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Defining SEO: What it is and How it Works

Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Defining SEO: What it is and How it Works

Disclosure: Links in this post may contain affiliate links, read my advertiser disclosure for more info. 

There are many ways to grow and monetize a website. But what better way to build a loyal following of potential customers than to attract people who are already looking for businesses like yours?

The world’s largest search engine, Google, receives over 60,000 searches every second from people actively searching for answers, brands, products, and more. That means there are potentially thousands of people looking to buy what you have to offer.

To capitalize on this traffic, you’ll need a digital marketing strategy that involves targeting these potential buyers and generating traffic from search engines like Google and Bing. 

That’s where SEO comes in.

What is SEO? How does it work? How do you use SEO to grow and monetize your site? 

In this guide, we’re covering what SEO is and how you can optimize your own website content to start gaining traffic from search engines.

Let’s dive in.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization – a type of digital marketing that involves optimizing your website and other marketing platforms to generate organic (unpaid) traffic from search engines.

With SEO, you identify key terms your target audience is using to find products, services, or businesses like yours. Then, you target these keywords within your own site content in order to rank in the search results and get found by potential website visitors.

How SEO Works

Google is by far the largest and most popular search engine and utilizes its own algorithm to determine which websites get ranked in the search results. 

The factors included in the algorithm are called “ranking factors” and are used to assess whether a website publishes valuable content, is user-friendly, is optimized for mobile search, and more.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

If a website satisfies all of these ranking factors, it has a good chance of ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs). Once a website ranks high in the SERPs (preferably, #1), a searcher is likely to click on the link to be taken to the website.

Some of the SEO ranking factors included in Google’s algorithm are:

  • Website speed
  • Website security
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • On-page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Backlink profile
  • Domain age
  • Site structure
  • User experience
  • Optimized content
  • Local SEO
  • And more

Other search engines like Bing or Yahoo have their own algorithms that rank websites based on what they consider to be most relevant to what the user is searching for. All search engines strive to generate the best, most relevant search results so people continue to use their platform.

SEO marketing, then, involves optimizing your website in order to satisfy all of these ranking factors. This shows search engines – and users – that your website can be trusted, loads quickly, and provides high-quality information.

​What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and how does it work?

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Search Engine “Crawlers”

Once your website is live and capable of being analyzed by search engines, search engines send out “crawlers” to gather information about your site. They crawl the content, site structure, links, and more to determine whether your site satisfies their ranking factors.

If it does, the search engine will rank your site above or below other websites in the SERPs. Your goal is to rank above all of your competitors. This increases your chances of getting the most clicks and traffic.

Does My Website Need SEO?

While there are many ways to direct traffic to your website, SEO is one of the best methods because it targets people who are actively looking for businesses like yours. Rather than run paid ads or reach out to potential leads, you can simply optimize your site and wait for the traffic to come to you.

Plus, Google is one of the largest traffic-generating channels available. That means you may be able to 2X, 3X, 5X your traffic or more, without having to pay for ads.

Even better, SEO is a sustainable source of traffic. Once your site is optimized, it can generate traffic passively for years to come. 

Here are some additional benefits of SEO marketing:

​Video below courtesy of BlueHost.com: What is SEO and how does it work?

SEO for Beginners: Getting Started with SEO

If you have a website already – or are just getting started – you’ll want to implement SEO so you can start generating organic traffic.

Now, you don’t have to be a pro to start seeing results from your SEO efforts. Start implementing each of these steps and you’re sure to see the traffic roll in over time.

In fact, SEO can be a great source of traffic that feeds into your sales funnel, increasing your conversions as well!

Here’s what you need to know to get started with SEO.

1. Conduct Keyword Research

The first thing you need to do before implementing an SEO strategy is to identify what search terms your target audience is using when they are looking for goods or services like yours.

After all, it wouldn’t be beneficial to target “How to set up Facebook Ads” if your business provides invoicing software for small businesses. Rather, you want to attract people who are searching for “invoicing software”, “invoicing for businesses”, “how to create an invoice”, etc.

So how do you figure out what your audience is searching for? Additionally, how do you know HOW MANY people are searching for a given term?

You use SEO keyword research tools.

How to Conduct Keyword Research

First, brainstorm a list of terms that are relevant to your business and what you offer. This can be an entire brain dump of phrases a person might search for if they are trying to find your business.

For example, if you run a digital marketing agency, you might list keywords like “digital marketing agency”, “what is digital marketing”, “marketing services”, “Facebook marketing”, etc. Try to be as exhaustive as possible.

Next, use premium keyword research tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to research the keywords on your list. These tools will then generate a report that includes the overall search volume (how many people search for this term), competition level, cost per click (on paid ads), and more.

If a keyword on your list has low (under 200) or no search volume, it may not be worth targeting this keyword, as it won’t generate very much traffic. 

At the same time, if the competition score is too high (over 70), it may be too difficult to outrank your competitors, especially if you are just getting started.

The key is to find high-volume, low competition keywords to target. You will then use these keywords throughout your website to start attracting visitors to your site.

