What is SEO? The Ultimate Guide for 2019

what is SEO

What is SEO?

I remember asking that question back in 2012 too.

That’s why today I’ll explain everything you’ve ever wanted to know about SEO in 2019.

Let me ask you:

Did you know that 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine?

That means that your target customers are searching for solutions to their problems. Fortunately, SEO gives you the opportunity to get in front of these potential customers.

In this guide, we’re going to outline the fundamentals of SEO, and the role it plays for your business.

Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • The basics of SEO (and why there’s more to it than Google)
  • Why SEO matters for you and your business
  • The SEO terminology you should know
  • How to start an SEO strategy
  • How long SEO takes to work
  • How to build a career in the SEO industry
  • Resources you can use to learn SEO

Are you ready to stop asking “what is SEO?”, and learn everything you’ll need to know about optimizing your website for search engines?

Let’s jump in.

There’s more to SEO than Google

Google is a huge player in the SEO world. Their search engine was ranked as the most visited multi-platform in the U.S., with almost 246 million unique visitors in 2018 alone.

…It’ll come as no surprise to learn they hold 92% of the search engine market share:

Google Search Market Dominance

But while Google is a huge platform, SEO tactics can be applied on a number of different search engines-something Merriam Webster defines as:

“a site on the World Wide Web that uses such software to locate key words in other sites”.

Any website that allows users to type something into a box, and fetches a list of web pages the engine believes will be helpful to the user, is a search engine.

You probably use websites every day without realizing they’re a search engine, including:

  • YouTube
  • Amazon
  • Baidu
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • DuckDuckGo

In a nutshell:

The act of SEO is optimizing a website to rank higher in search-but that doesn’t always mean Google should be the only platform you think about.

Why is SEO important for businesses?

There are 40,000 search queries every second on Google alone. That equates to more than 3.5 billion every single day-and a strong chance your business’ ideal customers are using search engines to find products, services or information.

If you’re not using SEO techniques to reach the top of their results, you’re missing out on these three things:

1. More website traffic

A report by BrightEdge discovered over half of all website traffic comes from search engines. That’s impressive considering paid advertising accounts for 10%, and social media just 5%:

BrightEdge

2. More revenue

81% of consumers, and 94% of B2B customers, perform online searches before making a purchase: The people you’re driving to your site through organic search could turn into paying customers. Yet to be one of the businesses who see 40% of their average revenue derive from search engines, you’ll need to have an SEO strategy in place.

3. More in-store visitors

Having a search engine presence can help to drive local customers to your store or business address. Smartphones give people the chance to browse the internet at their leisure–including the 82% of users who conduct “near me” searches when they’re looking for a service or product in their current location.

SEO terminology: 14 terms you’ll need to master

The world of SEO is littered with fancy abbreviations and acronyms. (Maybe that’s why it’s so tricky to learn.)

Before we go any further, here are 14 SEO terms you’ll need to add to your dictionary.:

Algorithm: The program used by search engines to determine where a page should rank. There are hundreds of factors that make up an algorithm-most of which aren’t public.

Backlink: A link pointing to your website. These can be internal (from one page on your site to another), or external (from another website linking to yours).

Black Hat SEO: A set of techniques known to be used by spammers. In the olden days of SEO, black hat techniques helped websites reach the first page of search results, but algorithms have gotten smarter. You could see a penalty by using this strategy.

Bounce Rate: The percentage of people who visit your website and leave instantly (or “bounce”). For example: If 100 people visit your website and 50 of them only read the homepage, your bounce rate would be 50%. You can find this in Google Analytics:

Bounce Rate

DA (Domain Authority): A metric created by Moz to determine the likelihood of a website ranking in Google. It’s scored out of 100, with the strongest websites scoring toward the higher end of the scale.

Google Penalty: A punishment given by Google that negatively impacts your chances of ranking in search. They can be given for black hat tactics, either manually or automatically.

Keyword: The words you’ll enter when looking for information in a search engine. For example: “What is SEO?” or “SEO for beginners”.

Impressions: The number of people who’ve seen your website on their search results page. You can find this in Google Search Console:

Impressions

Meta Title and Description: The text you see when results are loaded in search. The meta title is the main, clickable link. The meta description is an editable 160-character field used to convince people to click your website.

Meta Data

Organic CTR (Click-through Rate): The percentage of people who’ve seen your page ranking in a search engine, and clicked the link. For example: If 100 people see your website and 2 people click, your organic CTR would be 2%.

Rankings: The position you’re ranking in a search engine for each URL.

SERP (Search Engine Results Page): The page containing the list of results for your keyword.

Search Intent: The intention of the person searching for a query. Are they looking to buy a product, find an answer to a simple question, or read a piece of educational content?

