What is SEO and how does it work?

SEO is the process of increasing organic traffic to your website from search engines, like Google. 

The benefit of SEO can be boiled down to this: unlimited free traffic from Google that persists over long periods of time.

However, a website’s content needs to be optimized before it has a chance at capturing this free traffic. Google only has 10 spots on the first page, and some levers need to be pulled in order for your website to be shown. 

Optimizing a website and its content is the core of SEO.

SEO is the cost of staying in business in today’s digital world.

Think of SEO as investing in your 401K. It’s the long-term investment plan that will pay dividends down the road. Investing in SEO allows you to set up your business for long-term success. 

According to a study by Ahrefs, only ~9% of all webpages on the internet are visible in Google’s search engine. The remaining 91% receive no traffic whatsoever, and are never found by consumers. 

We’ve all heard the joke, “You know where to hide a dead body? On the second page of Google”. If you hadn’t heard that before, there you go. Now you have.

In other words, without SEO, your business will not be found on Google. Instead, your competitors will be capturing all of this free traffic, and converting that traffic into new business and revenue

The Three Pillars for SEO Success:

These are the three key elements of SEO that every website needs to have in order to succeed in search engines:

  1. A Search-Friendly Website
  2. Quality Content
  3. Quality Backlinks

Pillar 1: Having a Search-Friendly Website

A search-friendly website can be broken down into two categories: technical SEO and on-page SEO.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the process of optimizing a website so that it may be easily crawled and indexed by search engine spiders.

Many of the important technical SEO elements happen behind the scenes and will likely never be noticed by your visitors; however, this is the foundational component of your SEO strategy. 

Some of these technical SEO elements include:

  • Website architecture
  • Page speed
  • Mobile optimization
  • Schema markup  

On-Page SEO

In addition to the technical aspect, it’s important to leverage on-page SEO elements, like title tags, meta descriptions, internal links, anchor text, among others. 

These on-page factors give Google as much context about your service and offerings as possible.

Pillar 2: Quality, Data-Driven Content

Having unique, high-quality content on your website is critical for SEO success. Google aims to deliver a relevant experience for a searcher by serving up comprehensive content that matches a searcher’s intent.

Equally as important to having quality content is having content driven by keyword research. If you guide your content decisions with keyword data, you can produce content that speaks directly to your target audience’s pain points and desires. 

To execute this data-driven content process, we leverage software that provides insights on what users are searching for, how they are searching for it, and how often. Being armed with this data and actually using it to guide your content is a game changer. 

High-quality, data-driven content is the key piece to guaranteeing readership, among both returning and new users, and ultimately, driving more revenue to your business. 

Populating your website with content also allows you to build up topical relevance around your niche. For example, if you’re a plumber in San Diego, writing helpful articles that solve common plumbing issues will help Google understand exactly who your website is speaking to.

Pillar 3: Quality Backlinks

A backlink is a link from one website to another. For example, if Wikipedia links to your website, then you have a backlink from Wikipedia. If you link to Wikipedia, then they have a backlink from you. 

A link from another website to your website is seen as a “vote of confidence” in Google’s eyes. Links are signals to search engines that your website is trustworthy, credible, and authoritative. 

A website’s backlink profile is arguably the most important piece of Google’s ranking algorithm. In other words, the more quality backlinks that you have, the better your chances of ranking in Google are. 

Backlink profiles are the “tipping scale” for who gets that sweet, sweet #1 ranking position on the first page of Google. When Google is considering which of two websites to rank #1, and sees that the content of both is of similar, high quality, and that there are no technical errors to be found, it’s the website’s backlink profile that is the determining factor of who wins. 

The more powerful, topically relevant backlinks that point to your website, the more competitive your website will be in search rankings.

The case for SEO and why you need it for your website.

If you are in the school of thought of “I know I need SEO, but I’m not quite sure why or what I get back for what I spend”, here are 9 reasons why you need SEO for your website:

1. SEO is key to reaching new audiences in an authentic way

When you use search data to inform your content marketing, you cast a wider net out into the online world. 

Here’s an example:

An organic coffee bean company – let’s call them “Clean Beans” – has a loyal consumer base, but needs to increase sales by attracting new audiences

Right now, users find their website in Google by searching “Clean Beans coffee”, or “buy Clean Beans”. This means only people who know about them are finding for them

Clean Beans need people to find them through non-branded search terms that are relevant to their products, like “organic coffee beans”, which is searched 800 times a month. This means that they need to have content on their website targeting that phrase

Clean Beans then builds out a new landing page called “Why Organic Coffee Beans?” that targets the phrase “organic coffee beans” and follows SEO best practices

By being informed of what keywords to target, your data-driven content strategy can grow your brand awareness and consumer base.

2. SEO will position your business for long-term success

What you implement today will still be reaping reward months down the line. By optimizing content on your website to target keywords that your target audiences are searching with, you are likely to still be seeing climbs in traffic 6-8 months later. 

Unlike paying for social ads or PPC, you can turn it off and you’ll still coast for several months. On the other hand, if you’re running ads and you turn them off, conversions cease instantaneously. I have seen this set many marketing managers into a frantic state. It’s not fun.

