Let’s begin with a question.
Google, YouTube, Amazon: What do they have in common?
Google is a search engine, YouTube is the place you go to watch the newest trailer for Marvel’s next big movie, and Amazon – if you’re anything like me — is where you go to buy…well…everything!
And if that’s how you think of them, you’re not wrong.
But what do they all have in common?
They are all search engines. In fact, they are the top three search engines.
And they’re massive.
Now let’s say you have a small business – you want to show up on these search engines, right? You want people to be able to find you the same way you’ve found countless other things.
So then, you ask, how do people find you on these search engines?
Now you’re asking the right question.
And that is precisely why search engine optimization (SEO) is so crucial for any business, any brand, or any individual trying to make it out there.
Because if people can’t find your business in one of the popular search engines, you’re missing out on a lot of potential business.
We’re talking business that could make or break you.
So let us at Digital Marketing Tools give you a helping hand.
Below you’ll learn what SEO marketing is; you’ll learn SEO tools, SEO tips, and how to improve SEO.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
So read on to get up to speed on all aspects of SEO marketing and learn to get found on the major search engines with this SEO guide.
The Question Everyone Wants to Know — What is SEO?
As we alluded to above, SEO stands for search engine optimization.
It’s a way to optimize your website, or blog post, or sales page, to use keywords to rank on Google (or another search engine).
But still, what is SEO?
Let me put it this way: if you own a website, you’ll want to optimize it for search engines, this will ensure your target audience (read more this in our Ultimate Guide to Social Media Marketing) can find your website when using keywords, or keyword phrases, relevant to your business.
For example, a business owner with an e-commerce store selling athletic shoes online wants anyone who searches for the following terms to find the store’s web pages:
- running shoes
- tennis shoes
- gym shoes
And not just to find them, but ideally to find them on the first page (because, honestly, how often do you click that ‘page 2’ button at the bottom of the page?).
And even more ideally, the top half of page one.
How do you accomplish that?
You have to ensure that each relevant product and category page on the website is optimized for specific keywords and keyword phrases.
And this process, my friends, is what we refer to as search engine optimization or SEO.
Sounds easy, right? I wish.
Search engine optimization encompasses a wide range of tasks that website owners, business owners, and marketers perform to help their websites get better visibility in search.
But we’re here for you; our handy SEO guide will help you improve SEO for your business, from SEO basics to how to improve SEO on your website, we’ve got what you’re looking for.
Why is SEO Marketing Important?
Hopefully, we’ve answered your question, “what is SEO?” – at least enough to understand why it’s essential, but do you know why SEO marketing is necessary for your business?
For every click on a paid result in Google, there are 11.6 clicks to organic search results.
Paid ads…pay (snicker), but SEO is far from dead.
While a longer-term plan, SEO remains one of the best marketing plans a business can have.
Think about this: if you’re anything like me when searching Google, you skip right over the paid ads at the top.
Just know that we’re not alone: 70-80% of users ignore these paid ads.
That’s not to say they can’t be a win for a company, because I’ve been on the other side of it, too, and it generates leads, especially if you’re having a tough time ranking on page 1 of Google.
So how do you make organic happen?
If you focus on optimizing your website for search engines to increase your visibility in organic search, you won’t have to buy paid search ads to pull customers to your website. And with better rankings for the right keyword phrases in organic search results, you will attract customers to your website continually.
Warning: I’m about to throw a bunch of acronyms your way.
For specific industries, being on the first page of organic search results can have a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) than pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. According to Ubersuggest (Neil Patel’s great keyword app), here are the cost-per-click (CPC) averages for keywords on Google Ads.
- Homeowners insurance – $67.39
- VA mortgage loan – $55.20
- Personal injury lawyer – $149.16
- Business credit cards – $86.19
- Online psychology degree – $81.96
How about some case studies, data, research, and statistics about the importance of search engine optimization? We’ve got some for you:
- In 2015, Google shared that 51% of smartphone users discovered a new company using mobile search.
- In 2016, Google admitted to handling over 2 trillion searches per year.
- In 2017, Shareaholic’s study of referral traffic showed traffic from search beat social.
