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What is SEO?

Written By: Seth Steiner
August 13, 2021
Written By: Seth Steiner
Published: August 13, 2021

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is a search engine marketing strategy (SEM) in which optimizations are made to the user experience (UX), content and backend content setup of a website. SEO enables search engines to easily crawl, interpret and rank your content for keywords and phrases.

How Does SEO Work?

Before we jump into how search engine optimization works there are 3 important verticals we need to understand:

1. What is a Search Engine?

Search engines like Google Chrome, enable a user to search for content and information through keywords and phrases that the user believes will provide the best results. In order for search results to rank, internet browsers run crawler bots that index content so it can be searched and displayed as a result for the user. 

Above all, a search engine’s goal is to provide you with the most relevant search engine results to satisfy your search intent. In a perfect SEO world, a user can type in a keyword or phrase and be served with highly relevant content from the most authoritative websites that meet the intent of their search.

For example, if I need to purchase a new bicycle I might search for “new bicycle” or “buy new bicycle”. However, this phrase is broad in nature. I will see results for children’s bicycles, electric bicycles, women’s bicycles, mountain bikes, road bikes…you get the idea. Now, if I search for “buy new blue aluminum mens mountain bike” I will see highly relevant search results for mountain bikes that are blue with an aluminum frame for men. The more refined you get in your keyword and phrase searches, the more relevant the search results will be.

A search engine’s goal is to provide you with the most relevant search engine results to satisfy your search intent based on the keywords and phrases you are searching for.

2. What is Organic Traffic?

Organic traffic is web traffic that comes to a website through rich snippets and keyword that search engines have ranked the content for. This is the channel of traffic that search engine optimization targets.

Is Organic Traffic Important?

Absolutely! Organic traffic is incredibly important for your website for many reasons.

  1. Organic traffic is targeted. You strive to rank for keywords that are relevant for your website. Therefore, more qualified traffic will reach your site..
  2. Organic traffic is typically one of your most engaged traffic channels that visit your website.
  3. You don’t have to pay for the keywords if you can write content and optimize your website.
  4. It can provide a steady, qualified funnel of traffic to your website.
  5. Additionally, organic traffic can be one of your highest converting traffic channels.

3. What is Search Intent?

Search intent can be viewed from multiple perspectives. For the user, search intent is the reason why they are searching to find specific results that will fulfill their need at that time. However, it is up to the content writer to understand the user and what information they are looking for and how a user may search for it.

Back to Search Engine Optimization

For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to Google as the search engine of choice. Google has been finely tuning their search engine algorithm for many years in an effort to ensure that their browser provides highly relevant content for their users. 

In fact, search engines have become very sophisticated. As a result, they are looking for hundreds of different signals coming from a website. In May 2021, Google began to release their “Page Experience” algorithm updates. Now Google is assessing page experience and usability from the user’s perspective. Presently, the rollout is expected to be completed by the end of August 2021. Click here to learn more about Google’s Page Experience Algorithm update.

What Signals Are Search Engines Looking For?

As mentioned earlier, search engines crawl websites to index and interpret website content. This helps the search engine understand what services, products, and information a website offers to users. Google may choose to display content ahead of other search engine results if it perceives another website as providing a better user experience, content, and matched intent. Google has provided documentation on how their search algorithm works. Learn more about Google’s search algorithm here. 

I have created a list below of some of the key signals that search engines are looking for.

  • Page Titles
  • Meta Titles
  • Meta Descriptions
  • H1 Tags
  • Keywords & Phrases
  • Domain Authority
  • Structured Data Markup/Schema
  • Authoritative Backlinks 
  • Internal Linking
  • Page URLs
  • Click-Through-Rates (CTR)
  • Page Speed
  • Responsive Web Design
  • AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages
  • Thin Content
  • Duplicate Content
  • Secure Website
  • Usability
  • Taxonomy/Hierarchy
  • Local SEO Signals
  • Page Experience
  • User Experience

However, the list does not stop there. Search Engine Journal published a great article on the “Top 17 Organic Ranking Factors”.

