Search engines are some of the most dominant technologies on the face of the planet today, helping millions of people around the world find content on the web 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Google is ranked as the web’s most visited site and it is just one search engine available to web users today. Search as a market is enormous and there are numerous ways that people search the web for what they want which we do not often think of. They can use social media sites to search for content, search resource sites such as Wikipedia and so on. It would be fair to say that searching is one of the core activities people come online to do and this is why SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is so very important to marketers of all stripes.
SEO is what we want to learn about today. This is an enormous topic, so we will try to distill it down to what matters most for those who want to understand SEO and how it helps with the promotion of websites. We’ll cover the different types of SEO out there, how to perform ethical SEO along with what approaches to avoid, and a bit about learning how to do it yourself versus turning to professionals to get the job done. No matter whether you are promoting your own enterprise, a company you work for or an organization, learning about SEO is going to be valuable to you. It’s an essential component of Internet marketing and certainly a very relevant and controversial topic today.
The Definition of SEO and Some of Its History
At its heart, SEO is a relatively simple concept to understand. Those who are performing it are trying to market a website, or content placed online, so that it will be discovered by search engines when they crawl the web. This practice, for our purposes, is a form of marketing, but in some cases it is done merely to promote certain content which is made available by a group or individual who stands to gain no profit from providing that content.
The primary result that someone performing SEO is looking for is visitors who have used a search engine. These visitors are collectively referred to as organic traffic or natural traffic. Those terms are used in order to distinguish them from traffic that visits a site which was driven there by ads or other types of promotions. The basic idea is that when a searcher discovers content that meets their needs, they discovered the site ‘naturally’ via the search engines.
Higher page ranks and SEO
SEO is based on the idea that the higher a page ranks for the content it contains, the more visitors the site will get. While this is generally true, it is important to remember that nearly ever word, phrase or other piece of content on a given site can be searched for so even though most SEO experts will target specific aspects of the site to optimize, in reality a site can get a wide variety of types of visitors even for content it does not actually focus on.
In fact, it is said, 80% of all searches are unique one time searches, never to be performed again. Still, the goal of SEO is to try to show the search engines what the site’s content is about so that they can send the most relevant visitors. The higher the site ranks for what it tells the search engines it focuses on, via SEO, the more visitors it will generally receive.
Beyond just the specific practices of SEO that are designed to work with search engine technology, there is the side of this activity that is about understanding people. Those who are skilled at SEO realize that they need to know how people search for things, something that is always in a state of flux, so that they can do SEO that will bring in visitors who are interested in the content of the site they are trying to optimize. Focusing on specific keywords and ranking for them, in other words, will not matter if that is not what people are using to search for the particular kind of content your site offers, the way it offers it.
SEO is science
It is important to realize that SEO today is part art and part science (and sometimes it may even seem like witchcraft ). There are things that those doing SEO know about the various search engines that they optimize sites for, but there are also things which are a total mystery.
Search engines do not make a practice of disclosing everything about their algorithms and even so, these algorithms are always being changed as they are developed, Google currently makes over 500-600 changes to their algorithm PER YEAR. This is why anyone doing SEO must understand that it is an ever-changing process and rankings cannot be taken for granted.
When SEO first began, it was a practice used to help sites rank in the then nascent search engines during the 1990′s. At that time, it was obviously not nearly as developed of a practice as it is today, but some of the same core philosophies are still followed now. However, back in the beginning the search engines placed greater importance on meta tags and other instructions from webmasters because their technology for analysis of a page and its content was not as advanced as it is now.
SEO in past
Early search engines factored as best they could and tried to give the best results possible, but unsavory webmasters did not take long in developing ways of abusing the search engines so that they could obtain higher rankings for their sites. When sites were judged based mostly on keywords and keyword density, they would stuff their sites with these words to try to get rankings. When it later changed to links being valued, they might buy huge quantities of irrelevant links. This is not SEO itself, but people using SEO techniques for abusive purposes, which we will reflect on more later on.
By the middle of the first decade of the 2000′s, Google had risen to real prominence and dwarfed most other search engines in terms of its traffic. Marketers who practiced SEO began to gear their sites almost exclusively to Google and this created a whole other set of problems. SEO has evolved through a lot of changes since it first became a widely respected practice, but it has kept its core goals of helping sites achieve organic traffic.
Today, SEO is a very diverse practice and there are many approaches to it, but it does keep to its roots as a key practice for promoting web content and for those who are good at it, the results can be impressive.
