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SEO, or search engine optimization, is the best way to get your brand in front of customers
If you've built a great website, the next step is to bring visitors. To do that, web searchers need to be able to find your site. The best way to bring traffic to your site is through SEO.
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of tailoring a website to rank well in search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. In the early days of the internet, this could be accomplished by stuffing a page with high volume keyword search terms, regardless of whether they made sense in the context of the page.
But search engines have become incredibly sophisticated. As they have, merely working keywords into text has become ineffective. And as search engines have grown in their level of sophistication, so has the practice of SEO.
Page ranking is where your page sits in the SERPs, or search engine results pages. Pages that sit higher in the search results tend to bring in more traffic. Good SEO should have your site ranking in the first page of the SERPs.
Beyond ranking, page visibility is how prominently your page appears in the SERPs. Search engines have a number of features beyond just a list of ranked pages (we'll get into some of these features later). With well executed SEO, you could see your site appear in several different features of search results pages.
Why do you need SEO?
You could have the most beautifully designed website in the world, but without SEO no one will find it. SEO makes your site visible and discoverable.
SEO makes your business discoverable, and brings more people to your website. But the traffic generated by SEO isn't just digital. Consumers expect local businesses to appear in search results. In fact, 72% of consumers who perform a local search will visit a store within five miles of their location, and 70% of customers say they visit a store based on information they found online. Moreover, 88% of consumers who search a local business on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.
Knowing you need SEO and knowing how to do it are two very different things. To understand SEO, it's first important to understand how search engines work.
Crawling and indexing
Search engines find website content by crawling and indexing. Crawling is when a search engine bot analyzes the content on your page. It will scan the HTML code to determine the content, and then follow to other linked pages on your website.
Indexing is the process of adding your page to search engines. If a search engine crawler determines your site is eligible, it will add your page to its index, meaning it will be able to be found through search
Ranking is the process of adding indexed pages to search results. Pages are ranked in terms of their relevance for a particular search result. A single page can rank for a variety of different search terms.
Search engine features
Search engines also have features beyond the ranked list of search results. Appearing in any of these features will enhance your site's visibility. Some of these features are:
Search engines will place advertisements near the top of the page of search results. These ads are for companies who have paid to appear for particular search terms. Ads aren't placed due to their SEO value alone. They're placed by the amount the company bid for a particular search term as well as the quality of the ad.
Featured Snippets often appear above ranked search results, and are text taken directly from a website that is meant to provide a direct answer to the user's question. A Featured Snippet includes a link to the site the text is taken from.
People Also Ask
The "People Also Ask" feature is a list of search terms related to the original search term. The list tends to appear near the top of the search results. It's presented as a collapsible list, and clicking on items in the list expands the list with linked search results and generates more related search terms.
The Knowledge Graph appears in a box to the right of the search results. It will present a variety of information related to the original search term, and will often include related searches.
Now that you understand how search engines work and some of the features of search engine results pages, it's time to dive into how to make your site visible in the SERPs. A lot of factors influence SEO and can help or hurt your site's rankings and visibility.
The number one action you can take to rank well in search is to produce relevant content. The job of search engines is to return results that answer the question a user is searching. Like any business, search engines want to satisfy their customers. This means serving up the most relevant results for search queries.
In this regard, SEO really is a meritocracy. If you produce high-quality content that provides value to users, search engines will reward you.
On-page SEO is everything you do on your website to improve its search rankings. This can include things like having titles and descriptions that match the keywords you want to rank for, having properly formatted text that includes relevant headings and subheadings, making sure all the links are working properly and making your site easy to navigate.
Off-page SEO consists of actions you take outside your website to build up your site's ranking and visibility. This can include building links to your site from other websites, gaining links from social media platforms and social bookmarking from sites like reddit.com.
Technical SEO is all about how your site is built. Search engines prioritize sites that show certain technical characteristics that make them easier to crawl and index, as well as show trustworthiness.
Some technical SEO considerations are having a secure website, making your pages load fast and making sure your site is mobile-friendly. Your site also needs to be structured in a way that's easy for search engines to crawl, and easy for them to understand how different pages relate to each other.
Link-building is one of the most important aspects of SEO. This is the process of linking to other pages, both on your site and to and from other sites.
Internal links are links to other pages on your website. Linking between pages on your site helps search engines determine which pages are high importance, and helps them understand how the different pages on your site relate to each other.
Inbound links are links to your site from other website. Search engines look at inbound links as a vote of confidence in your site's content. It's a signal to search engines that your site is offering useful content.
