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We monitor all communications by Google about changes in the algorithm, and we test what actually works in the search engines. At Yoast, we advocate holistic SEO. Your SEO strategy should never feel like a trick. The search engine wants to show the user the result that fits his or her search query best. That’s how Google works, in a nutshell. If you want to appear high in the results for that specific search term, make sure to write awesome and SEO-friendly content and offer users a good online experience.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing sites to try and make them appear in a high position in the organic search results. In order to do so, SEO tries to shape a website according to Google’s algorithm. That being said, this algorithm is aimed at giving online users the best answer to their question and best experience possible. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, over a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors.
The importance of links actually lead to active link building quite quickly. As long as you are collecting links that are useful and logical, link building can be a good SEO strategy. But if you collect (or worse buy) shady links, Google may punish you for that. To help you figure out the right strategy, we wrote an article that discusses 5 link building DON’Ts you didn’t know about.
How does Google work? What does Google actually do? For many of you, this will be fairly old news. But for everyone who is new to the world of SEO: let me explain what Google does and how SEO works. In a way that is easy to follow, because understanding this really helps you create an SEO strategy that works! Let’s take a look ‘behind’ the scenes.
The algorithm isn’t static. It changes regularly with new updates. The factors that determine the ordering and the importance of the different factors change very often. Although the algorithm is secret, Google does tell us which things are important. We don’t know how important though, and we don’t know whether Google communicates all factors to us. Testing and experimenting give us a relatively good feel for the important factors and changes in these factors. We incorporate these factors into our Yoast SEO plugin and tell you about them in our many blog posts.
The value of links for search engines.
Search engines like Google follow links. They follow links from one web page to another. Google consists of a crawler, an index, and an algorithm. The crawler follows the links on the web. It goes around the internet 24/7 and saves the HTML- version of all pages in a gigantic database called the index. This index is updated if the Google crawler comes by your website again and finds new or revised web pages. The new version of this page is saved. Depending on the traffic on your site and the number of changes you make on your website, crawlers come around more or less often.
It’s very important to have a basic understanding of how Google and most other search engines use links. The number of links pointing to a page is used to determine how important that page is. So, the more links a specific site has, the more important search engines believe it is. Both internal links (coming from the same website), as well as external links (from other websites), can help in the ranking of a webpage in Google. Some links are more important than others, though. Links from websites that have a lot of incoming links themselves are generally more important than links from small websites with only a few incoming links.
Google’s results page – also known as SERP- shows about 7 or 10 links to sites that fit your search the best (according to Google). We refer to these results as organic search results. If you click to the second page of the result page, you see even more results. The further down the results your website is, the less likely it is that someone will click on your result and find your site.
For Google to know of the existence of your site, there first has to be a link from another site – one that is already in the index – to your site. If crawlers follow that link, it will lead to the first crawler-session and the first time your site is saved in the index. From then on, your website could appear in Google’s search results.
Most of the time, there are a few paid links above the 10 links on the first page. These links are ads; people have paid Google to put these links at the top of the site when users search for a specific term. Prices for these ads vary greatly, depending on the competitiveness of the search term. In addition to these organic and paid results, there are also a few other elements that you can find on Google’s search engine results page.
After indexing your website, Google can show it in the search results. The search engine tries to match a certain search query with web pages that it has indexed. To do so, Google has a specific algorithm that decides which pages are shown in which order. How this algorithm works exactly is a secret. Nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results.
Marieke van de Rakt is creative marketing manager at Yoast. She loves writing about content SEO, speaking at WordCamps and improving Yoast SEO and the Yoast SEO Academy: the online courses platform.
Google’s results page.
Google’s secret algorithm.
Google Search Console – Google Search Console (formerly known as “Google Webmaster Tools”) is a free tool provided by Google, and is a standard tool in the SEO’s toolkit. GSC provides rankings and traffic reports for top keywords and pages, and can help identify and fix on-site technical issues.
Content – In addition to looking at links, search engines also analyze the content of a webpage to determine if it would be relevant for any given search query. A large part of SEO is in creating content that is targeted towards the keywords that search engines’ users are searching for.
Understanding how search engines work is only the first step of the process in improving a site’s search rankings. Actually improving a site’s rank involves leveraging various SEO techniques to optimize the site for search:
Search engines such as Google use an algorithm or set of rules to determine what pages to show for any given query. These algorithms have evolved to be extremely complex, and take into account hundreds or even thousands of different ranking factors to determine the rankings of their SERPs. However, there are three core metrics that search engines evaluate to determine the quality of a site and how it should rank:
Links – Links from other websites play a key role in determining the ranking of a site in Google and other search engines. The reason being, a link can be seen as a vote of quality from other websites, since website owners are unlikely to link to other sites that are of poor quality. Sites that acquire links from many other sites gain authority (called “PageRank” in Google) in the eyes of search engines, especially if the sites that are linking to them are themselves authoritative.
Search engine optimization techniques.
Search results are presented in an ordered list, and the higher up on that list a site can get, the more traffic the site will tend to receive. For example, for a typical search query, the number one result will receive 40-60% of the total traffic for that query, with the number two and three results receiving significantly less traffic. Only 2-3% of searchers click beyond the first page of search results. Thus, even a small improvement in search engine rankings can result in a website receiving more traffic and potentially business.
