What is SEO?
SEO is “search engine optimization.” SEO is a series of actions one takes to increase the likelihood that audiences will find your online content when they perform a web search. The online results on search engines like Google or Bing are known as “search engine results pages” (SERP). SEO is only related to “organic” SERP which are non-paid search results, as opposed to paid results (e.g., Google Ads).
Just because you are, say, the #2 dentist in your town does not mean that you will be the second-ranked link in SERP. If you want to rank in search results, you must follow SEO best practices.
The search terms people use are called “keywords.” “Keyphrases” is probably a more accurate term. For example, almost no one searches for “dentist.” They search for “best kids dentist in Anytown.”
What keywords should I rank for?
There are two kinds of keywords you should focus on. The first is straightforward: it is your name, whether it is your personal name or the name of your organization. What do you want people to find in SERP when they search for this? You have a lot of control over this based on the content you put on your website and on social media.
The second type is more complicated. Keywords are related to your strategy and can change over time. “Best cheeseburger in Anytown” might change to “best organic cheeseburger in Anytown.” In the era of COVID-19, target keywords might be “best organic cheeseburger delivery in Anytown.”
The keywords you target are your choice. The quality of content you produce is the main determinant of whether you will rank for those keywords.
What are SEO best practices?
No one does SEO perfectly, but you should aim for the best possible efforts in on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. As you improve your implementation of these practices, your results will improve.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO or on-site SEO are the actions you take on your own website, notably the content you publish. The most common way to do this is to regularly publish content on your blog about your area of expertise.
For example, if you want to rank in Google searches for “chartreuse widgets” and that keyword never appears on your site, then you won’t rank. On-page is also about how your content is structured. Do you keywords appear in places like the title and h1 tags (commonly the page title/headlines) of your site? Are your images tagged with textual metadata called “Alt Text”? (Hint: Google doesn’t know what your images are unless you tell Google using Alt Text.)
Other on-page SEO items that should be on your checklist include: making sure your keywords appear at the beginning of your web page; linking relevant content between pages of your site; using keywords frequently but in a way that enriches the user’s experience and knowledge; linking to relevant, high-quality websites; and using concise URLs (links).
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO relates to activity and content that appears outside of your website. The #1 factor in improving your SERP rankings is to have relevant, high-quality websites link to your own website. This is, quite simply, a recommendation or referral – something that has always won business and influence, even before the Internet. Links from other sites to your own are a key indicator of E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness), a term used in SEO circles to indicate that Google believes your content is high quality.
Off-page SEO is challenging but rewarding, and should be accomplished only with well-regarded websites and experts in your industry, never with so-called “link farms” or by using “black hat SEO” tactics, both of which will end up with a downgrade by search engines. External links that can produce positive SEO include reviews on forums and Google My Business (GMB) and links and mentions on Wikipedia and media sites related to your industry. Off-page SEO can often be achieved by engaging in social media marketing.
What is technical SEO?
A website is much more than the content. It is its technical structure and foundation. Your website should be on a secure HTTPS connection – not HTTP. Your site should be “connected” to Google and Bing via Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools – sites that help you notify search engines about new or updated content on your site. Your site should be open to crawling by the search engines via your robots.txt file, it should be fast (be sure your images are optimized for speed and you are using high-quality web hosting), and avoid publishing duplicate content, which confuses search engines.
Where do I get started with SEO?
Every situation is different. If you have been developing content already, paying attention to optimizing the content, as noted above under “on-page SEO,” is important. Restructuring page and article titles and headings using keywords can improve results. Sometimes, switching web hosts will give you a boost. But everyone can take immediately steps to improve the visibility of their content.