SEO, or “search engine optimization,” involves increasing the quality and quantity of your website traffic. This increase in website traffic that SEO produces creates exposure for your brand through non-paid or “organic” search engine results.

SEO is about understanding what your customers are searching for online. Businesses need to know their customers’ questions, the words (keywords) they use to seek answers, and the content they typically consume. Knowing these things about your audience will allow your business to connect with customers searching online for your business’s solutions. However, knowing your customers is only one side of the SEO coin. Optimizing your website so search engine crawlers can find and understand it is the other.

Why is SEO important?

Paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can generate website traffic, however, search engines drive most online traffic. Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to searchers, and receive more clicks than paid advertisements. For instance, of all searches performed in the US, only approximately 3% of users click on paid advertisements. SEO has about 20 times more traffic opportunities than paid clicks on mobile and desktop devices.

Paid vs Organic Results

SEO is one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay off exponentially in the long term. Your traffic will improve by producing solid content that earns a rank for the right keywords. “Organic results” appear purely based on the quality and content of the page. The resulting traffic from users finding your page is called “Organic traffic.” Organic traffic is considered to be the most valuable traffic source because:

  • Moving up in the rankings is difficult and takes time, but once you’re there, you reap the benefits for a long time.
  • Results on the first page of Google receive 92% off all search traffic on Google. Search traffic drops by 95% on the second page.
  • 33% of organic search results clicks go to the first listing on Google.

Organic Search

Organic search can be optimized using various SEO practices based on unpaid rankings determined by search engine algorithms. Before everyone and their mom was online, ranking well on Google was easy. The competition was so slim that simply writing a few articles about a subject was enough to gain the top spot on the rankings. 

Paid Search

In contrast, paid search allows you to pay to display your website on the first SERP (Top 10 search engine results page) when a user searches specific keywords or phrases. Paid search has become more popular recently because organic search has become more competitive. Rather than waiting patiently for your SEO to build up, you can pay immediately for the chance to be on page one of Google. A substantial marketing strategy balances inbound with outbound tactics while combining search engine optimization and paid search to get found online.

When to hire an SEO professional?

While search engines are getting smarter, they still need help from us humans. Optimizing your website will help deliver better information to search engine crawlers so your content can be appropriately indexed and displayed on SERPs. Depending on your capacity, willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website, you could perform some basic SEO yourself. If you don’t have the time or the patience, you may opt for expert help. Just make sure the SEO expert you hire uses best practices for SEO. To learn marketing lingo and communicate with your SEO expert effectively, read our article on marketing terms you need to know.

Beware of “Black Hat SEO”

“White Hat SEO” are practices that abide by strict search engine rules. This SEO strategy is about providing more value to potential customers the “right” way. “Black Hat SEO” refers to techniques and strategies that attempt to spam or fool search engines. While black hat SEO may work, these practices put your website at risk of being penalized and de-indexed (removed from search results). Additionally, black hat SEO has ethical implications. For this reason, it’s essential to be very careful when hiring an SEO expert and ensure they engage in “White Hat SEO” practices.

SEO Basics (Welcome to the Other Side)

Learn what your customers are searching for:

It’s only possible to optimize your website by learning what your customers are searching for. The best way to figure this out is to ask your current customers how they found you. Additionally, imagine you are searching online for your business’s services. What would you type in the search engine? The answer to this question will help you develop some primary keywords or phrases. Are we done? Not quite. After finding preliminary searches, the next step is complex search results. To expand on search results, research and learn about engaging topics in your field. Use this information to plan content that captures the audiences’ interests.

Optimize your pages for search:

Website pages need to be structured well, and this starts with ensuring your visitors enjoy your website’s UX (user experience). Simple design and typography improve website readability and make content easy to find. Organize site navigation and remove elements that may agitate website visitors, such as pop-ups and repetitive widgets. Clean up URLs and make sure they are short and descriptive of the page or post. For WordPress sites, we recommend Yoast SEO for on-page optimization. Yoast SEO also provides add-ons for creating content that aligns with search intent, meta titles, descriptions, headers, and subheaders.

Last but not least is image optimization. Images are great for people, but search engines need help making sense of them. Image titles and alt tags are crucial for SEO. Additionally, it’s essential to optimize website images to reduce page loading time, which can impede your search engine rank.

Your website must be accessible to search engines AND humans:

Websites must load fast, be mobile-friendly, secure, and properly indexed. Google’s PageSpeed Insights provides insights into page load speed and steps to improve it. Today, more than 60% of searches come from mobile devices. Google also has a Mobile-Friendly Test tool to help with mobile device optimization. HTTPS is a Google ranking indicator, which means all websites must be secure. To secure your website, install an SSL certificate. Security and SSL are essential for eCommerce websites. Another vital ranking indicator is a sitemap. A sitemap contains your website structure and tells search engines what pages to index, whereas a robots.txt file instructs search engines on which parts of a page they should and shouldn’t index. Your website should have both submitted to search engines.

Build Backlinks:

Linking internally and externally on your website is crucial for SEO. Internal links improve SEO by increasing the crawling speed. External links provide your link to other websites as a referral domain. Referral domains have a positive effect on search traffic. Internal and external links are the foundation for building backlinks. To build backlinks, you will also need to analyze how your competitors create links. At this point, consider hiring an SEO professional. Searching for broken links on relevant websites to your business and offering your content as an alternative, guest blogging, and measuring the results of these efforts over time take time, patience, strategy, and monitoring.

Monitor and Track your results:

Google Analytics is a free tool to track and measure the results of your SEO efforts. Two essential items to begin tracking include Organic Traffic and Page Content Ranking.

Realistically, seeing movement in search rankings takes 3 to 6 months. Most people don’t want to wait that long or don’t have the time to devote to SEO while also managing business operations. Consider hiring an SEO professional and view it as an investment in your business, not an expense. When done correctly, it will pay off in the long run.