Let’s Talk About Proper Search Engine Optimization

Every so often, we bring on new clients who have suffered the painful affects of hiring a digital marketer to work on SEO with an end result that did not provide benefit or that improperly executed optimization strategies. Consequently, this can lead to a large loss in existing organic rankings. When this occurs we begin the cleanup effort to try and regain former rankings and recoup their organic traffic losses. However, depending on the level of cleanup it can take months to regain traction on your rankings. 

For this reason don’t be afraid to ask for real data, case studies, and client references. In essence, reviewing success stories provides proof that your agency understands the effort and execution involved in search engine marketing. In general, if it sounds too good to be true or that you are getting a deal on a level-of-effort that seems off-balance, you’re probably right. There are too many agencies around that are good at “the sell” but lack the “know-how” to execute properly.

The Value of Search Engine Optimization

Above all, Search Engine Optimization is the key to increasing organic search presence and rankings. Therefore, without proper optimization you are missing out on gaining highly qualified incremental traffic and conversion opportunities. Conversely, with improper execution you can dig yourself into a hole that can be difficult to recover from quickly.

Where Do I Begin with SEO?

Understand Your Current State

First, before you can begin executing an SEO strategy it is important to understand your current domain’s organic landscape. This information can be mined through tools such as technical site crawler. This tool will audit for signals from your existing content and site setup. As a result, this will give you a great list of things you can work on today that will help your existing content and domain.

Audit Your Existing Keyword Rankings

Likewise, it is important to know what keywords you are currently ranking for and which web pages are ranking for them. Consequently, you may find that there are irrelevant keyword rankings that are driving unqualified traffic to your website.In effect, you may experience high bounce rates, low click-through rates (CTR), and minimal time spent on a page or navigating deeper into your website.

Audit Your Existing Keyword Rankings

Likewise, it is important to know what keywords you are currently ranking for and which web pages are ranking for them. Consequently, you may find that there are irrelevant keyword rankings that are driving unqualified traffic to your website.In effect, you may experience high bounce rates, low click-through rates (CTR), and minimal time spent on a page or navigating deeper into your website.

Review Your Website Analytics

Additionally, analytics should be reviewed to understand the user engagement and content performance. Google Analytics enables you to segment your different traffic channel types. Furthermore, you can also review engagement metrics such as click-through-rates (CTR), pages per session, sessions per user, conversion rates (CR), and bounce rates and many more key performance indicators. Reviewing analytics can provide insights into whether the user experience of your pages is providing a positive experience or if the content engagement is increasing or decreasing.

Do Your Competitor Keyword & Content Research

Equally important, researching your top competitors’ websites to understand their keyword and content strategy is a great way to identify opportunities for additional target keywords and relevant content to bake into your strategy. There are tools that can crawl domains to identify their domain overview, keyword rankings and the level of difficulty in outranking competitors for those keywords.

Build Your Target Keywords List

Once you know what you are currently ranking for and you have researched your competitor content strategies you can begin to expand on the keyword targets. You can decide which existing keyword rankings you would like to enhance and what new keywords you would like to begin targeting.

Fix & Optimize What You Already Have

After you run a technical site audit you will likely end up with a list of SEO to-dos that will help enhance your current site optimization and user experience. There is a balancing act to deciding what you should fix first, what can be placed on the back burner, and how quickly you want to begin new content marketing development. I am an advocate for balancing the execution of the existing cleanup effort in coordination with new content expansion.

  • Identify your keyword targets.
  • Fix any existing technical site health issues.
  • Review all of your current page content and metadata and revise the existing content to use highly relevant keywords and phrases.

Publish New SEO Optimized Content

Once you have cleaned up your website and refined your keywords list and content strategy it is time to begin developing new content. Of course, if the capacity is there, you can always tackle existing SEO content optimizations and develop new SEO optimized content in tandem.

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