guide
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, remains one of the most effective ways to promote a website. For years it's been an extremely important part of companies gaining traffic to their website and blog postings, yet it's becoming more and more difficult to track down exactly what rules to follow in order to appear on Google's home page.
Here is an introduction on how to master SEO, and what trends to follow to ensure your website is getting the valuable traffic it deserves.
Learn SEO: Meet the Search Engines during self teaching
Today, three major search engines are being used all over the world. With 63 percent of the market, Google is the clear frontrunner.
Yahoo and Bing follow with 21 percent and 8.5 percent market share, respectively. The goal of a search engine is to quickly, and accurately, provide the most relevant web content to match search queries (the words typed into the search bar).
As the world of online content expands, search engines have their work cut out for them.
In the beginning, search engines relied solely on keywords to identify content, but as the keyword results grew into more massive proportions, the search engines became responsible for prioritizing content based on popularity and validity, as well. Now, it is the responsibility of the content creators to ensure their product is strong enough to fight its way to the top of the results.
In the endeavor to make your content easier for search engines to digest, we're going to learn to speak their language.
These search engines pride themselves in finding the most relevant search results for each inquiry, and to that end, they employ all manner of tech magic to comb through content, find keywords, determine validity, explore affiliated links, etc. While search engine operation differs slightly from one to the next, the same essential tools are at the core of each, so the steps to appeasing these traffic lords are mostly the same across the board.
Let's get started!
Learn SEO: What exactly is SEO?
SEO is almost as old as the internet itself, yet it's evolved and transformed over the years to become one of the trickiest forms of online marketing available. All major search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo have primary search results in which web pages are listed.
By definition, SEO is the practice of increasing the amount of traffic to your website using organic search results through these search engines, although the manner in which it's done is constantly changing.
Search engines such as Google take a huge number of things into account when determining which pages will appear first on any given search. They instantaneously gather a massive amount of data across the internet to build an index around your search.
Learn SEO: Why is SEO important?
Nearly every major business with a website utilizes SEO. Showing up on a search engine's first page is massively important to gain traffic to a website, and is a key aspect of growing an online business. There's even an ongoing joke that states, "the best place to hide a dead body is on page two of a Google search."
Research shows that 95% of all organic searches are found on page one of a Google search. Statistically, less than 1% of searches will ever reach page three when looking for something on Google, and the higher up on the first page, the larger the amount of traffic it will receive.
Essentially, SEO is what draws in eyes to a website. It's the most effective way to organically grow your traffic, and is vital to both small and big businesses for growing their analytics.
So how do you actually appear on Google's first page of a search?
Learn SEO: The evolution of SEO
It wasn't long ago that landing on Google's first page was a fairly straightforward process. Today, there are many things to consider when attempting to land on the first page of a search engine including content, links included, and different devices.
These three things have massively changed how to rise up the Google rankings.
Content remains a crucial factor in determining a search engine ranking your page. In the past, Google would simply map a few keywords on your page and optimize the page's elements, such as the meta description and tags.
Today, however, Google is able to rank a page for many different keywords, which is an easier way to help searchers find exactly what they're looking for, yet it makes the task of showing up high on a search a little more difficult.
Links are and always have been another important part of ranking into Google searches. For many years, the number of links included in a page was the key factor in determining how high it would show up on a Google search.
The more the merrier.
Today, however, links are valued much more on their quality. Links that head to high-traffic websites and sites similar to your own will be much more likely to increase your page's overall Google ranking.
Furthermore, links that direct users to spam websites will be negative for your page's rank.
Perhaps the biggest change to SEO over the years has been the shift from desktop to mobile devices. Only a decade ago, the vast majority of internet searches were done via a desktop.
Today, mobile devices such as smartphones account for nearly 65% of all internet searches.
This change in device usage has affected SEO heavily. Optimizing a website and content for mobile use is now almost mandatory for a business.
Learn SEO: Mastering SEO
There are now more than 200 different factors within Google's algorithm that determine how a page will rank on any given search. It's a complex science that shows no signs of simplifying itself anytime soon.
Fortunately, there are a number of trends that are shedding light on how Google is ranking pages.
One such trend that is becoming more and more important to consider with regards to SEO is the speed of your page's loading time. Google wants results quick, and will almost never rank a page high that does not load in under three seconds.
The quicker, the better. One of the best ways to ensure your page loads quickly is to take a simple Google speed test.
It's free to use, and will list all the speed at which your page will load across numerous devices, and any factors that are slowing it down.
The same way that mobile devices are taking over desktops, voice searches are taking over traditional text searches.
