What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization Explained
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What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization Explained

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of getting targeted traffic to a website from a search engine’s organic rankings. 

In other words:

SEO is all about improving a site’s rankings in the organic (non-paid) section of the search results.

SEO is all about improving a site’s rankings in the organic (non-paid) section of the search results.

The main benefit of ranking for a specific keyword is that you can get “free” traffic to your site, month after month.

The main benefit of ranking for a specific keyword is that you can get “free” traffic to your site, month after month.

How Search Engines Work

Now it’s time to learn how search engines like Google actually work.

When you search for something in Google (or any other search engine), an algorithm works in real-time to bring you what that search engine considers the “best” result.

Specifically, Google scans its index of “hundreds of billions” of pages in order to find a set of results that will best answer your search.

How does Google determine the “best” result?

Even though Google doesn’t make the inner workings of its algorithm public, based on filed patents and statements from Google, we know that websites and web pages are ranked based on:

Relevancy

If you search for “chocolate chip cookie recipes”, you don’t want to see web pages about truck tires. That’s why Google looks first-and-foremost for pages that are closely related to your keyword.

However, Google doesn’t simply rank “the most relevant pages at the top”. That’s because there are thousands (or even millions) of relevant pages for every search term.

For example, the keyword “cookie recipes” brings up 349 million results in Google:

For example, the keyword “cookie recipes” brings up 349 million results in Google:

So to put the results in an order that bubbles the best to the top, they rely on three other elements of their algorithm.

Authority

Authority is just like it sounds: it’s Google’s way of determining if the content is accurate and trustworthy.

The question is: how does Google know if a page is authoritative?

They look at the number of other pages that link to that page:

They look at the number of other pages that link to that page:

(Links from other pages are known as “backlinks”)

In general, the more links a page has, the higher it will rank:

In general, the more links a page has, the higher it will rank:

(In fact, Google’s ability to measure authority via links is what separates it from search engines, like Yahoo, that came before it).

Usefulness

Content can be relevant and authoritative. But if it’s not useful, Google won’t want to position that content at the top of the search results.

In fact, Google has publicly said that there’s a distinction between “higher quality content” and “useful” content.

For example, let’s say that you search for “Paleo Diet”.

The first result you click on (“Result A”) is written by the world’s foremost expert on Paleo. And because the page has so much quality content on it, lots of people have linked to it.

The first result you click on (“Result A”) is written by the world’s foremost expert on Paleo.

However, the content is completely unorganized. And it’s full of jargon that most people don’t understand.

Contrast that with another result (“Result B”).

It’s written by someone relatively new to the Paleo Diet. And their website doesn’t have nearly as many links pointing to it.

However, their content is organized into distinct sections. And it’s written in a way that anyone can understand:

their content is organized into distinct sections. And it’s written in a way that anyone can understand

Well, that page is going to rank highly on the “usefulness scale”. Even though Result B doesn’t have as much trust or authority as Result A, it will still perform well in Google.

(In fact, it may even rank HIGHER than Result A)

Google measures usefulness largely based on “User Experience Signals”.

In other words: how users interact with the search results. If Google sees that people really like a particular search result, it will get a significant ranking boost:

how users interact with the search results.

How SEO Works

SEO works by optimizing your site for the search engine that you want to rank for, whether it’s Google, Bing, Amazon or YouTube. Specifically, your job is to make sure that a search engine sees your site as the overall best result for a person’s search.

How they determine the “best” result is based on an algorithm that takes into account authority, relevancy to that query, loading speed, and more.

(For example, Google has over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm).

In most cases, when people think “search engine optimization”, they think “Google SEO”. Which is why we’re going to focus on optimizing your site for Google in this guide.

Why Is SEO Important?

In short: Search is a BIG source of traffic.

In fact, here’s a breakdown of where most website traffic originates:

here’s a breakdown of where most website traffic originates

As you can see, nearly 60% of all traffic on the web starts with a Google search. And if you add together traffic from other popular search engines (like Bing, Yahoo, and YouTube), 70.6% of all traffic originates from a search engine.

70.6% of all traffic originates from a search engine.

Let’s illustrate the importance of SEO with an example…

Let’s say that you run a party supply company. According to the Google Keyword Planner, 110,000 people search for “party supplies” every single month.

Considering that first result in Google gets around 20% of all clicks, that’s 22,000 visitors to your website each month if you show up at the top.

Considering that first result in Google gets around 20% of all clicks, that’s 22,000 visitors to your website each month if you show up at the top.

But let’s quantify that – how much are those visitors worth?

The average advertiser for that search phrase spends about 1 dollar per click. Which means that the web traffic of 22,000 visitors is worth roughly $22,000 a month.

web traffic of 22,000 visitors is worth roughly $22,000 a month

And that’s just for that search phrase. If your site is SEO-friendly, then you can rank for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of different keywords.

In other industries, like real estate or insurance, the value of search engine traffic is significantly higher.

For example, advertisers are paying over $45 per click on the search phrase “auto insurance price quotes.”

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this little introduction to SEO. In this guide, we wanted to go beyond a simple definition of search engine optimization. And actually give you a few concrete steps to get started.

We recommend getting started with the basics, make sure that search engines can fully crawl your site. Then start creating keyword-optimized content. Finally, use outreach to get backlinks.


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Written by Genny Winfield

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