When it comes to search engines, it’s like a big competition where only the best get noticed. The top three results are like the superstars, getting the most clicks – up to 30% to 10% – while the ninth spot is almost invisible, getting only about 2%. So, if you want your website to shine and reach its full potential, it needs to land on the first page of relevant search results.
That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. By using SEO techniques, you can increase your website’s chances of appearing higher in search results and getting more clicks. It’s a powerful tool that can help you get more online exposure and connect with a larger audience.
Table of Contents
SEO is the term used to describe all the methods and strategies that brands use to attract organic traffic from search engines to their websites. These include technical aspects such as site architecture, as well as more creative elements like content creation and user experience.
While it may seem straightforward, SEO is actually quite complex, even for seasoned digital marketers. There are many myths surrounding it, algorithms are constantly changing, and tactics that once worked can suddenly result in penalties. To keep your website optimized for search engines, you need a deep understanding of how search engines work, as well as how real people interact with your web content. This requires a combination of knowledge about usability, site architecture, and content creation, which makes SEO feel like a unique blend of various elements.
How Search Engines Work
Can you believe that Google handles over 3.5 billion searches every single day? That’s a huge number, especially when you consider the fact that there are an estimated 1.9 billion websites on the internet. But how does Google manage to provide us with relevant search results in less than half a second?
Well, it all comes down to three main tasks:
- Creating an index of web pages
- Accessing this index instantly
- Deciding which pages are most relevant to each search
In the world of SEO, we refer to this process as crawling and indexing. It’s a complex process, but it’s what allows us to find what we’re looking for on the internet so quickly and easily.
Crawling and indexing
Have you ever wondered how search engines find all the pages on the internet and give us the most relevant results in just a few seconds? It’s actually a pretty cool process!
Search engines use bots, also known as spiders or crawlers, to scan the web and create a list of all the servers and websites they find. These bots visit each site and look for different types of content, like text and videos, and note how many pages each site has. They also follow links to other pages and add them to their list.
All of this information is then stored in huge databases that allow search engines to find the information they need when someone makes a search. For example, Google has massive data centers located all over the world, including one in Oklahoma that’s almost a million square feet.
Search engines are constantly updating their databases by crawling and indexing the web, which means they keep track of new pages, deleted pages, and fresh content. So, when you make a search, they have a fully updated list of billions of results to choose from.
The only thing left to do is rank these results according to their relevance and quality. It’s a fascinating process that makes finding what we need on the internet so easy and fast!
How search engines Rank relevant Results
When you search for something on the internet and get hundreds of thousands of results, have you ever wondered how the search engine decides which ones to show you first?
Well, it’s not a group of people sitting in a room somewhere deciding which pages are the best. Instead, search engines use complex math equations and rules, called algorithms, to figure out what you’re looking for, find pages that match your search, and then rank them based on how important and popular they are.
Although search engines keep their ranking algorithms secret to prevent people from tricking the system, there are over 200 factors that can affect how a page is ranked. Some of these include the type of content you’re looking for, the quality of that content, how recent it is, how popular it is, and whether the website it’s on is trustworthy or spammy.
By understanding these factors, people who want their pages to appear at the top of the search results can create content that’s more likely to be seen and clicked on by searchers.
Types of Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Features
In the early days of search, search results were presented as a simple list of descriptive snippets and links. But in recent years, search engines have started including SERP features, which provide more information and are visually enhanced. For example, if you search for “Philz Coffee New England Patriots,” you might see a feature result with additional information that could be useful to you.
You can’t guarantee that your site will get additional SERP features, but there are some things you can do to increase your chances. One is to create a site structure that makes sense to both search engines and users. Another is to structure your content on your page so that it’s easy to read and understand. You can also use schema markup, which is structured code that helps search engines understand your site better.
Some of the most common organic SERP features include:
- Rich Snippets: these are additional visual components that appear in a traditional search result, such as review stars for a restaurant listing.
