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 for online, the answers they are seeking, the words they’re 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.
How does SEO work?
Search engines such as Google and Bing use bots to crawl pages on the web, going from site to site, collecting information about those pages, and putting them in an index. Think of the index like a giant library where a librarian can pull up a book (or a web page) to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at the time.
Next, algorithms analyze pages in the index, taking into account hundreds of ranking factors or signals, to determine the order pages should appear in the search results for a given query. In our library analogy, the librarian has read every single book in the library and can tell you exactly which one will have the answers to your questions.
Our SEO success factors can be considered proxies for aspects of the user experience. It’s how search bots estimate exactly how well a website or web page can give the searcher what they’re searching for.
Unlike paid search ads, you can’t pay search engines to get higher organic search rankings, which means SEO experts have to put in the work. That’s where we come in.
Our Periodic Table of SEO Factors organizes the factors into six main categories and weights each based on its overall importance to SEO. For example, content quality and keyword research are key factors of content optimization, and crawlability and speed are important sites architecture factors.
The newly updated SEO Periodic Table also includes a list of Toxins that detract from SEO best practices. These are shortcuts or tricks that may have been sufficient to guarantee a high ranking back in the day when the engines’ methods were much less sophisticated. And, they might even work for a short time now — at least until you’re caught.
We’ve also got a brand new Niches section that deep-dives into the SEO success factors behind three key niches: Local SEO, News/Publishing, and Ecommerce SEO. While our overall SEO Periodic Table will help you with the best practices, knowing the nuances of SEO for each of these Niches can help you succeed in search results for your small business, recipe blog, and/or online store.
The search algorithms are designed to surface relevant, authoritative pages and provide users with an efficient search experience. Optimizing your site and content with these factors in mind can help your pages rank higher in the search results.
Why is SEO important for marketing?
SEO is a fundamental part of digital marketing because people conduct trillions of searches every year, often with commercial intent to find information about products and services. Search is often the primary source of digital traffic for brands and complements other marketing channels. Greater visibility and ranking higher in search results than your competition can have a material impact on your bottom line.
However, the search results have been evolving over the past few years to give users more direct answers and information that is more likely to keep users on the results page instead of driving them to other websites.
In sum, SEO is the foundation of a holistic marketing ecosystem. When you understand what your website users want, you can then implement that knowledge across your campaigns (paid and organic), across your website, across your social media properties, and more
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.
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.
How do search engines work?
There are three key steps to how most search engines work:
- Crawling – search engines use programs, called spiders, bots or crawlers, to scour the internet. They may do this every few days, so it is possible for content to be out-of-date until they crawl your website again. Googlebot starts out by fetching a few web pages, and then follows the links on those webpages to find new URLs. By hopping along this path of links, the crawler is able to find new content and add it to their index called Caffeine — a massive database of discovered URLs — to later be retrieved when a searcher is seeking information that the content on that URL is a good match for.
- Indexing – the search engine will try to understand and categorise the content on a web page through ‘keywords’. Following SEO best practice will help the search engine understand your content so you can rank for the right search queries. Search engines process and store information they find in an index, a huge database of all the content they’ve discovered and deem good enough to serve up to searchers.
- Ranking – search results are ranked based on a number of factors. These may include keyword density, speed and links. The search engine’s aim is to provide the user with the most relevant result.
Although most search engines will provide tips on how to improve your page ranking, the exact algorithms used are well guarded and change frequently to avoid misuse. But by following search engine optimization (SEO) best practices you can ensure that:
- Search engines can easily crawl your website. You can also prompt them to crawl new content.
- Your content is indexed for the right keywords so it can appear for relevant searches.
- Your content can rank highly on the SERP.
Directory search engines
Some niche search engines operate as directories for specific types of content. This means that they only show results for content that is manually added. They do not crawl the internet. SEO tactics can still be used to rank highly for relevant queries within these directory search engines. See types of search engines.
Rich media search results
Universal or ‘blended’ search is how search engines present different content types in the search results to users. As well as the traditional text page results, the SERP will also show rich media content, such as images, videos, maps, articles, and shopping pages.
Having several different types of content on your website – for example, an instructional video on how to use your product, or a blog – could impact your chances of appearing on results pages and how highly you are ranked.
You can use ‘structured data’ on your website to help search engines understand and display specific types of content. This is a code added to the HTML markup. Using structured data means that information such as review ratings, images, addresses, and phone numbers can appear on the search engine results page. Top 12 Best Search Engines in The World
SEO works by enhancing and optimizing your website and building links to it from other sites. It usually involves editing the text on each page of your site so that search engines understand what it’s about. You can also use SEO to help people find your site more easily by improving the way it performs in different areas such as social media, video hosting sites, and many others.
Google Search Engine Optimization Focus Keyword Your business must be search engine friendly to be found by prospects. At the same time, how do you know that you are “Search-Engine Ready?” You can stop paying expensive search engines for traffic that never converts into customers because of your visibility problems.