The SEO Basics

Welcome to the first post in our blog series, SEO 101. This week we’ll cover the fundamentals of search engine optimization and move on to more nuanced topic in the coming weeks. If you have any questions you’d like us to cover, please drop us a line and we’ll try to answer your question in a future post.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is a strategy used to increase the quality and quantity of your website traffic, and increase brand awareness through organic search engine results.

The process of optimizing websites and webpages involves analyzing user intent. This means looking at what people are searching for, what keywords are being used and what type of content they are trying to find (videos, photos, blogs, etc.). This is one part of SEO that is critical to the success of a website. If you can identify how users search for what they need, then you can structure your site in a way that will appeal to them.

Another important part of SEO is creating your content so that it is “SEO-friendly.” This means having content that search engine crawlers can discover easily and understand. In practice, this means organizing your content with appropriate headings, use of meta descriptions and alt tags, and most importantly, a link architecture that emphasizes important, corner stone content.

The Basics

Whenever someone uses a search engine, they are essentially using a public software that has explored billions of pieces of content. This software (Google, Bing, Duckduckgo, etc.) then returns results that best match the search query based on the content the engine has discovered. Search engines try to discover everything on the internet, from PDF’s and blogs, to images and videos. This process of discovering content is called crawling, and once the content has been crawled it is then indexed. These topics are covered in other blogs.

What are organic search results?

When it comes to SEO, the first thing to understand is organic search results. Organic results simply mean search results that are not advertisements or paid links. There was a time when every search query returned a standard 10 blue links, or a list of the top 10 results. But now that is changing as search engines improve their services.

Nowadays the search engine results page (SERP) is filled with a lot of useful features that are relevant to the user’s query. These features include local maps, image previews, reviews and Wikipedia snippets. While these features create richer, more interactive results for the user, the organic results are pushed farther down the page.

The search result below shows how search engines used to show results. The top 10 results are shown without any other features.

Screenshot of 10 blue links search

Now let’s say you want to buy a smartphone, so you research “best smartphone” for some guidance. The image below shows you how the SERP has changed the way it displays results. You can see the ads at the top, the featured snippet, the top 3 results, an online reviews section and videos related to your search.

However, as you can see there are fewer organic search results. The ads are placed by the search engine for companies bidding on search queries and keywords. The featured snippet can give you an answer right off the SERP. This is very useful for those trying to find answers to questions quickly. The videos feature shows some relevant YouTube videos based on your search, and the “People Also Ask” box can show some other searches that users have done after searching for the current query. All of these features have pushed the organic results farther down the page and onto the second page, making it crucial for websites to optimize content for search engines if they want to be visible for potential clients and customers.

There are a few SERP features that are organic, like the featured snippets and “People Also Ask” box. These can be influenced by SEO, and if your site is featured then this is a big bonus. Bear in mind that search engines profit from advertisements, so all these features are meant to keep users on their platform. On the other hand, there are some SERP features that can rarely be influenced by SEO, like Wikipedia or WebMD.

The Importance of SEO

Websites have many ways of attracting web traffic, from advertisements and social media campaigns to online platforms and referrals. However, the best way of increasing traffic is through better SEO. This is because organic search results are much more credible to users than paid advertisements.

A study done by jumpshot.com shows that only about 2% of online searches resulted in the user clicking on a paid ad. On top of that, creating meaningful content that is optimized well will result in long-term traffic growth. Advertisements need constant funding, but well-ranked content will consistently earn you traffic and improve your SERP ranking.

How should I optimize my content?

There are many ways to go about refining your content. You could do some beginner SEO yourself, hire a professional, or even contract with an agency. This all depends on the intricacy of your website, your willingness to learn and what outcome you desire.

It is important to understand that many experts can provide SEO services, however choosing a good company is crucial to the efficiency of your project. At Clicked Solutions we utilize proven, ethical SEO strategies that improve your page rank long-term without the use of quick-result gimmicks that may earn penalties for your site in the long run.

Understanding White hat and Black hat SEO

When it comes to optimizing websites, there are things that you should do and things to avoid. White hat refers to those practices that will not violate the quality guidelines that search engines have implemented for website owners. Black hat tactics violate those guidelines and can cause your site to become penalized or deindexed (removed from search results). This can cause some serious damage as your site will lose page rank or be completely removed from search results until you fix those violations.

Search Engines and the SEO industry

Search engine companies want to help website owners have successful websites. Google has created the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide to help beginners implement basic changes to their website. Search engines publish guidelines to help web developers create beneficial content. There are some variations between the major search engines, but the main principle amongst them all is this: “don’t trick the search engine” and provide a great user experience.
Below are some basic principles from Bing and Google about their webmaster guidelines.

Google Guidelines

Do This:

  • Create content for users instead of search engines. Content should be readable and engaging without a lot on emphasis on keyword phrases or awkward link building.
  • Be honest with users about the product or service you offer
  • Consider what makes you unique against your competitors. Highlight the service/product that you offer that is valuable or engaging and market that.

Don’t do This:

  • Publish automatically generated content
  • Take part in link schemes
  • Cloak your content – showing users one version of content and search engines a different version
  • Publish content filled with hidden links and text
  • Publish content that is plagiarized or unoriginal
  • Create doorway pages – pages that rank very well for a specific search in order to draw higher traffic to your website

Bing guidelines

Do This:

  • Make sure your titles are relevant, clear and easy to notice.
  • Social influence and social media shares are great indicators of your user perception and directly impact your ranking over long periods of time.
  • Ensure your page speed is fast.
  • Make sure to use alt attributes for images so that Bing can crawl pages easily and understand the content.
  • Give users meaningful and easily found content.
  • Have descriptive and keyword friendly URL’s that are concise.

Don’t do This:

  • Have a webpage full of thin content – content that is filled with ads, outbound links and useless content
  • Duplicate/plagiarize content
  • Have a keyword stuffed page
  • Cloak your content
  • Participate in abusive link schemes

That’s it for the SEO basics blog. I hope this blog was able to helped you understand a little bit about what SEO is and how it works. Check out our other blogs for more information about SEO and website optimization.