December 15, 2020
15 min read
Search optimization or search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
SEO optimization is dependent on many factors. Some that your website can control and others that it cannot, such as the Google search algorithm.
A standard operating SEO definition would be selecting techniques that should increase organic search traffic.
Increasing the SEO search engine ranking of your site depends on many different factors such as user experience, copy, meta-tags, and links, which can be challenging to manage alone.
We will cover these elements extensively in later sections. For now, it is important to settle a basic SEO, meaning that even a complete beginner can understand.
SEO is the practice of improving your web pages’ performance in relation to search results, organic search traffic, and quality of search intent.
SEO is not a specific term but rather refers to a whole umbrella of processes that help to ensure that your web pages are as friendly to search engine result algorithms as possible.
Take this basic example of how SEO works to increase organic traffic and drive new users to your website’s content.
Your company has a website selling pet food. Naturally, you will want your website to appear at the top of the search results page when people type “pet food” into their chosen search engine.
If your company were to pay to advertise against the word “pet food,” it would be costly because of the sheer amount of competition.
As such, rather than looking to corner the paid traffic route, your company can utilize SEO to increase organic traffic and create what is known as authority.
Put simply, authority is the level to which a search engine “trusts” your website.
The better your authority, the higher your website will rank with the search engine’s search results, and in turn, the higher your traffic will be.
To do this effectively, take your website and analyze SEO metrics for improvement.
For example, if you see an opportunity to corner a local market such as “organic pet food in California,” it would be worth creating content on that theme.
In that example, your company would be engaging in what is called “local SEO.” It is an example of just one of the many different ways that SEO works.
SEO analysis will increase your organic traffic and rank your website higher in the search engine results.
Now that we know what SEO (search engine optimization) is, it is time to start looking at the details of how SEO works.
SEO can be tricky, so we will cover SEO fundamentals in a clear, concise, and structured way in this section. Also, the principles that govern search engines such as Google.
SEO works because it is a process loaded to be as friendly as possible to the way that search engines themselves work.
For Google to find a web page, it must be indexed. Search engines are like giant library catalogs.
Imagine that Google tags every web page with a phrase; your search query needs to be able to pull it out of the stack.
SEO is about making your page easier to find than everyone else’s.
According to Google themselves, their search algorithm uses several factors to decide how it ranks results.
These factors include your query’s words, relevance, the usability of pages, the expertise of sources, and your location and settings.
Of course, each of these factors is given different weight by Google, and it is not known which factors are most important.
However, we do know that keeping content fresh is important when answering search queries.
Catering to the algorithm is the name of the game. And since Google has a 93% market share when it comes to search engines, it makes sense to optimize your site content for Google.
Before we get into all the SEO ranking factors available to you, let’s first start with an overview of the three most important elements that will drive users to your site.
Links from other websites are the number one thing Google is looking for when it comes to search ranking.
When your site has several backlinks from popular websites, Google understands this as a vote of confidence.
High-quality websites that get a lot of traffic would be unlikely to link to your website if it wasn’t also a good source.
When we talked about “authority” in the previous sections, we were referring to this.
Authority is a measure of how popular and trustworthy your site is. Links from other authoritative sites are the best way to grow your authority (or PageRank.)
Other than links, your site should be focused on creating fresh and relevant content.
Search engines analyze content to decide if your site matches up to a search query or not.
One way to ensure that Google recognizes your content as relevant is to include keywords.
Keywords are words that receive a high volume of user searches. For example, in this article about SEO, words like search engine, organic traffic, optimization, search results would all be keywords.
SEO keyword research is important for optimizing your content, and we will cover how to do keyword research in a later section.
Finally, the third pillar of SEO is page structure.
Your site and all sites are written in a coding language known as HTML.
Google can read that HTML to see if it is well structured. Essentially, Google is checking the code to see if your website is well made or not.
If your site is well made, Google is more likely to rank it higher.
To help Google recognize a good page structure, your site should include keywords in the title, URL, and page headers.
This process is called “crawlability,” and it is about making sure that Google can understand what your site is about right off the bat.
With that in mind, let’s get a little bit more precise about the various SEO ranking factors that Google considers to be important.
