The Critical Importance of Search Engine Optimization
Of all the different ways you can drive traffic to your website, search engines are undoubtedly the most important. They have become an integral part of our lives in many different ways. Any time we are looking for solutions to problems, a search engine is inevitably going to be used to hunt for information.
Whether we are hunting for a new dinner recipe, a place to get the oil changed in our cars, a trustworthy accountant, a great-sounding set of headphones, advice for our gardens, or literally any other question we might have, search engines exist to deliver us the best possible answers. The challenge businesses are therefore faced with is how to become the best answer in the eyes of the search engines. This challenge is the reason that search engine optimization is such a critical element of your digital marketing.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a collection of strategies and tactics designed to increase the ability of a website to acquire greater quantity and quality of visitors from search engines across the most relevant search queries. In simplest terms, SEO is all about making your website appear as the best result when someone asks a question about products or services that your business offers.
To succeed in SEO and become that ‘best result’, you need to understand the intent of the person doing the searching. You’ll need to think about questions like:
- What are they looking for?
- Why are they looking for it?
- What words or phrases are they using?
- What kind of information do they want?
Search engine optimization aims to place your business at the top of the search results page by engineering your website to deliver the most relevant and valuable answers to those questions.
Why are search engines so important to businesses?
Now, you may be curious about why SEO is really so important, especially since there are many other ways that customers can find you online. After all, people can find you through directories, banner ads, social media, and other digital advertising, so why should SEO be viewed as so much more critical?
The answer is quite simple; because it is the biggest driver of web traffic and the most influential channel among consumers. Nearly 93% of all web traffic comes from search engines, and 15% of all searches that occur every day have literally never been searched before. In addition, a recent study shows that 36% of all people trust search results as their most valuable source of information about products and services. For context, that same study showed that friends and family came in as the most trusted source of information for only about 15% of respondents. This means we trust search engines more than twice as much as friends and family. That’s a staggering fact, when you really think about its implications.
The benefits of SEO are far-reaching, and it can provide the key competitive advantage your business needs to surpass competition and achieve the growth you are striving for. When done properly, search engine optimization yields results such as increased traffic volumes, higher conversion rates, greater credibility, trust and authority, and overall improvement in user satisfaction.
How can SEO achieve all this? Well, the secret lies in the types of factors that search engines like Google use to calculate which sites rise to the top of their search results pages.
What makes a site rank in search engines like Google?
Back in the early days of search engines, the technology that powered them was fairly basic. The methods of determining who should appear in the number one spot, known as algorithms, focused on simple analysis of websites for keywords and phrases. For example, if someone searched for the term ‘bluetooth keyboard’, search engines would just serve up a list of sites that had a lot of pages and text that included the word ‘bluetooth keyboard’.
However, things have changed since those early days. In fact, they’ve changed dramatically. Although most marketers focused on delivering solid, good-quality content to effectively rise in the ranks, there were some shady and unscrupulous digital marketers who chose to game the system and take advantage of how the algorithms worked. They exploited loopholes that would sneakily force unrelated and low-quality websites to the top of the results.
At the end of the day, search engines are only trusted by users if they deliver high quality and relevant results. Because of this, search engine rank calculations became more complex in an effort to clean up the results and weed out anyone trying to fool their algorithms.
To maintain trust and build confidence among their users, search engines like Google currently evaluate websites across more than 200 different factors to determine who should rise to the top of the list for any particular search query. These factors include on-page elements like text, videos, and images, along with extensive analysis of behind-the-scenes site code structure, and multiple other considerations such as off-site links, social media activity, local directory and map listings, and many others.
In addition to increasing the complexity of the algorithms to improve results, many search engines are now punishing websites that have been caught trying to game the system, pushing them way down the search results lists in favour of those sites that are delivering real value and quality answers.
How can I get higher ranks than my competitors?
