Founder Basics: SEO & Organic

SEO is one of the most widely used concepts in business, even though most people only know it as “the thing that gets you organic traffic.” That’s not wrong, but as a founder, it’s vital to dive deeper into the field and understand how search engine optimization drives revenue by increasing organic traffic. You should be asking the question: what goes on behind the curtains?

Before we answer, let’s start with a mental exercise. Close your eyes and think about the last time you googled something. What were the exact words you typed into the search bar? What did the results page look like? What got your attention? How many results did you click on before exiting? Finally, did you check the second page of the search results?

If you’re anything like the majority of users, you’ve clicked on a result within 9 seconds of your search and you didn’t even make it to the bottom of the first page. These and many other fascinating findings of user behavior on the internet shape the evolution of SEO - a fierce battle against competitors and search engine algorithms for the first spot in the SERPs (search engine result pages). 

What Is SEO?

The term SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” a process that aims to improve the visibility of a website in unpaid search results. In other words, SEO is an attempt to boost your online presence, so that search engines show it at the top of their SERPs for specific keywords.

From this definition, we can see that the goal of SEO practices is to improve how your website ranks in search results. And, it’s also implied that this process relies on two things: understanding how search engines rank websites and what words people use to search for the things they need. Therefore, there are three players in the SEO equation: 

  • The website (online content);
  • The search engine algorithm;
  • The users’ input (keywords);

To better illustrate our point, let’s give an example. A company that creates worksheets for children wants to attract new customers, so they start an educational blog through which they can promote their products. However, there are millions of educational blogs on the internet. In other words, if they write an article about the importance of teaching children about Thanksgiving, they would like their article to pop up when users search for teaching resources about Thanksgiving. Here’s where the magic happens. SEO experts would take those keywords and optimize the content in line with the search engine’s preferences, so that their article pops up first, before other related content.

Why Does SEO Matter?

The example above might give you the impression that optimizing online content is a simple and straightforward task. You see what search engines prioritize and how they rank websites and tailor your online content based on that, right?

That’s the idea, but there’s a catch. If the above-described process was as easy as it sounded, SEO wouldn’t have been such a hot topic. It is not that easy because no one really knows how the search engine’s algorithms work. Years of trial and error have revealed some awesome insights, which SEO experts use, but the nitty-gritty details are cleverly hidden. Plus, search engines update and change their algorithms often because they want to be better at giving users exactly what they’re looking for.

For these reasons, we have to rely on and learn from people who dedicated their careers studying search engine optimization methods, i.e SEO experts

You can ask an even more fundamental question, such as: Why is it so important to be ranked high and pop up first when people search for something online? 

We’ll let the following mind-blowing statistics do the talking.

Looking at these numbers, it becomes evident that SEO is one of the most important aspects of your online presence. Appearing on the first page of search results will dramatically change your website’s traffic, which impacts your revenue in a number of ways. 

But, appearing on the first page is an incredible challenge and if you want to tackle it, you need to understand how search works.

How to Better Understand SEO

Okay, now that you know what SEO is and why it’s important, let’s talk about how you can use it for your business needs. Right off the bat, you need to familiarize yourself with the known ranking factors of most search engines, especially Google’s. And, before you use that knowledge, there are two important considerations. Let’s elaborate. 

Google’s Ranking Factors

Did you know that Google uses over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm? This means that Google looks at more than 200 different features for every piece of content, assigns value to them, and ranks the website’s content based on the overall score. Of course, this score is relative to the keyword in the search bar, even though there are some ranking factors that are independent of keywords, such as the domain age (authority) and domain registration length.

What are these factors? 

We’ve said that no one knows exactly. In the SEO community, this is a very controversial topic with many speculations. However, most experts would agree that we can divide the factors in 9 categories: 

  • Domain Factors
  • Page-Level Factors
  • Site-Level Factors
  • Backlink Factors
  • User Interaction
  • Special Google Algorithm Rules
  • Brand Signals
  • On-Site Webspam Factors
  • Off-Site Webspam Factors 

Brain Dean from Backlinco has done an amazing job at collecting all the ranking factors circulating in the SEO community.

But, keep in mind, all these and many other factors are only assumed by experts in the field and, therefore, accepted in the SEO community. They’re not, however, confirmed by Google. 

So, how to choose which ones to use? This is where the other two considerations come in handy.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Results (White Hat vs. Black Hat SEO)

It has been said many times that SEO is the most powerful marketing tool. If you know how to use it, you can easily achieve your goals and see impressive results. More importantly, you can use SEO in many different ways depending on your specific goals. 

There are special SEO tricks with which you can see instant results, but not long-term success, and vice versa. These two sides of SEO are famously known as black hat and white hat SEO.

You need to decide what you want to achieve, so you can choose which methods you’re going to use.

