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The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization

Search Optimization

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about search engine optimization, also known as SEO.  

Maybe you’re a new business trying to figure out how to boost your visibility online. Maybe you’ve been in business for years, trying to boost your visibility and wondering why you haven’t seen greater results.

In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn everything there is to know about search engine optimization – what it is, the huge role it plays, its ranking factors, the do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, and so much more.  

Let’s get the ball rolling, shall we?

Table of Contents

  1. What Is SEO?
  1. The Amazing Benefits of SEO  
  1. How Search Engines Work
  1. Ranking Factors
  1. Key Elements of a Strong SEO Strategy (+Tips for Each)

What Is SEO?

Many marketers and businesses would agree that search engine optimization plays a vital role in growing their brands.

The question is, what exactly is SEO? How does it work?

In a nutshell, SEO refers to the practice of optimizing your website in order to boost its rankings in the search results. Good rankings mean higher visibility and more organic traffic, both of which can contribute to the success of your business.

There are two major branches of SEO:  

  • On-page, which encompasses everything you do to your website to help it rank higher.
  • Off-page, which encompasses the ways that you try to influence other websites to link to your own, boosting your rankings.

We’ll go more in-depth on each later in this guide.

The Amazing Benefits of SEO

hand writing benefits

SEO is more than merely improving your rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). As a matter of fact, it can positively impact your business in many other ways, such as the following:

It Increases High-Quality Traffic

Implementing a solid SEO strategy can boost your site’s organic visibility, which means you can expect more traffic coming your way – and we mean high-quality traffic.  Because SEO helps you gain the attention of people searching for businesses like yours, it allows you to find leads who are easier to convert into customers.

It Adds Credibility to Your Name

Any website that ranks high on Google or other search engines is usually viewed as trustworthy and high-quality by searchers and bots alike. This makes you appear as a credible brand for your target audience, which means they can count on you to help solve their pain points.

It Maximizes Your PPC Campaigns

SEO and PPC can skyrocket your rankings when used together. By pairing your paid marketing ads with SEO, there’s a huge chance that your website will appear both at the top of paid and organic search results.

It Offers Free 24/7 Promotion

Unlike paid ads, content doesn’t disappear after a budget runs out. Rankings through your SEO efforts promote your website 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And, unlike a billboard where people will have to learn about your company after spotting the ad somewhere out of town, SEO allows you to reach your target audience while they’re searching online for brands similar to you. You’ll also have the reassurance that they’re eager to buy from you.

It Is a Long-Term Marketing Strategy

While it may take a few months before you start to notice results from your SEO efforts, these results will no doubt elevate your business like never before. Not only that, but these efforts of yours will compound over time, leading to increased results for several years. The more time, energy, and budget you commit to SEO, the better your ROI will be in the future.  

How Search Engines Work

Before we walk you through the steps search engines take to determine a website’s ranking, we’d like to emphasize that we’re mostly referring to Google when we talk about search engines in this guide.

We do this for two reasons:

  • Google accounts for the vast majority of traffic most websites get from search engines.
  • Other search engines follow roughly the same rules as Google. If your website is optimized for one of them, it’s likely optimized for all of them.

Now, let’s take a look at how search engines work:

Image Source: Mangools

As you can see, the process involves three steps – crawling, indexing, and ranking. Given the vastness of the web, search engines are constantly performing each of these steps.  

1. Crawling

Search engines scan the web, assigning small pieces of programs known as “crawlers” or “bots” to discover new pages, follow hyperlinks, and get updates on the pages they’ve already discovered.

This is crawling in action.

2. Indexing

Search engines analyze the pages, categorize them, and keep them in the index, which is a massive library containing all the crawled websites. This index has a single purpose, and that is to understand each of the stored sites so it can make them available in the SERPs.  

3. Ranking  

Finally, search engines rank websites based on a combination of factors, including the relevance and quality of its content, the quality of its links, and its technical elements (e.g., is it optimized for mobile?).

Every time someone submits a search query, the search engine digs into the index and pulls out the best results, which it displays on the first page of the SERP.  

Google’s Ranking Factors

Here’s the million-dollar question: How do search engines rank websites?  

Google’s Search Algorithm.

