Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process of adding, editing and improving your website’s content and settings to help it show up higher in organic search results on Google. As you likely know, higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) generally leads to increased traffic and more leads or sales. Investing in a solid SEO strategy will make it easier for your customers to find you, build credibility with prospective customers, and help you outrank your competition.
Balefire Marketing + Advertising is a trusted SEO agency in Wichita, KS, and we regularly get questions from business owners wondering if they should invest in SEO. So if you’re asking yourself, “what is SEO?”, here are the basics business owners need to know.
While there are a number of search engines, including Bing, Google is the most widely used so we refer to it throughout this article.
Why Is SEO Important for My Business?
When someone types in a search query on Google, the first results that show up are ads, but the listings below that are called organic search results. The visits to your website from these listings are called organic traffic and you don’t pay for that traffic.
Search engine optimization is critical for helping your website show up as high as possible in organic listings. This is important because a 2019 study found that more than half of all website traffic in 2019 came from organic search results.
How Search Engines Work
To really understand SEO and why it’s important, you have to understand how a search engine works. Google, Bing and other search engines are like an online library of information. When someone enters a search term, the search engine has to sift through all the content in its index, or library, to find the most relevant sites to display.
Search engines scan each website using a crawler. You may also see crawlers referred to as bots or spiders. A crawler gathers information from a website’s pages and then follows internal links to other pages on the site as well as external links to other websites.
The search engines use all the information the crawlers find, plus contextual clues, to figure out what your website is about. Ideally, each page, image, video and file on a website will get crawled, evaluated and then added to the search engine’s index.
When someone types a query into the search engine, it reviews the content in the index and displays the results it thinks are the most helpful and relevant. Those search results could include web pages, videos, images, local business listings, news articles, blogs and more.
Content is ranked according to how useful and accurate the search engine thinks it is, from most to least. The top organic result is 10 times more likely to be clicked on than the result in position 10, so ranking higher in search engine results pages can give you a huge advantage over your competition.
How Does a Search Engine Decide Which Results to Display?
Google’s index uses a complex algorithm to decide which results to display for a given search query. Although they don’t share the exact ranking factors that can help a site rank at the top of search results, we do know the major factors that should be addressed on every site.
Key Ranking Factors
Search engines use an algorithm to rank websites based on hundreds of factors. Many of them have to do with the content of the site – how relevant the keywords are, how accurate and useful the content is, and how recently it’s been updated.
Google evaluates website content based in part on the E-E-A-T acronym: experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. This means if you optimize your site to provide a good user experience, build trust with the users, and create content that demonstrates your authority and expertise, you’ll have a better chance of getting your content to rank higher on Google.
A lot of ranking factors also have to do with efficient website code. A website that is coded efficiently is easier for the search engine crawlers to scan and for the algorithms to understand. At Balefire Marketing + Advertising, we keep both the user and search engines in mind on every SEO project.
Search Engine Ranking Factors
Search Intent and Why It Matters
Above all, Google wants to provide accurate, relevant results for any given search term. To do this, they have to understand the user’s search intent, or the reason for the search. Google has invested heavily in helping their search engine understand the goals users have when typing in search queries – going beyond what they’re looking for to understand why.
Also called user intent, it generally falls into four main categories: commercial, navigational, transactional, and informational. Here are some examples:
- Navigational intent: Searching for a specific site (ex., “balefire agency”)
- Commercial intent: Researching a product or service (ex., seo vs sem)
- Informational intent: Researching a topic (ex., “what is seo?”)
- Transactional intent: Searching for a product or service to buy (ex., “seo consultation”)
What Is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO or on-site SEO refers to all the optimizations done to the website itself, including :
Keyword research is the foundation of a solid SEO strategy. A professional SEO company like Balefire uses various tools to uncover which keywords your target audiences uses to search for your products and services. Then, each content page is focused on a specific topic or theme and includes related keywords. Of course, it’s possible to go too far, so it takes a skilled copywriter to create content that ranks without “keyword stuffing”, or overusing a targeted term.
Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, Header Tags
These are one of the places it’s important to include keywords. When you see a listing in a Google search results, the title tag is the first line of the listing. The meta description is the next 2-3 lines. These are extremely important features for both telling Google and the user what a page is about, but also enticing the user to click on your link instead of your competitor’s. Header tags should be added to all the headings and subheadings on a site. Think of them like an outline. When used correctly, they indicate the main topic of the page (H1), the secondary topics (H2), and so on. They not only organize content, but they also help Google understand the structure of the page and guide readers as they skim the page.
Starting in 2022, Google updated its algorithm to focus on quality content written for people, not search engines. That means original content that answers questions, solves problems, explains your products and services, or demonstrates your authority. And if you’re a retail or service-based business that serves customers in a specific area, local content is crucial for making sure you show up in search results for your area, (ex., “wichita digital marketing agency”).
This is where a well-designed website can really give you an edge. If your website is slow to load, has outdated content, or is difficult to use, Google won’t rank it as high as a fast-loading website with images, video, and a great user experience.
Internal Linking Structure and Website Navigation
A well-structured website will help Google’s bots understand what the site is about and make it easy for users to navigate. It’s possible to fix navigation and structure on an existing site, but sometimes it’s better to just start fresh. Your site’s main navigation, hierarchy, (submenu items), and links between pages all help Google understand which content is important.
Even the way your website is built can affect how well it ranks in search results. That’s why it’s worth investing in a custom website rather than using a pre-built template on a platform like Wix or Squarepsace. Websites that load quickly, don’t include a bunch of unnecessary code, and have the schema markup to make your website display correctly in search results can help your site rank higher on Google. As an added benefit, a well-coded website and properly structured content will help your Google Ads perform better, too.
If you’re done any research into SEO, you’ve probably seen references to “technical SEO” optimizations. This simply includes the on-site elements that are more code-related than content. For example, the schema markup, image tags, image alt text, meta titles, meta descriptions, etc.
What Is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page or off-site SEO includes optimizations that are not on the website itself. It is equally as important as on-page SEO. This includes links coming to the website (backlinks), your company’s Google Business Profile listing, Google reviews, reviews on other sites like Yelp, your domain’s authority score, and NAP (name, address, phone) location data. Off-site SEO elements are specific to different industries. Social media, directory sites, and guest blogging are just a few examples of ways to improve off-page SEO.
More SEO Resources
If you want to know more, we’ve created a glossary of important SEO terms and their definitions. Or, if you’ve read enough to know you don’t want to tackle your company’s search engine optimization on your own, you can find out more about how Balefire can handle the SEO tasks for you to fuel your business growth.