What is SEO Anyway?
Updated: Apr 21
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that a lot of people stare blankly when I tell them what I do. Sure, there’s a solid chunk who has a cousin who does SEO or they tried a little DIY search engine optimization on the blog they wrote in college. They may get it. But this blog is for the blank starers. My mom is a blank starer, a smile and nodder. A few of my friends are, too. So, I’m going to write this as if they were actually listening when I try and explain what I do, instead of the usual zoning out and wondering when we’re going to eat.
What Is SEO?
There are nearly 2 billion websites on the internet. Roughly 250,000 - 300,000 new websites are created every single day. About 2,000 websites will be created before you finish reading this blog. The internet is a big place. Once you launch a website, it can be accessed from any place in the world with two simple things, 1) internet access and 2) your website address.
That second one is key. We usually display our website address on business cards, maybe in our office, on physical brochures, and maybe even on social media. But without this act of somehow giving someone your website address, the likelihood of a stranger stumbling onto your exact website is pretty slim. This is where SEO comes in. Search Engine Optimization is the practice of teaching search engines (like Google) how to find your website with keywords, instead of a website address. For example, if you own a bakery that makes wedding cakes, your ideal customer is most likely a bride or groom who will go to Google and search for “wedding cake bakery” or some version of that phrase. This phrase is what we call a keyword.
The job of a good SEO (search engine optimizer) is to get to know your business, your customers, and your competitors to learn how searchers are finding businesses like yours online. The idea is to help strangers find your website, people outside of your friends and family. Science and statistics have both supported Dunbar’s Theory for over 30 years. This theory simply states that each of us is only really capable of maintaining about 150 friendships. Now I admit math isn’t my strong suit. I’m a words girl, which is why I love SEO. But I do know that of those 150 people, plus the randoms we add on social media because we feel socially obligated or just because we’re curious; that number pales in comparison to the number we can reach with organic traffic using the internet.
The technical definition of SEO is a set of practices designed to improve
the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results. My explanation is more wordy but less boring. My definition of SEO is the daily, weekly, monthly, and even lifelong goal of teaching Google (and other search engines) how to find a website and send the right visitors to it.
How Does SEO Work?
I know, I know. Now you’re thinking to yourself, “So, you teach Google how to find websites. But, how the heck do you do that?!” Or maybe you’re not thinking that and you’re just doing what my mom does at this point, nodding your head and walking away. That’s cool. But if you want to learn the basics of SEO, read on.
First, let me get this out of the way. We do offer SEO Coaching Classes. Of course, I’d love for you to take our classes. They’re $150.00/class and we do like money. Who doesn’t? But that’s not what this is about. I just like teaching. SEO is incredibly complex. I even tell my students this, there is no way for anyone, anywhere to just say, “Ok! I’ve taught you SEO. You’re good to go now.” Although there are entire careers, businesses, and industries built on this topic…no university offers any sort of option for SEO as a degree in undergrad or advanced degrees. Even Google itself only offers a very basic “Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals” certification through a third party. Trust me. It’s not near enough to perform well-ranking SEO on a website. It will get your feet wet though, which is what I’m going to do here. So, let’s get started.
Fundamentally speaking, there are three main elements to SEO: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. Over the years in performing SEO for nearly 50 websites, ranking the majority of them consistently on page 1, there are a few things I’ve noticed that come into play consistently for high-ranking sites: E-A-T for SEO, consistency in content updates, and proper keyword research. Let’s knock out what I mean by these before we jump into what the three main elements of SEO are.
What is E-E-A-T for SEO?
Depending on who you ask, some will say that Google doesn’t pay as much attention to this as it once did. I wholeheartedly disagree. Here’s why. E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. As of July 28, 2022, Google released new Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. This 167-page PDF clarifies the guidelines that its testers must follow to determine a web page’s quality and whether it meets a searcher’s needs. It should be noted that these Search Quality Raters do not directly determine a page’s ranking. Rather, the results are factored into the overall algorithm. Nevertheless, these guidelines, along with nearly every algorithm update notes released from Google since 2018, have stressed the importance of E-E-A-T.
I could write an entire blog on this topic alone. But I’ll try to keep this short and sweet. Simply put, each page of your website should demonstrate that you have real life Experience in your field, that you are an Expert in your field, that you and your content show Authority, and that you and your content are Trustworthy. I always say, “we all know what we know”. This is where you prove that. Show you have experience by sharing anecdotes or examples that happened in real life. Show you’re an Expert by ensuring that your content is of high quality, truthful, and takes a significant amount of time and effort or talent and skill to create. Show you’re an Authority by referencing a “satisfying amount of information” when discussing topics on your page (linking out to other sites and having other sites link to you). Show you’re Trustworthy by creating a reputable online presence for yourself and your business.
Consistency in Content
When you start your SEO journey, because yes, it is a super fun journey, you’ll want to create a NAP file for yourself. NAP stands for Name, Address, and Phone number. This file will be your reference point to ensure that any time you create content for your business anywhere online, it’s consistent. You’ll add to it over time – things like hours of operation, social media links, payment types, etc. But the point is, that you want everything to be the same and easy to copy and paste. This is for when you create local directories, blogs, guest blogs, social media profiles, email signatures…it doesn’t matter…everything you create on the internet should be consistent. If your address is 123 N. Main Street. Do not refer to it in one spot as 123 North Main St. in one spot and 123 N. Main Street. in another. Likewise, if you have an honorific title, make sure you refer to yourself the same everywhere. Don’t be Dr. John Smith in one place and John Smith MD. in another.
