What is SEO? It’s a question marketers and online businesses have been wrestling with – if not since the dawn of time, at least for the two decades Google has been a daily presence in our lives. Now that website builders make creating your online presence easier than ever, more and more people are asking what is SEO?
Fortunately, it’s a question we’re answering here – with a simple, no-nonsense (and no jargon!) guide to all things SEO marketing. Below, we’ll cover all the SEO basics – including on-page, off-page, and technical – and take you on a whistle-stop tour of keyword research. We’ll also show you how to track the success of your SEO efforts, point out the pitfalls to avoid, and provide our expert take on the topics and trends dominating the SEO conversation in 2023.
Ready to reinvigorate the way your business and brand approaches SEO? Read on.
Let’s start with the basics. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In marketing terms, it involves optimizing your website – and the content you publish both on and off it – to help it rank highly in search engines: including Google, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo!
These search engines utilize complex algorithms to determine how relevant – and how high-quality – your website’s pages are.
Do they answer the searcher’s key questions? Are they well-written, well-presented, and structured in a way that makes sense? If they fulfill these requirements, search engines will push your web pages to a higher spot (ranking) in its SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages). This ensures more people see your content: which is good for your brand, your business, and your bottom line.
Broadly, the basics of SEO encompass three key elements:
- On-page SEO: techniques you can apply to your website’s pages to make them more readable and accessible to users and search engines.
- Off-page SEO: writing content for other websites with links back to your site – which boosts its credibility, trustworthiness, and authority in the eyes of search engines.
- Technical SEO: tweaking your website’s technical elements – ensuring your pages load fast, render well on mobile devices, and speak the language of search engines.
So, now you have the basics downpat, let’s look at some concrete tips and techniques you can use to boost your website’s chances of on-page, off-page, and technical SEO success.
Keyword Research and Analysis
Ask the layperson what SEO is, and you’ll most likely get ‘keyword research’ as a response.
Well, keyword research isn’t the be all and end all of SEO – but it is super important. Keyword research is the process of unearthing those questions driving your target audience’s searches online. If you can get an idea of the exact phrases and terms they’re using when they input those words into Google’s search bar, you’re better placed to answer those questions with your website and content – and, accordingly, rank higher.
To do all that, you’ll need a keyword research tool. The best ones, like Semrush and Moz, tend to come with heftier price tags. But you can also leverage free keyword research tools, such as WordStream, to get started for free – or cash in with a free trial of a paid platform while you learn the ropes.
Now you’ve got to grips with the keywords, you’ll want to start integrating them into your website’s:
- Title tags
- Header tags
- Meta titles and descriptions
Your site will also need a URL structure that Google can understand. This means no long, complicated URLs – just concise, keyword-rich ones that instantly convey a sense of what the page is about. Be sure, too, to link accurately and meaningfully between your pages – but only if it makes sense to within the page’s context and information.
Why is this important?
Well, when you publish a piece of content to the internet, you ‘submit’ it for search engines to have a look at. Search engines use bots (called ‘spiders’) to ‘crawl’ your pages, sifting through them to understand them, categorize them, and make sense of their relationship to one another. The more (and more accurately) you’ve linked between your site’s pages, the easier you make this whole process for Google.
Your page doesn’t exist in isolation, but in relation to – and in competition with – the rest of the internet. Likewise, your SEO efforts shouldn’t work in a vacuum, but in harmony with the rest of the internet’s thriving ecosystem of content.
So pen a guest blog and submit it to a prominent website in the space you operate in. Be sure – crucially – to include a link back to your website. Not only for the reader to follow, if they wish to learn more about a particular topic you specialize in, but to gain a small slice of the authority the source that’s linking to your site offers.
Needless to say, you should check first that the website you want this ‘backlink’ from is authoritative – which Google measures in DA (Domain Authority). You can check this instantly when you install Moz’s free SEO extension for your browser. The higher the number, the more trustworthy and credible search engines perceive the website – which is better for you!
Technical SEO is all behind the scenes stuff – but it has a big impact on the experience both search engines and your website’s visitors will have when they engage with your site.
To set your website up for technical SEO success, ensure it’s well-optimized for mobile devices. We won’t go into that too much here – we do that in far greater detail in our guide to how to make your website more mobile-friendly – but it’s vital. Of equal importance is your website’s speed – something you can explore how to boost, along with why it matters, in our deep dive into the latest website load time statistics.
