What is SEO — Why Businesses Need Search Engine Optimization Marketing
Think about how a business might have advertised its message or brand in the year 1980. They probably would have paid for advertising space, as many businesses continue to do today, either in a newspaper, on a billboard, or in a television spot. Getting space on any form of media for advertising purposes is going to cost money — with no guarantee of real visibility.
Now, what if we told you that you don’t need to buy advertising space in order to put your brand and your message right in front consumers, in a medium that they trust? What if we told you that you don’t have to pay Google money in order for your website to potentially appear at the top of their search results? You only have to show that you’re the best at what your business does, and can provide answers to questions people are asking.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it’s possible if you prioritize search engine optimization (SEO) on your website.
What is SEO?
In short, SEO is a way for you to make sure that consumers are seeing your message, without sending a dime to a television network, a newspaper, or even the search engine itself. Literally, it means making your website as easy as possible for search engines to find, analyze, and use as a result for people conducting searches online.
What Is a Search Engine?
A “search engine” is a tool that indexes pages on the internet, and then presents those pages to searchers in response to certain queries. Search engines do this by deploying bots, which are automatic computer programs that crawl through the web, identifying pages and determining their relevance and value.
Today, consumers use search engines like Google to find what they’re looking for. More than that, though, consumers place a great deal of trust in the algorithms that Google employs to sift through web pages and rank them in order of relevance and authority. In fact, almost 90 percent of searchers click through to websites that appear on the first page of their search results.
What is SEM?
SEM (or search engine marketing) is the practice of using a search engine’s natural propensity to let good results rise to the top as a marketing tool. Instead of putting your message in front of consumers through conventional marketing, you can help it rise to the top naturally by being highly qualified in your domain, and by making sure that search engines know it.
However, SEM entails more than just applied SEO; SEM can also involve paying search engines to display your ads above organic, or unpaid, search results. These are called PPC ads, or Pay Per Click, as you will end up paying (prices vary according to the demand for certain search terms) for every click on that ad. The idea is similar to traditional marketing — get your name, your message, and your goods in services in front of people who might want them. Paid ads are how search engines like Google make most of their money. However, a good SEO strategy can potentially get you traffic without having to pay for ads.
Google’s methods aren’t random. By following good SEO practices, you can tell Google that your website is relevant to the sort of searches that your customers perform and, more than that, that it’s a reliable authority on those subjects, and worth ranking highly.
Essential Elements for SEO Web Design
In order to determine which pages are best, search engines look at various ranking indicators that appear on websites, including relevance to a searcher’s query, how well-organized a website is, the user experience that a website offers, and several other things. These are the essential elements for SEO web design, so it’s critical to understand and execute them if you want to help your business to rank well in search results.
Have you ever been to a website that was just a nightmare to read and to navigate? Pages were hard to find, the company’s message wasn’t clear, and the whole thing took ages to load? Well, search engines have learned about what good user experience is, and they want to make sure that websites that are easy to use float to the top. This means that having a good web design is crucial for your SEO.
Outside of the user experience, there are many hidden elements of web pages that affect ranking. These things, hidden in the code or the internal organization of a website, help to signal search engines about the relevance and quality of a given search result, oftentimes without signalling the user at all. Some hidden elements to watch out for include:
- Internal and External Linking: On the internet, links are like votes. A link from another website, or even from one page on your website to another, counts as a vote in favour of that page’s authority, but only if the source of that link is also regarded as reliable. You want to accumulate high quality, relevant links, both from outside sources and from within your own website.
- Title Tags: If you’re reading this article, then you have at least one tab open in your web browser. If you look up at the top of your browser, you can see how the tabs are labelled. What you might not know is that these tabs are labelled with something called a title tag. The title tag for this page reads “SEO Web Design for Beginners | What Is SEO? | Parxavenue Ltd.” Title tags do a lot more than just telling you which tabs you have open — they tell search engines what a website is about, helping to determine relevance.
- Keywords: Search engines determine relevance by looking for keywords. Keywords connect a searcher’s query to a web page. For example, a website about mountain biking could be connected to mountain bikers who search through keywords like “mountain biking” or “the best places to go mountain biking.” Part of succeeding in SEO is finding the keywords that you want to rank for, and establishing the relevance of your business to those keywords.
Content includes any written material on your website. For example, this page that you’re reading right now is a piece of content. Good content should contain some of the keywords that you want to rank for, but it needs to do a lot more than that. Good content should be easy to read, contributing to a positive user experience; it should be informative, providing readers with accurate and useful information; it should have a neat internal organization, emphasizing on-page elements like title tags; and it should be a good target for linking, both within your website and from other websites on the internet. You want pieces of content on your website to flow into one another, linking naturally to other pieces of content and too valuable converting pages — the sort of content that brings in customers.
It’s no longer enough to provide a good user experience for desktop and laptop users. In order to rank well on today’s internet, you need to make sure that your website is easy to read and to navigate on a mobile device. This means modifying pages so that they appear nicely in the smaller frame of a phone or tablet screen, keeping file sizes small so that your page can load quickly, and keeping buttons large enough so that it’s easy for readers to navigate with a finger.
