There are over 70,000 Google searches every second. Yep, you read that right. The search engine behemoth handles so much of our search traffic that it’s almost impossible to comprehend. Whether we’re looking for recipes, how-to guides, or just trying to figure out if that slight headache we have is destined to kill us, Google is always there.
And that makes it an essential part of your marketing strategy.
So what is SEO? What are the benefits of SEO for businesses? How can a robust search engine optimization strategy for your business help you reach more customers?
Great questions! Now let’s take a look at the answers.
What Is SEO?
Let’s get down to brass tacks. What on Earth is SEO? How does SEO work?
SEO refers to the suite of marketing techniques that businesses can deploy online in order to boost their position in search engine (mostly Google) results.
For example, let’s say you’re a gardener in Boston. Ideally, you want people Googling, “Gardeners near me” in Boston to see your website right there at the top. But how do you achieve that?
Well, you don’t ring up Google and ask nicely. Instead, what you have to do is increase your business’ reliability in the eyes of Google’s web-crawling robots.
Mostly how that works is putting a lot of gardening content on your site, and a lot of gardening content on other sites that link back to your own site. Google’s robots then tally up all these links and bits of content and judge how relevant your business is to a search for “Gardeners in Boston”.
What Are the Benefits of SEO?
A frankly incomprehensible amount of our web traffic and usage is routed through search engines like Google. And most of that is through Google alone.
The benefits of SEO, then, are that it increases your visibility on the primary avenue that most of humanity uses to navigate the internet. Think of it as placing billboards on the information superhighway.
Even being bumped up a couple of places on a search results page can send your business into overdrive. People overwhelmingly tend to click the first few results on a search result page. By utilizing SEO marketing techniques to put your business in those hallowed positions, you’re guaranteeing an increase in click-through that can sometimes be dizzying.
It’s for this reason that a robust SEO strategy is sometimes considered one of the most important things a modern business needs to succeed.
Optimize, Optimize, Optimize!
What is keyword research?
Extensive keyword research is the foundation of your SEO campaign, but what exactly is keyword research and why is it so important?
What is keyword research?
Keyword research is the search for meaningful keywords for which your website should be optimized, or rather: for which your page should be displayed (rank for).
The aim of keyword analysis is to be displayed in the top 5 of Google search results (SERPs) for the right keywords and keyword combinations because a good placement in the search results will give you more traffic to your website.
A comprehensive keyword analysis is the basis for successful SEO (OnPage) optimization and should therefore not be underestimated.
Nothing works in SEO without search terms. In this step, you select the most important and relevant keywords for which your site should rank.
You need, per website (subpage of your whole website)
- only one focus keyword
- and 2-4 secondary keywords
The focus keyword (also called the main keyword or primary keyword) should have a higher search volume because it is the keyword for which your site should primarily rank.
Examples of main keywords (shorttail keywords):
- search engine optimization
- SEO tools
- On-Page SEO
- Google SiteKit
Secondary keywords are subtopics of the main keyword. Secondary keywords are in most cases long-tail keywords.
In SEO area, “long-tail keywords” mean search terms that have a lower search volume and are a bit more specific. These keywords are searched for less frequently. They are less competitive, but in many cases “more effective”. This includes, for example, combinations of several keywords. Examples of secondary keywords (long-tail keywords):
Definition of SEO
SEO is the art and science of convincing search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to present your content to their users as the best solution to their problem.
If you want search engines to show your content in the results, you need to do three things:
- Make sure search engines understand who you are and what you offer.
- Convince them that you are the most reliable choice for their users.
- Make your content reachable.
How high in the rankings and how often you appear depends on many performance factors of your website. The principle of search engines is to display results that they deem most appropriate for their users.
Why is SEO important?
Search engine optimization brings you the most valuable traffic, namely, organic visitors and this is “free” traffic. When a search engine shows your content to its users in the organic portion of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page), you’re not paying for the ranking.
Even if the user clicks the result and visits your website, you don’t pay Google for that visit. And that briefly describes what SEO is used for.
There are often paid results on the same SERP as well. They can be recognized by the “AD” or “sponsored” on the left-hand side.
When a user clicks on a paid result and visits the site, the advertiser pays the search engine for that visit.
