Search Engine Optimization is Also Known As SEO
WE will discuss how search engines work and why search engine optimization is important.
In the second section, we’ll discuss basic techniques and important factors in SEO and search rankings.
And, in the final section of this guide we’ll discuss how to maintain and continually improve SEO long term.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is optimizing your content to drive search engine traffic to your work.
It involves gaining a thorough understanding of how search engines work and then reflecting that knowledge in your writing and webpage design to maximize traffic to and user experience on your page.
SEO is important because search engines like Google, YAHOO!, and Bing drive the majority of web traffic. Shares on social media can cause short term spikes in stats, but real, long term success comes from maximizing search engines ability to drive traffic to your page.
Not only will good SEO improve search rankings and increase traffic for the author, but it helps people interested in your topic find your page and improves the viewer’s experience as well.
SEO involves strategically using appropriate keywords, building links to your work and making your pages search engine friendly. Although it is important to understand what SEO is, it is also important to understand what SEO isn’t. While SEO can make a big difference in stats, it cannot fix bad writing or poor content. SEO can make good writing into a great, high performing webpage, but it cannot turn poor content into good writing.
How Search Engines Work
Search Engines use “spiders” or “crawlers” to build an index of the webpages available, the words on each page, and where on the page those words were located.These program robots begin on popular webpages and add important words found on the page to the search engine’s index. From there, they follow every link on the page and index the corresponding pages before using the links on those pages to go to the next set of pages, and so on and so forth. This process is known as crawling.
Once this information is gathered by the spiders, it is encoded and stored for indexing. In order to even out the difference between the time needed to search a term beginning with a popular letter like ‘t’ and a search term beginning with a less popular letter like ‘q,’ a numerical value is applied to each word. This process is known as hashing. Not only does hashing even out problems related to letter frequency, but it condenses the index. Only the numerical value and a link to the actual information is stored in the index. This increases index and search speed, especially with more complicated searches that involve multiple words.
When a user performs a search, he or she types a query into the search box. Boolean operators can be used to define specific relationships between the terms in a query. Some of the most common operators are:
- AND-requires that both terms are on the page
- OR-requires that one term or the other is on the page
- NOT-excludes pages that include the following term
- NEAR-requires that two terms be near each other on the page
- “quotation marks”-requires the query be treated as a phrase, instead of each significant word in the query being considered an individual keyword
- FOLLOWED BY-requires that one term be followed by another
These searches are defined as literal searches. Research is currently underway on concept based searching which uses statistics statistical analysis of webpages containing your query to recommend pages you might be interested in, as well as natural language searching which allows users to type a question into the search box using the simple language they would use to ask a friend their question instead of using Boolean operators.
There’s More than One Search Engine
Each search engine uses different rules for determining which words are indexed and which words aren’t. Some search engines index every word on the page. Others focus on the most common words, the words in titles and subtitles, meta tags and the first few lines of text.
If you’ve ever tried searching the same phrase on different search engines, you probably noticed that you got different results. This is because each engine uses different algorithms to weight and index keywords and determine search result rankings. Search engine ranking algorithms use website popularity, meta tags, number of back links (links to the page), keyword frequency and location and a wide variety of other factors to rank webpages and how well they correlate to viewer searches.
In addition to relevance, website popularity is taken into account in determining search rankings. As more interested users are directed to your page by your SEO techniques, not only will the techniques increase your relevancy scores, but the popularity component of the ranking algorithms will increase as well.
(For more concrete information on specific ranking factors and their relative weight please see this website.)
Your Audience is Important in SEO
Now that you know how search engines function, we need to consider how users interact with search engines. To conduct a search, the user types a few keywords into the search box and clicks enter, browses the results and selects a page to visit. If the user is unsatisfied, he or she will return to the search and select another result or modify their query for a new result list.
People perform searches because they a) want to go somewhere specific on the web b) want to do something specific or c) learn a piece of information. In order to create a high performing webpage, you need to think like your user.
Ask yourself how many of your audience’s needs can be met on your page. Add additional, relevant content that meets these needs to attract more viewers and happier views. Then ask yourself if your audience can find your page. What queries might your target audience put into the search engine? Are those keywords found in your titles, subtitles, alt text, summary and first few sentences?
Remember, building content for your users will lead to better results than trying to build pages for search engines.
