A Complete Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization Guide
By Pierre de Braux on October 28, 2019
Pierre de Braux
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What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing organic traffic by improving a website’s ranking and visibility on search engines. In the past, SEO used to be a part of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) tactics but it has since developed its scope, techniques, and focus.

How SEO works:

  1. Search engines use algorithms to give your website a score or ranking. These rankings influence the position of your web page in a search query.
  2. This score is based on a lot of factors but can be summarized to quality, authority, and trust.
    • Prove that your website offers high-quality, relevant content to the searcher.
    • Discuss expert-level articles that prove your authority in the industry.
    • Build your reputation and gain trust through consistent performance and compliance with search engine guidelines.
  3. The right combination of SEO tactics can boost your website’s ranking so that your content reaches the coveted top spot in search results when users search using relevant keywords.

 

A Brief History of Search Engine Optimization

1993 – Archie, an FTP indexer, is launched. This would later evolve to be the search engine Excite. Many refer to this as the world’s first search engine, while others emerged one year later in 1994.

1996 – Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin to develop Backrub, a new search engine that would assign ranks to websites based on popularity and inbound link relevance. Backrub, later on, evolved to become Google in 1998.

2000 – Keyword stuffing and link spamming were the norms. For instance, if a website wanted to outrank another that used keywords 100 times, they could do so by repeating the same keyword 150 times. Google developed guidelines for webmasters to follow, but it was mostly ignored. Algorithms haven’t incorporated said instructions at this point.

2003 – Google’s Florida algorithm update changed the game. It was the first instance where websites that used keyword stuffing tactics were penalized, and their page rankings went down. Conversely, those who have been providing quality content were recognized and ranked up.

2004 - Google’s reign over the search market share peaked at 84.7% of all searches. They also launched personalized search, which used a person’s search history to give them relevant results.

2005 – Google, Yahoo, and MSN united with the emergence of the No-Follow attribute. Its goal was to decrease spam links and comments on blogs. This was also the year Google launched Google Analytics, which is still being heavily used by brands today.

2008 – Google made improvements to its Quality Score computations, which more accurately ranked websites.

2009 – Bing was launched. Yahoo and Microsoft partnered up to market this new search engine as one that produces better results than Google.

2009 – Google released the real-time search function, which shows results like tweets and breaking news at the top of the page.

2010 – Google Instant was rolled out, which predicts suggestions of what you’re going to type.

2011 to Present – A slew of algorithm updates were stipulated by Google, which further gave recognition and higher rankings to websites that satisfied its guidelines. Black hat SEO tactics were curbed, mobile-friendly websites were prioritized, and the need for high-quality content continued to dominate. Along with these updates, SEO tactics were shaped and evolved.

 

The Importance of SEO for Businesses

Optimizing your website for search engines offers a range of benefits for your business and your customers. Not only will prospects be able to find your brand more easily, you'll also be driving things like brand awareness, online authority, and trust.

  • Improved position on SERPs – Strategic SEO efforts will help you land a spot on the first page of search engines. Statistically, the top three results get the most clicks, which translates to higher traffic and more potential customers.
  • Quality traffic and clicks – Besides improving your position on SERPs, optimized websites get higher organic clicks. People trust organic search results versus those that display an “ad” or “sponsored” label. 
  • Brand building – A continuous positive image will cultivate and strengthen brand awareness. Good SEO practices will help your business become a household name and industry authority.
  • A better grasp of the market – If your SEO strategies are working, this is a good indicator that you understand your audience’s needs and address their pain points effectively.

To say that SEO is critical for your business is an understatement. Learn more reasons why you should have a robust SEO strategy with this insightful read: The Importance of Embracing Modern SEO Best Practices.

 

Search Market Overview

The Search industry is booming, and it will continue to grow. In fact, its net worth will reportedly approach $80 billion by 2020. This clues you in on the importance of investing in SEO—there’s no such thing as “too much” of it.

