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What is SEO?

New to digital marketing and want to get a better understanding of what SEO is? If so, take a moment to read through our comprehensive coverage of the topic below!

How is SEO Defined?

SEO is the process of optimizing and promoting website content that attracts website visitors and potential customers, via search engine, at all stages of the buyer’s journey – awareness, consideration, and decision making.

The Buyer’s Journey

While the journey in which buyers typically take can vary widely based on industry, product, or service, the following example taken from Hubspot generally reflects the typical process.

Attract – Produce articles, graphics, videos, tools, research, etc. and promote it where customers are found.
Convert – Use CTAs and landing pages to foster phone calls, form fills, purchases, downloads, etc.
Close – Email drips, special offers, call monitoring, etc.
Delight – Produce guides, tutorials, conduct surveys, etc.
What is SEO? - Hubspot Wheel - Attract, Engage, Delight

Search Engine Optimization (known as SEO) is the science and strategy behind creating websites that are attractive to search engines. “What’s a search engine?” you may ask. Dictionary.com defines a search engine as, “a program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.”

The first search engines most people think of are Google, Yahoo, or Bing, but there are so many more! Facebook, YouTube, AOL, DuckDuckGo, and even Kiddle, which is specifically for kids using search, are all distinguished search engines.

SEO strives to make efforts and changes to existing websites as well to result in a website being shown in a higher placement on search engine results pages (aka SERPs), also known as “first page placements.” There are two main divisions of SEO – organic and local.

Organic vs Local SEO

Take a look at the two graphics below. Both are search results for very similar queries (presumingly with the same intent from the user’s perspective); however, Google has determined the first to be worthy of kicking back local map listings but not for the second one.

Example 1
Search Query: water heater repair
1. Local Service Ads
2. Pay-Per-Click Ads
3. Local SEO
4. People Also Ask
5. Organic SEO
What is SEO? - Organic Search Results Example 1

Local search engine results have a few aspects that are different from organic search results. As you can probably guess, they include a local element tailored to a geographical area like, “Shirts for sale near me” or “Shirts for sale Cleveland OH.” For local search engine results, these typically appear with or without a paid ads section, but almost always with a map of the area. This map is called the “local pack” or “snack pack” or “map pack” and it displays three local businesses. Below that are the organic search results where even more search engine optimization techniques come into play.

Example 2
Search Query: water heater replacement cost
1. Local Service Ads
2. Pay-Per-Click Ads
3. Organic SEO (Featured Snippet)
4. People Also Ask
5. Organic SEO
What is SEO? - Organic Search Results Example 2

Organic search engine results appear as lists generally due to relevance to the terms used to search, but we’ll get into how that happens later. An example of an organic search result would be “Shirts for sale.” If a search engine has a paid search function (like Google AdWords), the organic results would then be listed below a “sponsored” or paid section. These results are generally extremely hard to achieve (especially nationally), as they are incredibly coveted spots due to the high level of visibility garnered by first-page placements.

Why Does SEO Matter to My Business?

Now that you have a gist of what search engine optimization is, you might be wondering what benefit it could have for your business. Do you even need a website at all when you have a local business? Once you get one, can’t you just put up a site, and have people instantly come?

Even if you’re a business that serves local customers only – like a tailor, HVAC repair company, carpet cleaning service, or dog groomer – a website with clear information such as which services you provide and what area you serve is essential.

What is SEO? - Earn Trust

According to the Search Engine Journal, “Organic search is a huge part of most business’s website performance, as well as a critical component of the buyer funnel and ultimately getting users to complete a conversion or engagement.” Google is visited at least once per day by a vast majority of internet users around the world. Why not tap into that potential by optimizing your search engine presence?

In addition to getting your website seen by more viewers, search engine optimization makes your website more trustworthy, user-friendly, and credible to those that view your website. SEO also positively impacts the buying cycle; sometimes eliminating the referral step since search engines can essentially work as a trustworthy reference source.

