What is SEO?
SEO for Business Owners: Definition, Meaning & Importance
In this article, you’ll find an in-depth overview of SEO and how each level applies to your business goals. You’ll learn how to build your website in a way that aligns the user’s search intent with your keywords, and you’ll get more traffic and increase sales.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and is the process of improving a website’s content relevance, technical setup, and link popularity. When done properly, your pages are better understood by both humans and algorithms, and will be shown higher in search results.
ELI5: Business Impact
As a business owner, investing in SEO early means you’ll make more money while saving more money. You won’t be forced to rely on constant pay-per-click ads because SEO doesn’t have an off switch. Relevant, cash-in-hand clients that otherwise have no idea you exist will now be drawn to your website naturally, which gives you more chances to make your offer.
Is SEO Important in 2023?
SEO is more important than ever in 2023 for two big reasons: competition and visibility.
Your competitors are investing in SEO at a greater rate than ever, making it harder every day to catch up to them. If you’re the one building that moat, you’ll be much better off.
Things have drastically changed in the world of search engines in the last two years with the newfound popularity of AI. Understanding what your customers want at every stage of their journey is now the key to being visible on the internet – the days of keyword stuffing and metadata checklists being sufficient for SEO are over.
How do you do SEO?
Let’s start by saying this isn’t a guide for how to actually “do” SEO. It’s an overview of what the biggest elements entail and should give you a head start when deciding on doing it yourself, or hiring someone to do it for you.
The Three Pillars
SEO services fall into any of the following three categories, many of them being a combination of two. The quality of your content, the approval of your content by other websites, and the way your website is looked at from a computer’s point of view.
Lets pretend your SEO campaign is a car. Onpage is the car itself, how it looks, how comfortable it is and how enjoyable it is to drive. The engine is technical SEO, if there are problems with it then you won’t go anywhere. Backlinks are the gas.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO (or on-site SEO) is any work done on your website, aka the content of your pages. A common mantra in SEO is “content is king”. This is outrageously wrong. Content is what Google delivers to the user. User intent is the real king, and should be the starting point of every modern SEO campaign.
This doesn’t mean you don’t need to create content, quite the opposite. If user intent is the king, that would make your content the court jester. The idea is to present the king with the right content that will entertain, educate or inform him better than all the rest.
But I digress, content quality and user intent is for another article. How you organize your website for people as well as search engines is the most common interpretation of on-page SEO. How easy your website is to navigate, how effective your internal links, url structure, and header tags are, and what your code tells search engines are all pieces of the on-site puzzle.
The ultimate goal of on-page seo is to give people a better experience with the least amount of friction as possible. It lets both search engines and visitors clearly understand what a web page is about, helps them determine how useful and trustworthy the page is, and most importantly how it is related to the user’s search intent.
What is Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO (or off-site SEO) is anything done outside of your website that digitally points to your website. Social media marketing, content marketing, guest posts, videos, and especially backlinks are just a few pieces of the off-page puzzle.
Off-page SEO helps search engines understand how trustworthy your website is, and establishes the part your business plays in relation to other pages on the internet. Even though social media marketing won’t directly affect your ranking, driving traffic is still a high-priority off-page activity you should be doing. For the others, you’ll be able to secure the real treasure of your labors by link building.
Look at it this way. When other sources on the internet mention your site, it signals to Google that you’re trustworthy. Consider it a vote of confidence. The more votes, the more authority you have on a given topic.
These votes take the form of backlinks. Google estimates the quality and relevance of those backlinks to determine how important the website is. Here’s the crucial detail that has changed recently: not all backlinks are created equal. One link from the Wall Street Journal is worth 100x more than ten links from a small blog.
You can get backlinks from articles or blogs you write, videos you create, guest posts on other related sites, even podcasts. While the most time consuming (and expensive) part of SEO, it is arguably the most important.
A search engine does three things: it crawls your pages, indexes them, then ranks them against the rest. Technical SEO refers to improvements made on your website or server that help search engines crawl, index, and understand your web pages. Your site will never rank without being crawled and indexed properly. Technical SEO is a broad topic, and tactics vary depending on your CMS, server, hosting environment, and more.
Three elements of good technical SEO are crawlability, indexation, and performance. Here is a list of what each element generally entails, in order of greatest impact:
Core web vitals
Notice how site speed is at the very bottom? Despite being at the top of seemingly every SEO “must-do”, from my experience it is a last-mile tactic to try and improve. Why does every seo audit scream about your site speed? Because it’s easy to automate and point out. It just doesn’t make a huge difference in the end.
Running an SEO audit is the first step in optimizing your website performance. Think of it as a health check, you won’t know your strengths or weaknesses without a deep dive into each pillar of SEO. These days, “audits” are full of only technical information, like title length, alt tags, word count, and page speed information. This is not an audit.
Something actually useful will include an actionable plan aimed at business goals like revenue, traffic and inquiries. In addition, it should give you insight to your competition, UX/UI issues, backlink health, website structure issues, on-page and off-page issues, as well as technical issues.
Local, National or International SEO: What's the difference?
Now it’s time to focus on the geographical area you’ll be selling to. Are you a service based business with a physical address? Are you an ecommerce brand shipping across the country? Or do you have a hotel trying to attract guests from all over the world?
