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What is SEO?
What Is SEO, How Does It Work & Why Is It Important for Your Website?
Understanding how search engines work is the first step to understanding how SEO can help your website rank higher and get more visitors. Before we go on with what is SEO, we should briefly explain the ranking algorithms used by search engines like Google to crawl and index websites. Don’t be scared – the process is simpler than you could’ve imagined, so you won’t have to actually struggle with understanding the terminology, as we will provide definitions for all unknown terms. Read on our comprehensive introductory guide on SEO, how it works, and how you can benefit from it.
1. Search Engine Optimization: What Is It?
So here is the big question: what is SEO? As part of search engine marketing (SEM), SEO stands for search engine optimization, and is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in search engine’s natural (organic) results. SEO is an extremely complex concept, as it involves using a variety of means, both online and offline, for helping a website rank higher and get more visitors. To better understand what SEO is, we will explain how search engines work below.
1.1. Search Engines – The Heart of SEO
Search engines have two major functions: crawling and building an index, and providing answers/responses by calculating relevancy and serving results. Most search engines use software called “web crawlers” to find publicly available web pages. The web crawlers look at web pages and follow links on those pages, much like we would if we were to browse web content. By going from link to link, the crawlers bring information about those specific web pages back to the search engines’ servers. The information is then gathered, and an index is created, so search engines know exactly how to look things up.
Don’t let the sophisticated explanation above confuse you. Once the index is created, things get much simpler than you could’ve imaged. When Internet users perform searches – even at the most basic level –, search engines’ algorithms look up the search terms in the index to find and display relevant pages. This is probably the aspect that matters the most when it comes to SEO – once you optimize your website, crawlers will index the content, so your pages are more likely to be displayed when Internet users search for relevant terms – but more on that below.
How does it work?
Now that you’ve understand how search engines work, we can go on with our explanation on what SEO is. As stated above, SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in search engine’s organic results. Though search engines will naturally crawl and index websites and web pages, SEO can fasten this process substantially, which might normally take months, or even years. There are dozens of techniques and strategies used to obtain palpable results, and each of them works differently, impacting several aspects that relate to search engines’ crawling and indexing processes. Most SEO techniques fall into several categories, which depend on various factors.
2.1. On-Page and Off-Page SEO
SEO strategies fall into two main categories: on-page and off-page ones. By on-page SEO we refer to optimizing a website within its borders, so to speak. In other words, all strategies are applied directly to the website you are trying to rank higher – content, links, media, and much more. Since search engines will be visiting your website to crawl it and create an index, optimizing it using the right keywords, link structure and media files will help you rank higher in search results. Let’s take a look at three of the most popular on-page SEO strategies.
2.1.1. Keyword Optimization
If you heard about SEO, chances are that you heard about keywords, too. Keywords are basically the search terms used by Internet users to look up information, but they appear in the structure of your website as content, anchor texts, and much more. Optimizing your website for specific keywords is a great opportunity to help algorithms find you faster when specific search terms are being used. For the articles and posts you publish on your website, the optimal keyword density would be 0.5 – 0.7 percent per 150 words. Depending on how lengthy your keywords are, this could mean one, two or even three occurrences within 150 words. Once you optimize your content for specific keywords, they must – we repeat: must – look perfectly naturally, just like if you didn’t plan to put them there on purpose, and they came naturally to you.
You also need to keep an eye on the keyword proximity, which refers to the distance between search terms’ individual keywords when you’re integrating them in the content; the shortest this distance is, the more relevant the search term will be. For example, you’ll get better chances to rank your website higher if you optimize your content for “professional pet groomer Atlanta” rather than “your professional, highly-experienced pet groomer in the area of Cape Town.”
2.1.2. Content Marketing
Content is king, especially since search engines are now more oriented towards those websites that can provide value to readers and help them find relevant information for their queries. To get a better ranking in search engines’ organic search results, you must publish only content of a superior quality, which has proper formatting and structure, integrates keywords, and can answer Internet users’ questions. The content needs to be very much related to its headline, and it should use a friendly, yet professional tone that will keep it flowing easily, so everyone – from the most to the least experienced user – can understand what is being said. To make your SEO strategy efficient, your content must be original and not plagiarized, otherwise you risk getting penalized by Google’s duplicate content penalty.
2.1.3. Responsive Design
Though many webmasters don’t think about it, the design of a website is extremely important when it comes to an efficient SEO strategy. As its name suggests, a responsive design can “respond” to several types of devices, and not only to desktops, whether we talk about PCs or laptops. A responsive design can adjust itself to the screen of the device it is accessed from, which will keep the infrastructure of the website as is, without possibly changing the placement of links, images or other elements on the web pages. If your design is not responsive, but is accessed from a mobile device, the website is going to have an unintuitive interface, and users will have troubles attempting to navigate on it.
