What Is SEO?
SEO is the practice of designing your website and its content in such a way to increase its chances of ranking higher on search engine results pages (SERP).
Search engines, such as Google and Microsoft Bing, use complex algorithms to determine which websites best match a user’s search terms. They use special computer programs called crawlers to create a thorough index, or database, of all public websites available on the internet.
When someone performs a Google search, Google accesses its database and looks for websites that might meet the user’s search criteria. Google then ranks the resulting list of web pages by relevance with the pages it thinks are the most relevant at the top.
But, Google wants to know more than just the focus of a specific website (or web page). It also wants to determine which can supply the most complete and reliable information to its users.
SEO is the process in which a web designer, web developer, and/or website owner examines all the different factors that can impact a website’s (or web page’s) search engine ranking and then modifies that site or page accordingly. Some of these modifications might include using certain keywords in a web page’s title or even making the site easier to navigate.
In addition to improving a website’s SERP ranking, SEO also can make it more likely that people will actually click on your website’s link. Some of the on-page SEO tactics outlined below will help users understand your website’s purpose, what content it contains, and why they should click on your link.
Why Does SEO Matter?
If you don’t optimize your website for search engines, you risk losing potential customers to your competitors because their websites will appear higher in search engine results than yours.
Here are three other key reasons to employ SEO for your business website:
Unlike other marketing efforts, such as using Google Ads and Facebook Ads, SEO is completely free. It’s also a highly effective marketing tactic that can help drive traffic to your website.
It Boosts Your CTR
Your click-through-rate (CTR) represents the number of people who view your website in search engine results compared to the number who then proceed to visit your site. A study conducted by SEO giant Moz found that page one search results have a CTR of 70 percent while pages two and three yield a CTR of less than 6 percent. Furthermore, results in the top five positions on page one receive more than 67 percent of page one clicks.
When your business website appears on the first page of search engine results, you have a much better chance of reaching your target audience.
It Builds Trust
Moz also referenced a study that also compared pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to organic search results, finding that approximately 2.8 percent of visitors actually click on paid advertisements. This suggests that people might find organic search results more trustworthy, or credible, than paid advertisements.
How Do People Find Your Website?
Potential customers can find your business website in a variety of ways. From organic internet searches to links embedded in social media accounts, you can take many different approaches to attract website visitors.
- Organic Traffic: When someone performs a Google search, Google’s search engine will quickly access its index of websites to find the most relevant results. Google then ranks those results in order by relevance. In the SEO world, this is known as ranking. The primary purpose of search engines like Google, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo!, among others is delivering the most complete, relevant results to users. That means the higher a specific website or web page ranks, the more relevant a search engine believes it is to a user’s search terms.
- Referral Traffic: Referral traffic occurs when people come to your website from a link on a different website or from an email. For example, a travel writer might write a guest post for a well-known online travel magazine and include a link to their personal travel writing website at the end of that post. Anyone who visits the writer’s website via the link on the travel magazine’s website qualifies as referral traffic.
- Social Media Traffic: If your business has a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram account and you post content on those platforms with a link to your website, then clicks to your site from those links represent social media traffic. If someone simply shares your website link on their social media account, any incoming traffic from those links also would qualify as social media traffic.
- Direct Traffic: If someone knows your business’s website address by heart or they type it into a search bar after looking at your business card, that’s called direct traffic. In addition, if someone saves your website to their list of bookmarks, any traffic generated by clicking on that bookmark also qualifies as direct traffic.
- Paid Traffic: Any time you run a Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or other digital advertising campaign, traffic generated from those ads will represent paid traffic.
SEO primarily pertains to organic traffic. While referral, social media, direct, and paid traffic also can plan an important role in driving website visitors, most businesses will initially focus on increasing their organic traffic through SEO. The more organic traffic your site receives, the better its chances of achieving your website’s goals.
Understanding Google’s Ranking System
When you continually see references to Google rankings, but rarely any mentions of other search engines like Microsoft Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo!, you might wonder if you need to think about optimizing for those other search engines.
We suggest you primarily focus your SEO efforts on Google because it consistently holds 85 percent to 95 percent market share, depending on the year. By focusing solely on SEO for Google, you can make the most of your time and resources. In addition, all search engines have the same overall goal: to deliver the best results to their users. When you optimize your website for one, you’ll effectively optimize it for all search engines.