Depending on who you serve, you’ll need to consider the scope of work involved, as the bigger the radius, the bigger the cost, effort and research it will take to rank your site.
-Competition is far greater when you expand nationally or internationally. These competitors likely have a head start on their marketing efforts, and you could be up against multinational corporations.
-Effort level will be much higher at each level. You need more content that is better researched, and done specifically for each language to make sure your brand aligns with customer expectations.
-Costs will rise in step with the scale and scope of your business. It costs much less to influence rankings in your local market than on an international one.
Many businesses start out local, then grow to national or eventually international as their business expands. In the next sections, we will talk about the principles you should be considering at each step of the journey.
Local SEO is all about being relevant to your area by sending as many signals to Google as possible. Pump the brakes, this doesn’t mean jamming your city name every other sentence (though having it in the title, headers and sprinkled appropriately in your content is a good idea). What you really want to do is make sure your online presence reinforces your location.
We can do this by focusing on local papers or websites rather than national ones, making sure your name, address and phone number (NAP) is consistently cited correctly, adding Schema to each of your pages, setting up Google Business Profile and more.
The biggest difference between Local and National SEO (besides the price jump) is going to be what type of content you focus on. Local SEO is dedicated to capturing phrases like “florist near me” or “plumber in (city name)”. National SEO focus is on non-geographical keywords, or top of funnel type of searches. You’ll need to prioritize your brand name and any product or service you want to rank for.
International SEO is the same as National SEO, just multiplied in scale. Your content needs to be translated, you’ll need a native language copywriter, and your site will double in size with each language targeted. This in turn makes your sites tech stack more complex, and makes future changes more expensive. The investment is huge, but the payoff is even bigger, as your profit potential keeps up with the countries you add.
SEO copywriting is the process of creating text meant to attract, engage, and convert the attention of people as well as search engines. An easy way of thinking of it is a copywriter that does additional research to make sure your content is aligned with the search intent of internet searchers. One thing to note is that optimizing blog posts is not copywriting, that is content writing.
SEO and Social Media
Social media does not directly contribute to SEO ranking. It does however play a big role in your brand distribution. When you combine them both, you’ll increase brand recognition, brand reputation, and you’ll create a funnel of traffic directly to your website.
Wordpress is the most popular website builder in the world by far. And for good reason, its free, has great performance, and it is the most SEO-friendly of all the CMS options. This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to rank your site number 1 on Google, you still need to have an SEO strategy in place and above all, give value to your visitors.
Here are a couple tips to get you started:
- Don’t go with cheap hosting. When it comes to performance, this is the absolute biggest factor. You get what you pay for. We prefer Kinsta hosting.
- Pick an SEO friendly theme. If you have the budget, then by all means pay a developer to create a custom theme for you. Just keep in mind, it has to be SEO friendly (and you have to pay the same developer to update your site over the years).
- Setup an SSL certificate to have your site use HTTPS. This should be a given by now, but is a step that is easily overlooked if you’re going on your own. SSL is a verified ranking factor, so do it.
- Enable post permalinks. This is another easy one to overlook. Make sure you set permalinks to post-name, otherwise you will have problems down the line.
- Be careful of page builders (elementor). Page builders are amazing. The problem is, they will absolutely affect the performance of your website. The most popular page builder, Elementor, is also the most bloated. We like to use WPbakery.
- Be careful of plugins. In the same vein as the page builder, plugins are a godsend. Its what makes WordPress so special, you can basically do anything you want without having to code. But when you have too many, it will bog down your site, so be careful.
- Install rankmath, not yoast SEO plugin. Yoast has fallen in the way of Elementor as being the most popular product, but bloating the app by trying to cram too many options. Go with rankmath for now.
Related SEO Activities
White hat vs Black hat seo
If you’ve done any research about SEO, you’ve likely came across the terms ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’. White hat seo follows search engine guidelines, focuses on a human audience, and focuses on a long term approach. Black hat SEO violates search engine practices, relies on manipulative tactics, and focuses on quick wins. Google has gotten much better over the years about spotting black hat techniques. In the past, they would penalize anyone caught using them, but nowadays they find its easier to simply ignore it. Making black hat seo a complete waste of time and money.
You’ll have a lot of options for SEO tools. Where should you start? Here are a few of the mandatory ones you’ll need to use.
- Google search console. This is the most important one by far. You need to see the real data from your website.
- Google analytics. This helps you get a better picture of how a user interacts with your website and their demographics.
- Ahrefs or Semrush. These paid tools give you insight to your competitors and are industry standard.
- Majestic, Moz or Inlinks. These are high powered tools to check out backlinks.
- Screaming Frog. You can crawl any website to determine a plethora of data.
- Surfer SEO. Helps you with your content.
There are thousands more tools that change every year. These are the current best ones, but hardly a definitive list.
SEO doesn’t end. There is no “set it and forget it”. Search engines, your competitors and user intent are always evolving. Content becomes outdated. You should always improve your website and become more efficient.
The truth is, you have to work hard and put in the hours in each pillar of SEO if you want to grow your brand, get clicks, grow sales and increase revenue.