With the ever-changing digital marketing requirements, the concept of search engine optimization has evolved. What burst onto the scene as a clever ploy to market websites has emerged as a success enabler upon going through constant modifications. But what exactly is SEO? Let’s discuss.
What is SEO? (SEO Definition)
For a website, visibility is both – the cornerstone as well as the benchmark of success. Even the most accomplished website is rendered insignificant in the lack of organic rankings on search engines. That’s where SEO kicks in, making the website visible to the searcher.
Standing for Search Engine Optimization, SEO is about upping rankings, visibility and traffic. The higher the rankings, the better the website’s chances of attracting click-through rates and generating leads, sales, profits, and allegiance. Guess what? Search engine optimization is equally effective for every type of website, think e-commerce, business, personal, portfolio, blog, and so on.
Let’s approach it this way. Imagine owning a hose pipe distribution business. Each time a searcher types “hose pipes” on Google, your business has to rank, at least, among the top five to have a chance of earning his business. Mind you, the first-page listings attract over 70% of the traffic. The same for the top three entries on the first page is above 90%.
Don’t mistake SEO for paid advertising. They are different in that search engine optimization places the website on the SERPs through organic means. Contrarily, you buy the space in paid advertising. Simply put, SEO makes the website more palatable to the search engine through optimization. The search engine is ‘compelled’ to rank it higher on the SERPs for a particular keyword(s).
How Does SEO Work, Anyway?
Search engine optimization doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s totally dependent on search engine algorithms used to determine rankings. Algorithms are, in turn, dependent on certain well-defined ranking factors. The overarching goal is to provide what exactly the searcher is looking for.
Let’s discuss the modus operandi of Google algorithms to understand how SEO works. Google’s ranking process features three sequential steps:
Google is constantly hunting for new and updated pages. We call it crawling. Here, bots follow the links of a given website to locate it. A site with a higher number of links to it has a better chance of being discovered by the bots. That’s why link building is a key part of SEO.
Crawling is followed by indexing, which involves getting the gist of the discovered pages. Google needs to know what the page entails to determine how useful it could be for the searcher. All key information about the site stays in Google’s database as indexed files.
The rankings are implemented at this stage. As soon as the searcher types in the query, Google algorithms spring into action. It allots rankings to all related websites based on how well they fulfill the ranking criteria. Search engine optimization is at its most effective at the serving stage.
Google is too eager to update algorithms. It caps off each year with up to 600 updates, averaging roughly two per day. The updates are in response to the dynamic user behavior and proliferation of new technologies. Google is too keen to evolve and deliver a great user experience. And, each update aims to boost the quality and relevance of search results.
Google algorithms factor in certain factors to rank a website. There’s a self-explanatory term for them, Ranking Factors. If a website appears on the SERPs, it must have struck a chord with these specifications.
But what are they? Well, nobody knows for sure, except Google. With Google reluctant to reveal it, it remains the best-kept secret in digital marketing. Thankfully, Google lists some best practices that every marketer has to be mindful of. These are:
When the searcher enters the keywords, your content has to match his/her intentions. For example:
- Is he/she looking for some information?
- Does he/she intend to make a purchase?
- Is he/she browsing with no intention to buy?
It’s all about knowing what the searcher is looking for and populating the results accordingly. The searcher’s intent has to guide your content and keyword targeting.
Targeting “Chinese Food” as the primary keyword, for example, is futile in a piece of content about the local Indian delicacies. Google will spot the anomaly and penalize the content. The tone, uniqueness, informative value and synonyms matter here.
Upon determining whether your content corresponds to the searcher’s intent, Google probes how relevant the content is to the query. You won’t be expecting to see web pages about maternity care when searching for sports gear.
That’s where the ‘relevance’ factor steps in, allowing Google to dig out the most relevant results from millions of available options for each query. Remember, the keyword is the prime determinant of relevance.