As previously mentioned, a search engine will rank websites on its results pages based on perceived relevance to a user’s search terms. If you search for “air conditioning company near me in Sarasota,” for example, Google will attempt to return results that most closely match that search string.
When businesses incorporate SEO into their websites, they can help Google better understand their website’s focus, what product or services they offer, and what questions their content can answer.
Google continually updates its search algorithm to fine-tune its process of returning and ranking results. But, all Google searches follow these basic steps:
- A user enters their search terms at www.google.com.
- Google attempts to understand exactly what that user seeks. It’ll correct any spelling mistakes, identify any other applicable search terms, and determine if the user wants the latest information (e.g., something published within the last day, month, or year).
- Google then accesses its database and searches for pages potentially relevant to the user’s query. This typically involves matching a user’s search terms to keywords housed on web pages and then roughly ranking the pages based on relevance.
- After narrowing down a list of potential websites, Google then determines the quality of those websites and re-ranks them based on its findings. A website’s quality typically relies on its ability to establish authority regarding its topic area and can include off-page SEO tactics.
- Next, Google determines the ease of use of the relevant websites or web pages. In this step, Google looks at a site’s readability, which primarily involves on-page SEO tactics, and then further refines its rankings.
- Before delivering search results to a user, Google will examine the user’s previous search history and their search settings in a final attempt to deliver the best results.
When you begin to address SEO for your website, remember to keep your website’s goal(s) and target audience in mind. They’ll drive the amount of time and effort you put into SEO and other traffic-focused changes. As you start optimizing your website for search engines, you must consider on-page SEO, technical SEO, off-page SEO, and local SEO. All three will directly impact your site’s search engine ranking and its ability to reach your target audience.
Moz’s chart below will help you understand the importance of the various elements of SEO and how they can improve your website’s ranking and CTR.
On-page SEO refers to anything you can do to your website that’ll improve its search ranking. You can take several actions to improve how Google crawls your website as well as its relevance to visitors.
Create Keyword-Optimized Content and Headings
When you develop your website and its content, it’s important to research relevant keywords you can incorporate throughout your site. Conducting keyword research not only will help you identify the words and phrases people typically use to find content like yours, but also learn how many people perform searches with specific words or phrases vs. others.
With thorough keyword research, you can effectively show Google that your website is relevant for those specific search terms. To learn more, access our article on How To Do Keyword Research.
Optimize All Meta Titles and Descriptions
When you create your website’s pages, you also must optimize their meta titles and meta descriptions. This requires the inclusion of relevant keywords in both as well as ensuring they remain the proper length. When you perform a Google search, your website’s meta title and description will show up in search results. In a search for “apple pie recipe,” here’s the first result returned:
The meta title for this web page is “Apple Pie Recipe | Taste of Home” while its meta description lists the ingredients.
Use Appropriate Meta Tags
In addition to incorporating keyword-optimized page titles and descriptions, you also must include appropriate meta tags for each of your website’s pages. Meta tags, often referred to as header tags, are specific hypertext markup language (HTML) elements that identify a web page’s headings. For example, “H1” header tags refer to the title of a web page. This page’s “H1” header tag is How People Find Your Website: SEO 101.
Your website’s pages also might include subheadings from “H2” to “H6.” The “H2” tags represent the second-most important headers while “H6” tags represent the least important. All website pages should have an optimized “H1” header tag, but your use of “H2” through “H6” tags will depend on each page’s content and your display preferences. To learn more about using meta tags, read TRUiC's Complete Guide to Meta Titles, Tags, and Descriptions.
Add Internal Links
Another important aspect of on-page SEO involves internal linking. Google not only wants you to link to other websites, but also to other pages within your website. This practice can help Google's web crawler locate all of your website’s pages. Internal linking also will improve the quality and accessibility of the linked pages while helping visitors more easily navigate your site.
On-page SEO also requires you to ensure every page of your site is easy to read and follows the proper format. Several website plug-ins can help you improve the readability of your web pages, but the key elements you should consider include:
- Headings: As previously noted, headings are an essential part of SEO. They not only help Google properly index your website’s pages, but also help visitors navigate each page.