White Hat SEO: A set of ethical SEO tactics used to reach the top spots in Google. These strategies play by the book, and usually focus on user experience as opposed to direct rankings.

What’s included in an SEO strategy?

You’ve seen the opportunity in organic search, and decided to start optimizing your site.

But you might be left questioning which SEO techniques should you be using to reach the top of Google.

The answer isn’t a short one; over 200 different factors are known to impact how your website ranks in search engines, and each ranking factor can be built upon using several tactics.

If it sounds confusing, don’t panic.

Here are eight things you should include in an SEO strategy to start ranking in search:

1. Keyword research

When a user searches using words related to your business, you want to show up… Hence why keywords are the lifeblood of any SEO strategy.

You shouldn’t guess the keywords your audience are using, though.

Instead, investigate which search terms are being used by your customers, and target audience online, through doing keyword research. Then, when you’re using these on your website, Google can connect the dots. They understand the topic you’re talking about, and encourage users who’re searching for them to find your website.

That’s bound to equal more search traffic.

How to find keywords

There are various keyword research tools you can use to find the keywords your audience uses.

To get started, head over to Google and begin typing your topic. Don’t hit “enter”-just take note of the suggested searches that Google are recommending.

Chances are, these are keywords you could target on your website:

Suggested Search

You could also use other keyword research tools, such as:

  • Ahrefs
  • Answer The Public
  • Keyword.io
  • Serpstat
  • SEMrush
  • Buzzsumo’s Question Analyzer

List the keywords you find that are relevant to your business. Your list should be a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords (3+ words in length).

Then, one you’ve nailed your list of phrases, head over to Ubersuggest to discover how easy it is to rank for a keyword, along with the volume of people searching for it each month:

UberSuggest

Take special note of these two metrics:

1. Search Volume: How many people are searching for this keyword per month? SERPs for keywords with a high search volume might be dominated by big brands with huge budgets. Keywords with a low search volume, however, are usually easier to rank for.

2. SEO Difficulty: This score indicates the chances of you ranking on page one for that keyword. Phrases with a high score (like 80) will need some serious SEO juice to rank, but search terms with a low score of 12 probably don’t.

By this point, you should have a list of keywords you’d like to start ranking for.

Categorize similar keywords you’ve found (like “SEO techniques” and “SEO hacks”), and plan to target them on the same page. Google’s algorithm knows when different phrases mean the same thing, so grouping them together could help boost rankings further.

2. On-page SEO

You’ve found your keywords, and you want to start ranking for them.

But to reach the top of the SERPs, you don’t just sit back and pray; you need to take the findings from your keyword research and use them to optimize your page. This tells Google that your content is relevant to the phrases-and therefore, you should be ranking for it.

This form of SEO is called “on-page optimization”; a group of techniques used to maximize the chances of a single page reaching the top spots in Google.

Here’s an on-page SEO checklist you can use to optimize your page for SEO:

Meta tags: Meta tags are the first things a person sees when your page is shown in search engines. Encourage people to click through (organic CTR is a known ranking factor) by: including the page’s main keyword; using power words like “ultimate”; and explaining the value you’ll give if they click through. Tools like Yoast are on-hand to edit these tags.

URL: Avoid long and complicated URLs when publishing your content, and stick with your page’s main keyword. For example: Use /blog/what-is-SEO, rather than /SEO-b25-xbrg.html. Google consistently ranks pages with shorter, cleaner URLs higher in search because they look more trustworthy.

URL Length

Page title: This field is similar to your meta title, but is visible to people when they click on the page, rather than view from SERPs. Again, you’ll want to convince people to click-through to read the content, and encourage people who have landed on the URL to read the content. This will boost time on site (also known as “dwell time”)–another ranking factor.

Heading tags: Each page on your website should follow heading hierarchy, with the page title being and subheadings using. These tell Google spiders what the page is discussing without reading the entire thing. Include your secondary keywords here to build relevance.

Body text: You should mention your page’s keyword naturally throughout the content. Various studies have proven that long-form content generates more backlinks (another ranking factor), but don’t sacrifice quantity for quantity. Always discover the search intent behind each keyword before committing to a 2,000-word article. A short, to-the-point piece of content might be more beneficial for your target audience.

Long Form Content

Internal and external links: Adding links within your page’s content helps to improve the time people spend on your website. Plus, search engines view your website as contributing value if you’re associating it with others–hence why pages with internal links have been proven to rank higher than those without.

3. Technical SEO

Your website might be the prettiest thing in the world. But if it’s not built on good foundations, it ain’t gonna rank in search engines.

Technical SEO is the process of making sure:

  • Search engines can find (and understand) your website
  • Website visitors can get value from your website

Think about it: If you’re landing on a website that takes 15 seconds to load and is littered with glitchy GIFs, you won’t be impressed.

