What is SEO & Why is it Important?
You’ve likely heard of SEO, and if you haven’t already, you could obtain a quick Wikipedia definition of the term, but understanding that SEO is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results” doesn’t really help you answer important questions for your business and your website, such as:
- How do you, for your site or your company’s site, “optimize” for search engines?
- How do you increase your site’s organic search visibility, so it’s easy for your content to be found?
- How do you know how much time to spend on SEO?
- How can you differentiate “good” SEO advice from “bad” or harmful SEO advice?
What’s likely interesting to you as a business owner or employee is how you can actually leverage SEO to help drive more relevant traffic, leads, sales, and ultimately revenue and profit for your business. That’s what we’ll focus on in this guide.
Why Should You Care About SEO?
Lots and lots of people search for things. That traffic can be extremely powerful for a business not only because there is a lot of traffic, but because there is a lot of very specific, high-intent traffic.
If you sell blue widgets, would you rather buy a billboard so anyone with a car in your area sees your ad (whether they will ever have any interest in blue widgets or not), or show up every time anyone in the world types “buy blue widgets” into a search engine? Probably the latter, because those people have commercial intent, meaning they are standing up and saying that they want to buy something you offer.
How does SEO work?
Search engines such as Google and Bing use bots to crawl pages on the web, going from site to site, collecting information about those pages and putting them in an index. Next, algorithms analyze pages in the index, taking into account hundreds of ranking factors or signals, to determine the order pages should appear in the search results for a given query.
Search ranking factors can be considered proxies for aspects of the user experience. Our Periodic Table of SEO Factors organizes the factors into six main categories and weights each based on its overall importance to SEO. For example, content quality and keyword research are key factors of content optimization, and crawlability and mobile-friendliness are important site architecture factors.
The search algorithms are designed to surface relevant, authoritative pages and provide users with an efficient search experience. Optimizing your site and content with these factors in mind can help your pages rank higher in the search results.
Unlike paid search ads, you can’t pay search engines to get higher organic search rankings.
Why is SEO important for marketing?
SEO is a fundamental part of digital marketing because people conduct trillions of searches every year, often with commercial intent to find information about products and services. Search is often the primary source of digital traffic for brands and complements other marketing channels. Greater visibility and ranking higher in search results than your competition can have a material impact on your bottom line.
However, the search results have been evolving over the past few years to give users more direct answers and information that is more likely to keep users on the results page instead of driving them to other websites.
Also note, features like rich results and Knowledge Panels in the search results can increase visibility and provide users more information about your company directly in the results.
Search engine optimization focuses only on organic search results and does not include PPC optimization. Both SEO and PPC are part of Search Engine Marketing.
The search engines are used by internet users when they are searching for something.
And you want to provide the answer to that something. It doesn’t matter whether you sell a product or service, write a blog, or anything else, search engine optimization is a must for every website owner.
To put it simply:
SEO is all the actions you do to make Google consider your website a quality source and rank it higher for your desired search queries.
Note: Although SEO stands for “search engine optimization”, with the current dominance of Google, we could simply use the term “Google optimization”.
That’s why all the tips and techniques in this guide are mainly about Google SEO, although many things are universal and apply to the optimization for any other search engine.
You don’t need to know ALL the factors and the exact algorithms Google uses to rank your website. But you need to cover the key components of SEO to be successful.
An easy way to understand the 3 most important factors is to imagine a bowl of soup – the SEO soup.
THE SEO SOUP
Top 3 ingredients to rank your website
- Quality backlinks
- Great content
- Technical stuff
There are three key aspects of SEO:
- Technical stuff – The bowl represents all the technical aspects you need to cover (often referred to as technical or on-page SEO). Without a proper bowl, there would be nothing to hold the soup.
- Great content – The soup represents the content of your website – the most important part. Low-quality content = no rankings, it is that simple.
- Quality backlinks – The seasoning represents the backlinks that increase the authority of your website. You can have great content and a perfectly optimized website but ultimately, you need to gain authority by getting quality backlinks – the last ingredient to make your SEO soup perfect.
As soon as you start digging into SEO, you’ll come across some common terms that try to categorize its various aspects or approaches, namely:
- On-page SEO & off-page SEO
- Black hat SEO & white hat SEO
Although they are not that important from the practical point of view, it is good to know their meaning.
On-page SEO & off-page SEO
The terms on-page and off-page SEO categorize the SEO activities based on whether you perform them on the website
On-page SEO is everything you can do on the website – from the optimization of content through technical aspects.
- Keyword research
- Content optimization
- Title tag optimization
- Page performance optimization
- Internal linking
The goal is to provide both perfect content and UX while showing search engines what the page is about.
Note: The terms on-page SEO and technical SEO are sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes used to distinguish the content-related optimization (e.g. title tags) and technically-oriented optimization (e.g. page speed).
Off-page SEO is mostly about getting quality backlinks to show search engines that your website has authority and value. Link building may involve techniques like:
- Guest blogging
- Email outreach
- Broken link building
Off-page SEO is also closely connected to other areas of online marketing, such as social media marketing and branding, which have an indirect impact on building the trust and authority of your website.
Remember that a successful SEO strategy consists of both on-page and off-page SEO activities.
White hat SEO vs. black hat SEO
Black hats and white hats have their origin in Western movies. They represented bad guys and good guys.
In SEO, the terms are used to describe two groups of SEOs – those who adhere to the rules set out by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and those who don’t.
Black hat SEO is a set of unethical (and usually spammy) practices to improve the rankings of a website.
These techniques can get you to the top of the search results in a short time, however, search engines will most probably penalize and ban the website sooner or later.
White hat SEO, on the other hand, refers to all the regular SEO techniques that stick to the guidelines and rules. It is a long-term strategy in which good rankings are a side-product of good optimization, quality content, and a user-oriented approach.
While SEO experts agree that “white hat” is the way to go, there are different opinions on the acceptability of various link building techniques (including link buying).
Can I do SEO on my own?
SEO is not easy. But it’s no rocket science either.
There are things you can implement right away and there are concepts that will take much more time and effort. So yes, you can do SEO on your own.
The only question is whether you are willing to invest some time into learning all the aspects of SEO, or you’ll hire a professional and invest your time into something else.
How can I learn SEO?
There’s a couple of things you should do to learn SEO:
- Read reliable resources
- Get hands-on experience
- Don’t be afraid of experiments
- Have a lot of patience (SEO is a marathon, not a sprint)
Implementing the things from this guide is a great way to start 🙂
How long does it take to learn SEO?
To answer this question, we’ll use a common answer of SEO experts to almost any SEO issue: it depends.
While understanding the basics won’t take you longer than a couple of weeks, the actual mastering of this discipline depends largely on the practice, which is a question of months, even years.
Last but not least, SEO is evolving all the time. You should always keep learning and stay updated with the latest updates, experiments and findings.
Do I need SEO tools?
If you’re serious about SEO, you shouldn’t neglect the useful data and insights provided by various SEO tools. They give you a great competitive advantage and save a lot of your time.
Here are some essential SEO tools every website owner should use:
- Google Search Console
- a traffic analysis tool (e.g. Google Analytics)
- a keyword research tool (e.g. KWFinder)
- a backlink analysis tool (e.g. LinkMiner)
- a rank tracker (e.g. SERPWatcher)