What Does SEO Mean for a True Beginner
First warning: This post is written for those of us just starting to understand some concepts of SEO...like, for instance, there is such a thing. We are the ones on tricycles in the driveway while others ride bikes in the neighborhood or rev their motorcycles as they fly down the street. If you are anexpert, aka a motorcycle rider, please move on; this post ain't for you. But, fellow tricyclists...read on!
Second warning: I am including some tough realities about SEO that we (as new entrepreneurs) have to know and face.
Purposes of This Post
The first purpose of this post is to give you some basic understanding of SEO, just enough to make you dangerous and probably confused, but still more knowledgeable than when you began reading.
Secondly, I want you to take the short quiz at the end of the post and do well to prove to yourself that you know basic SEO vocabulary. (I was a teacher in my former life so I can't help myself!) Knowing these terms will help your future readings on SEO go much smoother. In fact, knowing the vocabulary is half the battle when learning a new skill or concept!
Some Background about SEO
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
In a search, the results that come up first on the SERP, or Search Engine Results Page, are sites that have been search-engine optimized. For some reason, the search engine really, really likes them. (We will look briefly at some of the whys later in the post.)
In a nutshell, SEO is the art of naturally driving search engine traffic to your website or content. It does not include paying for ads at the top of the SERP; that is not organic traffic but paid-for traffic. The rest of this post is about SEO, not paid-for traffic.
Why Search Engines Like Some Sites More Than Others
There are lots of technical reasons why some sites are preferred more than others...and many of them are out of the scope of this post and above my pay grade. :) But, to put it simply, it is a popularity contest.
Most sites are positioned in the top spots of SERPs because they really are the most popular in the online realm for that topic/niche. Many of these companies or bloggers have been online for a long time. Therefore, they have published a boat load of content in their niche and have lots of customers who refer others to them. (Please note, not all popular sites have been around forever. There are great stories of sites and bloggers who rank well and have done it in just a matter of months or a few years. However, plan for it to take a while to rank well, and then it is just gravy on top if it happens quickly for you.)
So, how do sites get popular? In Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO, the writers point out a few things that the highly ranked sites usually do. As an entrepreneur just beginning and probably one with little to no budget like me, the first 2 are obtainable. The 3rd one, though, is more difficult with a small budget, but there are things you definitely can do to address the point.
1.) The site is easy to understand and to navigate. We have all been to the sites where links don't work or pages can't be found or you have no clue what you are supposed to click on. Don't be that site! If you sell product, make it easy for customers to buy. If you write posts, make it easy for your visitors to find and read them.
2.) The site should contain important information, and the info should match the query. In other words, the site provides reputable content about the searched-for topic.
3.) The site is expertly designed and easily accessible by all browsers. Uh-oh! The professionally-designed thing is a money issue for many of us starting out. (I dream about one day having my site handled by a professional! Wouldn't that be heavenly!)
You can address the browser thing with a few smart decisions...at least until you can afford an expert--wink, wink. These suggestions help ensure your site is built on a solid structure that browsers and search engines at least like. As you embrace being your own webmaster, you will discover ways to make browsers and search engines love your site, but that is for the near future.
1.) Build your site on a vetted platform like WordPress.org or purchase hosting and site building from well known companies like Weebly, Wix, or Squarespace.
2.) If you choose a site design platform like WordPress.org, purchase hosting from respected companies like BlueHost, HostGator, or Go Daddy. There are other great hosting companies; I listed 3 of the most popular.
*A brief explanation, a site built using WordPress.org is considered a self-hosted site because you, yourself, must purchase hosting for your site from an outside provider like BlueHost. (Hosting is similar to purchasing a parking space for your site on the internet.) WordPress.org is used for building your site, not hosting it. On the other hand, if you decide to create your site using companies like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace,or WordPress.com, your site is considered a hosted site because hosting is provided by that company; it is a packaged deal.
3.) Be sure to "register" your site using Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. *Bing powers Yahoo so using Bing Webmaster Tools covers them both. There are several steps to doing this, and each of these powerhouse search engines do a pretty good job walking you through the process. (I admit that this side of SEO scares me. But, it is a necessity if you are your own webmaster, which many of us entrepreneurs are. So, put your big pants on, and do it!) By registering, you essentially are shaking hands and introducing yourself to Google and Bing. There are more technical steps like submitting a sitemap you may want to do in the near future, but start with shaking hands. (There are mixed reviews on submitting sitemaps. Some sources insist it is good practice; others say there is no need. So, that discussion is for another day.)
Backlinks and Inbound Links
Linking is a big deal to search engines. Most reputable SEOs researchers/marketers admit that they do not know the exact importance each search engine places on the links found within content. But, based on tests they devise regularly, it is evident that links play a role in being popular at Search Engine High. :) Why? A large number of backlinks and inbound links to your site makes you appear authoritative on that topic to the search engines. (To put it simply, linking to your site is a vote for you for the homecoming court at Search Engine High!)
Backlinks and inbound links are almost synonymous terms, just from a different point of view. To explain, backlinks are links that direct users from content on one website "back" to content on a different website. An inbound link is a link coming "in" from one site to your site.
For example, I earlier referenced Moz's Beginner's Guide to SEO, and now I have it linked (active so you can click to go there). So, I am backlinking to Moz, directing you from my site back to the Moz site if you choose to go. From Moz's perspective, it is an inbound link...a link coming in from another website.
So, it is that easy!