- In 2018, Martech released a study that 70% – 80% of search users ignore paid ads and focus on organic search results.
- In 2019, SmartInsights published a report showing organic search as the second-highest performing traffic source, with conversion rates for e-commerce stores at 2.8%, just underpaid search conversion rates at 2.9%.
- In 2019, BrightEdge Data Cube research found that SEO was the top traffic generator, with 53% of all trackable website traffic originating from organic search. B2B companies, in particular, benefit as they generate 2X revenue from organic search traffic.
- In 2020, GlobalStats shows 92.51% of the search engine market share worldwide belonging to Google. This stat is live and fluctuates daily, but typically stays above 90%, which is why SEOs focus on Google.
Who Needs SEO Marketing?
I don’t know; maybe you should Google it?
While I’m joking around, just the fact that Google is a handy and well-known verb should tell you all you need to know.
As a business, you want to do everything in your power to rank on Google. And the higher, the better.
Does your business need SEO services? The most important questions to ask are these:
- Are you getting enough website traffic?
- Do you want more website traffic?
If your website doesn’t appear at the top of organic search results for the keyword phrases your customers are searching for, you need SEO.
If your website doesn’t come up as the first result for your business name and the rest of your business name results aren’t favorable, you need SEO.
Let me take it a step further.
Why are organic search results favorable to paid?
They have staying power.
As long as you do it right, organic traffic is sustainable. If you rank your website or an article, that ranking doesn’t flatline as soon as you start focusing on your next article.
But paid? As soon as you stop paying, your paid ads stop working for you.
I’m not advocating against paid, but I am advocating for SEO.
A great marketing plan should have both. Think of it this way:
- SMO (Search Marketing Optimization, or Paid) – short-term success, and can bridge the gap to a struggling or starting business venture, until you get your SEO working for you.
- SEO – long-term success. If you start to rank, you’ve got staying power, my friends. But don’t stop focusing on it just because you’re there.
They both have their place.
But if you want more long-term and sustainable traffic to come to your website, then you need SEO.
Do You Need to Improve SEO? How Customers See You in Search
The answer is almost always “yes” – you can always stand to improve SEO.
But, if you want to confirm, let’s do some SEO keyword research.
Go to Google search now and type in a few keywords that you think your customers would use to find your business.
- Does a page from your business’s website come up on the first page of search results?
- Does a page from your business’s website come up in the first five search results?
- Does a page from your business’s website come up as the first result?
Next, do a Google search of your business name itself.
- Does your business’s website come up as the first result?
- Are there any competitors with paid advertisements above the organic search results?
- Are the rest of the search results on the page favorable towards your business?
Unless you are ranked first in all of these categories, you should always improve SEO.
And if you are ranked first in these categories? Don’t look now, but there is a group of businesses now gunning for you – trying to knock you off that pedestal.
Meaning? Keep improving, no matter what.
Your Business & SEO Analytics
Are you looking for some SEO Tools to help you out? Look no further than Google Analytics.
It may be the only SEO tool you need.
Go to your website’s Google Analytics dashboard and look at your Acquisition Channels report. This will break your traffic down into default traffic groupings.
From here you’ll be able to get a good handle on the traffic coming to your website, and where it’s coming from.
Focus on Organic Search Engine Optimization
Organic Search encompasses website visitors that can be traced back to Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Yandex, Ask, Ecosia, So.com, Baidu, Naver, and other search engines from around the world.
All of that said – as of January 2020, Google has over an 85% market share in the search engine market.
Google Analytics reports organic search traffic when someone clicks on a link from organic search results (not a PPC listing) in one of the search engines mentioned above.
This is the one we’re interested in the most right now. Expand the date range for a couple of years and look at your graph. What do you see?
Now expand it further – as far back as you have been running Google Analytics for your business. A short view of your Organic Search traffic may not show any signs of a problem other than a need for more traffic.
A longer view of your SEO analytics data may reveal that either you have always needed more traffic from Organic Search or you need to recapture the Organic Search traffic that you had in the past.
In other words, you need SEO.
