To get started, we’re going to share with you some of the top terms you will hear when reading about search engine optimization.
SEO vs SEM
Search engine optimization versus search engine marketing are often used interchangeably. But in reality, they do vary. Search engine optimization focuses solely on ways you can optimize your website in order to improve your rankings in organic search. Search engine marketing, on the other hand, encompasses both search engine optimization as well as other tactics, such as paid advertising on search engines through Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and similar ad platforms. The end goal of both is to ensure that your target audience sees your website in search results – the key difference is SEO focuses on organic search rankings and SEM focuses on both organic search rankings and paid search advertising.
SERPs stands for search engine results page. When you go to search for a specific keyword or keyword phrase on Google, you will get hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of results that Google deems the best fit. These results will be organized on search engine results pages, usually ten per page.
Search engine results pages will vary based on the keyword or phrase you search. On the above search engine results page, the first two search engine results for fine art – fineartamerica.com and wikipedia.com – are below the box of information provided by Google’s Knowledge Graph defining fine art.
Each search result is listed with the clickable title of the webpage (Fine art – Wikipedia), the link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine_art_), the description of the webpage itself (“Historically, the five fine arts…”), and sometimes additional links that will take you deeper into the website (“Applied arts • Bachelor of Fine Arts • Master of Fine Arts…”).
Search engine results pages may also have other types of results upon them, such as local businesses related to the searched keyword or phrase.
You may also find the latest news articles about the keyword or phrase.
As well as images and related keywords and phrases.
The main goal of your search engine optimization strategy should be to get pages from your website on the first search engine results page, as close to the first position as possible for specific keywords or phrases you are targeting. It’s an important goal, considering that the click through rate of search results drops from 28.9% for the first search result to 4.58% for the fifth search result, as shown by this graph on Google Organic CTR.
The above graph represents the average click through rate for over 40K websites and 514K keywords that ranked in the first 21 positions in search results or the first two search engine results pages.
Click Through Rate
Click through rate, in SEO terms, is the percentage of people who see your web pages in search results and choose to click through to your website from those results. While the main goal of search engine optimization is to get your website ranked higher in search results, the goal of each search engine optimization tactic you utilize is to get your website clicked upon by anyone who sees a link to your website, regardless of whether it is a link to your website or your website in search results.
It’s important to think about improving your click through rate for every step of the search engine optimization. For example, if you are performing keyword research, you need to choose the keywords or phrases for your pages that will compel people to click on your link. If you are link building, you need to get links on sites that are relevant so you can receive clicks from the link itself. If you are creating content, you need to create content that is so interesting to your target audience that they can’t help but click on it.
Conversions, in SEO terms, is the percentage of people who accomplish a goal on your web page. For example, as a Shopify store owner, if you sell a product, a conversion would be when a person makes a purchase on your website. If you capture leads for your services, a conversion would be when a person submits their information through your contact form, quote form, or opt-in form to learn more about your services.
Measuring your conversions through analytics is a great way to determine what tactics are working best for your business. Using Google Analytics, you can find out if your search engine optimization campaign is working based on the number of conversions you have from Google and other search engines. You can compare the number of conversions you receive from search engines to other aspects of your marketing strategy, such as creating blog content for other websites, listings in local search directories, links from specific websites, social mentions, and more. Use this guide to set up Goals and Funnels in Google Analytics to see what marketing tactics are resulting in conversions on your website.
Landing Pages, in SEO terms, are pages on your website that rank in search results for specific keywords and phrases. As an example, if you have a store that sells organic makeup, then you would likely have different category pages that you use as landing pages that are optimized for specific phrases like organic lipstick, organic facial cleaner, or organic foundation. The goal for most landing pages is to make sure they are geared to convert traffic from any source into purchases.
Keyword research is a tactic marketers use to find out what keywords and phrases they should be targeting on their website. The goal is to find keywords and phrases that will not only get a strong click through rate from people using search engines, but also get those people to complete a conversion goal, such as making a purchase. We will discuss keyword research in depth in the following module.
