The basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)– Ever heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? It’s a theory of psychology that prioritizes the most fundamental human needs (like air, water, and physical safety) over more advanced needs (like esteem and social belonging). The theory is that you can not achieve the needs at the top without ensuring the more fundamental needs are met first. Love doesn not matter if you do not have food.
As you can see, the foundation of good SEO begins with ensuring crawl accessibility, and moves up from there.
Using this beginner’s guide, we can follow these seven steps to successful SEO:
- Crawl accessibility so engines can read your website
- Compelling content that answers the searcher’s query
- Keyword optimized to attract searchers & engines
- Great user experience including a fast load speed and compelling UX
- Share-worthy content that earns links, citations, and amplification
- Title, URL, & description to draw high CTR in the rankings
- Snippet/schema markup to stand out in SERPs
- We’ll spend time on each of these areas throughout this guide, but we wanted to introduce it here because it offers a look at how we structured the guide as a whole.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)– SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic, as well as exposure to your brand, through non-paid also known as “organic” search engine results.
Despite the acronym, SEO is as much about people as it is about search engines themselves. It’s about understanding what people are searching at online, the answers they are seeking, the words they are using, and the type of content they wish to consume. Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to connect to the people who are searching online for the solutions you offer.
If knowing your audience’s intent is one side of the SEO coin, delivering it in a way search engine crawlers can find and understand is the other. In this guide, expect to learn how to do both.
What’s that word mean?
If you’re having trouble with any of the definitions in this chapter, be sure to open up our SEO glossary for reference!
Check out the SEO glossary
Search engine basics
Search engines are answer machines. They scour billions of pieces of content and evaluate thousands of factors to determine which content is most likely to answer your query.
Search engines do all of this by discovering and cataloguing all available content on the Internet (web pages, PDFs, images, videos, etc.) via a process known as “crawling and indexing,” and then ordering it by how well it matches the query in a process we refer to as “ranking.” We’ll cover crawling, indexing, and ranking in more detail in the next Post
Why SEO is important?
While paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can generate traffic to websites, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines.
Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to savvy searchers, and receive way more clicks than paid advertisements. For example, of all US searches, only ~2.8% of people click on paid advertisements.
In a nutshell: SEO has ~20X more traffic opportunity than PPC on both mobile and desktop.
SEO is also one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay dividends over time. If you provide a solid piece of content that deserves to rank for the right keywords, your traffic can snowball over time, whereas advertising needs continuous funding to send traffic to your site.
Search engines are getting smarter, but they still need our help.
Optimizing your site will help deliver better information to search engines so that your content can be properly indexed and displayed within search results.
Which search results are “organic”?
As we said earlier, organic search results are the ones that are earned through effective SEO, not paid for (i.e. not advertising). These used to be easy to spot – the ads were clearly labeled as such and the remaining results typically took the form of “10 blue links” listed below them. But with the way search has changed, how can we spot organic results today?
Today, search engine results pages — often referred to as “SERPs” — are filled with both more advertising and more dynamic organic results formats (called “SERP features”) than we’ve ever seen before. Some examples of SERP features are featured snippets (or answer boxes), People Also Ask boxes, image carousels, etc. New SERP features continue to emerge, driven largely by what people are seeking.
For example, if you search for “Denver weather,” you’ll see a weather forecast for the city of Denver directly in the SERP instead of a link to a site that might have that forecast. And, if you search for “pizza Denver,” you’ll see a “local pack” result made up of Denver pizza places. Convenient, right?
It’s important to remember that search engines make money from advertising. Their goal is to better solve searcher’s queries (within SERPs), to keep searchers coming back, and to keep them on the SERPs longer.
Some SERP features on Google are organic and can be influenced by SEO. These include featured snippets (a promoted organic result that displays an answer inside a box) and related questions.
It’s worth noting that there are many other search features that, even though they aren’t paid advertising, can’t typically be influenced by SEO. These features often have data acquired from proprietary data sources, such as Wikipedia, WebMD, and IMDb.
Local, national, or international SEO?
Local businesses will often want to rank for local-intent keywords such as “service + near me” or “service + city” in order to capture potential customers searching for products or services in the specific locale area in which they offer them. However, not all businesses operate locally. Many websites do not represent a location-based business, but instead target audiences on a national or even an international level. Be on the lookout for more on the topic of local, national, and international SEO in next
Fulfilling user intent
Instead of violating these guidelines in an attempt to trick search engines into ranking you higher, focus on understanding and fulfilling user intent. When a person searches for something, they have a desired outcome. Whether it’s an answer, concert tickets, or a cat photo, that desired content is their “user intent.”
If a person performs a search for “bands,” is their intent to find musical bands, wedding bands, band saws, or something else?
Your job as an SEO is to quickly provide users with the content they desire in the format in which they desire it.
Common user intent types:
Informational: Searching for information. Example: “What is the best type of laptop for photography?”
Navigational: Searching for a specific website. Example: “Apple”
Transactional: Searching to buy something. Example: “good deals on MacBook Pros”
You can get a glimpse of user intent by Googling your desired keyword(s) and evaluating the current SERP. For example, if there’s a photo carousel, it’s very likely that people searching for that keyword search for photos.
Also evaluate what content your top-ranking competitors are providing that you currently aren’t. How can you provide 10X the value on your website?
Providing relevant, high-quality content on your website will help you rank higher in search results, and more importantly, it will establish credibility and trust with your online audience.
Before you do any of that, you have to first understand your website’s goals to execute a strategic SEO plan.
Know your website/client’s goals
Every website is different, so take the time to really understand a specific site’s business goals. This will not only help you determine which areas of SEO you should focus on, where to track conversions, and how to set benchmarks, but it will also help you create talking points for negotiating SEO projects with clients, bosses, etc.
What will your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) be to measure the return on SEO investment? More simply, what is your barometer to measure the success of your organic search efforts? You’ll want to have it documented, even if it’s this simple:
Here are a few common KPIs to get you started:
Contact form submissions
And if your business has a local component, you’ll want to define KPIs for your Google My Business listings, as well. These might include:
You may have noticed that things like “ranking” and “traffic” weren’t on the KPIs list, and that’s intentional.
“But wait a minute!” You say. “I came here to learn about SEO because I heard it could help me rank and get traffic, and you’re telling me those aren’t important goals?”
Not at all! You’ve heard correctly. SEO can help your website rank higher in search results and consequently drive more traffic to your website, it’s just that ranking and traffic are a means to an end. There’s little use in ranking if no one is clicking through to your site, and there’s little use in increasing your traffic if that traffic isn’t accomplishing a larger business objective.
For example, if you run a lead generation site, would you rather have:
- 1,000 monthly visitors and 3 people fill out a contact form? Or…
- 300 monthly visitors and 40 people fill out a contact form?
- If you’re using SEO to drive traffic to your site for the purpose of conversions, we hope you’d pick the latter!
- Before embarking on SEO, make sure you’ve laid out your business goals, then use SEO to help you accomplish them — not the other way around.
SEO accomplishes so much more than vanity metrics. When done well, it helps real businesses achieve real goals for their success.