What Is SEO, Anyway?
In 360 PSG's previous article, "Six Reasons Your Business Needs an SEO Strategy", we took a look at how important search engine optimization (SEO) is for your business, in terms of gaining customers and maintaining a competitive advantage. However, what exactly is SEO, and how do internet marketers and businesses use it every day? If you're seeking to improve the ranking of your website and the amount of traffic going there, the importance of understanding how search engine optimization works cannot be overstated.
Search Engine Optimization in a Nutshell
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a marketing process by which a website uses various techniques and methods to improve its visibility within a search engine's results. However, the difference is that SEO only affects the unpaid or "organic" results, and seeks to improve a website's ranking relative to the order of results displayed on the page. This is in contrast to other internet marketing methods such as pay-per-click (PPC), in which websites bid for a designated advertising space on a publisher website and pay the publisher every time their ad is clicked.
SEO marketers recognize the immense value of search engines because they remain the primary method of finding websites and can bring in specifically-targeted traffic to your website. According to Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO, "Targeted traffic to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing. Investing in SEO can have an exceptional rate of return compared to other types of marketing and promotion." When a person searches for something in a search engine, they are looking for specific information, and if your website is the most visible and relevant result to their needs, they will be more inclined to click the link. SEO strategies and methods aim to improve that visibility.
How Do Search Engines Work?
Search engines use automated programs called web crawlers (also called "spiders") to find pages and follow links, storing the information on the pages they visit in massive databases. This process of archiving information on web pages is called indexing, because pages are organized into an index based on keywords relevant to each page's content. Indexing web pages allows search engines to quickly provide the most updated links to relevant pages for users who type in a search query into the search engine. To determine which results to show for a particular search query, search engines use proprietary algorithms to first find all pages that are organized by keywords relevant to the search query and then rank them based on relevance and popularity.
Web crawlers don't read a website in the same way a human does, since they only read through the HTML text of a page. For instance, unless you write something in an image's "alt" attribute in the HTML of your site describing what is in the image, a web crawler will simply ignore it. Similar strategies apply to other forms of non-text content as well, such as videos, audio, search boxes, and Flash or Java plug-ins. Balancing the readability of your website for both people and web crawlers should be a key part of your SEO strategy.
What Are The Most Important Factors SEO Marketers Consider?
Google and Bing both provide guidelines for search engine optimization that avoid "black hat" methods such as keyword stuffing that can actually harm the rankings, traffic, and user experience of your website. These guidelines emphasize the three most important aspects of a website that SEO marketers take into account when constructing a campaign: content, backlinks, and keywords.
Content: Content is king when it comes to search engine optimization. Determining whether or not a website has good content is one of the most important parts of a search engine's ranking algorithm, because search engines want to avoid spammy or misleading pages and deliver the most accurate and relevant results to users. Regardless of the "latest" internet marketing trends, in SEO terms you can be absolutely certain that if your web pages have high-quality, relevant, and readable content, search engines will rank them higher.
Backlinks: Along with content, backlinks are the primary way that search engines determine a website's popularity. A backlink to your site is when another website provides a link to your site, and a good SEO campaign aims to get trusted websites backlinking to yours to demonstrate its credibility to search engines. Various ways of accomplishing this include creating blog posts that can be shared or getting past customers to host your logo on their site that links back to you. Ultimately you want backlinks to develop organically, as trying to manipulate or spam backlinks on other sites can actually penalize your website and lower its ranking.
Keywords: Keywords help target your content to relevant users. Search engines will prioritize your content for search queries that are the closest match to the content on your page. If you can optimize a webpage for specific keywords and keyphrases you know your target customers will be searching for, then your page will be more likely to match those targeted search queries and rank higher for them. This does not mean stuffing the page with your target keywords over and over, as this can harm your content's credibility with search engines, but rather carefully using the keywords in the context of both the web page's content and HTML markup.
What Are Some Commonly Employed SEO Strategies?
To improve the content, backlinks, and keyword optimization of your website, a good SEO strategy plan starts with keyword research. This is typically done using web analytics tools such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner to determine the volume of searches for a given keyword or keyphrase, as well as the relative difficulty of ranking for those searches. Your strategy should target the keywords you believe are relevant to your business, but research can reveal new keywords and data from your potential customers' searches that you may not have considered before.
Another key strategy is to supplement content with properly optimized HTML text. Various HTML elements can be altered to target certain keywords to improve a page's ranking. However, these elements are still subject to the algorithms of search engines and must avoid being too long or stuffed with keywords if you don't want to lose the rankings of your web pages. When done properly, taking the time to adjust these elements can signal web crawlers to index your site in favor of your targeted search queries.
All of these techniques are well and good, but it is important to keep in mind that they work best in the context of the principles of good search engine optimization. A good understanding of SEO will enable you to adapt to new circumstances and market conditions that could affect your business or the nature of internet marketing in general.
360 PSG is here to provide the expertise and resources needed to help you build your SEO strategy. We will work with you to improve your rankings, traffic, branding, and conversion of site visitors into customers. Contact us today and we can help get you started.