Choose Your Adventure
PART 1. What is “SEO”?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) works to get a website to rank higher in search engines. Take, for example, a website that sells watches. The goal for this website is to appear high on the list when someone searches “shop women’s watches” in Google.
SEO is not the only avenue to appear at the top of search engine lists. Google, Yahoo, and Bing offer a paid option, “Pay Per Click” ads, where people pay the search engines to show up for certain searches. When someone clicks on the site, search engines receive a fee. These ads appear before organic results, but have an “Ad” tag next to it.
SEO Organic Search
Pay Per Click Advertising
Appearing on search engine lists means growth with both approaches - more clients, sales, brand reach, and engagement with either approach.
PART 2. Why is SEO necessary?
Traditional marketing and advertising is usually outbound, which means brands disrupt potential customers’ attention to see their advertisements i.e. Television ads, radio, print, and social media pop-ups). Search engine traffic, on the other hand, has potential customers actively searching for a certain product or service. In order to grow your business online, organic traffic proves to be a powerful force.
SEO Organic Search
Leads generated from SEO convert at an average of 15%, which is 12% higher than the conversion rate for outbound leads.
Only 9% of businesses using inbound marketing with SEO failed to see an ROI according to a survey by Hubspot. This shows that 91% of businesses do see an ROI meaning that SEO marketing has a high enough ROI rate to be considered incredibly successful.
Blogging, when properly optimized for search, can be a leading source of leads and traffics for businesses. SEO ensures that blog posts appears on the appropriate result lists and drive traffic.
Imagine a FREE flow of customers that can grow your business exponentially.
SEO has become more complicated over the years as search engines have refined their standards. Despite the complicated nature of SEO, it is still worth practicing.
PART 3. How Do Search Engines Work?
The words search engines will now become Google from here on out since Google owns over 70% of the search engine market share with no signs of diminishing. For the most part, people only use Bing or Yahoo either by accident or because it was set as the default search engine in the browser.
SEO Organic Search
Google Search Has 2 Simple Goals
Sell as Much Advertising as Possible
Essentially, Google need users to continue to come back and do so by refining their algorithm to serve the best results. Understanding how Google ranks websites helps businesses to use this knowledge to their advantage and rank higher in search results,
Fundamentally, Google Has a 3 Step Process:
Bots or spiders are automated programs that Google uses to “crawl” billions of new and updated pages on the web. These bots follow links on the pages and index them into Google’s database, which interacts with trillions of pages and is more than 100, 000, 000 gigabytes in size.
Then, search algorithms sift through the data on the index to rank the pages almost instantaneously based over 200 signals, according to Google.
Google use these algorithms to determine which pages will be displayed for a particular query (i.e. “ranking”).
Google’s infrastructure handles about 63, 075 searches every second and continuously increases. SEO users do not need to be an expert in algorithms, but it is crucial to understand how Google works. When a website has an issue, it often comes back to crawling and index issues.
PART 4. The Factors That Actually “Rank” a Website
Contrary to popular belief, Google has more than one single monolithic algorithm to index pages and produce results.
Google’s algorithms have been refined to:
How These Algorithms Work
Only certain people inside Google know exactly how the algorithms work. However, web developers can make educated guesses about the general impact of over 200 signals to rank pages.
Here are a few:
The number of “links” that are directed to your website.
Google uses “links” to “crawl” through websites. The links act as popularity votes and the more links to a website, the higher the chance to rank on Google. (A link is when another website mentions a certain website and “links” it to it as attribution. Many factors go into links, but generally if a website that attracts a lot of links from high quality sites, it will rank higher.
Keywords appearing in important places on important pages.
Keywords should appear in titles, URLs, subheadings, and body text. Without overdoing this, these keywords can help Google associate your pages with queries.
Quality content with depth
The quality of content shows Google if the website is worthy of being ranked. This means a website should cover relevant topics with substantial content since “thin” content does not provide any valuable information for searchers.
The speed and page load times of the website.
People hate when a website page takes more than 3 seconds to load and will be more likely to click away if that happens, raising your bounce rate. Fast-loading pages rank higher in results.
Optimization for mobile use
Google announced in 2017 that more searches use mobile phones than desktops. They’ve also stated, many times, that sites that do not optimize for mobile will rank lower.