If the website is the body, the content has to be the soul. You cannot market a website without putting some information on it. Even if you somehow manage to pull in traffic, it will bounce off if the content fails to hold their interest. That calls for quality content.
Gone are the days when anything peppered with keywords would pass off as content. If it answered the query, the ranking would easily come by. However, with time, searchers have become discerning and Google has to keep pace with their evolving requirements.
Content has come of age. It has grown in variety, volume and velocity, forcing Google to implement content-focused algorithm updates now and then. So, you are left to fend off the competition while also conforming to the stringent standards Google has put forth.
Quality is a subjective term but not for Google. The search engine “defines” it as something valuable, comprehensible, organized, authentic, relevant, sharp, in-depth and unique. You are better off crafting content to solve a problem, strike a chord with searchers and search engines alike, and cultivate trust. Weave it around SEO guidelines and your bottom line.
Google might stay indifferent to even the best content unless it is updated periodically. Any lapses will mar your ranking objectives. That calls for repurposing the obsolete content and making the existing content more relevant, meaningful, in-depth and refined.
Each time Google bots crawl your site, they need to find an improved version of the content. If HubSpot is to be believed, updating could translate to a 106% increase in traffic.
It makes sense to equip your e-commerce or business website with a blog, featuring content related to what you sell. It’ll serve as a knowledge resource, allowing you to raise awareness, disseminate opinions, add value to your website, and up the traffic inflow. Each page of your blog represents an additional opportunity to rank if mined properly.
Types of SEO
Think of search engine optimization as an umbrella term for a diversified group of techniques and tools that work best in conjunction. Here’s what a typical multi-modal SEO approach involves. Feel free to incorporate them all into your marketing mix or cherrypick a few suiting your needs.
1) On-Page SEO
For the most part, on-page SEO deals with the prime element of your website – content. Helping optimize the content in line with the expectations of the user and Google, on-page search engine optimization is constituted by multiple factors. Guess what? Each is easily controllable.
Content has to be woven around popular keywords. Going for keywords with low search volume is counterintuitive because there won’t be much traffic involved. Your hunt for top keywords ends with Keyword Magic Tool, SEMRush, Ubersuggest and Ahrefs.
You can rely on these tools to know the level of competition the keyword entails. The higher the competition, the more difficult it is to get it ranked. So, decide accordingly. Also, it is wise to factor in the semantics before zeroing in on the keywords and spraying them across your content.
The significance of content in SEO cannot be overstated. It’s a key factor to drive customer engagement, which in turn translates into sales and ROI. Mind you, a visitor entering a site interfaces with the content. Only if it’s informative, comprehensible and engaging enough, he/she will stay and return for more. Or else, the traffic will dry up or just bounce off.
Ideally, the content should be crafted around keyword intent. Remember, a researcher will approach Google with a different intent than a customer. A researcher will typically look for answers while a customer is on the hunt for a product or service. How you approach the content creation process depends on whether you offer information or sell something.
Searchers neither have the time nor the inclination to waste minutes waiting for the site to load. When latency can cost you dearly, it is better to optimize the load speed to the users’ expectations.
Faulty coding, voluminous files, multiple plugins, and server performance are the major culprits for latency in page loading. On-page SEO aims to identify and rectify the issues. Feel free to use tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to test the site speed.
It’s all about linking a web page to other web pages on a given domain. They are internal, and hence, the name. Think of them as the doorways within a site. Crawlers use them to locate, catalog and rank a site.
Google considers an optimally internally linked site more credible and ranking-friendly than an unlinked or poorly linked one. From repairing broken links to creating new ones, On-page SEO addresses all issues related to internal linking.
2) Off-Page SEO
Any optimization activity implemented off-page is a part of off-Page search engine optimization. Plainly put, the activity is related to the website but doesn’t happen on it. It could be anything from posting content on social media to roping in an influencer to take the word out on your brand.
