Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving various on page and off page elements in order to improve rankings in the algorithmic search engine results and increase the number and quality of visitors to a website.
As a business owner you’ll have one of three experiences at some point: You’ll either hear or read that you need SEO in order to grow your business, you’ll discover SEO on your own while considering marketing services to grow your business, or you’ll be contacted by a company offering SEO services to grow your business.
There’s a theme developing here…
SEO has steadily grown in popularity among marketers and especially small business owners specifically for the return on the investment.
Unlike traditional advertising, social ads, and pay-per-click (PPC) marketing that only produce results while a campaign is running, SEO continues to create organic (unpaid/free) traffic minute after minute, day after day!
Why Every Website Needs SEO
To understand why your business needs SEO, you must understand how people use the web. Social media is a huge attractor for people: 68% of US adults use Facebook and more than two-thirds of them access the site multiple times a day.
And while social media can generate a lot of organic traffic, that’s not the only place your customers spend their time.
In fact, social media sites accounted for just 2.8% of site traffic in 2016. The majority of people – like your customers – still turn to search engines first in order to find information, products, answers, and details about local businesses just like yours.
A lot of those prospective customers are using Google, which continues to hold a dominant share of the market against other search engines.
Google’s popularity is also why marketers and business owners predominantly try to optimize their sites using best practices that will help improve their rank with Google.
How SEO Works In A Nutshell
Understanding how people use search engines helps you see Google (and other search engines) for what they are – a business.
As a business, Google’s primary goal is give every user exactly what they want. The algorithm is designed to serve the most relevant search results to the user based on their search query.
Here’s what the typical search process looks like for most people:
- A person experiences a need for an answer or information on a product or service
- They decide what phrase to use in order to find that information
- The phrase is entered into a search engine, typically Google
- Google instantly returns hundreds of thousands of results relevant to that search
- The person scans the results for what appears the most relevant solution and clicks on it
- If they’re not satisfied, they return and check other results or modify their search
When a search query from a user occurs, Google instantly pulls the websites it feels are the closest, most relevant matches to the user’s query.
In the above example, a search for “easy dinner recipes” brings up a list of sites who positioned their content to rank well for that search phrase and variations of it.
We can see how the results shift when we change the query to one looking for a local business.
And how the results change when we’re looking for general information.
Google wants to show the most relevant results. It’s capable of reading and analyzing the content of websites it has indexed in order to do just that.
In fact, it’s so accurate it understands when people want to do something (transactional queries), to know something (informational queries), and when they want to go somewhere (navigational queries).
Matthew Cutts, once the head of Google’s Search team, provides an excellent explanation for how Google’s search engine works. It all starts with the words typed into the search engine.
What Goes Into SEO
That’s oversimplifying it to some degree, because SEO involves a lot more than just matching the words from a search query to the words on a website.
In fact, where your site falls in the search results can be impacted by everything from the content on the page to the links pointing to your site, the way images are used, and even the loading speed of your website.
There are actually 200 ranking factors used by Google that play a part in where your site shows up in the search results for any related search terms.
When a business owner optimizes their site, they make a number of updates to improve that rank based on research – typically a prioritized list of keywords and phrases their audience is most likely to use when performing a search.
From that research they begin making changes based on a variety of Google’s ranking factors. Here are some of the most important ranking factors according to SmartInsights:
Those changes not only include updates to the public-facing text on a website, they also include off-page changes (behind the scenes) and even off-site updates that help tell the search engines “Hey, this website is more relevant for this specific topic.”
It’s not an exact science, because optimization is only as good as the research to understand your audience and what they’re searching for. But when you get it right, there’s a tremendous amount of potential for highly targeted traffic to land on your site – and a lot of it.
With that many daily searches, there’s a pretty good chance your prospective customers are in there somewhere searching for a solution that you sell.
SEO is the key to improving your site’s relevancy so when your customers perform a search in Google they find you first instead of your competitors.