- Featured Snippets: these are highlighted blocks of text at the top of the search results page, often with a summarized answer to a search query and a link to the source URL.
- People Also Ask: these are expandable blocks of related questions that are asked by searchers.
- Knowledge Cards: these are right-aligned panels that show key information about a search term. For example, the Philz Coffee example above shows a knowledge panel with their logo, company information, and social profiles.
- Image Packs (carousels): these are horizontal rows of image links that appear for searches where visual content is useful.
- Instant Answers: these are results that pop up when Google can give a quick answer to a searcher’s query, such as when you search for the weather in your area. Unlike featured snippets, there’s no link to a source site.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
Search engines aim to provide the most helpful and informative results to people who search for information online. To achieve this, they look for web pages that match the words used in the search query, and use algorithms to assess their relevance and quality. Then, they present the results in different ways that best serve the searcher’s intent.
If you want to improve your website’s visibility and attract more visitors, it’s important to understand how search engines evaluate web pages. To do that, you need to develop a strategy that includes three types of SEO: technical, on-page, and off-page. By doing this, you can ensure that your website is optimized for search and has a better chance of ranking higher in search results.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is all about making sure your website is structured in a way that search engines can easily access and understand your content. Even if you have amazing on-page content, if your site isn’t set up properly, it won’t rank well in search results.
Unlike content creation or link-building strategies, technical SEO focuses on the architecture and infrastructure of your site. As search engines become smarter, best practices for technical SEO also need to evolve. However, there are some key fundamentals that you should keep in mind to ensure that your site is technically sound.
URL Hierarchy & Structure
It’s crucial to create a website structure that’s easy for search engines to crawl and for users to navigate. This involves planning a clear and organized hierarchy of URLs that moves from the main domain to categories and subcategories. When you add new pages, they should fit within this structure.
If you don’t plan your website structure, you might end up with pages that are hard to find and have no links connecting them. This can confuse search engines and visitors, leading to lower rankings and less traffic.
When creating URLs, try to keep them short and descriptive, including relevant keywords as close to the domain as possible. This helps search engines understand what your page is about and can make your links more enticing for users to click on.
It’s important to have a website that loads quickly if you want it to rank well on search engines. Most people don’t have the patience to wait for more than three seconds, and about 40% of users will give up and leave a site that takes too long to load.
To help with this, there are some things that technical SEO experts do to speed up the page loading process. They try to minimize the use of things like plug-ins, tracking codes, and widgets, and also make sure that images and videos are compressed to reduce their size and weight.
Marketers and designers have to work together to make sure that the site still looks good and has all the necessary features, while also loading quickly. It can be a bit of a balancing act, but it’s important to get it right if you want people to stick around on your site.
Have you ever heard of an XML sitemap? It’s basically a file that contains a list of all the pages on a website, including blog posts. This file is really useful for search engines, because it helps them to find and understand the content on your site.
However, it’s important to be careful about what you include in your XML sitemap. You don’t want to include pages that aren’t really relevant to your site or your users, like author pages or other types of pages that don’t add much value. By keeping your sitemap focused on the most important content, you can help search engines to better understand and showcase your site’s content.
HTTP or HTTPs?
Have you ever thought about how the information you enter on websites gets sent across the internet? It used to be that websites used a system called HTTP to transfer data quickly, but the problem with this is that the connection to the site isn’t very secure. This means that someone else could potentially see the information you enter.
To fix this, Google started to give websites that use HTTPS a bit of a boost in search rankings back in 2014. The “S” in HTTPS stands for “Secure,” and it basically means that the data being transferred between your browser and the website is encrypted and therefore much more difficult for someone else to intercept.
It might sound a bit technical, but the main takeaway here is that if you’re building a website or running an online business, it’s a good idea to make sure that you’re using HTTPS to help keep your users’ data safe.
