Search Engine Optimization (SEO). What is it and why is it important? At its most basic, SEO is the process of ensuring the content on your website is relevant to the people you want to visit your site.
If we dig a bit deeper, it’s about optimizing all content on a website, evaluating all sources that lead to a website, and ensuring an overall positive website experience. These are known as On-Site SEO, Off-Site SEO, and Technical SEO, respectively. Optimizing these aspects of your website improves the website’s relevance as evaluated by search engines. Because the goal is for search engines (Google being the most common) to send people to your website, SEO helps ensure the search engine’s algorithms view your website as worthy of traffic. For the purposes of the examples below let’s assume you are a food blogger.
On-Site SEO is the tactic that is familiar to most people. Write content, use some keywords, get traffic. Right? Years ago this would have sufficed. As tech gets more sophisticated and our digital needs evolve, algorithms are constantly changing to dig much deeper. The words you use are still important but how you use them, how you stack up compared to other websites using the same terms, and how you apply that content to your website has become increasingly important.
Let’s say you, the food blogger, and a competitor both wrote similar articles about the pros and cons of cooking in cast iron. You made sure to use the term “cast iron” in your page title, you’ve used additional relevant context in your header tag, and your article is comprehensive but formatted for easy reading (not too long, not too short) and you’ve used rich images that each have clear descriptions. Your competitor has a catchy but ultimately irrelevant page title, forgot to include a header tag, utilized low-quality images, and their article veered off-topic multiple times. When a search engine reviews both articles, it will easily be able to put your article into context and understand what to show to a prospective viewer. Your page will show up higher on the search results page when someone searches for cast iron because you optimized your content.
Off-Site SEO is the evaluation of what other websites are sending traffic to your website; these are called backlinks and they have become increasingly important as it has become easier to buy links and traffic.
For example, let’s say the magazine Bon Appétit loves your mashed potatoes recipe and publishes a link to your blog in a “Thanksgiving Favorites” online article. That website is highly relevant, produces a lot of original content, and Bon Appétit has a high SEO ranking. That traffic will increase the amount of confidence that a search engine has in your website. On the other hand, have you ever clicked on a recipe link on Facebook only to be brought to a website where you need to click on yet another link to get to the actual recipe? These are considered link farms and are not highly regarded; they fall more into the spam (no food pun intended) realm. Having too much traffic coming from spammy sources can lower your authority in the eyes of a search engine. There are a variety of off-site tactics that SEO experts use, both to increase links from reputable sources as well as disavow links from sketchy sources.
Technical SEO is all about ensuring a website is usable. In this fast-paced world, your website needs to load quickly, provide a good user experience on a cell phone, be secure, and be seen by search engines. These are just a few of the many aspects of technical SEO. This is the tedious work that gets overlooked too often.
How much authority would you have as a food blogger if you published a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and didn’t include chocolate chips? How successful would your website be if you didn’t categorize the recipes by type or include a table of contents menu? That’s how search engines evaluate a website. Your website needs code that tells search engines that your website is open for business. When search engines crawl your website, they need to be able to see that your website is user-friendly, organized coherently, and has active pages associated that don’t contain error messages.
SEO efforts are an integral part of any comprehensive marketing strategy but can often get overlooked and underestimated because SEO does not require any actual paid media. It’s also a long play and a constantly moving target. In a world where digital marketing strategies can produce instant results, it can be difficult to wait months to see the results of optimization only to have Google make a big algorithm shift. Those algorithm shifts, however frustrating, are why employing an agency with SEO expertise should always be part of any marketing strategy.