SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimization, refers to the practice of optimizing websites or web pages to get positioned in a higher rank on the search engine results page (SERP) for increased visibility, which leads to more organic website traffic.
SEO is an important topic, and it's something that should be kept top of mind in the business world today. For your business to succeed, it's important to know what SEO is, and more importantly, how to use it to make your business and content as effective as possible.
In this blog, we will provide you with the first Chapter in our eBook, The Big Book of SEO, which provides you with an all-you-need-to-know guide about SEO.
It's written FOR people who speak plain English, BY people who speak plain English.
No hard-to-understand jargon, no unexplained technical terms, and no stone unturned. There's even a quick reference glossary at the end of the book, to quickly define terms that you may have forgotten.
Anything and everything you need to know about SEO will be in this book, so stop looking through page after page of Google results to find info! Look no further my friends, help has arrived!
If you like the first Chapter of our eBook, be sure to download the full eBook for free.
Here's a quick Chapter run-down of what you can expect in the full book:
- Chapter 1 - SEO: Covering the Basics
- Chapter 2 - Examining SEO Mechanics
- Chapter 3 - On-Page Optimization
- Chapter 4 - Off-Page Optimization
- Chapter 5 - Search Quality Ratings
- Chapter 6 - SEO and Community Forums
- Chapter 7 - Status Codes and Common Issues
- Chapter 8 - Quick Reference Glossary
Now, without further ado, here is the first chapter.
SEO: Covering the Basics
When you want to find out some credible and accurate information about a topic, what do you do, and who do you turn to for answers?
Well, you most likely fit into the 75% of internet users that turn to our familiar friend Google as their go-to search engine to get trusted answers. Your search would be part of a whopping 3.5 billion searches that Google had received just that day.
Google is now a household name and provides billions of people with access to quick and accurate results to any and all queries - but how does Google deliver these results and rank the most relevant content?
Statistics show that 75% of Google users will never leave the first page of the search results. Given these statistics, we can determine that:
a) Users have found what they are looking for on the first page, or;
b) Users haven’t found what they are looking for, and re-phrase their query in another search
In either case, this shows that users trust Google to rank the web pages with the most relevant content to their search. This leads to the question of how Google actually does this; how do they rank, say the top 10 web pages in a sea of an estimated 4.45 billion web pages?
This is where SEO comes into play.
SEO is the practice of optimizing websites or web pages to get positioned in a higher rank on the search engine results page (SERP) for increased visibility, which leads to more organic traffic on your website. It’s about designing your web page so that it ranks well in search results.
It should also be reiterated that due to the overwhelming majority of users who choose Google as their primary search provider, this eBook will focus exclusively on the Google search engine and how to optimize your SEO practices to fit Google’s algorithm.
Organic versus Paid Search
When we talk about SEO, we are referring to optimizing your organic search visibility. Now, you might be wondering what is meant by “organic.” If so, you are not alone.
Let’s take a look at the SERP for say, a query on “best laptops for gaming,” which you can see in Image 1. You will find two types of results here; paid and organic.
The paid results (almost) always show at the top of the SERP, and are labeled with “Ad” beside the website URL. Image 1 identifies the paid search results with a pink label, and the organic results with a blue label. As you can see, Dell and XoticPC have opted for a paid search and appear at the top as “Ads.”
Paid search results are a result of businesses paying Google to have their website featured above the organic search results. Paid ads are essentially the easiest and fastest way to bypass all the other search results on a page - if you have the money.
There is however a catch 22; roughly 70-80% of users ignore the paid ads, and instead focus on the organic results. So while you may be able to bypass others by paying for your ad to be shown at the top of the search results, this isn’t always the most effective way to drive traffic to your website.
In contrast, the organic search results are found beneath the paid searches. Organic search results are unpaid and are determined by Google to be the most relevant to your search.
The goal of many organizations is to rank on the first page of the SERP since we know that statistically, it’s unlikely that users will move beyond the first page. As famously quoted by Dharmesh Shah:
“The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of the Google search results.”
The organic search results that appear on the first page have everything to do with SEO. You see, Google ranks pages based on an algorithm that crawls through all web pages and determines which ones have the most relevant content. The web pages that have the most relevant content that fit the users keyword search is one of the factors that contributes to the rank in which they appear.