So with Google ads, you pay to be shown in the search results.
The great benefit of SEO traffic is that if the chosen search engine optimization strategy is effective (and we’ll look at how to achieve that below), then it’s a continuous source of free traffic (or visitors).
How do search engines work?
The basic goal of search engines is the satisfaction of their users. You want to deliver the best results when a user searches for something.
When someone uses a search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo, they’re looking for the solution to a problem or the answer to a question.
Search engines want to provide the most helpful, relevant, and credible answer or solution.
When it comes to SEO, we often talk about “keywords” – it’s a little misleading. “Search queries” is a much better term. We don’t look at individual words but at combinations of words that express a problem or a question.
Note: Even if a user searches with just one word, they’re still expressing a problem or question – they’re just not expressing themselves clearly.
What is your target audience looking for?
To work effectively on your SEO, you need to figure out what your potential visitors are searching for. Find the phrases they use to search, and then create content that provides a clear, simple, and helpful solution to the user-posed problem.
SEMrush offers you the Keyword Magic Tool for this. It allows you to find out searches of your market and your competitors.
Google against the rest of the search engines
Google dominates search in most countries around the world, almost to the point where they have a monopoly.
This makes Google a powerful company and by far the most important search engine to focus on.
So here are two things Google needs to do:
On the one hand, the user’s intention: When someone searches on Google, they are expressing a problem that needs a solution.
But they often express this problem incompletely or ambiguously.
Google is trying to understand what they mean. What is your intention? What is the specific problem they are trying to solve? Google needs to understand the question or intent. Google calls this searcher’s intent. We’ll go into more detail on that a little later.
On the other hand, what is the best content that satisfies users given their intent – the most accurate and most helpful and useful content on the World Wide Web that reliably solves this problem?
Google needs to understand the available solutions, their relative merits, and their appropriateness. And that’s practically what SEO is all about.
SEO is your means of presenting your content to Google in a way that convinces them that your solution is the most helpful, trustworthy, and appropriate for the user.
In short: Convince Google to recommend your answer or solution.
The word “algorithm” can seem scary when it is simply computer code that understands the question and evaluates the relative qualities of the answers.
In SEO, we mainly focus on the second part.
Our goal is to send the right signals to Google’s algorithm to convince them that our answer is the best, most useful, and appropriate for the question they understood.
You’ve probably heard of Google’s updates. The best-known are penguin, panda and hummingbird.
It is very important to understand several things:
Google constantly updates its algorithm on a daily basis. But most of these updates are small and won’t result in noticeable changes in ranking or traffic for individual brands like yours, probably.
From time to time, Google makes major updates, known as “core updates”. These can affect your site’s ranking and traffic quite drastically.
Some updates in the past were specifically aimed at reducing the impact of scams by some brands and websites. Google has given names to these updates – Panda (in terms of content quality) and Penguin (in terms of link quality) are famous examples.
Google has thousands of quality rating factors that help improve the search experience.
Google is constantly experimenting with search results and uses third-party feedback to ensure changes are useful.
So what are these quality raters looking for when analyzing the results?
let’s find out
Guidelines for Quality Raters
Quality raters are described as “very experienced” because they are expected to follow a very long and detailed document – 168 pages to be exact – that explains what makes a good score and what quality raters look for should detect bad results.
The document is worth reading because it explains what content Google wants to make available to its users and how Google assesses the quality of the content for its intended purpose. It doesn’t tell us what the ranking factors/signals are or exactly how the algorithm works.
These guidelines are updated regularly.
The intention of the request
When looking at the results, the raters focus on the user’s intent – the problem they want to solve.
So they ask themselves: “Is this search result a good solution and does it help the user?”
For Google to recommend specific content as a solution, that content must be useful to the user in finding a solution to their problem. The content must therefore be user-centric and user-oriented.
Google uses the acronym E-A-T – Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – which could also be expressed as credibility.
They judge credibility, or E-A-T, on three levels – the page, the author, and the website. In addition, they check whether the content is credible in the context of the intended solution.
E-A-T is incredibly important to Google. In the guidelines, they use the words “expert”, “authority” and “trust” (or variants) over 200 times.
