What is SEO: search engine optimization explained

July 26, 2019


John Thomas

Ever wondered what SEO truly means? Dive into the world of Search Engine Optimization with our detailed explanation. Understand its significance, mechanics, and best practices to enhance your website's visibility and ranking.

No matter your industry, you’ve  probably heard the term SEO. But what exactly is SEO, and how can you use it to improve your business? SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization and is a process used by businesses to improve their website’s visibility, ranking, and traffic via Google and other global search engines.

In essence, SEO is a way to increase traffic to your website through optimized content and backlinking. While many factors go into SEO, following best practices can help you achieve better organic search results.

This guide will serve as an overview of SEO for business owners and marketing professionals. We’ll cover what SEO is, how it works, the difference between on-page and off-page SEO, and some best practices for optimizing your website.

The history of SEO

To understand how SEO works, it’s essential to know a bit about the history of search engines. The biggest search engine globally, which now handles almost 6 million searches per minute, saw its humble beginnings in the late 1990s.

Two graduate students at Stanford University built a search engine called Google, which quickly rose to prominence as the most popular way to find information on the web. Although SEO predates Google since there were other search engines before it, the term “SEO” didn’t come into popular use until after Google’s rise to power. Back then, SEO consisted mainly of on-page techniques like keyword stuffing and link building.

The modern days of SEO

These days, SEO has evolved significantly and now encompasses various strategies, both on page and off page.

With the advent of the smartphone, people began using search engines on mobile devices. This shift to mobile search incentivized Google to change the way it ranks websites in its search results. Mobile-friendly websites are now given preference in search rankings. Some anticipate a similar shift as voice search gains popularity. 

SEO is constantly changing as search engines and searcher behaviors evolve. What worked to optimize a website for Google ten years ago does not work today. That’s why it’s crucial to stay up-to-date on the latest SEO trends and best practices.

Why SEO matters

We know that marketing strategies have many moving parts that all need dedicated time, attention, and resources. Unfortunately, SEO often falls by the wayside because it can be challenging to understand and takes time to see results. But make no mistake, SEO is essential for any business that wants to succeed online. SEO offers several benefits.

SEO Increases Organic Website Traffic

The majority of people use search engines to find information on the internet—up to 93%, according to some estimates. If your website is not optimized for search engines, you’re missing out on a lot of potential traffic and revenue.

SEO can help you increase the visibility of your website on search engine results pages (SERPs), which will lead to more website visitors. You see, Google works like a big popularity contest. The more popular your website is (as measured by things like backlinks, organic traffic, time on page, etc.), the higher it will rank in search results.

Higher rankings mean more organic, cost-effective traffic, leading to increased sales and revenue for your business. Organic traffic (the kind you get from unpaid efforts like SEO) is generally more valuable than paid traffic since visitors were actually looking for your product or service and found you through a search engine rather than being served an ad.

SEO is Cost Effective

SEO is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies because it targets users actively searching for your products and services online. In other words, you’re not paying to reach people who may or may not be interested in what you have to offer.

You can also track your ROI with SEO since most SEO tactics can be easily measured. This is in contrast to other marketing channels like television or print ads, which are more difficult to track and measure.

SEO is an integral part of any holistic marketing strategy, especially if you’re a small business or startup. You may not have the brand recognition or budget to compete with larger enterprises, but SEO can level the playing field.

Compared to Facebook PPC ads or pricey Instagram influencers, SEO will generally provide you with a higher ROI since it’s a more sustainable long-term strategy. That said, it does take time to plan and create content. Draft makes that process easier and faster by providing a pool of vetted, professional writers and content creation tools built with your needs in mind. 

SEO Improves Trust and Credibility

When people see your website at the top of search engine result pages, they’ll naturally assume that you’re a credible and trustworthy business. As much as 71% of users stop their search after the first page of results, so your business should strive to appear on the first page of as many relevant searches as possible.

Additionally, SEO can help build brand awareness for your business. The more people see your brand in search results, the more likely they will remember it the next time they need a product or service you offer.

That’s why optimizing things like meta descriptions and title tags can actually impact your business in a big way. These elements may seem small, but they play a big role in how users find and perceive your brand, and whether or not they’ll click through to your website.

SEO Increases Time Spent on Your Website

The logic is simple: the more time someone spends on your website, the more likely they will stumble upon your product or service and make a purchase. While many factors contribute to how much time someone will spend on your website (like the quality of your content), SEO can help by attracting high-intent traffic to your website and making you more visible in search results.

Content Marketing Vs. SEO

Next, let’s look at what is SEO in digital marketing, amd what sets it apart from content marketing. SEO is all about optimizing your website for search engines with the goal of earning higher rankings in search results. It includes doing things like:

  • Researching and using keywords

  • Optimizing your website’s title tags, meta descriptions, and other on-page elements

  • Building backlinks to your website

  • More on this later

On the other hand, content marketing is the process of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content, usually in order to achieve a particular business objective. The term is broader and encompasses various content formats (such as blog posts, infographics, and ebooks), as well as various distribution channels (such as emails, social media, and, yes, search engines). Content marketing is designed to build a long-term relationship with your audience and promote brand awareness.

