What Is SEO Exactly and Why Is It Important?

SEO has long been a buzzword in the marketing industry. At its most basic, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website to generate more organic traffic

To understand the total concept of SEO and its importance to your business and its website, we have to go a lot deeper than just the basic definition.

What is SEO?

When someone searches the internet using a search engine, it generates a list of results. We refer to those results as a search engine results page or SERP. These are the search engine's most relevant results for the user's specific query.

The idea behind SEO is to make your website appear on the SERP organically, as close to the top of the list as possible. Recognize that the top few results represent paid advertisements, and they are not organic at all. Paying for ads may be easy, but it is expensive and unsustainable. 

There might be thousands of individuals and businesses vying to reach the first page of search results for any given search term. So, optimizing your website to make it appear the most relevant to particular searches is essential for generating organic traffic to your site.

Search Results and Relevancy

Before we can talk much more about SEO, let's explore a bit about how search engines work. 

When an individual types a search query into a search engine like Google, it looks at millions of data points around the internet to reveal the most relevant search engine results.

All major search engines have an algorithm, and like most, Google's algorithm is almost constantly evolving to determine what ranking factors are the most important and to address any issues that crop up. 

But, relevancy is almost always the critical factor in determining what results end up on the SERP's first page. After crawling the web for results and indexing them in an organized way, the search engine will rank them and create the search result page. The ranking factors for crawlers include things like keywords, backlinks, and consistently well-organized, high-quality, engaging content. 

The process of good SEO always starts with analysis. Site SEO requires that you understand keywords (as well your focus keyword), meta tags, how to optimize a title tag, alt text, and more. The explosion of artificial intelligence and its applications to data mining and harvesting means that much of keywords analysis is becoming dominated by machines. But understanding the interplay between solid use of keywords on your site and the algorithms that search engines use to scour the web will always be beneficial to your SEO marketing strategy.

SEO Tactics

Within SEO, there are a few different specialized niches. SEO specialists or services may have expertise across the different types of SEO, but they can also focus on one specific area or aspect. SEO goes way beyond simply identifying a relevant keyword, and you may need help when it comes to managing all of SEO or just one specific SEO factor.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO focuses on ensuring that search engines can crawl and index a website without encountering any issues. Broken links or other coding mistakes can reduce the visibility of a website. So technical SEO targets maintaining that visibility by identifying and fixing crawl errors and optimizing site structure for fast loading time on both desktop and mobile devices. 

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is promotional. Rather than focusing on a website's design, infrastructure, or content, off-page SEO uses a suite of techniques to increase a website's popularity. 

Off-page SEO specialists will try and generate backlinks from other websites in a process called link building. A backlink helps increase the brand authority and an audience's trust in the integrity of a website. 

For instance, if you have a website that sells car parts, backlinks from other websites for automotive magazines, car clubs, auto mechanics, and car repair journals will build your brand authority. 

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on the content of a website and the techniques that can make it friendlier to both users and search engines. Some of the most critical factors in on-page SEO include optimized page titles (they show up in search results and should be engaging), H1 or headline tags (the information shown at the top of a webpage), and optimized sub-headings (H2, H3) for the various sections. 

The result of successful on-page search engine optimization is a website with a descriptive and interesting title, H1 tags (page headings) that accurately describe each page’s content, and relevant content that is sub-headed and easy to read for users and the web crawler's bots. 

Content SEO 

Within the world of on-page SEO, content SEO is the idea of creating quality content that users enjoy, engage with, and relate to. It should also be understood easily by a search engine. It might seem a little bit technical. But, at its heart, content SEO begins with finding the most relevant keywords for your website. 

Taking the next step and creating content that not only incorporates those keywords into your content but expands on them to engage with your audience in an organized and relatable fashion is vital. This content marketing strategy is where you can put site SEO to work for you and develop your brand image, demonstrate your philosophy, and create a relationship with visitors to your site. 

SEO Keyword Research

To determine the best keywords for your SEO strategy, you have to research the keywords that are most relevant to you and your competition. 

For instance, if your local gas station has a website, their most relevant keywords might include things like convenience, oil-change, and gas. The next step is designing good content that uses those keywords. And, it is easy to discover the most relevant keywords with an SEO tool.

Now, the focus moves to long-tail keywords or search queries of two words or more that narrow down the scope of a search. In our same example, those long-tail keywords might include 'gas station,' 'gas station cheap fuel,' 'gas open 24 hours,' 'gas station car repair,' 'gas station flat tire,' and 'gas station tow truck.' 

This example is pretty low-level, but it should help you get the gist of how head keywords attract a broad search audience and how long-string keywords refine that search. Good quality content on your website using both types of keywords is key to search visibility.