When Google indexes the main content of each page, it looks at factors like:  

  • Website crawlability
  • Purpose of the page
  • Content quality and quantity
  • Website reputation, as well as that of the content creator
  • User interaction with the page (e.g., time spent on the page, bounce rates, etc.)
  • Content uniqueness
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Website speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T)

Google turns to these rating factors to show searchers the most relevant results they’re looking for. Obviously, the most relevant results are displayed first, with everything else displayed over successive pages.

By optimizing your website, you help Google’s spiders crawl and understand what your content’s all about. At the same time, you’re telling Google that your content is relevant to particular queries, getting your pages to appear in the right search results.  

Keep in mind, however, that Google changes its algorithms from time to time. You have to make it a point to keep up with Google’s latest updates to ensure that you maintain high rankings.  

Key Elements of a Strong SEO Strategy (+Tips for Each)

For your SEO strategy to be super effective, you should pay attention to certain elements.

As mentioned earlier, there are two branches of SEO: On-page and Off-page.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is everything done on your website to boost your rankings. Here are its most important elements, along with several tips to work on them so your website gets to secure the number one spot on Google:

1. Keywords

Keywords are the building blocks of SEO. They are what’s used to drive targeted traffic to your website and get your prospects to notice you. They even determine how you build links, which also happen to be vital elements of search engine optimization.  

Choosing the right keywords, such as those that are in line with your brand and industry, is key to attracting your target audience. Ask any successful digital marketer, and they’ll completely agree.

Keyword research and selection should be the very first step of your SEO journey. To help you get started, here are three tactics our SEO experts have been consistently practicing for years:  

Instead of looking at the number of people using a certain keyword, learn what it is they’re actually looking for when searching that keyword. If your content targets a top-ranking keyword but fails to give searchers what they need, then you won’t be able to convert visitors, even if you get them onto your site.

  • Use Google Suggest to your advantage  

Many content creators and marketers rely on Google Suggest to recommend keywords related to their brands, and you should, too! Simply type in the search term, and Google will supply a list of similar search terms below it. It’s that easy!

  • Spy on your competitors

Studying your competition is another proven tactic to perform keyword research. Knowing which keywords they’re targeting, especially those that are performing very well, can give you an edge over them. You can use tools like SEMrush, Google Keyword Planner, or Conductor Searchlight.

2. Content  

Google loves websites that publish high-quality content. That’s because the search engine prioritizes its users more than anything else, and those users want accurate and valuable information on the topics they’ve searched for.  

Below are some tried-and-true ways to produce killer content:  

  • Know your target audience

Before writing your copy, think about your ideal audience – who they are, where they come from, what they need, and what their common pain points are. Getting to know them on a deeper level can help you create content that speaks directly to them.  

  • Provide solutions

We create content for two main purposes: To educate our readers and help them solve a problem.  

As much as you may only want to generate leads and convert them, you should strive to establish your brand as a credible source of information first. That way, you’ll earn the trust of your audience, increasing their odds of buying from you in the future.  

Craft your content in a way that helps your readers solve their problems. Offer useful resources and tips, create listicles, post infographics or how-to videos, and don’t forget to have an FAQ page.  

  • Make readability a priority

Nobody likes to go through a post that’s filled with complicated words, or one that contains long paragraphs. Accomplish readability by using simple language, breaking down your paragraphs, and adding bullets and headers whenever necessary.

  • Always include a call to action

Adding a compelling CTA after each post is a must. It’s the only way to encourage your visitors to take your desired action – whether it’s to buy a product, download a free app, or sign up for your email list. Make sure that it’s clear and visible.

  • Switch it up

Modern consumers prefer variety. Some enjoy reading blog posts, others would rather watch a video about a product, and then there are people who find joy in listening to podcasts. What we’re implying is, don’t be afraid to experiment with different content formats!

3. Meta Tags

Meta tags are basically snippets of code that tell search engines vital information about your web page. Using the right meta tags lets Google know what your page is about, which in turn influences how the search engine displays it to users.

While they play a major role in SEO, not all types of meta tags have an impact on rankings. Focus your attention on these tags:  

a. Meta Title

The meta title is the title that Google displays in search results. It provides users a quick insight into the content of a result and is often the primary piece of info used to decide which results to click on. That’s why using high-quality titles on your pages is critical.

