What is SEO and How Does it Work?
Understanding and properly implementing SEO is proving to be one of the most important areas of digital marketing. It is not only enough to have well researched and dynamic online advertising, but to maximise the amount of traffic that reaches it.
The modern consumer is almost always connected to the internet by some means and relies on it for nearly all of their product or service inquiries. A search engine is the primary vehicle by which this type of consumer identifies and decides their purchase decisions.
This means that the search engine results these people see are one of, if not, the most crucial places for an organisation to be recognised. These search engines have well developed and evolving algorithms that are designed to provide the highest quality results to their users.
Many organisations have historically misunderstood this concept and therefore underestimated its value to digital marketing. This mistake can cost far more than initially realised as it can almost be guaranteed that a business’s competition is effectively utilising some form of search engine optimisation.
It has been proven that the ranking of a website in search results can be what either drives or diminishes a business’s earnings. The businesses with the best online presence are those who have successfully mastered and implemented proper search engine tactics.
What Does SEO Mean?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimisation, a digital marketing discipline that focuses on the manipulation of search engine results. This manipulation relies on a combination of the clever use of keywords and quality or relevance of a websites’ content.
Unlike paid ad results, SEO is designed to encourage and control the organic digital presence of a website. The relevance of and authority by which a website is linked on other sites will also determine its place in a search engine’s rankings.
The higher this ranking is, the more likely a potential customer will end up navigating to the website and therefore leads to more business. Understanding the fact that search engines are trying to provide the most relevant results to a user’s search queries is key to appreciating the necessity of SEO.
SEO Terms To Be Aware Off
Keywords: Keywords are the bread and butter of optimising search results. In this context, keywords refer to single words or phrases that are important in classifying a particular website’s content.
A user’s search query by default will involve a few keywords as the subject matter of what they are searching for. Understanding what terminology an audience is using and then implementing it in a website’s copy is a huge part driving site traffic.
Keywords are also the phrases/words which people enter into search engines in order to find a product, service or just an answer.
Keyword stuffing: As useful as keywords are, too many of them used at once will result in ‘keyword stuffing’. This means that a websites’ content is purposefully saturated with keywords or phrases to artificially increase its relevance. While this may have been successful in more primitive search algorithms, it is currently more likely to negatively affect a websites’ ranking.
Google’s example of keyword stuffing:
Backlinking: Backlinking is simply a description of when a businesses’ website appears linked in other websites and is one of the easiest and most effective methods in SEO. The relevance and quality of this linking are the primary factors that determine its effect on a websites’ ranking.
Meta title and meta descriptions: They are short piece of text underneath a search result. It is not usually actually present on the website itself, but serves to give a brief explanation of its content. Therefore it’s important that a meta description contains the key words or phrases that a user is searching with. Below is an example:
As you can see the meta title is “Google News” and below the URL is the meta description.
Duplicate content: This refers to when a website has repeated information in different areas. Search engine algorithms will penalise a website for doing this as it is less likely to provide engaging content for users. Making sure that a website’s copy is as varied as it is relevant is a critical part of SEO.
What is the difference between SEO and PPC?
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) are both digital marketing campaigns used by website owners. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses in different contexts. With SEO dealing with maximising the organic traffic of a website, PPC differs in that it involves paying for a higher visibility in search engines.
Here is an example:
As you can see all the top search results are marked as “Ad” – they are basically paid advertisement which is also called PPC or AdWords (if the ads are in Google). Below the ads are organic results (SEO).
Strengths of SEO:
- It’s organic – search engine optimisation is all determined by the quality and authority of the links back to a website. SEO is about earning a high ranking by being a legitimate answer to a user’s search queries. What this means is that leads generated by SEO will tend to be more profitable and reliable than those that came from paid ads.
- It’s reputable and generates trust – A business that has done proper SEO will have a greater mindshare in the market. This is rewarded with more loyal customers who trust its products and services. The more independent and authoritative the backlinking target is, the greater trust is generated.
- It’s cost effective and sustainable – While effective SEO will still cost time and resources to manage, the ongoing benefits of a well implemented SEO campaign will almost always justify the cost.
The clicks through to the website, while not necessarily free to generate, aren’t paid for directly and are not dependant on any ongoing payment plan. The benefits of SEO are far longer lasting than that of PPC.
Weaknesses of SEO:
- At the mercy of the algorithm – Many search engine algorithms are routinely updated and refined. SEO efforts that may have been effective a month ago may no longer be as useful in newer version of the search engine. This means a business needs to spend resources constantly staying ahead of these changes.
- It’s harder to start with – Depending on the market, larger organisations will already have a greater mindshare and be hard to organically rank against.
- Requires specialised content development – Not all businesses will have the means or connections to generate meaningful backlinks and implement SEO in their content.
Strengths of PPC:
- Get what you pay for – PPC marketing is always listed at the top of the search results and give far more flexibility in the information that is displayed. More of the marketing message can be displayed here than with an SEO result.
- Product visualisation – With PPC there are options to allow photos of a product to appear in the top results. This is a feature not available via SEO and is a distinct advantage to the right business.
- Greater control and targeting – PPC ads can be tailored to specific keywords and phrases as well as geographic/demographic factors. This means a message can be highly targeted to the right audience with a guaranteed level of exposure.
Weaknesses of PPC:
- High cost – Depending on how far reaching the campaign is, PPC can prove extremely expensive for a business and may not be sustainable. PPC can also lead to bidding for ad space against competitors. Competitors can also easily replicate this type of advertising if they can afford to.
- Not as trusted – Paid results are disclaimed as such and therefore many advertising savvy users will avoid them completely, opting to trust organic results more.