Have you ever visited a website on your phone, only to find that it takes forever to load? It’s frustrating, right? Well, that’s where AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) comes in. It’s a platform supported by Google that helps websites load almost instantly on mobile devices. So, whether you’re trying to watch a video or view an animation, everything loads quickly no matter what device you’re using.
Now, you might be wondering why this is important for SEO. Well, first of all, we know that users tend to abandon websites that take too long to load. This is even more true for mobile users, who want everything to load quickly and easily. If your site is slow on mobile devices, it can negatively impact your rankings. Secondly, search engines (especially Google) tend to favor websites that have been optimized for AMP. So, if you want your website to rank higher in search engine results, it’s a good idea to consider optimizing your content for AMP.
All in all, AMP is a great tool to have in your SEO arsenal. By making sure your website is optimized for mobile devices, you can help ensure that users stay on your site and engage with your content.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
When it comes to search engines, they don’t “think” like we do. They don’t understand content in the same way that our brains do, which means they need specific technical structures and markers to accurately rank your website’s content. The good news is that search engines themselves provide tips on how to improve the technical SEO of your website. We have a handy infographic on performing a technical SEO audit, which can help you make sure your website is optimized for search engines.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO, also called on-site SEO, refers to the practice of optimizing all the elements of a website in order to improve search engine rankings. Think of it as the front-end component of SEO, while technical SEO is more of a back-end effort. It’s like the storefront of your website that you need to make as attractive and engaging as possible to bring in more customers.
On-page SEO includes tasks like formatting content, optimizing images, refining HTML code, and implementing internal linking best practices. One of the advantages of on-page SEO is that it’s completely within your control. Unlike external factors, you have 100% control over the quality of your on-page SEO, which means you can make changes and improvements as needed to boost your website’s search engine rankings.
Think of meta tags as labels that you put on your website’s boxes. They are small bits of code that tell search engines what’s inside. For example, an H1 tag tells search engines the title of a blog post or webpage. H2 and H3 tags are used to show the different levels of information, similar to how subheadings work in a book or magazine. The search engine then checks the text under each tag to make sure it’s relevant to the title.
Good meta-tag SEO is essential for helping search engines understand your website’s content and deciding when to show it in search results. By using these labels, you can make sure that search engines know what your website is all about and can show it to the right people at the right time.
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
The titles you give to your web pages matter to both people and search engines. When search engines crawl your site, they read the titles to figure out what your page is about. To optimize your page titles for SEO, include important search terms, and keep them under 70 characters. If your title is too long, search engines will cut it off in the search results, and that can deter potential visitors.
Meta descriptions are short summaries of a web page’s content that appear under the page title in search results. Although meta descriptions aren’t a direct ranking factor for Google, well-crafted ones can attract more visitors to your site from the search results page. This can send positive signals to search engines about your site’s quality.
It’s important to avoid “keyword stuffing,” which is cramming a lot of keywords into your titles and descriptions. This can hurt your search rankings instead of helping them. Instead, aim for clear and concise titles and descriptions that accurately convey the content of your page.
Search engines need to be able to “read” images just like they read text, but they can’t do that without some help. That’s where ALT text comes in – it’s a short description of the image that helps search engines understand what it’s showing. Good ALT text includes words that people might use when searching for images, but it should also be clear and helpful for anyone who sees it on the page.
Outbound and Internal Links
Links are like roads for search engines to travel between web pages, and without them, some pages can’t be found. That’s why both outbound links to other high-quality sites and internal links between a website’s pages are important for good SEO.
When you link to another site, it’s like giving them a vote of confidence, and search engines recognize that. It also helps users navigate your site better and find more relevant information.
Internal linking, on the other hand, helps search engines understand the most important topics on your site and keeps users exploring your content for longer, which is a good sign of quality.
Takeaway for search marketers:
When building your website, keep a clear structure and use both internal and external links to make it easy for visitors and search engines to navigate. If you’re not sure how your on-page SEO looks, you can use SEMRush on-page SEO checker. This helpful tool provides a list of actions you can take to improve your on-page SEO, shows you how your pages may appear in search engine results, and highlights opportunities to boost your rankings.
