Everyone has got to start somewhere, so if you’re a beginner in the field of SEO, this guide will help you understand what SEO is, how it works and some core concepts that are crucial to its working.
What is SEO?
SEO is a contraction of search engine optimization and it is a digital marketing field that is focused on growing visibility in terms of organic search engine results. SEO comprises of both creative and technical elements that are required to improve the rankings, drive traffic to a site and increase visibility in search engine results. SEO has many aspects, from the content of your website to the way other sites connect to yours on the web.
Why Your Site Needs SEO?
Major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing drive the majority of the web traffic. While social media and other types of web traffic can also generate visits to your site, search engines are the primary tool of navigation for a majority of the internet users. This is valid for all sites, whether you provide products, services, content, information or anything else.
Search engine results are unique because they can provide targeted traffic. This simply means that people are looking for what you have to offer. Search engines are the pathways that can make this happen. If search engines are unable to find your site or add your content to their databases, your site will miss out on some incredible opportunities to get an audience.
What is a Search Query?
A search query is a collection of words that users enter into the search box, and it carries extraordinary value. Search engine traffic can make or break the success of an organization. Targeted traffic to a site provides exposure, revenue, and publicity like no other marketing channels. Investing in SEO means you get exceptional return rates as compared to other means of promotion and marketing.
Why Search Engines Need SEO?
Modern search engines are small, but they require some help. Major engines are continuously toiling to improve their technology to search the web deeply and return better results. However, there are limits to how search engines can operate. While the right SEO strategy nets you thousands of visitors and get increased attention, the wrong moves can bury your site in the deeper parts of search results where site visibility is minimal.
SEO not only helps make your content available to search engines, but it also helps boost your rankings so that the content is placed where visitors are more likely to find it. The internet has become competitive and continued to do so, but companies performing SEO have an advantage when it comes to visitors and customers.
Understanding Search Engine Operation
The two major functions of search engines are crawling and indexing and providing searchers with a ranking of websites that they believe to be the most relevant.
The Internet, or the World Wide Web is like a network of stops in a subway system of a big city. Each stop is a unique document, which can be a webpage, pdf, jpeg or any other file. Search engines need to crawl the entire city to find all the stops or documents along the way.
So they do this by using the best path available i.e. links. The web’s link structure is able to bind all the pages together. Links allow search engines and their automated robots, known as spiders or crawlers, to reach the billions of interconnected documents on the web. Once the search engines are able to find these pages, they decipher the code and store the selected pages in their massive databases. From these databases, the pages will be recalled later when required for a search query.
To accomplish this monumental task of holding billions of documents that are accessible within fractions of a second, search engines construct data centers all around the globe. These data centers hold thousands of machines that are processing information in large quantities very quickly.
Whenever a search is performed, results are required instantaneously, so the search engines have to provide answers as fast as possible. Search engines work as answer machines, so whenever a person performs a search, the engine scours its database containing billions of documents.
It not only returns the results that are the most useful or relevant to the search query, but it also ranks the results according to the popularity of these websites serving the information. So in order for SEO to be effective, it needs to influence relevance as well as the popularity of a site.
Determining Relevance and Popularity
In order to understand how SEO can be used to influence the relevance and popularity, we need to understand how search engines determine the relevance and popularity of its search results.
To search engines, relevance is more than just finding a page with the right words. It’s true that that’s how search engines worked in the early days, but modern search engines have come a long way from just this simplistic step. Search results in the past were of limited value and that’s why engineers have devised improved ways to match the results to search queries. Hundreds of factors influence the site’s relevance today. Search engine bots typically assume that the more popular a site or page is, the more valuable will be its information. This assumption proves to be successful, judging by the user satisfaction with the search results.
Search engines don’t determine relevance and popularity manually. Instead, these search engines employ algorithms to sort the results and then rank these results in the order of quality. These search engine algorithms usually comprise of many variables and are referred to as ranking factors in the field of SEO.
How SEO Really Works aka The Traffic Trap
Lots of marketers think of SEO as a source to get free traffic. While it’s true that free traffic is the end result, that’s not how SEO works. The actual goal of SEO should be to help people find you who are looking for you or what you have to offer. To do that, your content on your website should match what people want to find in their search queries.
The goal of SEO is not just to get lots of traffic, but it’s also to convert the traffic. If you want SEO to work, you should make sure that your goals match the ones of your visitors. In short, SEO isn’t about traffic; it’s about figuring out what your visitors want and then optimizing the keywords to bring in the visitors.
Finding the Right Keywords
Finding keywords that will match the search queries of your visitors is essential to your SEO process. So how do you discover these keywords? Simple – by research. Research can be tedious, but it’s indispensable to finding the right keywords.
When it comes to SEO, you want to find keywords that have a high search volume and low competition. High search volume means that people are looking for these keywords and low competition means that the number of results on these keywords is small, so your chances of higher rankings can be improved.
One more important factor that is worth considering is that the keywords should be supported by your site’s content, which means that the keywords should be relevant to your site. You can find the right keywords by using tools such as Google’s search-based Keyword or Adwords.
The Long Tail
Long tail is a concept of how lots of low-traffic keywords can combine to send you more visitors than just a few high-traffic keywords. For example, the keywords DVD or Blu-Ray get millions of queries, but with low-traffic keywords such as Dark Knight and Finding Nemo, the volume can be a lot larger than any one keyword.