Contrary to on-page SEO strategies, off-page ones are performed outside of the borders of your website, so no more content marketing or keyword optimization. The best two examples of off-page SEO strategies are social media marketing and backlinking. While the first – social media marketing – revolves around proactively publishing and sharing helpful content on your social network profiles, following others, and engaging your targeted audience, the second one – backlinking – refers to having several links on other websites that point to yours. By combining both on-page and off-page SEO, you will manage to make your website more visible for search engines, as well as people who are not already part of your targeted audience.
3. White Hat SEO versus Black Hat SEO
Though there are countless SEO strategies you can choose from, only some of them are approved by search engines as part of a good design. These are called white hat SEO strategies, and they refer only to those techniques that are ethical, without tricking search engines or Internet users to increase visitors and generate traffic. Some of the most popular white hat SEO strategies include quality content, design responsiveness, metadata optimization, and social media marketing. Used correctly, these techniques can help your website rank higher, especially since they are all important factors used by search engines’ complex algorithms to crawl, index and attribute a position to your website.
The other SEO methodology is called black hat SEO. As its name suggests, black hat SEO refers to those strategies that are not approved by search engines and that aim to affect the visibility of a website through deception. In other words, black hat SEO strategies are not ethical, and they can be seriously penalized if discovered by search engines. The most popular black hat SEO strategies are keyword stuffing, paid links, comment box spam, and content spinning. In most cases, these strategies are used either by webmasters who do not understand how SEO works, or by webmasters who want to boost sales unethically. But trust us, though putting keywords all over your pages and paying links on authority websites might seem very tempting, you’ll end up totally unsatisfied given that search engines are very likely to discover this, decreasing your ranking or even banning your website, with no hopes of recovery in the future.
How will it help you?
Now that you have understand all sides of search engine optimization, one question you might want to ask is how will it help you after all? There are several benefits of implementing a correct, ethical and comprehensive SEO strategy for your website – and we’re going to list them below.
4.1. Increased Traffic
Search engine optimization will affect the visibility of your website in search engines’ organic results, helping you rank higher than your competitors and, consequently, become more visible to those Internet users that look up the information or products you are providing. Assuming that you made sure to use only ethical and highly-efficient SEO strategies for obtaining results, search engines will eventually attribute a better rank to your website, positioning you on the first page of the search results queue. Considering that most web surfers will not go further than page two, this is going to boost your traffic and help you get more visitors than before.
4.2. Brand Awareness
It is common for new starters to want to increase brand awareness and spread the word about their businesses. By optimizing your website using efficient SEO strategies, web surfers will find you faster, getting to know you and your services better. It’s enough to remember your website’s name or address, and they’ll immediately know to associate a logo, name of specific product to your company’s. Once they get familiarized with your website and what it’s offering, he will likely access your website by directly typing its URL address in his web browser instead of looking it up on Google, thereby increasing brand awareness exponentially.
4.3. Permanent Results
With time, websites appear and disappear, while others get ranked higher depending on the strategies they approach. Once you implement a correct SEO strategy, your website will be ranked higher, which is virtually irreversible – in other words, there is no chance that your website will be downgraded at any time in the future, unless you use black hat SEO strategies and search engines discover that. Your website will naturally generate more traffic and revenue over time, which will result in search engines ranking you even higher. Though you will end up allocating, let’s say, $5,000 per year to an efficient SEO strategy, this, in turn, will bring you profits that might go above $20,000 – $30,000.
4.4. Cost Effectiveness
SEO is currently one of the most cost-efficient Internet marketing strategies available to business and website owners, because it targets those people who are proactively using the Internet to find and share information. Unlike regular advertising campaigns (such as flyers or TV ads), SEO is also significantly cheaper, which means that you can end up paying small amounts of money while getting wonderful results in turn. Considering that many web surfers are searching specifically for products and services like yours, you will end up making a huge profit a short time after implementing these optimization strategies.
With this, our in-depth SEO guide concludes. You must keep in mind that search engine optimization constitutes the only way to improve your website’s ranking and get more visitors. By implementing a correct and highly-efficient SEO strategy, you will automatically increase the likeliness that search engines will attribute your website a much better position sooner than you could’ve expected. If you are new to SEO and don’t know where to start, we can assist you in making your website shine and rank higher than your competitors right from the next Google PageRank update. Our SEO experts are continually researching strategies and trends that change regularly, so we can build an efficient optimization plan to fit your needs precisely.