What is SEO and Do You Need It?
Introduction & Basic Guide to SEO for Beginners
What is SEO?
SEO is a digital marketing strategy that optimizes your website to be more visible in search engines, particularly when searching for your brand, service, or product. If you have yet to develop a search engine marketing strategy, search optimization is a great place to start to pull in organic traffic from Google, Bing, and Yahoo! Search.
What’s the first thing you do when you need new ideas? What about when you want to see reviews on new equipment? What if you don’t know how to fix something in your home? You probably turn to Google like 5.6 billion other people do every day.
About 81% of online shoppers use Google to find something every day. If your search engine optimization strategy isn’t up to par, then none of these shoppers will find your product pages, content, or blog. That’s just how it goes in today’s digital world.
Google often downplays the significance of optimization by saying that their algorithms are too sophisticated, but for many years, marketers who know better have pointed out several ranking factors that help business websites get found in search engines.
In this guide, we’ll explore those ranking factors and how to get a jump start if you have yet to optimize your website for search.
5 Reasons You Still Need SEO
If you were wondering about the potency of search optimization in marketing, let’s start with the fact that 68% of all online experiences start with a search engine. In fact, 53.3% of all web traffic comes from someone performing an organic search.
Essentially, the main question is this: how will your business appear in search if you don’t use the right keywords in your content? If you want to make it in the top results for any keyword, then you have to practice good search engine optimization.
1. Higher Rank and Search Performance
Search engine crawlers look for several ranking factors when “grading” a website. That’s basically how crawlers determine where your site appears in search, whether it’s at the top or somewhere on the 8th page where no one will ever find it.
While Google has never published a list of ranking factors, they have indicated in the past certain “signals” that crawlers detect in order to your content. Some of these include:
Keyword usage (titles, URL structure, body content, anchor text, etc)
Internal links to relevant content
External links to high authority pages (DA score of 50 or higher, PR3 or higher)
Number & quality of backlinks from other sites around the web
Images and image alt attributes
Structural markup (Schema)
Social media links, likes and shares
There’s many other ways, but these are the most important to focus on as you start out with a new optimization strategy.
2. Low-Cost Marketing
Creating new content on your own website doesn’t cost nearly as much as a budget for a PPC or social advertising campaign. You are creating your own media and optimizing it for search on your own time. However, there may be additional costs, particularly if you want expert strategies and technical optimization, which includes some degree of coding.
One way to get a jump ahead with helpful tips customized to your own business strategy is with a free SEO review. This audit helps you see what you’re missing on your site and provides you with step-by-step guidance for content, technical implementation, and other factors affecting your rank and search performance.
3. Increased Brand Visibility
When anyone searches your brand or products, you should appear first in search. However, if you haven’t sufficiently set up your content to feature branded keywords, it may take awhile for crawlers to recognize that these queries are about your brand.
In addition, as you advertise across social media and other websites, users will search your brand and products more. Search optimization goes hand-in-hand with anything else you do with digital marketing. Brand identity has quickly become one of the main factors why your competitors are likely beating you in search, too.
4. Supports Overall Marketing Strategy
You can’t really have a marketing strategy without search optimization. Besides, you’ll need some level of keyword research anyway for anything that you do on your blog or social media posts. It’s essential for determining what content and topics are most important to your audience.
For example, the keyword analysis we do after you get a free SEO review can help identify 10-50 keywords that you should be ranking for in the top 5 results. Once you know these keywords, you can use them in other strategies, such as determining blog topics to create blog content, which you can eventually share via social media.
5. More Clicks Than PPC Ads
This probably comes as a surprise since Google always suggests that PPC is more valuable than search optimization, but the truth is in the research. One study of search engine traffic and PPC found that 71.33% of searches results in an organic click.
Why wouldn’t PPC perform better? Aren’t your ads showing at the top of search results? That’s just the point. Anyone who uses Google long enough knows that these ads are typically trying to sell them something, and users only click them when they recognize the company or see a deal that invokes their curiosity.
Has Search Engine Optimization Changed?
Of course! The same techniques that worked just five years ago may not work today. For example, Google updated its algorithm in 2020 so that sites with fake positive reviews or practices enabling fake reviews were de-ranked. Back in 2013, Google updated it's algorithms to punish websites who participate in unnatural link building; aka "spammers".
Those changes happen periodically with Google’s algorithm, and you don’t always know what the search engine will deem as “gaming the system.” However, if you are using any black hat techniques, or other spam strategies, you won’t be able to rank up in Google. If you do, it won't be for very long.
The truth is that content is still king when it comes to search optimization. For those websites with a technically optimized site architecture, high-quality content and links from relevant high quality sites across the web, ranking in search is much faster and has much better longevity than any spammy black hat trick.
How to Create a Search Engine Optimization Strategy
Those who work in search optimization will tell you that it's not just about keywords and content. There are few technical steps that will set you ahead of your competition and benefit your long-term strategy as well. These include on-page and off-page factors that help your site bring in organic traffic from all over the internet.
Here’s how to craft a winning strategy for more search traffic and conversions.
1. Technical Search Engine Optimization: Setup
In order to rank highly in any search engine, there are three things to consider:
Search engines must be able to find your content on the web.
Search engine crawlers must be able scan and relate your content to keywords that users search.
Your content must be indexed in search, allowing the search algorithm to display your website for all relevant search queries.
That probably seems pretty simple, but web pages look much different to crawlers than a user clicking on a page from search. Crawlers see your content and the code behind it, which is a big reason technical search optimization has become a higher priority for many businesses in the past few years.
Technical setup includes:
Website navigation and links:
Crawlers follow your links and see how it relates to keywords and queries being searched.