These factors are continually changing, and SEO experts are always updating their techniques to stay updated with the latest variations in the algorithm. Google uses over 200 different ranking factors in its algorithm split into these categories:
Let’s look at a few more specific cases in detail.
Your site’s security would fall under the category of “site-level factors” in general, Google is looking at whether your website is HTTP or HTTPS.
HTTP is the string of characters that comes before www. In this case, the ‘S’ stands for security.
Modern websites ought to be secured with an SSL certificate. In practice, this means that your website is encrypted and user data cannot be stolen.
Google actively ranks encrypted websites ahead of unencrypted ones.
You may have noticed a banner pop-up when you try to visit a website that Google considers to be insecure.
Not only will Google not rank your website, but it will also actively discourage users from visiting it.
Cell phones and mobile devices account for over 50% of all web traffic in 2020, and that number is only likely to increase.
Google follows the trend and has made mobile-friendliness one of its most important ranking factors by creating something called the “mobile-first index.”
Essentially, this is an index of websites with a mobile-first design.
If your desktop site and mobile site are reasonably similar, you don’t need to worry. This is a sign that your site is well adjusted for mobile traffic.
You can optimize your site for the mobile-first index by ensuring that all of your content is available on the mobile version, features reliable internal linking to other pages of your site, and is fast on mobile.
HTML tags, also known as “schemas,” are essential to ensure that Google can effectively crawl your website.
This process is nothing new and has been important for SEO for a long time.
Schemas are a way of embedding important information about your website structure in the code or “markup” of your website.
Ensure that the content of your website is useful for the user. Focusing too much on the search engine will lessen the authority of your website.
This is because, in the past, Google placed too much emphasis on keywords and linking.
The result was webpages stuffed with keywords and useless links that went nowhere, to combat that trend and increase the user experience.
Google started to place a higher emphasis on the quality of the content on a site.
Your website needs to be able to load in less than three seconds.
If your website doesn’t, then the statistics show that most users will abandon their visit to your site.
Google is aware of these abandonments, and if it continues to recognize high abandonment rates on your site, it will rank your site lower.
In contrast, increased page speed will result in a better search ranking.
Backlinks are links to your site from another site. It is how Google judges the trustworthiness of your site.
Backlinks are important, but your site must acquire quality backlinks.
If your website is stuffed with backlinks from spammy websites, then Google will rank your site lower.
We all know that it is good practice to have high-quality images on your website to complement the content. Yet, fewer people know that taking care of your images can increase traffic.
Google knows that users like visiting websites with high-quality imagery, but Google, as a search engine, can’t actually “see” the image itself. To determine if the images on your site are up to scratch, it focuses on the title-tag, file name, alt-tag, and caption of the images on your site as these things are visible in the source code.
Ensure that these are clearly labeled and refer to what is in the image, and Google will reward you.
User experience is an essential SEO. Google has always emphasized UX, and that is how it achieved such a high market share.
If you want to have a good UX, you should ensure that your website has good content and is well designed and easily navigable. You should avoid keyword stuffing, pop-ups, unnecessary advertisements, and other elements that would make your website unenjoyable to use.
Now that we know about the main factors to consider when thinking about SEO, it is time to consider doing some search engine optimization yourself.
First and foremost, your website should start by fixing any pre-existing technical issues before we move on to implementing new search engine optimization strategies.
Start by using a tool such as Site Audit to check for basic technical issues.
After that, start going through your content and making sure that it is of high quality. Reduce image sizes to ensure fast loading times. Check URLs are appropriate and functioning.
Make sure that your internal links go to appropriate pages, that your site is mobile-friendly, and features an SSL certificate.
A sitemap is a list of all the web pages on your site. Google uses sitemaps to understand how a website is put together.
From there, it will judge the usability of your website (if you install plug-ins such as Yoast SEO, this will be done automatically for you.)
Keywords are the bread and butter of search engines.
If you want people to find your website, you need to think about what they type when they search and make sure your content aligns with that search.
When researching keywords, you need to think about how difficult it will be to rank for that keyword, how much traffic that keyword receives, whether the keyword will turn visitors into customers, and what kind of content best fits the keyword.
