What is SEO?

seo basics

A whopping 75% of users don’t scroll past the first page of search results. If your SEO strategy isn’t on point, you’re most likely missing out on a significant amount of traffic.

Plus, for small businesses with limited budgets, organic traffic makes a world of difference, especially when competing against bigger names in their industries.

Before we discuss how SEO works, let’s go over the basics:

What is SEO?

All major search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing have primary search results where content on the internet is shown and ranked based on the its relevance to the user’s queries.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process for driving traffic to your website through organic search engine results. This is done by optimizing your site’s web content in a way that it’s readily discovered by the search engine’s organic results and ranks high on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

With a special cocktail of keywords, technical indicators and website code, you can practically tell the search engines which phrases and keywords your site should rank for—provided it has relevant content that your target audience is looking for.

The benefit is obvious: free traffic to your business.

You no longer need to push out advertisements or persuade people to buy your products/services. Consumers that come through search traffic are already interested in what you have to offer. Therefore, it is not surprising that 61% website owners claim that ‘improving organic presence’ is their top marketing priority.

The question is, how do you optimize for SEO?

To answer that, we’ll first discuss how search engines work.

How Search Engines Work

From a user’s standpoint, search engines are nothing short of a modern-day miracle. When you type a query in the search box, an algorithm works in real-time to scan the index of hundreds of billions of pages to find matching results and then ranks them by relevance in a fraction of a second.

It took 0.85 seconds to find 456 million results

In fact, Google has started to answer queries directly in the search results—saving us both time and clicks.

luckily we didn’t break the internet by Googling Google

The reason why Google works so well depends on three things:

Firstly, Google’s algorithm crawls and re-crawls all the available web content at a grand scale. This allows it to build and maintain one of the largest indexed libraries on the planet.

Secondly, Google has heavily invested in language models that allow it to understand the meaning behind even the vaguest and obscure queries.

For example, if you misspell ‘car insrence,’ Google knows you meant ‘car insurance.’

I once Googled flamin yong and found out the real spelling was filet mignon

Keeping up with the evolution in the field of deep learning, Google recently rolled a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training, called BERT.

BERT helps Google better understand the content and nuances of words in searches and match those queries with relevant results. Google said that BERT is also being globally used on featured snippets.

Featured snippets are standout bits of text that appear at the first position in particular search results (also called ‘Position 0’).

Thirdly, and most importantly, Google’s ranking algorithm returns the most relevant results.

How does Google determine the ‘best answer,’ you ask?

While the inner workings of Google’s algorithm aren’t made public, we do have clues, directly from Google, on how websites and web pages are ranked in search results.

Factors That Affect Rankings and Search Engine Visibility

Google has nearly 200 factors that affect websites’ ranking.

Let’s discuss a few of them here:

Mobile Friendliness

As of the third quarter of 2019, 64% of Google searches come from mobile devices, and this number is only growing. Having said that, it’s doesn’t come as a surprise that Google shifted to ‘mobile-first’ indexing in 2018; this means that Google’s algorithm now uses your site’s mobile version for indexing and ranking.It does this by using Googlebotto crawl your website as a mobile user.

According to Adobe, 8 in 10 customers are likely to stop engaging with sites that don’t display well on their devices. In other words, users are likely to hit the back button if a desktop version loads on a phone.

This also puts special emphasis on your site’s responsive design and mobile-oriented structure. After all, 51.51% of the total web traffic is generated by mobile devices.

If the Googlebot finds your site extremely slow or hostile to mobile users, you might take a hit in SERPs!

Let’s look at Google’s advice for webmasters that have both mobile and desktop websites:

  • Both versions of the site should have crawlable and indexable formats. This also goes for photos, videos and text.
  • Web content on both versions should use similar meta descriptions and titles.

Relevancy

While Google works on returning search results that users expect to see, your job is to find keywords that your target audience will likely use—and then rank for those keywords.

There are tons of tools on the internet that can help you find out what consumers typically write in the search box when looking for businesses similar to yours. RankGenie is an example of one such rank checker tool that helps you identify keywords that drive focused traffic.

What’s more, website owners need to ensure that their web page aligns with the keywords’ search intent.

Let’s look at an example to better demonstrate search intent and the importance of relevance: Here are some Google search results for the query ‘air fryer’:

Now, compare them with the results for ‘air fryer recipes’:

You can see that despite the similarities between the two queries, Google displays completely different search results. It shows product listings for the query ‘air fryer’ and recipe listings for ‘air fryer recipe.’

This means that Google interprets the motive behind the query and displays results accordingly.

How Do You Optimize For This?

Go through the top-ranking pages for your chosen keywords and identify these 3 Cs:

Content Format: Does Google rank how-to guides, list-style articles, opinion pieces or tutorials? (This mainly applies to informational topics).

Content Type: Are the high-ranking results blogs posts, product pages, landing pages or category pages?

For example, in the above example, the keyword ‘air fryer’ ranks mainly for product pages.

