Modern consumers navigate the world through search. From laptops, smartphones, virtual assistants, tablets, and more, they search the wild and wondrous internet for the products and services they need. By leveraging the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you can ensure that your business pops up in these all-important search results. This article outlines the concept of how to make improvements that boost your website’s visibility on search engines, attracting the right kind of traffic to the right pages on your site.
Plain and simple, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making improvements on and off your website in order to gain more exposure in search engine results. And more exposure in search engine results will ultimately lead to more visitors finding you for the right reasons. In order to understand what improvements will affect search engine results, let’s take a step back and understand the goal of the search engines themselves. At the heart of it all, search engines are just trying to find and understand all the content out there on the internet, and then quickly deliver relevant and authoritative results based on any phrase the user might be searching for.
First, let’s talk about relevance. When a user searches for something like California hotels, search engines want to show a list of results that are relevant to the topic of California hotels. Search engines will analyze all of the webpages they have ever visited, and pick out the pages that they believe are the most relevant to California hotels.
They determine this by evaluating lots of different factors, including how your content is written and implemented in code, as well as how other websites around the internet are linking to you. And all of this is stuffed into a very big, very complex, and very proprietary index. At the end of the day, and in a fraction of a second, the search engine is then able to use complex algorithms to rank and display all of those webpages in order of relevance to that phrase that the user just typed in, California hotels. This is very important to understand because search engines make a very clear distinction between content that’s about California hotels versus content relevant for other phrases, like California resorts, or a phrase like beach getaway.
Search engines are able to understand quite a bit about semantic and thematic connections between words and concepts. Take another example search query, dog crates. A search engine knows that pages selling dog crates are extremely relevant to that search query. But it also knows that websites about pet carriers are very relevant, too. And it knows that a website promoting things like pet food or dog toys might also be relevant to the search query, but perhaps to a lesser extent.
The other factor that influences search engine exposure is authority. In other words, out there on the largely lawless world wide web, where anyone can post anything, is your website a trusted place on the internet that the search engines would want to show to their users? One very common way that search engines determine the authority of a webpage or a domain is by evaluating what other websites link to you, and this can be measured through not only links out there that are pointing to your website, but also, and this is especially important if you’re a local business or selling a product, reviews and what people are saying about you on the internet, a category collectively referred to as sentiment. You can think of links as a vote on the internet. A webpage linking to your website is almost like saying, hey, I trust your content enough that I’m willing to reference your page and possibly even send my traffic to your site. It’s a vote of trust, and the search engines pick up on this as they scour the web, reading, evaluating, and storing all the data they can find on all the pages of the internet.
But it’s important to know right from the start that this is not just a popularity contest where you try to accumulate the most votes or links on the internet. Search engines have safeguards in place to prevent this kind of abuse, and instead place an emphasis on the quality and relevance of a link. For example, a search engine is more likely to trust a link if it comes from a well-respected or industry-related site, like an industry-leading blog or a non-profit or a government agency involved in your field of work.
If you were the owner of that California hotel, you may have links from travel review sites, local chambers of commerce, or things like local travel bureaus. All that is pretty relevant. A link coming from a one month old site that has nothing to do with you or your industry right above some text that says I’ll link to anything you want for $5 is not going to be valued nearly as much. In fact, that could get your site tossed from the results pages altogether. From the search engine’s perspective, some links are more effective than others in casting their vote to your website and determining your site’s authority. So you might think of this whole system as a weighted democracy, where some votes are worth more than others. Understanding how important both relevance and authority are to a search engine will help us to both understand and improve these factors, and will ultimately lead to better search engine exposure and more visitors to the pages of our websites.
Before we dive into working on getting your website to show up in the search results, it’s important to understand what those search results actually look like. Although there are a lot of search engines around the world, and they all have some distinct differences, there are some common characteristics that their search engine results pages, or SERPs, may have. One thing that we’re probably going to find are some paid listings. Paid listings are very different than the traditional organic or natural listings that we’ll be focusing on for our SEO efforts. These paid listings are actually advertisements, and programs like Google Ads or Microsoft’s Bing Ads, allow advertisers to bid on and place these ads in the search results page.
Search engines are always changing how ads appear in the SERPs, as they try to better their business and please their advertisers. And these changes can have surprising and unpredictable impacts on how organic search performs. But for now, we’ll talk about what a typical SERP looks like. A typical search engine results page will have 10 organic results that link out to different web pages, sometimes referred to as the 10 blue links. Each result might look a little different, but they’ll all have at least a headline, a description, and a visible URL.
It’s important to know what these components look like because we’ll be modifying and optimizing these particular elements that may appear for an individual result. One important thing to point out is that the internet has changed a lot since search engines first appeared. And there’s a lot of content on the web, beyond just text and web pages. Search engines have done a really good job of keeping pace, and while we still view web page results, they also return things like videos, images, news, products, and maps. All of these can appear on a search engine results page. A common way of describing this would be that we now have blended search results, that include all kinds of different content. Sometimes the blended results will have a group of video clips that match a user’s search query.