Best practices:

  • Make it no more than 50-60 characters long.
  • Create a unique title for each page describing its content accurately and concisely.  
  • Make it click-worthy without resorting to click-bait.
  • Include your target keyword where it makes sense (most preferably at the beginning).
  • Write for your audience.

b. Meta Description

The meta description is responsible for summarizing the content of a page. You use it to show users a sneak peek of what a particular page is about. Think of it as a pitch that convinces searchers that your page is exactly what they’re looking for.

Best practices:

  • Keep it under 160 characters.  
  • Come up with a unique description for each page and make sure it matches the content.
  • Add a compelling CTA or a unique proposition.
  • Include your most significant keywords, but don’t overdo it.
  • Avoid using unnecessary symbols or punctuation, especially double quotation marks.  

c. Header Tags

Header tags are HTML tags you use to identify headings and subheadings within your content. They tell a browser how your content should be displayed.  

As with headings in print content, header tags introduce the content below them. They follow a hierarchy, from H1 to H6 – with H1 tags denoting the main title, H2 and H3 tags denoting major subheadings, and H4, H5, and H6 further organizing content on the page.

Headings help search engines and users alike. They make it easier for search engines to read and understand your content. As for users, header tags provide a positive experience by enabling them to seamlessly navigate through your page.

Best practices:

  • Stick to a single H1.  
  • Use subheadings to break up blocks of text.
  • Ensure that your headings are relevant to the chunk of text they’re describing.
  • Include keywords in your headings naturally.  
  • Optimize headers for featured snippets.
  • Keep your header tags short and consistent.

d. Image Alt Text

Alt text, or alternative text, is a short, written description of an image that appears if the image fails to load. Not only is it useful to people with visual impairments and learning disabilities, but it can also help boost SEO.  

As Google has emphasized: Alt text helps search engines understand what the images are about, as well as how relevant they are to search queries. Especially since bots can’t “see” images, you’ll need to provide textual description for them to determine how they can rank your page.

Best practices:

  • Be specific.
  • Avoid starting with “image of…” or “picture of…”
  • Avoid writing more than 125 characters.
  • Include context that relates to the topic of the page.
  • Add your keywords sparingly.

4. Page Speed

snail crawling on loading bar

Nobody likes a slow website.

In fact, according to Google, 53% of mobile web visitors will abandon a page if it doesn’t load within three seconds. Around 70% of consumers say that page speed affects their willingness to buy from an online store. And a one-second delay in page load time can lead to an 11% decline in page views.  

Suffice to say, page speed affects visitor engagement and bounce rate. To keep your visitors engaged and prevent them from leaving your site too soon (and not coming back ever), improving page loading speed is your best bet. Here’s how:  

  • Compress and optimize your images

Reducing the file sizes of your images means reducing their “weight,” which eventually helps your pages load more quickly. You can change their file formats, enable lazy loading, or compress your images through lossless compression.  

  • Cache your web pages

One of the best ways to increase your page speed without sacrificing anything in the process is caching. This involves storing copies of your files in a temporary storage location so they can be accessed more quickly in the future. There are many ways to cache your website, so it shouldn’t be a problem!

  • Minimize the number of CSS and JavaScript files

If your site contains too many of these files, don’t be surprised that it’s loading at an awfully slow pace. Excessive JavaScript and CSS files can lead to a large number of HTTP requests when your visitors are accessing certain files. Since these requests are treated individually, it will tremendously affect loading speed.  

Fortunately, with tools like Grunt, Script Minifier, and WillPeavy, minifying these files won’t be as complicated.  

  • Reduce your redirects

As with CSS and Javascript, having lots of redirects on your website can hurt loading times. Whenever a page redirects to another, it prolongs the HTTP request and response process. Although redirects are necessary, try to keep them to a minimum. Only use those that actually serve a purpose.

  • Leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

A CDN is a network of servers built to improve page loading speed, so it makes perfect sense that you have one in your arsenal. It can be quite costly, but if it means speeding up your website and ultimately improving your SEO to bring incredible benefits to your business, why not invest in it?

Off-Page SEO

Now, let’s move on to off-page SEO, which are efforts made off your website to drive more traffic.  