Other channels listed include direct traffic. It encompasses website visitors that can’t be traced back to how they arrived at your website. Google Analytics reports direct traffic when the following happens.
- Someone has opted out of Google Analytics tracking using their browser’s settings or add-ons.
- Someone typed your website address in their browser’s address bar.
- Someone used a saved browser bookmark to visit your website.
- Someone visited your website using a dark social app (Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat, Skype, email, text, etc.).
- Someone visited your website by clicking on a link from a secure website using HTTPS. If you don’t have a secure website using HTTPS, it is marked as Direct Traffic instead of Referral or Social Traffic.
Next is Referral Traffic. It encompasses website visitors that can be traced back to a specific link they clicked to your website that wasn’t from an email, search engine, or social network. Google Analytics reports direct traffic when someone clicks on a link from an article on a blog to your website.
Social Traffic encompasses website visitors that can be traced back from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Reddit, Quora, Pocket, Instapaper, and similar.
Email Traffic encompasses website visitors that can be traced back to email applications like gmail.com or email campaigns that have been specifically tagged as such using email marketing services like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and Active Campaign.
Other Traffic encompasses website visitors that do not fall into any other category.
If you use paid advertising, you may see traffic channels for Paid Search, Display, or Other Advertising. These channels encompass website visitors who have come from PPC advertising campaigns (like Google Ads) or other advertising platforms to drive new traffic to your website.
How do Search Engines Work?
Are you ready to get more traffic to your website from organic search?
To do that, let’s look into how search engines direct visitors to your website based on their search queries.
The Search Index
When someone visits a search engine and searches for a keyword phrase, the search engine algorithm ranks the most relevant web pages in its index, in order, and returns them in its search results pages. Or in Google’s case, it’s many algorithms.
So it’s important to make your website both relevant and keyword friendly (as opposed to keyword-heavy, which Google can construe as keyword stuffing).
To do that, you must understand ranking factors (at least what we even know of them – which, unfortunately, isn’t everything. Google is, in many respects, a black box of algorithms and ranking factors.
But we will do our best to break down what we do know.
Algorithms and Ranking Factors
According to Google, their algorithms.
“Look at many factors, including the words of your query, relevance and usability of pages, expertise of sources, and your location and settings. The weight applied to each factor varies depending on the nature of your query—for example, the freshness of the content plays a bigger role in answering queries about current news topics than it does about dictionary definitions.”
In addition, Google’s algorithms are continually being updated. In just one year, they ran:
- 594,429 search quality tests
- 44,155 side-by-side experiments
- 15,096 live traffic experiments
- 3,234 launches with the most experienced engineers and data scientists.
Search Quality Raters
In addition to improving Google’s AI, Google’s team of Search Quality Raters have a 160-page guide to further review the quality of a website. The manual review process can also affect a website’s rankings in search if a Search Quality Rater determines a website hasn’t provided enough trust factors for its users.
Robots and Crawling
Search engines like Google use robots to crawl the internet in search of new content. Robots use links to discover new web pages to add to the search index – the database in which a search engine stores all the content it can find on the internet.
If you checked your Google Analytics earlier and didn’t see a lot of traffic from search engines, run the following test to see if your website is in the search index:
Visit google.com and type in site:yourdomain.com in the address bar. You should see the web pages from your website that Google has in its search index.
The same tactic works for bing.com, yahoo.com, and duckduckgo.com – the other top three English search engines.
This exercise should let you know if all the essential pages on your website are available to Google search users in the search index.
If you have thousands of pages on your website – product pages, content pages, etc. – yet Google is indexing only a couple of hundred, you may have a technical issue blocking robots from accessing your site.
This is costing you valuable search engine traffic!
While you’re viewing your number of indexed pages, you can also look at how search engines see your content by viewing the cached version of your main web pages.
The text-only view of your web page will give you an indicator of how search engine robots see your web pages. You’ll see the keywords that search engines are using to categorize your page.
Viewing your page this way will help you see the text content that may be valuable to your users, but hidden to search engines because they are in images or video.
Moving on, there are several factors with your website itself that can affect SEO.
How Does Website Design and Structure Affect SEO?