Search engine marketing is also quantifiable. Google Analytics, for instance, can show an incredible amount of data. From website views, on any given day, to the location of the audience to time spent on each page. Correspondingly, Google My Business (Google’s local search platform) has detailed insights as well that can directly tell you the increase in directions requested to your location, calls made through the platform, and reviews left.

Implementing full organic and local SEO techniques will always bring benefits to your business and its marketing efforts.

What is the Goal of SEO?

Regardless of your industry, the goal of search engine optimization is to make your website appealing to search engines, primarily Google. But beyond that, what are the main objectives? Search Engine Land discusses three significant goals: visibility, traffic, and return-on-investment.

#1 Visibility

The first goal we’ll discuss the visibility of your company. People searching Google typically stick to the first page of results, and even if they don’t click on your website for whatever reason, being on that first page makes your brand visible and gets your company name out there. Many people searching Google also assume that high-page placement equals an endorsement for your company. All in all, the goal of SEO is to increase your company visibility within your industry or niche, while protecting the integrity of your company online.

You can also track the visibility of keyword tracking functions through tools like SERPs Rank Checker. While you shouldn’t obsess over these rankings, this free tool will track your keyword rankings by location, device, and search engine placement. Of course, an SEO company like BizIQ has those rankings built right into an easy-to-use back office that records prior positioning to show you how far you’ve truly come.

#2 Traffic

The second goal is website traffic. As you’ve already read, just building a website and hoping that people visit it is not enough. You wouldn’t erect a business in the middle of the wilderness and hope that someone would happen across it – so don’t do the same for your website.

SEO is designed to direct users who need your services specifically towards your website, ensuring you have the best chance of getting great business leads with high conversion chances. Ideally, these will be people who haven’t heard of your business or don’t know about your services.

#3 ROI

When you invest in search engine marketing, the overarching goal of all efforts is to make your company more successful. The third goal is delivering ROI or return-on-investment, which requires tracking.

When it comes to SEO, ROI can mean a few different things. There are several key performance indicators (KPIs) in play, but a good starting point is assessing website views and bounce rate using Google Analytics. To take that a step further, you can correlate your marketing efforts to your actual business using a few methods.

An easy way of tracking this goal when you have a store-front or service-based business is to compare the increases of your Google My Business listing to in-store purchases or overall calls/visits to the location by asking exactly where those customers found you. For e-commerce-based websites, Google Analytics can even tally up purchases made, as well as sessions, users, and the bounce rate of each page on your website.

With all the goals of SEO, tracking your efforts is crucial. You can’t tell if you’ve met the goals you set without periodically checking in on your progress so far. Now that you’ve set your goals, let’s get into how they are achieved!

Common SEO Techniques

You know a bit about SEO, what it is, and what your goals should be, but how do you achieve those goals exactly?

Mobile-Friendly Optimization

In 2018, Google confirmed that over 50% of pages shown in search results around the world are from a part of their algorithm called “mobile-first indexing.” Mobile-first indexing means that Google is looking at the mobile version of your website, rather than the desktop version.

But aren’t they the same? The short answer is no. Desktop websites aren’t inherently mobile-friendly, so when you have your website designed, that should be a major factor! Content, menus, graphic design elements, and contact forms are just some areas that can need to be optimized for mobile viewers.

A non-mobile optimized website will face difficulties in ranking – thus making your goal of showing up on the first page more difficult. Even if it does show on the first page, users aren’t going to want to stay on a website that looks distorted or is hard to navigate on their phones.

A Focus on Local SEO

Have you ever searched for a service with the phrase, “near me”? Since those searches have increased over the past few years, utilizing a technique that targets local searches is a great idea. Users can easily find your business no matter if you are service-based or selling products specifically.

Enhance the User Experience

Search engines aim to give users the best experience possible. To do this, they place a high value on websites that provide an enhanced experience for people that use your website. Rather than explicitly making a website just for the search engines to rank you, you need to optimize your site for humans first and foremost. Additionally, if your website doesn’t operate functionally for users or provide the information they need, people aren’t likely to call you or check your business out further.

