What is SEO?
In a nutshell, SEO (short for Search Engine Optimization) is the process of increasing your website’s ranking on search engines like Google.
However, the longer and more accurate definition would be the activity of increasing an online property’s visibility by making them show up as high as possible on the search engines’ organic search results.
Example: If a lawyer is targeting a keyword like, “Lawyer + [city name],” and their online property is only showing up on the 2nd page of search results, the goal of SEO would be to get that to the #1 spot (or at least as close to the top as possible).
To fully understand what SEO is, there are a few other terms we need to clarify.
So, what are search engines?
In SEO, a “Search Engine” actually refers to a “Web Search Engine,” which are systems designed to make it easier to find information on the world wide web based on a user’s query.
Example: If you wanted to search for a dentist near you, you might search for something like “dentist + [city/area you live in],” and the search engine will give you a list of links to web pages that they have decided is the best match for your query.
Dominant Search Engines
Here are some of the most popular search engines from around the globe.
Google is by far the most significant and dominant search engine in the world. According to statcounter.com, Google has over 90% of the search engine market share globally.
Bing, owned and operated by Microsoft, is the second largest search engine in the world regarding market share. According to the same source, they have between 2% and 3% market share. The difference between number one and number two is staggering.
Yahoo was once a popular option but is now only the third largest player in the search engine world.
Baidu is the 4th largest search engine with just over 1% market share globally. 1% may sound small; however, considering that Baidu is mainly used in the Chinese market, this tells us how large and lucrative the Chinese market can be. Baidu is by far the most popular search engine in China (except Hong Kong, SAR).
Some other notable mentions: Shenma (up and coming search engine for the Chinese market); Yandex (dominant search engine in Russia); DuckDuckGo (a popular alternative to the big 3 in the US).
When a user searches for something through a search engine, it will present you with a page with a list of links to web pages that they have decided is the best match for your query. This page is what is called a Search Engine Results Page, also known as a SERP. Features and contents of a SERP vary between search engines, but in general, the SERPs consist of 2 main types of results: Organic Results and Paid Results.
Organic Search Results
Organic results, also referred to as natural or earned results, are content that the search engines’ algorithms have decided to be the most relevant answer or result to your query. Studies have shown that the majority of users click on organic results as they trust them to be more natural and the page has “earned” its spot on the SERPs as opposed to being paid for. SEO focuses on this portion of the results.
Local Results (GMB)
If you are a Google user like most of us, you may have noticed that many local business related queries will return a “Map Pack” near the top of the SERPs. This local map pack used to be seven results; however, they are now down to 3. Google has also recently started adding Ads in some of these spots as well. Although these results vary greatly depending on the proximity of the searcher to the business, optimizing Google My Business listings is part of the modern day SEO.
Paid Search Results
As the name suggests, paid search results are links to your web page that are placed at highly visible spots on the SERPs for a fee (usually on a pay per click basis). Again, studies have shown that users are more likely to click on organic results.
What Decides SERP Rankings?
Search engines rank organic results using algorithms, and each search engine has their proprietary algorithm (unless there is a partnership or agreement between search engines).
For example, Google utilizes more than 200 factors (each with different weight) to rank a web page. Back in 2016, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google mentioned that Links, Content, and RankBrain are the top three ranking factors (although each of these three has sub-factors as well). It is our job as SEO professionals to understand and keep track of which ranking factors to optimize and how to optimize them.
Why is SEO Important?
SEO is important simply because over 90% of online experiences are said to start with search.
- More than 70% of all clicks on SERPs go to page 1
- More than 60% of all clicks on SERPs go to the top 5 results on the first page
- Less than 4% of users proceed to page 2
- Less than 2% of users proceed to page 3 and beyond
From looking at these statistics, you will realize how important it is for your business to be in the top 5 results of SERPs. When was the last time you clicked on a result on page2?
Users are actively looking for products, services, and businesses online. It is a no-brainer to be there when users are searching for products and services you offer.
