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Search engine optimization (SEO) simply explained

 

In this article, we will explain simply and understandably what SEO is, how it stands out from other online marketing disciplines and what you need to start. So let’s get started! 

What is SEO?

SEO encompasses all measures to increase the visibility and ranking of a website or other online content in a search engine like Google. The primary goal is to draw more users’ attention to your website in the search engine and to get them to click on the search result.SEO can also help to increase brand recognition and thus brand awareness of a company. Even if a search result is not clicked on, the user perceives the brand name.

SEO, SEA, and SEM

In addition to SEO, there is also the option of placing paid ads in search engines and thus generating more website traffic. This method is called Search Engine Advertising or SEA. Together, the two online marketing disciplines form Search Engine Marketing or SEM. In contrast to paid ads, traffic from unpaid search results through SEO is called organic traffic.

Difference SEO vs SEA

Why is SEO important?

Anyone who is not satisfied with search engine listings has a hard time asserting themselves against competitors. He is practically invisible on the Internet.Almost all users use a search engine when they surf the Internet. Comparatively few still enter the address of a website in the browser bar. In most cases, they don’t even know which website they want to go to. Instead, they use Google or another search engine to browse the wide range of information on the Internet.Of course, it is also possible to generate traffic via other channels. But without the organic traffic from search engines, you miss out on a very strong channel that offers a lot of potentials. Website operators and marketers are therefore well advised to consider SEO in their online marketing strategy.

How long does it take for SEO to work?

SEO is a long-term affair and usually doesn’t work overnight. It often takes some time for the implemented measures to take effect. If you start from scratch, you can already achieve quick improvements with a few basic measures. However, if you want to reach the top you have to go the extra mile. It can often take a few weeks or even months before the hoped-for success is achieved.

The importance of Google

Google has dominated the search engine market, maintaining a 92.47 percent market share as of June 2021 (source: Statista). The majority of potential website visitors therefore mainly use Google.

Google Market Share 2021

In China and Russia, other search engines have market power, too. However, if a website is optimized for Google and ranks well, the probability that it is also well-positioned in other search engines is high. Other search engines work similarly and in some cases, they use the same index as Google.

How does Google search work?

To understand SEO, you have to understand how Google views and rates web pages. To be able to display the most relevant pages in the search results, Google’s so-called Googlebot (also called crawler or spider) constantly searches (crawls) the internet.

Crawling, rating, and indexing

The crawler checks back frequently for changes and mainly works its way along the links in a website and the website structure. In addition, it scans the content along with the HTML elements such as title or headings. Other elements such as visual content or content structure are also scanned. Google rates and categorizes the pages according to their quality to be able to determine the search terms for which this page should be displayed later. Since Google is a text search engine, a rating is mainly based on the textual content of the website.

How do search engines work?

Google collects the gathered information in its index. If a user enters a search term on Google, the websites classified by Google as relevant to the topic are displayed in the search results.

Google ranking factors

Google’s goal is to show a user the best and most suitable result for his search query. To evaluate the relevance of a URL, Google uses around 300 so-called ranking factors. Due to constant updates of the Google algorithm, the weighting of the individual factors changes frequently. Nevertheless, the developments in recent years clearly show what is important for good rankings:

Content

The website content must be of good quality and match the user’s interest (search query). Technical factors such as a clear website structure or a well-developed internal link have a beneficial effect.

Backlinks

Backlinks are links from other websites pointing at your website. They can be seen as recommendations from other websites. These links are an important factor in evaluating a website, as good content tends to be linked frequently. If others frequently refer to your website, your credibility increases. This will also improve the search result. Conversely, this means if too many users have bad experiences with a website, it will drop in the search results. The external opinion is what matters to Google!

Bonus tip: If you refer to an external website, why not ask the website operator whether he can refer to your website in return?

User signals

A website tends to rank higher if it is clicked more often than others or if its users return to Google search less often.

Usability

Make sure that the user feels comfortable on your site, can navigate well, and load pages quickly. In May 2021 Google introduced a new ranking factor with the Core Web Vitals. Core Web Vitals are a set of standardized metrics that help site owners to understand the real-world user experience on a web page.

Location

The location of a user also plays a role. If a user searches for location-based services or offers (e.g. restaurant, car repair shop, hairdresser), personalized offers in his vicinity are preferably displayed to him.

on-page, off-page, and technical SEO

Perhaps you’ve heard of on-page, off-page or technical SEO in the context of SEO. Here is a brief explanation.

  • On-page SEO refers to all measures that are implemented on your own site, for example, the adaptation of texts, the optimization of website structures.
  • Off-page SEO comprises the measures that take place outside of your own website. This includes above all the aforementioned backlinks.
  • Technical SEO means all technical measures, such as optimizing the loading speed of a page.
On-page vs off-page vs technical-seo

Technical SEO: laying the foundations

Technical SEO is the basis for all further SEO measures. The website must be structured in a way that Google can easily access it. If the Googlebot can’t crawl a page, it won’t index it and it won’t appear in search results. If the foundation is not right, optimizations in the content area or the link structure cannot have an effect either.

Sounds too technical? No fear! In tools for SEO optimization such as the YOAST SEO plugin for WordPress, sitemaps can be generated and other SEO settings mentioned in this section can be conveniently made.

Technical SEO comprises a variety of measures, such as

Website structure and internal linking

Try to keep a clear and flat website structure. This makes it easier for the crawler to capture all content.

URL (website address) structure

Use a logical and consistent URL structure that makes sense in terms of content i. e. https://my.domain.com/blog/example-keyphrase-one/.

