Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

3October 2019

In this guide, we intend to describe all major aspects of SEO, from defining terms and phrases, understanding how SEO works, different types of SEO, techniques used, why it is important for business, how long it takes to rank, as well as how to rank on Google and other search engines.

The world of SEO is complex and ever-changing, particularly due to frequent updates on search engine algorithms. What used to work a year ago might not bear the same results today, and that defines how dynamic the industry is.

Let us get started right away;

What is SEO and how it works

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the practice of increasing both the quality and quantity of website traffic and exposure to your brand, which is done through organic (non-paid) search engine results.

All major search engines such as Yahoo, Google and Bing have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as local listings, video, text, etc all shown and ranked, based on what Google and other search engine terms most relevant to the user.

SEO is about understanding what people are searching for online, the answers they are seeking, the words and search phrases they are using, and the type of content they wish to consume. If you have the answers to their questions, you will be better placed to connect with them on what they are searching online.

How SEO Works

As we have mentioned above, the work of search engine is to give users answers to what they are searching online. They exist to discover, understand and organize results in the most relevant manner to help users get answers quickly.

To show up in search engines, your content needs to first be visible to search engines. If your site can’t be found, there is no way it will show on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

Search engines have three primary functions;

  1. Crawl – This involves scouring the Internet for content, looking over the content for each URL they find
  2. Index – This involves storing and organizing content that is found during the crawling process
  3. Rank – It involves providing the pieces of content that will offer the best and most relevant results to what users are searching.

What is Search Engine Crawling?

Crawling refers to the discovering process where search engines send out a team of robots, otherwise known as crawlers or spiders, to find new and updated content. Content to be discovered can vary. It can be an image, a webpage, a video, PDF, etc.

Regardless of the type, content is discovered by links. Googlebot starts by fetching a web page, then follows the links on those webpages to find new URLs. The crawler can then finds new content and add it to their index, called Caffeine – Which is a huge collection of indexed URLs.

What is Search Engine Index?

Search engine indexing refers to the process of storing information they find in an index. When a user performs a search, search engines scour their index for highly relevant content and orders that content with the aim of solving the searcher’s query.

The ordering of search results by relevance is what we call ranking. The higher a website is ranked, the more relevant the search engine rates the website. It is possible to block search engine crawlers from indexing your site.

It is important to understand that not all search engines are equal. Despite having more than 30 search engines, most people only care for Google, which has more than 75 percent of the total search market share. Google is where a vast majority of people search the web.

How Search Engines Store your Pages

Once you have ensured your site has been crawled, the next key step is to ensure it is indexed. Just because your site has been discovered by Google doesn’t automatically mean it is indexed. The index is where discovered pages are stored.

After the crawler finds a page, the search engine renders it just like a browser would. In the process of doing so, the search engine analyzes contents on the page. All of that information is stored in its index.

Search Engine Optimization Techniques

Keyword Research

You need to understand what your audience wants to find. Now that you have learned how to show up in search results, you should understand all strategic keywords to target in your ranking campaign. You need to craft a content strategy that satisfies both users and search engines.

The power of keyword research lies in understanding your target market. Keyword research helps to;

  • Determine what users are searching for
  • Know how many people are searching for your keywords
  • Know the type of format on how they want information

Keyword Research Tool

You can use keyword research tools to discover untapped niches and good keywords. Once you enter your seed keyword in a keyword research tool, you will begin to discover other useful keywords, websites ranking with those keywords, their domain age, and authority, length of content ranking with the keywords as well as backlinks coming to those websites.

It is important to discover that the entire website doesn’t rank for keywords; page does. During the process of keyword research, you will be able to uncover vital search volumes. The higher the search volume for a given keyword, or keyword phrase, the more work you will be required to perform to achieve higher rankings.

You need to get strategic with the search volumes you discover. You can do this by looking at your competitors and how they are using those keywords. Keywords will vary by season and by region. Google Keyword Planner can be a very vital tool to help you in your campaign.

On-Page Optimization

You need to use your research to craft your message. It is time to dive into on-page SEO, which involves the practice of crafting web pages that answer searcher’s questions. This form of SEO is much complex and extends beyond content, into schema and Meta tags.

High-Quality Content

When creating your content, you need to apply keyword research. Survey your keywords and group them into similar topics and intent. Those keywords will form your pages. You need to evaluate the monthly search volumes for each keyword and determine what type of format your content will be.

Determine if your content should be image or video heavy. Should the content be long or short? Will the content be presented in bulleted lists or paragraphs? You need to avoid thin content as much as possible. Panda, Google’s content algorithm, heavily penalizes for thin content. Additionally, avoid duplicate content. When writing your content, you should avoid as much as possible all instances of keyword stuffing. Auto-generated content should be highly avoided as well.

Header Tags

Beyond content, there are other forms of optimization you should consider. Makes good use of header tags. Ensure your keywords can be found in H1 and H2 in your content. Make full use of internal linking. Internal linking helps in enhancing and promoting the visibility and crawlability of your site.