What is Off-site SEO?
Off-site SEO is all about the things that happen outside of your website that can still impact how well it shows up in search engine results. So, this might include things like how many other websites link back to your site and the quality of those sites. The idea is that good off-site SEO can help prove to search engines that your website is valuable and trustworthy, which will boost your ranking.
Unlike on-site SEO, where you have complete control, off-site SEO can be a bit trickier to manage. But if you focus on two things, you can give your website’s off-site SEO a boost: building links from other sites to yours, and working on developing a solid reputation for your website.
In off-site SEO, link-building is all about getting other trustworthy websites to link back to your site. This is like getting a vote of confidence from these websites, which tells search engines that your website is also credible and high-quality. And this, in turn, can help improve your chances of ranking higher in search engine results.
But not all backlinks are equal in the eyes of search engines. They evaluate several factors, such as the authority of the linking site, the relevance of the content around the link, the relevance of the anchor text, the number of links on the linking site, and whether the link is followed or no-followed.
To boost your off-site SEO, it’s essential to focus on obtaining links from high-quality external sites. One way to identify these sites is by checking their SEMrush Rank, which is a metric that measures the popularity of a website. The lower the Semrush Rank, the more valuable that site’s backlinks will be. You can use the Site Overview Tool to find the SEMrush Rank of a site.
Once you’ve identified high-quality sites to get backlinks from, there are several off-page SEO techniques you can use, such as guest blogging, brand-mention link acquisition, and broken-link building, to enhance your website’s link profile.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
Search engine optimization involves more than just technical work. It also requires creativity and building relationships with others. It’s not a one-time thing but an ongoing process. That’s why it’s a good idea to do a site audit every month. This way, you can keep an eye on your backlink profile, online influence, and how you stack up against the competition in search engine results.
By performing a monthly site audit, you can identify any areas that need improvement and make necessary changes to stay ahead of the game. It’s a great way to keep track of how well your website is doing and to ensure that you are optimizing it in the best possible way. So, set a reminder on your calendar to conduct regular site audits and stay on top of your SEO game!
SEO Keyword Research
Let’s take a step back and start at the beginning of the search process. It all begins when someone types a word or phrase into a search engine. Search engines use these words, along with subtle details like word order, spelling, and tense, to understand what the searcher is looking for.
That’s where keyword research comes in. By researching what words people are using to search, search marketers can figure out what users want to find and which keywords are bringing traffic and business to a website.
There are three types of keywords to consider:
- Short-tail keywords: These are searches with one or two words, like “flights” or “digital marketing.” While these keywords have high search volume, it’s hard to figure out what users really want from them. Focusing on short-tail keywords alone could hurt your site’s ranking in the long run.
- Long-tail keywords: These are more specific, with three or more words, and are often less competitive than short-tail keywords. For example, “what is a long-tail keyword” is a specific search term with respectable search volume and clear intent.
- Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords: These keywords provide context to search engines, helping them understand what a page is about. For instance, a page about the movie “Titanic” could include LSI terms like “Kate Winslet” to help search engines identify the page’s content.
An effective keyword research strategy combines all three types of keywords, incorporating them into site structure and content to improve search engine rankings.
But how do you figure out which keywords to target? By conducting keyword research, of course! This process helps you determine the right keywords to use, so you can make sure your site is optimized for what your potential customers are searching for.
Basics of Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process of finding the right words and phrases to include on your website so that search engines can better understand what your site is about and connect you with potential customers. Here are some steps to help you with your keyword research:
- Brainstorm a list of potential keywords related to your business by using Google Autofill and Related Searches.
- Expand your list with SEMRush’s Keyword Research tools to find new keywords that you might not have considered before.
- See what keywords your competitors are using with SEMRush’s Competitive Analysis tools.
