What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
In its simplest terms, search engine optimization (SEO), is making your website available to be found organically (i.e. you’re not paying for it) when people search online using keywords that are relevant to your business and what you sell. As an example, if you’re a local bakery, you probably want your website to come up high in search engine results for keywords such as bakery near me or in [location], wedding cakes, cupcakes, cake decorating classes, planning a party, etc.
SEO spans from technical to creative elements that are required to improve rankings and to drive site traffic. There are both onsite and offsite SEO components including everything from the words on your website to the way that other sites link to your site. Much of SEO is making sure that your site is structured in a way that search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! understand.
However, SEO isn’t just about making sure your website is search engine-friendly. Over the years, search engines have become increasingly sophisticated in their algorithms and have put an increased value on ranking websites based on being user-friendly for people, and not just search engines.
Do I need SEO for my website?
Search engines drive the majority of website traffic. While social media, referral sites and paid ads are attributed for traffic, search engines remain the majority leader across product, service and content sites alike.
If search engines aren’t finding your site or ranking it, your target audience is not finding you when they search online and you are missing out on major opportunities.
If your business needs leads and customers, you will likely benefit from some level of SEO. Click below to request an SEO Audit to see how your website is performing and how it could improve.
Understanding how search engines work
Search engines have two primary purposes:
- Crawling and indexing
- Providing users with a ranked list of websites that they’ve deemed most relevant to the user’s search terms
To help Google crawl and index your pages, things like having clean page layouts with clearly identifiable headlines and sub-headlines make it easy for Google to determine what the site/page is about and who it’s for which naturally benefits the user.
When delivering results, search engines first return results that are relevant based on the search query, and second, they rank those results based on the popularity of the website serving the information. It’s both relevance and popularity that earn ranking.
How do I build ranking?
Since ranking is based on relevance and popularity to a large extent, what must you do to build rank?
First, it’s important to understand that just because you invested in a beautiful website doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed your site will be found when people search online. If you want your website to be found and ranked by search engines, you must understand and abide by Google’s rules for ranking. Why? Because Google is the ultimate authority for site ranking.
To understand popularity and relevance, I’ll use an analogy that most people can relate to – presidential candidates. Surveys show that Barack Obama has high popularity and high trust among people. Most people know who he is (popularity) and most say they trust him. Donald Trump has high popularity but low trust, most people know him but less say they trust him. Ben Carson has low popularity but high trust. If these people were websites, Google would give high ranking to Barack Obama because he has earned both high popularity and high trust (according to surveys).
Similarly, to rank with Google, websites must show relevance to the user’s search term and be popular. Here are a few of the ways:
- Relevant content. Google crawls and indexes the pages of your website to understand what keywords you should rank for. That’s why it’s important to write website copy with a keyword strategy. In our earlier example, if your bakery website indicates that you have authority as a bakery, that’s one important element of SEO. But Google doesn’t just believe what you say, it likes to have proof that you are what you say you are.Google looks at what sources and websites you link to as well as what sources and websites link to your site to make sure you have relevant content that is popular with other brands, blogs and media.
- External Links. External links are links from your website to other websites. For example, here’s an external link to a Moz article on The Beginners Guide to SEO. LimeLight Marketing now has an external link to Moz. By linking to high-quality websites that help your visitors, you can improve your reputation and ranking with users and search engines. People like information that is validated by other sources, especially sources of authority. Google is the same. So linking to quality sites makes your site more authoritative. At the same time, if your site links to low-quality sites, Google will downrank your site. So external links are good IF the sites you link to build your authority and rather than diminish it.
- Inbound Links. Inbound links are links coming to your website from other sites. Similar to external linking, you want to build inbound links from sites of high quality and break links to sites of low authority. Inbound links tell search engines that your website is an authority on a certain topic – so the more inbound links you get from high-quality, high-authority sites, the better your website ranks with search engines…and vice versa. There are many strategies for building up the number of inbound links to your website. Here’s one post we recommend that teaches you 32 ways to build inbound links.
- Build Citations. Citations are like the Yellow Pages. They are your business name and address on other web pages – even when there is no link to your site. Some examples of citations are the online Yellow Pages directory, Google Plus, local chamber of commerce pages, local business associate pages, Yelp, etc. Citations are an important element of SEO. That’s why many business work with agencies who can continually build and monitor citations. Businesses with a greater number of citations will generally rank higher than businesses with fewer citations, if other factors are equal. But beware – paying for lots of citations isn’t generally looked upon favorably by the Google gods.
How does SEO relate to Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is all about attracting, nurturing and delighting customers with relevant and engaging content. This content comes in the form of blogs (such as this one that you’re reading), infographics, whitepapers, ebooks, landing pages, social media, email marketing, podcasts, and much more. SEO is important in earning search engine ranking and making it easy for prospects and customers to find you online. In fact, it even fits into a broader inbound marketing strategy.
The very first stage in the inbound marketing process is attracting people to your site. SEO feeds the first step of inbound marketing. It attracts your target audience to your site where you can engage them with relevant and engaging content.
As we discussed, one key job of search engines is to crawl and index website pages. Inbound marketing has SEO sprinkled everywhere because it feeds those engine spiders with keyword-rich, relevant content.
Inbound marketing exponentially increases your ranking for keywords within your strategy by continually keeping your website full of fresh, keyword-rich content that draws people to your site and gives them a reason to share your content and giving other sites a reason to link to your website (remember those inbound links we talked about?)
While your SEO strategy is driving traffic to your website, your inbound marketing strategy is capturing leads, and nurturing them with drip email campaigns to maximize the value and return of each and every lead. Your inbound strategy also works to convert customers into brand advocates who leave reviews and create other user-generated content which also fuels SEO. Find out how your business can be using SEO to generate online leads here.
SEO and inbound marketing have become so entwined that it’s often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but they are both important for lead generation.