SEO or search engine optimization is a branch of digital marketing that deals with attaining more organic (non-paid) traffic through improving your search engine rankings by optimizing your website and overall online presence.
Its history dates back to the end of the previous millennium when search engines first became a thing. From its humble beginnings, it turned into an indispensable marketing strategy and one of the fastest-growing marketing-related industries.
Before we delve more deeply into the specifics of SEO, we should get one thing straight. Although they are offered by the same digital marketing companies, often as part of the same package deal, PPC (pay-per-click advertising) and SEO are not the same.
Search engine optimization’s sole focus is improving your organic search presence, while, as its name clearly suggests, PPC focuses on paid online ads. That said, SEO and PPC are very much related and combine to create the concept of Search Engine Marketing.
Why Do I Need SEO?
When people use a search engine like Google, they are looking for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question. The essence of search engine optimization is presenting your web page as the answer to that question or the solution to that problem.
The business that you’re in doesn’t matter. Whether you’re a blogger, perform a service, or produce and sell a product, SEO is essential in 2021.
Think of search engine optimization as all the things you do to make Google and other engines consider your website a high-quality source of information (or products/services) related to a particular problem. This makes the search engine rank your site higher for the search queries you’re interested in targeting.
We should note that this tutorial is predominantly focused on Google SEO as this particular search engine is the one dominating the industry. That said, most if not all of the points laid out here will apply to optimization for any other search engine out there.
Key Aspects of SEO
Thankfully, you don’t need to know every single factor that Google’s indexing algorithms use to rank web pages. You should, however, know the three essential components of SEO if you’re to achieve any success in this department. They are the following:
- Technical SEO — Also referred to as on-page SEO, this pertains to all the technical aspects and meta-information you’ll need to use to make your website easier to crawl and evaluate.
- Content — Despite what you may have heard, there are no shortcuts to getting a high rank on Google. The content is the meat and potatoes of your SEO strategy; low-quality content leads to low rankings, no exceptions.
- Link Building — Backlinks are used to increase your website’s domain authority and the authority of the individual page they link to. Although low-quality content pretty much guarantees a low ranking, the opposite is unfortunately not necessarily true. You may have excellent content and a website that is perfectly optimized from a technical standpoint. Still, it may take years until you gain enough authority unless you actively pursue it through link-building efforts.
On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO
As soon as you begin sinking your teeth into SEO, you’ll start running into terms that categorize its different approaches and aspects. On-page vs. off-page is one of the most often seen distinctions out there, so we’ll discuss it further here.
As you might imagine, on-page and off-page SEO differ based on where you perform the activities belonging to each category.
On-page SEO pertains to anything you can do on the site itself. This includes the optimization of the content itself but also concerns technical aspects such as:
- Keyword research
- Title tag optimization
- Page performance
- Internal linking
This side of the division aims to create the best content and user experience possible while making the page easy to interpret for the search engine itself. High-quality customer service also plays a role in the user experience and should not be overlooked. After all, the future of service is digital.
As we mentioned earlier, the terms on-page SEO and technical SEO are often used interchangeably. However, they can also be used to distinguish between content-related optimization such as meta titles and descriptions (on-page) and technically oriented optimization such as page speed (technical).
On the other hand, off-page SEO mainly deals with obtaining high-quality backlinks to show Google that your site has authority and can produce value to the visitor. Link building techniques include, but are not limited to:
- Broken link building
- Email outreach
- Guest blogging
This edge of the proverbial SEO sword also works closely with other branches of your online marketing strategy, such as branding and social media marketing. All of these aspects combine to build authority and trust for your website.
The critical thing to remember here is that any successful SEO strategy must have both on-page and off-page activities working in unison.
White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO
In Western movies, black hats and white hats were used to represent bad guys and good guys, respectively.
Although there are no outlaws and bandits in the world of SEO, the concept is used to describe two types of SEO marketers. White hat SEO describes those who adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines, while black hat SEO describes those that don’t.
Black hat SEO practitioners use spammy and less-than-ethical means to improve the rankings of their websites. These techniques can yield great results over the short term, getting a website to the top quickly. However, these websites are often sanctioned by search engines once they get a sniff of suspicious activity.
Conversely, white hat SEO describes all the SEO techniques “permitted” by the rules and guidelines. This may not be the quickest strategy, as it takes some time for all the quality content, user-oriented design and top-shelf optimization to produce good rankings.
As is often the case, slow and steady wins the race here, and most SEO experts agree that white hat SEO is the way to go. That said, there are differing opinions regarding the ethicality of different link-building techniques, such as link buying.
Should I Do My Own SEO?
SEO is not rocket science, but it isn’t easy either. Some concepts are quick and easy to learn and implement, while others will take more time and effort. While you can do SEO on your own, we would recommend hiring professionals if you want to save your time for all the other things that an entrepreneur needs to do.
When looking for SEO professionals, a good rule of thumb is to focus on your area and hire locally. If your company is Chicago-based, hire an SEO and design agency from Chicago to take care of this side of your marketing efforts.
The reason for this is that local SEO plays a massive role in your success, and SEO specialists based in your area are much more likely to have the necessary tricks up their sleeves to get your business to the top of the search results.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of extra time on your hands and are willing to invest some of it into learning a skill that will likely be useful in business for some time to come, go for it. There are many resources online (both paid and free) where you can learn the basics of SEO and move on from there.
Tomas is a digital marketing specialist and a freelance blogger. His work is focusing on new web tech trends and digital voice distribution across different channels.