Now that you have a basic understanding of how search engines work, you probably realize that the way your website is set up may affect its appearance in search.
If your website isn’t providing a great user experience for people who click through to a web page from search results, you will lose that visitor, and you may lose your rankings as well.
- Fast – Your website responds quickly to a user’s interactions.
- Integrated – Your website works similarly on all devices.
- Note: Mobile is vital – if your website isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re missing out. It’s currently estimated that m-commerce (mobile) will reach 45% of the total e-commerce market by the end of 2020. And that number is snowballing.
- Reliable – Your website performs under any network conditions.
- Engaging – Your website delivers “beautifully designed experiences that look and feel natural.”
You can find out if your website provides a great user experience by testing it out on multiple devices yourself or by viewing your Google Analytics.
Check out your Bounce Rate (single page sessions with no interactions) and Avg. Session Duration in the Devices reports under the Mobile category of the Audiences section.
If you know your average Bounce Rate is under 66% and your Average Session Duration is 3:19 minutes for desktop users, you can see that mobile device users have a harder time on your website. How? With higher Bounce Rates and lower session times.
Structural issues that can cause search engines to skip over some of your content begin with navigation. Search engines crawl web pages using links. If a search engine robot lands on your homepage, they will use your homepage links to index the web pages on your website.
Therefore, if your website’s navigational structure doesn’t include a link to all the important pages on your website, many of your web pages may not be indexed appropriately.
Robots don’t just focus on links within your main navigation menu – since they crawl your content, they’ll crawl links in your content as well. Hence the importance of interlinking your content.
Redesigns and Redirects
Are you looking to redesign your website?
Just be careful. Redesigns can present an SEO challenge, mainly if it requires any of your existing Uniform Resource Locator (URL) – which is just a fancy way to say your pages web address.
So if you’re doing a redesign and changing URLs, you have to have a good plan for redirection of the old URLs to the new URLs – or you stand a chance of losing the traffic you’ve gained.
So if you are making significant changes, be wary, do your research, and make sure the user experience doesn’t suffer.
Google Search Console
Want to find some additional SEO issues?
Well, probably not – but you should if they’re present.
And you can identify more by using the free Search Console tool by Google.
If you already have Google Analytics, you can add your website to the Search Console by authenticating it with your Google Analytics account.
It will then notify you of issues that you need to resolve with your webmaster or an SEO specialist, such as:
- Other technical issues
Resolving Technical SEO Issues
This is where SEO comes into play. The correct set of search engine optimization tactics will ensure that:
- Your web pages are accessible to robots for indexing.
- The content on your web pages will allow them to be categorized appropriately for specific terms.
- The coding on your web pages will give them the best chance to stand out in search, so people are more likely to click on your link over others.
- The content on your website meets quality standards and provides important trust factors for your users.
- Your website’s design offers a fast, integrated, reliable, and engaging experience for your users.
Most importantly, though, SEO will ensure that there are links out there to help robots discover your new content, so it gets added to the search index as quickly as possible.
We’ll discuss how that works a little later in this article.
Now that you know about the technical issues that can affect SEO and the remedies that can resolve them, let’s look at additional SEO strategies that can be used to increase a website’s visibility in search.
What is SEO Keyword Research?
Once you have your website’s technical SEO issues in order, the next step towards ensuring that you get more visibility in search is choosing the right keywords.
SEO keyword research allows you to find the search terms most often used by the people you want to discover your web pages on search.
For example, let’s say that you have an e-commerce store that sells pet supplies. Chances are, you have a lot of products. This means you have a lot of web pages that you can optimize for many keywords.
Your goal then is to optimize each product page and product category page with the most suitable search terms possible.
Free tools like Ubersuggest allow you to enter keywords related to your web page’s content, products, or services. It will then give you suggestions of keywords you can use along with estimated search volume for the month, how much you would pay per click for Google Ads, and who your competitors are on the first page of search.
Every page that you want visitors to discover on your website must be optimized for a relevant keyword.
Most pages will be optimized for one main keyword phrase (your primary keyword) and have additional related keyword phrases (your secondary keywords) sprinkled throughout the content.