XML sitemaps

An XML sitemap is a specific text file that is located in the root directory of a web page. It makes it easier for search engines to find pages and content and to index them properly. The file contains a table of contents about the website structure similar to the table of contents in a book.

Control of crawling

Which pages or directories are crawled and which are not can be determined, for example, via robots.txt.

Control of the indexing

If there is content on your website that should not appear in the search results (e.g. shopping carts, duplicate content, or results pages of the internal search), you can exclude them from being indexed by Google. You can use the meta robots instruction “noindex” or a canonical for this purpose.

Website security

Older websites are often insecure and attackers can intercept and read potentially transmitted data. Websites often still use the unsafe ‘http://’ protocol instead of a secure ‘https://’ protocol. Internet security is important to Google, which is why search engines prefer secure websites with a valid SSL certificate.

Zombie Pages

Over time irrelevant content accumulates in a website. Google hates websites with orphaned content because they do not add value for the user. So tidy up your website and delete outdated content.

Redirects

If a URL changed, the old URL should be redirected to the new one. This ensures that the crawler can keep the relation between old and new that no rankings are lost.

Mobile optimization

The mobile presentation of a website is particularly important for Google. It must be ensured that the website can be operated well on smartphones and that all content is accessible.

Page speed

Long page loading times (> 5 seconds) are rated negatively by Google and should therefore be avoided. A website that loads quickly not only gets a positive rating from Google, it also makes users happier.This brief outline of technical SEO cannot fully represent the variety of measures. It is only intended to provide an overview.

Content. The heart of your website

One reason for Google to display your website high in the search results is particularly important: Because you have the content that users are looking for. The quality and relevance of your website content can therefore not be overstated. But how do you find out which content appeals to your web audience?When optimizing your content, you should always keep the user in mind. Google has become significantly better at interpreting content with a strong focus on relevance and user experience. Your content should therefore be both: Easy to consume and offer added value for the user.

SEO Relevant Content Elements

Google is a text search engine. Therefore the majority of content optimization is text-related. Visual content elements are no exception and can therefore be provided with SEO-relevant information. Do it!

Keyword research: matching a user’s intent

Keywords play a central role in SEO. These are the search terms that users enter in the search to find suitable content. First of all, you have to find out which keywords people are using to search for your products, services, or content.With the help of keyword analysis, you can determine the important keywords for your topic and optimize or create your content accordingly. Not every keyword makes sense in every context and competition also plays a role. You should also always check the intention with which a user enters this keyword, i.e. what content he expects to find when he searches for it (search intention).Once you have found the relevant keywords, assign them to the existing pages of your website and check whether the existing content meets the search intention. This process is known as keyword mapping.Initially, you should optimize your page only for one keyword (or a keyphrase of max. 4 keywords) so that Google knows exactly which content should rank for the term. After that, you can start optimizing.

SEO Meta information
Use keywords in the following page elements
  • URLs (the address of a web page)
  • Page title & meta description, also known as the snippet. This is what the user sees in the search results. By optimizing the snippet well, you can not only improve your rankings but also encourage users to click on your result.
  • Headings & subheadings
  • Paragraphs
  • Visual content like images (alt attribute, image descriptions, file names)
  • Internal and external links in a paragraph that refer to further content or external websites are very important. Google rates content that is frequently linked as particularly relevant. The link texts (also called anchor texts) should always match the linked page thematically.

Bonus tip: Be careful with too many repetitions. At the beginning, once per element is recommended, provided it makes sense in terms of content.

Success measurement in SEO

The success of SEO measures is usually determined by better search results. For example, your page ranks in the top positions in search engines for important search queries. A high level of visibility can acquire more new website visitors and, ideally, generate more conversions.In the best case, the website ranks on position 1 but at least on the first page of the search results.

Most users don’t visit the second page of search results.

As early as 2015, Johannes Beus from Sistrix evaluated that 99.1% of all clicks were distributed over the first 10 organic search results, while results from the second page onwards are almost unnoticed by users. Although these statistics are a bit older, they have not lost any of their relevance.

SEO Relevant Content Elements

On the contrary – due to advertisements, universal search results, and featured snippets, the organic search results often even slide so far down that only a few get the user’s attention at all.

Visibility

The visibility of a page can be determined with different tools. The best known is the Sistrix Visibility Index. The rankings of a website are determined based on a general set of keywords and a corresponding index value. If the visibility increases, this is a sign of a functioning SEO strategy.

Tools

In addition to visibility, there are other tools to measure the success of your SEO strategies such as Google Search Console or Google Analytics. These tools provide information about

  • how many users have reached your website,
  • how many clicks and impressions you generated,
  • information about the keywords used

and many more. This information can be used to determine exactly whether something has changed on the content that you have optimized. Which information is the most relevant for you, depends on your business model and the goals you are pursuing with SEO.

Conclusion

As you can see, SEO is a complex matter and many factors play a role. Ultimately, it’s the right mix of technology, links, and content to get the most out of your website. For a meaningful SEO strategy, you should therefore always consider these three sub-areas of SEO.You have to be clear: SEO is often not a quick fix and takes time, especially when it comes to optimizing the content. Some technical adjustments can achieve quick improvements. Necessary content adjustments often take weeks or even months before they are reflected in better rankings and thus generate more traffic.It is definitely worth the effort. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t see an immediate effect. Monitor the development of your SEO metrics and apply the tips mentioned here to optimize your success.For further information, please get in touch with us to make an appointment for a personal and free consultation.

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