3. SEO can be cheaper than paid strategies

A keyword in some industries can cost upwards of $5-$10 per click. If your ads are driving exponential sums of traffic, this adds up quickly. By investing an available media spend in SEO, the budget goes much further, as this is guiding website content marketing efforts that yield long-term reward, as mentioned above.

4. Traffic from search engines is qualified

Organic search traffic often has one of the highest organic conversion rates of any channel. 

“Organic” is another way to say “natural”. Searchers are the most ideal target consumer because they are seeking, as opposed to sticking an ad on someone’s Facebook feed as they mindlessly scroll. Maybe they’ll interact with it, maybe they’ll recall your brand later on, but maybe they won’t.

And how much money did you spend on that ad for no return? 

5. Implementing SEO means keeping a constant pulse on competition

In order to rank #1, the content on your website has to beat out all the other options that Google may consider when determining which website to rank for a search. This requires doing up-close analysis on competitors on a regular basis to keep tabs on their SEO and marketing efforts to ensure you are staying ahead.

Many of our clients have told us that this is an added pro of working with an SEO partner, as they themselves have so little time to consider what the competition is doing and where they stand against them.

6. SEO overlaps with efforts of other departments

Link building comes down to having other websites link to your website, and isn’t PR always reaching out to other publishers and leveraging relationships to talk about your brand? It wouldn’t hurt for PR to request a link to your website in their conversations. 

Content teams receive significant support from SEO teams once they align on processes. The SEO team delivers suggested blog topics based on what people are actually searching for, eliminating the, “What should we write about?” dilemma. And if content is produced according to what people are actively looking for, it’s much likelier content will be read, engagement will be up, and the return will be more evident than it previously has been for content efforts. 

SEO helps your marketing teams to come out of their cozy little silo and squeeze every ounce of opportunity out of various initiatives to achieve the overarching business goals.

7. You can attract customers from every part of the funnel, and nurture them from initial introduction to your brand all the way through purchase

When you immediately land on a homepage of a brand you aren’t familiar with, you likely are not ready to jump straight to adding something to cart and check out. You may want to learn more about the potential investment you are about to make. 

Variations of search queries indicate where a consumer is in the marketing funnel. For example, consider the visible difference in consumer intent when looking at the search queries “cleansing cream” and “facial cleansing cream for sensitive skin”. 

Someone searching “cleansing cream” has an idea of what they’re looking for, but is probably shopping around, or doesn’t know which type to buy yet. If you’re a skincare company, you could have two pages of content to attract consumers in the initial shopping phase as well as someone who knows exactly what they want and are ready to buy:

  • An in-depth guide to cleansing cream, targeting the phrase “cleansing cream”, going into detail on how to pick the right product for you and showing all cleansing creams that you sell
  • A product page for a cleansing cream for sensitive skin targeting “facial cleansing cream for sensitive skin”. That person knows what they want, and are lower in the marketing funnel, ready to purchase

By analyzing keyword data, this can inform the content you should create targets all funnel areas, and can help move someone through to conversion if they are in the earlier stages. 

8. Local SEO is Even More Critical for Your Business if you’re a Lawyer, Doctor, Restaurant, or anyone else who wants to pop up in the Local Pack of search engine results

Local SEO is an even more specialized focus of SEO, aiming to help businesses capitalize on the “[search word] near me” or “[search] [city name]” types of queries. 

Why is local SEO important, you ask? Well, according to Search Engine Journal:

  • 50% of of people who did a local search on their phone went to a physical store that day
  • 18% of local mobile searches lead to a sale within one day

Local SEO does not differ from the broader SEO, it just has a local focus with the goal of getting your business to surface in the local pack of search results, and drive as many users to your physical location as possible after they perform that initial search. 

9. After the first 4-6 weeks, SEO is systemic

If you are working with an SEO partner or agency, the work does not require a lot of oversight on your part. Keyword research, link building, competitive analysis, and technical auditing are all done independently of what is going on within a company internally. 

With that being said, the most successful SEO impact we have seen is through more collaborative relationships, where our team adjusts our prioritized work based on priorities of the business owner or stakeholder. 

During the initial two months, we do an in-depth discovery phrase that results in our long-term SEO strategy and implementation plan. But once we have our roadmap, our team executes the work manually on an ongoing, monthly basis. 

There is a harmonious balance to strike in terms of communication and flexibility with what SEO work is done first, but SEO consists of many systemic processes that make it easy on a stakeholder, as they will always know what to expect and when in terms of deliverables and updates.

Closing Thoughts

The morale of the SEO story is this: SEO is the way to put your services and products in front of consumers who are actively looking for them. 

By putting even just a portion of your advertising budget towards a marketing strategy that sets up your brand for long-term and sustainable success, you will continue to organically  reach new audiences, drive converting traffic to your business, and see promising revenue increases.

Implementing SEO for a brand’s website will continue to be a fruitful investment, as it helps to make strides towards both brand awareness and sales-related business goals.

As competition only grows more fierce and data becomes more available, it is never too soon to start an SEO strategy for your brand. 

Want to see SEO in action? Check our case study on how we grew a new skincare brand’s organic traffic by 308%, or how we helped Celebrity Cruises drive 198% more qualified, organic visits. 

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