Google won’t rank you highly because of it either, purely because they want to make sure they’re referring people to websites that provide value. Otherwise, people would use a different search engine.

A technical SEO strategy covers many things, including:

Page loading speed

You open up a website and see the winding circle spinning in your browser tab. Seconds have passed and nothing loads. No content. No text. You wait and wait. And you wait some more. Then you leave because you’re fed up.

Make sure people aren’t having the same experience on your website. Not only is it massively frustrating for them, but page load speed is a ranking factor confirmed by Google themselves.

Start by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to check how your load speed compares:

Google PageSpeed Insights

You can check the page speed time on the mobile version of your site here, too. A slow loading mobile page causes a 38% increase in heart rate. (That’s more stressful than watching a horror movie.)

If you’re worried your pages are slow to load, Google will recommend some tweaks. Your developer should be able to resolve these.

Page speed Results

Mobile friendliness

Did you know that 52% of all web pages served were on a mobile device in 2018?

Mobile Data

Search engines are changing to meet this demand, with many platforms taking a mobile-first approach. They’ll look at how your website performs on mobile and determine rankings from there, as opposed to traditional desktop performance.

It’s massively important that your site is mobile-friendly, and uses a responsive design–meaning your website adapts to suit the screen size of the device it’s being viewed on.

Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test will show whether your website is responsive:

Google Mobile Friendly Test

Again, If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t panic. Your developers should again be able to help make your website mobile-friendly using the recommendations given by Google.

Secure site (HTTPS)

Privacy is a serious concern for internet users.

61% of Americans have said they’d like to do more to protect their privacy, and with data breaches happening left, right and center, your technical SEO strategy needs to prove you’re a secure and reliable website.

The easiest way to do that is through SSL certificates-a small file that encrypts information being passed through a website.

Google will show a warning on websites without a SSL certificate before loading the page:

SSL
Source

It’s no surprise why 61% of customers would avoid purchasing if a site was missing a trust seal, such as the SSL certificate.

Why would Google want to point their searchers in the direction of an unsecure site?

4. UX optimization

Once upon a time, a website could rank for its target keyword simply by including that keyword on a page as much as possible. This a black hat SEO tactic known as ‘keyword stuffing’, and though it brought results back in 2010, it wasn’t very user-friendly.

Needless to say, it’s not successful at tricking Google anymore.

Search engines want their SERPs to provide value to searchers, which is why user experience (UX) should be at the heart of any SEO strategy.

A study by SEMrush identified user behavior signals as being important ranking factors:

User Signals

Let’s take a look at what these UX signals mean, and how you can optimize your site for them.

Time on site

The longer somebody spends on your site, the more engaged they are.

Having users who spend a long time on your site correlates with strong search engine rankings, so try to ensure visitors stick around when they land on your site.

You can do this by:

  • Embedding video content on your page.
  • Keeping your written content punchy and easy to read, using short paragraphs and subheadings to break-up long walls of text.
  • Using images throughout to engage the user.

Pages per session

Another strong sign of user engagement is how many pages your users visit.

Think about it:

If readers consuming page after page of your content, it suggests they’re happy and engaged with your site-so search engines will give you a bump in their SERPs.

Increasing the number of pages your audience read is fairly easy; simply add internal links to other, similar and relevant pages and encourage readers to click through.

Here’s an example on our “how to build backlinks” article:

Internal Links

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors leaving your website after viewing just one page. A high figure can suggest that users are not finding your content helpful, or that it is not satisfying their query.

(This is particularly true if they arrive via search engines, then instantly hit “back” on their browser to visit another site instead. It’s also known as “pogosticking”-a sign that users aren’t happy with the result.)

Remember:

If the users aren’t happy, neither are the search engines. Expect to see your ranking struggle if you’re battling with a high bounce rate.

You can reduce bounce rate by:

  • Adding internal links to other important pages to help keep your users on site.
  • Getting your message across early, and convincing people to read the rest of your content. An attention-grabbing introduction is key. The human attention span is only 8 seconds; you don’t have long to make a great impression!

5. Content marketing

“Content” is the information you provide on your website or marketing materials, and can take many forms-including written, image, video and audio content. But regardless of the type of content you’re creating, it’s essential for a winning SEO strategy for one reason:

Content is how you communicate with your target users.

A blog is a great way to create SEO-focused content. The statistics speak for themselves:

And if you think blogs are only there to drive traffic, think again.

A high-quality blog can also improve your revenue: 71% of B2B buyers consume blog content at some point in their purchase journey, and B2B sites with a blog generate 67% more leads than those without.

Head back to the list of keywords you’ve collected and see whether you could create a blog post to target them. This type of page is usually educational and informal, targeting a long-tail keyword.

