Somewhere back before the beginning of time, the idea of “search engine optimization” didn’t entail much more than making sure the words you wanted web surfers (remember that term?) to find your site for were prevalent across its pages.
There was very little in the way of tactics or strategy, even at a basic level.
For example: today, one of the most essential aspects of successful SEO is a well-designed, functioning mobile website. But in the days when search engines were still in their infancy, most of us were still getting used to having our clunky desktops hooked up to the web while landlines remained the dominant device of the phone industry.
89% of customers [now] begin their buying process with a search engine.
Suffice it to say, the game has changed, and with that change has come quite an eye-opener for business owners and webmasters everywhere. Maybe there is something to this SEO thing, after all.
What that something might be, however, is still a source of confusion for those yet to dip a toe in this perpetually evolving pond. So we thought we’d start by breaking down the basics of SEO and how it might be helpful to your web presence in the hopes that we can find you a solid answer to the question:
Why, exactly, should I bother with the basics of search engine optimization?
Putting Your Website on the Map
Despite the fact that its definition has expanded since the olden days, SEO at its core means a strong presence on search engine result pages. This allows users to find your website when they’re searching for the products, services or information it offers.
Again: the definition of SEO has expanded astronomically in that time, and the concept as a whole consists of many more elements today. However, that said and said again, it does not mean the idea of solid rankings and quality information at the top of search results is an idea of yesterday.
And while it may take a long, long time and a whole lot of strategic planning and execution to get there, starting with the basics means you’ll have the “quality information” angle covered when your website starts to show up in the top spot.
Here’s a quick look at what we mean by the basics and why they’re essential:
These are what show up in both Google search results and at the top of your browser bar for each respective page on your website. Google pays attention to the words present in these and takes them into account for rankings, so it’s essential that at least one of your core keywords appears here.
These are the little snippets that appear below the page title in search results. While it’s generally agreed these don’t have an impact on rankings in the same way that titles do, a well-written one is much more likely to attract higher levels of relevant traffic – the other half of the equation when it comes to a successful search presence.
Image ALT Text
This is an extra bit of text you can add to an image, which becomes visible to users when they hover over it with their mouse. ALT text helps search engines understand the context of an image, which they can’t see like a human does. It also helps visually impaired users understand what images are on a page, as they may be browsing with assisted audio.
It’s a given you’d have written words on your website (so your users can, you know, read about you), but it’s essential to focus on the quality of that copy. Search engines have gotten a lot better at understanding semantics, synonyms, and the quality and authority of a page’s copy. So make sure your content is well-written in the voice of an industry leader.
Internal links are links within your own site, rather than links from your site to others. Aside from helping users navigate your content more easily, they also help search engines understand its overall structure and make it easier for them to go from page to page when they’re analyzing your content.
Crawling & Indexing
Here’s where we get a little more technical.
Crawling is what Google and other search engines do with the pages of your site once they find it. It’s the process of analyzing aspects such as the quality and quantity of your content, your site’s overall structure, other sites you link to, and technical issues such as missing pages or broken images.
Indexing is the process of putting your site’s pages into a search engine’s index once it’s been crawled.
With these steps, Google works to process the pages of your site and put them on its search results pages for users to find.
And speaking of those, here’s the flip side of the coin that is basic search engine optimization…
Your Users Will Thank You
SEO isn’t just about search engines anymore!
Everything I just listed above goes for users just as much as it does for Google. All of the changes that SEO has gone through over the past two decades have seen it align more and more with the wants, needs and demands of the people performing thousands upon thousands of searches a day.
Without reinventing the wheel, let’s look at why.
Page Titles: A well-written, descriptive page title that contains the keyword or a close variant that the user searched demonstrates that your website matches their query and increases the likelihood of a click-through.
Page Descriptions: Same deal as above.
Written Copy: Google may have just started learning synonyms and understanding what makes good copy good, but that’s old hat for us non-droids. Poorly written copy can lead to a lack of trust from your users, which is almost a guarantee of a back button click.
Image ALT Text: Users with a visual impairment will find a significant benefit in descriptive text on the images across your website, as it will provide them with more context.
Internal Linking: A good internal linking structure can make it much easier and more efficient for users to navigate your site.
The fact that the acronym stands for search engine optimization makes it easy to discount human beings from the equation, but in this day and age, they’re a very, very big part of it and should be taken into account for everything you do with your site.
The Good News & Bad News About the Basics of Search Engine Optimization
We get it: whether or not your website has covered these first steps, no doubt you’re going to be eager to get to the good stuff that really starts to drive traffic. After all, everything you’ve heard about search engine optimization implies more online visibility, more traffic, more qualified leads and more sales, right?
Let’s start with the bad news first.
These basic tactics aren’t going to bring you an immediate increase in search rankings, user visits or transactions. SEO doesn’t work that way. It’s not an instant solution to being invisible on the web, it’s a slow-burning, strategic method of building an online presence that’s focused on attracting the right audience.
The good news, though, is that being patient and taking the time to perfect these tactics before moving on to next-level SEO – the real needle-movers – makes it a whole lot more likely you’ll see your rankings move.
And here, in a nutshell, is why good rankings matter:
As of 2015, organic (i.e, not ads) search drives 51% of all visitors to business-to-business and business-to-consumer web sites, whereas paid search (i.e., ads) drives 10% and social 5%. Source: MediaPost
The top organic result still captures about the same amount of click activity (32.8%) as it did in 2005. However, organic results that are positioned in the 2nd through 4th slots now receive a significantly higher share of clicks than in 2005–63% vs. 48%. Source: MarketingProfs
89% of customers begin their buying process with a search engine. Source: Biznology
Final Thoughts on Search Engine Optimization
If you’re just starting out, seeing any amount of success is going to take a lot of time, patience and perseverance – especially if you’re going right back to the basics and essentially re-constructing your site’s content from scratch.
Make no mistake: as we said, these first steps won’t do much needle-moving from the start, but they’ll pay off when that traffic does start coming in. They’re the foundation for an eventual long-term, more advanced strategy, which will be much more difficult to execute without putting these initial necessities in place.
Going back to our open house metaphor, skipping these first steps means you risk inviting a whole whack of guests over to a messy, unorganized and downright unappealing home. You may know how nice the living room looks when it’s been cleaned or how beautiful the backyard grass looks when it’s freshly trimmed, but nobody else there does, and they’re not likely to be swayed by what they see if things are in total disarray.
But if you take the time and effort to make sure that your page titles, descriptions, copy, images and linking structure offers clear messaging, quality content and a simple user experience, means that those eventual gains in rank will come with monumental gains in those metrics that matter: qualified traffic, leads and sales.
The basics of SEO may be boring, they may be slow-going, they may took a good deal of time to do, and they may not bring you the immediate results you want, but trust us when we say that they’re absolutely essential building blocks to long-term growth and success from search.