“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms” – Socrates
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a way to improve rankings in the major search engines for targeted keyword phrases. Since search is the primary source of traffic for most websites, search engine optimization is very important. Three basic practices form the heart of SEO:
- Keyword Research
- On Page and Technical Optimization
- Link Building / Content Promotion
SEO is first and foremost about words. When people search online or browse the internet, they use and view words. SEO is primarily about discovering and using the words that are likely to help you connect with your best prospects online.
Since there are more than half a billion (think of all those zeros!) websites, you obviously need to get very specific about who you are and how you want to be found. That’s why the first step for any SEO endeavor is keyword research: finding the words and phrases that will help you attract targeted traffic.
On Page and Technical Optimization
Once the initial round of keyword research is done, “optimizing” can begin. This includes use of keyword phrases in site copy (text, title tags, urls, site navigation, anchor text for internal links, etc.), creation of meta description tags to encourage clicks on search results pages, and reviewing technical issues such as seo-friendly code, lack of duplicate content, 301 redirects, and more.
Link Building / Content Promotion
Determining your best keyword phrases and optimizing your site to use them well are the absolute core of SEO and comprise its prime value. Alone, they won’t get you high rankings, but without them, your odds of hitting web site success are no better than they are for winning the lottery.
In order to get high rankings for your well optimized pages, you need to get good links from other sites that point directly to those pages. How to get those links is ever changing along with Google’s ranking algorithm. Google has devalued paid links, reciprocal links, many directory links, and any sort of link building that looks like it’s been done for the sole purpose of building links. This has made traditional “link building” more challenging, and it is why you will hear more these day about “content strategy.”
Today, the surest way to get good link popularity is to create marvelous content that other sites will naturally link to; content strategies are integral to search engine optimization. Social media can help promote content and drive traffic to your website, but high quality inbound links to pages optimized for specific keywords are still the gold standard for achieving high Google rankings. And high Google rankings for well targeted keyword phrases are still the best indicator of web site success for small, service-oriented businesses.
Bonus Question: How do you know if SEO is working?
One of the best things about SEO is that it’s measurable, and Google provides a free tool—Google Analytics—that makes advanced measurement accessible to everyone. By implementing and using Google Analytics, you can set up a process of continual improvement for your website and your business.