What’s SEO? Here’s what you need to know.
We explain SEO, or search engine optimization, and how it impacts web traffic (including yours).
CPC, UV, RT…There are a lot of marketing buzzwords out there that can leave you feeling a little bit like Phil Dumphy.
But one of those keywords, SEO, is actually pretty important. SEO stands for search engine optimization. To help explain what that means, we first need to brief you on how search engines like Google and Bing are changing the website traffic game.
Today, most people are turning to search engines to find whatever it is they’re looking for. They might want to know where the nearest grocery store is or what vacuum cleaner is best for picking up pet hair. Eighty-one percent of people use search engines for research before making a purchase.
A search engine’s job is to show content that best matches the user’s search query. To do this, search engines have bots that crawl websites looking at numerous factors to determine a website’s credibility and relevance. The more relevant the content, the higher it will rank, meaning the higher its position will be on the search engine results page (SERP). The first page has 10 slots. If you’ve ever Googled anything ever, you know how this works.
Marketers quickly discovered how valuable it is to have their content at the top of the results page. In 2014, Moz conducted an in-depth study of Google click-through rates. Even though the study was conducted five years ago, the data solidified what click-through-rate (CTR) marketers could expect from their SERP ranking. The study found that “on average, 71.33% of searches result in a page one organic click.” Smart Insights looked at data from 2018 and concluded that the very first SERP position had a 30% CTR. Marketers quickly realized the value of being at the top of a SERP.
So how are companies able to influence their SERP ranking? To answer this, we can take a look at the various search engine factors that determine the credibility and relevance of your website.
Your website content plays a big role in your SEO ranking. Imagine you’re a search engine bot. What are some clues you’d look for on a website or landing page to determine if it will help answer a user’s search query? Let’s say the user searched for “Bakery near me.” As a bot, you might look for websites that use words like “Charlotte bakery,” or related words like “muffins” or “cakes.” These words are called keywords and they tell bots “Hey! This page is about a local bakery!” If you find keywords used throughout the website, it’s logical this would be a good search result. Search engines will look at all kinds of content on your website, including your page titles, headers, blog posts, and landing page copy.
Keywords are important but don’t get keyword crazy. Early on, some marketers tried to trick bots by overloading their pages with them. (Imagine a page that just said “Welcome to our Charlotte bakery! Our Bakery, located in Charlotte, has a wide selection of baked goods. If you’re looking for the best Charlotte Bakery, that’s us!) These types of pages didn’t give users valuable information and ultimately had high bounce rates. Search engines picked up on this and they now penalize keyword stuffing, which is considered spammy.
Let’s keep pretending that you’re a search engine bot. By now, you’ve looked at a website’s content to figure out how relevant it is. What else might you look at? Images! Don’t forget that a lot of people use image results to find what they’re looking for too. By adding captions to your images, you can signal to bots what kind of content your site has to offer. You also want to include something called alt text. If images on a page don’t load correctly, alt text gives users some indication of what those images illustrate and how they relate to the rest of the page content.
In 2006, Google made its way into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It earned its dictionary cred by being an incredibly useful tool. Thirteen years later, it’s still listed as a transitive verb. So long as Google serves up the best content in response to a search query, its dictionary spot is safe.
How does Google find and populate the best content? One way to determine content credibility is to look at the number of times other websites link to it. Whenever one site includes a hyperlink to another, that hyperlink is like a vote. Websites with a lot of votes are considered valuable and reliable and therefore rank pretty high. For example, Moz built an incredible free resource called “The Beginners Guide to SEO.” Many, many bloggers link to this free tool (like we just did). By now, the SEO guide has so many “votes” that it ranks high for searches related to learning about SEO.
Internal linking, meaning linking to pages within your own website, is also helpful. It helps bots better understand your site architecture and how all of your page content relates to each other. Pages that have the most backlinks, like the Home page or Contact page, tell bots that these pages are the most valuable.
If you were a Charlotte bakery, you’d probably have a Facebook page, a Google My Business Listing, and maybe even a Yelp profile. Search engines will pick up on this directory information and use it to learn more about your website. It’s important for businesses to have consistent information—including their exact address listing—so that they will show up in related local searches.
As you’ve probably picked up by now, search engines are all about the wants and needs of users. Users are like the Marsha of the Brady Bunch.
So while search engines will be looking heavily at a website’s content, they will also be looking at other user experience factors. How easy is it to navigate the website? Is the content easy to understand? Do the pathways make sense? Do the pages load quickly? Search engines want to surface relevant content that’s also going to lead to a positive user experience.
A FINAL NOTE ABOUT SEO
SEO strategies definitely work. It’s possible for companies to go from zero to 100,000 website visitors in 12 months with a strong SEO plan. But SEO is only successful for those who aren’t afraid to commit. These strategies are long-term, often including consistent blogging and link building.
When you stop building up your SEO, you will slowly lose all of the traction you’ve made. Remember, your competitors are trying to outrank you. The more robust strategy they have, the higher they’ll be on the results page. But an SEO strategy shouldn’t feel like homework. It’s really an opportunity to connect with your target audience through great content and a positive user experience.
When we build SEO strategies for our clients, they typically address a mix of the factors listed above. We start with a website evaluation to see which areas need the most help and build a detailed plan that fits the client’s needs. If you think you might benefit from an SEO strategy, drop us a line!