I’ve heard the question many times: What is SEO and how will it help my blog/website/business, etc. The answers are quite simple, so let’s take a look.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimizations is one of the most essential skills a Blogger or Webmaster can learn. If you’re in charge of building/optimizing content for a website, then you need to know how to get the attention of Search Engines like Google and Bing. If done right, proper use of SEO will help bring in boatloads of organic traffic to your website every month.
Before we get in too deep, let’s lay the groundwork first and talk briefly about what a Search Engine is.
What is a Search Engine?
To get us started, I’m gonna rip a definition right out of the ol’ Oxford Online Dictionary:
“A program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.”
Pretty dry, but very dictionary-esque and straight to the point if you ask me. In simpler words, Search Engines are what connect people to content on the internet via keywords. Keywords are simply words/phrases that you enter into a Search Engine. It can be one word, or several words together (known as long-tail keywords).
A Search Engine is designed to offer you up the best search results based on the keyword(s) you have chosen.
What Determines The Best Search Results?
Many, many variables come into play here, and it seems like nobody has a perfect grasp of what Search Engines like the most or how much weight each variable has in the overall algorithm. Truth be told, there are many SEO “gurus” on the internet, but none of them (myself included) have it down to a perfect science. We all merely have certain guidelines and rules to follow that have been tried and tested over time.
If Search Engines are what you work with in order to bring organic traffic to your website, then naturally Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving things on your website and in your content to both bring in more and better traffic overall.
I know, that’s a very large and rather vague statement to take in all at once. I have an analogy that might clear things up a little here: Think of a Search Engine as the internet highway that people are choosing to travel on, in this case we’ll use Google as an example. By entering a search query (keywords) into Google, you’re letting it know what it is that you’re looking for on the internet.
The results of your search are typically divided into 2 categories: Paid (ads) and Non-paid (organic) search results. The organic search results you get are mainly determined by how effectively the websites (targeting the keywords) make use of SEO.
Basically, Google in this example takes a look at all the websites targeting that specific keyword(s) and determines which site is going to provide the best experience for the user making the search. That makes the Search Engine a judge and jury of sorts. And considering that billions of people make searches through Google every day, it would be best to learn a bit of SEO.
Paid vs Unpaid Traffic – Which is Better?
Ultimately this one depends on how important money is to you. Let’s go over the basics!
Paid Traffic – Ads
Ever notice when you punch any kind of search into Google, there’s always unique results that pop up first and they often say something like [ad] next to them? That’s exactly what it sounds like – individuals have paid for their websites to show up first in your search results. It’s a lot like when you’re driving down the street and you see those big billboards on the roadside advertising nearby businesses.
The advantage of paying for that ad space is that you don’t have to worry about being an expert in SEO in order to get traffic based on a keyword phrase. The disadvantage is that paying for traffic can get expensive quickly, and as a business it can be a risk that may or may not work in your favor financially. As we all know, it’s one thing to get the traffic to your website – but if your content is weak, they’ll leave and you won’t get your money’s worth.
Unpaid Traffic – Organic
Getting yourself some honest to goodness organic traffic is all a matter of learning the ropes of SEO, so there will be some reading and plenty of trial and error to go around. On the plus side however, you won’t have to pay for any of that traffic that comes through the Search Engine and to your website.
The downside of going the free route is that it’s going to be more work in the long run. You’re likely going to have to create much content in order to build up your website/blog to respectable standards, and you’ll have to tend to it regularly instead of just paying for results.
My Recommendation – Use Both Eventually
I think that everyone that plans on owning a website should learn SEO, and that should be the starting point of any newcomer to the online world. You’ll spend a fair amount of time learning the ups and downs of optimizing your site for Google and Bing, but once you have that skill you’ll be able to bring in traffic even if you’re flat broke.
Down the line, once you’ve figured out the tricks to SEO and have seen some decent results, you can choose to invest in paid traffic by mean of Google ads or something similar. You still have to target keywords with these paid ads, and your knowledge of SEO and getting into the heads of those behind the search query will be a great help here.
Don’t pay for traffic on every keyword though! Find the pages on your site that stand to bring in the most money for you, and serve them up as ads. And remember to start with a very low price for your ads, and scale accordingly when you see results.
How To Improve Your SEO
As I mentioned before, there’s a laundry list of ways Google and the other search engines rank websites. Some are pretty easy and straightforward, others are rather mysterious. Here’s a few factors to start considering:
– Webpage Loading Speed
– Amount of Ads and Affiliate Links
– Overall Website Age
– Internal Linking and Backlinking
– Quality of Content
– Value provided to the Reader
And the list goes on and on. I’ve written up a quick beginner’s guide on how to improve your SEO rankings, and will very likely be doing more in the future as well.
Things To Avoid!
Naturally there are always going to be things you’ll want to avoid when working on your SEO, and failure to comply with some or all of these things may cause a big loss in organic traffic for your website.
1. Don’t spam Ads or Affiliate links.
Google particularly hates this kind of behavior, despite having their own in-house ad service that you can sign up for. If you go cramming a pile of ads in your website, they may choose to flag your website as spammy and this will mean bad things for your future online business or even just a blog.
2. Poorly optimized images
If you have a lot of images on your web pages, or they’re in a bulky format like .png, your website might be a total resource hog and load slowly. Since Search Engines want to offer a good customer experience to readers, they’ll go ahead and not recommend your website to others. Again this means bad rankings and less traffic, nooo!
3. Taking Shortcuts with Automated Software
Now let’s be honest here with this one, automation really is the future and everyone is apt to using it to some degree in order to save time on menial tasks. However, there are some things you should avoid, like using software that automatically generates content for you. The Google algorithm is especially good at spotting the use of such tools and will hurt you for it.
4. Paying For Links, Linking Schemes, etc.
This is considered one of those “Black Hat” SEO methods that used to be popular before Google and company got wise to what was going on, and a lot of people lost a lot of traffic over time as a result. Put simply, there are websites and/or software that you can pay for to get your website out in front of traffic or have your links dropped on websites around the web. Though it sounds simple and efficient, even low cost at times, it’s ultimately a cool way to kill your website’s reputation among Search Engines.
5. Avoid Illegal and Deceptive Content
Remember that it’s not just bots that Google sends out to audit people’s websites, there’s actual people involved too. And whether it’s bots or people you’re dealing with, you run a major risk by having sketchy, illegal, or even misleading content on your website. Don’t try to trick people into clicking on ads or other links, and just don’t try to fool the system. Please, your success is important to me too!
The take-home is this: The largest amount of traffic you’ll be able to get for your Website or Blog is ultimately going to be through SEO, given that you do it properly. And through proper SEO training, you’ll have skills that will slowly but completely change how you do things for the better.
Paid Traffic is nice, but is always a gamble as to whether you’re going to get your money’s worth with it. And not to mention it’s quite literally a cost that you’ll pay for every single person that comes through to your site. Much better to work on improving your SEO and conquering the free method if you truly want to succeed online!