Bestowing the outdated title of “king” upon SEO might seem as an irregularity, given that Search Engine Optimization heavily depends on what users, people searching the Internet for information, are the ones that have given birth and nurture the most popular form of non-paid advertising in the history of mankind. So far, the majority shapes things.
However, as legendary kings did back in the days when the monarchy was the status quo, SEO rules mainly with justice and takes care of Internet users in the best possible way available. For that reason, as long as the era of instant information and the Internet is dominant, SEO will never vanish. It might “die” a couple of times, only to rise from its ashes like a digital phoenix, to bring… order in the vast and complex world of the Internet.
First developed in the mid-1990s, Search Engine Optimization has since been the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of one's website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or web page to users of a web search engine. Mid-1990s, you ask? Indeed, Webmasters and content providers have been optimizing their websites for search engine visibility long before Google turned into a gigantic kingdom of information and advertising.
Simply put, SEO is how someone tweaks their website so that Google suggests it as one of the best places for a user to find what they are looking for, whether it is information, services, a product, and everything in between. Understanding the fundamentals of SEO might seem hectic, however, in the following presentation, we are going to break-down the bits and bytes of the “king” of the Internet, creating its profile for anyone to understand how it works.
If we needed to explain On-Page SEO using one sentence, that sentence would be “Anything that happens within the website”. Websites know that they cannot expect Internet users to do all the work by themselves. It’s like the market: you have to offer in order to gain. This is where On-Page SEO comes into play, representing all the practices websites have in their arsenal to achieve search engine visibility, increasing their traffic, and therefore the number of users visiting them.
Getting a visit is the first step into setting the foundations of On-Page SEO, in order to establish a healthy flow of users that will not only visit your website, but will stay in it, and will return again in the future. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the most important rule of On-Page SEO instructs: Offer your users great browsing experience. There are several aspects of a website that need to be in their “A game” in order for an excellent user experience to be achieved.
These aspects include, but are not limited to:
HTML & Tags
Why HTML first, you ask? All of the following On-Page SEO aspects are equally important, however, in order to read something, you first have to know the… language. Still with me? The reason HTML is so important is that it’s the language of Google’s ever-working, never-sleeping “spiders”. Google spiders are the digital entities that enter your website to gather information and understand what your website is about, in order to categorize it, filter it, and then tailor it to the World Wide Web.
Google “spiders” will enter your website, download a copy of its HTML code, and analyze it. A lot. Like detectives checking for all the little details hidden behind your beautiful content, they will visit your tags, check them, and then store your website’s core information for future use. When a user searches something, search engines return results gathered and tailored by “spiders”. Your titles, descriptions, headers, and tags, all of these are under… investigation and the more relative they are, the better for your ranking.
Website Speed & Mobile Access
Back in 2010, Matt Cutts, then head of the webspam team for Google, announced that site speed would carry less weight than other key ranking factors. This changed fast, as it was expected, with Website Speed being one of the cornerstones of SEO. After all, think about yourself when you are browsing through the Internet, searching for something. Don’t you want the best possible speed to achieve browsing optimization? Well, everyone does!
A skilled.com infographic shows that:
“79% of customers who report dissatisfaction with website performance are less likely to buy from that site again”
The same infographic gathering Internet user data has found that 47% of customers expect a webpage to load in 2 seconds or less.
The era of having something in your grasp instantaneously is already here. Mobile phones and smartphones are the epitomai of immediacy, giving users access to the Internet from anywhere. Great SEO, among other things, is great Mobile access. Make sure your website is as polished and fast as its desktop “sibling”, and you will notice the difference immediately.
One of the cornerstones of SEO: the Content! This is the reason users click on that link and enter your website, to access your content. Whether you are providing information, services, or products, your content has to be sparkling if you want the user to stay, return, and suggest it to others.