Let’s briefly review each component of E-A-T.
Expertise – Is the information correct? Should this author or brand write about this topic?
Authoritativeness – Is the author respected in their field? Is the brand widely recognized in the industry? Is the content referenced elsewhere on the web by other reputable sites, brands, and people?
Trustworthiness – Does the brand and author have a good reputation and is the content reliable?
YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life”. It is a very important concept for quality raters.
As Google explains in its policy, this term describes pages or topics that “have the potential to affect an individual’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
Google claims to have “very high page quality standards” for such pages, as low-quality YMYL content can directly affect reader well-being.
Quality of content, page, and website
Google wants to send its users to websites that offer a great user experience (UX). The raters pay careful attention to the quantity and quality of the content, the usability of the design, and the navigation of the site.
The raters also explicitly identify bad content – flagging content that is of low quality, lacks credibility or is downright misleading. Google strives to marginalize this type of content as it does not provide a good user experience for users.
Google ranking factors
Google’s algorithm considers thousands upon thousands of ranking signals when evaluating a page to determine where to rank the page for a given query.
When we talk about ranking factors, we are simply identifying which groups of signals have the greatest impact on how well a piece of content performs in Google searches.
From your perspective, we determine which aspects of your content, your website, and your reputation you can improve in order to most effectively strengthen Google’s opinion of your content and thus achieve a higher position in search results.
Below are the top search engine optimization factors you need to consider to get your content ranked higher on Google (there are more than 200, so we’ve only included the most important ones in this guide).
As the name suggests, on-page signals are those that Google finds on the page of your website. They are the aspects that you can control directly and are therefore the easiest to correct.
Technical search engine optimization
Speed – People don’t like to wait. It negatively affects the user experience. As a result, Google wants to send its users to a page that loads quickly. Make sure all content loads quickly, even on a slow internet connection.
Mobile-friendliness – Content must look good and provide a good user experience on mobile devices. Google’s index is now mobile-first, so ease of use on mobile devices has a big impact on rankings.
Security – A secure website is a credible website.
Schema.org markup – Simply put, Schema.org markup explains your content to Google in a format that is easy for Google to understand. Schema.org is a huge help to Google, and it can also prove extremely valuable if you want to be at the top of the
SERPs or appear as a featured snippet or quick answer.
Content optimization for SEO
Meta Data – The title tag, meta description, and headline on a page are very critical signals for Google.
Content – As we saw in the Quality Rater section, Google is looking for high-quality, accurate, and credible content that serves a real purpose and provides value to the user (content that has a useful purpose). And of course, the content related to the search query should solve the user’s question or problem.
Rich content – As the web becomes more focused on multimedia, people expect richer content and Google wants to provide that to them. So Google searches for more than just tons of text. Google wants to see images, sound, and video to improve user interaction with the content.
Internal linking – must be clear, logical, and simple. Google relies on internal links to determine which content is most important on your site, and Google also relies on internal links to find all pages on your site.
Relevance/up-to-date – Regular updates to your content show Google that you’re providing up-to-date information. Again, Google strives to provide its users with relevant, up-to-date, and accurate information.
Outbound links – Google uses these to verify the accuracy of your information and to verify the credibility of the author and the website. Regardless of what you may have heard, outbound links (only to reliable and relevant sources, of course) are a positive signal for Google.
Title tags and meta descriptions – These areas of a page, in many cases, determine what Google shows its users in search results.
Example title tag and meta description
Having a concise title tag that clearly and unequivocally describes what the page’s content offers the user is paramount – it is the reason the user clicks on your search result or not. Title tags and meta descriptions are basically sales copy designed to draw in the user and help Google better understand the content and purpose of each page.
Ideally, your title tag will contain the top keywords the user searched for. This is essential for the Google algorithm but also for the user. Users feel more comfortable and are more likely to click a search result that contains the words they used in their search.
Headline – The title that the user sees when they land on your page is an important signal to Google. Like the title tag, the headline must be clear, unambiguous, and contain the terms the user searched for. This is also an important signal to Google, but also encouraging and helpful for the user.
