What is SEO?

Sep 17, 2015 | SEO Insights

The marketing and technology fields are always buzzing about SEO. It’s no secret that SEO is a huge part of internet marketing and is considered essential to reaching customers through the internet.

But exactly what is SEO?

Understanding exactly what SEO is will help you understand how it’s implemented and why everyone is clamoring to unlock its benefits.

How Search Engines Work

When an internet user is looking for information on a local business, a question, a product, or other issue they’ll probably turn to a search engine for options. Internet searches are a common practice for internet users around the globe, and about 12 billion searches are performed every month. When a user types a phrase into a search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, the search engine uses an algorithm, which is a complex mathematical equation, to determine what results are shown. This algorithm analyses certain components of a website with the intent to offer the searcher the results that are relevant, popular, and offer a good user experience. Google provides a great visualization of exactly How Search Works to make the processes of crawling, indexing, and ranking easier to understand.

The concept for search engine optimization (commonly referred to as SEO) is to make a website appear among the top results for a given search term. For example, a dentist in Houston, TX would want her business to appear among the top results if a person searches for “houston dentist” so that the potential customer will have a better chance of clicking on the website.

This ranking on the search engine results page (SERP) can have a huge effect on a website’s traffic. Websites that appear on the first page of results for a certain keyword get 91.5% of visits from searchers, while those on the second page only get 5.11%.

Even within the first page of results, ranking among the coveted top 3 spots can mean big traffic for a website. The top spot has an average of 25% click-through-rate (CTR is the number of users that click on a specific link out of the total users that view a page), while position 2 has a click-through rate of 9.1% and the third position gets 7.1%. Getting into these coveted spots can be a challenging task, especially for highly competitive search terms, but these results can often be achieved by diligent efforts on the part of a business and assistance from a professional SEO company. In fact, if a website is able to rank on the first page of results for a targeted keyword, 94.75% of its traffic will originate from this ranking.

Google and the other search engines have not released the specific algorithm that determines where certain websites rank for a given search, but through statements, hints, and research, industry leaders have been able to pinpoint certain factors that influence rankings. Search Engine Optimization is the practice of implementing as many practices as possible to help a website rank higher.

Factors that can influence search engine rankings include:

  • How many links go to that website, and where those links are coming from
  • How popular a website is and how much traffic it receives
  • Certain coding elements, such as schema markup
  • The text on the website
  • How quickly a website loads
  • If a website has “fresh” or new content
  • Certain search engine signals, including the website’s address and elements such as the title tag and meta description

Since so many factors can affect a website’s rankings, SEO involves many different disciplines. Everything from hosting to content can have an impact on rankings, so programmers, writers, and graphic designers, and technical specialists are all necessary to achieve optimum SEO results. Through these various efforts, traffic to the website will increase, which will in turn help the website to rank among the top results for more search terms.

SEO tactics can generally be divided into 2 categories: technical SEO and non-technical SEO. Technical SEO focuses on behind-the-scenes side of searches, such as optimizing the page’s ability to be crawled and indexed by search engines, how quickly the page loads, data structure, and analyzing the website’s traffic for specific optimization. Non-technical elements involve boosting traffic for the website in the form of improving the user’s experience on the website and driving traffic through content marketing and backlinks.

SEO tactics for increasing rankings include:

  • Creating blog entries, videos, infographics, and other items to share through Content Marketing. These will link back to the website, adding authority and trust to that website.
  • Optimizing the website’s text and other content to target certain keywords. This includes placing keywords and phrases within the text of the page and targeting phrases in the title tags.
  • Optimizing the URL address, title tag, and meta description of each page. This is what Google and other search engines use to display a website among search results and have a big impact on rankings, as well as encouraging searchers to click on that result.
  • Increasing a website’s speed using PageSpeed Module and other tactics.
  • Providing a mobile responsive website that is easy for visitors to navigate on a phone, tablet, or other mobile device.
  • Ensure that local listings are consistent and fully completed, which provides search engines with trusted information about businesses. These can be found on websites such as YellowPages, Insider Pages, and Merchant Circle.
  • Create or expand a website’s backlink profile by creating links to the website from outside sources. When websites link to a business’s site, this is a signal to search engines that the website is trustworthy and authoritative.
  • Adding schema markup to the website, with specific notations for many elements of a website, including its address, phone number, and other details so that search engines know exactly what this information is.
  • Organization of the website’s data so that it can be easily viewed by users and that search engines can effectively crawl your entire website.

These efforts, which are proven to be effective, are focused on bringing relevant results to the right customers in an organic, honest way and are referred to as “white hat” practices. Google and other search engines encourage these tactics. On the other hand, “black hat” techniques, such as spamming, keyword stuffing, and creating large amounts of sketchy links are frowned upon by search engines and can lead to a significant drop in rankings, penalties that impede a website’s ability to rank well for an extended time, or even a ban of a website’s address. This makes it very important for businesses to choose a reputable SEO company that only adheres to best SEO practices.

These are just a few of the many ways in which SEO campaigns can increase a website’s rankings, and therefore its traffic. With more and more customers using search engines on a frequent basis, ranking among results in a given industry is essential for businesses to succeed. The ultimate goal of SEO is to fuel a business’s potential for growth by appearing to more customers who are seeking the goods and services that the company provides.

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