If you struggle with what SEO is and are confused by all the information about SEO that is often published on various blogs on the internet, look no further—this article is for you!
What is SEO and why is it important?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, standing for the practice of increasing both quantity and quality of traffic to your website via organic search engine results.
Basically Google makes uses of an algorithm, a complex mathematical formula, to score every website as well as every search a person does in Google so as to decide the rankings of each website with relevant content that people are looking for. To better understand it, you can imagine the algorithm as a basketball game. The final score depends on how many 3-pointers (the quality of your site) you hit, how many 2-pointers (the number of sites link to you) are made, and how many free throws (how people trust you) you score. All you need to do is keeping trying to score as many as possible in the algorithm and exceeding your competitors.
You can affect your search engine ranking by having the highest score in terms of quality of your site, of having the highest score in terms of authority of your website, of having the highest score in terms of the most trusted store for that search that people are looking for. The good news is that there are more than just the three means of score to win the game, and every single mean stands for an opportunity for you to score and rank higher. Therefore optimizing your site for search results really means getting the highest score in the game as many of these points as you can.
Why is SEO important?
In today’s competitive market, SEO is more important than ever. Search engines serve millions of users per day searching for answers to their questions or for solutions to their problems. Search engine optimization is essential because:
- The majority of search engines users are more likely to click on one of the top 5 suggestions in the results pages (SERPS), so to take advantage of this and gain visitors to your web site or customers to your online store you need to in the top positions.
- SEO makes a web site trustworthy by ranking it high on search result list with the keywords that users are searching for.
- SEO is good for the social promotion of your web site. People who find your web site by searching Google or Yahoo are more likely to promote it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other social media channels.
- SEO is important for the smooth running of a big web site. A web site with multiple authors can get benefit from SEO directly and indirectly as well. The direct benefit refers to increasing search engine traffic and the indirect benefit is using a common framework for publishing content.
- SEO can put you ahead of the competition. If two web sites are selling the same thing, the search engine optimized web site is more likely to have more customers and make more sales.
How search engines work?
No matter you are new or experienced in SEO field, it’s necessary to sit back and figure out how search engines really work, especially when you are looking to improve your rankings and drive more traffic to your website. Basically, the major functions of search engines can be simply summarized as crawling & indexing, and providing answers.
Crawling and Indexing
If you were never trained, it may seem hard for you to understand the exact meaning of crawling and indexing. It will be easier if you think of the World Wide Web as a network of stations in a big city subway system. Every station is on behalf of a unique document like a web page, or even a file of JPG, PDF, etc. The search engines takes advantage of the links as the best path to “crawl” the entire city and find all the stations along the way.
Usually, the link structure of the web is used for binding all of the web pages together. Through links, automated robots of the search engines, which are also called “crawlers” or “spiders”, can reach billions of interconnected documents on the web.
Once a web page is found by a search engine, it will be converted into code, stored in the form of pieces in massive databases, and recalled later whenever needed for a search query. In order to make sure the ever-large work of holding millions of pages is accomplished and accessed as quickly as possible, for instance, within a fraction of a second, multiple well-deployed data centers throughout the world have been constructed by the search engine companies.
Thousands of machines are housed within these monstrous storage facilities and processing large quantities of information at extremely high speeds. All people are expecting instantaneous results when performing a search at any of the major search engines. It explains why the engines are working hard to offer answers as fast as possible since even a one- or two-second delay can cause dissatisfaction.
Search engines, in essence, are answer machines. When you perform an online search, the search engine does two things in addition to sourcing its corpus of billions of documents: one is returning only those relevant and useful results to your query, and the other is ranking the results in accordance with how popular a website serving the information is. Here comes the question: of which way does a search engine take advantage to determine relevance and popularity?
In the old days, relevance to a search engine simply means finding a page containing the right words. Over the years, smart engineers have developed many other ways to better match results to a searcher’s query. Thereby, relevance in today is influenced by hundreds of factors, amongst which popularity is the most important one.
Typically, search engines’ decision on whether the information of a site, page, or document is valuable or not will be based on the popularity of it. In this way, they ensures customers can always get satisfied with the search results, thus greatly improving user satisfaction and establishing brand name of the company. However, if you think that the popularity and relevance can be determined manually, you may have misunderstood the essence of search engines and SEO. Contrarily, they benefit from the algorithms to sort the site from the relevance and then to rank the site in order of popularity.