A digital marketing strategy than can incorporate elements of both SEO and PPC advertising will be the most effective. A few key advantages of this synergised approach are:
- PPC analytics can help inform SEO content.
- A combined volume of traffic from several types of user. This also means greater visibility and mindshare in the market as both paid for and organic results are showing.
- Keywords can be swapped between SEO and PPC depending on their cost and relevance.
How SEO Works?
SEO works in two major ways, on and off the website, other words called: “on-page optimisation” and “off-page optimisation”. Methods relating to both will need to be used in conjunction for effective SEO. Off page content needs to relate to something that is featured on the website, and vice versa.
On-page optimisation refers to everything on the website itself that contributes to an organic search result. This includes practises like optimising titles, URLs and the density of keywords. The sites HTML code is also a part of the on-page optimisation. It is basically fixing your website.
Most importantly the content itself is what most affects the websites’ organic ranking. Remembering that search algorithms are trying to give users what they’re searching for, having content that most accurately answers their search queries is the most important part of on-page work.
The content must supply a demand and be of high quality. Images, internal links and general quality of content are all factors that keep a user engaged with the website. Ultimately this user engagement results in a better ranking.
The second part of on-page optimisation is making sure all of its content is linkable. Having information locked behind a login screen or a clumsy URL hierarchy will hurt the site’s linking potential and in turn its search ranking. This ties directly into off-page SEO as the quality and density of backlinks are determined this way.
Off-page optmisation includes some internet activities outside your website in order to push your website to the top of search engine results (eg. to the top of the first page in Google). It is an ongoing process – month by month.
It is everything that occurs on other websites that affects a business’s website ranking. Link building is the primary way off-page is used and materialises in a number of different ways.
Natural link building requires no deliberate action by the business other than having quality content. A natural link occurs because another website genuinely wants to link its audience to another business, usually because they see value in their product or service. This is rarest but most valuable form of link building and has the most positive impact.
Manual link building refers to when a business co-operates with another website in order to have their link appear in their content. This can involve paying for directory listings or simply convincing the link target that there is value in using the business’s link on their site.
The more relevant the content of the target link is to keywords, the better the result will be. For example, a link on a website that’s related to that type of product will help the business rank higher.
In-house link building is the least effective in the modern SEO landscape. This involves prompting site visitors to share links through signing up or leaving a comment. Contemporary SEO algorithms punish websites for using this approach and thus it is not commonly recommended.
Why Does SEO Take So Long?
Like anything that is organic in nature, SEO takes longer to achieve the desired result than many other forms of digital marketing. When playing the game of manipulating search engine results, the golden rule is to understand what appeases the search engine.
Most often, the search engine’s algorithm is trying to provide the best end user experience. The best experience comes from a user finding what they want or need in as little searches as possible. Therefore the most relevant and authoritative content that is of good quality will be ranked high for a user to see.
Optimising a webpage to fit into this process is slower and more difficult to achieve than a traditional paid strategy. However, the long term benefits of well implemented SEO are far more sustainable and generate greater mindshare in the market.
Building a sincere online reputation will always take longer than paying for exposure.
How long it takes to see the results?
Proper SEO is an ongoing process. The results may begin being visible any time after a few weeks, to 6+ months (depending on the complexity and popularity of the targeted keywords/phrases). Some of the keywords will be on the first page of Google within 3-4 months.
What You Should Take Away
Search engine optimisation is clearly something any smart business would like to have on their side. It means maximising a business’ potential in the online space by delivering the most honest and well-presented content for people to discover.
In contrast to other channels like TV or radio, the user is actively interacting with the medium in which digital marketing occurs. That means content does not only need to be well presented, but discoverable in the most natural way possible.
Search engines are desperately trying to appease their users, and businesses’ are desperately trying to appease those search engines. This cycle challenges traditional advertising methodology as displaying messages in an intrusive or forceful way is actively discouraged by the end user and therefore by the search provider.
In acknowledging these facts, SEO is a discipline that requires greater care from any business that wants to be successful in an increasingly crowded digital marketplace.
Why is SEO so Expensive?
If you have had a little shop around you are probably starting to realise just how costly hiring an SEO professional can be. There is certainly a reason for this (we don’t just pull a number out of our head and that’s that). Like a lot of other things in life, you get what you pay for.
So, if you are using a cheap SEO service and think you are getting a great deal, think again. Cheap service almost always translates into cheap quality. The repercussions for your website if you decide to choose a cheap, poor quality business pretending to be an SEO company could be huge.
Basically SEO has a high price attached to it because of the sheer amount of continuous work it requires. SEO is not a set and forget kind of thing. As well as this, once you reach the first page, the work doesn’t stop here. You need to continue working just as hard to maintain that high position.
Google (and other search engines) and constantly updating and changing their algorithm, this means that something which was considered best practice yesterday could be completely irrelevant tomorrow.
The sheer time and effort it takes to ensure a website has quality backlinks that also have a high level of relevance is significant. No reputable SEO firm is willing to put all that hard work and continuous effort in for a measly couple of hundred dollars per month.
As well as this, if you stop SEO, all the work you have done will slowly unravel and competitor after competitor will jump ahead of you in the rankings. When it comes to quality SEO, this will stay in effect for longer.
Whereas cheap SEO companies will tend to use unethical (black hat) methods, link farming for example, and you are likely to receive a penalty from Google. If the offence is serious enough, you could even be banned from Google altogether and when this happens, there isn’t much you can do about it.
How to get started?
Looking for a quality SEO firm with a proven track record of getting clients to the first page of Google and helping them stay there? Well, look no further than SEO Shark! We are here to help you on your journey to success. Be sure to get in touch with us today!