Search engine optimization (SEO)
What is SEO? | Hectic freelance glossaryIf you’ve been in the business world for a while now, you’ve undoubtedly heard of SEO.
SEO involves the magic that happens behind the scenes whenever someone googles a word like “dog toys” or “best email software.” It entails the steps you take to strengthen your webpages for search engines. The goal is to influence where your webpage falls within those search engine results pages (SERPs)—and to ultimately drive tens of thousands (if not more) visitors to your site.
So, what do you need to know about getting started? What are some steps you can take today?
But first, why is SEO important for businesses?
- Increased visibility for your business - An estimated 8.5 billion Google searches are made each day. Whether users are researching new products or learning up on new topics, there are various ways for your brand to get seen and build up its reputation.
- A “warm” touchpoint - Attract high-quality leads by targeting strategic, high-intent keywords. Capturing “warm” prospects generally results in a shorter sales cycle—in fact, studies have found that B2B companies generate two times more revenue from organic search than other channels.
- Competitive edge - A small business with a good SEO strategy could potentially outrank the goliaths of their industry. Search engines don’t discriminate based on revenue; with high-quality content targeting long-tail keywords, businesses of any size have the opportunity to rank.
- Low-cost, high-value marketing channel - You don’t have to pay to play with SEO. SEO is an “always on” channel that continues to bring in traffic long after you’ve published your content.
How SEO works
Okay, now that we know why a business should implement an SEO strategy, let’s talk about how it works.
While SEO tends to orient around Google, which still holds nearly 92% of market share, you’ll want to be mindful of other search engines like Bing, YANDEX, Yahoo!, Baidu, Ecosia, and DuckDuckGo.
SEO essentially comes into play whenever you publish a new page to your site. Be it a product page or blog, search engine algorithms crawl your page to understand what it’s all about.
They look at hundreds of factors to evaluate its relevance to a particular search term. These algorithms, in a nutshell, determine where your webpages rank on a SERP, if at all.
These algorithms are also changing all the time. However, there are three general types of SEO that you need to know.
Unless you're a web developer, you might not concern yourself with a website's backend or technical aspects.
However, the technical elements of a website, such as its overall architecture and page load speeds, play a pivotal role in its rankability. Technical optimization makes it easier for search engines to access and crawl content for ranking. It additionally signals that your site offers a good user experience, which is an important criteria.
Top technical SEO factors include:
- Site architecture - How web pages are organized within a website impacts how efficiently a search engine can index your web pages and content. The key here is to ensure that your website maintains a “flat” and organized site structure that makes sense. For example, any given webpage should only be a few clicks away from the homepage, and the overall architecture should look similar to a hierarchy map.
- Load times - Have you ever abandoned a website because it took too long to load? Search engine crawlers get just as frustrated by those long loading times. Slow page load speeds can thereby hurt your rankings, so you’ll want to minimize file sizes, reduce the number of redirects, and take other steps to speed up load times.
- Mobile friendliness - A mobile-friendly website is in a much better position to rank than those that aren’t. Google is very vocal about this. Considering how a majority of Google searches (64%) now occur on mobile devices, Google uses the mobile version of your content to index and rank it.
On-page SEO involves the elements within your webpage itself, including any content, imagery, and keywords that you use. The main on-page SEO factors include:
- Keywords and key phrases - Note: keyword stuffing is an outdated practice and can actually harm your rankings. Instead, research and incorporate keywords naturally, plus include semantically related keywords.
- High-quality, unique content - While it’s important to produce content with certain keywords in mind, search engines care most about how informative and relevant your content is to the user. Our best advice is to understand your audience’s pain points and write for a human audience, not just search engines.
- Internal links - These are links that point to other pages within your site. By having clear, intentional internal links, you can help both search engines and users discover other related content on your site.
- Meta data - Customize your title tags, meta description, and alt text to further help search engines decipher your content and aid overall accessibility. While search engines may override your suggestions for title tags and meta descriptions, a majority of search results still pull from your custom data.
Off-page SEO refers to any activities happening outside of your website that impacts your search engine rankings, such as:
- Backlinks - These are links that point back to your content from other external sites. Backlinks—especially from high-authority sites—signal to search engines that other people find your content trustworthy. But you’ll want to avoid paying for backlinks (alongside other black-hat tactics). Instead, think of ways to inspire backlinks, such as content collabs.
- Paid advertising or social media - Both of these indirectly impact your rankings by sending more traffic to your website. The more quality engagement users have on a webpage, the more valuable it is to search engines. In other words, search engines are more likely to view the webpage as trustworthy and relevant.
Summary of SEO tips that you can implement today
As you can see, today’s SEO strategies require more than just the “keyword stuffing” method of the past. Search engines today prioritize content quality and relevancy, along with user experience. As you implement your own SEO strategy, make sure to take these essential steps:
- Improve your page load speeds. There are various online tools that make it easy to check your loading times. Google’s free PageSpeed Insights, for example, includes key metrics, diagnostics, and suggestions for improving page load speed.
- Make sure your metadata information is up to snuff. Something as simple as adding alt text to your images or A/B testing title tags could potentially impact your rankings.
- Only publish relevant and informative content. Write for people first, search engines second. And, most importantly, write about what you know.
- Publish and update your content regularly. Whenever you update something on your website or blog, search engines re-evaluate the site’s content and re-rank it accordingly.
- Remove duplicate content. Unfortunately, duplicate content doesn’t double your chances of ranking higher on a SERP—it harms it. Keep your content unique and fresh.
- Create a linking strategy. Link to reputable sites and build partnerships with trustworthy organizations that can backlink to your site from theirs.