Content Marketing

For an effective marketing plan, keyword and content strategies are of utmost importance. While you can’t just put up a website and hope people come, putting up a basic website with no content (also known as text) won’t help future customers either. Firstly, your website should serve as a relatively in-depth information bank for potential customers. This means listing your service, business details, accolades, and service area prominently. But that’s not all.

A key component of content marketing is implementing effective keyword strategies. Utilizing a keyword analysis tool, like Google’s Keyword Planner, will assist in picking the optimal keywords for your business, location, and service/product type. This is where having a search engine optimization company can benefit you, as these companies like BizIQ have completed keyword research for a variety of industries and areas and will have a solid strategy of where to begin.

Further, content marketing can include blog and social media posts too. Having a solid content marketing strategy that integrates website content, blog, and social media posts is a great SEO technique.

Metadata Optimization

One aspect that business owners may not even be aware of is metadata.

When it comes to webpages, metadata and meta tags refer to the title and description of a webpage that is encoded into the page but not actually displayed on the screen with the page. The real consumer of this invisible data and HTML code are the search engines, as this data provides important information to search engines about the content and purpose of the webpage.”

Essentially, metadata is what a search engine like Google shows on those Search Engine Results Pages. What is written in the page title and description matters to the keywords you are looking to show up for. Thus, having a blank description/title or an irrelevant one does not serve your goal of showing up on the first page.

Technically Optimize Your Site

Aside from SEO and content tips, one primary focus is to ensure your website is appropriately technically optimized. Elements that aren’t browser friendly or cause glitches are a sure way to have your website devalued.

One of the elements you must have is HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.) HTTPS is a protocol that ensures the website visitor’s data is safe between their computer and your website. Without it, you will be ranked lower, and visitors will usually get a warning that states, “Your connection is not private.” This makes website visitors scared, and they may not proceed to your website.

HTML tags, AMP JS, and AMP cache are other aspects of technical optimization that can be slightly more difficult to implement on your own. Consulting with a specialized SEO company can ensure that your website is meeting these requirements.

How Do Search Engines Determine Which Websites to Recommend?

There are billions of webpages in existence, so how do search engines determine which websites to show you? Let’s talk about how search engines work in general. As described by DeepCrawl.com, programs called “bots” or “spiders” crawl across all websites available by downloading webpages and following links on those pages to discover new pages that have been made available.

After search engine bots discover new pages, they are added to an index, which is essentially a giant Rolodex that hasn’t been organized yet. To categorize the latest webpages when a search is made, inside the index entries, each website is categorized with:

  • Content on the webpage – what is written on the page and metadata
  • Date of the webpage creation
  • User engagement with the webpage (how users react and utilize your website)
  • Keywords within the webpage (what is this page discussing)

All in all, search engine algorithms are designed to show the person searching only high-quality, extremely relevant results. They want the searcher to receive an answer to their query or question as soon as possible so that the searcher keeps using that search engine in the future.

When a person uses a search engine, all relevant pages are pulled from that index – just like pulling cards from a Rolodex. An algorithm then determines which of those pages are relevant to the user and then hierarchically ranks them – this all happens in a matter of seconds! The specific algorithms and factors that each search engine uses are different, which is why your search engine results can vary from Google to Bing to Yahoo, etc.

Aside from the different algorithms in use, search engines base your results based upon various elements, including:

  1. Past search history: The search engine may you the same results you’ve seen before in some instances and different results in others.
  2. Device: Based on your specific mobile device type or desktop.
  3. Location: They may prioritize results close to your physical location, your work address, or your home address.

There are also times that a webpage may not be indexed at all. Some people may choose to include a robots.txt file specifically designed to tell search engines not to visit the page. Similarly, a noindex tag will stop it from being indexed. Those tags can be of usage when a webmaster includes duplicated content for informational purposes to the reader, rather than for ranking purposes.