Optimizing your page for voice searches is now thought to be one of the best ways to increase your Google rank and overall traffic volume. How does this work?
Focus on adding a conversational tone to your page. Naturally, voice searches are done more colloquially than a text search, and optimizing your page in this manner will help to shoot your website up the Google ranks.
According to research done by Cisco, video content will make up 80% of all internet content by 2021. Whether or not this comes to fruition is redundant, as there is clearly a massive increase in the amount of video data online today.
Video SEO is an emerging tool that many companies are now utilizing, and will likely prove to be more and more important as the years go on. Both the video metadata and video content are factored into how high a video will rank on a Google search.
Learn SEO: Future of SEO
Unfortunately, there is almost no way to accurately predict exactly how SEO will evolve as time goes on. There are certain indicators that point to where it's headed, yet only search engines such as Google and Bing really know what will get a page ranked high as time goes on.
Based on the way things are headed, here are a few ways you can get ahead of the curve for SEO down the line.
More and more research is indicating how big a factor UX, or user experience, will be in search engine optimization in the future. UX is essentially how your user base interacts with your website and specific page.
The more (and easier) your user base is able to navigate through your page, the higher the page will likely rank on Google in the future.
To prepare for this, it's very important to have a solid understanding of exactly who your largest demographic is, and what they spend the most time on with your page. Many free tools are available to help you gain a better understanding of your target audience.
Secondly, there's a good chance that artificial intelligence will begin playing a major role in Google searching in the future, which could either be great or terrible for SEO marketing as a whole. On one hand, it will likely lower the ranking of pages using SEO in an obvious and repetitive manner.
Simply spreading a few keywords into a page is already becoming harder to rank on Google, and AI will make this even harder.
Fortunately, that's not such a bad thing. Google's future AI may be able to find the best search results based purely on content, which will mean marketing efforts should be targeted primarily on quality, not quantity.
Lastly, the future of SEO will likely be in line with the way technology is evolving every day. That includes voice searches and video content.
The quicker companies and websites begin gearing their SEO towards these future technologies, the quicker they will begin ranking higher on Google searches while older, more traditional forms of SEO begin to fall to the wayside.
Despite its complicated nature and constant evolution, SEO remains one of the best ways to market a website and business. There are still some basic rules that can be followed to achieve ranking success.
These may not always be what gets your page noticed, they're still working in the world of SEO.
Focus heavily on quality, rather than keyword quality. Ensure that your website is mobile friendly across all different platforms.
Make sure that the links you include into your pages direct your user base to either similar sites or high-ranking sites. Lastly, begin implementing strategies that will put your site ahead of the curve.
This may mean it takes slightly longer than others to appear on Google's first page, yet sets you up for success when search engines begin the inevitable process of evolving their ranking system based on the future of tech.
For small business owners, writers, and marketing professionals, SEO knowledge is becoming increasingly important, if not essential. Organic search is the best way for readers and potential customers to discover your content, and with a solid knowledge of SEO, you can reach an audience of hundreds, potentially even thousands, every month--for free!.
Learn SEO: Here are six steps to learning SEO
- Learn Keyword research
- Learn how to create great SEO content that targets your determined keyword
- Learn how to optimize that SEO content
- Learn how to build links for SEO and promote your content
- Learn site architecture and internal linking best practices
- Learn how to discover and remedy any technical issues on your site
Learn SEO: The following is a brief overview of the essentials:
Find the Right Keywords
The first and simplest step to ensuring your site speaks search engine is to provide your relevant keywords are up to snuff. Begin by creating a list of terms or phrases one may use to locate your services through a search engine.
It's important to brainstorm this for a while because the answer may not be as simple as it seems.
Finding the right keywords requires a little bit of creativity. Let's use an online shoe store as our example.
If you are selling shoes online, "shoes" would be an obvious keyword. However, a potential customer is more likely to search for more than merely "shoes."
"Best online shoe store" or "extra-wide shoes" could also be used. If someone searches for a more specific request, will your online content still come up in the search?
It is prudent to ensure your keywords are used in a wide variety of phrases and many different contexts so no matter who is looking, they will end up on your site.
The first, and perhaps most important, weapon in your SEO arsenal is excellent knowledge of keyword research, as well as a reliable keyword research tool. A third-party tool such as Moz will help you determine which key terms to target by answering these questions:
- What are your potential customers seeking?
- How competitive are those keywords?
- How much search volume do these keywords have each month?
