SEO for Dummies

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“Think about what a user is going to type.”

– Matt Cutts

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Search engine optimization is the practice within digital marketing in which a website owner or admin implements strategies in order to maximize a website’s ranking position within search engines. 

Google’s Algorithm

Google, the most popular search engine around most of the world, is used for more than 86% of online searches worldwide. Therefore, most SEO strategies are centered around optimizing websites for Google’s algorithm. Although Google has released limited information about how they determine a website’s ranking, Google’s algorithm is proprietary and generally kept secret. However, there have been countless studies done by reputable SEO experts in order to uncover specific information about it’s behavior.   

SEO In A Nutshell

Based on these studies, experts have found that Google’s algorithm considers over 200 factors when determining a website’s ranking. We will break down each of these Google Ranking factors in a later article; but for the purposes of this blog, and for simplicity sake, we can generally group these factors into about two main parts: On-site and Off-site SEO. 

On-Site SEO Strategies

On-site SEO refers to search engine optimization strategies performed “on site”, or directly within your website. These strategies directly affect key parts of your website, and can have a huge impact on your search engine rankings. Although, some may argue that off-site SEO is more effective, make no mistake that without proper on-site SEO implementation it would be impossible for your website to rank in Google. Thus, on-site SEO is the foundation of a good SEO strategy. 

Some key on-site SEO strategies include:

  • Meta tags optimization
  • H1, H2 and H3 tags optimization
  • Image alt and title tags optimization
  • Keyword density optimization within content
  • Sitemap  
  • Robots.txt
  • Etc

Off-Site SEO Strategies

On the other hand, Off-site SEO refers to search engine optimization strategies performed “off site”, or anywhere else on the web that is not directly within your website. Off-site SEO essentially refers to “link-building”. Link-building (aka back-linking) is the practice in which you attempt to attain links from other websites that point to yours. Studies show that link-building is one of the most important factors in determining a website’s rankings. Google uses links (aka backlinks) to determine a website’s popularity and authority on the web. These links are essentially signals that tell Google that your website is reputable or an often referenced source for information on a particular subject. 

Examples of Link-Building

For example, if a popular wildlife blog writes an article about saving elephants and links to your non-profit website to reference information you’ve written about helping prevent elephant poaching and ivory trade in Africa, Google will see this as a signal that your website has useful information on elephants, and that anyone Googling specific information related to elephants would find your website useful. Therefore Google’s algorithm may place your website higher in the search engines for keywords and searches like “elephant poaching” or “saving elephants”. 

Common off-site SEO practices in relation to link-building are:

  • Blogging
  • Social Sharing
  • Manual Outreach
  • Skyscraping technique
  • Broken link building
  • Blog article distribution
  • Comment links in forums*
  • Social profile links*
  • Directory links*
  • Etc.

*These practices are not recommended and may be seen as black-hat strategies.

Quality Vs. Quantity in Link-Building 

It is important to note that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to backlinks. Not all links are created equal. One backlink from a reputable news blog such as CNN.com is better than 1000 links from spammy websites. In the early years of the internet, “blackhat” strategies to obtain spammy backlinks were once effective. However, in more recent years, Google has been cracking down on this with its large algorithm updates, penalizing websites who implement such strategies to prevent them from gaming the system. Therefore, it is within your best interest to only implement “white hat” strategies, not only in relation to link-building, but for all your SEO efforts. White hat SEO strategies will prevent you from being penalized by Google’s algorithm updates and provide long lasting positive effects on your website. 

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