Black hat and white hat SEO
SEO techniques are essentially classified into two broad categories:
- techniques recommended as part of good design by search engines
- techniques referred to as spamdexing, which are not approved of by search engines and of which effect will be minimized
These methods usually classified into two categories by industry commentators or practitioners, called white hat SEO and black hat SEO. White hats can produce results lasting long time, while black hats focus on only short-term effect that may be banned by search engines eventually.
Black Hat SEO
All aggressive SEO, techniques or tactics can be classified into black hat SEO as they pay too much attention to search engines but ignore the human audience. And most often, black hat SEO means disobeying search engine rules. Only those who are pursing a quick financial return but not a long-term investment on their web site will use black hat SEO.
Black hat SEO techniques:
- Hidden content: the very basic guise of this technique is the content stuffed with keywords within the code for the site, which is invisible to the end user of the site.
- Keyword stuffing: this type of SEO technique is always considered as unethical in the industry. When the content or meta tags of a web page is loaded with keywords, keyword stuffing occurs. Nowadays, many search engines have given up these tags as result of the repetition of words in meta tags.
- Scraping: spammer takes advantage of putting content that is proven to be popular with search engines on his/her own site, through plagiarizing from other web sites and often with the purpose of selling advertising back to the search engines.
- Doorway or Gateway pages: these pages are designed for search engines and not for the end user. They are basically face pages that are stuffed with content and highly optimized for 1 or 2 keywords that link to a target or landing page. As all doorway and gateway pages are automatically redirected to the target page, the end user will never have the chance to see them during the whole process of searching and surfing.
- Link farms: a link farm refers to the group of web sites, in which all websites use hyperlinks to every other site. It is true that you can create link farms by hand, but most are created via automated services and programs. A link farm is a form of spamming the index of a search engine.
When to consider black hat SEO?
Again, black hat SEO is not recommended. There is no get-rich-quick approach in the world, even the black hat SEO. Instead of helping improving your user experience, black hat SEO focuses only on optimizing your content for the search engines, ultimately resulting in spammy and crappy pages. Such techniques will often get banned, lead to severe punishment for the marketers, and even worse, ruin their chance to build something sustainable in the future.
White Hat SEO
Typically, the techniques and tactics used by white hat SEO can be defended as NOT, which is just the opposite to spirit of Google’s expressed quality desires. White hat techniques are associated with ethical SEO. However, you still can’t expect your website to suddenly pop up on the search results; but don’t worry, they will get long lasting results if they finally do.
White hat SEO techniques:
- Quality content: the more content-rich your site is, the more valuable it will appear to the search engines, your human visitors, and to other webmasters who will be far more likely to link to your website if they find you to be a solid resource on their subject.
- Guest blogging: the process of writing a blog post for someone else’s blog is called guest blogging. The incentive for doing this is getting backlinks to increase the guest blogger’s site, search engine rankings.
- Link baiting: link baiting is the creation of content that incites people to link to your page from another website. There are many guises of link bait, but all of them share one common feature: including articles or news stories that are highly informative, useful resources and sensationalistic or controversial content at times.
- Internal linking: by far one of the easiest ways to stop your website from ranking well on the search engines is to make it difficult for search engines to find their way through it. Some site owners used to make use of certain form of scripts to have fancy drop-down navigation enables, but this can result in unindexed pages at the same time because sometimes the scripts cannot be crawled by a search engine.
- Site optimization: the backbone of SEO as well as the search engine positioning industry places on the way your content, wording, and site structure is manipulated for the purpose of getting high search engine positioning. Everything from creating solid titles and meta tags, to tweaking the content to maximizing it’s search engine effectiveness is key to any successful optimization effort.
When to consider white hat SEO?
Different from black hat SEO, white hat SEO is the best way for building an online business that is sustainable. If you choose to do SEO this way, you will focus on your human audience, trying to give them the best possible content and making it easily accessible to them, by obeying the search engines’ rules.
On-page and off-page SEO
Your SEO strategy generally can be divided into two different categories: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Though they come in completely different meanings in terms of improving your search engine rankings, both of them play great importance to the success of your SEO campaign.
