What is SEO?
(And, why do you need it?)
What does SEO even mean?
You probably know that it stands for search engine optimization, but what do you need to optimize?
Is it the design? Or is it the writing? Or maybe it’s the links.
Yes, yes, and yes — it’s all of that and more.
But let’s start this beginner guide to what is one of the most important parts of your web presence, with a few definitions in layman’s terms.
Definition: SEO stands for search engine optimization. Which is the art of ranking high on a search engine in the unpaid section, also known as the organic listings?
Alright, let’s translate that into English. Here’s our best effort.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your online content so that a search engine likes to show it as a top result for searches of a certain keyword.
Let us break that down even further:
When it comes to SEO, there’s you, the search engine, and the searcher. If you have an article about how to make bullet-proof flip flops, you want the search engine (which, in 90% of all cases, is Google) to show it as a top result to anyone who searches for the phrase “bullet-proof flip flops.”
SEO is the magic wand you have to work on your article in order to make Google very likely to include your post or page as one of the top results whenever someone searches for that keyword.
We’re going to dig deep into SEO at this point, so if you have the time, enjoy the read.
What are we going to look at?
- White hat vs. black hat
- Cleaning inside your house and outside: on-page SEO vs. off-page SEO
Now what does that magic wand look like, and why does it even matter?
Like we said earlier, the vast majority of online experiences begin with a search engine, and nearly 75% of searchers, start their search on Google.
Combine that with the fact that the first five results on Google get 67% get all of the clicks and you get an idea of why search engine optimization is so important.
There’s a joke going around the web that highlights how crucial it is to hit the first page of Google:
“If you ever need to hide a dead body, you should place it on the second page of Google search results.”
If your blog post, article, or product is on any other page of the Google search results than the first, then it’s the equivalent of it not ranking at all. So, off you head back home early, with no supper!
But to understand how to show up first in the search engine results, you first need to know how search even works.
How Search Works:
Now that you have an idea of the basics of SEO, We’ll take a look at some of its components in detail.
While Google guards their search algorithm pretty well and not all of the over 200 determining factors are public, Backlinko did a great job of compiling as many of them as possible into one big list.
But first, we need to get one thing straight. There are two sides to the SEO force, and you need to choose yours right now.
White hat vs. black hat
Some people are in it to make a few grand really quickly while others are in it for the long haul.
If you want to use your SEO like a get-rich-quick scheme, you’ll probably end up doing black hat SEO.
This type of SEO focuses on optimizing your content only for the search engine, not considering humans at all. Since there are lots of ways to bend and break the rules to get your site to rank high, these are a prime way for black hat users of SEO to make a few hundred thousand baht really quickly.
Ultimately, this approach results in spammy, crappy pages that often get banned very quickly. It will often lead to severe punishment for the marketer, ruining their chance of building something sustainable in the future.
You might make a fair bit of cash this way, but you’ll continuously have to be on the lookout for search engine updates and come up with new ways to dodge the rules.
White hat SEO, on the other hand, is the way to build a sustainable online business. If you do SEO this way, you’ll focus on your human audience, rather than the ‘quick buck’.
Needless to say, you’ll only ever hear and see us talking about white hat SEO.
Choose your path wisely, young Jedi!
Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.
As you know, life’s not always black or white.
The same holds true for SEO. There’s actually something in the middle of the ‘white vs. black hat debate’ that we need to address.
Grey hat SEO, like its name implies, is a little white and a little black.
That means it’s not quite as pure or innocent as the whitest of white hats. But it isn’t quite as egregiously manipulative as black hat can be.
You’re not trying to trick anyone or intentionally game the system with a grey hat. However, you are trying to get a distinct advantage.
See, Google’s standards aren’t as clear-cut as they’d like you to believe. Many times, they might even say contradictory things.
For example, Google has said they’re not a fan of guest-blogging to boost links.
But what about guest blogging to grow your brand? What if you do it to build awareness, generate high-quality traffic back to your site, and become a shining star in your chosen field or sector?
Those are all legitimate reasons to guest post and why it’s still worthwhile doing.
Other people might disagree with us on this point, but that’s cool.
That’s what makes online marketing, and SEO in particular, such fun. It’s a game. And two opponents can try different methods to win.
SEO changes all the time. The rules are often ill-defined.
Besides, most of what we know as ‘the rules’ are simply just SEOs making predictions or looking at correlating data trends.
That’s why there’s so much room for grey hat SEO to sneak in.
Many classic link building techniques, like using scholarships to build links, can also go either way.
Some people say it still works. Others say it’s dead in the water.
If often depends a lot on how you do it.
All marketing tactics need to be scalable at the end of the day if they’re going to generate any ROI.
But here’s the problem with that notion.
Almost every ‘scalable link building tactic’ is borderline black hat depending on how you do it.
Now, it might be dead easy to build links in some industries, like technology or nutrition. There are thousands of blogs online that talk about this stuff daily.
But what if you work for a supplement company?
Did you know MailChimp won’t even let supplement companies use their email marketing services at all?
How are they supposed to create connections, reach out to customers, and increase revenue (let alone build a few links)?
The same holds true in other less savory industries, like Bangkok’s sex industry for instance.
The chances of a journalist linking to your site in a flattering way are slim to none.
So many times, you’re going to have to take your chances.
Believe it or not, there are many industries that find it difficult to find ways of building links.
Cleaning inside your house and outside: on-page SEO vs. off-page SEO
There are two broad categories of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO concerns all of Google’s ranking factors that they determine by directly looking at the page you try to optimize, such as your headlines, content, and page structure.
Off-page SEO refers to all variables Google takes a look at, and they aren’t exclusively in your own hands. They depend on other sources, such as social networks, other blogs in your industry, and the personal history of the searcher.
They’re different, but you need to get both right, in order to do well with SEO.
To give you a better idea of what that means, here’s an example:
Let’s say you have a house with a garden in the front and a little pathway that leads through your front yard to your house.
Imagine these two scenarios:
Scenario #1: Your house is super clean on the inside, but your front garden is a mess.
What happens in this scenario? Well, even if you have the cleanest Mary Poppins-style house on the inside, if your garden looks like the forest from Sleeping Beauty, no one will come into your house in the first place.
It’s the same if you haven’t optimized your page around on-page SEO. It may have great content and look stunning, but it’s likely that no one will give you credit for it or point to your page.
No one will ever see your beautiful masterpiece because you won’t get any traffic.
What about the other way around?
Scenario #2: You have neatly trimmed your lawn, but the inside of your house is a mess.
Turn things around, and they look similar: Having a nice lawn will attract plenty of people to come to visit your house, but if your living room reminds your guests of a war zone, they’ll leave quicker than you can pronounce SEO.
When a visitor leaves your site after viewing only one page, Google considers that a bounce. The higher your bounce rate (number of visitors who leave your site instantly), the worse your page will rank on Google.
That’s why you need to do both on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
To learn more about on-page, and off-page SEO, we can discuss these techniques as we help you grow.
It all starts with a chat!