For some, it even involves local SEO, content marketing, and more. However, among all off-page SEO activities, link building stands out for its effectiveness and intricacies.
While internal linking is linked to on-page SEO, external linking is specific to off-page SEO. Outbound linking is complicated and time-intensive but you can’t do without it. Outbound links are entryways to your site. More outbound links indicate better site accessibility.
Besides enticing traffic, it helps establish the usefulness of your content and the authority of your site. When a pedigreed site offers a link to your site, it indicates that your content is valuable. That boosts your credibility.
With the giver website providing references, your authority is upped. Beware, outbound links from low-quality domains can backfire.
Social Media Marketing (SMM)
With social media emerging as a juggernaut, you can’t let go of the social media marketing advantage. Though SMM is rightfully a full-fledged domain, marketers incorporate it into their overall marketing mix under the off-page search engine optimization category. SMM complements the SEO efforts, enticing the search engines into ranking your site higher on SERPs.
Typically, SMM, here, has a lot to do with the content. You post catchy content on a relevant social media platform from your site. With social media making it go viral across platforms, not only your target audiences take notice of it. Even Google considers it useful enough to be recommended to its searchers. That means traffic inflow and higher rankings.
Besides marketing, social platforms also promote customer satisfaction. Social platforms like Twitter and Facebook act as the primary touch point for any customer looking to raise a query. When you get back to them, be polite, professional and helpful. This will help you earn their trust. With that, you convert a buyer into a brand loyalist.
When thoughts turn to content marketing, what comes to mind? Perhaps, the content that occupies your site. However, content is too broad a thing to be confined to on-page SEO.
Content published anywhere other than your site is managed through off-page efforts. Imagine publishing a white paper to benchmark your industry expertise. That’s content marketing. Other tools include guest posts, e-books, testimonials, case studies, and so forth.
High-quality content is a prerequisite for content marketing. Only if the content has value, will it find takers. It’s wise to cover topics that align with your marketing goals and popular sentiments.
It’s equally important to zero in on suitable media to market your content. It should be popular and relevant to your industry. Feel free to use content marketing in conjunction with other off-page SEO tactics, notably SMM and link building.
Why SEO Makes Sense?
SEO is existentially useful for websites, regardless of their industry, nature, scale or objectives. Sounds like an exaggeration? Not when you consider the following factors:
Connects You to the Prospects
You have a product, service or information to offer. And, there’s someone looking for it on a search engine. The overarching objective of SEO is to make you visible to the searcher on SERPs.
Mind you, search engine optimization, visibility and rankings go hand in hand. The more streamlined your SEO effort, the better you rank and the more visible you are to prospects. As per Zero Limit Web, the top five results walk away with over 68 per cent of the total clicks.
Drives Traffic and Sales
SEO can transform a web page into a crowd puller. When it ranks at the top of SERPs, the traffic upsurges dramatically. With that, the click-through rates, leads, and sales also go up. Per first page, the top result attracts a CTR of 39.6%. In short, CTRs translate into business growth and long-term value creation.
Search engine optimization can even keep you hopeful of featuring in the ‘Featured Snippets.’ The SERP features these highlighted texts in response to the query, even above the top organic result. They account for 8 per cent of total clicks.
Elevate Visitor Experience
A fine user experience makes the website palatable to Google and the user alike. Both appreciate a meaningful and seamless interaction with the website. And, elevating the user experience is inherent in SEO.
A well-defined SEO strategy takes into account all elements that determine user experience, including responsiveness. If a website works seamlessly across gadgets, it can tap into rapidly growing mobile searches.
Another aspect that search engine optimization typically addresses is the page load speed. The less time a site takes to load, the better the user will feel. Even Google picks a site with a low response time when it comes to ranking.
Cost overruns are a fact of life in marketing. Businesses often shell out exorbitantly to buy their way to visibility. Conversely, SEO is free. Just execute certain optimization practices and bring customers through the sales funnel.
