Understanding SEO: What is it, How Does it Work, and Why is it Important?

If you’re a website owner, you’ve probably heard the term SEO. You might even know a little bit about it. Or maybe you don’t understand SEO at all. If you fall into the latter category, this post is for you. This article isn’t going to give you everything you need to make you an SEO master. Rather, it will provide you with the most basic overview that will give you enough information to start learning more and asking the right questions.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it refers to the factors and methods that make a website appear higher in Google’s search results. It should come as no surprise that websites that rank higher on the SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages, get clicked on more often. This translates to more visits to your website, and more customers for your business.

But SEO isn’t just one thing; it’s a combination of many different factors both in and out of a website owner’s control.

SEO also isn’t static; there’s no one ideal that every website should strive for. Rather, SEO is a moving target. It changes as Google updates its algorithm (the complex calculations it uses to determine which websites rank higher than others), and can vary based on the type of website or the specific topic or industry that a website relates to.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t just optimize your website once, set it, and forget it. You need to regularly monitor how your website is performing and adjust your SEO strategy accordingly.

How does SEO work?

This is the million dollar question, and everyone is looking for the one simple answer that will get their website to that number one spot immediately. The problem is, there is no simple answer, and there is definitely no “immediately” in the world of SEO.

We already told you that there are tons of different factors that go into SEO. There are too many to cover in a single blog post, but at the most basic level, they fall into two categories.

On Page SEO

On Page SEO

On Page SEO refers to everything on your site that Google and other search engines take into account to determine where it should rank. These are the things that you, the website owner, have direct control over.

In order to find out where your website should appear in the search results, Google needs to analyze your website. They don’t do this manually; that would take way too much time, and they would never be able to keep up with all the new content that is created.

Instead, search engines use computer programs called spiders to crawl and index your website. These spiders land on a page of your website, analyze the text, and then follow the links on that page to other pages. The content they collect gets run through the algorithm, which performs a series of vastly complex calculations to determine what that page is about, how well it covers that subject matter, and how it compares to other similar pages.

At the most basic level, when you create a new page on your website, you should have an idea of what search term you want that page to rank for. Your on page SEO is an attempt to check all the right boxes to get Google to associate your new page with that search term (the word or phrase a user types into Google).

Here are some things that factor into on-page SEO:

  • How well does your webpage cover its topic? Google wants to send its users to the page that provides the best information. This means including the search term in the right places in your article (such as the title tag and your headings), but also providing well-written, accessible content that covers that topic in depth and breadth. Your article shouldn’t just answer the question a user has, it should anticipate their follow up questions and cover those as well.
  • How well does your webpage match the intent of the search query? Google knows better than anyone what users are looking for when they type in a search term. If you’re trying to optimize your webpage for a specific search term, take a look at the websites that are already ranking and see how their content is presented. Use that information to decide the best way to create your new webpage.
  • Is your website mobile-friendly? As the world transitions more and more from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones, Google is placing more emphasis on your site experience across all screen sizes. Implementing a responsive website design that scales based on the size of the user’s screen is a must-have.
  • How fast does your website load? Google’s main goal is to give their users the best information, quickly. If your website is slow, it doesn’t matter if your content is great, because no one is going to wait through your long load time to read it.

Off Page SEO

If On Page SEO refers to everything on your website that you can control, off page SEO is everything else. It’s all the information on other websites that you don’t own and don’t have direct control over.

Google isn’t just going to take your word for it. In order to rank for the best search terms, it’s not enough to just have great content. The internet has to collectively agree that the content is great. The internet does this by linking to your content.

Google views links as a vote of confidence. If you have a page on your website that includes a link to another website, you’re essentially telling Google, “Hey, the content on this page is trustworthy and relevant to what I’m talking about.” When a page on your website has lots of links from other websites, especially websites with lots of authority (websites with lots of other links themselves), Google is going to be more confident in the quality of your content and rank your website higher.

Here are some things that factor into off-page SEO:

  • How many backlinks (links from other websites) does your content have? If external links are votes of confidence, having lots of votes of confidence will get your page ranked higher.
  • What types of websites are linking to your page? Having lots of links isn’t enough, and in some cases can even hurt instead of help. There are tons of sites that Google doesn’t trust, and you don’t want links from these sites. Rather, you want links from sites with high authority (sites that Google trusts already) that are relevant to the topic of your webpage.
  • How often is your content being shared? When you share something to Facebook or Twitter, you’re creating a backlink. Google is smart enough to know that a link on a social media site isn’t the same as a link from a trusted news source, but if tons of people are sharing links to your post on social media sites, that’s another sign that your content is good. Google notices that.

Why is SEO Important?

Compared to the first two questions, this one is a walk in the park. SEO is important because it brings visitors to your website. Google gets an estimated 70,000 searches every second, or 5.8 billion searches per day https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/google-search-statistics. Every single one of those searches is a question, and a question is a cry for help. It’s a problem, and every business is designed to solve a specific problem. SEO is important because it connects you with people whose problems your business can solve.

This is just the most basic introduction to start understanding SEO. The first in a long list of articles you will read that will get you more familiar with optimizing your website and bringing in more traffic from Google. If we’ve done our job right, the gears should now be spinning. You should have more questions now than when you started.

Maybe that’s disappointing, but the good news is that they are the right questions. You’re ready to start getting into more detail, learning the specifics of how to optimize your website, how to promote your content and get backlinks from quality sites, and how to start moving your site up through the ranks of Google. It’s going to be a long, hard journey, but it’s worth it, and Watermelon is always here to help if you lose your way.

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