- Create a list of keywords that are relevant to your business and have a chance of ranking well in search results. Be sure to include both highly competitive short-tail keywords and more specific long-tail keywords.
- Categorize the search intent behind each keyword and align it with the appropriate stage in the sales funnel. For example, if someone is searching for “buy running shoes,” they are further along in the sales process than someone searching for “best running shoes for women.”
- Choose a selection of keywords from your list and create content that answers the questions your potential customers might have when searching for those terms.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to keyword research. Experiment with different strategies and tactics until you find what works best for your business. If you need more help, check out some of the resources available online.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
In the world of SEO, keywords are the building blocks that help search engines understand what your website is all about. So, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough keyword analysis that includes examining the current keywords your site is ranking and converting on, identifying any missed opportunities, and analyzing the keywords your competitors are targeting.
However, simply identifying the right keywords isn’t enough. To rank for those keywords, you need to create content that’s optimized for SEO. This means that your content should use your target keywords in strategic locations, such as the title, headers, and throughout the body text, without overstuffing them. Additionally, your content should provide value to the reader and answer their queries effectively.
How Content Affects SEO Rankings
Of all the things that go into successful SEO, content is one of the most important. Good content—whether it’s blog posts, videos, images, or product pages—is what draws people to your website and helps it rank higher in search results.
To make content that both users and search engines love, it’s important to create something that meets the needs of searchers. That means understanding what people are looking for when they type in a search term and crafting content that answers their questions or provides the information they’re after.
People search for different things on the internet, from buying products to finding answers to their questions or going to a specific website.
When you’re searching for information, that’s called informational intent. In fact, most people use search engines for this purpose.
If you’re searching for a specific website, that’s called navigational intent. For example, when you search for the name of your bank instead of typing the login page URL directly.
When you’re looking to make a purchase, sign up for a service, or download a file, that’s called transactional intent.
Different types of content are suited for different intents. For example, a product page is perfect for a transactional search, while a blog post is better for an informational search.
If you create content that matches what people are searching for, they’ll be more likely to engage with it. This is good for search engines too, and it can help your content rank higher over time.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
Creating great content is crucial for successful SEO. To do this, you need to be both proactive and reactive in your approach to planning and improving your SEO content. When planning your content strategy, aim to create content that answers 80% of the informational searches related to your keywords. Additionally, make sure to optimize your landing pages for transactional search queries like “buy” or “purchase.” By doing this, you’ll be able to attract and engage more visitors to your site and ultimately rank higher in search results.
How Usability Affects Rankings
User experience (UX) plays an important role in search engine rankings, even though it’s not the main factor. Good UX can help define a site’s relevance and authority, which is important for ranking well in search results.
Search engines use various factors to judge usability, but engagement metrics can help you figure out if your pages are meeting Google’s user-centric standards. These metrics include things like how often people click on your page, how long they stay, and how often they come back. High engagement metrics are a good sign that people are finding what they need on your site.
To create a great user experience, focus on making your content easy to scan and read, avoiding duplicate content, and ensuring that your site is easy to navigate. When people have a positive experience on your site, they’re more likely to visit again, stay longer, and share your content with others. And all of these things can help your site rank higher in search results.
Takeaway for Search Marketers
Search engines want to make sure they show the best results to their users, and they increasingly prioritize websites that provide a good experience for their visitors. So, when you create your website and its content, remember that you are writing for real people who are looking for answers and solutions. If you focus on providing valuable information and a positive online experience, it will benefit both your visitors and your search engine rankings.
What Is SEO: The Takeaway
Search engine optimization is always evolving, and each time a search engine updates its algorithm, it presents a chance to provide better content and attract more qualified visitors to your website. While the specific tactics may change, the overarching goal remains the same: to create websites and content that work well for both humans and search engines.
Staying on the cutting edge of SEO can be a challenge, but with the right set of tools, techniques, and strategies, you can create an SEO plan that pays off in the long run.