You can use SEO to support your content marketing strategy (and vice versa) by creating several types of content that are about the topics your audience is searching for and includes the keywords they’re using. But content marketing goes beyond search engines to also focus on creating helpful and informative assets that keep people coming back for more.

The bottom line is that SEO is a subset of content marketing. If you want to rank higher in search results and drive more traffic to your website, you need to focus on both SEO and content marketing simultaneously. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.

On-page SEO

Now that we’ve clarified what SEO is, let’s look at some of the different types of SEO. The first and most important type of SEO is on-page SEO. On-page SEO is all about optimizing your website’s content and code for search engines. This includes things like:

Keyword Research

Identifying and targeting the right keywords is essential for on-page optimization. You need to find keywords relevant to your business and that members of your audience are actively searching for.

You can use several different keyword research tools, like Google’s Keyword Planner, Moz’s Keyword Explorer, and SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool.

When conducting keyword research, you also need to keep search intent and user experience in mind. For example, if you’re targeting a keyword like “buy women’s shoes,” you should make sure that your website sells women’s shoes. If not, you’ll end up confusing Google and, even worse, your audience.  This is where a holistic keyword strategy or content strategy is paramount. 

Optimizing Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Once you’ve identified the right keywords, make sure you’re using them throughout your website, including your title tags and meta descriptions. Your title tag is the main text that appears in search results. It should be concise and include your target keyword. Your meta description is the short description that appears under your title tag. It should be compelling and also include your target keyword.

Your title tag and meta description are important because they give people (and search engines) an idea of what your website is about and can help persuade them to click through to your site. You can update your title tags and meta descriptions in your content management system (CMS) or by editing your website’s code.

Creating Keyword-Optimized Content

In addition to using keywords in your title tags and meta descriptions, you also need to use them throughout the body of your website’s content. Keyword-optimized content is one of the most important ranking factors for search engines.

When creating keyword-optimized content, you need to strike a balance between using the keyword often but not stuffing the content with so many keywords that your human readers are confused. A good rule of thumb is to use your target keyword once for every 100 words of content.

Website Audit

As part of on-page optimization, you should audit your website regularly for technical errors that could be holding you back in the search results. This includes things like broken links in your posts, duplicate content, and missing meta data.

You can use a tool like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider to crawl your website and find these discrepancies.

Off-page SEO

In addition to on-page SEO, there’s also off-page SEO. Off-page SEO is the process of optimizing your website for search engines by building links and generating social signals.

Building links means getting other websites to link back to your site. The more links you have, the better. But it’s not just about quantity. The quality of the links you have is also essential. Google looks at things like the authority of the linking website and the link’s relevance to your website.

Generating social signals means getting people to share your content on social media. That helps create a buzz around your website and leads to more traffic. If one of your content pieces goes viral, for example, it can result in a massive spike in traffic.

Other forms of off-page SEO include:

  • Guest posting

  • Influencers marketing

  • Forum links and Q/A sites (Reddit & Quora)

  • Email marketing

  • Social networking

  • Brand name mentions

Like on-page SEO, off-page SEO is an important ranking factor for search engines. And the two types of SEO work best when they’re used together.

Technical SEO

Finally, there’s technical SEO. Tech SEO is optimizing your website for search engines from a technical perspective. It includes things like site speed, mobile optimization, and indexing.

Site speed refers to the time it takes for your website to load: the faster your site loads, the better. Google has said that site speed is a ranking factor, so it’s important to make sure your site is as fast as possible.

Mobile optimization is making sure your website looks good and functions properly on mobile devices since mobile traffic now exceeds desktop traffic. This aspect includes features like responsive design and mobile-friendly pages.

Indexing is the process of getting your website’s pages indexed by search engines. If your pages aren’t indexed, they won’t appear in search results.

Technical SEO is slightly more complex than on-page SEO and off-page SEO, but it’s just as important. If you want your website to rank well in search results, you need to make sure it’s technically optimized.

How to rank on search engines

Ranking on search engines is not easy. It typically takes anywhere from 3-6 months for Google to index and rank new content. But if you create keyword-optimized, well-written content and pair it with a strong off-page SEO strategy, you will see results.

Unfortunately, time is of the essence for most business owners and even their marketing departments. This is where third-party content platforms come in. Once you’ve crafted the perfect content marketing strategy, the next step is to look for a content marketing service that can help you take your plan to the next level and get results.

Draft’s All-in-One Platform

Writing good content takes time and effort. If you don’t have the time or resources to do it yourself, Draft can help. Our vast pool of qualified writers is well-versed in SEO and copywriting and can help you create content that not only ranks well on search engines but also resonates with your audience.

In addition to writing blog posts, we offer a suite of content types to choose from:

  • Landing pages

  • Social media posts

  • PPC advertisements

  • Email marketing campaigns

  • And more!

What’s more, our all-in-one platform makes it easy to manage your content. You can place requests, track progress, and collaborate with your assigned writer all in one place. 

The Bottom Line

SEO can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it’s worth it for any business that wants to succeed online. If you’re not sure where to start, consider a third-party content platform like Draft. Our team of professional writers can help you implement an SEO plan for your business. 

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