As of October 2018, Google owns 90.28% of the worldwide search engine market share. As such, all their algorithm updates have a huge impact on webmasters and online businesses and how they conduct their SEO. Many staple SEO analytics tools are made by or work in conjunction with Google.

Currently, marketers are focusing on local SEO tactics and 65% agree that organic and local rankings have a strong correlation. This urges practitioners to focus on delivering relevant and highly-specific content to their target audience. 

But SEO has come a long way since its birth in the 90s. Here are just some of the top trends that practitioners will see more of:

  • Mobile-first indexing – Google has already made a move to use the mobile version of websites for indexing and ranking. This is due in part to the increasing number of mobile phone users in the world.
  • UX optimization – Websites that continue to go above and beyond in providing their site visitors with a flawless user experience will continue to be recognized. UX metrics are increasingly becoming a reliable indicator of website quality and trust.
  • Voice search and AI – AI technology will continue to evolve and influence the way people perform simple tasks, like searching. Voice search will alter the way people search for content online, and search engines are expected to pick up and act on this shift.

Trends come and go, but some of them will stick enough to reshape the state of SEO. Take a peek at SEO Trends to Look Out for in 2019 and beyond.

 

Important Google Algorithm Updates to Know About

 

  • Panda

Released: February 2011

Penalties: thin content, plagiarized posts

This update clipped the rankings of websites that released low-quality or “thin” content that didn’t give any real value to visitors. Conversely, sites that produced unique and relevant pieces were rewarded and got better rankings.

 

  • Penguin

Released: April 2012

Focus: black hat link building techniques, irrelevant/spammy links

The Penguin update was monumental in stopping black hat SEO practices, which were rampant during this time. It was first known as the “webspam algorithm update” and made SEO practitioners reevaluate how they can gain quality links without cheating their link building tactics.

 

  • Hummingbird

Released: August 2013

Focus: keyword stuffing, low-quality content

Hummingbird is one of Google’s smartest updates as it revolves around interpreting search queries. It matches results with the searcher’s intent other than the keywords present in the page. This isn’t to say that keywords aren’t relevant—it merely gave SEO practitioners a broader field to play with when it comes to keyword research.

 

  • Pigeon

Released: July 2014

Focus: localized search results, on-page, and off-page SEO

Pigeon only affects English search results. It places huge importance on local search results, so your business can appear if a location-specific query was typed in. The update allowed Google Web search and Google Maps to work together cohesively.

 

  • Mobile Friendly

Released: April 2015

Focus: mobile usability, mobile friendliness of a page 

Google brings mobile-friendly websites into the spotlight. Web pages that are optimized for mobile rank higher in SERPs, while those that deliver poor mobile performance get down-ranked. The Mobile Friendly update affects the individual pages of a website. That means if you only have one mobile-friendly page, its rank could be improved but the rest of your pages may not.

 

  • RankBrain

Released: October 2015

Focus: relevancy of search results, machine learning

According to Google, RankBrain is the third most important web ranking factor. It’s a machine learning system that helps the search engine understand search intent and meanings behind queries, which leads to more relevant results.

 

  • Possum

Released: September 2016

Focus: location-targeted results based on the searcher’s location

The closer a user is to your business address, the more likely they will see it among the top results. This allowed for accurate answers for specific queries, including the search phrase “near me.” Possum also highlighted businesses outside the actual city area.

 

  • Fred

Released: March 2017

Focus: low-quality content, ads, affiliate links

Fred sanctions thin, low-quality content that seems to have been generated for heavy promotions and contain plenty of affiliate links. It also aims to stop the black hat SEO practice of buying paid links for link building purposes.

Check out this Moz resource for a complete list of Google algorithm changes.

