SEO is an essential marketing technique that is focused on bringing organic, non-paid traffic to your website by using high quality content to get to the top of a search engine results page.
Reaping the benefits of your SEO labor may be a bit of a slow process at first, but once you’ve managed to achieve some results, your success will build upon itself.
In this article we’ll give an in depth explanation of everything you need to know about SEO, from what it is, to how it works and the major pillars of SEO. Let’s get started!
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is a marketing technique focused on optimizing your website to get it to rank as the number one result on search engine results pages. Through a number of tactics and tools, you can organize your website in a way that search engines understand and choose to show to their users.
Think of SEO as both an art and a science. It combines the creativity and ability to create high-quality, engaging content that users value, with a strong understanding of analytics and of your prospective customers.
It's important to remember that SEO is only focused on organic ranking. You can not pay to rank higher with SEO. The only way to rank higher on SEO is to ensure you're satisfying the search engine’s requirements.
A strong SEO strategy can bring a number of different benefits to your business’s online presence and to your marketing strategy overall. These benefits can include the following:
There are actually many different kinds of SEO. However, in terms of SEO activities, the two main types are on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to actions that you conduct on your own website to contribute to its ranking. This include content creation, the use of keywords, the proper use of headings, meta descriptions, and URLs.
Off-page SEO refers to actions that you can take outside of your own website to boost its ranking, like link building or guest blogging.
There are also two styles of SEO: White Hat and Black Hat SEO. White hat SEO is based on using ethical, transparent techniques to build your pages’ rankings. Essentially white hat SEO is following and respecting Google and other search engine’s rules regarding website and position optimization.
On the other hand, black hat SEO uses questionable techniques to trick the search engines into quickly raising your site's ranking. While Black Hat SEO may work in the short-term, it does more damage to your website over time and search engines will penalize you for it.
When you’re first getting started in the world of SEO, content marketing, and inbound marketing it can be difficult to distinguish between these strategies. They all involve some content creation, keyword research, and utilize similar metrics, but they are three distinct concepts that build upon each other.
Let’s start with content marketing. This strategy is focused on creating and distributing relevant and valuable content that attracts and retains users’ attention, with the aim of driving them to be future customers. Content marketing encompasses a variety of methods like blog writing, video marketing, social media, and sometimes native advertising. But, content isn’t always enough to drive users to your website or convert them into customers.
This is where SEO comes in. SEO is focused on boosting the organic ranking of a website on Google using different techniques, one of which is content marketing. Bringing customers to your website is crucial to getting them to convert, but once they’re there what’s next?
The answer is inbound marketing. This non-invasive marketing technique seeks to both attract, retain, and convert customers using a combination of many different marketing techniques, such as content, SEO, marketing automation, and lead nurturing.
Before we really dive deep into what SEO is and how it works, it's important to first understand how search engines work and how they determine what to rank. Here are some key stats from SEM Rush:
This means ranking on the other search engines can be important, but Google will always be the main focus.
So, how does Google decide what to rank and how? When Google detects new content, it does 3 important things crawl, index, and rank. Let’s review what this means.
Crawling refers to when Google’s “spider” analyzes your page to assess what your content offers. Spiders are especially drawn to new content, which is why it's important to consistently be updating your website and blog.
Links are crucial for crawling because it is how the spider arrives at your webpage. It navigates your website using your internal linking structure. This is why you always want to link to other articles in your blog content and why pillar pages are so important. You can also submit your sitemap to Google to get it crawled.
After Google has crawled your website, it will Index it. Indexing is Google’s way of understanding and organizing a webpage. It stores information about the content, images, videos, keywords, etc. It will use all of this information to determine how to rank your web page in its search results.
After crawling (analyzing) and indexing (storing info) your website, Google uses this info to rank your website when someone makes a search.
It also takes in other ranking factors like location, language, device, load times, site trustworthiness, content, keywords, etc. No one knows exactly how Google decides to rank their results, but there are over a 100 different factors being considered.
The most important thing we know is that Google is looking to rank based on the user’s search intent. This means that while keywords are important, matching the intent of a user’s search is more important than using a certain keyword x amount of times.
There are many different ways you can orient your SEO strategy. At Cyberclick, we’ve identified 3 pillars that make for a strong SEO strategy: keywords, content, and website optimization.
Let's take a closer look at these three pillars and at how you can incorporate them into your SEO strategy.
Keywords are all of the possible search engine queries which may be relevant to your business and your customers. These are a pillar of SEO because they are one of the easiest ways to decide what content to create to attract users.
By understanding keywords and key themes, you will know the best words or phrases to use in order to help users find your content and your website. You can find the right keywords to use by creating buyer personas and conducting keyword research.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictitious representation of your ideal customer. In order to conduct proper keyword research, you must first understand your buyer personas.
This will allow you to brainstorm words and phrases that relate to your buyer persona's needs, interests, pain points, concerns, and questions about a topic. This will directly inform your keyword research and thus your content.
