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Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Andrew Gregory
Author
SEO
Category
Sep 1, 2022
Date

Summary / TL;DR

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? In short, SEO is getting a link to your website to show up in Google search results without paying Google.

Google has 85+% of U.S. searches which means you should focus on what makes Google rank a website higher. Google cares about delivering the most relevant results to the person using their search engines, so write the content with this in mind. While there are many things that will help improve your website’s ranking, content is (and always will be) the single most important factor for SEO.

SEO is not free. Every way to improve SEO has a cost (time, content creation, technical improvements, collaborating with other organizations, etc.). Keep this in mind when considering how much investment to make into SEO, as the value of improved SEO may not be worth it – or it may generate a significant ROI for years to come.

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What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the most misunderstood terms in marketing. Let’s learn about how it all works it.

-- In short, SEO is getting a link to your website to show up in Google search results without paying Google. --

So how do you get your website to rank at the top? There are thousands of factors Google’s algorithm uses to decide which websites to show. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to immediately get your website to the top. That being said, there are many things that can help improve your website’s ranking over time.

Everyone should:

  1. Implement basic technical SEO on the website

  2. Have meaningful, well written content

  3. Structure the content accurately including: headlines, page titles, and descriptions

  4. Get more (good) links back to the content from other relevant websites

Not everyone should:

  1. Write blog posts

  2. Implement advanced technical SEO

  3. Invest in SEO tools and deep keyword research

Google puts value on not just an individual page, but on an entire domain name (such as claritysquared.com). Some of the factors include:

Key SEO Points to Know

Understanding these key points will go a long way to weeding out false SEO tactics.

  1. Google has 85+% of U.S. searches which means you should focus on what makes Google rank a website higher. Improving your ranking on Google also correlates to improved rankings on other search engines.

  2. Google cares about delivering the most relevant results to the person using their search engine. The reason people choose to use Google (why they have 85%+ market share) is because it gives them better answers than other search engines. Because of this, providing the best content and answers to people searching will improve your SEO.

  3. Nobody knows everything that Google takes into account for returning search results. Nobody can guarantee a top of page result. If they could, this would mean that they could manipulate what Google displays in the search results.

  4. A website no longer gets “a rank” for a search term. Instead, the rank will vary based on many factors, including contextual data. This means when you do a search it may or may not show the same results as when I do a search. A few examples are:

    1. Device used (mobile vs. desktop)

    2. Location of the search (based on IP address)

    3. Past search and browsing history

Should Every Organization Focus on Improving SEO?

How’s that for a loaded question?

Of course anyone with a website wants more people to visit their website. If Google shows your website to more people for free, that is a good thing.

The forgotten point is that SEO is not free. Ranking in Google’s organic searches does not require paying Google (though Paid Search Advertising may be a great choice to consider). However, every way to improve SEO has a cost (time, content creation, technical improvements, collaborating with other organizations, etc.). Improving SEO has a cost.

How Much Should I Focus on SEO?

The amount of effort that an organizations should put into SEO varies. Let's consider a few questions that will help you understand the potential value of SEO for your organization:

  1. Does the website already rank well in organic searches?

  2. How much total search volume is there for relevant keywords in the geographical area served? (If the geographical area that served is small, then the potential benefits of ranking well organically may be limited)

  3. Is it likely that this website could become the leader on these topics? Or is there a smaller set of niche topics that it could become a leader for?

  4. Is the organization ready to invest in long-term results? SEO is a long-term game that takes investment now and in the future.

  5. What is the value of an increase in organic traffic?

  6. How strong is the competition for these search terms? Would you need to unseat an already established competitor, or is there room for more?

In short, it is important to be strategic in determining how far to go.

Here are a few basics to keep in mind:

Everyone should:

  1. Implement basic technical SEO on the website

  2. Have meaningful, well written content

  3. Structure the content accurately including: headlines, page titles, and descriptions

  4. Get more (good) links back to the content from other relevant websites

Not everyone should:

  1. Write blog posts

  2. Implement advanced technical SEO

  3. Invest in SEO tools and deep keyword research

Does SEO Work?

Yes! In the right context and with the right strategy SEO can bring in a huge amount of traffic (thank you Google) for years and years.

Key SEO Concepts

Now let’s go a little bit deeper into some key concepts that Google takes into account when ranking a website.

Domain Authority

Google puts value on not just an individual page, but on an entire domain name (such as claritysquared.com). Some of the factors include:

  1. The number of links back to this domain.

  2. The quality of the links back to this domain.

  3. Are the links coming from a website about a related topic.

New domains take time to gain authority, not because the domain name is new, but because there is limited content and limited links from other websites.

Changing domains is challenging. Redirects are extremely important and will help to “transfer domain authority.” However, there is no guaranteed way to change domains without potentially loosing some SEO value.

Content, Content, Content

Do not forget the simple truth that content is (and always will be) the single most important factor for SEO.

  1. Content should be written for the user, not for the search engine.

  2. The structure of content is important. Think of how the content would be understood if it had a table of contents.

  3. Page titles are very important and should be descriptive of what the page is about.

  4. Meta descriptions are likely insignificant for SEO value, but they are important as this text also is displayed in search results.

  5. Meta keywords are not used by Google – though they are not necessarily good or bad.

  6. Alt tags for images are good. But, remember Google’s image search already understands how to analyze images. Alt tags confirm this when they are descriptive of the image.

The most important aspects of content are the topic and the depth of the content. Finding niche topics is the best as it will be easier to rank well.

Penalties

Trying to trick Google is never a good idea. Sure, there have always been ways to trick Google to help improve SEO (such as “keyword stuffing”). But, remember that if Google can be manipulated, then the results will be worse... meaning that Google is always working to prevent this. And Google will catch on.

Some common items that will cause Google to penalize a website:

  1. Content on each page and each website should be unique.

    1. Do not copy content from another site

    2. Do not add multiple pages with the same content other than changing a headline (such as a city name)

  2. Do not write content in a way to use the keywords as often as possible. Instead research the right topic and write the content to help the person you are trying to reach.

  3. Security issues and/or malware on the website

  4. Anything that Google sees as harming the visitor’s experience. Remember, Google wants to give users the best website for their search. Not just the best content, but also the best experience on the website. Because of these, Google may penalize a website for the following:

    1. Pop ups that get in the way of content

    2. Slow page load speed

    3. Mobile usability issues

    4. Unnecessary content (large pictures when the visitor only has a small screen)

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to some technical aspects about a website that can affect search rankings. We will not dive into the details in this article. Yet, it is worth noting that having a website built and maintained the right way can make a huge difference in how well the website ranks. Some of the technical aspects include:

  1. Speed & performance

  2. Mobile friendly (mobile-first rankings)

  3. Core Web Vitals (Google Search Console reports)

  4. Sitemap (submit to search engines)

  5. HTTPS (secure website)

  6. Structured Data

Google Business Profile (Google My Business) Listing

For a local business, having a Google Business Profile will help search results. This assists Google in understanding the business and the areas that it serves. It also will increase the amount of space on the search results that this business is displayed.

Resources, Tips, and Tricks:

  1. Search google site:claritysquared.com to see all pages for a specific domain that are indexed.

  2. Check out hundreds of SEO tips on the Candour blog.

  3. Use the Keyword Surfer Chrome extension to better understand keywords.

  4. Use Google Search Console to learn about your site’s performance.

Andrew Gregory
Author Name
Andrew Gregory / President & Founder
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https://www.claritysquared.com/articles/understanding-search-engine-optimization-seo

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