- Text Size and Color: People need to be able to read the text on your website. You should use 16-point fonts and larger to reach the majority of visitors. In addition, the color you choose for your text and text background also will impact your site’s readability.
To ensure all visitors can read your site’s text, check out the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) web accessibility guidelines.
- Paragraph Breaks: As a best practice, use no more than three or four sentences per paragraph. Any more than that can make your content unconsciously harder to read.
- Bullet Points and Numbered Lists: These both can help break up the text on a page while enabling visitors to locate pertinent information more quickly.
- Images and Videos: These visual elements can enhance your written content and make your site more interesting.
Select a Strong URL Structure
Your website’s URL structure — the text that appears in a search engine’s address bar — also will impact its ranking. When you select and build your website’s URL structure, make sure it includes your primary keyword and is easy to read by potential visitors.
A poor URL: http://jbg.128u%.html
A good URL: https://joebakersgarage.com/services
Seek Inspiration From Other SEO-Optimized Pages
The image below demonstrates what a SEO-optimized page should look like. It contains all the elements above and stands a good chance of earning a high SERP ranking.
Technical SEO, covered within the user experience and crawl accessibility portion of the graphic above, plays a large role in site ranking. If you’re new to website development, you may want to consult with — or hire — a website developer to help you address your website’s technical SEO. Either way, it’s important to understand which technical aspects of your website contribute to its search engine ranking.
Page speed refers to the amount of time it takes for a web page to load.
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)
Most website URLs include “http” or “https” right before their domain names. This is called a protocol. Sites with the “https” protocol are secure while those with “http” aren’t. Google gives preference to secure websites.
HTTP2, an improved internet protocol, can speed up your page loading time and make your website even more secure.
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
CDNs provide another great way to increase your website’s speed. A CDN uses servers all over the world to deliver a website’s content from the server closest to an individual site visitor.
When Google ranks web pages, it also considers the “cleanliness” of a website’s code. Google prefers websites with code that’s easy to read and index.
Off-page SEO, as indicated in the share-worthy content section of the graphic above, also influences your site’s search engine ranking. Specifically, off-page SEO can improve your content’s quality as well as establish its authority and make it shareworthy.
When you delve into off-page SEO, consider the “E-A-T” principle. E-A-T stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Google notes that these factors can directly impact a website’s ranking on its SERP.
Use the off-page SEO techniques outlined below to enhance your content in a way that’ll help you address this critical ranking factor.
Building quality backlinks is one of the best ways of establishing your site’s expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. To accomplish this, you must contact other businesses and/or websites and encourage them to link to your website or a specific web page. This is, by far, one of the strongest ranking factors available. While it can take time to build backlinks, it’s well worth the effort.
Another great way to address off-page SEO is to develop a strong social network and encourage site visitors to share your content. Adding social sharing buttons to your website will make this very easy. You also can encourage people to share posts from your business’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn pages.
Some additional off-page SEO techniques you may want to consider include:
- Guest Blogging
- Local SEO
- User Reviews
- Interview Appearances
- Backlinks from Reddit and Quora
Local SEO is a specific SEO strategy that can help your business improve its SERP ranking. It also can help your business rank higher in local search results. If your business serves a specific area or you have a physical location, you need to incorporate local SEO tactics.
The most important action you can take to improve your local SEO is to obtain and optimize your Google My Business (GMB) listing. For local businesses like restaurants and auto mechanics, a GMB listing can actually provide greater benefits than some of the off-page SEO techniques listed above.
Another key way to improve your local SEO is to ensure your business appears in applicable local, regional, and national business directories. Check out listings provided by your local chamber of commerce, restaurant guides, and review sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Angie’s List.
Search engines are online tools like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! that allow users to search and access billions of web pages to find the information they seek.
What is search engine crawling?
Search engines use programs called “bots” (e.g., robots, crawlers, or spiders) to find new and/or updated content on the internet. Google bots constantly crawl the web to find new sites, pages, images, videos, and other content and they then add that information to Google’s index (a large database).
What are organic search results?
Organic search results are any search engine results for which a company doesn’t pay a fee. If you perform a simple Google search, you’ll often see sponsored links or advertisements at the top of the results page followed by 10 results Google deems as the best match for your search terms. Those unpaid links represent organic search results.
SERP stands for search engine results pages — the pages you see after performing an online search for a specific word or phrase.