Black hat SEO is the use of aggressive and manipulative SEO strategies that go against search engine guidelines but nonetheless can get your page to rank high. This is a temporary success for those who want to make a quick buck, but it’s not sustainable in the long run for two reasons. First, the user is not taken into account and usually, these pages are marked as spam. Second, search engines don't want websites that break the rules and work hard to identify and ban them. So if you get a high ranking using these techniques, your page could get penalized by search engines and lose all of its ranking power. Some of the most common black hat SEO strategies include duplicate pages, stuffed keywords, cloaking, etc.

On the other hand, white hat SEO refers to all the approved and “legal” ways of optimizing your content. It’s the preferred and sustainable approach that works together with search engines to deliver high-quality, informative, and relatable content to users. Of course, it’s a long road to walk and success won’t come easy, but it’s the only way to be a reputable business in the online sphere. After all, nothing worth having comes easy.

In this article, all of the strategies we’re going to cover are part of white hat SEO.

SEO Environment (On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO)

Another thing you need to consider when learning about SEO is the whole ecosystem in which your content exists. More specifically, there are two main ways to divide SEO strategies based on whether they affect your page or your surroundings: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Let’s explain this in more detail.

On-page SEO describes a set of strategies that concern your webpage directly. These are the things you can easily control. For instance, elements like title tags, headings, alt-descriptions, and page structure are considered on-page SEO strategies.

On the other hand, off-page SEO describes the factors that search engines take into consideration and which you can optimize, but are outside the scope of the actual website. For instance, backlinks, domain authority, social signals, and pay-per-click are some of the strategies of off-page SEO.

To make sure your content is ranked high in the search engine, you must control both on-page and off-page SEO. Once we go over the basic SEO topics you need to master, we’ll discuss how to optimize on-page and off-page SEO.

SEO Topics You Need to Master

Learning SEO is a complex topic that requires a lot of effort and attention, so don’t feel bad if you still feel a little bit confused. Simply, there are many things that we still need to cover. This is why it's a good idea to explain some of the basic SEO concepts before we discuss optimization strategies.

Keywords

SEO is based on keywords, which are words and phrases that users write in the search bar. They also define what your content is about in a way that a search engine can understand. In other words, search engines are algorithms that do not read a text like humans do. Instead, they rely on sophisticated systems for analyzing keywords in your content so that they can determine how well it matches the keywords from the search bar.

Therefore, optimizing your content for specific keywords is the starting point of any SEO strategy, and without it all other techniques are useless. But, to optimize the content, you need to understand which keywords are most relevant to you through a process known as keyword research.

With keyword research, you can understand the needs of your target market, or more specifically, what they’re searching for and how frequently they are searching. 

Fortunately, keyword research is a relatively easy process because today, many platforms offer free or very affordable tools for discovering and managing keywords, including Google (Google Keyword Planner). However, there are a few things to consider:

  • Optimal search volume;
  • Long-tail keywords;
  • Keyword categories: 
  • competitor (using the same keywords that drive traffic to your competitors' website);
  • seasonal (phrases that people search for most at certain times of the year, example: gift ideas in November and December); 
  • regional (phrases that are popular in or specific to one region), etc.
  • Keyword format based on the searcher’s intent: informational queries, navigational queries, transactional, local queries, commercial investigation, etc.

Even keyword research as a topic on its own is packed with so much information that one can write a whole book about it. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the above-mentioned topics and try to contextualize each element with examples from your own business. 

Content

The second big topic in SEO is content as it’s one of the most influential ranking factors. There are many reasons why content is important for search engines.

First, we can say that content is the product that search engines offer to users. And, just like any other business, search engines are very particular about product development. They want fresh, relevant, and useful information so that users will have a reason to keep using search engines. 

Second, content is the main reason keywords exist. Of course, over the years, the way keywords are used has changed, but their purpose as a way to connect with and organize all the content on the internet still remains.

So, how to create SEO-friendly content? Here are some useful tips.

  • Create long content. Backlinko discovered that the average length of Google’s first result is around 1,500 words. Plus, long-form content is best for link building, which is another important ranking factor that we’ll cover next.
  • Comprehensive topics with a high “Concentration Grade” outperform superficial articles.
  • Create interesting and relatable content that will keep the user on the page. Websites with above-average “time on site” rank higher.
  • Try different things. Experimenting with different types of content will help you understand your target audience and determine the best approach for your business.
  • Update content. Search engines don’t like old content that has no value in the present. For instance, “Bikini summer trends 2018” is a great seasonal topic, but once its time has passed, update or repurpose it, so it can stay relevant in the years to come.

To learn more about content marketing, check out our article “Founder Basics: Content Marketing.”

Links

Content is the number one on-page ranking factor, while links (including backlinks, internal, and external links) are the number one off-page ranking factor. They pretty much define how your page will rank, so make sure you don’t shy away from adding them in your content pieces. Backlinks have the greatest weight for ranking up, while external links can lower your rank significantly if done wrong.

