April 11, 2019

If it’s Not Just Keywords, How Does SEO Work?

how does seo work

If you want to double your site’s organic traffic, you’re going to need more than just keywords.

Continued Google updates have all but eliminated any benefit gained from relying solely on keywords to rank well. Keyword stuffing for the purpose of ranking does nothing to enhance user experience (UX), and has led to a bad rap for legitimate search engine optimization (SEO) strategists.

The usefulness of these practices is long gone, but SEO misconceptions still abound.

So, if it isn’t about keywords, how does SEO work?

Take a look through this guide to find answers to these questions and more:

  • What is SEO and what does SEO stand for?
  • Is SEO necessary?
  • What is mobile-first indexing and how does it relate to SEO?
  • What is black hat and outdated SEO?
  • What are the penalties for using black hat SEO?
  • What are the essential SEO factors?
  • What are SEO audits?
  • What’s the difference between on-page and off-page SEO?
  • What is local SEO?
  • How long before SEO starts to work?

What is SEO and What Does SEO Stand for?

Search engine optimization is a fundamental grouping of best practices and actionable strategies that ensure your site receives the traffic it merits. Google uses advanced algorithms to deliver search results that their users are most likely to find relevant and useful.

The algorithms are designed to favor sites that provide better user experiences.

SEO is a tool that helps to improve your entire site including its speed, content, architecture and functionality so that it:

  • Is relevant
  • Provides value
  • Satisfies a need
  • Is easy to find

Is SEO Necessary?

As long as search engine algorithms keep changing, SEO remains critical.

Algorithms frequently change in an attempt to keep up with current trends. Changes typically have one overall objective:

  • Provide a better user experience

The changes can impact any number of elements such as content, speed or structure. Following strong SEO practices and staying current with algorithm updates helps protect you from decreased traffic.

What is Mobile-First Indexing and How Does it Affect SEO?

mobile first indexing

To illustrate the changing updates, consider the recent mobile-first indexing change.

In a nutshell, mobile-first indexing means that if you have a mobile site, that’s what Google will index for your business – not your desktop site. For companies using certain mobile architectures, this update spelled significant traffic drops.

Ongoing SEO strategy helps to make sure that your site not only performs well in the present, but also evolves with the coming changes.

Black Hat and Outdated SEO

Blackhat and outdated SEO practices are ineffective and could result in considerable penalties. These tactics include:

  • Purchasing backlinks. Backlinks have tremendous value when it comes to SEO, but quality dramatically outweighs quantity. In the past, some SEO experts would create hundreds of backlinks for their clients on pseudo-blogs with little traffic, numerous ads, and low-value content. These backlinks now carry little to no value at all.
  • Duplicate content. In the past, search engines could be manipulated by creating large websites and reusing content from pages that already exist, whether on your site or another. Duplicate and stolen content will only hurt your rankings, if not completely remove you from Google.
  • Keyword stuffing. You can only use the term “smart tv with free shipping” so many times before smart “tv with free shipping” starts to sound repetitive and unnatural, providing a sub-par experience for a buyer looking for a smart tv that ships for free. Google does not reward sites that offer sub-par experiences. In fact, they often penalize them.

Pro tip: If you’ve worked with an agency that may have purchased backlinks for your site, they could be hurting your rankings. If you can’t get the backlink removed, try disavowing it.

Penalties Hurt

Google’s intentions are pretty clear. They want their users to get the best results possible when performing a search. They want high-quality sites with high-quality content.

Sites using black hat or outdated SEO to manipulate the search rankings subject themselves to penalties.

There are two types of penalties:

  • Manual penalties. Google levies manual penalties when someone breaches their terms of service: buying links, using redirects, cloaking, or spreading a virus. These penalties come directly from a Google employee. They restrict your site from the index and require an appeal to remove.
  • Algorithmic penalties. These penalties are more common and happen as a result of lacking or improper SEO. They’re system generated and directly impact your search rankings. Slow loading websites, keyword stuffing, and duplicate content are all examples of what could trigger an algorithmic penalty. You’ll still rank, but much lower.

Search algorithms do not take intent into account. Well-intentioned mistakes are just as likely to draw a penalty as deceitful strategies. Without search traffic, your business suffers. Getting your site’s reputation back is difficult.

Some possible penalty triggers include:

  • Spyware
  • Adware
  • Viruses
  • Hidden links
  • Text cloaking
  • Redirects
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Duplicate content
  • Slow load times
  • Thin content
  • Backlinks from disreputable sites
  • Not following mobile-friendly best practices
seo ranking factors

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Important SEO Factors

There are hundreds of SEO factors relating to your site and its content. SEO factors change as new updates occur. When considering your site’s SEO, pay attention to:

  • Design (responsive, AMP, M-dot, dynamic)
  • Titles and subheads
  • Meta descriptions
  • Content value and relevancy
  • Content accuracy
  • Internal and external links
  • Load speed
  • Mobile-friendly compliance
  • Domain Authority (DA)
  • Mobile-first indexing
  • Keywords
  • URL structure

The best way to evaluate your site’s SEO factors is by performing an SEO audit.

You May Not Like an Audit, But You Need One

An audit involves using a specialist to examine your site’s effectiveness and adherence to best practices. Audits are useful for identifying problems that are hurting your ranking and for identifying opportunities to improve.