What is Local SEO?
If you run a business where most of your customers are local, then it might be hard to see how SEO can affect you. After all, why should a sandwich shop in Calgary compete with a sandwich shop that’s over 2,000 miles away in Miami? Don’t these two shops have a completely different client base?
The answer lies within local SEO. Search engines don’t just look at global results for user queries — they also look at results that are local to the searcher. Going back to that Calgary sandwich shop, they could use local SEO to signal to search engines that they offer sandwiches to consumers who are in Calgary. This would help boost their signal among Calgary-based searchers and make sure that they appear on searching services like Google maps.
To optimize your local SEO specifically, you should:
- List the addresses and phone numbers of your locations on your website.
- Make sure that your phone number is especially visible for mobile users.
- Make sure that contact information is consistent from page to page.
- Highlight keywords that establish your location.
- Encourage customers to leave positive reviews on sites like Google or Facebook and take the time to respond to reviews and customer comments.
What is Technical SEO?
Although user experience and organization play a big part in SEO, they don’t paint the full picture by themselves. Having a well-programmed website is also important, and the elements that contribute to SEO from backstage are called technical SEO.
Technical SEO is best handled by an expert — preferably your web designer, who has a host of technical SEO experience. However, there are some elements that you can check by yourself if you’re comfortable navigating the backend of your website:
- H1, H2, and H3 Tags: Header tags are important to the user experience, as they make certain text and headers leap out at the reader. However, they also serve as a signal to search engines. Terms in header tags are taken more seriously by a search engine’s bots than the average text on a website, so you should use them to highlight keywords in organic, user-friendly ways.
- Site Navigation: When a search engine bot gets to your website, it wants to be able to reach each page quickly and efficiently, just like a user does. A well-organized web of internal links can make sure that this is possible. However, certain hidden elements like a sitemap.xml or robots.txt files can also help a bot out. Use these files to give bots direction and to tell them to ignore pages that are just cluttering your website right now.
- Structured Data: Search engines often use keywords to determine a page’s subject matter, but they can also elements hidden in a website’s code to do the same. Structured data is type of content markup in the code for a web page that tells a search engine what that page is about. For example, if it’s a page for an event, for a business location, or even a list of recipes.
- 404 Errors and Broken Links: For a user, trying to click through to page and receiving a 404 error can be a nightmare. A 404 error occurs when a link goes to a webpage that doesn’t exist. It’s bad for the user and it’s bad for your website. Good technical SEO involves spotting potential 404 errors before they can happen, and fixing the code of your website so that every link goes to a page that really exists.
By now, we have some idea about the things that you can do to improve your SEO, but how can you tell if it’s really working? There are several performance indicators that you can use to determine how good or bad your SEO is:
Keywords are the foundation of SEO performance. If you’re doing well, then your website should rank for a wide variety of keywords that have robust search volume (meaning that many people search for them) and that are highly relevant to your business’s services. Going back to that Calgary sandwich shop, it would be doing very well if it ranked for things like “sandwiches in Calgary” or “Calgary restaurants.” It would not be doing so well if it only ranked for things like “places to park your bicycle” or “art galleries in Calgary.” Tools like SEMRush can help you track your keyword performance and identify opportunities for improvement.
The users that a website receives make up its traffic. Traffic is good — you want people to come to your site so that they’re exposed to your brand and your services. The three primary sources of traffic are:
- Direct Traffic: These are people who come straight to your website. They already know about you and they’re usually returning visitors.
- Paid Traffic: People who come to your website through an ad that you’ve placed elsewhere on the internet are your paid traffic. These visitors cost money, but they may be more likely to be interested in your products and services than the average visitor.
- Organic Traffic: These are people who searched for a keyword and found your website, usually on the first page of their search results. If you have good SEO, you can potentially get a lot of visitors through organic traffic, and you can be confident that they’re interested in your services since they arrived by searching for highly relevant keywords.
SEO marketing is meant to maximize organic traffic by increasing your appeal to search engines and helping you rank higher on their results.
Ultimately, it’s hard to keep track of your SEO performance by just looking at the bottom line for your business each month, which is influenced by a wide variety of things. SEO tools can help you single out key performance indicators and give you ideas for how you can improve your SEO.
- Moz: Moz offers a suite of SEO tools and information. They are most known for their domain authority (DA) metric, which estimates the authority of a domain. A higher DA means that your website is more authoritative and more likely to rank well.
- SEMRush: SEMRush is all about keywords. It can give you information how what keywords people are searching for and how well your website is doing for a particular set of keywords, giving you ideas about where you’re doing well and where you can improve.
- Majestic: Majestic is a popular tool for looking at links. Remember that links are like votes, so Majestic can tell you who’s voting for you and where. It can also tell you who’s voting for your competitors, giving you an idea of where you stand.
- Google Analytics: Google has provided their tool to help you understand how you’re doing in respect of their search engine. It can help you break down the traffic that your website is getting so that you can understand who is coming to your site and how they’re getting there.
Consumers use search engines to help them find things, and they often trust the results that float to the top. You can use SEO web design to make sure that your website is appearing at the top of search engine results for keywords related to your business.