According to Backlinko’s research, pages with the highest number of total backlinks ranked the highest in Google’s search results, even though 94% of all content has zero backlinks.

Backlinks are the incoming hyperlink from another website. In other words, when another website adds a link to your content, it counts as your backlink. They’re super influential, but also incredibly hard to control. It’s not uncommon for SEO professionals to contact bloggers and make deals for backlinking. We recommend learning more about link-building tactics.

However, internal and external links (links that you add in your article) are also important. Linking to a trusted website with high authority is beneficial, so don’t avoid them.

Meta Descriptions and Headlines

When looking at the search results, you can notice a few things that characterize each of them. These are the headline, URL, meta description, publishing date, and a menu with other pages of that website (new feature). However, the last two are optional, while the headline, URL, and meta description make up the skeleton of all search results.

For these reasons, these three elements are incredibly important and need to be carefully optimized. Plus, the headline and the meta description represent the users’ first impression of your website, so make sure it counts. If users don’t like what they read in the meta description (that brief text right below the title in every search result), chances are they’ll skip your result. Not clicking on your page when it shows up decreases your click-through rate, which is another important ranking factor.

Learn how to write powerful and high-ranking meta-descriptions in Moz’s detailed guide.

User Experience

Finally, the last topic that we’ll touch upon is user experience as another broad area that affects your website’s rank. While content is crucial, Google doesn’t let other page elements slip through the cracks. They monitor everything, including how satisfied users are with your interface. For instance, slow loading time can frustrate users, which in turn frustrates Google.

Other indicators of user satisfaction include time spent on the page and bounce rate. The average time on page measures how much time the user spent interacting with your page before they left, while the bounce rate shows how many users left after viewing only one page. The higher the bounce rate, the lower your page rank and conversion rates. In fact, user experience is very important for converting prospects into customers, so don’t let it fail you.

To learn more about user experience, check out the following articles: “Founder Basics: UI/UX Design” and “Best Books on UI/UX Design.”

SEO Optimization

To fully understand SEO, you need to dive deep into all of the topics we’ve covered so far. While learning about these topics in the context of SEO, you’ll find out how to optimize each aspect of your online content. However, time is limited, and if you want to quickly get the gist of it, we’ll briefly explain the most important elements and tactics of both on-page and off-page SEO optimization.

On-Page Optimization

On-page SEO refers to all the measures you can take from within your website in order to improve its visibility in the search engine results. On-page strategies are something you have full control over and need to leverage carefully. This means you need to learn how to optimize, but not overdo it, as Google may punish you for things like keyword overstuffing. So, what can you do?

On-page SEO elements to optimize:

  • Title Tag;
  • Meta Descriptions;
  • Header Tags;
  • Image texts & ALT tags;
  • Internal Links;
  • Bold and Italic type;
  • Website Load Speed.

More tips for on-page SEO optimization:

  • Include your main keyword in the URL;
  • Make the URL short. Long URLs don’t perform well;
  • Write the main keywords it the beginning of your title;
  • Use title tag modifiers so your page can rank for several long-tail keywords;
  • Use the main keyword in the introduction (first paragraph);
  • Use your main keyword in headings and subheadings;
  • Optimize image alt-tags and filenames;
  • Use LSI keywords (words that are semantically related to the main keywords);
  • Use links.

Off-Page Optimization

Off-page SEO optimization is based on link-building strategies, which is a controversial hot topic in the SEO community. The reason for this is that backlinking is not something you can control, or better yet, not something on which you’re expected to have a direct influence. Backlinking means that someone supports and endorses you because they believe in the quality of your content.

Of course, waiting for organic backlinks (links that occur naturally as time passes) is a painful process that might take way too long to develop, which is why many SEO experts turn to white and black hat techniques for link building. We do not recommend black hat techniques, as they’re dangerous and can jeopardize your whole online presence. Instead, consider some of the following white hat strategies for link building.

  • Writing guest posts for popular blogs;
  • Invest in networking and connect with other companies within your industry for support (not competitors);
  • Produce content that other people can use - infographics, images, video content, tutorials, lists, tables, statistics, etc;
  • Add your website in relevant business directories.

SEO Tools

Starting with SEO can be confusing and frustrating. Therefore, knowing some reliable tools and automation software features can be a true game-changer. Here are our top picks for you to explore and try out.

A Few Words Before You Leave…

We hope that our article was a great introduction to the vast field of SEO and organic traffic. When founding a new startup, it’s incredibly useful to know the basics of SEO because not many can afford to hire SEO experts from the very beginning. Yet, leveraging organic traffic can lead to a significant boost in conversions. This is much needed in the early days of the company, when a strong customer base is still not established.

To learn more about SEO, marketing strategies, and effective sales practices, visit our blog. Plus, we regularly share insightful guides on related topics, so make sure you follow us. And, if there’s any way that we can help you, please reach out and write us a message on Redwhale

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