Writing style – Keep your text simple, clear, and concise. Keep sentences short, break content into logical sections, and stay on topic. Help readers go straight to the solution to their problem. Organize your content in a way that makes it easy to see and understand the value it provides.
Rich Content – Include content such as audio, video, and explanatory images whenever possible. Google is not able to understand the content of images or videos. If you include these formats, provide them with the appropriate alt text so Google and the visually impaired can understand what the image/video is about.
Outbound links – This type of link leads to sources that certify the accuracy of your content and the credibility of yours and that of your author.
Authors – Describe your authors, if any. When authors have a great E-A-T, it will add credibility to the content.
Taking it further, your content doesn’t live in isolation.
It’s important to see each piece of content as part of an overall, coherent content strategy.
Once you do that, you’re thinking in the right direction of content marketing.
What makes good content?
As Bill Gates once said, “Content is King” and it’s still true.
What does this mean for you in terms of search engine optimization?
The better the content, the higher your position in the SERPs. At its core, it’s that simple! But what separates bad content from good?
For any content (written, audio, and video), correct grammar, correct spelling, and clear style are essential for both Google and the user who consumes them.
Write naturally, write for your audience, and don’t be tempted to trick Google by repeating the words you want to rank for (known as “keyword stuffing”).
This tactic doesn’t work and it leads to poor user experience.
Google wants to avoid this (they specifically tell their quality raters to decline). And with recent developments like the BERT update, Google is getting better and better at understanding natural language anyway
Relevance – It’s crucial to have content that truly addresses your audience’s issues.
If you want Google to recommend your content to their users, that content needs to provide value. This means that it contains highly relevant information and provides a helpful solution to the user’s problem or question.
Consistently creating relevant, helpful content that solves users’ problems shows Google that you understand your audience and that you’re making an effort to provide them with useful content – and that builds credibility.
So focus on providing real value to your audience with every piece of content you create. So, to create real value, it is imperative that you focus on user intent.
What is your target audience looking for?
An SEO specialist needs to clearly understand their audience in order to use only the best keywords and topics for the upcoming content.
You can find out what search terms/keywords people are searching for by using a tool like SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool or, if necessary, by asking your sales and service reps what questions they are being asked.
When putting together a solid and researched list, think very carefully about the intent behind the searches and questions.
Sometimes it will be obvious. However, often the searches and questions are ambiguous and the intention is not immediately obvious.
You need to understand your audience and deliver valuable content that matches the intent of their request.
Which content formats are good for SEO?
Different types of content are appropriate for different funnel stages, different users, and different user contexts (location, device, etc.).
A good content strategy will include a mix of the different formats that I’ll describe in a moment.
Lists – Both people and Google love lists. They are easy to digest, easy to understand, and good for engagement.
Instructions – These are perfect for providing a step-by-step approach to a specific request.
Long-Form Guides – While they require a lot of work, this type of content can really help your audience to thoroughly understand a specific or broad topic.
Tables – Tables containing data or information on your pages are easy for Google to understand, and they’re also incredibly helpful for your audience when they need to understand data related to a topic.
Graphics – images, photos, illustrations. Google is including these more and more in the SERPs, especially on mobile. Additionally, when used and tagged appropriately, images can drive visits via Google image search, which is particularly popular with some industries and types of searches (e.g., fashion or travel).
Infographics – Infographics are images that contain information (usually illustrations + text) that make them standalone content. They are great as content to share with your audience via social media as they can generate great engagement. And they’re a great way to build links, too.
Video – Google is increasingly including videos in search results. This is especially true for instruction videos.
Additional benefit: when you publish your videos on YouTube, you benefit from greater brand visibility and from the references on the platform. YouTube is one of the most visited websites in the world today.
Podcasts – These are audio-only content. Podcasts are on the rise and very popular, especially in certain niches. Like videos and images, Google shows them in regular search results.
Webinars – A webinar is a live online session or presentation open to the public. It’s a great way to engage and build your audience. Webinars also offer longer-term content since after the live broadcast, you can upload it to YouTube as a video that can be viewed at any time.
E-books – are downloadable books, usually in PDF format, that brands often make available for free. They’re perfect for in-depth content that’s too long for an article, and they can be used in clever ways to get more information about your audience. Ideally, you have a landing page that describes the eBook and requires the user to sign up via email in order to download the eBook. This way, you not only gain valuable SEO-related traffic, but you can also collect emails from prospects for future marketing efforts.
