Search engine optimization – or SEO – is a digital marketing practice intended to improve the quality and quantity of organic traffic to a website. Basically, SEO helps make a website easier to find and boosts its ranking on search engine results pages.

Search engines crawl websites to determine what content is available and indexes the sites based on their content. Search engines then use the indexes to determine where the sites should appear within search results. The more relevant the site is to the search query, the higher the site will appear in the results.

.Simple, right?

Search engines are the card catalogs of the digital world. They basically organize all available content on the internet so that users can find the information that they need. Search engines apply thousands of different factors to billions of pieces of content to determine what content will best answer the user’s inquiry.

When a site is optimized, it makes it easier for search engines to crawl, index and rank the content of that site.

In order for a website to be crawled, though it must first be found by a search engine. If a site can’t be detected by a search engine, it will not appear in any search results.

This is where SEO comes in.

In the past, SEO was mainly picking keywords to include throughout a site’s content for the crawlers to identify. Unfortunately, it takes more than that to truly optimize a site. These days, search engines look for not only keywords but title tags, image tags, internal links (links that go from one page on a website to another), and backlinks or inbound links (when one website links to another web resource). In addition, search engines also look at how the site is organized and designed and how the user behaves on that site.

So, where to start?

Begin with an SEO audit. A basic SEO audit evaluates the site content looking for any major technical issues that could negatively impact the site’s performance. A tech-savvy do-it-yourselfer could take this on, however, be prepared – the process can take days or even weeks.

A thorough SEO audit involves not only uncovering the easy to fix issues but also evaluates organic search traffic, analyzes backlinks and identifies gaps in content. It can be quite intimidating and time consuming. This is about the time most organizations would seek out an SEO company or service to lead or assist. An experienced SEO company can not only identify problem areas but also offer recommendations for fixes and other improvements.

Another important piece of the SEO audit is determining the keywords the site ranks for and by what terms users are finding the site. The best way to do this is by using a keyword search tool.

With a keyword search tool, the user can search a seed keyword and find search volume for that keyword along with similar words, questions, phrases and even topic suggestions.

Search volume for keywords varies. While it is important for a site to rank for terms that the audience is searching, remember that the higher the search volume for a particular keyword, the more competitive that keyword is. Consider keywords and phrases with lower search volume. These are less competitive thus, giving sites that rank for these terms a strategic advantage.

Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are specific phrases that are longer than traditional keywords and often deliver higher conversion rates.

Once topics, keywords and phrases have been identified, create quality content utilizing these terms that will help to establish the site as an authority on said topics. Remember that pages rank for keywords, not entire websites. So, build individual pages featuring blog posts, articles, FAQ’s and other content that includes the keywords for which the site should rank.

Ranking for keywords is only half the battle, though. Factors such as site speed, responsive design, and content quality are taken into consideration when sites are being indexed and ranked. It is critical to also consider overall site design and organization. If a site is disorganized search engines will have a difficult time crawling and indexing it resulting in a lower ranking.

Fun fact: Google practices mobile first indexing which means Google will crawl the mobile version of a site rather than the desktop version and use that for its indexing.

Search engines are here to help. Their intent is to deliver quality results to users and get websites in front of the right people at the right time. So, it is best to play by the rules.

Guidelines vary by search engine but here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Build your site with the user – not search engines – in mind.
  • Strive to create a unique, valuable and engaging website and user experience.
  • Avoid tricks such as keyword stuffing and link schemes which deliberately deceive search engines in an attempt to achieve higher rankings.
  • Don’t use hidden text and links or cloaking practices – showing search engines different content than visitors.

So, is all this SEO effort really worth it?

Short answer – Yes.

The majority of web traffic is delivered by search engines. While over 71% of searches result in a page 1 Google organic click, less than 10% of people click on paid advertisements. Users often find search results more credible than paid ads because they are actively seeking out that specific information.

SEO isn’t exactly set it and forget it, but when a site is optimized correctly with quality content that ranks for the right keywords, organic traffic will continue to grow over time. In addition, site content can also be historically optimized. Old or outdated blog posts and other content should be reviewed regularly and refreshed and updated as necessary. Investing time and resources in SEO now can pay dividends later.

Fear not. There are plenty of SEO companies out there to help. Including 535media. We stay up-to-date on the ever-changing trends and tactics of SEO and can help you get the most out of your website. Contact us and let’s schedule a site audit today.