While in a nutshell, that’s how Google ranks web pages, it’s really much more complicated than that and there are a ton of other factors that need to be considered. Let’s start with taking a look at the ranking algorithm that Google uses.
Google Ranking Algorithm
When searching a query on Google, there are likely billions (if not, millions) of web pages that not only include your keywords, but are also on topic and relevant. To determine which web pages will appear on the front page of the SERP, Google analyzes and sorts all pages in their search index using their ranking algorithm.
This algorithm, in short, determines what web pages will show up on the first page.
Before we get into the tenants of Google’s ranking algorithm, let’s take a moment to discuss what exactly an algorithm is (in plain English).
An algorithm is most commonly used in the context of computer science, but algorithms can be used to describe a whole bunch of things that you do on a daily basis. An algorithm, simply put, is just a list of rules/ instructions on how to accomplish a task.
A simple example could be baking cookies using a recipe. For instance:
So, the “algorithm” here is just the list of rules for baking cookies. The same logic applies to computer programs. The algorithm is a set of rules that tells the computer what to do, what steps need to be taken to finish the task, and in what order.
According to Google itself, the search algorithm involves five key steps, with the purpose of returning the most useful and relevant information to users:
While it may seem like a lot of steps are involved in pulling a search from Google, the algorithm itself is actually the third step in the search engine process. The three steps involved in the search engine process are, (1) web crawling, (2) indexing, and (3) the Google ranking algorithm. So it’s not only important to know how the Google algorithm works, but it’s also important to understand the entire process in order to optimize your SEO practices. We will take a closer look at the search engine process in Chapter 2.
In order to appear favourably in web searches (hopefully as a first pager!) you need to ensure that your SEO practices are optimized to conform to the Google search algorithm. You ultimately need to give Google a reason to choose your web page. That’s why optimizing your keywords is so important; it can literally make or break your website.
The Importance of Keywords for SEO
The first thing that Google does, to no nobody’s surprise, is analyze the keywords used in the search. Google interprets what type of information users are looking for based on the words that are being used in the query.
Essentially, what this means for you is that you need to know your market. You need to know what your potential customers are searching when trying to find the products or services that your organization offers. What are the words that they are using the most and what phrases are the most common?
For example, let's take a look at the search query we used previously, “best laptops for gaming.” Using a keyword explorer tool, you can find other relevant phrases that are more commonly used by your market.
As seen in Image 2 below, there are other phrases that are relevant to the original, but have a significantly higher volume of searches. If you were basing your web page on the keywords, “best laptops for gaming,” you might want to adjust your keywords using this information, since your market is more likely to search “best gaming laptop under 1000.”
It stems to reason that the more suiting your keywords are to the ones that your market is using, the more likely your web page will pulled by Google’s algorithm. Time to do some research, eh?
There are a number of tools that you can use to help you to discover the best keywords to use for your market. I’d recommend Moz, as used in Image 2, however if you are looking for a free tool, check out Google Keyword Planner.
White Hat and Black Hat SEO
There are a number of different things that you can do in order to optimize your website/ web page to help it rank higher on the SERP. This extends beyond using keywords; there are, broadly speaking, factors that you can optimize that are seen to be either on-page or off-page factors.
While these terms will be touched on in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 respectively, it should be noted that these SEO techniques can also be seen as “playing by the rules” or “not playing by the rules.” This is where SEO practices are either deemed to be “white hat” or “black hat;” these are essentially techniques that are found in the Google playbook, and techniques that aren’t (and are seen, in a way, to be “cheating.”)
White hat SEO practices aim to optimize a web page for the human viewer, which is how Google intended web pages to be; useful, relevant, and of quality for users.
Black hat SEO includes techniques used to trick the algorithm into thinking that it’s valuable. These practices are usually used to get a quick turn around for a better rank, however they usually don’t last too long. When a web page is caught using black hat techniques, the web page risks being banned. Some of these practices include keyword stuffing (using hidden texts) link spamming and blog content spamming.
To ensure that the pages that rank high comply with the rulebook and are actually quality pages, Google employs Page Quality Rankers. This will be discussed further in Chapter 7. Nonetheless, it is clear that there are things that can be done to optimize your page ranking (and things you shouldn’t do!)
Before we touch on what these techniques are, we need to go over how the entire search engine process works since it plays a significant role in providing the algorithm with pages to rank.