SEO Is Dead. Audience Optimization Is Taking Its Place
It is easy for search marketers to get caught up in the wrong types of competitive analysis or interpret them the wrong way. The ultimate goal of a competitive analysis is not to follow what your competitors are doing, but rather to discover opportunities that competitors haven't yet found. Follow the steps below to find opportunities to outperform your competition using free analysis tools.
1. Define the nature and scope of your industry niche.
Any marketing department worth its salt has this information on file. However, these values can easily be lost if they're not kept in the front of marketers' minds. For example, examine that pet keyword ranking that a key executive insists on maintaining at position one. Is it really true to your purpose, or would another keyword generate more conversion-ready traffic? Creating an honest definition of your specific industry niche will provide the necessary information to determine what keywords you should really be chasing.
2. Determine who your real competitors are.
Forget traditional competitors or even the shop across the street. Your only competitors online are those who are digitally relevant to keywords and concepts within the nature and scope of your industry niche. If the business you've been competing with for the last 40 years isn't showing up in search, then they are not a competitor in the world of digital marketing.
So who are your digital competitors? Measure organic search visibility by searching phrases that fall in the categories that define your industry niche. What organizations consistently rank in the top 5-10 positions for these terms? These organizations are your true online competitors. The free and easy-to-use tool by Compete.com provides a good estimation of your top 5 online competitors. Spyfu also gives estimations of PPC spend for any given domain. The idea of an efficient market would suggest that a high spend for a keyword would generate a high return, so pay attention to high spend keywords. However, these organizations may not be the most efficient PPC spenders, so don't put too much weight on this information. Compare Spyfu information for your organization with your actual PPC spend to get a sense of the tool's accuracy in your market.
The best way to define competitors is through the hard work of analyzing digital relevance through observing which organizations dominate organic search visibility for topics that define your industry niche. A solid investment in this step is crucial to the structure and success of your digital marketing strategy.
3. Define your customers and their expectations.
Start with your customer personae and determine if this matches your target audience. Are your competitors attracting this target demographic? Use the free tool Quantcast to generate an audience demographic analysis. This tool is great for estimating not only the demographics of the audience that visits any given domain, but also the estimated traffic to the domain on a monthly basis.
Next, analyze the content on competitor websites that are successfully attracting your target demographic. Does this content serve the needs of your target demographic?
4. Clear out internal "competitors."
Internal competitors may include an uncooperative development team, a restrictive compliance department or departmental KPIs that aren't in line with real inbound marketing goals. These types of "competitors" tend to generate much heavier downward pressure on your success than any other outside organization could achieve. Consider these competitors to be as real as external competition when developing your strategy.
Combine the findings from each of the three steps to generate deep insights on opportunities within your industry. For example, combine a competitor's Quantcast demographics (Step 3) with their keyword portfolio (Step 1) to determine keyword value and to get a sense for conversions through demographical data. You may find that the top rankings your competitor holds may not be generating the right audience, which would be important information to consider before deciding to target the same keyword categories.
You also may consider taking Step 3 further by analyzing the content on your competitor's websites. Look for opportunities to offer resources that your competitors don't have in their content arsenal. Then use these ideas to generate value-add content that attracts visitors to your website. Finally, ensure that you are first to market by promoting your value-add content on social media platforms and industry websites.
Use these steps to generate a strong competitor analysis, but don't get caught up in worrying about your competitor's keywords, where they are getting links, or chasing their rankings. Focus on finding the areas of opportunity that fall in line with what your organization does best. Then crush your competition on these fronts!
4 Ways Big Data Is Changing SEO
In 2014, the new Top Level Domains (TLDs) were introduced to much fanfare from the press and tech bloggers. New web address endings were touted as a land rush on the internet and a game changer for marketing strategies. Despite such pronouncements, new TLDs were largely ignored in 2014, leaving some to expect an explosion in activity in 2015. However, before business owners run off to build new sites with fancy new names, it's important to separate fact from fiction regarding TLDs and to ask the question, "Will the new TLDs matter to marketers and consumers in 2015?".
As a brief primer, Top Level Domains are the endings to websites such as .com, .edu, .gov, etc. In the past, these were all handled by the ICANN, but in 2014, the door was opened for entrepreneurs to create their own TLDs that they can control on their own. So now, there are essentially an endless amount of TLDs. Business owners could pay to can have their site end with things like .xyz, .toys, .soy, .wed, and more. Nearly 4 million web sites around the world use one of the newly created TLD.
