SEO is one of those words (well, acronyms, actually) that means both nothing and everything.
Is it a strategy? A technique? A principle? In truth, it’s all three. SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, and it includes everything you can and should do to help your site rank in search engines.
Some people believe that SEO is pointless or simply a way to cheat the system. This is an understandable mistake. Many classic SEO tricks, such as keyword-stuffing, are now considered “black-hat” and can get you banned by search engines, meaning you just won’t show up in search results.
However, legitimate SEO (or white hat SEO) is crucial to your digital marketing success — and it’s more complex than you might think. Let’s dive into why your business needs SEO, and which techniques you need to add to your strategy.
In this post, we will cover:
- What is SEO and why does it matter?
- What does SEO include?
- How to Improve SEO
- Some Basic SEO Do’s and Don’ts
- Wrapping Up Why You Need SEO
What is SEO and Why Does It Matter?
SEO is based on one core fact: search engines use bots (or robots) to crawl the internet and deliver results back to users. So, when you’re optimizing your site for search engines, you’re making sure that bots can understand it.
Previously, search engines used algorithms that assumed that popular sites were good sites. Fun fact: Google’s original name was Backrub, based on the idea that a site with lots of backlinks was probably a great source of information. Of course, people being who they are, very quickly tried to hack the system. Among other tactics, they would submit their URLs to junk directory websites and spam other sites with their links.
Now, Google and other major search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo have gotten smarter. Their algorithms can sift out spammy websites from websites with valuable content. Plus, they can now detect user intent — which is the overall goal of someone doing an online search.
What this means for modern day SEO is that you cannot publish cheap content and manipulate your rankings through trickery. You need to align with your target audience’s user intent and prove to search engines that your content is a good match.
So, let’s take a look at how SEO works.
What Does SEO Include?
On-page SEO refers to technical SEO and is the optimization of everything on your site. You have full control over all of this, including:
- page layout and navigational structure
- correct heading structure and well-outlined content
- alt descriptions for images
- meta titles and descriptions
Bots scan these elements to determine what your content is about.
In addition to your content, you also need to provide a good user experience. Search engines track how much time someone spends on your site. If you have a high bounce rate (i.e. when someone visits your site and immediately leaves), most search engines take that as a sign that your content isn’t worth showing to others. Your rankings then drop.
So, technical SEO includes optimizing your page load speed, making your site mobile-friendly, and having great content that people want to read and link to.
Off-page SEO, in contrast to on-page SEO, is closer to old-school SEO; building backlinks and showing that your site is legitimate and trustworthy.
As we mentioned above, you can no longer merely submit links to directories and watch your rankings rise. You need backlinks from high-authority websites; websites with good domain authority. This, in turn, improves your domain authority. For example, someone writing for Forbes or The Huffington Post and citing one of your blog posts would be a great opportunity to boost your rankings!
Off-page SEO relies on a mix of good PR and content marketing. You need to get content on well-established websites so that you can link back to your website. A good off-page SEO strategy includes:
- writing guest posts on successful blogs with a bio link to your site
- publishing content on Medium or LinkedIn and linking back to your site
- getting links to your site from other popular content
Note: SEO can also refer to optimization for search engines on ecommerce platforms and social networks. For example, you may need Amazon SEO or Pinterest SEO. For the purposes of this post, we will be focusing on SEO for Google and other classic search engines.
For a deep dive into Google’s ranking factors, check out Backlinko’s “Google 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List” article.
How to Improve Your SEO
As we said above, search engines are trying to make a match between their users’ search intent and your content.
Think of it as a matchmaking service or dating app:
- Bots collect tons of information about websites and web pages and create a massive indexed database
- Bots also collect tons of information about searchers (or users)
- Bots then compare those user’s search queries to what’s in their database
- And finally, bots deliver the perfect matched web content to the user
- In other words, bots try really hard to set up the perfect date between two people who have similar interests and preferences
Modern algorithms are very, very good — so good, that most users never scroll past the first few results on a search results page. That’s why you want to be on that coveted first page of search results!
What this means is that you really can’t copy other people’s strategy or content. What works for them may not work for you. In other words, don’t catfish your audience! Your SEO strategy should be geared toward placing your best content in front of people who will love it.
So, how can you do this?
Some Basic SEO Do’s and Don’ts
In addition to checking off the on-page and off-page SEO tasks described above, you must position your website as an authoritative, authentic source of information. We recommend these do’s and don’ts:
Do publish content that meets your expertise, not just what’s trending. Again, SEO is like dating — if you say you love classic rock, you’ll attract someone else who does. But if you can’t tell the difference between the Beatles and the Stones, your date will lose interest fast!
Don’t stuff your content with keywords or write content only to rank for keywords. No one wants to read content that sounds like it was written by bots, for bots.
Do make your site as user-friendly and clean as possible. Even the greatest content in the world won’t keep people around if they have to endure flashing GIFs, cumbersome menus, and neon green backgrounds to read it. Imagine what you would wear on a first date. It probably isn’t a faded t-shirt and stained pair of jeans.
Don’t worry too much if you don’t hit #1 for your target keywords. It’s going to be nearly impossible to rank for some keywords. Remember that (a) many people are entering full questions into search engines, which affects user intent rankings and (b) search engines are very good matchmakers. So as long as you’re tuned into what your target audience wants, you can still get good results even if you’re not #1 for all your keywords.
Wrapping Up Why You Need SEO
There you have it: a quick crash course in SEO and why it’s crucial to your results. SEO isn’t about trickery and hacks; it’s about serving your target audience and helping search engines make a good match. With that in mind, SEO should become a key part of your overall digital marketing strategy — and not just with links and keywords tactics either. Take the time to do your research, including on how to write SEO-friendly content, get a strategy in place, and then, start optimizing!
Still not sure why you need SEO or confused about how on earth to implement it in your business? Book a complimentary 15-minute call with us via our online scheduler at virtuallynat.com/chat and we can get you started.