Once you have found a great set of keywords and phrases in your keyword research, the next to do is to optimize your website for those keywords through keyword optimization, both on your website as well as outside of your website.
LSI and Long Tail Keywords
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) refers to related keywords and phrases search engines link together. An online store that sells maps would find, for example, that someone looking to buy a USA map may search a myriad of different terms, such as United States map, map of the US, map of the United States, wall map of the United States, folded map of the United States, and so forth.
The latter three examples also represent long tail keywords – keyword phrases that are longer and more specific than a general or broad keyword or phrase. We’ll talk about LSI and long tail keywords more in-depth in the next module.
A URL is a uniform resource locator. In other words, URLs are the addresses you need to type into your browser’s address bar to go to a specific web page, such as http://shopify.com for people who want to go to the main Shopify homepage. It’s important to think about your URLs for SEO as they can be keyword optimized to help your web pages rank well in search results.
Site architecture refers to the way your website is structured and how that structure is perceived by search engines. Outlining your site architecture before creating your website can help you ensure that every page is easily discovered by Google. Think of it like creating an organizational hierarchy for your website, which we will discuss in a later module.
A sitemap is a page on your website that outlines your website’s top pages for search engines. Properly formatted sitemaps can be submitted to search engines like Google via Google Search Console, allowing you to tell search engines what pages on your website are top priority. Similar sitemaps can be created for website visitors so that they can go to one page to find links to the top pages they are looking for.
On-page optimization covers the tactics you can use to optimize each page on your website for search. This includes making sure your web pages are optimized for specific keywords and phrases.
Title tags (or page title as Shopify calls it) are 60 to 70 character descriptions of a web page, optimized for a specific keyword or phrase for that page. Your web page’s title tag will also be the clickable portion of your web page’s listing in search results and the title of your page that appears on your browser’s tab and in browser bookmarks when your page is saved. Title tags also appear as part of the HTML code for images and links. Including titles for images and links will allow people to see a description of the image or link when they hover over it.
Meta descriptions are extended 160 character descriptions of a web page. While meta descriptions have been rumored to have little value in helping your web page rank for a specific keyword or phrase, it is the description that comes up below your web page’s title and URL in search results. Hence, you will still want to write it to include the specific keyword or phrase you are targeting for the page as well as to entice people to click upon it, especially since that keyword or phrase will be bolded each time it appears in search results.
ALT tags are tags in the HTML code for an image that allow you to tell search engines about the content of the image.
Off-site optimization is search engine optimization for your website that is done externally. The top off-site optimization tactic used by most marketers is link building.
Outreach, in SEO terms, is how you connect with other website owners in order to get a link from their website to yours. For example, if you find a website you would like to get a link from or submit content, you would likely reach out to the owner of the website via email. This is outreach.
Link building is the process of acquiring links to your web pages. Link building can be accomplished through outreach to the owners of websites related to yours. Depending on the website, you may be able to ask the owner for a link to your website from an already published page on their website or to ask the owner if you can submit content that includes a link to your website, either in the content itself or in your author profile.
Organic links are those that are earned naturally from other websites. In other words, if someone writes a blog post that links to your website, adds a link to your website to their resources section, or otherwise links out to your website without you initiating the request, you have gained an organic link. These are the types of links Google and other search engines prefer you to gain for your website.
When you create links from one page of your website to another page, you are creating internal links. While not as strong of a ranking signal as external links, internal links are crucial in helping search engines discover more pages on your website as well as helping visitors get from one page to the next related page.
When you get links from other websites to your web pages, you are receiving external links. Although search engines prefer you to get organic external links, you can acquire external links through outreach, great content, and other tactics.