Search engines may choose not to show pages that they deem of low quality, plagiarized content, or very little text. Unfortunately, many website owners who have had their pages de-indexed or never shown may never know why.

That’s where search engine optimization comes in – to identify and adjust things you may not have ever considered before to ensure the highest placement possible. Since different results show for different searchers, how do you determine whom you are going to target?

Determining Who You’re Going to Target

Much like when you made your business plan, your website should be geared towards your ideal customer. One of the best ways to retain customers and provide top-notch customer service is to focus all of your advertising, marketing, and sales efforts towards the best type of customer for you. Unfortunately, most business owners aren’t clear on their ideal customer, but without being aware of who is ideally purchasing your products and services, you’ll waste time and money. It is incredibly essential to the life of your business to hone in on whom to target with your search engine optimization and which keywords are the most effective to reach that customer.

Entrepreneur.com offers some tips to discover who your ideal customer might be:

What’s the Benefit?

Identify how your products or services benefit the customer. What needs do you provide solutions for? How would your services improve the customer’s life? What does your product or service have that another business doesn’t?

What are You Selling?

Specify the ideal customer for what you sell. Let’s say you own a plumbing service. Your first thought might be, “My ideal customer is someone who needs a plumber,” but you must be more specific than that. What is their age, job, or business type? What is their price range or budget?

Where Does Your Customer Live?

Determine the location of your customer. For SEO purposes, this might be the most important distinction of all. Identifying where your customer is physically located will help you target the best areas! This can be placing your ideal customer lives or works and can be broad or specific – but the more specific, the better!

How Often Do Customers Make a Purchase?

Indicate when your customer buys your product or hires your company for services. What situation is your customer in that they need your product/service? Is it a necessary item, or a luxury service? What time of year to your customers need your services most?

Determining Which Keywords You’re Going to Optimize For

An essential search engine ranking factor, keywords help decide where and when to show your webpages in the search results. If you get this step right the first time, a search engine like Google will easily categorize your website and make it more likely to be shown on the SERPs. When you know who your ideal customer is and what they’ll be looking for, you’ll be able to perform top-notch keyword research to get you in front of them. For an effective SEO campaign, keywords will drive content creation, website page strategy, and all other promotional efforts like email marketing.

Since keywords are essentially words or phrases that equate to what users are searching for, choosing the best keyword phrases is one of the most integral parts of building an SEO campaign. Keywords also should describe the things you’re writing about or advertising. While in a perfect environment, those two aspects would be precisely the same, if they aren’t, keywords can help connect the two.

The ways people search greatly influence keywords. Today, people utilize mobile and voice assistant devices, which means that some keyword searches are more natural, rather than just search phrases. When you use a voice-activated device, like Alexa, Siri, or the Google assistant, your question is essentially but into a search engine, and the results are read back to you.

For instance, when on a desktop, you may type in “Restaurants Near Me,” but while on your Amazon Alexa, you may ask, “Alexa, what restaurants are near me?” Alexa would then put your phrase into a search engine, and then you’ll hear the restaurants that are close to your address. While those phrases are similar, they aren’t exactly the same, and that can change the results.

To choose the keywords necessary for your website to target, you must complete keyword research. Optinmonster defines keyword research as “…the practice of finding the terms that people enter into search engines so you can use them for webpages, content creation, and marketing.”

There are a few different types of keywords, as well.

Short: 1-2 words that are searched very frequently, “Restaurants.”

Medium: 2-3 word phrases with an average amount of people searching for them, “Chinese Restaurants.”

Longtail: 4 or more words strung together that are searched less, “Chinese Restaurants Open on Sunday.”

How do you come up with words/phrases that can best serve your website? The first step is to brainstorm. You know your industry and your ideal customer, so what do you think they’ll search for? What would you search for if you were a customer?

When you make a list of primary keywords like “plumber” or “plumbing service,” it can be easier to build the longer keywords off of those. For more ideas on how to brainstorm these ideas, scroll down to read about search intent.