Along the same lines of consistency, you’ve probably heard about this with social media, consistency is key. It’s like this with SEO, too. Although to be honest, search engine algorithms are a bit friendlier than social media algorithms. It’s still important that you consistently keep your content up to date. Google likes to see that you’re consistently refreshing the content on your site to provide relevant information. When someone searches for a keyword in your industry, who is Google most likely to display a search result for, a page that updated its content this month or a page that updated its content 6 months ago? Consistency is key. This is why our clients who provide us with fresh, relevant content will always rank higher than those who don’t.
Proper Keyword Research
Though I won’t get into how to perform keyword research, I will say that you cannot skip this step. I’ve had too many clients come to me for SEO takeovers because they had been paying other firms to do their SEO and when I got into their site it was obvious that the previous firm had a list of 10-20 keywords and that’s all they used, over and over again, throughout the entire website. This. Does. Not. Work. You must perform keyword research every single month and you must track your keywords to make sure they’re performing well. If they’re not, change them. SEO is a constantly moving target! If something doesn’t work, try something else! This is not a set it and forget it practice.
The last thing I’ll mention on keywords, just because your page is about one thing, does not mean that your keyword should be that one thing. For example, we have a few clients who are in the medical field. Let’s face it, medical terminology can be difficult for a lot of people. The internet reads between a 6th and 8th grade reading level. Now, Google has never confirmed that they rank pages based on reading level. But they have said that you should write for your audience. So, for those medical pages, if you’re writing about temporomandibular joint disorder, a lot of people may not know what that is, how to say it, let alone how to spell it to type it in a search engine. But you know what they can spell? Jaw pain. Thirty seconds of keyword research will tell you that “jaw pain” has a higher volume search than “temporomandibular joint disorder”. Don’t slack on keyword research!
Alright, let’s talk about how we actually do this SEO thing. On-page SEO starts with everything human eyeballs can see on a web page. There are over 200 different on-page SEO elements that Google’s algorithm checks for. Your SEO plugin (used on a WordPress site) or your CMS tool (sites built on platforms like Wix, SquareSpace, or Shopify) will take care of a lot of these automatically, or with a one-time setting. So, we’ll just talk about the biggest ranking factors for now. All of these are just as important as the last. Each of these should be an area of focus for keywords, as well as readability, usability, and a place to demonstrate E-E-A-T. Some of the most important on-page SEO elements are:
- Headers (H1, H2, H3, etc…)
- Alt tags for Images
- Internal and external links
- Keyword density
- Site Speed
I’ll be honest, this is the one I don’t love. This is something that you’ll find most SEO experts tend to dislike the most. You may have heard of backlinks before. This is where they come in. A backlink is when another website links to your website. Again, this blog is not a comprehensive guide on how to perform SEO. There are entire companies whose only purpose is to build backlinks. It’s a tedious job that can seem unproductive for a long time. I just don’t like it. But it must be done. I encourage you to read more on backlink building when you’re ready. Backlink building, along with other off-page SEO is important to help build your site’s authority and increase visibility. The idea is that if you have several other websites, especially those within your industry, linking to your website, it’s their way of saying you’re an authority in your field. You know what you’re talking about. If Google has an option to send a user to a website no one else links to or one that 20 other websites link to, which one do you think they’ll pick?
Thankfully, backlinks are not the only form of off-page SEO. Some other options for off-page SEO are:
- Establishing a strong brand
- Local directories (which count as backlinks)
- Social media marketing
- Guest Blogs or other content marketing
- Public Relations
- Google Business Profile
The last element of SEO is the technical piece. Technical SEO is fun for me because Garrison Agency was actually founded as an iOS app development company back in 2013. So, we’re not strangers to a little coding here and there. I’m also an elder millennial who taught myself HTML so I could make my MySpace page pretty. Annnnd…I may or may not have got bored one day at work and taught myself how to read and write in binary code. To say I’m a huge nerd would be putting it lightly. So, yes, the technical SEO element does require a bit more of an advanced skill set. There are tools that make it easier though.
Technical SEO consists of things like site speed, schema markup (sometimes referred to as structured data), sitemaps, and more. We won’t get into too much more when it comes to technical SEO. Your head may be spinning by now anyway. The good news is, that technical SEO is kind of a bonus when it comes to ranking. You don’t 100% need it to rank well. It definitely helps, but depending on your industry, every piece of it is not a must. If you do want to learn more about this stuff, shoot us a message using the contact form on our SEO Coaching Class page.
SEO Basics Recap
So, there you have it. I know it’s a lot. But, in less than 2,500 words, we’ve learned that SEO is all about teaching search engines how to find a website. We know that we do that by consistently creating content, with well-researched keywords that show that we’re an Expert, Authority, and Trustworthy. And we’ve learned that we must display each of these elements of SEO on-page, off-page, and with technical SEO. If you don’t take away anything else from this blog, I want you to take away this, just start! I know this is a blog about SEO and I’m shooting myself in the foot by saying it, but I’ll leave you with this recent quote from John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate and Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst,
“Maybe you should stop reading SEO blogs and instead do something useful for your site & its users?”
He’s a nice guy and usually not that direct. He just means…the best way to learn SEO is to do SEO!
Still have questions? I love to teach this stuff! Check out our SEO Coaching Classes!
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