Or it might show a list of local businesses, accompanied by a map.
It could be a group of images and prices for a particular product that you can buy.
Social results will often feature prominently when you search for a company. And if that company has made the news, chances are there will be a block of recent news items too.
Search results can show up in a variety of different ways, based on what the search engines think is relevant and appropriate to the user’s search query. In some search results, you might see a visual carousel of results.
Others may include enhanced results, like Google’s Knowledge Graph.
These results are generated from a variety of sources, like Wikipedia and review sites, as well as information that you can provide search engines from the code of your pages using schema.
The important thing to remember is that you have a lot of opportunities to have your content show up in the search engine results pages. And the more you understand how search engines decide to show results to users, the more you’ll understand how to get the search engines to show your content above the rest.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process that requires a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of patience. We’ll dive into more about how to do SEO, but before that, it’s important to set some expectations. SEO is a bit different than other marketing strategies and understanding these differences will help you stay sticky for running and measuring a successful SEO campaign. Patience is a virtue and that couldn’t be more true than with SEO. Approach SEO as a long term process that builds long term value. There’s a reason that all of those ranked number one in Google tomorrow scams are called scams.
It takes time to:
with your site.
It’s a never-ending process. There’s always work to be done. SEO is not a one time project. It’s a process that you’ll continue doing for the long haul.
Search engine algorithms frequently change and your SEO work needs to keep up with them. You also want to keep in mind that search engines don’t necessarily interact with your website immediately. It takes them time to discover changes to your content and new links to your pages and to understand the overall structure and performance of your website. It will take them more time to put all those factors into their index to run against their algorithms in order to reassess your quality, relevance, and authority before those changes are reflected in the search results. Being patient and true to a strategy will help you stay focused on the SEO process that we will have laid out.
Another thing to expect with SEO is change within the search engines and the search results pages. It’s important to realize and accept that these things are outside your control. Search engines are always trying to improve their product to help deliver results that people want and they’re always trying new things. Sometimes these changes are algorithmic. Other changes are more about features or different ways of presenting different kinds of content to users in the search results pages. Search engines will keep making changes to enhance the experience for their users. It’s within our best interest to work with these changes as best we can.
But, one of the biggest expectations for a successful SEO campaign is to realize that you’re really optimizing for two audiences, the search engine but also for real human beings. It’s really easy to focus in on what we think a search engine will like about our site, but the real audience that generates business on your website is people. While they may never find us if we don’t show up on a search engine results page, it’s people that drive the bottom line and the fortunate thing is the search engines know that. Search engines have the ultimate goal of generating results that people will find useful and helpful. If you build your authority and create quality content that’s useful and interesting to people and if you do it in a way that’s friendly to the computerized audience as well, the long term and consistent goal of the search engines is to reward that.
If you’re a business, there are some very real and specific benefits to having a consistent, ongoing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. For the first time in the history of marketing, users are offering up their actual intent through the words that they type and speak into search engines. And more than ever before, you can measure the results of your SEO efforts as a marketing channel.
While search engines don’t charge you for listing your web pages, planning and implementing SEO in your organization is certainly not free. You’ll need to spend the time, the money, and the resources to do this the right way. The good news is that this can help you reach a tremendously large audience, attract more targeted visitors, and measure the impact of your efforts in terms of a return on your investment. More and more content appears on the web every second of every day. And your customers need search engines to help make sense of it all.
People search to find answers to their questions, to buy products, to find a place to eat, to book travel, to get news. Just about everything we do online starts with a search. We call the motivation behind a given search intent. And it’s not just done around the family PC anymore. The explosion of connected mobile devices and voice assistants means that we have access to search just about anywhere in the world with just a few keystrokes or voice commands.
What people search for and the words they choose when making their query says a lot about their intent, or what actions they want to take at a specific moment in time. And this has traditionally been the Holy Grail of marketing research. If somebody searches for hiking trails in California or where to buy a digital camera, it’s very easy, as a marketer, to understand what they’re looking for. The role of search engines is to match those user search queries to pages that match that topic. And if you sell cameras, well, what that means to you is that you can create relevant content that meets the needs of the searcher at exactly the right moment.
Good SEO can essentially provide you with a stream of some of the most targeted, intent-driven traffic that you could possibly ask for. But more than that, one of the biggest benefits of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the ability to actually measure your results. You can use your website analytics data to find out exactly how successful you are in acquiring search engine users.
And you can see if those users’ actions are in line with your business goals. You can evaluate the effectiveness of your content in attracting and advancing the user through your sales funnel. And you can measure what they do and what they don’t do on your website and beyond. By attaching real dollars and cents to those actions that began with a simple search, you’ll be able to truly measure return on investment from your SEO channel.