SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. At its core, SEO is used to ensure a website’s purpose and content are understandable and provide a great experience for both users and search engines. The goal of SEO is to improve a website’s rank on search engine results pages in order to improve business results. SEO is also a branch of both digital marketing and search engine marketing (SEM). A secondary definition of SEO is a person who practices search engine optimization.
How does SEO work?
SEO is complex and constantly evolving because it involves search engine algorithms, which are consistently being updated to provide a better user experience. Each search engine has its own algorithm with many different factors used to determine the ranking on a search engine results page (SERP). Google alone has over 200+ ranking factors. And that’s just one search engine. Ultimately, in order to implement SEO techniques and strategies that are effective, it is important to understand both how search engines work & the different types of intent behind user search queries.
Understanding Search Engines
Search engines are built to answer people’s questions. Each search engine has its own unique set of rules and ranking factors to deliver the best results based on what the user has searched. Originally, when Google first came out, search engines used to match the keywords in the search query to the words in the documents and webpages in its database. The more words that matched, the higher the ranking on the SERP. Today, search engines are smart enough to understand the intent of the query instead of just the words that were typed.
For example, when someone searches bat, how does a search engine know if the user is searching for the animal or for the piece of sporting equipment?
To display the best search results, search engines use algorithms that take into account many different factors in order to decide which results to show on a search engine results page and in what order. At the time of publishing this article (2019), the search engine results page contains many different types of listings. Below is an example of just one variation of a SERP:
In this example, there are 3 different types of organic results that appear. Often, there will also be paid ads on the SERP; however, SEO is not designed to improve the appearance of paid ads. It is used for the organic listing. In the above example, each of the sections in orange is a type of organic listing.
In order to provide these organic results, a search engine must first crawl the web pages and index them. To do that, a search engine must be able to find the web pages. This is where SEO begins. After findability, the purpose of SEO is to help search engines properly categorize a website and then to help search engines decide the reliability, quality, and relevance of the website to promote how often and where in the search results to show the web page.
How search engines decide reliability, quality, and relevance is based on their algorithms. As mentioned, these algorithms can take into account over 200 different factors and the exact factors are kept secret by the search engines to prevent website publishers from gaming the algorithms to get their website to appear first. Search engine usage is built on trust. If anyone could exploit the algorithm and low-quality sites, or websites that were not relevant start appearing in the search results, users would lose trust in the search engine and stop using it as frequently.
Although not all of the search ranking factors are known, we do know that the quality of the user experience is important because of the way search engines are built on trust; therefore, it is important to take into account the intent of a user’s search query to build a relevant experience to match the intent of the search. This is the second piece of SEO strategy, understanding search intent.
Understanding Search Intent
When we talk about search intent, we mean the reason someone is searching. You may also hear the words “zero moment of truth” or “micromoment” used to describe what prompted a user to go on a search engine and type in a search query. This intent can be deduced by the type of search query. Let’s look at a few examples:
- “How do I change my tires?” = Informational
- “Where can I buy winter tires?” = Transactional
- “Goodyear Tires” = Navigational
- “Best Winter Tires” = Commercial Investigation
Each of these searches is related to tires, but the information the user is looking for is different. Therefore, the search results shouldn’t look the same for each of these. As a website owner or publisher, the web pages that best answer these questions should also be different and can serve different business purposes. Being able to create the most relevant content and best user experience based on a user’s search intent is the other portion of SEO. The more relevant the content, the better the user experience, and a better user experience equals better results for your business.
Okay, so now we know what SEO is and how it works, let’s move on to what SEO can do.
How Can SEO Help My Business?
How search engine optimization can help a business depends on the specific goals of the business; however, in general, SEO strategies aim to improve the average position of organic listings on the search engine results page for relevant searches and thus garner more qualified website traffic.
Why is the average position on a search engine results page so important?
While this is slowly changing as more elements are added to the SERP, the majority of clicks go to the top 3 organic listings on the search engine results page. Most users (the numbers range from 70% to 95% depending on the source) do not move past the first page of results. So, if you are not on the first page of results for searches that are relevant to your business, your business is missing out on a highly relevant audience.
But, what can SEO do, besides increase my web traffic?
Besides increasing traffic to your website, SEO can help businesses optimize your website to:
- Promote Brand Awareness
- Increase Lead Generation
- Build a Larger Customer Base
- Increase Customer Engagement
- Drive Conversions
- Improve Conversion Rates
- Reach a More Qualified Audience
- Increase Sales
The underlying goal of SEO is to help your business reach its goals, not to drive traffic to your website. This is why user experience is an important part of SEO. If people are coming to your website, but the experience is not what they were looking for, your business won’t be moving any closer to its goals. When creating an SEO strategy or working with an SEO company or SEO expert, the first place you should start is with your actual business goal. Then from there, you can determine the best way to use your resources to form an SEO strategy that will move your business toward this goal.
