Back to Basics: What Is SEO?

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Ok so I talk about SEO a lot. I talk about why it’s important, how to implement it, blah blah, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what it even is. Other people talk about SEO a lot too- some of them talk about how it’s a scam, or a total rip off, or “dead”. I’m not entirely sure that they understand what SEO is. SEO is search engine optimization. How can optimizing your site for search engines be dead? Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?

WHAT IS SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It’s the process of optimizing (or enhancing) your website to be better understood by search engines. SEO is used for organic search results- so not the paid advertisements you see when you search for something, but all of the other ones. Organic just means that it is not being paid for and that a search engine is ranking it based entirely on the relevance to your search query. So how does Google (or whatever search engine) decide what is relevant? An algorithm based on criteria from a number of on-page and off-page optimization strategies. We’re going to cover some of those for you now!

ON-PAGE OPTIMIZATION FACTORS

On-page optimization is typically where I spent most of my efforts when I am working with a new SEO client- because we have total control over it. You’ve probably heard people say “You don’t need SEO, just write great content” which is totally confusing because writing great content is search engine optimization! The content you are pushing out on your website or blog is the greatest way to utilize SEO. If you’re already producing great content, you’re way ahead of the game- but if search engines can easily crawl your content…it’s not going to be ranked very highly, if at all. These are some of the major ranking criteria when it comes to the content aspect of search engine algorithms:

  1. Quality of your content
  2. Implementing longtail keywords
  3. How current your site is
  4. Does your site contain “vertical content”
  5. Are you answering the question or need of someone?
  6. Is there quantity to your content? The amount of words on your page matters! Search engines don’t like sites that they consider “thin” or don’t have substance to them.

Like I mentioned, having great content is the first step to really amping up your search engine presence, but you also need to keep up with the technical stuff so search engines actually can understand what your content is even about. Some of the major tactics here are pretty easy fixes- so don’t let the work technical scare you. Here’s a few questions to get you started.

  1. Is your site crawlable? To find out if your site is being indexed correctly, you’ll want to make sure you have Webmaster Tools setup and check in the “Google Index” tab to see how many pages they are currently indexing. If it seems lower than the number of pages actually on your site, there is probably an error that needs addressed. I’ll chat more later about how to fix indexing errors, but in the mean time, feel free to reach out via email if you need someone to take a look into it for you.
  2. Are you utilizing redirects correctly to avoid any duplicate content penalties?
  3. Is your site mobile-friendly? As of a pretty recent update, this now goes into how Google ranks websites. Not sure if Google considers your site mobile-friendly? You can run a quick test here: Mobile Friendly Test.
  4. How’s your site speed? If search bots can crawl your site quick enough, you’ll miss out on rankings. You can test your site speed here.
  5. Are you URLs in plain language and utilizing keywords?
  6. Does your site provide a secure connection for users? (Google gives a good overview of exactly how to utilize HTTPS to secure your site)
  7. Is your content structured properly to help rank for specific keywords? This includes optimizing your titles, meta descriptions, headings, and utilizing structured data where applicable.

OFF-PAGE OPTIMIZATION

Off-page SEO is less tactical, and more strategy. This is for the people who are in for the long haul and willing to put in the work to make it possible. Long are the days of buying links in directories and spamming blog posts for back-links. We’ve move into the age of really, really smart search ranking algorithms that can talk when that happens – and they’ll penalize youfast! With that being said, off-page optimization can drive a ton of qualified traffic, boost your search rankings, and position you as an industry leader when done correctly. So how do YOU get to that? Let’s cover the basics first, and then we’ll get to that.

  1. Your backlinks must come from trusted websites to have any real value
  2. Purchased links, too many guest posts (especially for the sake of SEO), and spamming blogs/forums with your link…are all bad. Do not – DO NOT – do that. If you hire an SEO expert that mentions any of these tactics, you’re in the wrong hands and need to seek your help elsewhere.
  3. Your history: the longer your domain has been around helps your ranking (kind of like your credit score)
  4. Bounce rate, page views, length of time on site helps search engines gauge the quality of your content.
  5. Social media matter
    • Social networks are search engines of their own
    • The quality of the people who share your content helps search engines gauge the authority of your site
    • The number of shares your content gets is a ranking factor and show engagement

So how do you optimize this stuff?

  1.  Including graphics with your content helps bounce rate and creating lengthy content that doesn’t bore your readers will increase time on site.
  2. Build relationships with your readers and influencers. I personally LOVE Mariah Coz’sInfluencers Relationship Building Map (or professionally stalking in the least creepy way.)
  3. Reach out to your readers via your email list and get the conversation going!
  4. Invite your readers to share! Adding share links on your site can be super beneficial. If you’re sending regular newsletters, that’s another great place to provide links to share with their network. If you’re providing value, they’ll want to pass it along.
  5. Page speed falls into on-page and off-page in my opinion, because if you’re optimizing your sites speed, people will stay on your site. Up to 70% of bounce rates occur because a site takes too long to load (or at least that’s what Kissmetrics told us)