Local SEO

Another type of SEO is local SEO. Local SEO is an SEO tactic that optimizes a business, product, or service for a location-specific search. A search engine determines local results to show the user based on their location (based on their IP address for desktop users and geolocation for mobile users). 

For instance, suppose you have a barbershop in Queens, New York. Your website, where you book all your appointments, competes with every New York barbershop. But if someone searches for a 'barbershop near me' and their geolocation is in close proximity to your store, your optimized website will show up on their map and perhaps even near the top of the SERP.

How much does SEO cost?

The cost of an SEO program varies by how intensive it is. At its least expensive, technically savvy website owner could do their own SEO and digital marketing

There are subscription services that provide keyword and competition research that are reasonably priced. Sometimes, SEO services also specialize in particular niches or one particular SEO technique. 

If you want to hire an SEO company or SEO specialist to help you crack the code of relevant keywords and title tags, the price will significantly increase. And if you also want that service to generate all of your content and optimize every single meta tag on your site, the costs can rise pretty dramatically.

Large companies that contract with SEO marketing agencies shell out significant dollars to ensure that their website is among the most visible to search engine algorithms and their target audience.

It's good practice to ensure that you are on the right path with your SEO efforts. It is beneficial to explore relevant information and comprehensive guides to SEO's art and science. This exploration will help you understand more about SEO strategy and optimize your website and content marketing for success. 

SEO: How Does it Work?

SEO works through a process that optimizes your website for a search engine algorithm. We have already explored a few steps along the way, but optimizing your site for search engines will yield increased relevancy for your site. 

This SEO effort will help it become more relevant to Google's algorithm and all major search engines. Finally, your more relevant ranking will generate more organic traffic for your website. Clicks from a target audience are the lifeblood of online marketing and profit. 

And, you can use data harvesting to collect non-personally-identifying information on each visitor to further refine your strategy while still maintaining a privacy policy

Basic SEO Terms

Understanding the basic terms related to SEO is essential for laying a strong foundation for your website. 


Keywords are words and phrases that searchers use to find online content and that brands can then use to connect with the audience that is looking for their products and services.

Meta-title and Meta-tag

Search engines use these two code elements to display their listings. They show a meta-title as the search listing's title. A meta description provides content for the little blurb below it. But above that, they use both to understand the page's topic further.

Title Tag, URL, and H1 Tag

Ideally, place a title tag as close to the start of the title as possible. Google is known to put more value on words at the beginning of the headline. Your URL or web address should also include your keyword and as little else as possible. Your H1 tag should also contain your focus keyword or secondary, long-string keywords. 

Alt Text and Image Filename

Search engines don't see images. Instead, they see file names and alt-text descriptions. So, make sure you are using filenames and alt text that contains your keywords.

SEO Content Marketing

An SEO expert will probably be pretty quick to say that high-quality content is essential for making your SEO strategy work. The days of simply focusing on keyword research and inserting them aggressively into your page's content are now mostly in the past. 

That means that SEO content that is a melange of keywords with little other value is dead on arrival. Instead, there has to be much more focus on quality content that will appeal to both search engines and your audience. 

SEO Content Writing 

SEO content writing has become the new rage in the world of SEO. It's essential to develop content with transparency, knowledge, and brand philosophy. This important concept of relating to your audience and potential customers demonstrates your understanding of your audience. By relating to them, you are building a relationship. 

That sort of effective and relevant communication, delivered as part of an overall SEO content marketing strategy, will almost certainly yield more visibility, more clicks, and more organic traffic for your website. 

Why is it Important?

To a large extent, the likelihood of a search engine finding your website relevant to the searches of your target audience will determine the success of your SEO strategy. More than 75% of clicks go to the first five search results. 

Consider expanding your presence on social media, enhancing your communication skills, and expanding your data collection. These are all tools in your SEO arsenal, and they can be used to generate content that pinpoints your audience and generates the sort of trust and brand authority you need to meet your long-term SEO goals. 

To understand your audience is to understand their searches. For example, use your Facebook page and a wide variety of content to see which posts are the most engaging. Have your back office call every customer after every sale and ask what was done well and what could use improvement. Collect the data that is important to understand for your business to succeed. 

Now let's apply those same techniques to a real-world example. The swimming pool service company you own has a daily Facebook post. Many of them only generate a few likes and shares. But, you have three posts with short videos that went viral: Tips for maintaining pool chemistry, testing your pool water, and cleaning your filter. Consider publishing a blog post for each of those topics on your website. 

Your sales staff reports back that your customers all reported that your field technician was very friendly, but he didn't do an excellent job explaining the service he was performing. Create specific content on your website that shows a step-by-step demonstration of your top 5 field service jobs and publish them to your website. 

