Ask the average marketer what strategies they use to boost their company’s presence on search engines, and they’ll probably answer: “Blogging”. But SEO deals with plenty of other factors apart from blogging; in fact, if you simply publish a blog post a week, and leave it at that, we can guarantee that this will not have any meaningful impact on your website’s ranking.
So, how do you increase your website’s visibility? The key lies in coming up with a well-rounded SEO strategy which involves blogging, optimizing your site architecture, building backlinks, and more. While creating high-quality content is important, there are a whopping 2 million blog articles being published everyday, and solely relying on content is an ill-advised SEO strategy.
Ready to start driving more website traffic to your site using SEO? In this Beginner’s Guide To SEO, we’ll walk you through:
1. What is SEO?
Before we delve into the various SEO strategies that you can use, let’s take a second to address the question… what exactly is SEO?
In a nutshell, SEO refers to Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of ranking your website on search engines in order to generate organic traffic to your site.
Technically speaking, SEO deals with all the search engines in the market, including Bing, and Yahoo. That said, since Google is by far the most popular search engine, people who say “I need to improve my website’s SEO” generally mean that they want to optimize their website specifically to rank on Google.
SEO can be categorized into various branches, including white hat vs black hat SEO, and on-page vs off-page SEO. We’ll explain these in greater detail further on in this article!
2. What factors play a role in SEO?
Here’s a question that we get a lot: what are the SEO ranking factors that affect my website’s visibility? Well, Google takes both searcher-related factors and publisher-related factors into account when deciding what listing to show on its results pages. In this section, we’ll explore the various factors that come into play.
Say you’ve logged on to Google to conduct a search. Obviously, your search query will play a determining role in influencing your search results. Apart from that, Google also takes your location, social network, and the device you use to conduct your search into consideration.
This one’s fairly straightforward. Say you’re currently based in Paris, France, for example. If you search “Restaurants in Paris”, Google will take it that you’re looking for restaurants in your city, and not restaurants in Paris, Texas.
On top of that, Google is also more likely to show you results that your friends and family have engaged with as well. Say, for example, you search for “SEO tips 2018”, and Google has a choice of showing you Article A or Article B as the first result. Assuming Google sees that one of your Google+ contacts has shared a link to Article B on their profile, then Google will bump this article that your acquaintance has shared to the top of your results page.
Finally, Google also factors in the device you use to conduct your search when deciding what search results to serve to you. If you’re browsing on a tablet or a phone, for example, Google will prioritize mobile-friendly and mobile-optimized content over other content.
As a marketer or a business owner, you don’t have much control over the searcher-related factors we’ve just discussed, but you can work on publisher-side factors to boost your visibility on Google.
Now, Matt Cutts from Google has publicly stated that there are over 200 variables in the Google algorithm, so there are a lot of moving parts that you’re dealing with here. Obviously, you won’t be able to optimize your site around all 200 variables (Google doesn’t even disclose the complete list of variables!), but here are some of the key factors that you should look out for…
Quality of article
If your article is well-written, and it provides value to your readers, then this increases your chances of ranking on Google. Bearing this in mind, you should be writing for your readers, NOT for search engines. Don’t mindlessly stuff keywords into your article, thinking that this will get you into Google’s good books!
Click through rate
When you have a high click through rate, this tells Google that people find your search result relevant, and they want to consume your content. Google will adjust their results accordingly, and rank you higher on their page.
How do you increase your click through rate? First, make sure you’ve got a powerful, intriguing title that stands out from the other titles on the page. Also, include a Call To Action (CTA) in your meta description to encourage readers to click through.
Your click through rate may be important, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. If you enjoy high click through rates on your listings, but your bounce rates are high as well, that’s an indication that your content doesn’t meet your reader’s needs — so it’s back to square one.
For those who aren’t 100% sure what your bounce rate is, this is basically the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. Think about it: if someone navigates to your site via Google, and they find your site helpful, they’ll probably stick around and check out your additional pages (other than the one they landed on).
If you have plenty of visitors who are exiting directly from your home page, on the other hand, that’s a sign that your content isn’t as compelling or relevant as you think it is. To Google, that’s a red flag. That’s why it’s important to keep your bounce rates as low as possible!
3. Why is SEO important?
The answer to this question is fairly straightforward — SEO is important because it helps you generate more website traffic, and get more eyeballs on your brand. All things being equal, this results in more leads, conversions, and revenue for you.
This begs the question: if you’re already getting plenty of traffic (from using a platform like ours to buy website traffic or organic means), then is it still important to invest time and money into SEO? The answer is a resounding yes.
If you’re already generating organic traffic…
Say you haven’t come up with a specific strategy to optimize your website to rank on Google, but you’re still getting a ton of organic traffic. That’s a great start, but this doesn’t mean that you should just rest on your laurels and not work on your SEO strategy.
Why is this the case? Well, you might be getting plenty of organic traffic already, but there’s a high chance that said traffic isn’t high quality. You’re probably ranking for a random assortment of keywords, some less effective than others, and this means that the visitors that you bring to your website using these keywords aren’t as easy to convert as they could be.
