What is SEO?
Like many technological terms nowadays, SEO is an acronym, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. But what does it really mean to optimize for a search engine?
If someone has ever used the internet…ever, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll have used a search engine, even if they aren’t sure exactly what it is. Think Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
Once a website is online, search engines use bots to crawl pages on the site, and then the bot goes on from site to site, collecting information about those sites and their pages and putting them in an index.
Algorithms then analyze pages in the index, taking into account hundreds of ranking factors or signals, to determine the order pages should appear on the search engine results page (SERP) for a given query.
These ranking factors have many facets that help estimate exactly how well a website can give the searcher what they’re searching for.
An analogy from Search Engine Land explains it perfectly:
Think of the index like a giant library where a librarian (representing the search engine) can pull up a book (a web page) to help you find exactly what you’re looking for at the time.
In this scenario, the librarian has read every single book in the library and can tell you exactly which one will have the answers to your questions.
Ok, but how is it related to web development?
The purpose of implementing SEO on a website is to increase the site’s visibility when people search for products or services related to your business. The better visibility your pages have in search results, the more likely you are to garner attention and attract prospective and existing customers to your business.
As was mentioned before, increasing the visibility of a website (aka being high on the list of the search results page) depends on many factors.
While there are over 200 different factors that Google bots look for when considering how to rank a website, below is a list of common factors that have proven to be significant over the years.
Known SEO Factors:
A Secure and Accessible Website
This factor has to do with having a properly-coded website, as well as a robots.txt file that tells search engine bots where they should and shouldn’t look for site information. Additionally, there should be an XML sitemap that lists the website’s pages.
As far as security goes, a secure website should have a URL that contains HTTPS—represented by the padlock icon on the left side of the search bar. This means that there is an extra layer of security since the SSL certificate signifies that the data between a website and a user’s browser is encrypted.
Search engines give preference to content that’s new and unique so it’s important to create posts that answer readers’ questions, provide value, and are original. Regularly updating posts and adding new information also sends a positive signal to the search engine.
Be sure not to post duplicate content on a site as it can negatively impact SEO.
Website Loading Speed
This aspect looks at the speed, responsiveness, and how quickly different elements like fonts and images load on a webpage.
While it is important for a site to be fast, this factor is important mainly to better the experience of the user on a website—so being the fastest isn’t going to guarantee a higher ranking automatically.
And though ranking factors don’t often change, in 2021 Google introduced a new ranking factor, Core Web Vitals, as a part of the page experience update.
While Core Web Vitals quantify a person’s experience on your page, it does so by measuring:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint): How long it takes for the visible elements on a page to load.
- FID (First Input Delay): How long it takes for a page to register the first click or tap on that page.
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): Whether or not there are unexpected movements or disruptive pop-ups on the page.
This is a ranking metric that shows a site’s expertise in a particular topic and its ability to rank on search engines. The main way to do this is to acquire high-quality backlinks, which is when other websites link back to and reference said content as an authority on a subject.
Search intent is basically what a user is looking for. Understanding what type or format of content a user is looking for when visiting a site is crucial for this element.
Keywords and keyword phrases are the search terms users use to look up things on search engines—making it important that the website contains keywords the audience is searching for so the site is brought up in the search results.
For this reason, use the site’s keywords in various ways and in different locations on the site to ensure that it’s keyword optimized.
There are several places it can be beneficial to include keywords on a site. A few places to start are:
- Title Tags – Include keyword(s) at the start of a post’s SEO title tag.
- Image Alt Text – Since search engines cannot read images, add keywords in the image alt text section to describe the visual.
- Include Keywords in H2 and H3 – Further improve SEO organization by using keywords (or variations of the keyword) in H2s or H3s of posts.
- Add Keyword in URL – Another keyword optimization practice is to include a keyword in the URL of the post.
With this in mind, it may seem tempting to include keywords in as many places as possible. This phenomenon is called keyword stuffing; when a keyword or primary search term is used over and over on a website—often at the expense of natural phraseology.
Avoid this at all costs. Not only does it result in a worse user experience, but it can also result in a website’s SERP ranking getting worse.
This SEO ranking factor is included since more people use mobile devices than desktops to access the web these days.
A few ways to improve mobile-friendliness are to have a responsive site that automatically resizes content to fit the device, use large fonts for easy readability on a small screen, and to include accessible menus so the site is easy to navigate.
This list of factors is by no means exhaustive (in fact, not all Google ranking factors are even known) and is often hotly debated amongst SEO professionals.
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How to improve a website ranking with SEO?
Armed with the knowledge of what’s important for successful SEO—how does one implement these changes?
Before going any further, it’s important to note that these factors focus on improving the SEO of a website organically. When talking about search results, the term “organic” refers to search results that are unpaid.
With so many SEO tools on the market, it can be challenging to know where to start this process.
Below are a few tools that we use at Tenacity to improve our own SEO as well as do some basic SEO improvements for our clients.
The Yoast plugin is quite versatile and can help with many of the key factors to improving a site’s SEO. Below is a snippet from the Yoast website describing the several capabilities this tool has to offer:
“Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin that helps your site perform better in search engines with a variety of features. It takes care of the technical aspects of SEO. That leaves you free to perfect your posts and pages with the help of our SEO and readability analyses”
Google Analytics can be added to a website to track the website’s performance in various areas (i.e., number of visitors, how long they stay, and where they go).
This information can be helpful in a variety of ways, such as being able to help identify the site’s target audience and, who the site is currently reaching, what users are or are not interested in on the site, among many other things.
TechTarget describes Google Analytics and its SEO capabilities as such:
“Google Analytics is a web analytics service that provides statistics and basic analytical tools for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing purposes.
The analytics it provides can track website performance and collect visitor insights. It can help organizations determine top sources of user traffic, gauge the success of their marketing activities and campaigns, track goal completions (such as purchases, adding products to carts), discover patterns and trends in user engagement, and obtain other visitor information such as demographics.”
Best of all, the service is part of the Google Marketing Platform and is available for free to anyone with a Google account.
Google Search Console
Like Google Analytics, Google Search Console (GSC) is free to use. GSC often is used to help find and resolve some of the more nitty-gritty issues a site might have with ranking in Google’s search engine and with other aspects of SEO.
As described by Search Engine Land:
“Google Search Console is a collection of free tools and reports to help site owners and SEO professionals.
GSC can help identify which search terms people are using to find your site as well as analyze important metrics like your average position in Google search, clicks, and impressions. You can also use GSC to navigate technical issues to ensure that your pages are getting properly indexed and are accessible to searchers.”
While these tools are the heavy hitters in our arsenal, there are several more listed below that we use to fine-tune our SEO process:
What SEO tools do you use? Let us know in the comments!
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to SEO. Climbing the search results pages takes time. Even if a website is optimized for multiple ranking factors today, it’s not going to magically appear in the number one spot tomorrow. Be cautious of anyone that makes promises.
The optimization process requires ongoing effort to keep a site fresh and relevant for its intended audience, no matter if it is to sell, educate, or entertain. As long as the website is functional and optimized with the target recipient in mind, organic growth will follow.