A three-word acronym that probably takes the cake as the No.1 most misunderstood term in digital and internet marketing.
You can stumble upon ‘SEO’ discussions in forums, blogs, news aggregators, freelance sites, adult niches, at frat parties, dorm rooms, offline and online, and at each and every corner where people are looking to earn that elusive quick buck. Unfortunately, however, these self-proclaimed experts possess SEO knowledge that is oftentimes misquoted, incomplete, or bluntly said – dead wrong.
So what exactly is SEO and why do we care?
SEO – or Search Engine Optimization – is a set of methods, approaches, and technical knowledge that help a certain website rank higher than it would actually do on its own merit. The goal of SEO is to be recognised by search engines (mostly Google) as the most relevant result when people are searching online.
For instance, say you want to buy software that searches keywords and tracks them throughout several months in a graph. You pick up your MacBook, type “best keyword software tracker”, hit Enter and voila: Google ‘spits’ instantaneous results in a fraction of a second. Now, search engines are complex sets of rules, algorithms, and hardware – and it would take a whole lot more just to cover the basics of how and why they work. To ease the process, for now just remember that search engines return results from previously stored databases – as opposed to a ‘live’ scan of the Internet, which is a damn hard task in and of itself.
Additionally, search engines use spiders or crawlers to search sites and index site results in a database. These programs comprise the heart of search engines and are constantly updating in order to enhance the searcher’s online experience and bring the most relevant results forward.
Going back to our hypothetical search, and we can slowly start separating the wheat from the chaff. After you’ve hit Enter – Google returns dozens of results sorted in pages and lists. The entirety of what you see comprises the Search Engine Results Page – SERP. The keyword you typed in, “best keyword software tracker” is known as a Query. Most of the results or pages that Google displayed in return are referred to as Organic Results. The results for which advertisers pay to show up in SERPs are called Sponsored Results. Search engines make most of their money thanks to the latter, i.e. sponsored or paid results.
Basically, in an ideal world, we can use Search Engine Optimization to tell Google than our website is the No.1 pick for a given search query – whatever that may be. And this is where it starts to get fun.
Types of SEO
There are two main types of SEO:
Each one is as equally important as the other one. On-Page SEO refers to resources (text, alt text tags, image descriptions) that are actually VISIBLE on your page, although with slight exceptions. On-Page SEO can be also found in the code of your website which is invisible for your readers, but can be crawled and analysed by search engines such as Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo.
To summarise: On-Page SEO is everything that takes place ON your website, and is under your DIRECT control.
Off-Page SEO is a little trickier, as there’s no clear consensus of what methods exactly fall under it. We’re using the term ‘methods’, because Off-Page SEO is not a single checkbox you can tick off and forget about it forever. For now, we can define Off-Page SEO as everything that takes place OUTSIDE of your website, and is often OUTSIDE of your direct control.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk business.
A. ON-PAGE SEO
On-Page SEO is a clever set of tactics with the ultimate goal to appease both to web searchers (real humans) and search engines (code) in one single swoop. This set of tactics covers the content, title tags, headings, the URL structure, alt-text tags for media resources (images, video), internal links, and the page loading speed. We’ll dissect each and every one so that we can together unravel the mystery behind On-Page SEO by the end of this section. Buckled?
– text, videos, infographics, charts – all fall under content. This on-page content is the sole reason (or at least it should be) why people should read it, link to your site, and share it on social media. Recently, Google has updated their Hummingbird
algorithm and made it so that it gives priority to CONTEXT above everything else. Basically what this means is keyword-stuffing is quickly becoming obsolete – although not completely out of the game yet. Now, quality and well-researched content is gradually rising toward the SEO occasion.
Who could’ve guessed that quality will eventually trample spam?
Title Tags – or just plainly – Titles. Titles are one of the main ways of how search engine bots index and categorise pages. Logically, Title tags should be an interesting read for the human eye – but not click-bait since these could earn you some penalties. Titles should be relevant to the accompanied content, but not overstuffed with unnecessary keywords. Coming up with a title is easy. Coming up with a GOOD title is hard.
Header Tags – or Headings. These are embedded in the HTML code a site relies upon to function, and are marked as H1, H2, H3, etcetera. Usually, your CMS (content management system such as Wordpress, Joomla, Magento), will have these available as an option to choose from in their text editor menus. If you build your website from scratch, you may want to manually include header tags and tweak them according to your preference.
Headings are important because they help the search engine crawlers in their draconian task to index the whole Internet and put it in a safe spot. In fact, these crawlers rank the relevancy of each paragraph in a page thanks to none other than properly utilised headings.
Tip: include at least one H1 header tag in your content to maximise SEO and help the Internet to become a better place for everyone.
URL Structure – now we’re starting to get on the technical side, and we’ve only just grazed the surface of what is Search Engine Optimization in its entirety. To continue, the URL should be readable for the human eye. For example, WordPress offers several options to display your URL addresses:
- Plain (display string of random numbers and letters)
- Day and name (display date + post name)
- Month and name (display month + post name)
- Numeric (display random string of numbers)
- Post name (display post name only)
- Custom Structure (make your own URL structure)
…and It calls these options Permalinks. Permalinks are synonyms for URL, and they should always stay the same and never change – thus the name. This way, it’s easier for users to find your posts even after they clicked off of your site. It’s also easier for crawlers to index a certain site.
Tip: avoid underscores (_) like the plague, since using them leads to an increased chance of confusing both search engines and potential customers out of coming to your site. Use dashes (-) instead.
Example: which hypothetical URL (permalink) looks (and feels) best? [“C” is the real URL for those interested].