The pillars of Website Content are simple:
- Quality – No need to be tempted to go down the keyword rabbit hole. Make sure you answer your visitors’ questions. Google’s bots are made to tailor all information together before ranking your website
- Research – Before presenting users with information, confirm it. Research every web page content before presenting it. Facts make content foolproof and show users your website is trustworthy
- Freshness – SEO, as the king of the Internet, leads by example regarding freshness. Every day new SEO tactics are being developed and tested. Likewise, your content should be fresh, in accordance with the era’s needs and aesthetics
- Engagement – Knowing when to offer content, to whom, and how, leads to increased engagement, which leads to better search engine ranking. Your users are the ones with your website’s fate in their hands and offering them what they are looking for when they want to access it, will increase engagement
- Detail – Content length plays a big part and despite it being a gray area, SERPs will let you know that the bigger your content, the better. Creating engaging articles of more than 2.000 words tailored with images and useful information will definitely make users stay and read on
Website Speed and HTML are part of the System side of On-Page SEO. In this aspect, you will also find S.E. Indexing and the importance of URLs.
S.E. Indexing, or Search Engine Indexing, collects, parses, and stores data to facilitate fast and accurate information retrieval. Without an index, search engines would have to scan every possible document gathered by “spiders” every single time a user searched for something in that search engine. It is not difficult to assume that every search would take huge amounts of time to complete, and S.E. indexing helps minimizing that by creating an index with categories. Understanding how S.E. indexing works allows you to improve your search engine ranking greatly.
Regarding URLs, they are the Alpha and the Omega of the Internet. They play a big part in the fundamental aspects of SEO and user engagement. For example, choosing a top-level domain instantly strengthens your URLs, since people tend to trust URLs that end with “.com” more than others. Creating shorter URLs helps users understand the nature of the link faster and more easily, while the first 3 to 5 words of a URL plays a crucial role in keyword density and relativity for your content.
Well, word has it you can find anything on the Internet. And since anything includes shady stuff, it was expected that shady ways to find things would also exist. Black Hat SEO techniques are against search engine guidelines and often end in a penalty from said search engines for anyone using these techniques.
Black Hat SEO includes keyword stuffing, private link networks, and cloaking, among other things. Keyword stuffing might ring a bell for those that used the Internet in the early days of SEO, during the mid-1990s. Google’s description of keyword stuffing is the following:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value.
- Blocks of text listing cities and states a web page is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural
An example of keyword stuffing will help everyone understand it better. Let’s see a piece of content with keyword stuffing from a website selling stainless steel kitchen cutlery:
“We are in the business of stainless steel kitchen cutlery. Stainless steel kitchen cutlery is what we sell. If you are thinking of getting stainless steel kitchen cutlery, get in touch with one of our stainless steel kitchen cutlery consultants.”
Other forms of keyword stuffing in the early days of the Internet included the same keyword stacked in a paragraph that consisted only of that keyword, at the bottom or top of a web page.
Cloaking is the technique of showing one piece of content to users visiting a web page and a different piece of content to the search engine checking that web page. Moreover, private link networks are used as “banks” for links of websites of the past or closed-down websites to “fool” the search engine that a web page has links that create engagement and increase the ranking of a website.
Let us be clear that we do not support any form of Black Hat SEO tactics and we believe they are the equivalent of unfair marketing techniques used outside of the Internet. They are built on shaky foundations and most of the time will lead users to places they never wanted to be while searching for something in a search engine.
Search Engine Optimization starts with On-Page SEO but is given its final touch via Off-Page SEO. In a nutshell, Off-Page SEO tells Google what others think about your website. Activities that are done away from a website or a web page with the purpose of raising the ranking in Google search results fall into the category of Off-Page SEO, which is equally important to anything that happens within a website.
If a website has many valuable links pointing to its web pages, search engines will automatically assume that this website has great content which provides value for users searching the keywords in those web pages and links. But Off-Page SEO is not limited to links, it just starts from there.
Several aspects of this type of SEO create a big grid for “spiders” to walk on and gather further information for their index, providing more information about a website’s content.
These aspects include but are not limited to:
In essence, it is almost impossible for Google and similar search engines to determine the value of any web page if there are no links pointing to it. No matter how fresh, helpful, or in-depth a web page is, if there is no link pointing to it, then it might as well be “dead”. Even if a website is extremely popular, preparing it for link building is essential in increasing the SEO quality and therefore in increasing its ranking.
For example, in 2015 a research by SEOmoz showed that twitter.com, despite being a powerful domain, showed a loss of 0.75% at Google search during 2015:
Interlinking pages using keywords with more emphasis on the website’s brand name, optimizing internal pages, and using strong keywords to link to other pages of your website from web page content help you increase your search engine ranking. Especially during big events, linking parts of your website that mention that event’s name [strong keyword for engagement during the event’s period] will make search engines understand that these links are useful for users that search for that event.