1. Backlinks

Backlinks are links from another site that link back to your own site. They’re so important that Moz cites them as the backbone of off-page SEO, and it’s easy to see why.

If someone in your industry links to a web page of yours, then their audience will likely view you as an expert in your niche. The more your site gets linked, the more authoritative it becomes. And, because Google loves sites with high authority, it will reward you with impressive rankings.

Though we can’t deny that backlinks can work wonders for SEO, we’re giving you a heads up that building them can take a while. Whether you find yourself waiting for weeks or months, believe us when we say that the results will be outstanding – that is, if you’re using the right link-building tactics. Here are some of our favorites:  

  • Guest post

Guest posting for reputable online platforms with high domain authority and lots of organic traffic can guarantee you high-quality backlinks to your website.  

Many sites today have a “Write for Us” section where you can submit a post and get featured. You can actually find them on Google by typing in the topic you’re planning to write and adding "guest article," “write for us,” or “contributor” after it.  

Before sending a request, though, make sure that the website has a high domain authority. Here’s a free tool from Ahrefs you can use for checking.  

  • Write testimonials

It’s not uncommon for businesses today to seek testimonials for social proof. Take advantage of the situation by offering to write a testimonial for brands you frequently buy from… in exchange for a backlink, of course!

  • Create and share infographics

Did you know that posting infographics is among the most popular methods to secure backlinks for your site? With infographics making it super easy for everyone to digest complex concepts, it’s no wonder why.  

Focus on interesting subjects that are within your niche, as well as those that are trending. Keep your visuals as attractive as possible and have some credible sources to back your claims. Most importantly, make your infographics accessible and shareable to all.  

  • Convert unlinked brand mentions into backlinks

What if we told you that there’s a big possibility that your brand has been mentioned or referenced by others online without them linking to your website? Trust us, it happens a lot!

You can find these unlinked mentions using any of these options: Use Content Explorer to look for existing unlinked mentions, use the SEMrush Brand Monitoring Tool to get notified each time your business is mentioned, or simply reach out to content writers who have previously mentioned you and ask if they can return the favor by linking to your website.  

  • Study your competitors

Remember when we said how you can obtain effective keywords when you spy on your competitors? This holds true with your backlinks too! By carefully looking at your competitors’ backlinks, you’ll be able to figure out where to acquire high-quality backlinks to your website.  

Identify their resource page links, set a Google alert to get notified whenever they publish new content, or follow them on social media to track the brands they often mention. Perhaps the easiest way is to use SEO tools that let you obtain a complete backlink profile of any website you visit.

2. Social Media

With 93% of regular Internet users logging into social media every day, social media is definitely the place to be if you’re looking to promote your website, business, or just about anything for that matter.

However, social shares aren’t a direct ranking factor. Social platforms are more like search engines or discovery platforms. People discover brands that are new to them through channels like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  

Having a strong presence across social media can put you in front of prospects who are looking for brands similar to you. If they come across your page and they like what they see, they’ll follow you, engage with you, and ultimately become your customers.  

That’s not all. With social media giving you the freedom to post anything you want (well, almost), it presents an opportunity to drive traffic and leads to your website. Even if these don’t convert into paying customers, they might like your content enough to link to it from their own website! All you have to do is share links to your website and blogs on all the platforms you’re using.  

3. Directory Listings

Listing your business in top online directories like Yelp, Bing, and Foursquare will boost your local SEO. Your website will show up in top local searches, which means that people in your area who are searching online for the products and/or services you offer can find you easily.

Your listing should include your complete business NAP (name, address, and phone number), a detailed description of your business, and a link to your website. Make sure that these details are consistent across all the directories you’re listing, and check for any errors before submitting.  

It’s Time to Future-Proof Your Business with SEO!

hands holding upward arrow

Improving your rankings in Google and other search engines means more traffic, more leads, more conversions, and more sales. That’s the magic of SEO!

Unless you have your own team of SEO specialists, you might want to hire a renowned digital marketing agency like Digital Resource to get the job done. Our dedicated experts will be more than willing to create a personalized SEO strategy that will help you become a top player in your industry.  

Book a free consultation with us today by dialing 561-429-2585! We’re excited to join you on your journey to success!

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