2. Lay Out Your Site Architecture

Your website should be thoughtfully laid out and easy to navigate. Here are some things to consider when laying out your website structure:

  • Are visitors able to find the information they are looking for within a few clicks? 
  • Does your menu bar make sense? Is it organized in a straightforward way?
  • Are there any web pages or posts “buried” in your site? Is there a way to link them in the menu or sidebar to make them easier to find?
  • Are your URLs optimized? (i.e. short, concise, and relevant to the page)
  • Is your website indexable? (i.e. able to be crawled by search engines)
  • Do you have a sitemap that lays out your site structure?

Your goal to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find the information they are looking for on your site. Further, having an intuitive site structure will make it easier for search engines to crawl your site, make sense of it, index it, and rank it higher in the search results.

3. Fix Technical SEO-Issues

Technical SEO has to do with the technical components of your site. If you have never done SEO before, or aren’t confident that your site is optimized, you’ll likely have some existing technical SEO issues.

Many business owners opt to pay for a professional SEO audit to identify existing SEO problems. You can usually hire an SEO agency to do this for you. Here are some things to look out for:

  • No HTTPS: Your website is missing HTTPS and is therefore flagged as “not secure”
  • No XML Sitemap: Your site is missing an XML sitemap so search engines can’t make sense of your site. You can set this up using tools like Yoast SEO.
  • Robots.txt: Your robots.txt file is missing or isn’t configured properly, so search engines can’t index your site. 
  • Duplicate Content: There are sections of duplicate content on your site that need to be rewritten.
  • Broken Links: There are links on your site that result in a “404” error code. You can redirect these pages using a 301 redirect.
  • Missing Alt Tags: Your images are missing alt text, so search engines don’t know what your images are about.

These are just some of the many technical SEO issues that may come up on your site. We highly recommend working with a reliable SEO agency to audit your site and fix these issues for you.

4. Optimize for Mobile Devices

48% of online shoppers use their smartphone as the first point of contact when searching online. To not miss out on traffic and customers, it’s essential that your website is optimized for mobile search.

This involves making a mobile-friendly version of your website. Your existing website theme may be mobile-friendly already, but, if not, you’ll need to hire a developer to optimize it for you.

A mobile-optimized site means users can easily read the text on your site, navigate the site, click on buttons, fill out forms, and more, even when they are using a small screen. You can test the mobile-friendly of your website here.

5. Address On-Page SEO Issues

Next, you’ll need to address any on-page SEO issues that might have been found during your SEO audit. These are issues that exist “on-site” – typically within your content.

Some on-page issues to look out for include:

  • Broken internal links
  • Broken external links
  • Missing page or post titles
  • Missing page or post descriptions
  • Broken image links
  • Missing headings or subheadings
  • Low word count

On-page SEO issues are typically easy for you to fix on your own. Check out SEMrush’s complete list of on-site SEO issues for more information on how to identify these problems and fix them.

6. Write High-Value SEO Content

One of the most important SEO factors is content – that is, how valuable your website is and how well it’s configured for SEO traffic.

Remember, you aren’t just writing content for Google. You’re writing content for REAL people; people you’re trying to convince to buy your products, fill out a form, subscribe, or give you a call.

For that reason, you’ll want to write web page and blog post content that’s thorough, well-researched, interesting, and relevant to your audience. Write content your target audience actually wants to read! 

Some SEO content best practices include:

  • Answering an important question your audience has
  • Adding internal links to other pages of your site
  • Adding images to your blog posts
  • Adding call-to-action buttons to entice readers to take action
  • Including social share buttons
  • Including your focus keyword in the title, body content, and description

7. Implement Off-Site SEO 

Finally, there are some off-site SEO activities you’ll have to do in order to have a holistic SEO strategy. These include building backlinks, creating directory listings, optimizing your social media profiles, and trying your hand at video SEO.

When a website links to your website, this is like a vote of confidence that your website is reputable and publishes valuable information. Search engines like this, so it’s in your best interest to earn as many high-quality backlinks as possible. You can do this through outreach, guest posting, or content marketing to convince sites to link to you.

You can also submit your site to directories like Yelp, Bing Places, Google My Business, or industry-related directories to earn backlinks. Try to get featured in the top-tier directories and avoid any sites that may look spammy.

When it comes to social media, fill out your profiles as thoroughly as possible. These send social signals to search engines that add more context to what your site is about.

Asking past customers or clients for reviews on Google My Business, Yelp, social media, etc. can also improve your SEO, as positive reviews are strong indicators that your business is trustworthy.

Finally, you can even implement video SEO on YouTube by incorporating your target keywords into the title or description. For example, Dream Car Profits implemented their own video SEO strategy to drive more traffic to their website.

Want More Traffic? Optimize Your Content for Google

If you want more organic traffic, you’ll need to implement a holistic SEO strategy that improves your site in the eyes of Google, Bing, and other search engines.

By following some or all of the SEO tips above, you’ll be well on your way to having a fast, user-friendly, high-value website. And with that, higher rankings in the search results.

Have you tried your hand at SEO? It’s never too late to get started!

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Ilir Salihi

Hey! I'm a blogger, affiliate marketer, and #freedomfighter. I love digital marketing. My goal with FreedomRep.com is to help entrepreneurs and small business owners leverage the internet to build a passive side-hustle or full-time income.

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