By covering all of these signals, users will be able to get the most useful answer to search queries with little difficulty. Google’s mission aims to provide value to users, which also applies to successful SEO.
PART 5. How SEO Has Changed Over the Years
In 2012, it was easy to rank on search engines with basic SEO:
Back then, a website can rank in a matter of days. Now, it is not as simple.
Ranking takes months of hard and consistent work to see results. SEO cannot be done through any shortcuts and as a result, a random site cannot rank at the top of the list. Google’s algorithm continues to learn and grow in intelligence to understand all aspects of what a quality search result looks like.
Google constantly looks to improve the quality of their search results and continuously tweak search algorithms to provide a better experience for those who use Google. Although the algorithm is constantly updated, there have been several major updates over the years that resulted in a drastic change in the SEO game.
How these algorithms work:
Panda - February 2011
Panda weeded out sites with low quality, duplicates, and keyword stuffed content. It also assigned a quality score for pages and since its inception, multiple versions have come out.
Penguin - April 2012
Panda penalized sites that used bad linking practice such as spam links or links that had an over optimized anchor text.
Hummingbird - August 2013
Hummingbird targeted sites that had low quality content and poor keyword spread use.
Pigeon - July 2014 and Possum - September 2016
These algorithms affected sites that had poor onpage and offpage SEO, which had a massive impact on location related search.
Mobilegeddon - April 2015
This updated algorithm targeted sites that were not optimized for mobile
RankBrain - October 2015
AI capabilities were added to the algorithm that affected sites with poor UX (user experience) and had a lack of relevant, query specific content.
Fred - March 2017
Sites created with the sole purpose to drive ad revenue were eliminated with this update.
PART 6. The Direction of SEO
For beginners who have reached this point may be a tad confused, but SEO is hard and it’s getting harder.
Client work for SEO professionals provides concrete data on what practices work and what doesn’t. In addition to the “traditional” SEO ranking factors, many new factors have been introduced:
Google’s Algorithms Involve Machine Learning
Fret not, this just means that algorithms learn continuously about what a quality result should look like and make adjustments to the algorithm accordingly.
Satisfying the Searcher
It is important to understand what a user does after clicking a result on Google. Considering the time spent on a website - whether or not the user clicks away immediately - and then their refined search query provide essential and invaluable data. This data provides Google a better understanding of how users search for certain things. Web developers should then be aware of the quality of their pages to ensure satisfaction for the searcher’s intent.
Algorithm Query Levels
Speculation shows evidence that mini algorithms can be triggered at query level. Google “learns” what a good result looks like based on the search query. For example, “payday loans” is an industry that produces web spam. The algorithm, in theory, understands how to shift through the spam and understand at core level the top sites are and measure other relevant websites to this. This means that to improve a website’s ranking, web developers must understand the industry and what the current top result has done to get that place.
Approaching SEO from a more holistic organic standpoint.
In some industries, SEO can be too competitive for small websites. A website that sells jeans will be almost impossible to outrank The Gap for “jeans” and related keywords. As an iconic brand, online and offline with a proven track record with consumers, it will most likely always be most relevant. Businesses can still build a profitable organic presence on Google with creative strategies. It is important to follow traditional SEO practices with websites as well as building organic channels off site.
Yelp and other sites like it can be a gold mine for local businesses. A page full of positive reviews on a reliable site will drive customers to businesses.
Avvo and Clutch are examples of platforms that provide opportunities for organic exposure. For high intent searches, these sites rank well and if a website ranks on top of those platforms, it will be as powerful as ranking your website on Google.
YouTube video views prove just as important, if not more important, than a person reading a blog post.
This means that web developers should not limit their SEO to “rank” for main keywords. In some cases, a website may not be able to reach the top spot, but a shift in focus to other organic opportunities can increase exposure.
Google loves brands.
Google publicly state that “brands” do well for SEO as people trust them and want to find them in search results.
When a person buying TVs online sees results from Best Buy and Bargain TVs - it is most likely that they will click on Best Buy. Brands carry a level of trust with consumers that the search algorithm “likes”.
For regular people, this can be difficult to overcome since brands take years to establish. Some websites, however, are able to rank quickly without being a traditional “brand”.
Google does not determine a “brand” like a person does. The algorithm considers quality signals that dictate the authority or “brand” power of a website. Link and content are traditional aspects that still play a major role, but websites with no links and no content can rank number 1 for competitive keywords. The rank number one since the websites have a lot of “branded search” or, in other words, every months thousands of people search directly for the website’s product and website.