However, they can’t see images, so it’s important to include text-only links on every page.
Simple URL structure:
For example, the url redzoneseo.com/what-is-seo is more favorable than redzoneseo.com/?=34112?blog/how-seo-analysis-works-in-2020-and-beyond.
Your permalink structure should always follow a simple structure.
Your website should load in under 3 seconds.
Many users won’t wait if your content takes any longer to display.
The main cause of this is broken links on your site.
These provide a poor user experience and signal that your site isn’t the best to index.
XML Sitemap and robot.txt:
These are important files that you should place in your root directory for crawlers to see how your site is structured and relevant to the keywords they’re ranking your site for.
XML Sitemaps tell crawlers what to crawl, while robots.txt tells crawlers what they can and cannot crawl.
If any page on your site has identical information on another page or copies from a site already ranking, you will not rank for that content.
Google has said that they are a mobile-first company, so your site must load and work well on mobile to achieve a higher rank.
If you’re not sure about how these factors are affecting your current site, a simple audit and free SEO review can identify these problem areas quickly.
2. Optimize Your Content for Search Intent
Any time you perform a Google search, you are actually looking for content. Perhaps it’s content that solves a problem or reviews on a product or service you’re looking to purchase. Both web pages and blog pages, as well as videos and product pages, need to be optimized for search.
In order to do that, you’ll need to follow this process:
Keyword Research & Analysis
You don’t just want anyone coming to your site. You want the visitors who are actively looking for what you offer to find your content and convert. That’s only possible when your content ranks for the right keywords.
Through your keyword research, you’ll come up with a list of keywords that really matter to your business. These usually include keywords that answer the basic questions of "what do you do" and "where do you do it". The best keywords will be relevant to your business, but they won’t be too competitive for your site to rank.
For example, you’re a shoe designer with a new online store. You want to rank for women’s shoes, but this popular keyword has high search volume with millions of searches. This means while you can include this keyword in your content, it’s not going to help you rank in the short-term.
Instead, you’ll come up with a list of initial keywords and then look for related terms that will help you rank. For example, "women’s shoes Dallas" is a less competitive term that would work better if that’s the specific market you are selling into.
This goes back to understanding technical setup. When a crawler reviews your content, you want it easily understand your page’s topic and relevant keywords, making sure that it can match your page with relevant searches.
Mainly, we’re referring to on-page keyword optimization with this step.
For each page, you should include the target keyword(s) in the following:
First 100 words or introductory paragraph
Meta-title and meta description
Image file names and alt attributes
In addition, you should use semantic keywords or variations of keywords that use natural language.For example, imagine what happens when a search engine crawler is trying to determine relevancy and finds you mention “Apple” a lot. Do you mean the fruit or the company that makes iPhones? Semantic keywords will help the crawler determine your content.
The other important on-page factors include:
Internal links: Ideally you include 2 to 3 links in the content to related pages only your website.
External links: You also link out to relevant pages and authorities, particularly with a higher page rank.
Content length: Most pages should have at least 500 words, but ultimately, the content should answer the intent of the targeted keyword.
Media: Images, videos, charts, and tables show that you’re an authority on a topic and provide more diverse content types to readers.
3. Link Building to Rank Better & Faster
Ideally, you naturally receive editorial, organic links. These are backlinks on websites that are relevant to your niche with high authority and trust that have chosen to link to your content. Google considers this to be extremely important when determining a site’s authority and ranking in the SERPs.
Once you’ve built up your content, you can start to guest post on other blogs, link to your content on social media, and earn more shares. Link building takes time to fully understand, but the one great place to start is through finding blogs in your niche that accept guest posts. You can create content and link back to your business on these websites.
Social media outreach is another way to improve your link portfolio. You can include a link in all of your profiles back to your best content. In addition, connecting to influencers on social media is a great way to get more shares and high value backlinks.
Finally, the premium SEO campaigns we run for our clients all include highly relevant links from other real businesses in related business categories.
Other Helpful SEO Tips
While technical setup, content, and link building are the main critical points of any search optimization strategy, you also want to track and monitor your results.
You should know what pages of your site get the most traffic from search, as well as what pages have never received a click. This tells you how accurate your keyword strategy is, but it also indicates that there could be a problem with the technical setup of that page.
So here are a few quick tips to maintaining and increasing your rank in search engines:
Install Google Analytics
This is the first step for any website who wants more insights into how they get traffic and from where, and it's extremely helpful when determining what pages and content are ranking highly in search. Click here to Get started with Analytics.
Third-Party SEO Tools
Many marketers actively track and analyze their ranking positions using third-party software like SEMrush, AHREFs, and Keywords Everywhere. While some free tools are on the market, all of these are paid tools and worth every penny.
If you can afford SEMrush, it's probably the only tool you'll need to improve your search performance. It includes keyword research, competitor analysis, ranking tracker, and other suggestions to reach the top page of results.
Google My Business & Local Search Optimization
If you are trying to rank higher for local searches, you should first Google your business to see if it's showing up in map results. If not, then you likely haven't set up Google My Business.
Google My Business is your local business page on Google that includes all of your business information, reviews, and even question and answers about your company or products. Companies should add as much content as they can to their pages and actively ask for reviews from customers to get more ratings.
However, be careful in how you ask for reviews. Google does not want businesses to re-route negative reviews to a database or see that companies are only asking for positive reviews. This is just as bad as asking for fake reviews. So you'll have to keep it neutral when asking for feedback.
Need Help Optimizing Your Site for Search?
If your site hasn't been updated recently, it's time for a search optimization update. Why not get started today with a free audit and review of your site? We're ready to help you with fresh ideas on strategy, content, and technical setup.