What Is SEO – Everything Beginners Need To Know

Written By Brad

Do you agree with me when I say:

Entering the world of digital marketing, it’s not easy to appreciate the importance of SEO to your business. In fact, because you’re new to this, you’ll be asking yourself – “What is SEO?”

Even more importantly…

We’ll discuss the basics. The article also tackles the questions, what are the importance and benefits of SEO? In addition we’ll explore what SEO does and is it hard to learn?

 Finally, I’ll give you some of the main SEO factors that will impact your website.

What Is SEO Really? And What Are It’s Benefits?

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search engine optimization. It’s a way to optimize your website to get organic (free/unpaid) visitors from the search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

What’s more…

Benefits Of SEO

The benefits of applying SEO correctly are enormous, related to the amount of traffic you will see visiting your site.

Webmasters use SEO best practices to ensure their sites can rank as high as possible for relevant keywords and key phrases.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Say you write an article titled, How To Lose Weight On The Keto Diet (Even If You Hate Dieting.) You  expect that information to reach the right people – people interested in losing weight, but also interested in doing so by following a Ketogenic diet plan.

To make this work you would optimize your post, giving it the best chance of showing up at the top of the search pages, for visitors typing in the phrase “How to lose weight on the keto diet”

 Improving the SEO on your website will increase your sites visibility in the search engines. By writing more engaging, effective SEO friendly content, you will bring in more targeted organic traffic.

I’m going to show you how to do exactly that.

Here’s What SEO Does For Your Site

what SEO does for your site

Google and the Google logo are registered trademarks of Google LLC, used with permission

Let’s take a quick look…

Organic results – If you look at any page in the SERP’s (search engine results pages) you will see many ads. Organic traffic is any traffic that you didn’t have to pay for.

Traffic quantity – if any of the search engines rank your site on their first page, particularly the top 5 positions, you can see huge amounts of visitors to your site. Especially if you are ranking for high traffic keywords

Quality of traffic – you need visitors to your site that have a genuine interest in your product or services. Good SEO practices will ensure those visitors are who you need them to be.

Bounce Rate

If the search engines send you visitors that think you are a resource for Caterpillar, the construction company when  you’re actually a website about caterpillars, the leaf eating larva, that wouldn’t be quality traffic useful to you, even if you received hundreds of visitors.

Those website visitors would soon click the back button, knowing they have the wrong site. And, this would in time, damage your rankings.

Search engines look at a metric called “bounce rate” which is how fast visitors leave your site to go to another destination. The higher the bounce rate the less the search engines trust your site to be delivering the best result for the visitors.

You would then start to see your site slipping down the rankings,  replaced by sites that the search engines believe serve their users better.

But if you optimize for targeted visitors, by applying correct SEO techniques, the visitors who come to your site will find the information they are seeking.

Here’s another bonus to organic traffic. In general it can have a better conversion rate than any other sources, with the exception of direct traffic and referral.

bounce rate
Check it out on Hubspot

How Search Engines Work

Search engines are huge digital repositories of information, storing copies of billions of web pages.

Yet, for any search engine to be relevant and useful they must provide the best service to their users. To do this the results they return have to be high quality and answer the searchers query (keywords and key phrases).

For this to happen search engines use “spiders” (bots) to crawl web pages, they then send that information back to their servers.

Robot Spiders

Spiders  comb through the internet for new content by revisiting sites already indexed and following links to new content not indexed before. The spiders feed this information to the search engines servers. Algorithms determine which of the millions of sites best match the precise search queries.

While the spiders look for new content to include in the index, they also adjudge the ease in which users navigate and read the site . The more user-friendly a site is the higher that site should rank.

To help explain this further here’s a direct quote from Google on their “How search works” page

“To give you the most useful information, Search algorithms look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources and your location and settings.

The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query – for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”

google quote graphic

Factors That Impact Website SEO

There are two main factors that have a major influence in website search engine optimization. These are On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. I’m going to cover both of these for you in a little more detail.

Top 10 SEO On-Page Search Ranking Factors

10 on-page ranking factors

On-Site SEO

Is the practice of optimizing web pages to increase a website’s search engine rankings to earn free/organic traffic. Google and other search engines  are now sophisticated and have created complex algorithms that are better at:

Understanding what users are searching for when they type in keywords and key phrases.

Pulling up results that match user intent. To keep up with these developments it’s essential that you optimize all your content in line with Google’s best practices.

1.       Writing Content For SEO

content for seo

Search engines, particularly Google, have always insisted that quality content is essential to rank well. In recent years they have become adept at rooting out thin, over optimized and content that serves no useful purpose.

Google now assesses content using the E.A.T. acronym. Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.

There are now clear signs sites having low quality content don’t enjoy high visibility in search results. This includes all types of content from articles and blog posts to videos and photo galleries.

2.       Internal Links

Internal Links

It’s necessary for your site’s SEO to create a good internal linking strategy and assess on a regular basis. Without them Google cannot understand the relevance, relationship or value of your pages.

Visitors cannot navigate your site easily without these links. Making for a bad user experience.

Imagine your site as a pyramid. The point of which is the homepage ( most important page.) From there you would link out to the various categories, and in turn to the posts within each category. If you refer to the graphic above it will give some idea of what I’m talking about.

There are also other types of links called External Links.

3.       External Links

External Links

The number and quality of external links are important. If you add links to trustworthy and informational websites it lends more credibility to your own site.

