Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be strictly defined as the modification of website code designed to improve accessibility to search engine robots. This technical definition broadly encompasses a variety of techniques from HTML validation and optimization to rich text markup. The more generally understood, broad definition of SEO takes these technical strategies and incorporates aspects of relationship building, content creation and distribution, social media, and all associated factors that impact a website’s organic search engine rankings.
SEO can be divided into two high-level categories: On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO. On-Site SEO encompasses all aspects that are directly within the control of a website owner on the targeted domain. Off-Site SEO encompasses all aspects that are outside the control of a website owner, and lie under the control of other site owners or social media channels.
SEO is in an evolutionary state. It is sometimes referred to as “Search Experience Optimization” (SXO). This evolution places the focus on the user experience as opposed to technical considerations such as exact use of keyword phrases. As search engines grow to gain a greater understanding of the semantic relationship between pages and the contextual relevancy of content on a page.
Imagine you’ve purchased a new home. You may want to throw a housewarming party to show your new home to your friends and family, meet the neighbors, and begin your new life. However, before you send invite the guests, you want to ensure that your home is clean, well-organized, and presents a positive representation of your life. This analogy applies well to the On-Site SEO topic.
On-Site SEO can be divided into two primary areas: technical SEO and creative SEO. Technical SEO focuses on code standards, code efficiency, and technical specifications. Creative SEO focuses on the generation of content designed to attract and motivate human visitors.
Technical On-Site SEO
Continuing with the previous “new home” analogy, technical on-site SEO is the foundation and walls of your home. This includes:
- HTML code validation (W3C Standards)
- HTML code optimization (reducing the text-to-code ratio)
- Structured data (Schema.org, RTFa)
- URL path optimization
- Image alt tags
- Image URLs
- Keyword density
- Keyword context
Technical On-Site SEO will continue to evolve as technology evolves to accommodate increasing user demands. Website managers must keep their sites adaptive to an increasing number of devices and user interfaces. Additionally, the technical SEO manager must adapt easily to creative SEO, balancing engaging human content with contextual cues on which search engines can easily adapt. Tools like Wordle provide ways in which we can see the relationship and context provided by the text on a page.
Creative On-Site SEO
Once more looking at our “new home”, creative SEO includes the furniture, accessories, and colors used in a home. These are designed to make visitors feel welcome, and encourage them to stick around and share their experiences.
Creative SEO is the most time intensive, research driven, value-driven portion of SEO. Creative SEO focuses on content and how that content relates to site visitors. Rather than a project or process, creative SEO is an ongoing engagement.
Creative SEO can be visualized as a cross-connected feedback loop
- Research indicates the topics on which potential visitors are interested (keyword research). Keyword research comes from a variety of sources including:
- Google AdWords
- Keyword Discovery
- Site visitor surveys
- Creative teams develop content designed for these potential visitors
- Deployment teams deploy the content on the most appropriate platforms, which may include
- Product Descriptions
- Forum posts
- Blog posts
- Distribution teams ensure that visitors can share the content easily (passive sharing), as well as engage thought leaders to spread valuable content (active sharing)
- Analytics teams analyze consumption and engagement of content, and initiate research indicating additional topics on which potential visitors are interested (restart loop)
Combined with technical SEO via keyword placement, creative SEO delivers a rich user experience that encourages conversion and distribution. We’ll look at distribution more in the next section, Off-Site SEO.
In the past, Off-Site SEO primarily consisted of one phrase: Link Building. Website owners paid agencies to acquire anchor-text-specific links on a variety of websites in order to increase a page or domain’s relevance for that anchor text phrase. With one update, Google shattered the established link building industry. Today, Off-Site SEO encompasses an array of tactics used to increase a page and/or domain’s authority for a given topic area.
Not all of the “old school” link building methods have fallen out of favor. Webmaster outreach can still be very effective if done correctly. Approached as relationship building and community involvement, webmaster outreach may branch into a variety of tactics, including (but not limited to):
- Broken Link Building
- List Inclusion
- Information Updates
Webmasters typically respect free help. Providing an informational update regarding site content can be an effective way to build a relationship and improve your site’s authority.
As the power of unique content continues to gain focus, content distribution methods are seeing a rise in popularity. There is some debate on how long these methods can be sustained, and how they will be impacted in future search updates. The most popular methods of content distribution for link building include:
- Guest Blogs
Each of these approaches, and others, have advantages and disadvantages. Infographics are relatively inexpensive to produce, but may lose link value quickly. Guest blogs are more time and cost intensive, but when done correctly, can have significant value over time. Articles must be approached very carefully, as both the quality of the content and the relevancy and authority of the hosting domain will come into play.
What started with MySpace has grown to include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and even a resurgent MySpace. The power of social media quickly grew from an interesting pastime to a worldwide communications mechanism during periods of social upheaval. Search engines have been slow to react directly to social signals, but indirect relationships can be observed. Particularly, a piece of content that receives high social traction also stands a high probability of gathering a higher link velocity.
A variety of metrics exist in regards to Search Engine Optimization. These include:
- Unique Visitors
- Pages Viewed
- Bounce Rate
- Pages per Visit
- Referral Source
- Conversion Rate
These and other metrics cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. For example, while any marketer would be thrilled with an increase in traffic, an accompanying spike in bounce rate and decrease in conversion rate would be disastrous. Such parallels usually indicate either a significant technical issue interrupting the user experience or an extremely poor customer experience (for example, misleading or poor quality content). Likewise, it is relatively easy to produce a keyword rankings list showing significant increases in rankings for obscure phrases, but efforts to produce those rankings may be harming rankings for more targeted, user friendly phrases.
Taken together, analytics provide a window into the world of the website visitor. Without an understanding of visitor behavior, the search marketing cannot make the decisions that will advance a website’s goals.
Playing Nicely with Others
Search Engine Optimization does not exist in a vacuum. While viewing a search engine results page, users may be presented with paid advertising in the form of banner or sidebar PPC ads or product listing ads. The user may also be presented with a search engine’s “Universal Search” integration, in which image, video, news, and other search methods are injected into the organic results. As a result, organic search marketers must be aware of all forms of search engine marketing and how they will impact an organic user’s experience. Through cooperation and communication, a website can ensure that its message will appear to a user regardless of the medium.