If you do have a well-rounded SEO strategy in place, on the other hand, you’ll have a few high-intent keywords that you’re optimizing your site for. Because you’ve specifically chosen to optimize your site for these high-intent keywords, you’ll find it easier to convert your site visitors (generated using those keywords) into paying customers.
If you’re already generating paid traffic…
Alright, what if you’re already generating high quality, high-intent traffic to your site using PPC? When you buy traffic online and run paid campaigns it’s a great way of getting more conversions and sales in the short-run, however are they sustainable in the long run?
Consider this: back in 2006, the average Cost Per Conversion on Google AdWords was just $7.63. Fast forward to 2011, and this Cost Per Conversion jumped to $19.74. In 2016, that Cost Per Conversion increased yet again, this time to $33.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: as more business owners start advertising on Google AdWords, this drives the cost of your campaigns up, and you’ll have to keep increasing your ad budget just to get the same results.
Of course, you can jump ship to another ad platform such as Facebook ads, but as long as the platform you’re on operate on a bidding model (where you bid for keywords, impressions, or ad clicks), the same thing will happen. As more advertisers join the fray, you’ll find your ad campaigns becoming prohibitively expensive, and your margins getting thinner.
Now, don’t get us wrong — we’re not villainizing PPC, or saying that you should ditch all your paid marketing efforts. PPC is an important part of marketing strategy, but you shouldn’t be overly reliant on it, and neglect organic strategies such as SEO.
So, here’s the bottom line…
If you’re already generating website traffic via your PPC campaigns, it’s still important to work on your SEO — this way, your traffic won’t come to a complete standstill in the event that your paid campaigns get too expensive.
And if you’re already generating organic traffic, that’s a step in the right direction — your next step should be to fine-tune your traffic, and make sure you’re ranking for the keywords that will bring you the most sales.
4. On-page vs off-page SEO
SEO can be categorized into on-page and off-page SEO. You can think of on-page SEO as SEO efforts that occur within your website (and on your webpages), and off-page SEO as SEO efforts that occur outside your website.
On-page SEO basically deals with optimizing your website for search engines. This includes:
- Optimizing on-page elements (page title, meta description, etc)
- Structuring and organizing your website properly
- Optimizing your website load speed
- Linking articles and web pages internally
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, is all about promoting your website via external sources. Off-page SEO strategies include:
- Building links
- Promoting content on social media
We’ve mentioned previously that it’s important to create a well-rounded SEO strategy — and that entails focusing on both on-page and off-page SEO.
Think of on-page SEO as your “foundation” — you’ve got to have high quality, well-structured content in order to rank on Google. Once you’ve nailed your on-page elements, you’ll also want to use off-page strategies to distribute your content and allow it to reach a wider audience. On-page and off-page go hand in hand!
5. White hat vs black hat SEO
If you check out SEO forums online, you might see people discussing “white hat” versus “black hat” techniques. With white hat SEO, the objective is to put out high quality, amazing content (which is what we’ve been discussing). Black hat SEO, on the other hand, deals with using unsanctioned shortcuts and hacks to game the system.
More specifically, black hat techniques include:
- Posting duplicate content
- Using invisible text and stuffing keywords
- Cloaking or re-directing (for example: inserting text or keywords into a page only when the user performing the request is a search engine, not a human visitor)
Now, Google states clearly and unambiguously in its Webmaster Guidelines that these black hat techniques aren’t allowed. To make sure you aren’t accidentally flouting Google’s guidelines, check out the entire list of techniques that they disallow:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
If you’re on the fence about whether you should use a particular technique or not, Google has a great sniff test that you can use. All you need to do is ask: “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
What happens if you use black hat SEO?
Google is constantly updating their algorithm and crawlers to clamp down on marketers and business owners utilizing black hat tactics. If you do engage in black hat SEO, there’s a high chance that you’ll get slapped with a Google Penalty.
What’s a Google Penalty? This is basically any sort of negative impact to your search rankings, brought about either by an algorithm update, or a manual review. In this section, we’ll walk you through the three types of Google Penalties, and discuss how each one might affect your website traffic.
Automated rank demotions
If you wake up one day and realize that your website is suddenly generating much less traffic than it previously used to, then you’ve probably received a rank demotion. Assuming you don’t get any emails notifying you about this, it’s likely that your website has been flagged out by Google’s latest algorithm which screens for black hat techniques.
How do you remedy this? You’ll have to read up on what algorithm changes Google has recently rolled out, and fix your site accordingly.
Manual rank demotions
Automated rank demotions aside, there’s also the possibility that your website (which has been optimized using black hat tactics!) could be hit with a manual rank demotion.
How do these work? Google has a team of employees who are tasked to manually de-rank websites whom they believe are trying to game the system. You’ll know that this is a manual rank demotion, not an automated one, if you receive a notification telling you that your website’s been deranked. Google will also give you tips on how to reverse this demotion, so simply follow the to-dos they’ve outlined, and you should get your original ranking reinstated.
These aren’t as common as automated and manual rank demotions,