What is SEO (search engine optimization)? Every blogger and business owner needs to understand this very important concept.
Too often I hear stories of new bloggers that fall victim to scammers. They receive a call from someone at “Google” (I put it in quotes because the call is really from a scammer) that promises to rank them at the top of the search results – for a fee, of course.
The thing is, there is no magic formula – and SEO is not a destination but a journey.
I hope to demystify the concept of SEO so that you can make better informed decisions for your website.
The Goal of SEO
Put simply, the goal of SEO is to make it to page 1 of the search results for a particular keyword (position 1 on page 1 is even better). Usually this keyword is descriptive of your business or an aspect of your business.
You want to be on page 1 of the search results (preferably in position 1) because people that are searching usually click through to a website that appears on this page. Rarely do they go beyond the first few pages of results.
So, if you practice web design in Westport CT (like me) – you want to want to hit page one on Google for this term.
Factors to Consider
Due to factors that are beyond your control, it may be easy to hit page one or it may be difficult.
One of those primary factors is competition.
If there are many other websites in your niche then it will be harder to get to the first page.
If you were trying to get to page one for the term “credit cards” – it would be near impossible. Your competition includes every bank in the world.
However, if you are a dog walker in Osh Kosh, you might not have much website competition and you may hit page one fairly quickly.
Strength of Competition
Just because there are many other businesses in your niche doesn’t mean that you don’t stand a chance.
The search engines look at many criteria when they rank websites.
Much of this criteria is top secret – it is called their algorithm, and nobody really knows how the calculation works.
Although there are best practices and lots of speculation.
Two common ways to assess the strength of your competition is to look at the Alexa rank and Google Page Rank of the competing websites. (Many argue that these measurements don’t carry the same weight as they used to, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look).
Use Long Tail Keywords
For your overall website, you generally target a keyword that describes your business.
But there is a treasure trove of other keywords that relate to your business that are easier to rank for.
These other relevant keywords are known as “long tail keywords”. They are more like phrases that people might search for to learn more about what it is that you do.
And this is also where blogging comes in.
If you are a wedding consultant, for example, you could write blog articles for your website about when to start planning your wedding, destination weddings, the best time of year for a wedding, and so on and so forth.
As you add this valuable information to your website, you are accomplishing two very important things
- You are showcasing your expertise in your field
- And you are providing the search engines with lots of new information and keywords that they will use to rank your website.
It’s a win win.
Steer Clear of Black Hat Tactics
Linking is a time tested and often abused SEO strategy that you need to understand.
In the beginning, search engines would rank your site higher if a lot of other sites linked to yours.
The logic was that your site must have great information if other website owners liked it enough to link to it.
So, people took advantage of that. They would create hundreds of really weak websites and use them to link to a main website.
Or they would buy links from other webmasters.
Gaming the system is known as using “Black Hat” SEO tactics. And sure enough, the search engines quickly became wise to this, and penalized websites that engaged in this type of behavior. (So, word of warning, if someone reaches out to you and wants to pay you to include a link to their site from an article on your blog – run the other way!)
However, there are a few legitimate things that you can do to improve the SEO of your website – these are called White Hat tactics.
Improve Your On Page and Off Page SEO
While buying links and getting links from flimsy sites is shunned – links still say a lot about your content.
On Page SEO
An “on page” technique is something that you have complete control over – this includes linking to your own content from your own website.
These internal links actually help the search engines find relevant content that you have written.
Here is a live example: This article is about answering the question “What is SEO?” Since you are here reading this, I think that you might also be interested in this article about why I like the WordPress platform (clue: it is well optimized for search engines).
Since I linked to that article, I am helping you – my reader, and also the search engines find more content on this topic.
This helps to strengthen my overall site.
Another on page SEO technique is to link to other people’s content.
If you know of a reputable website that also has a relevant article on your subject – linking to it is also beneficial.
You just need to make sure that your outgoing links are relevant and useful to your readers. But, most importantly, the website that you link to should be vibrant, strong, and completely above board.
One more on page strategy is to use your keywords in your articles. This means sprinkling your keywords around your website so the search engine robots can understand what your site is all about.
However, “keyword stuffing” is a black hat tactic that you should avoid. Keyword stuffing is an overuse of your keywords to the point that you are trying to game the search engines.
Off Page SEO
“Off page” SEO is something that you have less control over. It involves having other websites link to your content.
And here is the catch-22: your website can actually be penalized if a spammy site links to yours. The search engines are programmed to think that you might be paying for that link.
So, it is really important to only get links from reputable sites.
One way to do this is to guest post on other websites in your niche.
This means writing an article for someone else to publish on their site. Usually, they will include an author bio that includes a link back to your site.
Understand SEO Basics
I hope that you can see how important it is for every business owner to understand SEO basics.
Search engine optimization is something that you apply to every article that you write and is better done consistently.
If you hire someone to do this for you, you need to be confident that they are using White Hat techniques that will keep your site in good standing.
Your goal is simple, rank well for terms that describe your business and services so people who are looking for what you have to offer can find your website.
All you need to do is:
- Evaluate the strength of your competition.
- Use long tail keywords in your blog articles.
- Shore up your on page SEO.
- Understand the difference between black hat and white hat techniques.
Share Your Thoughts
Did this article help you understand the basics of search engine optimization?
What point had the biggest impact for you?
Join the discussion in the comments below.