 

Good vs. Bad SEO Strategies

In previous iterations of Google’s algorithm updates, some SEO practitioners found loopholes in the system and saw it as a means to get ahead. This included keyword stuffing, spam directories, and duplicate content. Those aforementioned unethical practices are known as “black hat” SEO techniques. Here are more examples:

  • Lack of on-page optimization on web pages
  • Delivering poor user experience in general
  • Spinning or plagiarizing content
  • Buying paid links as a shortcut for link building
  • Spamming comment sections with links

Thankfully, search engines got better and found a way to measure the quality of websites accurately. This forced SEO specialists to avoid spammy techniques and adopt more user-friendly websites to make sure they won’t get penalized by Google. We now know these as “white hat” tactics today. Here’s more of what you should do:

  • Picking the right keywords to maximize audience targeting efforts
  • Structuring search engine-friendly URLs
  • Creating highly linkable and valuable content
  • Delivering fantastic UX for visitors
  • Performing regular SEO audits to maintain and improve standing

There’s no choice to make when it comes to determining which strategy you should practice. Check this out to learn more about white hat and black hat SEO and the different penalties you can incur: Good vs. Bad SEO: How to Not Get Penalized.

 

The Role of Content in SEO

Content and SEO are two peas in a pod. Your web content is what your SEO efforts will point to, so it’s imperative that they are well-researched and purposeful. Be intentional when interweaving your content marketing and SEO tactics to maximize positive results.

  • Creating customer-centric content that is always relevant and beneficial to your reader will encourage them to keep coming back to your website for more. This will also establish your authority and expertise in your industry, building trust and credibility.
  • Incorporating the right keywords in your blog posts and web pages will aid your target audience in finding your company in relevant scenarios.
  • Placing internal links encourage your readers to browse your website and discover more information about your brand and how they can benefit from what you offer.
  • Don’t forget the SEO basics: Filling up your meta description, title tags, and image alt texts help search engines index and present your web page on search engines better.

Get a deeper understanding of how content marketing plays a critical role in your SEO strategy by visiting our post: How to Improve Your Search Rankings with Content Marketing.

 

Link Building

Link building is the not-so-secret weapon to a successful SEO strategy. In a nutshell, it’s the process of getting other respectable websites to link to your site, webpage, or blog post. Ultimately, the more backlinks you have, the more your business is exposed to a broader audience. It also builds your online reputation as it is unlikely for you to amass those links if your content isn’t valuable or linkable.

Search engines use links for two reasons:

  • Discovering new websites
  • Determining the ranking of a website

Links have long been a critical component in Google’s ranking system, but it wasn’t until the Penguin algorithm update that unethical link building practices were penalized. Now, you must prove that your website is worth linking to—and there’s no better way to do this than by creating high-quality content in the first place.

There are so many ways to approach link building, but we know the secret to do it the right way. Learn our tricks of the trade here: How to Approach Link Building the "Right" Way.

 

6 Steps to an Effective SEO Strategy

 

  1. Keyword Research

Creating content is at the heart of most digital campaigns. This is no secret, which is why many brands and agencies put this into practice. As a result, tons of content get published every minute of the day. People get bombarded with hundreds of posts, and the tricky part is gaining and sustaining visibility on search engines.

This is what makes keyword research a fundamental step in your SEO strategy. Selecting the right keywords means having a deep understanding of what your target audience is looking for to get your content in front of them with a few clicks.

Keyword research may sound simple, but there’s an art to this strategy. Learn how to perform useful keyword research here: SEO Guide Stage 1: Keyword Research. 

 

  1. Competitor Analysis

SEO is not a new tactic, and there are dozens of ways to execute an effective strategy. Therefore, it’s a good idea to study what your industry competitors are doing and learn from them in the process.

When you perform competitor benchmarking, you’re studying three main areas: keywords, backlinks, and content. You’ll immediately be able to detect your strongest and weakest areas and have the luxury to try things your competitors haven’t yet. Competitor analysis is not a step you should skip—in fact, you should be doing this quite regularly as you refine and polish your SEO strategy.

Visit this article to develop the skill of thorough competitor benchmarking: SEO Guide Stage 2: Competitor Analysis.

 

  1. SEO Audit

How is your current SEO strategy working out for your website? Performing an SEO audit helps you answer that question and check if your site is running in tip-top shape. New SEO trends may pop up, Google may make periodic changes to its algorithm, or you may have overlooked a couple nooks and crannies the last time you implemented something.