For example, linking the keyword name of a big sporting event when having a sports news website is crucial during the time that sporting event is taking place, whether it is just a match or a whole tournament.
Trustworthiness and SEO are a pair not so heavily based on metrics and numbers rather than the concept of trust and how users, as well as search engines, perceive it. Google has said that it does not use this type of metric to rank websites, however, in April 2018 the company was granted a patent related to evaluating the trustworthiness of links. This does not mean they are using it for SEO and search engine ranking.
The idea of ranking based on trust is based on the following logic: the fewer clicks someone needs to reach your website from a number of highly-trusted websites, the better your trustworthiness is, therefore there better your ranking based on trust is. This seems legitimate up to a point, but since Google has reiterated it does not take trustworthiness into account, it is a matter of users and how they perceive websites they visit.
For example, a link about health leading to your website that is featured on the website of The World Health Organization would be considered trustworthy de facto, since the official organization for health would host it. However, since trustworthiness is a grey area, Google does not seem eager to enter these… waters just yet, when it comes to ranking.
While on the subject of trust, something way more substantial and an integral part of new-age Off-Page SEO is TLS. Transport Layer Security, and its now-deprecated predecessor Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographic protocols designed to provide communications security over a computer network. Simply put, TLS makes sure that the connection between the server (website) and the web browser (user’s browser) is secure, and data breaches will not happen, endangering users’ information. Websites with TLS/SSL licensing are safer and seem to rank higher than similar websites that do not own that kind of license.
Two words: Social Media. Probably the most popular form of Off-Page SEO currently, even above links and backlinks in many instances, is Social Media. Companies and agencies build their whole strategies for a fiscal year based on Social Media campaigns, how they promote their website links and other actions on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.
Back in 2014, Matt Cutts revealed that metrics such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers, do not affect search rankings. However, a 2018 study by Hootsuite showed the SEO results of articles with and without social promotion. The former received a 22% boost in ranking during the experiment!
One thing to keep in mind, as you might have noticed, is that Social Media profiles rank normally in search engines. For example, a Google search for “Kim Kardashian” includes the following in the first screen: a “Top Stories” carousel, her Twitter account, and her Instagram account. Just below her Instagram profile result, users will find the celebrity’s Wikipedia page, which is one of the most popular websites in Google rankings.
Black Hat SEO techniques are ways for websites to try and “shade” their way into higher-ranking positions, which can lead to a penalty by search engines. The Off-Page SEO counterpart of Black Hat is Blocking. Obviously, this is out of a website’s grasp and it has to do with to aspects of the Internet as a whole:
- Blocking by Visitors
- Blacklisted website
In both cases, we are talking about an SEO-dampening effect, “falling” upon a website either due to the users not trusting/blocking the website and its web pages or due to a blacklist of some kind. Depending on the content of a website, there is always the possibility that a search engine or another organization will blacklist it. This usually happens to websites that are associated with crimes of different kinds or websites/web pages that contain (and trigger) malicious software in users’ computers.
As we are walking through the vast world of SEO, which is a huge part of the Internet, we make several realizations concerning mankind, the Internet, and digital marketing. How we search, buy, and communicate is changing every day. The speed, the quality, the access to variety, and our needs are all evolving by the minute, and industries follow. This has always been and will continue to be -for the time being- a two-way, continuous transaction. The market offers what humans are asking for, and the more humans ask for something, others follow and ask for it as well.
Between the serious environmental alerts, the financial problems arising day by day around the globe, and the staggering speed of things, we are also making progress, creating new and improved methods of providing services and goods. SEO fits right in on this equation and the reason is simple:
SEO is -so far- the truest form of Democracy ever applied by mankind on itself. Users search what they want, search engines rank websites according to those needs, and websites fight for higher rankings every single minute. Users of the Internet, just like humans that visit brick-and-mortar stores, are the ones sculpting the market. Therefore, to everyone out there trying to perfect their SEO tactics and strategies, keep in mind that the fundamental truth of SEO is one and has stayed the same throughout the Search Engine Optimization era, as well as the era of mankind:
Users, the majority, determine everything. Good luck with your SEO strategies and stay tuned for more guides on how to adapt and stay ahead of the curve!