Site architecture optimization – External links are not the only thing that matters for SEO, internal links (the links within one’s own website) play a large role in SEO as well. Thus a search engine optimizer can improve a site’s SEO by making sure key pages are being linked to and that relevant anchor text is being used in those links to help improve a page’s relevance for specific terms. Creating an XML sitemap can also be a good way for larger pages to help search engines discover and crawl all of the site’s pages.
Because of this, many businesses and website owners will try to manipulate the search results so that their site shows up higher on the search results page (SERP) than their competitors. This is where SEO comes in.
Search engine optimization done properly can have the potential to dramatically increase the amount of traffic that a website receives, but all of that search traffic won’t help grow a business unless it converts into paying customers. This is where conversion rate optimization (CRO) comes in.
In Google and other search engines, the results page often features paid ads at the top of the page, followed by the regular results or what search marketers call the “organic search results”. Traffic that comes via SEO is often referred to as “organic search traffic” to differentiate it from traffic that comes through paid search. Paid search is often referred to as search engine marketing (SEM) or pay-per-click (PPC).
As a fairly technical discipline, there are many tools and software that SEO relies on to help with optimizing websites. Below are some commonly used free and paid tools:
Content marketing – Once potential keywords are identified, content marketing comes into play. This can be updating existing content or creating brand new pieces of content. Because Google and other search engines place a premium on high-quality content, it’s important to research what content is already out there and create a compelling piece of content that provides a positive user experience and has a chance of ranking higher in the search engine results. Good content also has a greater chance of being shared on social media and attracting links.
Search engine optimization is a key part of online marketing because search is one of the primary ways that users navigate the web.
The search engine optimization process involves optimizing each of these core components of search engine algorithms in order to rank higher in the search results.
Keyword research – Keyword research is often the starting point for SEO and involves looking at what keywords a site is already ranking for, what keywords competitors rank for, and what other keywords potential customers are searching for. Identifying the terms that searchers use in Google search and other search engines provide direction on what existing content can be optimized and what new content can be created.
The benefits of SEO.
Page structure – The third core component of SEO is page structure. Because webpages are written in HTML, how the HTML code is structured can impact a search engine’s ability to evaluate a page. Including relevant keywords in the title, URL, and headers of the page and making sure that a site is crawlable are actions that site owners can take to improve the SEO of their site.
Semantic markup – Another SEO strategy that SEO experts utilize is optimizing a website’s semantic markup. Semantic markup (such as Schema.org) is used to describe the meaning behind the content on a page, such as helping to identify who the author of a piece of content is or the topic and type of content on a page. Using semantic markup can help with getting rich snippets displayed in the search results page, such as extra text, review stars and even images. Rich snippets in the SERPs doesn’t have an impact on search rankings, but can improve CTR from search, resulting in an increase in organic traffic.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting pages to rank higher in search engines such as Google. Because search is one of the main ways in which people discover content online, ranking higher in search engines can lead to an increase in traffic to a website.
Social media – Most social media sites don’t have a direct impact on SEO, but they can be a good tool for networking with other webmasters and building relationships that can lead to link building and guest posting opportunities.
SEO platforms – There are many different SEO platforms that bring together many of the tools that SEO needs to optimize sites. Some of the most popular include Moz, BrightEdge, Searchmetrics and Linkdex. These platforms track keyword rankings, help with keyword research, identify on-page and off-page SEO opportunities, and many other tasks related to SEO.
Conversion rate optimization involves using methods such as A/B testing to make changes to websites and measure the impact they have on a site’s conversion rate. Successful search marketers know that just getting traffic to a site is not enough, what the traffic does once it arrives on the site is just as important.
Link building – Because links from external websites (called “backlinks” in SEO parlance) are one of the core ranking factors in Google and other major search engines, obtaining high-quality backlinks is one of the main levers that SEO has. This can involve promoting good content, reaching out to other websites and building relationships with webmasters, submitting websites to relevant web directories, and getting press to attract links from other websites.
How SEO works.
Google Ads Keyword Planner – Keyword Planner is another free tool provided by Google, as part of their Google Ads product. Even though it is designed for paid search, it can be a great tool to use for SEO since it provides keyword suggestions and keyword search volume, which can be helpful when doing keyword research.
On-page optimization – In addition to off-page factors such as links, improving the actual structure of the page can have tremendous benefits for SEO, and is a factor that is entirely in the control of the webmaster. Common on-page optimization techniques include optimizing the URL of the page to incorporate keywords, updating the title tag of the page to use relevant search terms, and using the alt attribute to describe images. Updating a page’s meta tags (such as the meta description tag) can also be beneficial– these tags don’t have a direct impact on search rankings, but can increase click-through rate from the SERPs.
Backlink analysis tools – There are a number of link analysis tools out there, the two primary ones being AHREFs and Majestic. Backlink analysis tools allow users to analyze which websites are linking to their own website, or the websites of competitors, and can be used to find new links during link building.