That is because they are not optimized for keywords. Use Google’s keyword planner to find out what people are searching for and how many people are searching for it.
Once you have established your keywords, you will need to cut them down to fit them into your content.
Look for keywords with a high search volume, trending, receive an increased number of clicks, and have a low difficulty rating.
You will be able to see all these metrics on Google’s keyword planner.
Now that we have a well-defined keyword list, it is time to create content optimized around those keywords.
Start by creating content that matches search intent. Your content should directly answer the phrase that users search into Google.
There is a reason that listicles have exploded recently, and that is because they are suitable for SEO.
Listicles are good for SEO because they provide a lot of information while being easy to digest. Google understands this as useful, engaging content, and, as such, will rank it higher.
Once you have written your blog posts, you need to start thinking about how the post will display on a search engine.
To do this, you need to edit something called a title-tag and a meta-tag. A title tag is a page title, as shown on Google. The meta tag is the snippet underneath that provides context.
Ensure that your title and meta tags are short and catchy, and feature your article’s focus keyword.
Use a title tag tool such as SERPsim to ensure that your descriptions are within Google’s limit. If your description cuts off mid-sentence, people are less likely to click.
These days, link building is tough to implement, but it is still a successful strategy.
Link building has become much more challenging because previously, people would spam their websites with low-quality links to rise up the search engine rankings.
It negatively impacted Google’s UX as the search engine was promoting low-quality sites. As such, link building today requires more thought.
Your site should have backlinks from pages with good authority. One way to do that is to encourage guest blog posts from leaders in your field.
These blog posts will link back to their websites, and search engines will reward your page with a better rank.
Create an outreach strategy to contact bloggers and experts that can help you. Write a professional pitch, and many bloggers will be happy to get on board.
Next, scour your existing pages and fix any broken links that you find. If the link is not broken but follows-out to old or out-of-date pages, consider replacing that link with fresh content.
You should also include plentiful internal links to your website. Internal linking will show Google that your website is full of relevant content and is easily navigable.
Once everything is linked up, it is time to promote your content to help drive organic growth over time.
Promoting your content is a great way to ensure that your website grows and attracts more links organically, thus improving its SEO.
Your website can do this by creating shareable elements such as infographics. Infographics combine the ease of visual imagery with the nitty-gritty information we need, and they are tried and true sharable elements
The same goes for video. Consider investing time to promote organic growth without having to reach out to external sources for link building.
While SEO for eCommerce businesses shares many traits with SEO for regular websites, some points are of particular importance to eCommerce that we will cover in this final section.
When it comes to eCommerce, your website should focus its keyword attention on those that will benefit your product and category pages.
Most keywords are informational; think about “how to” searches. In eCommerce, your keywords should focus on product searches.
Rather than ranking for “How to build a table,” your eCommerce website would want to rank for something like “best oak tables” or “wood polish for furniture.”
One easy way to check how customers are searching is to use Amazon. Simply type into the Amazon search bar the product you want to sell, and it will suggest the most popular searches related to your product.
These are the keywords that your website will need to rank for in an eCommerce setting.
Website architecture is especially important for eCommerce because eCommerce sites tend to have many more pages than the standard website due to the number of product pages.
FAQs, contact information pages, and reviews also contribute to the high number of pages that an eCommerce website needs to succeed.
Since we know that user experience is important for SEO generally, it is clear that it will be doubly important when your site has ten times the number of pages as a regular website.
In general, the best techniques are to keep things as simple as possible and to ensure that you can access any page on your website within just a few clicks from your homepage. Having a long and convoluted path to a page is a surefire way to lower your SEO rating.
Again, having a website that runs smoothly is great for SEO across the board. Still, it is doubly so for eCommerce websites because most eCommerce websites will not feature many backlinks from industry leaders.
That means your website has to double down on its technical performance to get the most out of your SEO efforts.
The more pages a website has the more chances for a technical problem to crop up.
Conduct regular SEO site audits using SEO eCommerce tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs, or Deepcrawl to ensure that your website is running smoothly and get your eCommerce site to that coveted number one spot.