What is SEO and how does it work?

Introduction to SEO

We’ve all heard the marketing term “SEO” thrown around right? But what does it stand for and what does it really mean? Maybe it was your boss, a co-worker, or a marketing agency who slipped that elusive term into a conversation or presentation. Either way, we’re here to help you better understand SEO, how it works, why it works, what it does, ways to use it, and a few helpful tips and tricks.

Search Engine Basics

Before we jump into search engine optimization (SEO), we have to understand how search engines work. Search engines like Google and Yahoo are highly complex systems that use proprietary (and highly guarded) algorithms to crawl and display websites. In fact, it’s estimated that Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times every year. Some of these changes are minor, and some are major which can have a significant impact on search results. Here is a helpful infographic from Visua.ly:

A quick breakdown of how search engines work:

  1. Crawl – First, search engines use software programs to crawl the world-wide-web (www) using a technology called “spiders” or “bots.” These speedy little creatures scan the internet for information from all public websites and then return that information to the central search engine hub.
  2. Index – Second, search engines take all of the information from the spiders/bots and perform “indexing” which means they aggregate all of the content and insert into their algorithm.
  3. Display – Third, search engines prioritize the search results based on their algorithm relevant to the search term entered by the user. The results are then displayed to users through a website or application interface (think google.com).

Now that you have a better understanding of how search engines work, we can tackle the concept of SEO. Let’s dive into the basics of search engine optimization below.


SEO in a Nutshell

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing a specific website to rank higher in search engine results. Like any open market, there is competition. For instance, Google usually only displays 10 organic results on the first page which creates a highly competitive environment for websites. This competition is the reason SEO exists. Website owners want to rank higher in search engines so users can find their sites.

But what’s the difference between paid and organic listings you might ask? What a great question! Below is a helpful graphic from Moz, to help you understand where the listings are located on a search page.

As you can see, paid listings are located at the top of the page but did you know that over 60% of people claim to ignore the paid listings? Think about that number. Only 4 people out of 10 will actually click paid ads. That means the majority of people will scroll down and click the organic listings – which is where the SEO magic happens.

The sheer numbers alone indicate why SEO is such an essential and popular piece of the digital marketing strategy for businesses. Take a peek at some of the eye-popping search engine statistics:

  • 67k searches are performed on Google every second
  • 39% of all global e-commerce traffic comes from search
  • 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine
  • 40% of users ignore paid ads in search results
  • 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020
  • 58% of searches come from mobile
  • 97% of page-one results have at least one image on the page
  • 46% of all Google searches are local

The SEO Process

There are many different ways to approach optimizing your website for search engines. Everyone has their own unique process which they are always tweaking and improving. However, there is a foundational process that most experts utilize as seen in the chart below (credit Moz).

SEO in 6 Steps:

  • Research – Research primary keywords for buying intent, volume, and competitiveness. Utilize various research tools, analytics, and competitor analysis to develop a plan.
  • Structure – Create a plan for structuring keywords on website pages to maintain the right amount of keyword density.
  • On-Site – Optimize website pages for specific keywords. Utilize a variety of on-site optimization techniques to help search engines crawl your website pages and find relevant keywords and content.
  • Link Building – Research, build and submit links to off-site websites that will help make your own website ranking authority.
  • Improvement – Monitor search engine crawling and ranking. Make adjustments to improve the keyword ranking strategy to both on-site and off-site tactics.
  • Analyze – Analyze search engine ranking results, make long-tail adjustments, and prepare to report (where necessary).

Keys to Successful SEO

The keys to a successful SEO strategy revolve around how search engines interact with your website and with other sites on the internet that link to your website. When thinking about how to plan your own SEO strategy, you can to understand that Google Spiders don’t see your site the same way that you do. They see a bunch of code whereas you see a pretty picture. You have to make sure your website is set up to be a search engine “friendly” as possible. Below are a few key ways to optimize your site effectively.

Content

One of the most significant keys to successful search engine optimization is content marketing – and to be specific, “Indexable Content.” What does that mean? In short, Indexable Content is the type of content that search engines can see and crawl. That means most contents inside flash files, videos, and graphics are not crawlable and therefore cannot be indexed by search engines. Make sure that search engines can crawl as much of your content as possible. An added bonus is to cross-link between your pages to help give search engines signals on how and where people can find content.

Quick tips:

  • Make sure most content is using HTML
  • Add ALT text for images
  • Provide links to video transcripts
  • Avoid duplicate content

Design

When we say “design,” we’re not talking about pretty colors and fonts. Remember, we’re looking at all of this through Google’s eyes. It’s important to make sure your website is designed to engage your customer because search engines take into account how people utilize your website. For instance, if a user clicks on your organic listing and then immediately clicks the back button, search engines can measure the “short click” and decrease your ranking.

Quick tips:

  • Add important design “above the fold” that will engage your audience
  • Create call-to-action buttons in the header for conversion
  • Keep images small (less than 200kb) for faster loading speed

URL Structure

The URL structure is also an essential piece of the puzzle. Properly structured, helps the search spiders to better understand what the web page is all about. It also helps visitors to understand where they are in the site. If you don’t have an optimized URL structure, search engines won’t know how to crawl your website, and they may have issues with correct indexing.

