SEO is constantly evolving to keep up with algorithm changes and the development of advancing online technology... but some things never change. Here's some SEO basics you can rely on, in a format you can understand:
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) encapsulates all activities that contribute to getting a website's pages to rank at the top of search results for target keywords. Areas of SEO can be broken out into two categories: Technical SEO (keyword-agnostic) and SEO-Driven Content (keyword-specific).
Key SEO activities include:
- Optimizing your website's code and internal links to ensure it is accessible to search engine crawlers, is easy for search engines to interpret, and provides a good user experience as related to website functionality
- Optimizing your website's content to ensure that it is relevant and of quality as related to target keyword searches
- Optimizing internal links between pages on your website to ensure a good user experience as related to navigating throughout the website
- Promoting content to attract external links to your website's pages
- Monitoring rankings and traffic on your website to track progress (Often, SEO monitoring and reporting also includes measuring the impact of generated traffic in terms of business objectives for the website)
- Competitive Analysis: Every rank decision considers not just what you're doing, but what every other competitor is doing as well. This means that SEO can never be done in a vacuum - competitors are always a relevant consideration.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO encapsulates 1) performing tech audits by utilizing a crawler to automatically identify issues that could prevent webpages from ranking high in search results, and 2) finding solutions to fix these issues, including (at times) collaborating with development teams to find the best solution.
Technical SEO is concerned with ensuring that search engines can crawl and index content on the website, as well as interpret the meaning of content through use of tagging. Beyond this, technical audits identify potential issues in user experience that can prevent your web pages from ranking high in search results. Tech audit items related to these factors can be categorized as shown below:
Crawl & Index: Can the search engine crawl and index your content?
To make sure that search engines can crawl and index your content, your tech audit should include items related to:
- Links (internal and external links are important to getting your content crawled)
- Indexing (sitemap, robots.txt, assigning pages not to be indexed, items related to duplicate content)
Interpret: Can the search engine interpret your content?
To ensure that search engines can easily interpret the meaning behind your content, communicate the context of the content with SEO-friendly markup:
- On-page elements
User Experience: Is your website accessible and user-friendly?
It's always amazing to me how machines can serve the experiences of humans - items related to user experience usually make up the bulk of items included in a tech audit:
- Site Speed
- Mobile responsiveness
- Quality of Experience
Depending on your SEO audit tool, "Quality of Experience" items can span any or all of the above types of checks: readability, misspellings, content freshness, thin content, navigation, broken links, validation errors, and status code errors.
What About Content?
"SEO-Driven Content" can be differentiated from "Technical SEO" in that technical SEO is keyword-agnostic whereas SEO-Driven Content is keyword-specific and focuses on ensuring that content, internal linking, and information architecture speak to the search intent of target keyword searches by helping searchers meet their goals associated with their keyword search. “SEO-Driven Content” usually involves keyword research to identify and select keyword targets, as well as optimizing content for search—including optimizing internal links between pages and promoting content to attract external links.
Important things to remember for marketers and writers hoping to win in search with content quality:
- It's about Search Intent, not exact match keyword usage: Search engines are only getting better at interpreting the words used in search queries and across content on the web. You don't need to focus on exact term usage - focus instead on aligning with what searchers want when they search with the query you're focusing on.
- A search engine's goal is searcher satisfaction: Machine learning makes it easier for search engines to do tests on samples of keywords in order to make better predictions about what type of content will satisfy searchers when they search in different ways. Align with the search engine: be thoughtful about how to help searchers meet their goals.
- Get inspired by your competition: Reviewing top ranking results for keywords you're targeting can be an excellent resource for telling you what type of content has been useful for those searchers in the past. It's great for getting rankings, but it's also great insight for how to connect your users with content they'll appreciate.
- Optimizing for Voice Search and Featured Snippets is about short answers: If you can get them a good answer that's short and sweet, while simultaneously building intrigue so that they'll want to read more, you'll have mastered the art of getting in the answer box and making it count. If you're wondering how to optimize for voice search, the answer is to keep it short and sweet so that a search engine will choose to pull your answer into the answer box.
- It's about topics as well as individual keywords: Just because you have a great answer for a search query, doesn't mean you've created a great content experience for that searcher. To give yourself the best chances of ranking for any keyword, it matters whether you have complementary related content on your website, and it matters how you link between these related pieces. But there's no need to complicate things - once you've identified related concepts that you'd like to cover, link between content pieces in a way that will provide a good experience for users.
Well, there you have it: SEO without the frills and funny language. Hope this bare-bones overview gave you a good place to start on your next SEO initiative, or perhaps filled a few gaping holes to make SEO a little bit less of a mystery.
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