Since I started working in online marketing a few years ago, my head has gotten pretty crammed with acronyms. Alphabet soup like KPI, PPC, SoLoMo, TOFU, BOFU and FOMO sound perfectly normal to me now -- crazy, huh?
But by far, the acronym most people ask about is SEO, or search engine optimization. This aspect of online marketing seems to defy explanation for lots of folks.
In this post, we're going to break it down in the complete beginner's guide to SEO: what SEO is, how it works, what factors affect search and what sorts of changes you can make today to improve your search optimization.
What is SEO?
Then you pick the result that seems the best or most useful for your search, from pages of results that look something like this.
- You want to find the shoes you want (so you can look cool/play sports/etc.).
- Your search engine wants to provide you the best, most useful results (so you'll come back).
- And any business that sells sneakers - whether online or in a store - wants to be the first result you see when you search (so they can sell more sneakers).
SEO is important for lots of companies because if people find you via a web search and find what they're looking for, you can receive lots of new web visitors that can help you make more money. If people can't find you in a web search, you miss an opportunity - and they might find your competitor, instead.
SEO is often part of an overall online marketing strategy and complements other tactics like social media marketing, content marketing and more.
What factors affect a search?
Google's excellent Inside Search interactive resource offers a small glimpse into the process:
1. Your question
You might have noticed the way Google guesses the end of your search as you start typing and fixes your spelling if you mistype.
It also works hard in other ways to give you what you need quickly. For example, if you type "timer 30 minutes" into Google, it will create a timer for you right from the search results instead of having you click away to an online timer.
If you're checking on the status of a flight you're set to take when signed in to Google with your Gmail address, Google will search through your mail to give you the status of your flight.
Search engines are continually working on new and better ways to predict what we're looking for and what we need faster and more accurately.
2. Your location
So local businesses have to put special effort into maximizing their SEO efforts for local visibility, which means doing things like optimizing their Google Places pages.
3. Who created it
4. Your friends
In this search, you can see how Google has pulled one result for me specifically because Max Minzer, whom I'm connected with on Google+, shared it.
5. How it got shared
That means social actions like Facebook shares and Google "+1s" likely play a part in how Google chooses which results to show you for a given search.
Here's how Searchmetrics explains it in its ranking factors study:
Well positioned URLs have a high number of likes, shares, tweets and plus ones, and specific URLs stand out in the top search results with a very high mass of social signals. On one hand, this means that the activity on social networks continues to increase, on the other hand it means that frequently shared content increasingly correlates with good rankings.
This makes sense because social media is a growing way to find websites and content. The percentage of people who used social media to find websites increased 7 percent from 2011 to 2012 - in fact, using social media to find websites is growing faster than using search engines, according to Forrester Research data.
6. Your device
Think about how your needs change from one device to another. On a laptop, you may be looking for content to read at leisure. On your phone, you might need a phone number right away, or a quick way to compare a price.
Mobile search requires a different type of result for different needs.
All these factors combined mean that my search engine results for a specific question might look totally different from yours, depending on things like who we know, where we are and what type of device we're searching on.
But what does an SEO do?
Although all SEOs generally shares the same goal - to help a website be found by more people, more easily - the way they get there can vary widely.
But there are some common practices that you'll hear about when it comes to search engine optimization. An SEO:
Optimizes the site
That means doing lots of different things to optimize the site itself like assuring the site has a sitemap Google can find, making sure it loads quickly and analyzing the site's design and architecture to make sure it works well for users. Lots of SEOs will perform a technical audit to determine a list of issues with a site.
Researches and optimizes keywords
SEOs perform keyword research to determine which keywords would be best to target for a given site. Then they make sure the site uses those keywords often enough and in the right spots in a process called keyword optimization. This graphic from DataDial is a good primer on some basic spots for keywords..
When a well respected, trusted website links to your site, it sends a signal to Google that you're hanging out with good company. If this happens often enough with enough trusted, quality websites, Google gets the idea that you're a trusted, quality website - and makes it more likely that searchers will see your site.
This means that SEOs spend a lot of time working on getting links in a process called link building. Link-building tactics can range from simply asking for a link to writing a guest post - and there are many others. Again, DataDial breaks it down.
Helps creates content (that builds links)
More SEO reading
If you liked this post you might also like Why Google authorship is so important for the content you create and how to set it up and The Marketer's Guide to Google Analytics: How to Extract Numbers That Drive Action.