SEO Basics: Learn About Search Engine Optimization
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
What Goes into SEO?
To understand the true meaning of SEO, let’s break that definition down and look at the parts:
- Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for Apple computers when really you’re a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
- Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
- Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.
How SEO Works
You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type (or speak) a question into a box and Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of links to webpages that could potentially answer your question.
Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query.
The O part of SEO — optimization — is where the people who write all that content and put it on their sites are guessing that content and those sites up so search engines will be able to understand what they’re seeing, and the users who arrive via search will like what they see.
If you’re completely new to the topic, start at the very beginning and read the Beginner’s Guide to SEO.
Building an SEO-friendly site
Once you’re ready to start walking that SEO walk, it’s time to apply those SEO techniques to a site, whether it’s brand new or an old one you’re improving.
Content and related markup
A site isn’t really a site until you have content. But SEO for content has enough specific variables that we’ve given it its own section. Start here if you’re curious about keyword research, how to write SEO-friendly copy, and the kind of markup that helps search engines understand just what your content is really about.
It takes research to pick the words you want to rank for — aka keywords. If you select keywords that people frequently search and that fit your business, you can get your site in front of a bigger audience.
There are two kinds of keywords — long-tail keywords that span three or more words and short-tail keywords that hold only one or two words. Long-tail keywords focus your pages and generate better interest.
For example, if someone searches “where to buy magazines,” it’s more precise than “magazines,” so you can appeal to their expectations better.
You’ve already learned a lot about on-site topics by delving into content and related markup. Now it’s time to get technical with information about robots.txt.
Dig deep into everything you ever needed to know about links from anchor text to redirection. Read this series of pages to understand how and when to use nofollow and whether guest blogging is actually dead. If you’re more into the link building side of things (working to improve the rankings on your site by earning links), go straight to the Beginner’s Guide to Link Building.
Congratulations! You’ve mastered the ins and outs of daily SEO and are now ready for some advanced topics. Make sure all that traffic has the easiest time possible converting with conversion rate optimization (CRO), then go micro level with local SEO or take that site global with international SEO.
Know the Difference Between On-page and Off-page SEO
SEO happens in two places — on-page and off-page. What takes place on-page is what you can directly change when you learn SEO, while what takes place off-page is up to other sites.
It’s not surprising that on-page SEO is an easier topic to cover and understand. You manage multiple parts of your pages to please visitors and search engine bots.
On-page SEO involves formatting (like H1 and H2 tags), keyword usage, navigation, URLs, meta descriptions, and image descriptions or alt text. But it goes far beyond this handful of factors, too, which takes a lot of careful work.
For off-page SEO, you have to rely on others’ opinions of your online content. Authoritative links to your site, mentions about your brand, and social media marketing all contribute to your off-page presence.
Search engines aim to satisfy people with the right results, so user experience (UX) plays a substantial role in SEO. Modifications to your site should prioritize users, making the design, functionality, and material fulfill their expectations.
Algorithms like Google’s RankBrain analyze user behavior to measure their level of satisfaction and preferences. Through machine learning, there’s now a closer look at the patterned practices of users.
The percentage of searchers who click on a search engine result, or the organic click-through rate (CTR), is one area of user experience that Google checks. It helps to show the relevance and attractiveness of a result compared to others.
Another UX signal, dwell time, which is how long someone stays on a page before returning to the SERP, is also recognized by search engines, and it can influence your SEO performance.
Depending on the type of search query, longer dwell time can demonstrate their interest in your result or show that they have trouble finding a clear answer. The keyword and material can indicate which response is more accurate.
These metrics reflect the condition of your SEO as you make tweaks and seek to optimize. Pay attention to UX signals during your SEO education to elevate your rankings.