Quick tips:

  • Utilize a parent / subpage structure (https://www.example.com/services/first-service)
  • Optimize your URLs for keywords
  • Create a main-menu structure with the most important pages and subpages

Keywords

A strategic set of keywords is the backbone to any great SEO strategy. Once the primary and secondary keywords have been identified, it’s important to integrate those keywords into your website. Remember, the goal of keywords is to help guide people to your site for specific search phrases. You don’t want to be everything to everyone. Pick the best keywords and add them strategically to your website pages.

Quick tips:

  • Utilize your primary keywords on the homepage in H1 and H2 tags
  • Use long-tail keywords for sub-pages as your content gets more specific
  • Don’t overly optimize your pages with keyword stuffing (you’ll get penalized)

Title & Meta Tags

Often the title and meta tags are the most popular or well-known part of on-site search engine optimization. After all, it’s the title of the organic search listing displayed for users. It’s not uncommon for people to think that if they add title and meta tags to their website, it’s optimized for search engines and they can sit back and relax. Wrong. While title and meta tags are important, they are only a piece of the ranking strategy.

Quick tips:

  • Add your primary keywords to the title tags
  • Make your meta tags more conversational
  • Keep the lengths within the requirements (75 characters for title tags, 300 characters for meta tags)

Link Building

If there is a magical science behind search engine optimization, it might be link building. It’s the “behind the scenes” stuff that many people don’t fully understand or trust. Link building is an essential part of increasing ranking because it leverages the authority of other websites to boost your own websites’ ranking.

Quick tips:

  • Research directories and other resources that have good authority
  • Be helpful and conversational when adding content and links
  • Avoid link farms and spam-related commenting
  • Avoid paying for links, Google & Bing discount their value

The Good & The Bad

The Good

Increases website traffic
Search engine optimization can significantly increase the amount of traffic to your website. By improving your rankings, more people will see your listings in search engines which increases the likelihood that your listings will be clicked.

Increases quality of leads/customers/ clients
Since most people scroll and click on organic listings, the quality of your leads, customers, and clients will increase. It’s widely known in this industry that organic leads are much higher quality than advertising leads.

Ranking Value
Search engine rankings are long-tail which means it takes a while to get rankings and the ranking last for a while, even after you stop ranking efforts.

The Bad

Cost
Effective search engine optimization services can be expensive.

Time
It takes 3-6 months (and sometimes longer) to see results which means you must commit to search engine optimization for a more significant period (as compared to advertising which you can turn on/off).

Google Penalty
If you do not follow “white hat” SEO techniques, you can end up in Google Penalty which is terrible. Like, really bad. Essentially it means that Google will penalize your website and destroy your rankings. Even worse, it’s tough to get out of Google Penalty.


SEO Tools & Services

Google Search Consolehttps://search.google.com/search-console
Google Search Console is a free tool that enables you to get an inside peek into how Google is indexing your website. You can monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot your organic listings to make sure things are working smoothly.

Google Analyticshttps://analytics.google.com/analytics/web/
Google Analytics is the most popular website metrics tool. It’s completely free and tracks everything from visits to bounce rate to conversions. We highly recommend setting up GA on your website to start measuring how your site is performing.

Google Keyword Toolhttps://adwords.google.com/ko/KeywordPlanner/Home
The Google Keyword Tool is located inside the Google Adwords dashboard which means you’ll need to signup for a free account. Once you’re inside, you can research keyword volume, competition, and click costs. It’s a great way to perform some preliminary keyword research.

Google PageSpeed Insightshttps://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Google PageSpeed Insights is a great tool to help analyze your website data, structure, mobility and more. One nifty feature is the ability to toggle back and forth between mobile and desktop results.

Pingdom Speed Testhttps://tools.pingdom.com/
Got the need for speed? The Pingdom Speed Test is one of our favorite tools to test (and monitor) your website’s speed and useful loading metrics. You can expand to see the waterfall effect which shows you a timeline of how things load and how long it takes. There are also some handy tips for improvement.

Yoast WordPress Pluginhttps://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/
Yoast is one of the most popular SEO plugins on the market with a rock-solid set of features. It’s also well-supported and updated. We highly recommend Yoast for WordPress SEO efforts.

WooRankhttps://www.woorank.com/
WooRank is an excellent SEO analysis tool to help improve website traffic, conversions, and usability. It features a graded report with specific data to help you track and fix issues. Another nice feature is the competitive analysis where you can monitor your competitors and compare against your own results.

Mozhttps://moz.com/
MOZ is a cloud-based SEO service to help you improve search rankings, drive traffic, and ultimately get more customers. They offer Moz Pro and Moz Local depending on your search engine optimization needs.

SEMrushhttps://www.semrush.com/
SEMrush another online SEO tool that enables you to perform technical audits, track rankings, perform competitive intelligence, and improve your overall SEO.


2019 SEO Trends & Tips

SEO For Beginners: 3 Powerful SEO Tips to Rank #1 on Google in 2019
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmB_TC92I8w

5 SEO trends that will matter most in 2019
https://searchengineland.com/5-seo-trends-that-will-matter-most-in-2019-307641

These Are The Biggest SEO Trends Of 2019
https://www.forbes.com/sites/lilachbullock/2019/01/10/these-are-the-biggest-seo-trends-of-2019

The Definitive Guide To SEO In 2019
https://backlinko.com/seo-this-year