How SEO Works

Story Highlights
  • Use of SEO in Digital Marketing
  • Why SEO is Important for Businesses
  • How Content Drives Traffic
  • How Site Performance Drives Sales

If you’re wondering how SEO works, you’re not alone. Short for “search engine optimization,” SEO is essentially the science of web traffic. Businesses of all types and sizes use SEO to attract new customers and build brand credibility. This is done primarily by ranking highly in searches for relevant keywords and key phrases—but make no mistake, there’s much more to it. SEO is one of the more nuanced topics you’ll find, which is why we’re breaking down the basics to help you feel more comfortable investing in this must-have for any business with an online presence.

Use of SEO in Digital Marketing

To the naked eye, SEO simply makes your website information appear more organized and focused by marking every page clearly with the appropriate title tag, metadata and URL. Don’t be intimidated by the word, “metadata.” That’s just the short description of the page. Take a look:

  <meta charset="UTF-8">
  <meta name="description" content="How SEO Works">
  <meta name="keywords" content="SEO, Marketing">
  <meta name="author" content="John Doe">
  <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">

While it might seem easy to write these static features off the top of your head, the idea is to write them for specific search terms. We’ll take a step back and say that you actually want to be writing and formatting the entire web page itself for those terms. The strategy component of SEO is what makes it a digital marketing tactic.

By tailoring your website to the terms your audience is typing into Google, you’re bringing in higher-quality leads. You’re also helping Google fulfill its purpose of connecting users to the products, services and information they’re seeking—precisely the reason why Google rewards businesses that put in the effort to optimize their web content.

SEO does involve other search engines (such as Bing and Yahoo!), but because more than 90 percent of search traffic takes place on Google, the two have become synonymous. When we’re talking about SEO, we’re talking about Google. And when we’re talking about Google, we’re talking about the top of your digital marketing funnel. When someone lands on your website from a Google search, it’s the start of your relationship with them and the gateway to other tactics such as content marketing, email marketing, social media, and retargeting.

Why SEO is Important for Businesses

The gap between ranking on the first and second page of a given search is massive. Research from HubSpot found that 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. We’re actually surprised that number isn’t higher; when was the last time you clicked to the second page of a Google search? We would say we never do, but it’s part of our job to scour when we’re working to move our clients up in the rankings!

Think of it this way: If you’re not ranking highly in a search for your products or services, your competitors are—and that makes a huge difference. Statistics show that 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine and 81 percent of people type in a search before making a notable purchase. If a keyword receives 300 searches per month, those are 300 potential customers you’re either gaining or losing. We hope we don’t need to do any more convincing that SEO is the real deal (when you do it right, of course).

How Content Drives Traffic

The life force of SEO is content. It’s what gets people coming to your site daily. In addition to optimizing your website for keywords, you want to be creating fresh, diverse, high-quality content around those keywords in the form of blog articles, infographics, videos, etc. Many businesses mistake SEO as something they can set and forget. Meanwhile, the companies producing ongoing content outpace them over the long haul.

Remember, Google wants to send a user to the website that appears most useful and relevant to their specific search. If you’re a financial services company, for example, publishing a few dozen different articles over the course of a year around the topic of  “best credit cards” will position you to effectively compete for  that keyword against over company that only has basic site optimization for related terms, or, worse, none at all. Content marketing certainly requires time, energy, and resources, but the good news is that your investment will pay off several fold over the long haul as you gain SEO traction.

How Site Performance Drives Sales

While content brings people to your site, the user experience determines whether they convert. We have talked a lot about the contextual nature of SEO, but it is also very much a technical space. Conversion rates drop by 12 percent for every second that it takes your website to load, and bounce rates (the number of people who leave your site without clicking to another page) increase by 50 percent if your site takes two seconds or more to load. Again, SEO is something you do for good. Clients hire us to continuously monitor and refine their strategy, site architecture (the way your site is laid out), and conversion rate optimization.

SEO Agencies: When to Be Wary

Where many businesses go wrong with SEO is by hiring an agency that uses “black hat” or “gray hat” tactics. In the early days of the internet, you might remember seeing ridiculous web pages of “stuffed” keywords. We occasionally even come across them today. Or, some agencies will build their own link networks of dummy websites that they use to create fake “backlinks” to your site in hopes of enhancing its credibility.

Don’t even try to trick Google. They have proven time and time again that they will not only update their algorithm against such tactics, but also severely punish those who engage in them. Being blacklisted by Google is a thing, and one you do not want to risk happening to your business.

The takeaway is that you don’t necessarily want to hear promises of number one rankings and thousands of visitors when hiring an SEO agency. Opt instead for one that is going to commit to establishing an organic, transparent, sustainable SEO strategy that aligns with your business goals.

Now that you have a baseline understanding of how SEO works, it’s time to explore how it can work for your business in particular. Every business has its own unique opportunities waiting to be uncovered,

Dmitry Pierce

I am passionate about understanding consumer behavior, identifying market trends, and creatively communicating the unique value of products or services to potential customers. I am driven by a desire to positively impact people's lives by helping businesses succeed.

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