They produce the foundation for any new SEO campaign or overhaul, offering an assessment in areas like:

  • Functionality. Are users able to do what they need to do? If it’s difficult to navigate your site, complete a form, or make a purchase, visitors will leave and head for the next search result.
  • Formatting. Are your page elements appropriately formatted to allow for indexing? If Google can’t crawl your page, then it’s all for nothing.
  • Internal links. A robust internal link structure using proper anchor-text phrases is critical to SEO success.
  • Content. Sites need fresh, accurate, and relevant content in multiple formats. If your site can’t answer searcher questions, why drive traffic there?
  • Mobile-first compliance. If you aren’t using a responsive web design and your mobile site lacks the quality of your desktop site, you could be at risk of losing significant traffic.
  • Code. It’s not only about content and links. Patchwork code impedes indexing and contributes to a poor user experience. An audit will identify these problems.
  • URLs. They matter. URLs shouldn’t be unreadable. They should be short and simple while providing a visitor with an idea of the page’s purpose.

What is On-Page and Off-Page SEO?

As you can see, SEO is more than just keywords. SEO covers a range of factors both visible and behind the scenes. However, your website or page ranking isn’t determined solely by its inherent properties.

Factors outside of your direct control also impact your performance.

On-page SEO consists of measures taken within the structure and content of your site and its pages.

Off-page SEO involves factors outside of your website, such as backlinks and brand mentions. These factors weigh heavily on your ranking.

Search engine algorithms are proprietary and secret, but most agree that off-page SEO is just as (if not more) important than on-page SEO with estimates of its algorithm weight ranging from 40 to 70 percent.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is under your control. It involves factors that you can implement and adjust. On-page SEO focuses on functionality, content, and keyword research.

While keyword stuffing is highly discouraged, keyword research and proper usage are crucial to a successful SEO campaign. Whether it’s for pay-per-click (PPC) ads or organic ranking, keyword research enables you to provide relevant information to the searchers that need it most.

Keyword research can also show you what your competitors are doing and what may or may not be working for them. For PPC purposes, talented SEO keyword analysts can identify the most cost-effective, likely-to-convert search terms to maximize your marketing dollars. They can even exclude your ad from showing up when searchers use phrases that are less likely to convert.

Other on-page SEO factors include:

  • Content. Your site needs to be a resource if you want to rank. Merely offering a service isn’t good enough. Provide searchers with answers to their questions through valuable niche-specific content in multiple formats such as blog posts, whitepapers, videos, and case studies. This content should be optimized and mapped to corresponding keyword searches.
  • Copy. The words on your service or product pages are just as important as what’s in your content. Be sure that they’re keyword optimized, accurate, and well-written.
  • Functionality. As covered above, load time, proper coding, and ease-of-use are important factors when determining the likelihood that your site provides a positive user experience.

Off-Page SEO

Strong on-page SEO cultivates off-page SEO, but you can still give it a boost.

By providing searchers with engaging, shareable content that serves a purpose, you gain backlinks. They’re the crown jewel of off-page SEO.

Backlinks are links on another website that lead back to your page. They’re like reputation points in a credibility-building game.

The more respected the site giving you a backlink, the more valuable that backlink is. Having higher backlink credibility gives you a ranking advantage when compared to other sites with similar services.

Blog posts filled with useful information earn more clicks by helping you to rank higher.

Do not buy backlinks. It can lead to penalties and hurt your ranking. The best backlinks are organic. Try these methods to increase your organic backlinks:

  • Create and share new content and news through multiple social media platforms
  • Place links to your business in local and national directories
  • Interact with social media and blog comments

Pro tip: An excellent way to build backlinks is by offering to guest-post on industry-specific and credible blogs, like trade publications or industry journals. A link back to your site in your author’s bio carries backlink weight, so provide useful content to ensure that the post is shared or sourced.

Backlinks carry varying value, depending on the source. Some factors that contribute are:

  • Domain or Page Authority (DA & PA). These are scores that reflect the credibility of a site or page. The higher the score, the more credible and authoritative the site – which reflects well on the backlinks within that page. These backlinks are worth more to you than those from sites with a low DA score.
  • Pseudo-blogs or spam sites. Backlinks in these blogs are generally worthless. They can also detract from your credibility. See the tip above about disavowing them.
  • Relevance. Backlinks from outside your niche don’t carry as much weight as those within.

how does seo work todayWhat is Local SEO?

Local SEO helps you compete with the big guys. By combining data like long-tailed keywords with geographic and demographic targeting, any business can compete on a local scale.

With searchers commonly using mobile devices to locate and contact local businesses, launching a local SEO program is a great way to earn customers.

Optimizing for local searches is also an effective way to grow organic traffic for queries within your geographic service area.

How Long Does it Take?

Optimizing your site for search ranking isn’t an overnight fix. You should see noticeable effects from your SEO campaign within 4 to 6 months, and maybe a couple of years to fully take hold depending on the competition in your niche.

On-page SEO is effective quickly, but off-page SEO takes time to build. Shortcuts on off-page SEO lead to penalties.

Other time-influencing factors:

  • Ramp-up time. You’ll need to invest time checking your SEO factors and creating original and useful content. Once that’s all in place, you’ll grow at a better rate.
  • History. It takes time to build backlinks and gain trust from Google. Established sites will see results more quickly.
  • Your site’s age. Recently launched sites haven’t had time to build backlinks, giving them little credibility. It can also take several months before Google indexes a new website.
  • Penalties. If improper SEO has already led to penalties, it can take longer to repair that damage. Don’t worry; it can be corrected.

SEO Works

So, how does SEO work? SEO combines impactful practices, content, and analytics to grow site traffic and conversions.

Search engine algorithms change, and your site must change with them. Book your free breakthrough strategy session with us to discuss your SEO options today.

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