External linking doesn’t hurt your rankings, providing you link to trusted and authoritative sites. Especially if the content you link to is relevant to your own content and, even better if it already ranks highly in the search results.

You are also citing trusted sources that your visitors will believe and accept as genuine useful resources they can rely on.

4. Title Tags

title tags

<Title> tags are an HTML element found in the <head> section of the HTML code of your web page. Without the title tag search engines wouldn’t be able to determine how or where to rank your page. HTML can be confusing when you’re new to it, but it’s the first tag you must know, and it’s easy to optimize.

You need to give each page it’s own unique title, if not it’s confusing to search engines and you will end up with poor results for pages that use the same title.

5.       How To Format Your URLs

format URLs

A URL means ”Uniform Resource Locator” but, for SEO purposes we just need to know it’s the address of specific websites, pages on websites or files on the internet.

Looking at the graphic above you will see https://virginholidays.co.uk/destinations/asia-and-far-east/thailand-holidays. If you entered the full address you would be taken to a specific page about Thailand holidays. But entering only up to .co.uk you would have gone to the homepage.

It’s easy for a searcher and ‘spiders’ to understand that breakdown. Search engines will apply a ranking penalty if your URLs are untidy, generic or include irrelevant numbers and symbols.

6.       Website/Page Speed

Website/page speed

People never seem to have enough time. If you go to a restaurant and the service is slow you’d probably think twice before going there again.

Same with your website. Visitors that click on your search engine listing expect your site to load quickly. If it doesn’t – well, they won’t hang around, especially when there are many others they can visit.

Site speed can be defined in this way – how fast do browsers load functioning web pages from the site you have visited.

7.       Bounce Rate – Dwell Time

Bounce rates dwell time

This is a measurement of how long a visitor stays on your site before returning to the SERPs or search engine results pages

A bounce is when a visitor arrives on your site but doesn’t interact any further i.e. they left without following any links on the page. In Google’s eyes they need to visit at least one other page. A lower bounce rate is better.

“Dwell time is the length of time a person spends looking at a webpage after they’ve clicked a link on a SERP page, but before clicking back to the SERP results.”

Taken from Search Engine Journal

8.       Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)

Is the protocol used by the world wide web for the transmission of images, video,audio and different types of files. HTTP is unsecured whereas HTTPS is secured.

Information is sent via SSL (Secure Sockets layer) which allows it to be encrypted from end to end. The design of this protocol is to protect users and build more trust in the websites they visit.

Google is recommending that all sites should be secured in this way. And, has been rewarding websites with improved search rankings.

9.      Mobile-Friendly SEO

Mobile friendly seo

Spend any time on the internet and you’ll no doubt come across these terms – mobile-friendly, mobile first, mobile-optimized and Google’s AMP (accelerated mobile pages.)

In March 2020 Statcounter traffic figures showed that 52.06% came from mobile, 2.65% tablets and 45.32% from desktop computers. With those results it’s no wonder that mobile-friendliness is such an important factor in website design and SEO.

This has become an important on-page ranking factor. If your website ignores mobile design then you may rank high for desktop visitors but, you will not rank for visitors using mobile.

10. SEO And User Experience (UX) Design

seo and User Experience

In 2015 Google introduced RankBrain and behavior metrics. Only content and back links are more important for your sites SEO.

Behavior metrics – bounce rates, dwell time, pages per session and organic CTR (click through rates) inform the search engine if visitors are happy with their experience on your site.

SEO and UX share common goals. Search engines want to give the best possible answers to search queries. UX supplies those answers once they enter your website.

Off-Page SEO Ranking Factors

Off page SEO strategy

There are 3 main activities involved away from your website, in off-page optimization:

  • Link building
  • Social media marketing
  • Brand mentions

Off-page has more to do with how you promote your site than the design of it.

A website with high quality, useful and well written content is more likely to attract links from other websites. This is a “vote of confidence” in your site and search engines see this and trust your site more.

But, a link is not only a link and that’s it. They are broken down further:

  • Which site is the link coming in from
  • Why would that site owner give you a link (relevancy)
  • Is the link from an authority site ( or poor quality)
  • How recent is the link
  • Your link profile is important

Over the previous 10-15 years there have been many “link schemes” all designed to trick Google etc. into giving better rankings. Don’t do it. The search engines are far too sophisticated today and can see through these and, if you’re caught your site will be penalized and even excluded from the results.

Link Strategy

How Social Media Adds Value To Your Link Building Efforts

In the offline world you wouldn’t be interested in doing business with a person or company because they said they were the best. But, you don’t know them, never met them or heard of them before. Online is exactly the same.

Virtual strangers asking for links does not work. You need to build relationships first. Look at social media as one of the means to building the relationships you need. It’s the way to put ourselves forward, but not by asking for something, but by offering something. Real Value.

Show your personality. Get involved. Listen more – speak less, respond and share interesting and valuable content.

What is SEO – How It Works – Final Takeaways

Remember SEO is an evolving process and should be monitored consistently. You should now be able to make changes to your site to maintain and improve your SEO.

Having read the numerous factors  influencing your web pages, something to always bear in mind is the quality of your content. Any content you put up on your site, text, images, graphics, videos etc. is a vital element in your SEO strategy.

Search engine optimization is not a short term goal. It’s a long term strategy and can take months before your hard work bears fruit.

Many people give up – but if you stick with it you will see organic traffic for years to come.

Spread The Word

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