Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the darkest of the dark arts in digital marketing. While even the most inexperienced user understands the goal – to be the top-ranking result on Google, not even the most effective SEO practitioner can guarantee that outcome.
Why? Because SEO best practices are constantly changing due to both technology and user expectations. This week we discuss the basics of how search engines rank sites and the evolving practice of SEO.
What is Search?
Search engines are owned by companies (in general) that exist to make money. If you keep that fact in mind, you’ll see that SEO will begin to make a lot more sense.
- Search engines make money through advertising. This means they need users (traffic) and traffic buyers (advertisers).
- Search engines gain traffic by sharing results that meet users’ expectations.
- User expectations change as technology changes. This means search engines have to change to meet changing expectations.
#2 and #3 above are often grouped together under the heading of “relevance.” That is a VERY important word in the world of search. And, relevance is the main reason why most people today talk about “‘search marketing” and not just optimization or pay-per-click.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
People have the idea that they can simply buy their way to the top of the search rankings but it’s not that simple. In order to rank well, you must understand and adhere to the basics of SEO. And, when well done, SEO can significantly reduce the cost for visibility and create a highly defensible (and valuable) barrier to competition.
There are a couple of terms you need to understand that will help “everyone else” — that’s you — cut through the BS surrounding SEO. For more on this, check out Search Engine Journal’s glossary of over 200 terms. The basic terms you need to understand for SEO are:
SERP: search engine results page. This is the page a user sees AFTER they search for something. Today, that page includes a lot of results that DON’T come from organic listings. The page may include – paid results (ads), organic results (links to content that Google thinks the user wants), snippets (short pieces of content), maps (local results), and more. In fact, there are at least 16 possible content features that can be displayed on a SERP.
Keyword: A term or concept that a web publisher targets through content creation in hopes that the search engine will display the link to that content on the SERP when someone searches for that term. This should not be confused with a search query.
Search Query: the “question” that a user asks a search engine to answer. The search can range from one word to a full question. The resulting answer is a SERP.
Ranking: This is how the search engines determine where you show up in search results. The key components of our ranking are the relevance of your content to the search, your site’s reputation and performance. SEO seeks to improve your ranking.
Here’s the problem that often appears. An SEO practitioner drives a client’s link to the top of a SERP for a specific keyword (or keyword concept) but that keyword does NOT match the client’s ideal customer’s search query. In this scenario, everyone loses. The link may be displayed and clicked on but users don’t find the content they need and they leave the site.
The client loses the expected return on their investment, the SEO practitioner loses reputation, the search engine loses because they’re not delivering to a user’s expectations, and the user loses by not getting the information they want.
Why does this happen? Is it a lack of research on audience or search volume? Could be but not likely. Good SEO services start with a solid marketing investigation. The biggest reason that SEO campaigns fail to deliver is that there is a fundamental disconnect hidden inside the thinking of “getting to the top of Google results.”
How to Actually Rank Well in Search Engines
The latest research shows that less than 25% of users go beyond the FIRST page of search results. That seems to mean that “top of Google results” is the key to success.
Here’s the issue – SEO is not aspirational. In other words, even if you could magically be listed at the top of any specific SERP, you will not achieve your business goals unless your site meets a user’s expectations. This is the disconnect for believing that “Top of Google results” is the magic elixir.
SEO is the ultimate “look in the mirror.” The best SEO practitioners help clients understand their differentiator and help them build content and pursue activities that will help them achieve “top of Google results” for search queries that will benefit the company and generate marketing results.
SEO as a discipline is always evolving due to the changes in the search algorithms, so staying current on the latest trends is vital. If you’re seeking an SEO partner, service offerings should include:
- A commitment to remain current on the latest ranking rules (known as the search algorithms – the latest is called “May 2020 Core Algorithm” – gone are the days of fun animal names …)
- Management of a website’s technical information, site navigation and content to remove any duplication (this is sometimes called code-based SEO)
- Set up and management of site indexing tools to identify errors and track performance (the most common tools are Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools)
- Content creation for specific audiences and content curation (starting with the website) across all of the site’s content channels including social media, email and RSS
- Link building to and from other sites that help reinforce the site’s authority and importance for a search topic.
There are thousands of resources online that provide information about each of these activities so you can learn more before hiring a firm. Knowledge is power but you will find that the best SEO services all do the same tasks, and many will tell you that great SEO boils down to hard work. Look for an SEO practice that has had success (and can prove it!) SEO is a discipline where “historical results” are an indicator of future success.
Further Reading on Search Engine Optimization
If you’d like to dive even deeper into this incredible topic, we’ve got more for you! Check out these great articles that can help you — or help you help others — gain a better understanding (and practice of) SEO:
- The 10 Most Important Technical SEO Recommendations: Part One
- The 10 Most Important Technical SEO Recommendations: Part Two
- The 10 Most Important Technical SEO Recommendations: Part Three
- Local SEO: How to Grow Your Business by Going “Small”
- 5 SEO Principles You Need to Know in 2021
One last thing …
SEO is often misconstrued as the digital magic elixir. It’s not. Still, if you don’t acknowledge the value of optimizing your digital presence, all other content, technical and digital advertising efforts will suffer. It is a fundamental tool in a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.
If the idea of executing on an SEO strategy seems overwhelming, know that you don’t need to go it alone. We’re in this with you. If you need a little help, just drop us a line, anytime.
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