What Is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of driving targeted website traffic to your website from search engines.
Why Is SEO Important?
In short: search is a BIG source of traffic.
In fact, here’s a breakdown of where most website traffic originates:
As you can see, nearly 60% of all traffic on the web starts with a Google search. And if you add together traffic from other popular search engines (like Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube), 70.6% of all traffic originates from a search engine.
Let’s illustrate the importance of SEO with an example…
Let’s say that you run a party supply company. According to Google, 110,000 people search for “party supplies” every single month.
Considering that first result in Google gets around 20% of all clicks, that’s 22,000 visitors to your website each month if you show up at the top.
But let’s quantify that – how much are those visitors worth?
The average advertiser for that search phrase spends about 1 dollar per click. Which means that the web traffic of 22,000 visitors is worth roughly $22,000 a month.
And that’s just for that search phrase. If your site is SEO-friendly, then you can rank for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of different keywords.
In other industries, like real estate or insurance, the value of search engine traffic is significantly higher.
For example, advertisers are paying over $45 per click on the search phrase “auto insurance price quotes.”
Organic vs. Paid Results
Search engine result pages are separated into two distinct sections: organic and paid results.
Organic Search Results
Organic search results (sometimes referred to as “natural” results) are natural results that rank based 100% on merit.
In other words, there’s no way to pay Google or other search engines in order to rank higher in the organic search results.
Search engine rank the organic search results based on hundreds of different ranking factors. But in general, organic results are deemed by Google to be the most relative, trustworthy, and authoritative websites or web pages on the subject.
I have more details how search engine algorithms work later on. But for now, the important thing to keep in mind is:
When we talk about “SEO”, we’re talking about ranking your website higher up in the organic search results.
Paid search results are ads that appear on top of or underneath the organic results.
Paid ads are completely independent of the organic listings. Advertisers in the paid results section are “ranked” by how much they’re are willing to pay for a single visitor from a particular set of search results (known as “Pay Per Click Advertising”).
How Search Engines Work
When you search for something in Google (or any other search engine), an algorithm works in real-time to bring you what that search engine considers the “best” result.
Specifically, Google scans its index of “hundreds of billions” of pages in order to find a set of results that will best answer your search.
How does Google determine the “best” result?
Even though Google doesn’t make the inner workings of its algorithm public, based on filed patents and statements from Google, we know that websites and web pages are ranked based on:
If you search for “chocolate chip cookie recipes”, you don’t want to see web pages about truck tires.
That’s why Google looks first-and-foremost for pages that are closely-related to your keyword.
However, Google doesn’t simply rank “the most relevant pages at the top”. That’s because there are thousands (or even millions) of relevant pages for every search term.
For example, the keyword “cookie recipes” brings up 349 million results in Google:
So to put the results in an order that bubbles the best to the top, they rely on three other elements of their algorithm:
Authority is just like it sounds: it’s Google’s way of determining if the content is accurate and trustworthy.
The question is: how does Google know if a page is authoritative?
They look at the number of other pages that link to that page:
(Links from other pages are known as “backlinks”)
In general, the more links a page has, the higher it will rank:
(In fact, Google’s ability to measure authority via links is what separates it from search engines, like Yahoo, that came before it).
Content can be relevant and authoritative. But if it’s not useful, Google won’t want to position that content at the top of the search results.
In fact, Google has publicly said that there’s a distinction between “higher quality content” and “useful” content.
For example, let’s say that you search for “Paleo Diet”.
The first result you click on (“Result A”) is written by the world’s foremost expert on Paleo. And because the page has so much quality content on it, lots of people have linked to it.
However, the content is completely unorganized. And it’s full of jargon that most people don’t understand.
Contrast that with another result (“Result B”).
It’s written by someone relatively new to the Paleo Diet. And their website doesn’t have nearly as many links pointing to it.
However, their content is organized into distinct sections. And it’s written in a way that anyone can understand:
Well, that page is going to rank highly on the “usefulness scale”. Even though Result B doesn’t have as much trust or authority as Result A, it will still perform well in Google.
(In fact, it may even rank HIGHER than Result A)
Google measures usefulness largely based on “User Experience Signals”.
In other words: how users interact with the search results. If Google sees that people really like a particular search result, it will get a significant ranking boost:
Two Key Parts of SEO
On-page SEO is making sure Google can find your web pages so they can show them in the search results. It also involves having have relevant, detailed, and useful content to the search phrases you’re trying to show up for.
This deals with trying to get other websites to mention (and link to) your website.
The focus of Off-Page SEO is acquiring backlinks from other websites (known as “link building”).
My #1 SEO Tip for Higher Rankings
Create a website that people love! Search engines are designed to measure different signals across the Web so they can find websites that people like most. Play right into their hands by making those signals real and not artificial.
Google SEO Starter Guide: There are a lot of helpful “intro to SEO” guides out there. But only one of them comes straight from Google. A recommended read for anyone serious about mastering SEO.
SEO in 2019: The Definitive Guide: A primer on the biggest SEO trends in 2019.
How to Learn SEO (In Record Time): A collection of curated resources to help you learn about search engine optimization, including lots of step-by-step tutorials and case studies.