What Does SEO Include?
After you’ve defined the goal for your SEO efforts, the next step is strategy. An SEO strategy may involve several different components of SEO, so let’s review what SEO can include.
Keyword research isn’t just about keywords, it includes topics, phrases, and matching the intent of a user’s search query to business objectives. Keyword research entails finding the keywords that are currently delivering the best results and the best return on your investment, as well as new keywords and phrases that have the potential to deliver results for your business. This also means determining those underperforming keywords, phrases, and topics and developing a plan to improve those. A great way to start with keyword research is by signing up for Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Keyword research is usually the best place to start as it will inform how you implement other SEO plans.
This form of SEO involves everything on the actual pages of your website. It means optimizing pages for a better user experience. This can include the design, structure, content, images, number of pages, page creation or removal, titles, and navigation.
Technical SEO involves the way search engines view a webpage and its contents. It covers crawling, indexing, site security, site speed, and functionality among other things.
Link Building (aka Off-Page SEO):
Link building refers to increasing the number of quality websites linking to your website. This is a factor involved in proving your website is trustworthy and has authority. Think of this kind of like PR for your website.
Your content strategy involves not only planning the type of content to create but making sure that it is quality content, relevant to both your target audience and bringing you closer to achieving your business goals.
Local SEO is dedicated to businesses that serve customers within a local area. These can include businesses like restaurants, dentists, grocery stores, and contractors. Because these businesses serve clientele within a specific geographic region, the focus of local SEO techniques is to maximize exposure within the geographic region the business serves.
Can SEO be guaranteed to work?
No. Whether you are following best practices or not, no SEO work can be guaranteed. Why is this? Because search engine algorithms are constantly changing, it’s impossible to say that what works today or what is a best practice today will remain that way in the future. It’s also impossible to know how search engine users and customers will react in the future, how competition will change, and how demand for the products and services you offer today will change in the future. Each of these has an impact on SEO and each is uncertain, this is why SEO results can not be guaranteed.
What Types of Businesses Need SEO?
Although results can’t be guaranteed, using a well-planned SEO strategy and implementing that strategy has the potential to have an incredible impact on any type of business. We’d recommend every business use at least a basic level of SEO to make sure best practices are being followed, and they are maximizing the impact of their online presence with the resources available.
If you’re not convinced, think about this: More than 3.5 billion searches happen on Google every single day. Consumers use search engines to research products & services, find information, and make purchases every day. Given this information, your website can be the best salesperson your business has, working 24/7, 365. When you use SEO, it’s like investing in your best salesperson. Training them, honing their skills, leveling up their expertise, in order to help them make even better and more efficient.
When Should I Stop SEO?
As we mentioned, SEO is constantly changing due to both search engine updates and user behavior and demand; therefore, in order to stay on top of these changes, it’s important to invest in SEO on a regular basis. The level of resources you are putting toward your SEO efforts can certainly vary over time because different seasons and different goals will require different investments. At the very least it’s important to look at your performance metrics on a regular basis and to ensure that you remain up-to-date with best practices, there are no crawl errors, security issues, or manual actions negatively impacting your website, and any new content you add has been properly indexed. How often you check in on your performance can depend on how often your website is updated and the size of your website, but as a general rule, it’s a good idea to do so on a monthly basis.
Now, you might be thinking you don’t have the time, knowledge, or resources to regularly check your website’s SEO. This is where SEO consultants, companies, and other SEO experts can help.
What Do SEO Companies Do?
It is the job of SEOs, and SEO companies, to make sure your website is utilizing SEO best practices, help you reach specific goals on a project basis, manage your ongoing search engine optimization with regular performance analysis, monitor to prevent or correct any errors or negative changes, create content strategies that will impact your goals, advise on how to efficiently allocate resources, perform SEO audits to insure your website is SEO friendly, and more. These tasks can involve portions of search engine optimization that you need assistance with such as an audit or a strategy, or a complete package of SEO services including strategy, implementation, monthly monitoring, regular auditing, performance reporting, content generation, and more. When you hire an SEO company, any services the company is performing should be based on and in line with your business goals.
Have more questions about SEO?
Let us know in the comments below or contact us to find out how search engine optimization can help your business specifically.