However, search engines don't just tally up links and declare the site with the most inbound links the winner. There are sophisticated processes for weighting the value of links coming into your site. A site with a few links from trustworthy and relevant sites will generally rank higher than a site with many links from low-quality websites.
Local SEO is the process of helping a site rank for location-specific searches. For example, if you own a bakery in Chicago, local SEO would help you rank for searches from nearby customers. Local SEO is a powerful tool for local businesses, as 46% of all searches on Google are seeking local information.
How do I measure results?
SEO takes time. You won't see your site rank on the first page of Google overnight (unless you're incredibly lucky). But SEO is also measurable, which means you can keep track of your progress.
Good SEO will boost the traffic to your website. Pay attention to Google Analytics and track the traffic trends for your site. After you've employed an SEO strategy, you should see your traffic begin to rise. The great news is that traffic is a major ranking signal for search engines, so the better your SEO, the more traffic you'll get, which will make your SEO better. It's a virtuous cycle.
Page ranking is the ultimate measure of your SEO, but it isn't the end goal in and of itself. The end goal is to increase your traffic, leads and revenue. But page ranking will help you get there.
To measure your ranking, make sure you have in mind which search terms you're targeting. Then regularly check the SERPs for those terms to see where your page appears. Remember to search in Incognito mode (for those of you using Chrome).
As mentioned above, inbound links serve as votes of confidence for your website's content. It's how search engines can tell you're offering something of value. Pay attention to the sites linking to you. If you lose a backlink, don't be afraid to reach out to the site's owner and see what you can do to get it back.
Once you've created a page, you want it to be indexed so it can appear in the search results. If it's not being indexed, there could be a problem with the page. You can check your indexed pages using Google Search Console, and you can even manually submit a page for indexing.
User behavior can give you a good idea of whether or not your site's content is hitting the mark. Google Analytics allows you to track user behaviors like the amount of time people spend on each page of your site, where they navigate from those pages and how many people bounce off your site before actually engaging with your content.
The ultimate goal of SEO is to boost your business' bottom line. Traffic and page rankings are great, but if they don't convert into sales then all your efforts will have been wasted. While conversions aren't a signal of good or bad SEO (conversion rate optimization is something entirely different), conversions are your goal. Track your conversions to make sure your SEO is delivering the results you need.
How can I implement SEO for my business?
SEO is a hard slog. It takes time to get results and it takes constant work to maintain them. But it's a discipline you can't afford to ignore. If you want to get started with SEO for your business, there are a few steps you can take.
First you need to decide what terms you want to rank for. Have a look at some of the keywords people are searching relating to your industry, and then look at the pages that are ranking for those terms. Study them to see how they answer the user's intent, and think about how you can better answer those searches.
Keep track of SEO trends
SEO is a constantly changing discipline. Search engines regularly update their algorithms to become more sophisticated and intuitive, and to return better, more relevant results. That means you have to stay ahead of the curve by paying attention to these changes.
There are some great resources for tracking SEO trends. We're fans of Moz Blog and Neil Patel.
Create great content
The best step you can take to dominate the SERPs is to create high quality content that provides value for readers. Good content gets linked to from other good content, it gets traffic, and it gets the attention of search engines. As we said above, search engines want to return the best, most relevant results for their users. If you create great content, you'll be rewarded in the SERPs.
Mastering SEO requires a broad skill set, from technical know-how to networking to content creation. If you're running a business already, it's a pretty tall order to add all these skills and tasks to your packed schedule. This is why it pays to talk to an expert.
How much does it cost to hire an SEO expert?
There are a variety of solutions to help you with SEO. The cost varies significantly depending on the solution you choose.
Cost of hiring an SEO expert
In-house SEO expert
$84,172 USD per year
Between $75–100 USD per hour, or $1,000–3,000 USD per month on retainer
Freelance SEO expert
The average project on Freelancer is completed for $218.62 USD
How do I hire a freelance SEO expert?
A freelance SEO expert can help you boost your search rankings while staying within a limited budget. To find the right SEO expert, post a project with the details about your website, what you're trying to achieve, the sorts of search terms you're looking to rank for and the timeframe and budget you're working within.
Within minutes you'll begin receiving bids from qualified SEO experts. Have a look at the ratings of freelancers who bid on your project. You'll be able to see at a glance the projects they've completed on time and on budget, and you can check reviews from past employers.
Once you've awarded your project to a freelancer, communicate with them about your needs and expectations. They'll do the hard work for you and provide you with regular reports on their progress.
Remember, SEO is a long-term strategy. It's likely you'll be working with your freelance SEO expert for some time. Keep in regular contact as you watch your search engine rankings rise.