How Does SEO Work?
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is the process of making web pages more attractive to search engines. In other words, SEO involves making changes to website design and content to increase a site’s ranking on search engine results pages.
Because search engines like Google and Bing want to deliver the best experience for their users, they try to provide helpful, high-quality results on their search pages that are relevant to what the user is searching for.
So companies optimize their sites so that they rank highly in search engines for relevant phrases and keywords. The main goal of SEO is to capture unpaid, organic traffic from search engines which will drive sales.
But How Do Search Engines Really Work?
Search engines basically have three functions:
- Crawling: scanning the internet for content, checking out both the code and the content for the websites they find.
- Ranking: delivering content in the order that best answers a searcher’s query
- Indexing: organizing all the content discovered during the crawling phase. As soon as a page makes it into the index, it’s eligible to appear in relevant search results.
For this reason, search engines crawl or scan numerous websites to determine what a site is all about. Then they grade their search results according to the authority and the relevancy of the pages included in their web index.
Search engines also crawl sites to check how easy it is to read and to navigate. Naturally, the more user-friendly a site is, the better its ranking on search pages.
Armed with this knowledge, they provide results that are relevant to specific topics or keywords entered in the search bar. Indeed, Google uses more than 300 signals to score their search results. While no single website could possibly optimize for all of these ranking factors, SEO’s purpose is to influence some of the more well-known signals.
Therefore, SEO includes not only creating content for search engines, but it also involves making a site accessible and user-friendly. Ultimately, a site needs to have relevant, authoritative content that answers user queries and is simple for users to navigate.
Google’s PageRank Algorithm
PageRank, Google’s first and best-known algorithm, is one of the signals Google uses to measure the importance of web pages. It works by counting the amount and the quality of backlinks to a page. Usually referred to as link building, Google believes that the more important a website is, the more likely it is to have more links from other websites.
For this reason, SEO encompasses anything that can attract high-quality inbound links to a website. Authoritative websites linking to your site is a powerful signal to Google that your site is helpful to its users and should rank highly for relevant queries.
Putting SEO into Practice
The search engine optimization process typically breaks down into two categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. The former refers to everything you do to individual web pages to get more traffic from search engines. The latter refers to all the activities away from a website that can raise a site’s ranking.
One of the first and most important steps in SEO is to pinpoint the most relevant keywords for your website. Keywords are the words your customers use when searching for your products or services. For this reason, it helps to understand the searcher’s intent and what they hoping to gain from their search.
Step 1: Brainstorming – Before you begin, you should think about the kinds of phrases and subjects that would attract visitors to your site. Some basic questions to ask include:
- What would you type into a search engine to find what your website offers?
- What is your website about?
- What would other people looking for your products or services type into their search bar?
- What kind of content do you have on your most popular pages?
The answers to these questions will generate your initial list of keywords that you can expand and develop later.
Step 2: Use Keyword Research Tools – Now that you have your preliminary keyword list, you will need to use a keyword research tool to mine important data. The best place to start is with Google’s keyword planner; it will tell you how many people are searching for the phrases from your brainstorming list. The Keyword Planner also gives you other keyword suggestions related to your list. For additional keyword insights and analysis, it helps to use other tools such as Ahrefs Keywords explorer and SE Ranking.
Step 3: Competitor Research – With your keyword tools, you can also perform competitor research. Knowing what’s working for your competitors is one of the best ways to improve your search ranking. By adding competitor keywords with a good ROI to your list, you can improve on them and get ahead of your competition.
Step 4: Incorporating Voice Search – Experts estimate that as much as 50% of all searches will come from voice by 2020. As voice search changes how people search, our keyword research and our on-page SEO needs to reflect this trend. Since voice searches tend to be longer and more conversational than keyboard searches, their keywords should incorporate natural language queries and keyword phrases that mimic the way people speak when they ask Alexa or Siri a question. Clearly, optimizing content for voice search is no longer optional.
Keyword research is crucial because it reveals the exact words your target audience uses to search for your products or services. Furthermore, a valuable keyword list will guide your content development and marketing strategies. Once you finish your research, it's time to optimize your page content with the exact words your searchers are using. Generally, it helps to focus on long-tail keywords (3 to 5 words) which may not have as much search volume as broader, more general keywords but typically have higher conversion rates.
