Caption: Google is the leading search engine.
Search engine optimization (SEO for short) is the process of improving how well a website “ranks” in search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. Website owners and internet marketers use it to increase the number of visitors that can find their site when they search for something relevant.
For example, if you run a dog walking business in London, you would want your website to be first in the list of search results when someone searches for “dog walkers in London” on Google. SEO is how you would achieve this.
Why is SEO important?
The phrase “if you build it, they will come,” popularized by the 1989 film “Field of Dreams” is not true. Without letting people know your business exists, you won’t have customers. It was only a few decades ago that if you needed a plumber, you’d search in the Yellow Pages. Calling your business “Aardvark Plumbers” would make it the first in the alphabetized list of plumbers, increasing the chance you would receive inquiries since people would likely call the first plumber they saw.
SEO is the internet equivalent of naming your business “Aardvark Plumbing,” except it is a lot more sophisticated and requires constant attention and effort. Just like in the case of the old Yellow Pages, most people only click on the first few listings in Google. Indeed, research suggests 67 percent of people don’t go lower than five links down, and one report has even said 90 percent don’t look beyond the first page.
Alternatives to SEO
Naturally, there are alternatives to SEO like there were alternatives to calling your business “Aardvark Plumbers” in the 1980s. That, of course, is advertising. Both the Yellow Pages and Google let businesses pay for the privilege of standing out or appearing first in the list of a specific category or search term. In the case of search engines, the first few results that appear in their search results are “paid” listings, as opposed to the “organic” results that show below. Think of organic results as the alphabetical list in the Yellow Pages, and the paid listings as the big ads on the plumbing page that stand out more than the alphabetical list.
In truth, “alternative” is not the correct term to use. A good internet marketing strategy will combine both SEO and paid advertising and mix with other communication methods, such as email, social media and offline advertising.
Where to Start
Search engines use complicated and closely guarded algorithms to calculate the rankings of a “search engine results page” or SERP (that’s the technical term for the page that shows your search results). These algorithms are tweaked, changed, replaced and added to on a regular basis, helping to provide better results and prevent unfair manipulation by clever internet marketers. However, the basic principles do remain the same: build a quality website that offers value to your visitors and create links from other websites to it.
Years ago, the way to win at SEO was to get as many people linking to your website as possible. It didn’t matter who was linking to you: the more, the merrier. That was quickly abused, and websites known as “link farms” sprung up everywhere, which linked to any and every website willing to pay. These websites served no real purpose and offered no value to human visitors.
Modern Methods of Link Building
Nowadays, links must come from quality websites, be part of the content that adds value to visitors and be from reputable and trusted websites. That has created the field of “content marketing” where businesses create a mix of content to inform, educate, inspire and entertain potential customers across the internet, with the intention of driving them to their website. Such has the benefit of driving customers right from the content and not from a high ranking in SERP. That’s known as inbound marketing.
Link building through content marketing has seen a huge increase in the number of guest bloggers posting articles on the websites of others. A quick search on Google for the term “write for us” will deliver many pages like this one, offering to publish quality blog posts written by guest writers.
Influencers are a newer form of content marketing and are one of the hottest topics in the world of marketing right now, especially because of the recent release of the Fyre Festival documentary. Even further, the rise of the “Instagram famous” and lifestyle bloggers has seen a surge in people promoting brands through their social media accounts. While influencers, like all content marketing, can be a great marketing tool in their right, they also create content that can provide backlinks as part of your SEO efforts as well.
Other Factors to Consider
Caption: There are many elements to SEO.
Link building (or off-page SEO) is one part of modern SEO. Another factor is “on-page” SEO. It considers elements like the quality of the content on your website, how fast it loads, its keywords and how regularly you update your site. The list below will give you things to consider:
- Use HTTPS encryption
- Have appropriate keywords naturally woven into the content on your website
- Have a logical link structure for your website
- Ensure your website loads quickly
- Design your website to be accessible from mobile devices
- Do not plagiarize or copy content from others without giving credit
- Consistently and regularly post new content and update existing content
- Have a relevant domain name and use keywords in your page URLs
Remember, It’s a Marathon
SEO is a long-term game, so don’t expect to see dramatic results overnight. Also, remember that search engines update their algorithms regularly, so adapt your efforts to keep up with them. You also shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, as SEO should be part of a wider marketing strategy and complement paid advertising. Doing so has the benefit of providing additional streams of traffic but also, acts as a backup should you take a hit in your SERP rankings when an algorithm gets updated.