Often, the idea is to find a key term that is both realistic for ranking ability and is receiving a reasonable amount of search queries every month. But you'll also want to pay attention to a keyword's relevancy and whether the term is "top of funnel" or "bottom of funnel," meaning just how close it is to conversion.
For example, if you are a car dealership, you might want to rank for the term "car." It certainly has a massive search volume (450,000 searches per month), but even more valuable might be a top ranking for "blue 2013 Honda Accord."
Now that is a bottom-of-funnel term, which is much more likely to result in a sale than the top-of-funnel term "car."
Once you've narrowed down which keywords will best serve your site, insert them into your online content. Be sure these keywords make their way into your URL, titles, subtitles, navigation bar, metadata, as well as in the body of your content.
If you place keywords in your titles but not in the body of material in your site, these clever search engines may prioritize your content as having "low relativity" because the keywords did not appear enough.
Word to the wise, however, keywords are wonderful but the days of keyword stuffing are over. Today our search engines are too bright to be fooled.
If your keywords are excessive, misleading, or inaccurate, your site could be penalized or even banned from search engines altogether. In a marketplace as vast as the world wide web, this would be similar to being wiped off the map.
So be sure your keywords are helping the search engines find they answer they seek, and not fooling them into providing inaccurate information, as they do not take kindly to being misled.
So you've determined your targeted keyword and have written an excellent piece of content. Now it's time to optimize.
Optimization is often the most intimidating step for newSEOs, but don't be worried. It's not too tricky.
Primarily, you're looking to tell search engines (read: Google) just what your article is about. Including your primary keyword in your H1 title, your URL and your meta description is best practice, but you'll also want to include your term in the body of your work and perhaps even in your image alt tags.
Equally important, you'll want to add related words, as Google is all about semantically thematic content.
Sound scary? Try using a tool like CanIRank's SEO software.
It will give you recommendations for which related terms to use precisely, how many times to include your keyword, and much more. Even the pros (especially the pros) use tools like this when it comes to optimizations.
Perhaps the most straightforward SEO component for understanding, and inarguably the most difficult to achieve, link building is what signals to Google that your content is the real deal. If other sites, especially relevant high-quality sites, are linking to your page, then the page must be top notch.
And top-notch content ranks well.
There is a slew of excellent articles online about link building that you should dig into. Learn everything you can about it, and then get to work.
On the road to learning SEO, you will inevitably have to acquire at least a general understanding of the technical components that affect rankings. Site speed, redirects, 404s, the list goes on.
For those who might repel anything technical, and even for the technically inclined, a great place to start is with a technical audit tool like Screaming Frog.
Would Ya' Link at That
Links provide much more than a simple shortcut to another page. In the eyes of a search engine, a link is a vote of trust for your site.
The more links leading traffic to your page, the more trustworthy the search engine finds your site. Think of it as a referral system, a link from another site says "I vouch for this site."
The reverse is true as well; when you link to a page outside of your domain (known as external linking), you are casting a vote for another site. It is good practice for most of your links to connect to other sources within your site to prevent guiding traffic away but used in moderation; external links are a great way of endorsing other domains and networking with other online professionals.
A site map, or navigation menu, is a common element of nearly all domains. As such, search engines have learned to skim these menus and maps as an indicator of the type of content your domain will feature.
If your navigation system does not headline every feature of your site, the search engine may overlook critical elements of your content, and it will not appear in search results.
For example, let's head back to our shoe store. Let's say GreatShoes.com has just added a new department to their online storefront offering a new and exciting line of cowboy boots.
If the website designer fails to add a new page in the navigation bar headlining the new inventory, the search engine may pick up on the few "cowboy boot" keywords around the content, but it will fail to notice that you have an entire selection of boots for customers to peruse. That would lead to a lower prioritization, so when someone enters the query "cowboy boot" into a search bar, other sites that perhaps specialize in cowboy boots are going to populate first, while your content falls to the bottom of the list.
Site Architecture and Internal Linking
A high-level component of SEO is site architecture. Having a well-organized site helps Google understand which pages are most important, prevents internal ranking competition and help users navigate seamlessly and purposively.
With a brand-new website or one that doesn't yet have much content, a solid architecture is easy to achieve. It can be a bit more involved with an older site, but still possible and worth the effort.
Start with a three-tiered structure and see if that works for your site.
Why SEO Is a Great Investment of Your Time
As long as search engines are around, SEO will endure. It is a marketing strategy that is continually evolving, but once you've established a foundation, a firm understanding of the basics, you'll be able to easily keep up with best practices and keep that organic traffic pouring into your site.