Content Angle: Do you see a common unique selling point or theme across the top-ranking pages? This will give you an insight into what consumers are usually looking for and what might be important to search engines.

How to Optimize For Search Engines

Needless to say, a website without an effective SEO strategy can’t keep up in the digital marketplace.

Follow this 4-step strategy if you want to set your business up for success in terms of SEO:

Step 1:  Conduct Thorough Keyword Research

An impactful SEO strategy always starts with keyword and user intent research. With an understanding of what queries your audience is using, you can design a strategy that answers their specific questions and helps them move through the sales funnel.

Here are some factors you need to take into account when conducting a keyword research:

Search Volume

Find out how many people are actually searching for the keyword you’ve chosen. The bigger the audience for a particular keyword, the more chances you have to reach your potential audience.

Relevance

As discussed earlier, relevance is one of the top ranking factors in search engines, so make sure you focus on keyword relevance.

Keep in mind that even if a term is frequently searched for, it doesn’t necessarily make it relevant to your audience.

Competition

While keywords with high search volume drive significant amounts of traffic, it’s likely that big businesses and enterprises with high domain authority will be vying to secure top rankings for those keywords.

In this case, small businesses and startups can make use of long-tail keywords that helps them reach out to a smaller—but more specific—audience.

Online keywords finder tools like RankGenie can help you find keywords that are most likely your target audience’s go-to search terms. Moreover, the tool gives you complete control over how you optimize keywords throughout your site; from uploading keywords in bulk to optimizing web pages by campaign, platform and location.

Rank Genie's Keyword Rank Tracker

Step 2: Produce Value-Rich Content

It goes without saying that content is the key to increasing your brand’s visibility, and knowing what content to create holds critical importance.

Your aim should be to focus on the quality of the content rather than the quantity. A well-researched and creative piece has far more impact than 10 smaller pieces.

According to the Google Search Quality Ratings Guidelines, Google looks at something called the E-A-T guidelines when ranking for quality content.

E-A-T stands for:

  • Expertise;
  • Authoritativeness;
  • Trust

In a nutshell, if the content you publish on your website has the above mentioned characteristics, only then will Google characterize it as high-quality content.

  • Expert content not only meets your audience’s expectations, but also demonstrates a balance between comprehensive information that is easy-to-understand.
  • Google looks for links from relevant and authoritative websites in your content to gauge its level of authority. Moreover, content that is shared widely across social media is also a sign of growing authority.
  • Google only ranks trustworthy sites. So, negative sentiments surrounding your brand can really tank your rankings on search engines!

Step 3: Optimize For On-Page SEO

Remember: targeting the most profitable keywords with high-quality content won’t make a difference if your web pages aren’t optimized for search engines.

This means making sure your website offers top-of-the-line user experience (UX) with well-structured and readable content.

On-page SEO focuses on:

1. Using Short, Descriptive URLs

Your site’s web address tells search engines what your business is about.

Here’s Google’s advice on effective URLs:

Your site’s URL stricture should ideally be as simple as possible. Organizing your content will allow your URLs to be structured logically—in a form that’s most intelligible for humans.

In other words, go for:

domain.com/seo-guide

…rather than:

domain.com/95602_8656.asp

Another benefit of using descriptive URLs is that they give you the opportunity to include your target keywords (or at least a part of it) in the URL itself.

2. Creating Gripping Meta Titles and Description

Search engines use your web pages’ meta title and description to build up search results.

Meta title in blue, meta url in green, meta description in black

Meta title gives you the opportunity to write a headline which:

  • Is compelling enough to entice the searchers to click and visit your site
  • Includes keywords you want the web page to rank for

Moreover, Meta descriptions affect your site’s click-through rate, consequently affecting the amount of traffic you get from search.

3. Improving Page Speed

Google has one goal: To deliver optimal user experiences. It even considers page speed as a ranking factor for mobile.

So, if your web pages take ages to load, it’s likely your slow-loading pages are the reason behind your low ranking on search engines. After all, people don’t want to wait around for information they’re looking for, especially when there’s a ton of it online.

Step 4: Build Backlinks from Authoritative Sites

Backlinks, also called inbound links, are created when one website links to another.

Backlinks are particularly valuable for SEO practices because they represent a ‘vote of confidence’ from one website to another. In essence, they signal search engines that other content creators vouch for your content.

Therefore, if many sites link to the same webpage, search engines interpret it as content worth linking to, consequently ranking it high on SERPs.

In fact, Google admits that quality backlinks are one of the top three ranking factors!

Earning backlinks—called link building—can give your brand a boost. Just remember: always aim for backlinks from popular, trustworthy and high-authority sites.

Final Thoughts

A well-thought-out SEO strategy can take your online business to new heights, but remember: SEO is a long-term, ever-evolving strategy that requires you to be consistent with your efforts.

You may not see results right away; rankings take time to build, especially considering the plethora of content available online. So, you have to work hard to establish credibility, build quality content and attract authoritative backlinks.

Moreover, with the right SEO tools, you personalize the whole process and even automate it.

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