An SEO strategy isn’t something you put in place, then forget about. It’s an ongoing process of tweaking and tampering; of tinkering and trying out bold, brilliant new things.
But to be able to do that – and do it in ways driven not by hunches, but by data – you need to be analyzing your strategy and tracking it against a predetermined set of KPIs and success metrics. Some of the benchmarks of SEO progress you can track on your website include:
- Traffic: how many people are visiting your website
- Bounce rate: how many people, after clicking through to your website, are immediately clicking away
- Conversion rate: how many people are taking a specific action you’re keen to measure – such as completing a form, signing up to your mailing list, or making a purchase
- Lead generation: how many leads your site is delivering to you or your sales team
Of course, there are less tangible metrics you should also be keeping an eye on. Brand awareness and approval, for instance – how many people have heard of, and are connecting with, your brand – is something that’s trickier to track. But something higher SERP rankings can absolutely help with.
All the best strategies need the best tools so ensure that you’re regularly checking in with Google’s superb suite of free tools – Search Console and Analytics, to be specific. Paid SEO tools, such as Ahrefs, can also help bolster the amount of information at your fingertips.
So far, we’ve covered plenty of SEO ‘dos’. Now, how about some ‘don’ts’?
SEO strategies to avoid include:
- Keyword stuffing: just because you’ve identified relevant keywords, doesn’t mean you need to cram them all into every nook and cranny of your website content. While keywords are important for helping your business rank, they should never come at the cost of readability or genuine value to the user.
- Thin content: these are web pages or articles that lack substance, depth, or any redeeming merit to readers. They provide little – or no – valuable information, are low in quality, and often suffer from a low word count (or blatant plagiarism).
- Duplicate content: needless to say, content that’s substantially similar (or even identical) to content that already exists on the internet won’t rank well. And can harm your brand’s reputation and perceptions amongst your target audiences.
- Broken links: links that 404 – that lead to nothing more than a vaguely apologetic error page – are disappointing to users, and even more so to search engines. Avoid them!
You can get a full run-down on more SEO mistakes to avoid in our full guide!
SEO vs paid advertising.
It’s a divisive question as old as the internet itself.
Fortunately, it’s one you don’t have to choose between. They’re not mutually exclusive, and both offer their own unique sets of benefits for your business.
Ultimately, for all SEO’s wealth of drawcards for your brand and bottom line, it’s not a strategy characterized by short-term wins. Articles can take months to rank and, even if they do, unless the content is properly structured, with meta titles enticing the reader to click, there’s no guarantee they’ll garner clicks or conversions.
On the other hand, paid (or PPC; pay-per-click) advertising – which involves bidding on clicks with competing businesses to place your brand at the summit of the SERPs – is a good short-term plan that can lead to more traffic for, and audience engagement with, your website.
The drawback of paid advertising is, of course, that ‘paid’ bit in the name. PPC strategies cost money – which many businesses at the very beginning of their growth trajectory quite simply don’t have. So, while SEO might take longer to start bearing tangible fruit, it won’t cost you any money – making it more sustainable and, ultimately, more scalable than its PPC counterpart.
SEO marketing is like a shapeshifter: always evolving and expanding.
That’s why it pays to stay on top of the trends. In 2023, the top SEO trends include:
- Voice SEO: with more users using voice assistants – like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Assistant – to make queries online, optimizing your content for voice searches is vital. For more tips about how to up your site’s voice search optimization game, check out our comprehensive take on the topic.
- Local SEO: to tap into the lucrative world of local SEO, first ensure your business’s Google My Business account is up to date and relevant. You can also incorporate local keywords – those relevant to the country, region, or neighborhood you operate in – and create content that taps into events and attractions happening nearby.
- Mobile SEO: in 2023, more people are using mobile devices to search online than ever before. Because of this, search engines are now prioritizing mobile-friendly websites, so ensure your website is responsive and loads quickly on tablets and smartphones.
We’ve written about 2,000 words on SEO marketing here – but the truth is, we could write 20,000 more, and still barely scratch the proverbial surface.
So before you head off to start putting the SEO marketing strategies we’ve outlined here, be sure to tick off the boxes of our comprehensive SEO checklist – and visit our SEO glossary to bust the jargon, and get to grips with those perplexing SEO terms you’ve been grappling with.
Good luck – and enjoy!
To dive deep into our list of the best SEO website builders, explore our guide dedicated to just that.