Off-page SEO factors include the signals that are not made by changes to your website’s code or content but are sent to Google by third parties (websites).
Because of this, this category of factors mainly includes links or mentions of your pages on other websites or social media profiles.
This is the biggest off-page factor – links to your content from relevant, trusted websites (backlinks) are a very strong signal to Google that the content is popular and valuable.
You can think of links as “votes” – people link to content from their websites or their social media accounts because they value it.
More links = more “love”
And if you think back to the part about E-A-T, links indicate that this piece of content, this website, and this author are trusted, and reliable sources of information. That is why building a reliable backlink profile is one of the pillars of search engine optimization.
Link Authority – Gaining links from high authority sites is more valuable than gaining links from sites with a lower authority score.
Link Relevance – Google favors links from relevant sites – usually in the same industry – or news sites and reviews sites that credibly cover multiple industries.
Page Relevance – Google looks at the content surrounding the link and evaluates how relevant that content is to your content. Links from highly relevant content send a stronger signal.
Anchor Text – Relevant anchor text (the text that people click to visit the link) is an important signal as it helps Google better understand the context of each link.
Signals from social networks
Sharing on social platforms and general social buzz about your content is a signal to Google that the content is useful and appreciated.
And when users recommend content as a solution, benefit and appreciation are at the top. Search engines notice this and rank your site better.
Mentioning your brand is a signal to Google, even without a link.
Google understands when someone is talking about you when they use your brand name.
And of course, we want to take mentions with positive statements in a relevant context.
When influencers in your industry talk about your brand and cite your content, they are essentially vouching for you.
Verification from a trusted, recognized expert will help improve the credibility of your brand, author, and content in the eyes of Google.
Again, we look for relevance, meaning approval from a respected figure in your industry.
Trust signals show Google that your brand, products, and content are valued by your users/customers.
Trust signals are things like product and service reviews, positive mentions on forums, comments on your blog, etc.
In short, any positive activity by your users around your product, brand, or content.
How does SEO work?
One of the most popular questions is: what is SEO and how does it work?
The first part of this question was briefly answered above, so let’s take a closer look at how search engine optimization works.
In this section, you’ll learn what you can do to improve your chances of being displayed by Google as an appropriate, relevant, and helpful answer.
We can break this down into three main areas: technical, content, and backlinks.
Basics of technical SEO
As part of on-page optimization, the technical side is all about the quality of the infrastructure that delivers your content.
Good technical SEO means that Google finds your content easily and that the content is easy for Google to digest and understand.
What are the key points for technical SEO?
Crawlability – Google must be able to access your pages and process your content. The term “crawl” basically means accessing and reading a web page. If Google can’t access your content, they can’t show it in their results.
Examples of crawlability issues include Google not being able to crawl your pages in the first place – you can allow or deny Google access to specific pages on your site in a file called robots.txt.
Another problem for crawlability are pages behind a payment page or login page – Google cannot access these pages and therefore cannot know what content they contain.
Indexability – Once Google has seen your site, it must be certain that you want Google to show your site in the SERPs.
You can use the noindex tag in the <head> section of your pages to tell Google whether or not to show a particular page for search results.
Site Architecture – You need to organize your site so that the sections and categories are easy to understand and Google can easily navigate through each and every page of your site.
If there are pages on your site that don’t have internal links pointing to them, Google will have trouble finding those pages. And even if Google finds them, they will rank the page as less important than pages with internal links.
A great website architecture is also a big bonus for usability and user experience (UX).
Schema markup – This factor is fundamental. Consider it Google’s native language. Schema markup explains your content to Google in a way that makes your content easy to digest and understand for the algorithm. Google even offers a free tool to test Schema.org markup on your pages.
Mobile-Friendly – Every page on your website needs to be mobile-friendly. Users must be able to easily consume your content on a mobile device.
Google rates your content based on how it performs on a mobile device, so it’s important to get it right.
You can probably guess… Yes, Google also has a tool here that you can use to test your pages for mobile-friendliness.
