If you’ve done any research on how to grow your website online, you’ve likely run into articles about SEO talking about organic traffic, ranking, and a whole bunch of other marketing jargon.
Which leaves just one question… what the heck is SEO anyway, and why do you need it?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process of optimizing your website’s technical setup, content, and your marketing so that search engines can properly crawl, index & judge the relevance of your website…so that your website’s page will appear more visibly and more often for search queries related to your website.
So, I’m going to break it way down. Here’s exactly what SEO is and why you need it.
What is SEO (in English)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about making your site & your site’s pages more relevant for search engines so it will show up more visibly for different search queries (aka “rank higher” – even though that term is very outdated).
* For the purpose of this article, I’m going to use “Google” interchangeably with “search engines”, as it’s the largest and most widely used search engine and most SEO work focuses on getting your site to rank in Google search results.
Let’s say you’re interviewing two different job candidates.
The first shows up to the interview underdressed with a botched up resume that’s difficult to navigate. He has no references and doesn’t answer any of your questions in detail.
The second shows up looking top-notch with a clear, organized resume. He has tons of references and answers each of your questions in extreme detail, giving you the exact information you’re looking for. Plus, you’ve heard of him before in the industry. Naturally, you trust him.
Which one do you hire? The second one, of course.
This is essentially what SEO is all about…but the HR person is Google and they are finding someone at the request of their boss (searchers). When people talk about “doing” SEO, they’re talking about making their site the best candidate for the job interview.
When someone searches for something on Google, Google tries to provide the best, most relevant, and most trustworthy resource for the searcher. They’re all about user experience (which makes sense… they want searchers to use their platform to find information!).
Which means in order to make your site “SEO-friendly”, you’ve got to “optimize” your site for Google… or in other words, you’ve got to become the best candidate that the interviewer (Google) is looking for.
But how do you do that? What credentials is the interviewer really looking for?
What Affects Your Site’s SEO?
SEO is a massive subject, but for the purposes of understanding what it does and why you need it, let’s keep it simple. Really, SEO boils down into three components: technical, on-page, and off-page. To keep with our interview example, each of these components are areas the interviewer looks at to deem whether you’re the best candidate for the job. Let’s break each one down in detail.
Technical SEO is all about ensuring Google/Bing bots (the tool search engines use to check out your site) can visit your website, navigate the site, understand the information (AKA figure out what you’re talking about), and add that data to its index. In SEO jargon, this is known as “crawling” and “indexing”.
If you want a deeper dive, check out “Technical SEO for Nontechnical People”. For today’s purposes though, what YOU need to know is that part of the job interview means your site needs to be well organized and able to be read by Google.
The good news is, many website platforms like Shopify, self-hosted WordPress, WordPress.com, and many website builders, etc. already solve most of the technical issues for you. Which means you just need to make sure your on-page content is on point, which brings me to…
The second component of SEO is all about making sure you have relevant content on your website (hence the term on-page). This is where keywords come into play. On-page optimization involves incorporating the right keywords on your website and making sure your content is laid out in a coherent way.
Remember, Google is all about user experience, which means if your website is hard for a user to follow (AKA your link to the About Page really links to the blog), the Google isn’t going to be on board with that.
There’s a whole host of information and processes you can follow to make sure your on-page content has the right keywords and makes sense from a user experience perspective. Check out this piece I wrote about the concept of keyword mapping and these articles cover some basic on-page SEO concepts like keyword research, title tags and meta descriptions, and using Google Search Console and content research (plus some additional concepts for local business).
The third component of SEO is known as “off-page”, which is really just SEO speak for getting links. However, there’s a huge caveat here… not all links are created equal.
Let’s go back to the job interview example. If you’re talking to a candidate who gives you references like his best friend, his neighbor, and his best friend’s dad… how are you going to feel about the quality of those references? What about when you compare them to candidate number two’s references, which are his current district manager, his boss from his previous internship, and a colleague on his current team?
The same concept applies to links. Good, quality links improve your reputation. Sketchy links you can buy for $5 harm your reputation. So, when off-page SEO work is done correctly, it means going after reputable links that show your content (or on-page SEO work) is truly valuable and vouch-worthy. This also means that if your on-page content is done correctly, you might naturally collect more reputable links, which means off-page comes a bit more naturally.
So… why do you need SEO?
The short version is that most all Internet users use Google.
Even if you don’t focus your marketing efforts on organic search traffic, your customers are still going to use Google. If you aren’t at least there, then your competitors will be.
The long version is that the power and volume of organic traffic really cannot be understated. Google processes 3.5 billion queries per day. And for most queries, most of the clicks go to an organic result. If you’ve ever run any AdWords campaigns where you’re bidding on keywords, you know bidding on these keywords can be quite expensive. Which means if you can show up for them organically (or optimize your website for this), then you can save a boatload of money.
But not only are you saving cash… you’re getting qualified visits. SEO gets even more valuable when you start to look at intent. For example, imagine you’re searching for a new swimsuit for a long distance race. If you were to Google, best swimsuit for long distance races and you find an amazing article with great information on swimsuit comparisons as well as a link to buy, you’d probably go ahead and purchase from that resource, right?
That is the power of SEO.
Something to keep in mind though is that SEO is the tortoise of the tortoise and hare race. It’s slower, but it keeps going… and going… and going. Like the flywheel, it continues on its own stored energy.
Which means the exact value of SEO is difficult to calculate. How can you project the lifetime value of continuing to show up in organic search results and capture qualified clicks for no cost at all?
You can’t. All you can say is it’s valuable.
Now that you know what SEO is and why you need it, you’re probably wondering how the heck you implement this on your own website. I’ve provided a few resources below depending on which stage you’re in on your SEO journey. For a full training, check out DistilledU — by far the best & most reasonable SEO training on the web.
If you’re a beginner, start with…
- How to use keywords on your site
- How to do keyword research (for beginners)
- How to use Google’s free SEO tools
If you’re looking to get better at SEO, try…
For implementation and daily work, check out…