Even if you rope in an agency to handle your SEO campaigns, the costs are a fraction of what paid advertising entails. As Terakeet tells us, the spending on customer acquisition plummets by 88 per cent with search engine optimization. And, search engine optimization is not just affordable but more effective than paid advertising, as 70% of marketers feel.
Plug-in the Loopholes
Google is at the cutting edge of technology. But, it isn’t perfect. While its intentions cannot be faulted, its failings are just too profound to be ignored. It’s always wise to take measures to deter its failings, otherwise, the risk of losing rankings looms.
Take, for instance, Google’s inability to crawl and catalog a site with a faulty link structure. Failing to rectify the issue, the site’s ranking plummets. The same is the case with faulty coding, duplicate pages and language. Identifying and plugging these loopholes is integral to an SEO strategy.
Drawbacks of SEO
Even something as essential as search engine optimization has its share of trade-offs. Knowing them will keep you prepared to stand up to the challenges and weave compelling SEO strategies accordingly. These are:
A Complicated Process
Search engine optimization is an intricate mix of intertwining requirements. From content to link building, all the moving parts need to be addressed simultaneously to materialize a successful campaign.
Also, you have to deal with too many unknowns once the campaign is underway. With so much on their plate already, businesses can barely cope with the demands of search engine optimization. That calls for roping in some professional help, which, obviously, costs money.
Takes Time to Deliver Results
SEO isn’t an overnight phenomenon. Even if you have optimized the website in line with the best SEO practices, the results will take anywhere between 6 and 12 months to manifest. However, initial results can be realized within 3 months of sustained effort.
It follows that search engine optimization doesn’t fit the bill if you seek an immediate boost in sales. Instead, Pay Per Click (PPC) could be a better option. The caveat is that PPC involves heavy expenses.
Results Aren’t Guaranteed
Even Google urges you not to fall prey to the claims of “first-page ranking” guarantees. The reason? Well, search engine optimization is mighty effective but doesn’t guarantee results. With Google guarding the ranking factors so fiercely, no one exactly knows what will work and what won’t.
Even impeccably crafted search engine optimization campaigns might fail to deliver on your objectives. In that case, either cut your losses and move ahead or revisit the SEO strategy – it’s up to you.
Susceptible to changes
Search engine optimization is an evolving world where changes happen instantaneously. Whenever Google implements a major algorithm upgrade, the established SEO practices go obsolete. Months of effort you have put in to create a search engine optimization strategy also come to a naught.
You are, thus, forced to devise new strategies in line with the algorithm update. As Google is a repeat offender when it comes to updating algorithms, it becomes too hectic to stay on point.
The Risk of Penalties Looms
One of the major downsides of search engine optimization is the threat of penalties. Google is just too keen to penalize a website if it fails to comply with any of its ranking factors.
Say, the website hasn’t been updated for a while or the newly added content is plagiarized. But how does Google penalize a website? Obviously, by lowering its organic rankings! When stakes are this high, you cannot afford to lower your guard. That makes SEO all the more intimidating.
Competition is Overwhelming
Suppose you are into an intensely competitive industry, say tourism. You would require years of sustained effort and investment to leapfrog the competition and make it to the top rankings on SERPs.
While top dogs will be keen to retain their rankings, the new entrants will be breathing on your neck to outrank you. And, guess what? Both will be leveraging the best practices in search engine optimization to meet their respective objectives. Simply put, competition is a reality of life in search engine optimization, whether you have started out or are the ranking leader.
Search engine optimization isn’t a cakewalk or even a missing link in the website’s success story. Yet, it’s important enough to demand your attention, investment and time. After all, it’s a feasible way to put you exactly where potentials are looking for your offerings.
Search engine optimization might or might not click but ignoring it would mean losing business to more SEO-savvy competitors.
What SEO strategies do you find the most useful/notorious? Drop your views in the comments section below.