Of course, individually these keywords won’t get you a lot of traffic but collectively, they can bring you a lot of traffic. When all the long tail keywords are combined, they can make up to 80% of your site’s traffic. So when researching keywords, you shouldn’t just focus on the ones that get the most amount of traffic. Instead, also focus on the less popular ones and incorporate them into your strategy.
Creating Your Content
After picking out the right keywords, you should focus on crafting your content. Search engines have bots that crawl your site, read the content and decide which keyword each of your site’s pages should be ranked for. Using SEO, you can influence this decision by strategically optimizing your site’s content for specific keywords.
This is important if you’re creating content other than text because bots can interpret text but they can’t yet watch videos, listen to audio, or look at images. So for the bots to understand your content and rank your page accordingly, you’ll need to describe content other than text, and this could include videos, images, infographics, audio clips, etc.
However, it should be kept in mind that writing only for search engines makes your content boring and unhelpful in converting visitors into customers. The main focus should be on the people and, therefore, the aim should be to make your content easy to understand and helpful. Afterward, you can optimize the content for search engine bots without sacrificing your content’s persuasiveness.
To summarize, while crafting your site’s content, you should pay attention to the following aspects.
Make sure you write eye-catching titles that would capture the reader’s interest and convince him to read on. Your first impression can prove to be your last if you don’t make the most of your page’s title.
Make sure that you only pick keywords that are relevant to the site and will help bring traffic to your site simultaneously.
Make sure you link to quality sites that compliment your website as it’ll also encourage other websites in the niche to link to your pages as well.
Your content should be unique and high-quality above all. This prompts the users to come back to your site because they can’t easily find the same level of content elsewhere.
If your content is not prone to age or becoming outdated, that’s well and good, but you’ll need to keep adding new and fresh content on a regular basis. If you aren’t adding content to your site on a regular basis, you can add a Q/A section or a blog to your site to keep it current.
Needless to say, you should never publish content from someone else’s site because posting duplicate content can be penalized by search engines.
Optimizing Your Code
Search engines don’t just read your site’s content, but they also read the site’s code. There are eight sections of your site’s code that you’ll need to optimize.
Title tags cover your site’s title. When coding your title tags, make sure you add keywords and to further maximize the results, make sure that each page on your wesbite has a unique title tag.
The one Meta tag that should concern you the most is the Meta description tag. It may not have a lot of impact on your rankings, but it tells the visitors what exactly your site is about. It also has a big impact on whether they choose to click through.
When creating Meta tag description, make sure you use optimized keywords and full sentences. The description tags should be concise and to-the-point. Make sure every page has a unique meta description.
Site headings are very similar to a book’s headings, but these headings come in a very specific order. Headings are in order of H1, H2, H3 and so on with H1 serving as the main heading on the page. a higher number of headings indicate that your content is specific. Each page should have only one H1 tag, but the page can have as many H2, H3 and H4 headings as needed. Make sure that the headings are relevant to the content and contain keywords.
Sitemaps are like roadmaps for search engines. They give search engine bots directions to all the different pages on your website and make sure that they find everything. XML and HTML sitemaps are the two types of sitemaps that can be created. The main difference between the two that XML sitemaps are coded for search engines to read while the HTML ones can be easily read by the people as well.
You can link your visitors to your sitemap, so they get an overview of where they want to go. If you have a few hundred pages, you can place the link to each one in your HTML sitemap, but if you have a few thousand pages, you should just link to the most important ones.
However, XML sitemaps contain links to every page on the site, even if there are a million pages. You can use tools such as XML Sitemap Creator to create a sitemap for your site and once it’s created, you can submit it to the Google Webmaster Central so that it can be crawled and indexed your site.
Domain names with keywords rank a lot higher than domains without keywords, but exact-match domain names aren’t exclusive and unique. If your traffic is purely search engine-based, using an exact-match domain is a good choice. However, if SEO is just a part of your marketing strategy, it’s better to go with something more unique, like Google did.
URLs are often overlooked in SEO, but they are important. URLs shouldn’t be messy and contain extraneous characters. Shorter URLs will rank better than longer ones. URLs should use dashes instead of underscores and sub-domains rank better than subdirectories.
Linking your pages together makes a big impact on the site’s ranking. When cross-linking your pages, make sure the links carry more weight than the links within a footer or a sidebar. Also make sure the number of links on each page isn’t overwhelming and avoid no-follow outgoing links.
Bots are able to index images if alt tags are added to each image with a brief description. Make sure you add an alt tag even for the images of widgets by renaming it to bluewidget.jpg instead of leaving it at image34.jpg.
Links are an essential part of SEO and the more sites that link to your pages, the higher your site’s ranking. Links are valued because it’s difficult to convince hundreds of sites to link to you. The more non-spam, trustworthy sites link to you, the more search engines will believe you to be an authority on the topic.
Implementing SEO properly is guaranteed to increase search engine traffic to your site. However, it’s important to be patient since it takes time for a search engine to update its database. If all this seems to much seek professional help, SEO services are 10 a penny.
SEO is basically all about making sure that your site is structured in a manner that search engines understand. However, SEO is most effective when the goal isn’t just to make a search engine-friendly website but when it’s like to make it a people-friendly site too. Both these principles should go hand-in-hand if SEO is to be utilized to the maximum.