You must take into account what types of searches your buyer persona is making and what content they are interested in. Based on that, you can brainstorm a variety of related keywords and themes. Then, you can use a keyword tool to see which words are viable and relevant.
Using tools like SEMRush and Google Keyword Planner, you can analyze different keywords and determine whether they are a good fit for your brand and buyer personas.
To determine what themes and words would work well, pay attention to the following factors when analyzing keywords.
It’s important to note however that when we say keywords, we don’t literally just mean one or two words. In fact, using groups of related keywords will help give your content a better shot at positioning on Google as well as provide more opportunity to answer queries.
Don't concern yourself with mentioning one keyword x amount of times, because search engines do not work like this anymore. Instead, focus on key themes.
After determining what will attract people to your website, you have to actually create that content. This leads us to the second pillar of SEO: Content.
As defined by Joe Pulizzi, content marketing is "a marketing technique for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract and retain the attention of a well-defined target audience, with the aim of driving them to be future customers."
Within an SEO strategy, content marketing is used to attract people to your website. Think of content as bait to attract new potential customers.
Your content will do nothing for your SEO if it is not engaging, valuable, and attention grabbing. There are endless amounts of content formats to choose from. In general, stick with content that is relevant and valuable to your target audience, yet sustainable to produce.
There is different content for different users depending on the stage of the funnel they are in. The best content is that which applies to a user regardless of the phase of the funnel they’re in. This can include:
Good content generally has 6 main characteristics:
It’s easy to read: Use short sentences and paragraphs, clearly organized ideas, and headings for different sections.
It’s original: Never copy content! Google penalizes duplicate content, and they know who the original creator is.
It’s relevant: Your content must always be centered on the buyer persona’s needs, questions, concerns, pain points, etc.
It’s SEO optimized: Include the keyword theme multiple times. But, don't overdo it or become obsessed with how many times it's used. Mention it naturally. Keyword stuffing will get you nowhere.
It includes non-text elements: Include images, infographics, and videos when they can further the value of the content
It’s valuable: Remember to always create content for the user. The more valuable your content, the more people will click on it and the better it will do. Content that is not valuable will ultimately not succeed.
It is important to find a sweet spot between your content and how your optimize it. Content must always provide value to the user, not just advertise your brand, products or services. However, it must use the relevant keywords and themes so your audience can find it.
Content alone does not attract users to your website if it is not well-researched and optimized. Think about how you can create something interesting that has the potential to be shared, while also being easy for Google to understand.
Also, don’t forget to have a bit of fun with your content. It does not always have to be practical. It can be entertaining or emotional as long as it is adapted to the research you’ve done.
Beyond just producing content, maintaining and optimizing your existing content is key. Here are some things to consider when managing your content:
Image source: HubSpot
You’ve done your research and created your content. Now what? The final pillar of an SEO strategy is a Website Optimization.
Website optimization is a broad term that refers to technical SEO and on-page SEO practices that serve to get web pages in the best shape for Google. This includes properly structuring content, using headers, titles, alt text, optimizing for mobile, and taking care of loading times.
A lot of website optimization has to do with on-page SEO. While a big function of on-page seo is content, there are also technical aspects like:
Let’s dive into some of these concepts.
URLs should be easy to read and index by search engines. There are four simple rules for creating good URLs.
When posting written content like a blog article, be aware of how you arrange the title, (H1, H2, etc.), URL, and meta description. Google takes these elements into account when deciding the positioning of a page.
Be sure to organize your written content using the proper headings. An H1 heading should only be used once as your title. The H2s should include your keyword and be used only to organize major themes, while H3s and H4s are for introducing smaller concepts.
For example, below you can see all of the different headings in an article.
It is important to use a variety of keyword themes in each header, when relevant to the section. This is especially important when it comes to rich snippets and it's a great way to instantly boost your content to the top.
Search engine spiders can't "read" images the way a human would. Therefore, you need to help the spider interpret them. In the alt text, describe the image using the keyword of the content. You can simply use the same keyword from the title and meta description.
Also, try to keep images on the smaller size as far as file size goes. Try to only include jpg, png or gif formats. Jpg tends to be the smallest, which will help with loading times.
Because most web traffic comes from mobile searches, you must ensure your website is optimized for mobile use. In fact, Google does not rank websites that are not mobile friendly and indexed as mobile-first.
Ensure your website offers a good user experience for all screen sizes and fast loading times.
A page that takes too long to load results in high bounce rates and alienates visitors. It can also make the SEO positioning of a page worse, as Google will take this into consideration. Audit your site and optimize pages that are slow to load.
This is important for indexing. It can be done manually through Google, but most blogging platforms (like Wordpress or Hubspot) automatically create this. Remember to tell Google Search Console what your sitemap URL is and maintain it to keep it up to date.
There are certainly many more tactics and techniques that are important in the world of SEO. This quick beginners guide serves as an introduction to SEO to help get you off to the right start.