Brandest search is the highest quality signal. It is impossible to emulate branded search unlike other ranking factors. It shows Google that when people look for a certain product, they want to see a specific website. This powerful association with a product that is so popular since people do not want to see any other search results.
A branded search can built just like a traditional brand with some differences.
Offline advertising - radio, TV, print ads
When people see an ad that catches their attention, they go to the next step to Google to search for the business associated with the ad.
Influencer advertising - Instagram, YouTube, Twitter
This type of advertising proves powerful. Since Instagram does not allow for users to link to a website on individual posts, users who repeatedly see other people mentioning a product, they go to Google to get more information. Some influencers can reach millions of people within seconds and this is the best way to increase branded search. However, it is expensive.
Consistent coverage in online and offline media outlets can increase branded search. If expert assistance is out of reach, web developers can start at the bottom and do it themselves. They do this by applying to write on big sites, work to get on popular podcasts, and start a blog filled with good content.
Having a great product / service
Word of mouth drives more potential consumers to Google to learn more about a product or service that they hear about. The quality of a product or service can be a great and powerful marketing asset.
Saturated and automated content quality can make or break a marketing campaign.
Quality content is understood to be an asset to all marketers in the industry. So much so, bots create content at an alarming rate and in the near future, most content will be written by bots.
Google does not want to waste bandwidth with the large amount of bad content on the web by indexing it. In order to combat this problem, the algorithm has evolved to be adept in understanding real “quality”. Without the rare, official word from Google, industry experts agree that Google builds an overall quality score for your website. There are other factors such as having too much thin, outdated, and low quality content that can build a negative perception of quality about a website.
With bad content, Google loses trust in websites and:
The following information will discuss exactly how to create, clean up and maintain the highest quality content (on a budget).
Links still hold the same importance, but quality is what truly matters.
Experienced SEO experts have access to important data the organic traffic data of thousands of links from building websites. This data helps experts understand the true impact of links on organic traffic:
Experts have found that product pages did not react well to direct links, but did with the types listed above. Content, or in-depth articles, react more positively to links. A link to an in-depth piece of content is more natural than a product or service page. Blog posts that rank well can drive more traffic. Links are used for “citation” purposes just like a footnote in an essay.
We found that product pages did not react overly well to direct links, only the types listed above. Content (i.e. in depth articles) react much more positively to links. We believe it’s because getting a link to an in depth piece of content is much more natural than a product / service page. The blog posts that we build links to ranked very well and drove a ton of traffic for clients. Links are supposed to be used for “citation” purposes, like footnotes in your high school essays.
Google does not punish websites, but just ignores it and loses trust. In the past, SEO experts built guest post links to e-commerce product pages, which now can be penalized. A page without links will not be contextually mentioned in blog posts.
Rather than penalizing a page, the links have no effect and Google ignores them. Google, over the years, seem to have learned their lesson from penalizing websites. Most websites outsource their SEO to an agency and do not appreciate being penalized for the actions of an outside business. Link building takes a lot of hard work and money and website developers do not want to waste resources on useless tactics that do not affect traffic.
Despite all of this information, core concepts don’t and won’t change.
SEO experts advise to focus on three things:
Build a website that is organized, fast, and follows all of Google’s guidelines. For small businesses should build on Wordpress, which will handle almost all of this for them.
Populate websites with the content that is relevant to what the targeted audience wants, needs, and tries to find. It is advisable to make it a point of pride to not publish any irrelevant pages that will not help your customers. Quality is very, very important.
Finding ways for other websites to discuss a brand to build exposure. In the beginning, this must be done manually. With active participation in forums such as Reddit, Quora, and Facebook groups, businesses can determine the voice to interact properly with potential consumers and provide value to them. Finding the best and popular blogs in the industry and guest-writing for them can help people discover a website and assume that it has quality content and hopefully discuss the website organically.
PART 7. The Evergreen Approach to SEO
Regardless of the industry, SEO experts follow the same template for optimization for any industry, though every website needs to customize their strategy for optimization. Whether a website aims to get more participants for a yoga studio or an ecommerce store selling bracelets, the basis of good SEO remain the same for each.
It can be broken down into 5 phases: