SEO: What Is Search Engine Optimization and Why Do I Need It?

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Once in a while, you probably type in the exact web address for the site you want to reach — for instance, www.instagram.com. But these days it’s just as easy to type “Instagram” into a search engine and select the first result…and many people do!

‌‌Search engines have worked hard to incorporate themselves throughout the electronic landscape, from offering subtle search bars at the top of a phone screen to preloading them as part of a desktop web browser.

‌‌Search engines are such an ever-present part of life these days that many people can actually speak to their home speakers and hear a search result read aloud! 

‌‌It’s no wonder then, that getting your website on the first page of results is an incredible marketing opportunity. 

‌Google even recognizes and — to some extent — embraces the fact that companies are going to work hard to hit those top results. They update how their search engines work and let the world know the many (over 200!) factors that go into whether you show up at the top of the rankings. 

‌Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a term for the many ways that companies use search engine best practices to make their websites more attractive or reputable to search engines. These strategies involve a combination of strong content on the website itself and a little know-how about how search engines evaluate a website. 

Let’s dive in and figure out what SEO strategies are most useful for you.

A First Look at SEO

Search engine optimization is, at its core, about a goal. That goal is for someone to search for a relevant keyword on a search engine and for a page about your business to show up in the top results, connecting people to your service or product right when they’re interested in it. 

‌‌To see how this could play out, let’s use the example of meal delivery subscription boxes. The many companies that are now household names used a combination of conventional advertising and strong SEO to gain popularity and market share.

‌‌A search engine like Google is left with a quandary when they are designing their system: they want a person who searches “best meal delivery subscription box” to get very relevant, high-quality results. They want to display links that lead to something that the searcher is actually looking for.

‌But there are more legitimate, tasty meal delivery subscription boxes out there than can fit on the first page of Google results. 

‌So what can they do?

‌‌The answer is that they use pieces of code to frequently “crawl” web pages, looking for the right details to indicate that a particular site is a good fit for those search results. 

‌Their software algorithm is constantly evaluating, indexing, and categorizing sites, figuring out which should appear for which searches, and how “good” a result each one is.

Some things they may take into account:

  • Does the website mention being a meal delivery subscription box?
  • Does it mention a variety of related words, like “delivered,” “recipes,” or “ingredients?”
  • Does it link to other reputable websites that also rank highly on Google for food-related content?
  • Do other websites link to it, showing that they trust or rely on this site?

‌These and many other questions are part of the extremely complex way that Google decides which results to show you. The idea of SEO, fundamentally, is learning how search engines work and making your website deliberately fit the parameters for a great search result.

What is SEO? Diving Deeper

Search Engine Optimization could look like a new meal kit delivery service realizing that, on their website, they never come right out and say, “we’re the best meal kit delivery service out there.”

‌‌Just including that key phrase somewhere on their website may give them a boost in the search engine results for the phrase, “best meal kit delivery service.”

‌However, that one keyword is only the tip of the iceberg: there are many other ways to slowly rise through the search engine ranks. 

‌‌There are also factors that make Google “doubt” that your site is a high-quality, relevant result. They want to avoid people gaming the system in ways that give searchers bad, useless results.

‌‌A long time ago, search engines noticed that people were doing something called “keyword stuffing” to show up higher on the search engines: they’d say “best meal kit delivery service” a bunch of times and make their websites look terrible — nobody wants to read one phrase over and over — but rank very highly.

‌‌Since Google wants to show quality results, not just keyword-optimized ones, they have kept changing the algorithm over time to stay ahead of anyone who wants to just ‘hack’ their system and rank highly. 

‌‌That being said, they are automatically trying to boost any result that is selling something: after all, many people use search engines because they want to buy something.

‌‌The rules change in order to avoid things like scams, low quality companies, or websites that are just big piles of advertisements getting top ranking.  

‌‌Because the updates happen, SEO is not just a quick fix or something where you can say “now my site is optimized forever.”

‌A great SEO website should include the technical components that make it easy for search engines to understand and categorize. It should also offer valuable information and easy-to-understand details for a human reader.

What Is a Keyword, and Why Do They Matter?

Keywords are an important component of on-page SEO. When we say keyword, we’re talking about specific strings of words that people search for, and which yield a results page where you’d like to rank highly.

‌The biggest keywords in a field, like “best meal delivery kit,” are harder to rank for if you are new to SEO. After all, more established companies have created lots of website content to help them rise through the ranks and take those coveted top spots.

‌Search Engine Optimization could look like a new meal kit delivery service realizing that, on their website, they never come right out and say, “we’re the best meal kit delivery service out there.”

‌‌Just including that key phrase somewhere on their website may give them a boost in the search engine results for the phrase, “best meal kit delivery service.”

‌However, that one keyword is only the tip of the iceberg: there are many other ways to slowly rise through the search engine ranks. 

‌‌There are also factors that make Google “doubt” that your site is a high-quality, relevant result. They want to avoid people gaming the system in ways that give searchers bad, useless results.

‌‌A long time ago, search engines noticed that people were doing something called “keyword stuffing” to show up higher on the search engines: they’d say “best meal kit delivery service” a bunch of times and make their websites look terrible — nobody wants to read one phrase over and over — but rank very highly.

‌Since Google wants to show quality results, not just keyword-optimized ones, they have kept changing the algorithm over time to stay ahead of anyone who wants to just ‘hack’ their system and rank highly. 

‌‌That being said, they are automatically trying to boost any result that is selling something: after all, many people use search engines because they want to buy something.

‌‌The rules change in order to avoid things like scams, low quality companies, or websites that are just big piles of advertisements getting top ranking.  

‌Because the updates happen, SEO is not just a quick fix or something where you can say “now my site is optimized forever.”

‌Each of these specific or local SEO keywords helps you get the smallest segment of the audience that could find your service useful. After all, why bother working hard to get all those non-vegan visitors if you know that people searching for vegan food are the main audience?

‌Once you’ve chosen your biggest target keywords, it often helps to think outside the box: you can find that elusive, Atlanta-based vegan potential customer with other kinds of searches. 

“Quick vegan meals” might be a useful keyword to feature on your site, for instance: if you show up in that search results page, you may be finding someone who is short on time and loves vegan food… and a meal delivery kit might solve a problem for them.

‌In this way, keywords allow you to find two parts of your potential market: people actively shopping for your product and people who haven’t figured out yet that your product is great for their needs and desires. 

Over time, companies learn more about which keywords are easiest or hardest to rank for, what kinds of content seem to pop to the top of the rankings quickly, and which keywords they should “retire” by no longer focusing on them, versus new keyword possibilities they should consider.

Why SEO Is Important Today

While SEO has existed for a long time now, it is still one of the core tools in the digital marketing world. In essence, search engines are connecting those who are actively searching for something — also known as perfect marketing leads — within the options available to them. You want to be one of those options!

‌‌One of the key reasons to intentionally rank higher in search is that the drop-off is really steep after those first few results. 

‌‌Few searchers scroll through page after page of results to find the perfect option. Most viewers will grab one of the top three, top five, or first page of results. Being on page two of results for a given keyword often means you are effectively invisible. 

‌‌The fact that results for search engine queries are competitive shouldn’t be a reason to avoid SEO. Instead, it’s a chance to use the most modern forms of SEO, the best practices that Google has shared, and the longer keywords that really align with your brand’s profile.

The Data Is In: SEO Works

So, if there are quite a lot of search engines and each of them takes into account slightly different things, why do people work so hard to make their websites well-attuned to Google’s way of indexing and categorizing for search results?

‌The biggest reason is market share: Google has anywhere from 70 to 92% of total search volume worldwide, depending on how you calculate it. 

‌The other truth is that a search-engine-optimized site that ranks well for Google usually still does fairly well on other sites, even if it jumps a little higher or falls a little lower on that first page of results.

‌Because less than 1% of searchers click on a search result past the first page, getting your content and website pages to rank for the right keywords as highly as possible is incredibly valuable. 

‌The added organic traffic volume that people see with an optimized website that ranks highly is the start of what makes SEO so valuable: if you go from 100 visitors a day to 300 visitors a day, that’s 200 new exposures to your brand you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  

‌‌With more traffic coming to your site, even if your conversion rate holds steady after SEO, you’re still boosting sales. However, there also might be an additional multiplier if your conversion rate starts creeping up.

‌‌Say your conversion rate before was 2% (two out of every 100 visitors bought something).

‌With better website content that includes clear information about the product and an easy-to-maneuver checkout process, you boost that rate to 4% alongside the traffic boost we mentioned.

‌‌That means instead of two sales a day, you’re hitting 12 sales a day, an increase of 600%!

‌‌SEO has become a core component of nearly every digital marketing strategy, and if you feel intimidated by the idea of ranking for some of the heavy hitting keywords, remember the vegan delivery kit or the Atlanta-based local delivery kit. Local, specific keywords can really help.

‌These four-or-more word strings of keywords are often called “long-tail keywords,” and if you aim to rank for the right ones, you can quickly hop up the rankings while also catching more of the customers you really want to reach. 

How to Get Started with SEO for Beginners

A great inbound and digital marketing agency can help you get the technical aspects of SEO right, crafting a strategy that you simply maintain as you update your website or add new content. 

‌These kinds of strategies include:

  • Removing duplicate content, which can cause you to rank lower in search engine results.
  • Redirecting missing or old URLs so that anyone trying to find content on your site doesn’t get left with an error message.
  • Evaluating how mobile-friendly your page is, since if no one can navigate your site on a phone easily, they’ll leave.
  • Checking load speeds, since certain kinds of videos, photos, and code can make the page load slowly and cause people to think it is broken, making them leave the page.
  • Using the latest in meta descriptions, HTML tags, and other features that help Google understand your site and showcase it well on their search engine results.

 Your marketing agency partner may recommend that you conduct a content audit as well, asking what is currently on your website and why. This audit will help you evaluate where you can just revise and expand elements of your site, rather than starting from scratch. 

‌‌Once you have the results of your content audit, you and your agency will work together to prioritize which kinds of content to write first and how frequently you want to update your blog and social media pages. 

‌‌This new content should carefully incorporate the keywords you’d like to rank for in search, and you can use SEO tools to find related keywords that you might want to include in the content as well. For instance, using great, descriptive headings can help your site rank higher.

‌Writing in-depth content that is a similar length to that of your competitors is a good way to be seen as comparable, or even stronger, than the top ranked content on the current search engine results pages. 

These SEO writing strategies can really help you take your great content knowledge as a brand and turn it into posts and pages that both Google and prospective customers recognize as high quality.

Learning More About How SEO Works: Backlinking

Another key component of how search engine optimization works is not even located on your site: it has to do with how other websites are linking to you (or not!) and how reputable they are.

‌‌Google and other search engines need ways to tell whether a website is considered an authority on a subject and they have an interesting way of doing it. They look at what other sites link to yours, a process called backlinking.

‌Backlinks are built organically when someone reads your blog post and finds it useful and links to it on their own website. Just sharing it on social media doesn’t usually boost your authority with Google, but the bump in web traffic from social shares can also positively contribute to rankings.

‌You can intentionally build backlinks though. One of the biggest ways to do this is to contribute writing known as guest posts to other blogs: if there is another company that offers a complimentary but non-competing product or service, you could write a blog for them, with links back to some of your top posts or product pages.

‌Backlinking boosts search engine’s confidence that you’re a well-regarded expert rather than just an isolated voice with no audience. There are other factors that go into off-site SEO, but backlinking is one of the main ways that beginners start to build their website’s authority with search engines. 

More SEO You Should Know: Google My Business

Google recognizes that many businesses, especially brick and mortar ones, are getting search engine traffic specifically for their business, with people checking things like what a business’s hours are or what their website URL is. 

‌For these needs, Google created the Google My Business set of features. For instance, if someone types in your business’s name, city, and state, Google may trigger a special sidebar that offers a Maps link to where your business is, what your phone number is, and more key details.

‌‌Filling out and periodically updating the information in Google My Business is key to your search engine optimization, and it’s both free and easy to manage. It’s a great thing to do when you get started with SEO, an easy first step to show up in search results more often and more prominently.

SEO: Boosting Website Conversion Rates Over Time

An inbound and digital marketing effort is going to include search engine optimization because it has a huge impact on your conversions, both as a percentage of website visitors and in raw numbers.

‌Increasing your search engine optimization efforts should immediately boost some metrics, but the big pay-off is slow and steady: building the authority of your page takes time. 

‌‌While it is tempting to want an instant-gratification boost to your conversion rate, remember that much of your efforts to create a well-optimized site will involve looking at the data and responding with additional tweaks to your strategy based on how customers are behaving.

‌Website analytics data can be detailed enough to catalog the website that linked your visitors to your site, potentially even helping you know which search term they were looking for when they found you. SEO tools help you research new keywords over time and start incorporating them into your site content. 

‌Your company might realize that you are accidentally getting a click for a search engine result page you never considered — for our vegan meal delivery, imagine if you discovered that someone found you by searching “vegan restaurants near atlanta.” 

‌‌Your optimization efforts may have intended to find one kind of customer who was already shopping for meal delivery, but people who don’t have a lot of vegan restaurant options may also be interested in what you offer, so Google may determine that you’re a good fit for that results page.

‌‌It’s a nice surprise when this happens, but you can also lean into it, further optimizing to specifically target that keyword going forward. 

‌‌The things you learn from the data help you to pinpoint what’s working but also to innovate and rank for new keywords that may be even more fruitful. This is why SEO is a process, but a process that works well over time. 

SEO and Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Increasing your search engine optimization efforts should immediately boost some metrics, but the big pay-off is slow and steady: building the authority of your page takes time. 

‌While it is tempting to want an instant-gratification boost to your conversion rate, remember that much of your efforts to create a well-optimized site will involve looking at the data and responding with additional tweaks to your strategy based on how customers are behaving.

‌Website analytics data can be detailed enough to catalog the website that linked your visitors to your site, potentially even helping you know which search term they were looking for when they found you. EO tools help you research new keywords over time and start incorporating them into your site content. 

‌‌Your company might realize that you are accidentally getting a click for a search engine result page you never considered — for our vegan meal delivery, imagine if you discovered that someone found you by searching “vegan restaurants near atlanta.” 

‌Your optimization efforts may have intended to find one kind of customer who was already shopping for meal delivery, but people who don’t have a lot of vegan restaurant options may also be interested in what you offer, so Google may determine that you’re a good fit for that results page.

‌‌It’s a nice surprise when this happens, but you can also lean into it, further optimizing to specifically target that keyword going forward. 

‌‌The things you learn from the data help you to pinpoint what’s working but also to innovate and rank for new keywords that may be even more fruitful. This is why SEO is a process, but a process that works well over time. 

‌Part of what an agency will do is create a broader digital marketing strategy, charting a path to success through name recognition and a great online presence. SEO is one of the ways that they help you execute that strategy and achieve the growth you’re looking for.

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