The basic fundamentals of SEO focus on three pillars; a clean & optimized website platform, ongoing production of quality content, and authoritative off-site signals. Although search engine algorithms calculate rankings based on hundreds of different individual elements, they can generally be categorized into one of these three main areas.
On-Site Optimization: Maintaining a clean & optimized website includes such aspects as the overall structure of your site, navigation, page organization, titles, descriptions, URL formats, site speed, site security, content quality, and many others. In general, sites that are clean, secure, fast, easy to navigate, clear in purpose, and logically organized will have a much stronger chance of ranking higher in search than sites who fail in any or all of those areas.
Ongoing Content Production: Continually producing high-value content supports your SEO efforts by adding an increasing volume of material for search engines to refer to. Search engines prefer fresher content over older content, longer content over shorter content, and richer content over thinner content. Businesses that are actively blogging, producing articles, white papers, how-to guides, videos, infographics, and generating other types of valuable, engaging content will be more likely to rank in search than businesses who only make minor changes or occasional updates on their sites.
Off-Site Signals: Authoritative off-site signals include many different types of links and activity occurring across the web which refers back to your website and your content. These signals can come from a broad range of sources, such as social media posts, forum comments, referral links, affiliate links, local map listings, and links from other related websites, to name a few. When it comes to off-site signals, although having a large number of these links may seem like an obvious way to gain the most benefits, the reality is that quality of your off-site signals has far more impact than quantity to your overall SEO performance.
When you look at your competitors, how do you shape up across these different factors compared to what they are doing? It may be hard to see at first glance, but the deeper you dig, the clearer the picture will become. For a complete analysis of your site from a search engine optimization viewpoint, an SEO Audit is needed. SEO audits provide clear direction and detailed insights on what steps a business needs to take in order to improve their SEO and get better results from their website & overall digital marketing strategy.
How long does it take to rise in the ranks with SEO?
One of the biggest misconceptions about search engine optimization is about how quickly changes and optimizations will begin to have a noticeable effect on the rankings of a website. While there is no crystal ball or fortune teller that can pinpoint the moment you’ll hit the #1 spot, businesses need to know that SEO should always be approached as a marathon, not a sprint.
Furthermore, the ability for a website to rank for an individual search keyword depends on many factors. If there are many competitors around a popular keyword, it can take quite some time to rise in the ranks. For search terms that have lower levels of competition, ranks can often be gained more quickly.
Take a look at this interesting video from AHREFS that discusses how quickly pages can rise to #1 on the Google results pages. The analysis is quite fascinating!
It’s ultimately impossible to provide a broad statement that applies to all websites on what to expect in terms of timelines from SEO. However, a reasonable expectation for noticeable ranking changes as a result from implementing a solid SEO strategy is generally around 6 months. This is due to two main influencing factors.
First, your SEO changes are not occurring in isolation. As you make changes to your site, other businesses are making changes to theirs, too. The winners are those who make the better changes, who make them faster, and who keeps making them. In addition, the search engine algorithms themselves are engineered to take the time to weigh and measure each new link and change carefully in order to ensure they’re putting them in the right place in the results pages. The bottom line is, just because you wrote a new blog post, don’t expect to rise from #10 to #1 overnight. Good SEO takes time, but the benefits are definitely worth it.
When is the best time to start with SEO?
If you think of the old saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”, you may start to feel that it applies to the world of search engine optimization, too. It’s never too late to get started.
If you feel your website is getting stale, you’re not seeing the results that you’ve expected, or you’ve begun to fall in the rankings of Google, don’t hesitate to get moving with a search engine optimization strategy. It can be a daunting task, but in the end will prove to be the wisest investment you could ever make in your website and digital marketing efforts.
If you’re ready to learn more about SEO and start down the path to higher rankings, more conversions, and better website performance, contact WMT today. Whether you need a simple refresher for your website, a new content strategy, or a complete rebuild, our team of SEO experts is ready to help your business succeed and grow.
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