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101 — What Is SEO? 

This article will help people wanting an accurate understanding of SEO basics. The word “accurate” cannot be stressed enough because there is no area of Internet marketing more riddled with misconceptions and misunderstandings than SEO. If you understand search engine optimization basics properly, you will be way ahead of many of your competitors in your ability to get qualified, organic search engine traffic that turns into sales leads and online orders.

What Is Search Engine Optimization? 

Let’s start this SEO 101 conversation with a definition. What is search engine optimization? 

SEO is a set of activities designed to make targeted pages of your website more visible in Google’s search results, with the goal of driving qualified organic traffic to your website, where these visitors will convert — that is, become sales leads or new online customers.

Essentially, it’s not so much a question of what is SEO, but rather a question of what is SEO marketing? The real purpose of SEO is not to achieve number one rankings (although that can help), nor is the goal to achieve the greatest amount of Google traffic (although that can help). 

The real goal of SEO is to generate more revenue from organic search engine users. Of all the SEO basics, this is perhaps the most important thing to remember. 

SEO for Beginners — Definitions 

A huge obstacle for understanding SEO is the amount of jargon and technical complexity of the field. Here are some important definitions that will help you comprehend more of what you read about SEO online and what you hear from SEO agencies during sales pitches. 

  • Algorithm. In SEO, an algorithm is the formula a search engine uses to rank web pages. Google’s algorithm contains more than 200 ranking factors, but the public has limited knowledge of what those factors are and how they are weighted. This means you or your SEO agency has to determine how to execute your SEO campaign based on experience, data analysis and, in some cases, trial and error.
  • Google. SEO, what is it? Basically, SEO is Google. Google has an enormous share of search engine volume — currently over 92 percent. SEO campaigns are optimized for Google. The other search engines have different algorithms, but if your campaign works for Google, it will work, period.
  • Link building. Link building is one of those terms that is widely misunderstood in SEO. Link building is the part of an SEO campaign involved with acquiring links to your website from other websites. It’s very important because these inbound links are known to probably be the most important ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Any old link won’t do. Links need to be acquired from reputable websites in a professional, systematic and steady way. You will read or hear that link building is a no-no, and you also will read or hear about wild link building schemes guaranteed to create hundreds of links overnight. Neither of these extremes is remotely accurate. The key to effective link building is to do it right, by following SEO industry best practices.
  • Keywords. Keywords, or keyword phrases, are the words people use in search queries. SEO 101: You want to target the best keywords associated with the products/services you most want to sell, and then optimize your website so the web pages associated with those products/services are highly ranked on Google when people use those search terms. You might want to read that again because it’s important. The next question you will probably ask is: What makes a keyword the best keyword? Good question. Keyword research is a startup part of an SEO campaign that is determined by analyzing data such as the search volume of that keyword, how competitive it is to rank for and how much buying intent the keyword has. Lots of factors to consider, but if you select the wrong target keywords, your SEO campaign won’t get any traction.
  • On-site SEO. There are two fronts in an SEO campaign: on-site and off-site. On-site SEO is the stuff you do to your website to make it rank better. There are a whole host of activities involved with on-site SEO. The amount of time spent on them depends on the SEO condition of your website to begin with and how many target keywords your campaign has. Among the many on-site SEO activities are creating and optimizing content, making pages load faster, streamlining navigation, eliminating duplicate content, improving the site’s internal linking structure, making the site mobile-friendly, and eliminating technical flaws in the site that make it hard for Google to interpret and rank your pages. All of these issues affect the ranking positions of your site pages.
  • Off-site SEO. Off-site SEO is the stuff you do outside of your website to improve rankings of your website pages. Link building is the main off-site SEO activity, which we mentioned above. Common ways to build links include getting your site listed (with a link) in popular, reputable online directories (such as Yelp and BBB), and by writing articles for other websites and blogs that include links to your website. This latter work is very important, but it can be time consuming — it requires skill in writing, editing and content marketing. 
  • Local SEO. If you have a business that services a town, county or region, or if you have a big business that is targeting a specific geography for strategic or tactical reasons, then a local SEO campaign is in order. Local SEO is a specialty of SEO designed to make your website highly visible on Google for searches with local intent — for instance, someone looking for a restaurant, dry cleaner, residential contractor or nearby food ingredient supplier. Local SEO techniques are quite different and, in some ways, more complex than standard, national-scope SEO. Some SEO agencies specialize in local SEO, others don’t tackle it at all, and many — such as Straight North — are experienced in both.
  • Lead tracking and validation. This is an aspect of SEO basics that you won’t hear about as often as the items listed above. However, if you’re asking what is SEO, then you must understand that an enormous (though not very glamorous) component is collecting data and measuring SEO campaign ROI. Lead tracking are methods used to measure website traffic coming from Google and other search engines, and to measure which of those visitors are converting (either by phoning you or submitting an inquiry form on your website). Lead validation is another step in the process that separates actual leads (such as a prospect calling to learn more about your service) and non-leads (such as spam or a salesperson trying to sell you something). Based on our data of more than 1.2 million conversions, we’ve learned that about HALF of all conversions are something other than sales leads. Knowing the actual number of leads you have enables you to figure your ROI with far more precision than the average company can achieve. This information, though simple enough, is also enough to take you from SEO 101 to SEO 1,001.