Get a lot of people linking to content on your site, and your site moves to the top spots on SERPs. Not exactly...you want reputable sites linking to your content. In other words, do not buy links from shady companies promising to raise your SEO, and do not involve yourself in schemes that are trying to cheat the system to get inbound links. Search engines are very good at detecting these suspicious methods and will ban your site from SERPs, and that is a bigger problem than having no inbound links!
It is perfectly fine, though, and actually suggested as a link building strategy to develop relationships with other respectable bloggers and business owners; in doing so, you gain inbound links authentically (because other people truly like your work and want to reference it on their sites).
Lastly, note that backlinks and inbound links are not the same as someone retweeting your post with your link in it or sharing the link on Facebook. You want that type of exposure socially because it brings more people to your site. But, links posted for sharing on social media are not the same as inbound links and backlinks.
On sites dedicated to understanding SEO, user's intent is mentioned often. Search engines are getting better and better at determining what the searcher is actually seeking, or intending to learn, in his/her search. This improvement is based on the actual phrase typed in the search bar (the arrangement of the words) and based on previous searches by the user.
So, what does that mean for you? Write content for a real user...a real person searching. Voice searches are on the rise and will increase as the technology continues to improve. (Remember in the early days, when you told your phone to call a specific person, you never knew who was going to be called! It was Russian Roulette with your phone. Oh, the good ole days!)
1.) Write content for how people speak. Think about when we use our voices, we search for things a little differently, often in question form like "What in the heck is SEO?" or "What does SEO mean?"
2.) Write with long tail keywords in mind, which relates to the previous suggestion. Long tail keywords are more specific than a general phrase, and "less popular" sites are more likely to rank for them because of the specificity. For example, if I searched "running shoes," I get very broad results on the SERP and the well established companies get the first images and links on the page. But, what I am really looking for is "running shoes for women under $70". So, I decide to type that phrase into the search bar. The second phrase is an example of a long tail keyword.
Also, think of similar ways someone might search, like "women's running shoes for less than $70" or "cheap running shoes for women." As you write, use these key phrases throughout your content but in a natural way. (If people click on your site and find irrelevant, poorly written content and, thus, quickly move away from your site, search engines eventually drop your ranking on SERPs.)
The Conclusion and the Ugly Truth...
The ugly truth, there are no shortcuts.
SEO is not easy and rarely an overnight success! So, the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well, comes into play here.
1.) Write good content for your ideal customer/visitor. Keep in my mind what their search intents probably are, and remember that voice searches are on the rise.
2.) Write with long tail keywords phrases. Be sure to include it in the title and in the URL of the post.
3.) Be patient. Good things come to those who wait and who work hard. Keep writing and keep learning about SEO. This post is just a teensy amount of info on this topic...just enough to leave you wanting more.
4.) Be sure to build your site on a firm foundation, using a reputable site building platform (and a respected hosting provider if you are going the self-hosted route).
5.) Introduce yourself to Google and Bing using their Webmaster Tools sites.
6.) Be active on at least 1 social media platform. For those of us just starting out, one of our best hopes is to be seen on social media. Think about it as a domino effect. Our "authority" increases with other humans who like and reshare our work across social media, and those humans do the writing for blogs and other online content. Therefore, we earn backlinks from the human writers who saw and liked our stuff. And, well-earned backlinks from those writers make the not-so-human crawlers at Google and Bing happy and way more active at our sites. :)
7.) Play Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" very LOUDLY! It is just a great song to keep you pumped about this whole entrepreneurial thing. The lines, "Hey Baby, there ain't no easy way out. I won't back down," fit this situation. There is not an easy fix to SEO; you have to work at it and learn more about it while juggling everything else (the business itself, social media presence, finances, building a site, etc.) I am serious! Play it; you will feel better.
Take the Quiz
Answers are below "A Step Further" section. Scroll back up if you need to find an answer. Getting comfortable with these terms is priority here. And, if you are feeling really bold, report your scores in the Comments section. :)
1.) What do the letters SEO stand for?
2.) T or F SERP stands for Search Engine Results Piggy.
3.) What is the difference between a self-hosted site and a hosted site?
4.) What is a backlink?
5.) What is an inbound link?
6.) Why do backlinks and inbound links carry weight in search engine rankings?
7.) T or F Get as many backlinks as possible at all costs.
8.) T or F Voice searches from phones are on the decline.
9.) Define long tail keywords.
10.) T or F "I will back down."
A Step Further
Moz.com hosts Whiteboard Fridays. They are video lessons done each Friday by Rand Fishkin, the co-founder of Moz.com. Each lesson is usually less than 15 minutes and focuses on SEO. Admittedly, some lessons are for companies already well established and looking to fine tune their SEO strategy (not just learn some about the topic). But, I enjoy watching them to build my vocabulary; it is an manageable way for me to continue learning about SEO but still focus on all of the other things I am trying to learn.
Answers: 1.) Search Engine Optimization2.) F--Search Engine Results Page, not Piggy3.) A self-hosted site means the hosting services are from an outside company. A hosted site means the owner built the site using a company's platform and purchased hosting from that same company. 4.) backlink--a link "back" to a website from another site; like when I linked back to Moz.com for the SEO guide and then to the Long Tail Keyword article5.) inbound link--a link that comes "in" from another site; like if someone linked from their blog to this article--It would be an inbound link for me. 6.) They show your authority on a topic. 7.) F--Don't do that, please! Authentically gaining backlinks is best. 8.) F--They are on the rise! 9.) long tail keywords--very specific search phrases; like "training plan for running first marathon" as opposed to "marathon" or "running marathons" 10.) F--Don't you dare back down!