Follow vs Nofollow Links
There are two types of links you can have pointing towards your website – followed links and nofollowed links. Nofollow refers to a specific snippet of HTML code that other websites can use to tell search engines to not pass authority from their website to yours when linking to your website. Any links without the nofollow code is a followed link that will pass authority (also referred to as SEO or link “juice”) from their website to yours. Any quality link that you could receive traffic from is a worthwhile link, but followed links will do a lotmore to help boost your rankings in search results.
Anchor text refers to the words hyperlinked to your website. For example, Google would be anchor text for the link in this sentence. Search engine would be the anchor text for the link in this sentence. In the past, marketers aimed to get keyword optimized anchor text, such as search engine, over branded anchor text, such as Google, to help their web pages rank for those specific keywords. Now, the goal is to get the most natural links possible to your website, which means not necessarily specifying keyword optimized anchor text for every link to your website, as it can alert search engines to unnatural link building tactics.
Blackhat vs Whitehat
In the world of SEO, there are both blackhat and whitehat tactics that you can use to help increase your rankings in search results. Blackhat refers to tactics that search engines typically frown upon, such as keyword stuffing, spam, buying links, and similar. Whitehat refers to tactics that search engines approve of, as outlined in official webmaster guidelines for Google and Bing.
Grayhat refers to tactics that are in the middle of the road – they are neither approved of by search engines nor are they specifically referenced as tactics for which your website could be punished with a penalty or manual action. Note the tactics outlined in this course are mostly whitehat, with a few that lean towards grayhat.
Domain and Page Authority
One way to determine whether your search engine optimization efforts are producing positive results is to check your website’s domain authority. Domain authority is a score that reflects your website’s strength and ability to rank well for specific keywords and phrases. Page authority is similar, but instead of being a representation of your website as a whole, it only represents the score for a particular page. This means that if your website has a domain authority of 50 and your competitor’s website has a domain authority of 70, your competitor has a better chance of outranking you if you target the same keyword phrases. While these scores shouldn’t be focused upon, they can be used to see if your website’s strength and authority in search is increasing with your SEO efforts.
Marketers also use domain and page authority to determine whether a link from a particular page on an external website would be valuable in helping their website move up in search rankings. Again, these scores shouldn’t be the main focus on link building, but they can help provide a little valuable insight into a link partner’s potential strength.
PageRank was a score from one to ten that Google provided to help people understand a website’s authority in Google search. While it is still mentioned throughout the web in articles about search engine optimization, Google retired this scoring system.
An SEO audit is a process where marketers evaluate a website’s performance in search as well as potential ways to improve that performance. Typically, the website’s ranking for target keywords and phrases, site architecture, and link profile be reviewed to determine the best course of action for further improving the website’s position and authority in search engines.
Algorithm Changes, Penalties, & Manual Actions
Algorithm changes, penalties, and manual actions strike fear into the hearts of many marketers. When search engines update their algorithms (algorithm changes), they typically do so in pursuit of cleaning up spam from search results for search engine users. In the process, many websites that have dabbled in blackhat SEO tactics will see a decrease in rankings, sometimes across the board and other times for specific web pages and their rankings.
While algorithm changes affect websites as a whole, penalties and manual actions are enforced upon websites that have made serious offenses in their search engine optimization efforts via blackhat tactics. These websites will find that they have had penalties and manual actions initiated on their website, which may or may not seriously affect their rankings in search engine results. Or worse, they could lead to the entire website or a subset of pages being moved from the search engine’s index. The latter would mean that search engine users could not discover the website when searching for any keywords or phrases, even branded ones.
Using Google’s free Search Console and Analytics, website owners can keep track of their website’s overall health in search results. For example, Search Console offers a variety of tools to help you evaluate your website’s on-page and off-site optimization efforts. It also has an inbox where you will be alerted to any penalties or manual actions should they occur. Analytics, on the other hand, will allow you to see the amount of traffic you are receiving from search engines. You can be alerted to a possible algorithm change, penalty, or manual action if you notice a decline in organic search traffic.
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