Alt-Text Tags (Video, Images) – if your media (images, video) doesn’t load properly – your site will immediately display alt-text tags (granted they’re put in place beforehand).
Also, when designing a website, you’ll probably want to make it accessible for all users worldwide. Alt-text tags will help visually impaired users to ‘hear’ your site and take a better grasp at understanding of what’s it all about.
Additionally, this is one of the best ways for Google bots to index your media and show them whenever relevant queries are made.
Internal Links – as it reads. In fact, linking to your own content serves several important purposes:
- First, it helps users to better navigate your site while on it.
- Second, it improves the time that users spend on your page (time-on-page %).
- Third, it improves the architecture and hierarchy of your site, and thus spreading the link juice even more.
Note: link juice is a term straight out of the SEO industry jargon. This term refers to the distribution of hyperlinks within your site, and the authority your site ‘builds’ from these hyperlinks thereafter. These hyperlinks can be passed on both from external (other sites) and internal (your site) factors.
Page Loading Speed – again, speaks for itself. Google has recently increased the emphasis on UX (User Experience), meaning if your page takes more than a few seconds to load – you’ll probably fall back in rankings.
Furthermore – given that online users have very short attention spans – under-optimise your site and you’ll lose the potential customer for good. To check this metric, you can either manually test your site, or use Google Insights
to do it instead for you.
Whew! We’ve finally managed – albeit in a somewhat long-winded manner – to delve into the nooks and crannies, and unravel the general mystery behind On-Page SEO. Take a short walk, stretch your body, and come back when ready – it’s only going to get deeper as we carve our path further down this cyber rabbit hole.
B. OFF-PAGE SEO
Some would argue that Off-Page SEO is a myth. Others would say that it’s x100 more important than on-page SEO. Currently, talking about off-page SEO requires some leap of faith in order to fully grasp everything this ‘blanket’ term covers. Simply put, think of it like an ever-evolving race – to outsmart search engines to index your site as the most relevant result out of millions other websites. Now, remember several paragraphs back when we mentioned how off-page SEO was a sum total of different methods in varying difficulty? Below we’ll try to ‘dissect’ most of these methods, and we’ll only require that you focus every ounce of attention left toward what you’re about to read.
Domain Authority (DA)
– measures the ranking strength of Domains and Subdomains
. Unbeknownst to most SEO marketers, this metric was actually developed by the team at MOZ
(silly, right?). DA is a logarithmic score that, on a scale from 0-100, gives an estimate for how well a website will rank in SERPs.
Furthermore, DA is NOT A ONE THING, but a blanket term that contains several metrics which together add to the overall DA score. A higher score means the more authoritative a website is. And since this is a logarithmic scale, it is easier for a page to grow its score from 25 to 35 than it would be, say, from 80 to 90.
These metrics can include:
- Number of inbounds links that point to your site
- Links quality
- Relevancy of content
- Linking root domains
- Number and frequency of social shares
- On-page SEO
- And more
DA is a comparative metric, and should not be used as an absolute indicator to how well SEO optimised a website truly is. Even MOZ recommends that you use DA as a metric to COMPARE your website against competitor sites in the same niche.
But that’s not all.
Page Authority (PA) – measures the ranking strength of Single Pages. PA is measured using the same methodology as DA, so in a way – the two metrics are more similar than they’re different.
As with DA, you cannot influence PA directly, but can increase the amount of valid external links from authority sources – that point back to your page. This tells search engines that your page is trustworthy, and your PA score automatically grows.
Social Media ‘Stamp’ – good social media presence does not directly correlate to SEO, but testing has shown that websites with significant social media presence fare better in SERPs than those without it.
Bottom line is, if your website is shared throughout social media in significant amounts – your SEO rankings will also improve as well.
Guest Blogging – speaks for itself. Guest blogging is nothing more than a legitimate link exchange between two parties for the benefits of both parties’ audiences. Some websites such as Cracked offer a free entry in their forums, and if they somehow, someway, end up liking your choice of words – you’ll get a chance to ‘smuggle’ a link or two down in the footer of the page.
Of course, this only works if you’re a hell of a writer and can make mountains cry using five words or less. Either that, or a hella negotiator.
Earning Links – linking, as everything in life, goes both ways. Google also gauges authority on the simple basis of who links back to you. If an authoritative website cites you as a source, that increases your reputation within Google’s crawlers.
Tip: paid linking, buying links from authority sites, and other shady practices – don’t work as well as they used to back in the infancy of SEO. If you are curious and want to test the waters as to how this works – know that you can earn hard penalties, or even be completely removed from SERPs just for fiddling around.
Whoever plays with fire – eventually ends up getting burned.
Forum Participation – participating in forums and genuinely helping people can lead a long way up the Google ladder. If you contribute to forums, online discussions, and other off-page communities – there’s an increased chance that your website (granted you provide links to it) will see a small SEO boost out of it. Good places to start would include Reddit, Quora, Linkedin, and obviously – Google Plus.
Careful how you thread the needle however – since there’s a fine line between participation and obvious self-promotion – and most admins would not tolerate the latter.
Of course, there are the infamous ‘black hat’ techniques that we, being the good guys that we are, will altogether skip for the time being. Worth mentioning however is if you opt to take the easy way out and succumb to malpractices – you will probably destroy your brand for good. Once you break the sacred trust with Google, it’s very hard (if not almost impossible) to earn it back.
To conclude, SEO can get way more technical than this, but we’ve ‘trimmed’ out those parts for the sake of clarity and a reasonable length. To get our in-depth SEO Guide for Techies on the Move, make your FREE TYP account and we’ll sort it out in no time (you can opt out immediately after, if that’s how you roll).
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