6. Link building

Backlinks (links to your website from others) are a strong SEO ranking factor.

These links act as a “virtual handshake”; telling the search engines that your site is trusted by others. That’s why they can help to boost your SEO performance.

There are various link building tactics you can use to build your online reputation, as explained in this video:

There’s no guidelines on the number of links you should have. Instead, it’s about quality. Gaining backlinks from authoritative websites, particularly those in your industry, is much more beneficial for SEO than thousands of low-quality backlinks.

All of the links you’re building should appear natural. You shouldn’t incentivize someone to link to your site, or pay for a link. Search engines class this as spammy, and it can be harmful to your SEO.

(In fact, search engines like Google can stop your site from appearing in their results pages at all if they think you’ve built unnatural links.)

7. Reputation management

Every company gets bad reviews at some time or another. Even if you’re putting your best efforts into making sure every customer is a happy one, things outside of your control could result in negative reviews.

But why is this important for SEO?

While links play a huge role when determining organic rankings, so do brand mentions.

A Google patent refers to ‘implied links’ as potential ranking factors, and both Google and Bing have indicated that sentiment around brand mentions can be taken into consideration–meaning businesses offering poor experiences may suffer from lower rankings.

So how do you ensure your brand reputation remains positive? Here are some tips:

  • Monitor brand mentions and reviews using social listening tools, and respond publicly to negative comments before taking the conversation private to resolve the issue.
  • Create great content that is useful to your target audience, and encourages them to share it with their networks.
  • Run brand awareness and PR campaigns to generate positive coverage.
    Support charities or good causes in your industry or local area.

8. Local SEO

Local SEO is a branch of SEO that can cater to local searchers, and ensure you’re noticed by potential customers when they’re actively looking for you.

In an age where people want information immediately, mobile technology is driving growth in localised searches. In fact, around a third of all mobile searches are location-based–hence why local SEO is vital for traditional bricks and mortar stores.

Searches including the terms “near me today/tonight” have risen by 900% in recent years:

near me searches

But how can you make sure you’re visible for local searches?

  • Claim your Google My Business listing, and ensure it’s up to date with relevant opening hours, telephone number and contact details.
  • Have up-to-date store locator pages on your website for each location you operate or have stores in.
  • Create content and generate PR coverage in your local area.
  • Add your details to relevant local directory sites.

Remember: 28% of searches for a product or service nearby result in a purchase, making local SEO an incredibly important task for businesses looking to boost sales.

Building a career in the SEO industry

Ready to put your newfound SEO skills into practice?

You’re in luck. There are many incredible career opportunities for budding SEOs.

Glassdoor reports the average base salary for an SEO Specialist in the USA being $62,500. That increases to $84,000 for an SEO manager:

SEO Specialist Salary

Comparing that to the average salary of a general marketing specialist ($50,528) and a social media specialist ($50,173), it’s safe to say SEO is a lucrative career opportunity for people willing to invest time into their SEO education.

But if you don’t want to work in-house, don’t panic.

You can still build career in SEO by:

  • Offering freelance SEO services, or starting an SEO agency that specializes in SEO.
  • Using your newfound skills to run an affiliate website.
  • Buying an old website through Flippa, practicing your SEO skills, and selling the website (with increased traffic) for a profit.

How long does SEO take to work?

The great thing about SEO is that once your efforts begin to take effect, you’re essentially getting “free” traffic.

However, there is a downside: It can take a while for your SEO strategy to pay off.

In fact, only 5.7% of newly published pages rank in Google’s top 10 within a year, yet there’s no concrete calculation you can use to determine how long you’ll need to wait to see results. The average consensus rules 4-6 months as the average.

Why’s it take so long? The speed at which you see SEO results can depend on a few factors:

  • The competition in your industry
  • The amount of time you spend on it
  • Your budget
  • The history of your website
  • The age of your domain

If you’re a small business, you might consider hiring an agency or an internal team to help you goals quicker. However you choose to do it, one thing’s for sure:

If you get started now, you’ll see results sooner rather than later.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re looking to learn more about what SEO is, the tactics included in an SEO strategy, or explore the opportunity of a career in the industry, I hope we’ve covered your questions.

(Remember the Gotch SEO blog, YouTube channel and Academy are always on-hand to answer any more.)

But before we part, there’s one thing to reiterate:

SEO is an industry known for long-term results. While you might feel like you’re investing time and energy into learning SEO, the knowledge you’ll acquire will be worth its weight in gold.

About the Author

Author
Nathan Gotch

Nathan Gotch is the founder and SEO director at Gotch SEO. Listen in to our new podcast, The SEO Life or watch some of our actionable SEO training videos on YouTube!