Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving a website or web page so it increases organic traffic quality and quantity from search engines. Successful SEO means a web page will be more likely to appear higher on a search engine results page (SERP). The most popular search engine is Google, but other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, etc.) also have their own unique algorithms for crawling web pages and returning the top search results.
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How does SEO work?
Utilizing SEO goes beyond just the basic search queries from search engine websites. These search engines use a crawler to gather information on the sites and pages comparative to the search query topic. This information is then indexed and generated through an algorithm. The search results from the algorithm will then list the highest-ranking indexed content relevant to the keyword searched in the search engine.
There are many factors that determine the ranking of a particular page, including:
- Keyword density, or the frequency with which a targeted word or phrase appears in the content of the page. SEO is improved by keywords that are used appropriately.
- Bounce rate, or how often a user visits the page and exits without visiting any other pages. High bounce rate can detract from page ranking.
- Metadata, or the information that summarizes the content on the page.
- Social media traffic, which indirectly signals that a page contains content that’s in high demand. High traffic from social media is beneficial to SEO, but a lack of social media traffic doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact.
- Links, including backlinks, outbound links, and internal links, indicate credibility and relevance to and from other content on the internet. Google looks favorably on sites that strategically direct traffic to other sources.
- EAT Google’s acronym for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness), which signifies that a page has a reputable author.
- Security, as signified by a site’s SSL certificate, which search engines use to verify that site has a secure connection and it’s safe to share personal information.
- Load speed, or the time it takes a web page to completely load.
- Mobile responsiveness, or how a web page adjusts to different screen sizes.
- User experience, or the features that could improve (or diminish) a user’s interaction with the content on a page.
How to measure SEO
Monitoring tools like Google Search Console make it easy to get instant data on page-specific or site-wide search engine performance. Users can find information on which queries yield the highest amount of traffic for a given date range, as well as the position a page ranks for specific keywords.
While the search ranking of a page might be the strongest indicator of SEO performance, there are many other success indicators that are valuable when measuring SEO. Google Analytics, another website reporting platform, provides context for other metrics that might be directly or indirectly impacting a page’s SERP ranking. These metrics include:
- Time on page
- Pages per visit
- Mobile traffic
- Bounce rate
- Returning visits
On-page and off-page SEO
On-page or on-site SEO, refers to the practice of optimizing web page content for search engines and users. On-page SEO focuses more specifically on what the site or web page is about.
The most common on-page practices include optimizing title tags, headings, URL structure, image alt text, page content, schema markup, social tags, and page experience.
Off-page SEO is related to the methods and strategies performed outside of your website to impact your rankings within the search engine results pages. Off-page SEO also affects search engine scenarios, such as higher ranking on search engines and page authority.
Off-Page SEO often involves gathering links from other websites that point back to your site, also known as backlinks. Using backlinks with off-page SEO includes the number of referring domains, the authority of links, dofollow versus nofollow linking, anchor text, and relevance of the content linked. Off-page SEO can also include brand mentions and testimonials as well.
White hat vs. black hat SEO
White hat and black hat SEO are specific techniques used to drive traffic to websites. White hat or ethical techniques are used to drive more traffic to websites, optimize content for the long term, and give the site visitors more content related to their interests.
Some white hat practices include providing quality and relevant content, including well-captioned images, relevant links, clean HTML, and unique relevant titles and tags.
In contrast, black hat techniques provide short-term solutions to trick a search engine’s algorithms into ranking a site or page higher by treating it is as unique content. Some black hat methods that are used include creating duplicate content, using invisible or stuffed keywords, cloaking or redirecting users, and using irrelevant links for the sole purpose of ranking higher on search engines.
- Semrush – A all-in-one tool that conducts keyword research, tracks keyword strategy used by competitors, runs audits of websites, and optimizes backlinking opportunities.
- SE Ranking – Single platform that performs tasks such as keyword research, competitive analysis, rank tracking, website audits, backlink checking, and more.
- Ahrefs – Primarily used to analyze a website’s link profile, keyword rankings, and SEO health. This tool is also used to conduct keyword research for Google, YouTube, and Amazon.
- Conductor – This tool assists with tracking and discovering high-ranking keywords for SEO optimization and organic content analytics.
- Siteimprove – Focuses on keyword insights, content optimization, search engine analytics, backlinks, and on-page diagnostics.
- Surfer SEO – Designed to optimize blog posts and articles, this SEO program does so by analyzing a “500 + on-page” signal in one sweep allowing for higher-ranking content SEO.
- BrightEdge – Ideal for mobile search queries, this tool includes a customizable dashboard, reporting, forecasting, recommendations, backlink management, and competitive analysis.
- SpyFu – This program searches for any domain and sees every place competitors have shown up on Google, including every keyword bought on Google Ads, each organic rank, and all ad variations in the last 15 years.