Your administrative team collates the data from a customer survey and reports that 50% of your customers are parents of small children, just the sort of people who want to have a swimming pool in their yard but also the most likely to worry about swimming accidents. 

Think about the most relevant to them and consider a product demonstration blog on your website for a splash alarm that detects a child falling into a pool. 

You have completed your own SEO optimization research, and you've gone much deeper into SEO than the SEO keywords. You have developed the brand authority and trustworthiness you need to build a relationship with your target audience. Now sit back and watch your hard work pay off as you rise up the ranks of the SERPs. 

What is the difference between black hat and white hat SEO?

Black Hat

Black hat SEO refers to a set of techniques and practices used to increase a website's rank in search engines through methods that violate the search engine's terms of service. The name 'black hat' is drawn from American movies depicting the old west, where the bad guys wore black hats to distinguish them from the white-hatted good guys. 

Some of the black hat techniques include manipulating and automating content, using hidden links or domain names, keyword stuffing, extreme keyword density, or reporting competitors for breaching the terms of service.  

White Hat

White hat SEO is just the opposite, referring to techniques that are within the terms of service and can improve a website's SERP rankings. We've discussed many of these techniques throughout this SEO guide

By delivering quality content, an easily navigated and reliable web page, rapid loading times on mobile and desktop platforms, and using descriptive meta tags with many keywords, your SEO techniques can yield better search engine optimization and maintain your integrity and that of your website and your business.  

What should be avoided in SEO?

One of the critical things to avoid in SEO is losing your authenticity. If you simply try to develop click-bait content that lacks genuineness and quality, you're setting yourself up for failure. 

In fact, by creating authentic connections with your target audience through content, you will easily outpace those who abuse SEO through black hat techniques or unscrupulous practices. 

A Black hat SEO tactic may yield results for a short time. But, maintaining a fundamental understanding of the right way to do things and adhering to the terms of service is sure to help you prosper in the long run. You can even use specific techniques to maintain the best practices for business-to-business SEO, an area where it’s easy to step afoul of the terms of service. 

Specific techniques to avoid in SEO

SEO is always evolving. Not only do shifts in search engine algorithms require constant tweaking of your SEO strategy, but the opposite is also often true. Algorithms are sometimes adjusted to address what search engines see as intrusive or unscrupulous SEO practices

One particularly new development has been the move to penalize websites for the use of interstitials that disrupt the user's experience. An interstitial is basically a popup that interrupts the flow of content structure on a website for the purposes of an ad or promotion. We've all seen them, and they are annoying. 

Google, in particular, has moved to address them by penalizing their use. There are other techniques that are on the forbidden list: 

Keyword stuffing

Don't repeat your website's keyword or keywords excessively. This technique to increase the number of keyword instances on your site is more likely than not going to hurt your rank on the SERPs. Attempting to manipulate your ranking by forcing a keyword into random paragraphs is a recipe for bad content and plummeting search rankings. 

Duplicate Content

Don't 'copy and paste' from other website's content. Even copying that isn't done verbatim and swaps brand names, products, or locations is likely to run afoul of the search algorithm of major search engines like Bing and Google. 

Keyword Heavy Anchor Text

Anchor text that contains a high density of keywords may raise suspicions that a link was not acquired naturally through backlinking to your high-quality content. 

The Bottom Line

To avoid SEO mistakes, take a fundamental approach that remembers two tenets of quality SEO. First, design your content for your audience, not a search engine. Second, don't do things you wouldn't want to explain to Google or another search engine. By following these two principles, you can avoid the majority of pitfalls that you want to avoid. 

How to Track and Monitor SEO Results

Measuring and tracking your SEO results is of vital importance. Suppose you can't accurately gauge the effectiveness of your SEO efforts and the strategy you have implemented. In that case, it is impossible to understand what you're doing well and what can use improvement. 

That lack of understanding can have a devastating effect on your content marketing budget if you continue throwing good money after bad ideas and implementation. 

Your SEO performance is relatively easy to track through software platforms that present SEO analyses in the form of an easy-to-read dashboard. At a glance, you can see real-time representations of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are critical for improving your search engine ranking

SEO KPIs typically focus on a few SEO metrics:

  • Bounce rate, or the number of individuals that visit your website but never click on anything
  • Keyword ranking or keyword rank tracking, which are the keywords used most by your competitors
  • Organic traffic, the number of visits to your website initiated through search engines

By tracking these SEO metrics, you can remain agile enough to respond to changing dynamics and drive more traffic to your website. That is very likely to increase your sales as well. 

We can conduct an SEO audit to look for ways to improve your search ranking so contact us today!

Drew Hendricks
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