What are some Elements of SEO?
SEO is a combination of a very long list of to-dos. However, here are some of the most common tasks that go into an SEO campaign.
Every Search Engine Optimization campaign should start with a thorough SEO Audit. This audit will outline the current condition of the online property that you want to rank and uncover how much work needs to be put into the campaign to achieve its goals. The SEO Audit will also cover all of the following items.
This takes a look at what your main competitors are doing regarding SEO. What are they ranking for? How is their site built and structured? How is their on-page SEO done? How is their off-page SEO looking like? Quite often we can uncover missed opportunities with this strategy.
The SERP Analysis takes a look at what the SERPs are showing for specific target keywords. Are the results dominated by authority sites, shopping giants, local businesses, etc.? This dives into analyzing what the search engine determines as search intent and also examining whether the page we are trying to rank will fit into what the search engines consider as the most relevant results.
Keyword research and selection is crucial to a successful SEO campaign. It is essential to uncover keywords that have both high search volume and search intent that matches the goals of the business. Another factor to think about is balancing search volume, buyer/search intent, and rank difficulty.
Example: Even if a keyword has an incredibly high search volume, it would be pointless to target an extremely competitive keyword like “Dogs” if you are a dog breeder trying to get customers in a local city since the query’s searcher intent is too vague and ambiguous. The user could just be looking for cute dog photos.
As the name suggests, on-page optimization is where everything on your online property is optimized for the chosen target keywords. Here are just some of the on-page items that will be optimized: Site Structure; URL; Title Tags; Header Tags; Content; LSI/Synonym Usage; Structured Data Markup; Internal Linking; Anchor Text Ratios; Outbound Links; Images and Alt Tags; Site Speed; Responsive Design; Rel=Canonical; Hreflang; XML Sitemap; Robots.txt; Site Security; AMP; .htaccess; Navigation; Keyword Density; Social Sharing; etc.
This is the optimization of elements that are not directly on your website. People often synonymize off-page optimization with Links; however, it goes a little further than that.
Backlinks are of course one of the most important ranking factors, but not all backlinks are created equal. Backlinks have to be of high quality, trust, and relevance. The anchor text of the link also significantly influences the ability to rank. The days of sending a massive quantity of low-quality exact-match anchor-text links are long gone. This tactic can land you a penalty in no time.
Citations or local brand mentions on the internet matters, as do Social shares, reputation, and links. Please keep in mind that these are just some of the off-page factors that will be optimized.
Last but not least – Monitoring. SEO is an ever-changing process. Search engines employ some of the smartest people on the planet and make hundreds of changes to their algorithms each year. What helped websites rank one day may not work the next. Therefore, constant monitoring is required in case any significant changes occur and strategies have to be fine-tuned.
Is SEO hard?
Yes and No.
SEO is hard because as we mentioned in the previous section, search engines algorithms are always evolving. SEO requires you to stay on top of big changes which are usually not announced or explained. An SEO professional will have to deduce what the changes were from data taken from what they have been monitoring, their experiments, and industry chatter, just to name a few. Once we think we know what the changes were, we now have to apply those to live situations. Changes you may have made to improve rankings can take time. Meaning, if you made multiple changes, you may not know which factor is influencing rankings.
SEO may not be that hard if one has access to a large amount of ranking/movement data and the on-page/off-page components. If you know exactly what you are looking for and exactly what changes are required to rank, it is only a matter of implementing those changes.
In the end, we believe that it all comes down to commitment. If an SEO professional is committed to continually monitoring and analyzing SERP movements, and continuously experimenting to identify and understand the algorithms the task should not be too hard – It’s just complicated, time-consuming, and requires patience.
Due to these reasons, it is advisable to have an SEO specialist do the work for you. We have SEO specialists focusing on many different countries across the globe. So, if you are looking for an SEO in Hong Kong, SEO in Tokyo, Japan, or SEO in Singapore, contact us now for a free analysis.