There have been many different Top Level Domains for website owners to choose from before the introduction of the new TLDs and research has shown that they work in a general sense. People know that the various country TLDs can be used to find information from a certain region of the world. Consumers generally know that .fr is for pages in France and that .ca is for Canada. However, it's not perfect, a study from Moz suggests that nearly 25 percent of Americans can be tricked into thinking that .ca is for California; so they knew that the TLD was for a region, but guessed the wrong region.
Similarly, people know that a .tv site will be about a television show, .edu is for schools, that .org pages tend to be for non-profits. The .edu and .org are the two TLDs that carry the most meaning for consumers. Searchers know that .edu resources will be more reliable since they are from schools and not from businesses. And people associate .org with organizations, groups or non profits with goals other than profit. Many people don't realize that .com itself is short for "commercial" which was chosen in the early days of the internet to identify the sites that weren't the traditional school or government based web pages that first populated the nascent world wide web.
The challenge for these new TLDs is that though people can use them to quickly understand the purpose of a site, consumers don't inherently trust sites with unusual TLDs more than ones with more traditional endings. In fact, having a vanity TLD immediately indicates that this a new site which puts the site at a disadvantage when compared to sites that have been serving customers from a .com web address for years. This is why older alternative TLDs like .biz or .info never really took off.
When NPR followed up with some of the creators of the new TLDs at the end of 2014, they found that adoption has been incredibly slow. The TLD that is doing the best so far is .xyz and even that is based on a large buy from a third party that gave a free year of .xyz registration to their clients or from people who bought .xyz domains to squat on them. A better indicator will come at the end of 2015 when we see how many people who squatted or received their new TLD domain for free decide its worth it to continue paying for it.
The international study from Moz asked users if, based solely on the domain name, they were more likely to trust an insurance quote from a website ending in .insurance. 62 percent of Americans, 53 percent of Australians, and 67 percent of marketers said they were unlikely to trust the quote based on the domain alone.
And despite what people who are trying to sell TLDs may say, when it comes to TLDs and SEO, TLDs offer no intrinsic value to improve SEO. The algorithms for search engines don't include these new TLDs as a ranking factor. These domains will show up in a generic search for a keyword and people can search by TLD extension if they want to. If TLDs become more popular, they may become ranking factors in the future (though Google says they doubt it), but for now, they are treated no differently.
Google's John Mueller recently reposted comments the company made earlier in 2014 to reiterate their position on TLD and search.
"It feels like it's time to reshare this again. There still is no inherent ranking advantage to using the new TLDs," Mueller wrote on Google+ before sharing a postfrom Matt Cutts on the subject. "They can perform well in search, just like any other TLD can perform well in search. They give you an opportunity to pick a name that better matches your web-presence. If you see posts claiming that early data suggests they're doing well, keep in mind that this is not due to any artificial advantage in search: you can make a fantastic website that performs well in search on any TLD."
The sheer amount of TLDs available also undermines one of the reasons some thought they would be so popular. When there so many TLDs to choose from, it's not as effective for squatters to try and wrap of domains with the intent of selling them later. It's not the same as in the early days of the internet. Back then, if someone had the .com you wanted, there was nothing you can do but pay them or get a different name. Now, marketers can just move to a different TLD. The introduction of these new TLDs have created so much internet real estate, it's impractical for one person to try to lock up domains they don't intend to use.
There are a lot of good reasons why business owners may want to create a site using one of the new TLDs, but it's important to be clear about what the benefits are and what is just hype. It's undeniable that business can get domain names using the new TLDs that are unavailable for older extensions. Some states are introducing TLDs for businesses in their state. So BillsGarage.com may be taken, but BillsGarage.NYC may be up for grabs.
However, other than the benefit of giving marketers more options when deciding on domain names, TLDs don't offer any intrinsic benefit to business. As the research from Moz and comments from experts at Google have shown, TLDs have no advantage over .com when it comes to customer trust and SEO visibility.
Given the challenges facing TLD adoption, it's unlikely that TLDs will make a huge marketing impact in 2015 unless there is some sort of game changing development. If you want to use one of the new TLDs to build a site with an easy-to-remember name, you won't be disappointed, but don't expect new domain endings to perform some kind of marketing magic in the coming year.