User Interface – As we saw in the Quality Rater section, Google wants to suggest websites that appeal to users both in terms of design and ease of use.
Your website layout must be designed in such a way that the user finds your site attractive and understands at a glance what your site offers. In addition, the navigation on your website must be easy to understand in order to quickly find what you are looking for.
Your goal is for users to engage with your content and then research you further.
What is link building? – The basics
Backlinks are incredibly important in the further course of search engine optimization.
Given the amount of referring domains, Google understands your credibility and authority in your chosen niche.
In this section, I will explain the importance of links in terms of SEO and teach you the art of link building.
Links and SEO
In order to rank better on Google, your content must have inbound links (also known as backlinks).
Your content may contain some internal links from your own site, but these only indicate the meaning of the content in the context of your site. They do not help Google to recognize the meaning of the content in the context of other websites.
Incoming links from relevant and reputable websites show Google that your content is popular (word of mouth), recognized, and trusted. All of these are very strong signals to Google that your content is a good result that Google recommends to its users for relevant searches.
An important keyword is “from relevant and reputable websites”. When looking for inbound links, especially for a new website, webmasters tend to focus on quantity. However, quality in the form of getting links from high-authority sites relevant to your content should be paramount.
In 2012, Google released a very powerful algorithm update called Penguin, aimed at turning off “link cheating” (i.e. preventing websites with “spammy link profiles” from ranking high). In 2017, they announced that the process of identifying and then ignoring these spammy links is now real-time, meaning that any link to a website’s pages that is deemed inferior will be ignored and will not contribute to the ranking.
How to build links
In a perfect world, your great content will earn links by merit without any effort on your part.
People (site owners, journalists, bloggers, your fans, etc.) will link to your content because, once they find and use it, they consider it a valuable resource for their audience.
The world isn’t perfect, however, and this simple process inherently doesn’t happen very often.
Link building just helps this process along.
Link building is about identifying people who might be able to link to your awesome content (site owners, journalists, bloggers, etc.), pointing them to your content, and encouraging them to buy from a relevant page of their website to link to it.
That sounds easy. And that’s it. But it’s also time-consuming.
It takes time to reach out to people, build relationships with them, and convince them that linking to your content is beneficial to them and their audience.
How fast does SEO work?
Search engine optimization is a long-term strategy.
As we have already seen, SEO has three main pillars – technical, content, and backlinks. For your strategy to bear fruit, all three pillars must be solid, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
Some of your efforts will pay off in the short term after implementation. Changing title tags, meta descriptions, and headings, or improving the content on some pages are typical examples. This is also a reason why on-page optimization is very important from the start, as it makes your further actions all the more efficient. If you want to learn more about this topic and the key points of on-page optimization, you can also check out my book on on-page SEO.
Other efforts, like implementing Schema.org markup on a number of pages, creating a significant amount of informative content, building links, or gaining positive reviews, take time and will pay off in the long run.
No single thing alone will revolutionize the performance of your SEO strategy. All of the elements I’ve outlined above work together, and it’s the combination of all of the signals that Google is picking up that will set the needle in motion for you.
To come back to the question: it depends. Some changes can become noticeable after a few weeks and months, others only after a year or longer. It is important that you stay tuned and are always up to date.
The best way to start with SEO
Because SEO is such a broad topic, you should approach SEO, and search engine optimization (search engine marketing) with a plan.
If you just want to roughly eliminate your mistakes in terms of SEO, you can start with a site audit and get your site out of the swamp step by step. But in general, the site audit is a good starting point to get an overview. However, you should always keep in mind why you are doing something.
And this is where the plan comes in.
In order to create a successful plan for yourself, you must first have a goal in mind. For your website and SEO, this is most likely more traffic to your website and possibly sales of specific products or other types of conversions.
Since each website is structured individually and has a different purpose, you can’t just summarize two or three bullet points here that will help everyone.
So there you go, a handy, quick, and comprehensive guide to the basics of SEO. It doesn’t matter who you are or how big your business is. Sarasota search engine Optimization SEO can help you attain a dominant position in your industry and keep it. It’s hard to exaggerate how helpful coming to the top of those search results pages can be.
So get out there and get optimizing!