Your title tags need to be very effective. An effective title tag is brought about by keyword usage, length of your title and branding. Your Meta description needs to be on point. A meta description is what you input into the description field to show up in search results. An effective Meta description needs to reflect both the relevance and length of about 155 characters.

Image Optimization

If you use images, ensure they are well optimized. Your images need to be well compressed. If your images require animation, make full use of GIF. You don’t need to preserve high image resolution for your websites. Thumbnails need to be compressed as well so that they don’t slow your site down.

Technical SEO

We will talk briefly about basic technical SEO. With knowledge on this subject, you will be better placed to optimize your site for search engines and establish the required credibility. You do not need to have a deep technical understanding of SEO.

SEO needs cross-team support to be effective. It is important to ensure your developers have a good understanding of SEO. They need to understand how websites work, how search engines understand sites and how users interact with websites.

Website Languages

Before a site can be assessed, it needs to be set up. You need first to purchase a domain and choose a good domain for that matter. When developing a site, three key languages are used; HTML (defines structure of a site), CCS (defines the appearance of a site), and JavaScript (defines the action that a site performs).

Canonicalization

We have covered in details about how pages are crawled and indexed. Using canonicalization, you can tell search engines your preferred pages. Ensure you give the user a good experience to users interacting with your site. Your mobile users need to have a positive experience.

Your site needs to have a responsive design. Ensure you have mobile-first indexing. Mitigate visitor frustrations by improving page speed. Your images need to be optimized as they form one of the main reasons for slow speed.

Link Building

It’s now time to turn up the volume by doing link building and establishing authority. Now that you have created content that people love, you have answered their questions, what’s next? The next step in the SEO process is to build quality links.

Inbound Links

Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links are hyperlinks that point from one site to another. There are two key types of links; Follow and No Follow links. As the name sounds, no-follow links tell search engines not to follow the link. Follow links, on the other hand, have all the link juices (ranking power)

Even if follow links have all the ranking power, that is not to mean you should only use follow links on your site. You need to establish a balance between the two. You should always try to maintain a healthy link profile.

Links will send qualified traffic to your site. On the other hand, spammy links will have a detrimental effect on your site. You should never try to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. Additionally, avoid purchased links as much as possible. Google also cautions about link exchanges, or what we call reciprocal links.

Good Links

You should also avoid low-quality directory links. Links should always be earned (such as editorial links), they should come from authoritative pages, they should increase with time, they should come from topically relevant sources, they should use relevant natural anchor texts, and they should bring qualified traffic to your site. Ensure you have a healthy mix of follow and no-follow links.

To build high-quality backlinks, find customers and partner links or publish a blog as blogs have a unique ability to contribute fresh content on the internet. Build resource pages and create unique resources.

How to Measure SEO Results

Once you have set everything right, it is important to track SEO performance. With professional SEO, you will need to track everything from rankings, conversions, lost links among others. Measuring the results of your SEO efforts and doing vital ongoing refinement is key to your SEO success, client retention, and perceived value.

Have a Goal

You need to start with the end in mind. Have measurable goals. If you can’t track your actions, you won’t improve anything. You also need to be specific. Never let vague industry buzz water down your efforts. Additionally, share your goals, to keep yourself on toes to achieving those goals.

After you have your goals well set, the next step is to perform a measurement. Things you should measure in SEO include;

Engagement Metrics

This defines how people act and do once they reach your website. It is the question you need to answer in your engagement metrics approach. Some of the most important metrics for measuring how people interact with your site include;

Conversion Rates

The number of conversions for the desired goal divided by the number of unique visits. Conversion rates can be used on anything, be it an email sign up, account creation, among others. If you know your conversion rate, you will be better placed to gauge your return on investment.

Time on Page

This metric answers the question; how long did people spend on your page? Some pages are generally not meant to receive a lot of traffic – such as a “contact us” page. However, pages with your main content should receive a desirable time on page per visitor.

Pages per visit

Is the goal of your page to keep readers engaged? If that is the case, then pages per visit can be a very valuable engagement metric. Additionally, consider what users are doing once they land on your site. An important metric here is to analyze bounce rate. Bounce rates indicate that a user came to your site and immediately left without browsing or interacting with the site any further.

How long does it take for SEO to work

Many business and website owners have unrealistic expectations about SEO efforts. They want to see instant results as soon as they start working on their SEO strategy. It doesn’t work that fast, it takes time and a lot of strategy to get everything right and see results.

SEO is not a one-time thing. It is an investment that requires maintenance and ongoing attention to see good results. Depending on the niche you are in and the level of SEO execution you perform, you may see results in two weeks to 6 months.

There is no secret ingredient to SEO. It takes time, careful planning and careful optimization to achieve and maintain rankings. You should never prioritize speed over sustainability, else your tactics will end up in futility.

Google is very suspicious of any actions that suddenly increase rankings, as those tactics are assumed to be black hat tactics. If your aim is to have better performance and higher rankings, the best thing to do is to think long term.

Things that will determine if your site will rank in weeks or months include; the authority of your niche and age of your domain, fixing errors, hosting issues and any ranking, SEO friendly site design, structure and architecture, Keyword targeting and competitor analysis, content strategy, On-Page and Off-Page optimization and your link building strategy.