Why SEO is Important for Websites Today
While there are many different ways a site can be marketed, SEO definitely offers some key advantages of its own. One of the things that it can help to do is reduce the cost of marketing by bringing in organic traffic so that a site can rely less heavily on paid inclusion in the search engines. In other words, the site won’t need to buy as many pay-per-click (PPC) ads in order to get traffic. This is not always the case, but where SEO can offer benefits of this kind it is therefore extremely useful. Keep in mind, however, that plenty of sites do both paid inclusion and SEO in order to maximize the amount of traffic they are able to bring in.
The benefits of showing up in a search engine are many and not the least of these is the fact that search engines, generally speaking, are able to deliver a huge volume of traffic. Sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing – today’s most used search engines – can send huge amounts of traffic if SEO is performed well. Consumers usually respect the listings they find in these search engines and visit the sites returned for the searches they do.
It needs to be said, however, that sites which rank 2 or more pages back for a specific search will generally only receive a tiny percentage of the traffic for that particular search. Only sites which rank on the first page for a search, and mostly those which rank in the top 1 to 3 positions, will receive a significant percentage of visitors from that search.
Longtail keywords are important
Although a site may have difficulty targeting popular keywords and keyword phrases, most sites will have a large number of these spread across their site, specifically longtail keyword phrases which are similar to sentences. Something such as ‘pink booties for newborn babies’ would be an example of a longtail keyword phrase.
If there is low competition for a longtail keyword phrase such as this, then a site could possibly rank highly and pull in traffic for that particular search. When you consider just how many potential keywords, keyword phrases and longtail keyword phrases are part of the written content of most sites then you can see how they may be able to pull in quite a lot of traffic from various searches.
Beyond the fact that SEO can help bring in traffic, sites that rank highly also get some degree of respect from peers, journalists and others in many cases. The assumption is that if a site ranks highly for a specific search then it could be an expert. If a visit to the page listed leads to content that is relevant to the search, some level of authenticity is demonstrated. This can be good when it comes to making allies within a niche, something many sites today can benefit from and it could also lead to being cited by journalists in some cases.
Why SEO Shouldn’t Be a Site’s Sole Means of Driving Traffic
As powerful as SEO can be, it is not often a wise idea to have it be a site’s sole form of promotion. The fact is, search traffic is still just a portion of the traffic on the web and overlooking this fact means that a site is not getting all the traffic that it could. Most marketers would agree that a mix of strategies and methods should be used in order to bring in the highest number of relevant visitors possible to a given site.
Another consideration when it comes to SEO is that relying exclusively on search engines, even major search engines, as a sole source of traffic is a flawed concept that is inherently dangerous to marketing success. The fact is, search engines are businesses and they will act in their best interest. It is almost always going to be in their best interest to please both those individuals using their service to perform searches and the advertisers who are the income source for the search engine.
If a search engine changes its algorithm, its policies towards websites it’s willing to index or even flat-out de-indexes a site, it will not matter how much SEO work was done nor how good that work was. Often, there will be little recourse for the site owner and that means that if they invested all of their marketing efforts and budget into SEO they will be in big trouble.
There are countless examples of businesses that relied too heavily on SEO for their marketing needs down through the history of search engines. When those search engines changed, often these sites would see a massive drop in visitor volume and frequency, sometimes driving them out of business. Do not get caught up in caring too much about SEO because it really does need to be only a part of your overall strategy if you want to succeed over the long run.
SEO for Different Kinds of Searches
When most people think of SEO, they tend to think of optimizing the written content and while this is a huge part of what SEO is all about, it is not the only thing that pages should be optimized for unless static written content is all they have to offer their visitors. Today, the type of content your site has will affect how you should go about SEO because search engines are more advanced now and there are a lot of different types of searches that users can perform as a way to find the content your site offers.
Image and video searches are becoming much more popular today, for instance, and they can be a good target for your SEO efforts. Assuming that the images and videos your site features are tied to its content, this can be a great way to pull in targeted visitors and give them what they want. They may wind up engaging with your site and becoming a loyal customer over the long run which is what good marketing is all about.
News stories and SEO
If you have fresh content related to your site and its niche that you update on a regular basis, then appealing to those searching for news could be a smart move. Good SEO done to news stories and the news section of your site can help immensely in bringing in visitors who may end up subscribing to an RSS feed or your email list so that they can follow along with your regular updates.
Many sites find that this fresh and regular flow of content helps them establish a nice level of traffic and that the stories they SEO may wind up getting shared across social networks or cited on blogs, thereby providing them with additional benefits.