Once you have created a list of your top pages, main keyword phrases, and related phrases, you’re ready to move on to on-page SEO optimization.
How to Improve SEO and the On-Page Factors that Affect It
So now you know how to research keywords, but what do you do with them?
How about if you take that SEO keyword research and learn how to improve SEO on your website with it?
To optimize a web page for a keyword or keyword phrase, you must include that keyword on your web page. On-page factors that affect SEO, allowing you to let Google know what your page is about, include the following.
- Title tag – The title of your page should include your targeted keyword phrase. The first 50 to 60 characters may appear in search results, as shown above.
- Meta description tag – The meta description of your page won’t necessarily help your page rank for a target keyword, but if it includes the target keyword, it will be bolded. The first 150 – 160 characters may appear in search results, as shown above.
- URL – The URLs of your website can/should be structured to use keywords. URLs can be optimized like this: https://yourdomain.com/page-keyword-phrase/ or optimized and organized like this: https://yourdomain.com/category-keyword/page-keyword-phrase/.
- Content – Your page’s content should naturally include the target keyword phrase and related keyword phrases. A page about men’s shoes would also mention shoes for men, men’s dress shoes, casual men’s shoes, etc.
- Images – Images on your page should include your target keyword phrase in the filename, ALT tag, title tag, and caption. This may give your web page additional search visibility in Google Image search results.
- Links – Links help search engine robots find new content on your website. If you can include links to other relevant pages on your website, include them within your content.
Structured Data Markup
In addition to these on-page factors, structured data markup is another way to let Google know exactly what your web page is about.
You can use schema.org to find the markup needed for web pages for organizations, people, places, local businesses, products, services, and many other specific entities.
Here’s an example of a schema on the Barnes & Noble website:
And here’s how it appears in search results in their Knowledge Graph box to the right:
While Google will pull data from multiple sources, it will also use your structured data markup in search results. This makes schema markup a powerful on-page SEO factor that every website needs to implement if they haven’t already.
How to Improve SEO and the Off-Page Factors that Affect It
Of course, on-page factors affect SEO, but there are also plenty of off-page factors that do.
One of the main off-page factors that affect a website’s visibility in search is incoming links.
And as always with Google, there are rules, but maybe not what you’d think.
Google has a strict set of guidelines that discuss how you cannot build links, including:
- buying links
- link exchanges
- low-quality content publishing
- automated services
- text advertisements
- low-quality directories
- bad press releases
- widely-distributed website footer links
- forum comments
- And more
Google also says that you can help them find your site by doing this:
“Make sure that any sites that should know about your pages are aware your site is online.”
In most cases, when you look at your competitors in search, you’ll find that most will have built several links to the web pages that are ranking in search results and their main domain.
You can see an example of this in the Ubersuggest results for the keyword phrase home insurance.
While the web page in the number one spot only has 204 incoming links, Allstate’s primary domain has over 7 million links.
Consider this as you’re doing your competitive research – be sure to click through to see the links that the primary domain has, so you can see the authority their website is carrying.
Which is why SEO campaigns almost always include link building and outreach. Links help search engines discover your content as well as give your website authority. The stronger the authority of the website linking to yours, the more authority search engines will give to your website because of that link.
For example, let’s say your website sells supplies for people with diabetes.
- If you get a link from a website about casinos, a search engine will not count this as a point towards your authority about diabetes supplies. This may not improve your rankings in search.
- Suppose you get a link from the American Diabetes Association or the Mayo Clinic. In that case, a search engine will count this as a point towards your authority about diabetes supplies, improving your rankings in search.
As you can see, not just any link will suffice.
The key is quality.
Remember – Just because it’s a part of your SEO strategy doesn’t mean it’s not a part of your overall brand strategy. The person, or service, you choose to create content and reach out to other website owners for links will represent your brand. Because the content and copy you create for links may eventually reach your customers.
Most link building strategies begin with competitive research. Meaning – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
So take a look at your competitor’s backlinks first. This involves analyzing the backlink profile of each of your competitors on the first page of search results.