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO, also named as on-site SEO, refers to the act of optimizing your web site strategically in different part that could have effect on your search engine rankings. You have full control over on-page SEO and make some change to it on your own website if needed. Here are the biggest factors included.
Write a creative title tag with your targeted keywords included for each page on your web site.
Search engine often will give more weight to headings than your other page copy for the reason that they are the largest words on the page, almost without exception. It is effective in improving your search engine rankings if your headings of each web page include your target keywords and can accurately reflect your page content.
It is a wise idea to put keywords into your URLs. Remember not changing old URLs if you don’t plan to redirect them to your new ones.
Alt text for images
If you have any experience with WordPress or other similar content management systems, you should be familiar with alt text, which can be added to all images on your web site.
Alt text is invisible to average visitors and can be used by screen reader software for helping blind internet users to have a better understanding of the content of your images. Inserting some relevant keywords to bring with an accurate description of the image is helpful for search engines to crawl you images and understand your page’s content.
Fast-loading pages, or page load speed
Speed is always a core factor in website building and running. Optimizing your pages to achieve faster speed is of great importance to rank higher in the search results as search engines like Google are all looking to provide the best user experience by helping users find what they are seeking for as quickly as possible.
If the content on your pages are not useful to people, they are unlikely to spend time reading or even staying with it. As a result of that, whether your content is easy to read while providing value to end users decides the rankings of your site on search engines. You may wonder the way that a search engine uses to measure the quality of your content. However, there are various types of user behavior data used by them to interpret user experience, such as CTR, navigational paths, time, duration, frequency, and URL access.
Linking internally to other pages on your website is not only good for visitors to find relevant information on the same site, but also useful for search engines.
To cut to the chase, on-page SEO creates an opportunity for both potential customers and search engine robots to read your site. Good on-page SEO strategy, most of the time, can help search engines index your web pages quickly and understand your content easily, plus navigate the structure and content of your web site with ease, thereby giving a high website ranking accordingly.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Just as we’ve mentioned in the very first part, SEO is not just about improving website quality, but also about strengthening authority. Off-page SEO is such an act of getting links from other websites to increase the authority of your domain.
In order to get ahead in off-page SEO, you should pay more attention to the number as well as quality of backlinks to your website. The recommended ways to do that include:
- Highly valuable content comes first because people will want to link to a web site if they find your content is pretty awesome.
- Social media ultimately generate links as long as you correctly make use of it to share your content. (read Relation Between Social Media And SEO World to know more information of optimizing search engines using social media)
- Sending emails to influencers in the industry ultimately brings quality link to you.
- Guest blogging on related sites to yours will bring links back to your site eventually.
It is for sure that link quantity still plays a significant role for a web site. However, at the same time, no matter SEO professionals or content creators have also realized that the importance of link quality had surpassed that of link quantity. For this reason, adding shareable content to your site should be the most important thing you need to consider if you expect to earn valuable links and improve your off-page SEO.
Is there an exact figure of link you need for good off-page SEO? Well, the answer varies and should be based on the Domain Authority of your competitors. Some webmasters and SEO professionals used to think of buying links as a valid way of link building; however, we will never recommend you to do it because you will be penalized once your site is found for submitting your links to link directories with the only purpose of increasing your Domain Authority, without saying buying links in an attempt to manipulate Page Rank
Get it concluded, quality wins out over quantity in terms of link building.
How to choose between on-page SEO and off-page SEO?
In fact, there isn’t a correct answer to the question in the world since your site ranking is the result of on-page SEO working together with off-page in complementary fashion. However, it is advisable to get your on-page SEO ducks in a row before paying much attention to off-page SEO.
Simply put it, on-page SEO and off-page SEO to a web site is the same as the foundation and the roof to a house. When you finish building a house, you may still need to come back and do some maintenance to the foundation of your house time to time. Find a way to balance the on-page SEO and off-page SEO can help make your website “bilingual”, allowing your users and the search engine robots to easily understand it, thus improving your rankings.
I really hope this guide can help you understand that SEO is not an optional any more in 2016. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get a few basics right. While if you don’t, it might kill your online presence.
Just commit to getting started today. Do your keyword research before you write your next blog post and optimize the basics, like title tags, using your keywords and adjusting your description.
And who knows – maybe the next time you press publish, you’ll stand out.