SEO is among the most sustainable digital marketing practices from which you reap long-term and exponential benefits. Unlike paid search, whose benefits cease once the budget is used up, organic rankings soldier on.
Amazing to think that one piece of content (perhaps a twenty-hour time investment, after creation, optimization, and promotion) can continue to draw traffic to your site years later. But it's true.
SEO is beyond a doubt one of the best, if not the best, investment of your time when it comes to digital marketing.
Learn SEO: How Does SEO Fit into the Digital Marketing Ecosystem?
A while back, when SEO was being born, search engines were not too sophisticated and unethical "black hat" techniques, such as keyword stuffing, were widely used. As a result, SEO got a bad reputation.
Today, even though SEO has changed and is now an essential part of digital marketing, the mention of it can still cause some people, especially old-fashioned marketers, to cringe. Some will say that they'd prefer to invest in content marketing or social media, but it's important to understand that SEO is an essential player in the digital marketing ecology and that to be successful both content and social must work with SEO.
SEO and Content Marketing
SEO and content are inextricable. Without content, there would be no need for SEO, and without SEO, content would go unseen.
Some people believe that creating good content is a good enough marketing approach in and of itself, but without keyword research and optimizations, it's likely even the best content will disappear into the belly of the internet.
To ensure your best content remains visible and continues to expose your brand to new customers, you'll need to couple it with SEO.
Learn SEO: SEO and Social Media
Social media is not quite as inextricably connected to SEO as content is, but they are complimentary marketing techniques, teammates of sorts, and much more powerful when used together vs. on their own.
Organic traffic acquired via SEO efforts will expose your brand and grow your social following, while social media will be one of the best outlets for content promotion and even link building. Learn both and use them together.
Measure Your SEO Success to master your SEO skills
The popular search engines work hard to keep their algorithms as transparent as possible for content creators. After all, answering queries quickly and accurately is their goal, and they can't do this without online content.
To this end, Google, Yahoo!, and Bing post their rules and recommendations online, so everyone has the opportunity to translate their content into SEO-friendly terms.
These online tools (Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo! Site Explorer, and Bing Webmaster Tools) allow creators to submit their website and receive feedback on which keywords register from your site.
That is an excellent way to test yourself on step one, to see if any of the keywords you have added appear in the results. Think of this as asking the search engine to repeat your message back to you.
As you read through these results, keep in mind that these results are how this search engine sees your site. Take note of any content it hasn't recognized, and change your site's keywords accordingly.
Running your site through these tools will also reveal any websites that link to yours, broken links in your content, HTML errors, and a lot of other incredibly helpful tips. That is a significant step to take after introducing new keywords or functions to your site to ensure the search engines are up-to-speed on what services and information your site is now offering.
When it comes to SEO tactics, the data and statistics are there to make this endeavor as detailed and thorough as anyone would like. However, these three simple steps will get you well on your way to seeing your domain traffic increase over time.
If there is ever a lull in traffic growth, it's best to repeat these steps as necessary until you see the desired results again.
Read Between the Lines to learn SEO
Keywords are an essential marker of online content and, as such, play a vital role in SEO tactics. However, there is a lot more to communicating with your search engines than mere text.
Engines have now learned to read between the lines by measuring not only content, but links, organization, and imagery, as well. Let's discuss other site content as it impacts SEO.
Get the Picture?
If you're asking a search engine, the answer is no. As clever as these search engines are, they are still limited to binary code.
That means it cannot always accurately "read" an image because it must first reduce it to binary, then attempt to label the image based on the information it has. That isn't a big problem unless you are using imagery to navigate, title, or in place of keywords.
For example, it became a trend for a while for websites to include a navigation menu constructed entirely of images. While it is aesthetically pleasing, this eliminated SEO tactics for their domain as the search engines could no longer tell what type of content they provided and their sites fell to the bottom of the search result lists.
Images are an excellent addition to text, but if you want to ensure best SEO practices, it is best not to use them as a replacement.
Learn SEO: A Conclusion
The why is simple: SEO, along with its pal, Social Media Marketing, is a cost-free and highly effective marketing technique. For business owners who don't yet have the budgets for advertising or other high-price-tag outlets such as influencer marketing, SEO is unbeatable.
. The knowledge you gain during your SEO education will be invaluable throughout your career, whether you're a marketer, writer or entrepreneur.
The how is simple, too. Read up on these SEO essentials:
- Keyword research
- Link building
- Site architecture
There are plenty of incredibly informative articles online, free for the reading and learning. Create for yourself a library of resources and put in the time.
Your SEO knowledge will serve you for the entirety of your career!