If you filter out only the best backlinks from your top competitors, you’ll get an insight into the best ways to build backlinks for your website. You’ll find the top directories, blogs, media outlets, and other websites that are most likely to link to you. But that is assuming you can provide the same value that your competitors have.
In most cases, this means creating a piece of valuable content on your website to link to, such as an infographic, report, research piece, or blog post.
Even a free tool – Pingdom’s free website speed testing tool, as an example, has over 10,000 links!
What are the Best Ways to Track SEO Success?
When it comes to measuring SEO success, there are dozens of metrics you will hear about.
Some are proprietary metrics created by SEO tool services – others are metrics from web analytics tools. The most commonly tracked metrics include:
- Domain Authority – Domain Authority is a ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a website is likely to perform in search results. You can check your Domain Authority using Moz’s free Link Explorer.
- Page Authority – Page Authority is a ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how well a web page is likely to perform in search results. You can check your Page Authority using Moz’s free Link Explorer.
- Number of Links – Track the growth of the number of links and the number of referring domains to your website. You can check your incoming links using Moz’s free Link Explorer.
- Keyword Visibility – Track the growth of your website’s visibility in search for your top keyword phrases. You can monitor your top 10 keyword phrases with a free SEMrush account – just set up your website as a new project and add your keywords.
Ultimately, the growth you want to see is in Organic Search Traffic, which you should be able to track in Google Analytics under the Channels report in Acquisition.
As your website’s visibility in search grows for more keyword phrases, your Organic Search Traffic should increase. This is the primary goal of SEO.
What are The Best SEO Tools?
There are lots of great SEO tools that you can use to start exploring your website’s position in search. Although we’ve mentioned a few already, here they are again along with some others that have received a lot of great reviews from professionals in the search marketing industry:
- Google Search Console (free) – Tools for webmasters to monitor their website’s traffic and performance in search.
- Google Analytics (free) – Website analytics tool to measure and analyze data about website visitor behavior.
- Google Web Fundamentals (free) – Library of educational materials, coding samples, case studies, and web developers’ tools.
- Google Webmaster Guidelines (free) – Guidelines for creating websites that Google can find, index, and rank.
- Ubersuggest (free) – In-depth research tool.
- Moz (free/paid) – Comprehensive organic and local search marketing platform. Offers limited features for free.
- SEMrush (free/paid) – Comprehensive organic and paid search marketing platform. Offers limited features for free.
- Monitor Backlinks (paid) – Simple keyword and backlink monitoring tool, starting at $20 per month for one domain, 50 keywords, and 2,500 backlinks.
While there are many more SEO tools out there, these are the best ones to start with that will provide a lot of insight into your SEO strategy at a minimal cost.
What Can You Expect in the Future of SEO Marketing?
Now you know the SEO basics, but what about the current trends that search marketers are focusing on in 2020 and beyond? More importantly, how important are current trends for your website?
The top trends for 2020 include:
- Rapidly evolving AI
- Voice search
- New Schema markups
- Optimizing for Featured Snippets
- Making your website E-A-T worthy.
How do these trends affect SEO and your website?
In most cases, making sure your website is ready for new trends means an SEO audit of your content and coding.
- Are all of your top web pages providing the best user experience? Most of the search quality tests and experiments developed to improve Google’s search algorithm were focused on teaching Google’s AI to rank websites that provided the best user experience.
- Are all of your top web pages using the most relevant structured data markup? If not, you may be losing organic search traffic from voice search users and from not standing out in search with featured snippets.
- Does your website have all the E-A-T factors in place? If your website gets submitted for manual review, you could lose your website rankings for not giving users enough reason to trust your content.
Go Forth and Optimize for SEO!
Whew! We know that was a lot to get through, so kudos for sticking around. SEO can get pretty in-depth if you want to succeed. But believe me, it’s worth it – because you want to succeed at SEO!
So you could sit there wallowing in anxiety and overwhelm, wondering why you can’t get visitors to your page without paying the outrageous fees for paid, or…
You could run through this SEO guide, understand how to improve SEO, and get to work getting your page in front of people, organically!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to SEO, SEO tools, and SEO trends. What else would you like to know about SEO? Let us know in the comments below!