On-page SEO revolves around the elements on a website that you can control. In other words, it includes both the site's content and the HTML code that can be optimized. Here are some of the more important onsite elements that should be optimized for better search engine rankings:
- Title Tag – a page’s title tag lets a search engine know what that page is about. It should be 70 characters or less including spaces because anything longer may be cut off in the search results. Because title tags are the first and most obvious part of the search result listings, they are one of the most important elements for SEO. An effective title tag gets people to click through the search results. Therefore, it should include your page’s primary keyword and your business name while emphasizing your page’s value.
- Meta Description – A meta description is the additional information about your website that appears below the page title in search results. Although this element has no reputed SEO value, using relevant keywords here can increase the chances of a reader clicking through to your site. Its suggested length is between 150-160 characters. Besides using your focus keyword, it helps to include a call-to-action and to write in an active voice.
- Alt text and image titles – Any images on your website or within your blogs should include alt text (alternative text) and image titles, which can be added to the image tag in the HTML code. Both of these attributes are used to make images more accessible to the blind who use screen reader devices. In addition, search engine robots depend on alt text to know what an image is about and for what to display in search results because they can’t read images without text. Therefore, your alt text should be a keyword-rich phrase describing an image in 10 words or less. While the alt text is geared to search engine crawlers, the image title is for human readers. When a user hovers over an image without clicking, he can see the image title or title text. Generally, the title text should follow the same guidelines as an article headline or a post title. The image title is another good place to prompt the reader with a call to action; it also helps to use different keywords for the alt text and the title text even though the image title is not used for search rankings.
- Sub-headings – including sub-headlines can make your content easier to read and scan visually in addition to helping with your SEO efforts. Having H1, H2, and H3 tags makes it easier for search engines to understand what your content is all about.
- Internal Links – creating links to other content on your site is very important for SEO because it can help search engines to learn more about your site. For instance, if a blog post describes the importance of a service you offer, you can link to that service page from that post.
After you take care of your on-page SEO, it’s time to focus on the off-page factors that can influence your search rankings. People usually associate off-page SEO with link building, but it actually involves a whole host of factors that can boost your brand. Although you don’t have the same kind of control over off-page factors as you do on-page, it's still an effective way of building up your SEO. Essentially, it’s all about expanding your website’s content and its reach.
Below are some of the main off-page SEO elements:
- Link building – backlinks are one of the best ways to influence your ranking off-site. However, there are no shortcuts with this method. It takes time and effort to build trust with influencers and other followers who create good content and will link back to your site.
- Blogging – consistent, informative blog posts are the perfect way to answer questions people may have about your products or services. It's also another way to incorporate those long-tail keywords that can boost your search results. Furthermore, websites featuring blogs have many more indexed pages. And sharing valuable information with your users will add to your domain authority. A good way to do this is by guest posting on influential websites that can point back to your site’s content.
- Social Media – sharing content through your company’s social media pages is a great way to promote your brand. If you develop a reputation for good content, you are more likely to get others to share and comment. Social media is also another way to interact with your customer base. For instance, you can share positive reviews and respond to negative reviews or misconceptions about your brand.
- Newsletters – similar to blogging, creating a newsletter with valuable, shareable content can go a long way toward raising a brand’s visibility.
The overarching goal of any SEO strategy is to make your content relevant and valuable for potential customers. Once you have a firm grasp of how SEO works, you can make the changes that will lead to better search rankings. But optimizing your onsite content is only half the battle. You also need to develop a productive off-page SEO strategy. Indeed, the best site content in the world won’t matter if no one knows enough about it to want to visit and learn more about it.
One of the most important takeaways is that there is no fast track to effective SEO; it takes time and patience. It might be months or even years before your efforts really pay off. Nevertheless, using SEO best practices to serve your target audience is the best way to attract organic site traffic and grow your business for the future.
From our office in East Hanover, NJ, NetLZ Consulting provides professional, high-quality web design and development, and all digital marketing services to clients in the New York and New Jersey metropolitan area in addition to clients around the country and internationally.