What Is SEO: Common Mistakes 

The key to successful SEO, either on your own or with an agency, is figuring out which of the many SEO activities to undertake and then doing them in the right proportion over a long enough period of time to start moving the dial in terms of conversions. How much time? We generally recommend giving a campaign 6-12 months before making significant strategic or tactical changes. Common mistakes you must avoid: 

  • Quitting or changing too quickly. As we mentioned, patience is a virtue with SEO. Google wants to see a commitment to high-quality content and website improvement over time. Sudden changes, such as acquiring 1,000 backlinks in a week, suggest to Google you are trying to play games with its algorithm, taking shortcuts, doing unethical work. This sort of thing is described in the trade as Black Hat SEO, and should be avoided at all cost. White Hat SEO, the only way to go, follows sound business practices and requires a sustained effort. 
  • Not having specific website pages associated with target keywords. Each of your main keyword targets should be associated with a specific page of your site. For most companies, this means having, say, 10 product pages and one or two product category pages as your main SEO campaign focus. Although doing this may involve writing a lot of new content and making other changes to your website, this practice pays off because these new pages will be far more relevant to searches than the home page of your website. The more relevant the content, the higher Google will rank it. This is a very important part of SEO basics.
  • Spreading a budget too thin. Because there are hundreds of things you can do in an SEO campaign, it’s tempting to do all of them. Another big mistake! Generally, doing a few things well gets much better results than trying to do a lot of things so-so. Therefore, instead of targeting 100 keywords, target 50. Instead of trying to optimize for 30 products, optimize for 15. Instead of trying to build 10 links per month, aim for five. You can always expand your campaign as it gains traction.
  • Getting involved with package SEO deals. It can’t be stressed too much. What is SEO marketing? SEO marketing is custom No two websites have the same starting point for an SEO campaign. For instance, you have a unique position for ranking content versus your competitors. The age of your domain, the technical SEO condition of your website and many other factors affect the nature of work that your ideal SEO campaign should involve. Package SEO deals are attractive because they are cheap, easy to wrap your head around and often promise terrific results in a short time. Beware! In reality, these deals are cheap because they don’t involve any real SEO trenchwork, they are easy to get your head around because they are tremendously oversimplified, and they promise overnight success because the companies that promote them are more interested in collecting fees than driving results. Proceed with caution.
  • Having the wrong working relationship with your SEO agency. If you’ve engaged an agency to execute your SEO plan, it’s vital to have the right relationship. You don’t want to be too hands-off because then you always will be wondering what the agency is doing and whether it is earning its keep. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too hands-on because armchair quarterbacking tactical execution leads to second-guessing, tentative action and mediocre results. Agencies need your input and guidance on matters such as understanding competitors, understanding your products and value proposition, providing facts and insights for SEO content, and most important, on strategic direction. This is where collaboration pays off the most.

SEO for Beginners: Why You Should Begin

This introduction to SEO wouldn’t be complete without touching on why a company should invest in SEO. SEO is only one of many Internet marketing options. Why invest in it at all? Why is SEO a better investment than, say, social media marketing or paid search marketing? 

What is SEO and why is it important? 

  • SEO is a way of getting your website content in front of people at the exact time they are looking for what you sell. It’s hard to beat the timeliness of SEO, which is why SEO has so much potential not merely for driving website traffic, but also for acquiring new customers. 
  • Organic search engine results are clicked on more often than ads. While paid search marketing can and does get results, many people have more confidence in what they see in the non-paid results on Google. Depending on your industry, your target prospects may have as little as zero confidence in search engine ads.
  • SEO taps into an enormous audience. Google process more than 63,000 searches per second, which works out to more than 2 trillion per year. For most businesses, this is simply too large an audience to ignore.
  • If search volume weren’t already enormous enough, mobile and voice search are taking SEO to a whole new level of importance. People are searching for products and services more frequently, from waiting rooms to commuter trains to just about anywhere they have an Internet connection. This is why local SEO and mobile-friendly web design are becoming major areas of importance in the SEO industry and among clients with Internet marketing savvy.
  • SEO has long-term business benefits. Building a strong ranking profile on Google takes time, as we have stressed throughout this SEO 101 If that sounds like a turnoff, consider this: Because SEO takes time, because SEO takes a great deal of skill, achieving high rankings makes your business more valuable. Not only will your dominant rankings generate a healthy sales lead/online revenue funnel year in and year out, your high rankings will become a business asset. Think about it: If you ever wanted to sell your business, wouldn’t a strategic buyer pay more if your website already had the top rankings it would otherwise have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands to attain?

What is SEO? SEO is a proven method of one-term lead and online revenue generation — with the additional benefit of making your business more valuable.