Search engine optimization (SEO) is the marketing discipline and process of growing the online visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results.
In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a website appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users; these visitors can then potentially be converted into customers – provided the content is of good quality – content marketing must go with SEO white hat marketing strategies.
SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on one’s page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure one’s site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
SEO isn’t just about building search engine-friendly websites. It’s about making a site better for people too. These principles go together.
SEO will not assist much in pre-qualifying and converting leads unless the content is meaningful for the traffic SEO can generate – the danger is that SEO becomes a big waste of money if its not supported by quality content and a good seamless user experience.
As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers:
- how search engines work,
- the computer programmed algorithms which dictate search engine behaviour,
- what people search for,
- the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and
- which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience.
The leading search engines, such as Google, Bing and Yahoo!, use crawlers to find pages for their algorithmic search results. Pages that are linked from other search engine indexed pages do not need to be submitted because they are found automatically.
Today, most people are searching on Google using a mobile device. In November 2016, Google announced a major change to the way crawling websites and started to make their index mobile-first, which means the mobile version of your website becomes the starting point for what Google includes in their index.
A variety of methods can increase the prominence of a webpage within the search results. Cross-linking between pages of the same website to provide more links to important pages may improve its visibility.
Writing content that includes frequently searched keyword phrase, to be relevant to a wide variety of search queries will tend to increase traffic.
Updating content to keep search engines crawling back frequently can give additional weight to a site.
Adding relevant keywords to a web page’s metadata, including the title tag and meta description, will tend to improve the relevancy of a site’s search listings, thus increasing traffic.
White hat versus black hat techniques
SEO techniques can be classified into two broad categories:
techniques that search engine companies recommend as part of good design (“white hat”), and those techniques of which search engines do not approve (“black hat”). The search engines attempt to minimize the effect of the latter, among them spamdexing. Industry commentators have classified these methods, and the practitioners who employ them, as either white hat SEO, or black hat SEO. White hats tend to produce results that last a long time, whereas black hats anticipate that their sites may eventually be banned either temporarily or permanently once the search engines discover what they are doing.
An SEO technique is considered white hat if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and involves no deception. As the search engine guidelines are not written as a series of rules or commandments, this is an important distinction to note. White hat SEO is not just about following guidelines but is about ensuring that the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see and making sure that content is relevant to the user. White hat advice is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the online “spider” algorithms, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose. White hat SEO is in many ways similar to web development that promotes accessibility, although the two are not identical.
Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines or involve deception. One black hat technique uses text that is hidden, either as text coloured similar to the background, in an invisible div, or positioned off screen. Another method gives a different page depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine, a technique known as cloaking. Another category sometimes used is grey hat SEO. This is in between black hat and white hat approaches, where the methods employed avoid the site being penalized but do not act in producing the best content for users. Grey hat SEO is entirely focused on improving search engine rankings.
Search engines may penalize sites they discover using black hat methods, either by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from their databases altogether. Such penalties can be applied either automatically by the search engines’ algorithms, or by a manual site review.
Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content. Make sure that your
elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
- Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs and provide one version of a URL
As marketing strategy
SEO is not an appropriate strategy for every website, and other Internet marketing strategies can be more effective like paid advertising through pay per click (PPC) campaigns, depending on the site operator’s goals. Search engine marketing (SEM), is the practice of designing, running, and optimizing search engine ad campaigns. Its difference from SEO is most simply depicted as the difference between paid and unpaid priority ranking in search results. Its purpose regards prominence more so than relevance; website developers should regard SEM with the utmost importance with consideration to visibility as most navigate to the primary listings of their search.
A successful Internet marketing campaign may also depend upon building high-quality web pages to engage and persuade, setting up analytics programs to enable site owners to measure results, and improving a site’s conversion rate.