Sites trying to target a large international audience would be wise to consider that in different countries, different search engines are popular. If your content appears in multiple languages then it may make sense to practice SEO for each of the search engines you are trying to get your site to rank in. In Russia, for example, Yandex is the leading search engine so sites that want to reach out to a Russian audience would gear the SEO for the content they want to appeal to Russian visitors towards what works for Yandex. This is just an example, but as more sites develop an international base of visitors, it is something that is becoming more important to those practicing SEO.
Local search is becoming more and more important, too, for those businesses which have a web presence as a way to promote themselves to those in their surrounding area. Local SEO efforts will differ from those aimed at wider niche markets and it is important to realize this. In order to get local traffic, different approaches will need to be taken and it may take some thinking outside the box.
However, as more and more people are beginning to search the web while on the go, using local SEO to make sure that your business is found by those with smartphones and tablet computers makes sense.
Finally, remember that there are specific search engines which are geared to certain niches or certain audiences. While these lesser known search engines do not have nearly the volume of traffic that major search engines have, they may be used by searchers that you are wanting to target. It is always a smart idea to do some research and see if there are any industry or subject specific search engines which might be a smart idea for your site to get indexed by.
On Page SEO and What It’s For
There are two basic kinds of SEO that are done today and the first of these is known as On Page SEO. What that means is that the pages of a site as well as its content are specifically crafted (or altered) to appeal to search engines and target specific searches. The purpose is to bring the pages content higher in the search engine results for certain keywords and keyword phrases that the site is targeting.
Tags and how content is created, specifically by using keywords and phrases by those doing the SEO are targeting, is what on page SEO is all about. Site navigation does play a role, as well as how content is categorized. There are many different factors which will come into play and learning each of these can take a while to master, but the results are often strong if it is done properly.
On page SEO is easier to control, as well, than its sister type off page SEO which we will learn about next. Some examples of On Page SEO factors would be, your page title, your H tags, bolding, keyword density, and social integration amongst other things.
Off Page SEO and What It Can Offer
This type of SEO is meant to compliment on page SEO by providing the other part of the overall SEO strategy. With off page SEO, your goal is to bring links to your site and its content. This is one way to help your search engine rankings and it also serves the purpose of bringing targeted traffic from relevant sites within your niche, or outside of it, when it is done properly. This is a very important part of SEO and will be needed along with on page SEO for those that want to see serious results from their efforts.
Linkbuilding is the primary activity involved in off page SEO. This is getting other sites to link to yours and it can be done in a number of ways. Buying links is generally forbidden by search engines such as Google if the intent is to help the site rank more highly by getting more PageRank value, a value which is specific to Google’s search engine. However, for general purposes links can and are bought frequently in the same way that ads are.
In some cases, building a link will require you, or your hired SEO expert, to get in contact with the site you would like a link from. In other cases, you will be entering your link into a directory or other site that accepts outgoing links. There are many different situations, but all of these are examples of off page SEO.
The creation and distribution of content such as articles or press releases that contain links is another example of this kind of SEO. Some will even turn to other efforts as a way to try to draw in links from other sites. Each of these techniques has its strong and weak points so choosing as best you can for your own site is what is advised.
How Social Media Feeds Into an SEO Strategy
One thing that is newer than other aspects of SEO is the relevance that social media now has for SEO efforts. Many search engines look for what are called ‘social signals’ which are links to or mentions of your site on social media sites. The thought is that if others are talking about your site, and describing it using important keywords, then your site must have value. This means that your SEO efforts will need to take reaching out via social media seriously.
Most sites will distribute content via social media, or provide ways on their site for this to be done, when they want to gain additional SEO benefits. Social media marketing is a whole other topic, but it is certainly true that well-regarded sites, or content that links to sites, on social media is going to see something of an SEO boost. It gives your site added relevance and it also means that if someone searches these sites, your business may end up being mentioned which is good for your overall brand.
The key with social media, if you want SEO benefits, is to try to appeal to your core audience there. You can be informative, entertaining or whatever works best, but you want those users to engage with you so that they will spread links to, or mentions of, your site. This is going to mean more mentions of you in the search engines and possibly higher rankings, as well. Plus, there is the chance that exceptional content could end up going viral which is always a good thing in terms of promotion.
The Importance of Using Metrics with Your SEO Campaigns
When doing SEO, you need to make sure that you are keeping track of your results. Far too many businesses try something, wait a month or so, give up and then try something new. This is not the way good SEO is done today.