Once you have your basic list of keywords, you can expand on that using a keyword research tool like Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SEMRush.

Of course, hiring a respected SEO company like BizIQ means that you can skip this step, as your dedicated account manager will complete all of the keyword research for you!

Understanding Search Intent

Building an effective website and its content is more than just guesswork, as we’ve discussed – but something that can further the reach of your marketing campaign is understanding the intent of the searcher. Search intent, also known as keyword intent, is the reason why behind a searcher’s query.

With the latest Google algorithms, the search engine interprets the intent and then shows results that match what the searcher is looking for. It can even determine which step of the conversion process a customer is in, whether it is not an immediate need to purchase something or when they’re ready to do so.

Common types of keyword intent include:

To get Free Services: These keywords are for unlikely converts since they are looking for free items, like “free photo editing software” or “photo printing free.”

To find a specific page: Typically branded, these keywords want to get the user where they’re trying to go, like searching for “Facebook” or “Amazon.”

To answer a specific question: These keywords intend to get a straightforward answer, like “How to change my oil” or “how to get a job.”

To complete an action: These searches are for people who specifically want to do something, including purchases. But the intent can also be to visit a location or call a provider, like “Buy iPhone” or “Speedy’s Plumbing Number” or “Speedy’s Plumbing Contact.”

Understanding how search intent works is integral to your search engine marketing campaign. The benefits of anticipating search queries include:

  1. More website views
  2. Reduced bounce rates
  3. Larger audience reach
  4. A better-quality website

Optimizing for keyword intent is a pretty simple idea – figure out how you can answer the user’s question or get them to the information they want. When answering a query, the utilization of headers and page titles can be the most efficient. For users that want to complete an action, including a clear call to action like, “Contact Us Here!” is a good idea. You should also have a clear design focus.

According to SEMRush, “Website visitors form their opinions of a page in under a second, and 95% of those opinions are based on visual design.” Make sure the website visuals express the sentiment of your website and that those images and videos make it clear what you do.

For transactional search intent, your best bet is to make the conversion process very simple. The forms should only request information needed for the conversion, and each page should have a lead generation form as well as your phone number – that way, potential customers can leave a lead at any point in time while on your website.

It would be best if you also had landing pages for your products or services that provide information that answers probable queries. Further, quality keyword-optimized content will take your website to the next level.

How to Create SEO-Friendly Content

Writing any type of long-form text can be difficult and time-consuming, and SEO friendly content is no different. Luckily, you’ll be crafting content about one of the things you know best – your business, but it still needs to be planned to boost your rankings on those search engines. That doesn’t mean to stuff your website with as many keywords as you can. The content needs to be helpful, easy-to-follow and answers the questions they may have about the business.

Your website content is intended to help search engines understand the purpose of your business and to trust your website, but it still needs to be easy for the real person who views it to get who you are and what you do. Some tips for creating your SEO-friendly content include:

Keyword Optimized Headlines and Sub-Headers

These will make your writing extremely easy to follow, which enhances the user experience of being on your website.

Add Links

As you can see throughout the BizIQ.com website, we link back to previous pages or articles within our site that are relevant. We also link to credible sources when applicable, which creates an extended trust to the reader; they know you’re not the only one who knows a particular fact! This practice is recommended throughout websites but also within blogs specifically.

Perfect Content Length

Per com, longer, high-quality content that incorporates the keywords you’ve chosen has a better chance of showing on the first page. When crafting a page, you also want to make sure the content is broken up into sections to further make it easier for the reader.

SEO-friendly content creation is the key to making the most out of your onpage SEO.

What Does Onpage SEO Refer To?

Onpage SEO includes anything within a website that improves search ranking positioning. Those measures include:

Content

Content doesn’t just refer to visible text, though that is a component. It also refers to structural text, like paragraphs, bullets, headings, and bolding/italicizing. Graphics and videos included also play a part.

Meta Description & Title Tags

The meta description and title tags are a factor that will impact your click-through rate. Even though they aren’t prominently visible to users, they should be improved alongside the content.