You can never be too careful in making sure that everything’s running well with your SEO strategy, so make it a habit to perform regular SEO audits for your website.

Learn how to perform a complete SEO audit for your website with our comprehensive tutorial: SEO Guide Stage 3: SEO Audit.

 

  1. On-Page Optimization

It’s time to pay attention to what’s actually on your website pages. As its name suggests, on-page optimization will have you focus on your live web pages, from content formatting to image quality, meta tagging and more. On-page SEO tactics aim to ensure your website is easy for search engines to crawl.

There are plenty of on-page SEO ranking factors that you should check during this stage. Get acquainted with all of them with: SEO Guide Stage 4: On-Page Optimization.

 

  1. Off-Page Optimization

After optimizing your web pages, it’s time to shift your attention towards the backend of your site. You’ve learned how critical link building is to SEO, and this stage focuses on backlinks as well as social signals. Whether it’s the volume, quality, or source, you’re about to take a closer look at your link building and social promotion efforts.

Check if you satisfy all of the off-page SEO ranking factors here: SEO Guide Stage 5: Off-Page Optimization.

 

  1. Track, Analyze, and Improve

SEO isn’t a one-time thing: You must be ready to continually improve your existing efforts and aim to outperform your previous metrics. Performing this step lets you know if your strategies have been working the way you expect them to or highlight trends that could point to lapses in your tactics. Get ready to keep on crunching numbers and harvesting data to achieve this.

Analyzing metrics can get overwhelming in the beginning, especially if you’re unsure where to start. We pooled a list of essential parameters you need to keep your eye on. Take a look at them here: SEO Guide Stage 6: Tracking & Analyzing.

 

SEO Mistakes to Avoid

  • Low-Quality Content – As mentioned above, a large part of your content strategy involves effective SEO efforts. Whatever you put out online contributes to your online persona. If you publish an article with factual errors, it could naturally hurt your credibility. It may be more difficult to instill trust—so be careful with what you post.
  • Forgetting Mobile Optimization – A huge chunk of the world now runs on mobile. If your site UI hasn’t adapted to mobile device screens, your readers will be less likely to visit your page and more likely to bounce as soon as they get there.
  • Lack of Analytics Tools in Place – SEO tactics offer a vast wealth of data for companies to study how to improve their services, create better content, and understand what their audience wants. There’s no such thing as a tool that does it all in SEO, so make sure you’ve got the right suite of software that suits your website’s needs.

Understand why these practices can ruin your SEO strategy: The 3 Most Unforgivable SEO Mistakes Businesses Make

 

Free Tools for SEO

As mentioned earlier, it’s incredibly important to have the right SEO toolset to fit your needs. There’s a range of different tools available for virtually every SEO process, so it’s a good idea to do your research and test them out before making any major decisions. 

We found some pretty rare gems that you can add to your arsenal of SEO tools. These are basically free versions of tools that usually cost a bundle:

  • OpenLinkProfiler.org – a free version of favorite backlink analysis tools like Ahrefs and OpenSiteExporer
  • Netpeak Checker – an all-in-one SEO tool that can check a wide range of site parameters, such as page rank, server information, backlinks, and more
  • Auditmypc.com Sitemap Generator – perfect for performing technical audits and finding issues that are causing your website not to rank well on search engines

Explore more free tools and learn what’s so great about each in our roundup: Free SEO Tools for Startups, You’re Welcome 

 

Discover new organic opportunities for your business or website. Claim your FREE Search Engine Optimization Audit and Strategy Session today!

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Topics: SEO, Google

Pierre de Braux

About Pierre de Braux

Pierre is a content strategist who enjoys cooking and long walks on the beach. He hails from many places but has happily found himself a home in the Philippines. He feels deep satisfaction when popping bubble wrap and hitting a perfect flop shot. In his free time, he pines for a faster internet connection so he can stream cat videos in high definition. Join Pierre on his quest for glory (work-related or otherwise) on Twitter @PierredeBraux

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