SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of getting relevant organic (or "free") traffic from listings on search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Those listings are generated by a search engine algorithm based on specific ranking factors and are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as web pages and other content such as videos, images or local listings.
When I meet new people and they ask me what I do, the conversation is almost always the same:
Everybody: What do you do?
Me: "I do SEO"
Everybody: "SEO - what is that?" or "Huh?"
Me: "Search Engine Optimization."
Everybody: (Blank stare)
Me: "You know, I work to get websites to rank higher in search engines."
Everybody: (Again, blank stare...)
Me: "Like Google, getting ranked higher in Google."
Everybody: "Oh, I thought you can pay Google for that." or "Don't you just need a bunch of links for that?"
There are a lot of misconceptions about SEO out there. I also meet a lot of people who think you do a few things on the website, and then a few days later you are magically on the first page of Google. Well it is actually not that easy - unless you are selling something where there is very little competition, or you are the only one in your geographic area offering it, you have a lot of pages to beat to get to that first spot. Most likely, your competition will already have a strong web presence, authoritative backlinks and probably a good social media presence. But with SEO, there are things that every business can do to improve their ranking and get more relevant traffic, even without being number 1.
Let's have a look at what it really entails.
Basic Definition of SEO
SEO stands for search engine optimization and it encompasses technical changes and content optimization on a website (that is the so-called "on-page" part) to get traffic to your website from organic sources, like people clicking on your link in a search engine results page (SERPs) as opposed to people coming to your site through paid advertising or pay per click (PPC). Off-page elements include social media sharing and backlinks from trusted & authoritative people/sites.
The SEO terminology can be overwhelming; on-page, off-page, keywords, titles, metas, social media, sharing, blogging, backlinks, citations, directories, robot.txt, permalink structure, headers, schema code, rich snippets, user experience, etc. and of course, content. But not just content, or high-quality unique content, amazing, sociable, shareable viral-worthy content.
So what does really work? That is determined by ranking factors.
What Are Ranking Factors?
Ranking factors are factors a search engine algorithm takes into account when determining a website's rank. Think of it as an extremely complex formula or a very involved, detailed recipe with over 200 ingredients. Each search engine has its own algorithm or recipe, and they are continuously evolving, changing and improving as they are trying to deliver more useful high-quality search results to users and push down low quality and spammy websites.
A recent SearchEngineLand study showed that social shares, likes, and bookmarks are the number one ranking factor for Google. This goes to show, that Google wants to see your website provide value for your visitors. The more amazing your content, the greater the value, the more it gets shared, the higher you rank.
All of these ranking factors take time to research, implement, test, analyze, test again, analyze again, change, tweak, report, repeat (as long as the contract goes for). And again the ranking factors are always being revised, added, subtracted or given different preference or weight.
Can you guarantee me #1 on Google?
In short: No!
No white-hat SEO professional will give any guarantees of that sort. However, we are exhausting all our resources to get you ranked as best as your website can.
Besides, SEO today is not about getting more traffic and being in the top position on Google (although that still is great and a definite goal), it is about getting the right traffic, the kind that converts into customers.
In addition to getting the right kind of traffic, eye tracking studies have shown that people are bypassing the top results if other ones on the page have a picture, a gravatar, a video, or a map etc. Being number one does not guarantee you the lion's share of the clicks anymore. Which is a good thing since getting ranked for your term might mean you need to jump over a lot of well-established big corporations to do so.