SEO may be one of the most widely-used tactics in the world of digital marketing, but this doesn’t mean it’s an easy subject to understand. On the contrary, the field of SEO is so wide-ranging and evolves so rapidly that even experienced digital marketers can occasionally get a bit lost.
It’s therefore hardly surprising that digital marketers with less experience, or people who are working with digital marketing for the first time, can have trouble grasping the nuances of this complex, but hugely important, marketing tool.
If you’re looking to learn more about SEO but don’t know where to start, read on for a look at the answers to some of the most common SEO questions.
1. What exactly is SEO?
The acronym SEO stands for search engine optimization. Put simply, this is the process of improving a website’s ranking on the search engine results page of sites such as Google or Bing.
The idea here is that the better a website’s visibility in these search results, the more organic traffic it will attract, which is the ultimate goal of SEO. Organic traffic refers to online users that visit a website freely, rather than via paid ads or other channels that have associated costs.
2. How does SEO work?
To understand how SEO works, it can help to first examine how search engines operate. The aim of Google and other search engines is to deliver the most relevant content possible in response to a search query. To do this, search engine algorithms evaluate websites and other online media using a wide variety of ranking factors—Google, notably, uses over 200 ranking factors—and assign sites a ranking order on their search results pages based on how relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy the content is.
In other words, if you search for “grocery delivery San Francisco,” Google wants to make sure that the results you see are, in fact, for companies that offer grocery delivery services in the Bay Area, rather than websites that have little or nothing to do with what you’re looking for. In this equation, SEO acts as a kind of matchmaker between your content and the search engine.
By using SEO practices, you can make sure that your website and its content correspond as closely as possible to what users are searching for. This will help search engine algorithms to recognize that your website is a good fit for a particular query, and consequently to rank it highly in the results.
3. What factors should SEO focus on?
With over 200 factors influencing your website’s ranking on a Google search, it’s clearly impossible to optimize your site for every single one, especially since these factors are changing and evolving all the time. Fortunately, there are a number of key areas that have, over time, been proven to influence rankings, and are therefore worth prioritizing. These include:
Although SEO practices have changed over the years, creating quality content is still one of the most important actions to take to optimize your search engine ranking. If your website delivers content that matches and satisfies user intent, and that contains appropriate mentions of your target keyword (for example, “grocery delivery San Francisco”), your chance of achieving a better ranking is greatly increased.
In addition to quality content, there are plenty of other ways to make your website search-engine friendly, which are gathered together under the umbrella term of on-page optimization. These tactics include actions like optimizing meta-tags (pieces of text that appear in your site’s coding that describe content), using internal links to your own content, minimizing duplicate content, and improving the time it takes your site to load (did you know that 40% of users will abandon a website if loading takes longer than three seconds?).
Backlinks are links published on other websites that point back to your domain. Search engine algorithms look for backlinks in order to establish your site’s legitimacy. The idea is that having other credible, authoritative domains linking back to your content helps prove your site’s validity.
Note that quality is even more important than quantity when it comes to backlinks. In other words, if a reputable San Francisco newspaper publishes a link to your grocery company in an article about delivery services, that will make a much bigger difference to your search ranking than many backlinks published on little-known blogs.
4. How long will an SEO strategy take to achieve results?
If you’re new to the SEO game, the most important thing to understand is that it’s a long-term strategy. Don’t expect to launch a website, implement some SEO best practices, and achieve a high search engine ranking within a few weeks.
As described above, some of the qualities being evaluated here are legitimacy and authority, and those take time to establish. Depending on the resources you allocate to your SEO strategy, as well as numerous other factors including the level of competition in your niche, many experts estimate that it may take anywhere from six months to a year to start achieving results.