Internal Structures & Links

Internal structures and links include webpage hierarchy, internal linking (linking back to your own website), unique content and tags, URL structure, and the focus of the page.

Technical Optimization

Technical elements have several aspects, including the usage of an SSL, mobile-friendliness, speed, and types of content. Read more about technical SEO below.

How Do Backlinks Play a Role?

You’ve read a lot of information about SEO so far, but what about off-page SEO? Backlinks are a key off-page component. Also known as “inbound links” or “incoming links,” they are part of one of the most time-tested SEO strategies known as link building. Link building is the process of having your website linked by other websites.

According to BrightLocal, 89% of SEOs say link building is a top priority for local businesses; additionally, 100% of SEOs consider link building to be a significant way to bolster search rankings. This means that it is an important technique that shouldn’t be glossed over because it seems complicated.

Backlinks remain an important aspect because they show Google’s algorithm that your website contains valuable and useful information for consumers. Essentially, they’re a sign that other people respect your website and have confidence that the information is correct.

However, this doesn’t mean you should go to a shady website and pay $99 to have your website backlinked 100 times. When you buy links, typically, they are placed upon irrelevant websites. It matters where, how, and when your website is backlinked for Google to view your website as valuable. High authority websites (pages that already rank well) give more value to link back to your website.

What is Technical SEO?

Google and other search engines hold user experience and safety as top-priority, which means technical aspects of your website are incredibly important. Technical SEO refers to the parts of your website that ensure it operates as securely and efficiently as possible. Some aspects of technical SEO include:

SSL

Secure Sockets Layer is the technology used to secure data between a server and a browser. The SSL certificate is installed on the website, and your URL will start with ‘https://’ instead of the prior, ‘http://.’

Mobile Friendliness

When users visit your website, it should be responsive to the device they are using. BigCommerce Essentials states, “Google is clear about the fact that having a responsive site is considered a very significant ranking signal by its algorithms. And, with the introduction of Google’s ‘mobile-first’ approach to indexing content, a responsive website is now more important than ever.”

Fast Load Times

There is never a downside to having a fast website, and search engines recognize that! Some of the ways you can increase your page speed are to use fast hosting, make sure images and other files are not oversized, and to utilize a quality DNS host.

Avoid Duplicate Content

Not only is plagiarized or copied content negative in a customer’s eyes, but search engines also prefer not to display it as a top result. On the technical side of things, you should make sure that your content management system isn’t publishing more than one of the posts or exact pages. If you’re using duplicate content on purpose for some reason, make sure to include the nofollow tag.

Sitemap

A sitemap is basically a map to each page within your website. When you create a sitemap, it helps search engines understand the layout of the website and what priority those pages are.

What Does the Future Hold?

If you retain one thing from learning about search engine optimization, its that it rapidly changes and evolves, sometimes at a faster speed than expected. At monitorbacklinks.com, Elise Dopson interviewed 14 experts in the field of search engine marketing to get their predictions for the future. Their top forecasts include:

  1. A focus on fast websites that answer people’s questions ASAP.
  2. Sales funnel-focused content that is specific rather than general will succeed.
  3. Voice search long-tail keywords will prevail with the rise of artificial intelligence.
  4. A lower search click-through-rate as Google offers more options for users and a search volume plateau of how many people are searching in general.
  5. User experience will continue to reign supreme.

Though these predictions can be open-ended, one theme prevails. Businesses need to make investments in content creation, conversion techniques, and overall user experience.

Have Questions About Your SEO Campaign? We Have Answers!

Aside from if those things continue to trend in SEO, it is good praxis to invest in techniques that make the potential customer have a phenomenal experience on your website. Similarly, devoting some of your monthly marketing budget to an agency that specializes in staying at the forefront of search engine optimization trends will help ease the burden of strategizing and creating an SEO strategy while maintaining operations. Contact BizIQ today to learn more about how SEO can benefit your business.