You need intelligently crafted campaigns that you can monitor to see how you are ranking for keywords and phrases that matter to your business. This will take effort and persistence, but if you do not measure the results of what you do in terms of SEO then you will never really know what worked and what did not, much less to what degree.
There are various tools available to you if you want to keep track of metrics and measure the success of your SEO campaigns. Some of these tools cost money and others are free. What you want to do is develop a tool kit that you can turn to when it is time to take a look at metrics and see how your site is doing. Since SEO is such a long haul activity, you will need to keep an eye on this regularly for a very long time.
Some sites target hundreds or even thousands of different keywords and keyword phrases that they would like to rank for. Balancing all of this can require the help of pros and that is something to consider. The bottom line, though, is to make sure you know how your site is performing so you can make sure that when it comes to SEO you are investing your time, energy and funds in the right direction. We highly recommend Authority Labs for keeping track of rankings.
Best Practices for Learning SEO on Your Own
SEO is perhaps one of the more difficult areas of study for solo entrepreneurs and those doing marketing today. This is not to say that you can’t learn how to do it, but there are so many subjects you need to study, and so many sources you don’t want to listen to, that it can be downright difficult. Still, if a person is committed then there is no reason that, with the right mix of study and experimentation, they couldn’t succeed in this important marketing pursuit.
What you should do first is find a good SEO course which can walk you through the basics of SEO is greater depth. You need the course to be as recent as you can possibly find simply because SEO changes at such a rapid pace. You will also want to make sure that you have chosen a course which comes from someone who is respected in the SEO world and who has been able to produce solid results in recent times. This can be difficult to do, but it will pay off.
Another route for you to consider is signing up for coaching from an SEO expert or practicing professional. There is a whole SEO industry out there and if you get good at doing this, there could be opportunities available even beyond your own enterprise. However, in order to work yourself to that level you are going to need the best possible training.
Do remember that learning SEO is a long process and that it may try your patience and confuse you along the way. Nevertheless, if it is important to you to learn then it is worth seeking out the best forms of education that you can.
When Hiring SEO Services Makes More Sense
Companies are rarely going to want to train someone in-house to handle their SEO needs. If you run a business of your own then it may take more time, effort and money to engage in learning SEO than you really have to spare. You need to think about whether those costs are going to be worth it when you can hire a consultant or a firm that will be able to help you with your SEO needs. Many firms are out there, but it is important to choose a respected one as well as one that understands the goal of your business and its site. You also want to make sure you are choosing a firm that is capable of doing what you need while staying within your budget.
Often, having professional SEO services will not only make your life a great deal easier, it will end up making ranking in the search engines cheaper for you. The right services can do a lot more in a given hour than you could because they have years of experience under their belt and a great deal of the knowledge, skills and connections that come along with being an SEO for so long. Take some time to consider whether or not this could be a smart route for you and your business.
No SEO Efforts Can Succeed Without Strategy
Once you’ve made the decision to move forward with SEO then you need to reflect, once again, on what it is going to take to succeed. This can be a costly pursuit for those who do not approach it the right way and it is very easy to lose money by turning to a poor service that you thought sounded cheap or one which has a low reputation because they are not as experienced at getting results as they have claimed. Take your time because you need to make the right decision, whether turning to a pro or learning SEO on your own. A strategy is what you will need to have in place, either way.
Getting results in SEO used to be a fairly rapid process and you could expect to rank a site for its target keywords and phrases within weeks or even days in some niches if you knew what you were doing. Those days are largely now gone and today it can take several months or even sometimes years in very competitive niches.
You need to have a long-range game plan based around your goals for your business before you get heavily involved in SEO. Where do you want to be next year, five years from now and so on. Remember, during that time frame things could change drastically so you need to be prepared for that because search engines control things, not the sites listed in them. Today’s SEO is about gaining authority for your site so that you don’t need to worry about keyword rankings.
Authority website is best for SEO
As rewarding as SEO can be to your site’s bottom line, make sure you are constantly revising your strategy and that you do not get too over focused on SEO alone. Your best bet is going to be building an authority site that will rank fairly naturally without a lot of focus on linkbuilding and SEO alone. This is a site you can market in a number of ways and obtain the results you are looking for. It is a site that is going to more naturally draw in links so that a lot of the work is done without you needing to try to get links. It’s a site that is going to be a natural choice for the search engines to place high in their rankings simply because it offers such a strong value.
Putting in your best effort with SEO and doing whatever amount of work that makes the most sense for your business will give you good results in time. Stay patient, stick with your plan and always remember to measure your results and keep learning all you can. That’s the way to success in SEO, in marketing and in business, as well.