SEO is complicated. If you’re an SEO beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start. Even with some experience, the constantly-evolving landscape of SEO may have you running into issues when strategies you’ve used in the past no longer help you (and, in some cases, can hurt you).
What’s more, when you look for answers to your SEO questions online, it’s likely that you’ll run into conflicting opinions or jargon-filled explanations that may leave you confused and overwhelmed.
That said, SEO is a necessity in 2021. How you appear online – and where you appear in search results – can have a significant impact on customer retention, new sales, and your overall reputation.
We could talk SEO forever – in fact, we basically have. While we can’t get to every SEO question you have in one post, we’ve compiled 27 answers to your SEO FAQs to help you learn the SEO basics.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving the prominence and visibility of your website in search results for a particular keyword or search query. This is done by leveraging several strategies, such as link building, content creation, improving your website, developing a social media presence, and much more.
Generally, SEO is used for terms that are related to your company, business offerings, or industry, but can be more general and, as a result, more competitive.
How does SEO work?
SEO works by implementing several strategies to influence your website’s ranking in search results. SEO requires a multi-faceted approach, targeting different factors to improve your website’s authority, relevance, navigability, and more.
Although an effective SEO strategy can have a significant impact on where your website ranks in results, results are never guaranteed. SEO must be an ongoing, iterative process, and requires trial-and-error and reaction to changes in SEO best practices. Technology will evolve, links will break, and competitors will continue to improve their own sites. The best way to have SEO work for you is to learn the basics, stay informed, and consistently be updating and improving your SEO strategy.
Why is SEO important?
According to a study by Ahrefs of over 1 billion web pages, nearly 91% of pages get zero traffic from Google.
Even the best product or service will likely be buried in results without an SEO strategy. Your visibility in search results is directly influenced by your SEO efforts, and improving your rank in search results will increase your chances of reaching your target audience.
What’s more, it’s not good enough to rank pretty well. As many as 95% of users never go past the first page of results. Even further, the top three results in Google account for over 75% of clicks, with the top spot securing 31% of clicks on its own.
Put simply: you don’t only need to rank well, but do what you can to be #1. To do so, you need to have an SEO strategy.
Does everyone need an SEO strategy?
Short answer: yes. People expect to see you online – 97% of users go online to learn more about a business, and organic search is responsible for over 50% of website traffic. If you aren’t online – or you’re way down in search results – you are missing out on a significant portion of your prospective customers.
As more of the world moves online, the importance of a strong online presence grows. And it starts with your SEO strategy.
What does it mean to have your site indexed?
When it comes to Google search, the index is the list of websites that Google shows in search results. If your site is not indexed, it will not show up in Google’s search results.
There are several factors that can contribute to your site not being indexed, including:
- Your website is new
- Your website does not have any (or very many) backlinks from other websites
- Your website is difficult for Google to crawl (or read)
- Google receives an error when trying to crawl your website
- Your website is blocking Google from crawling it (this can be due to a robots.txt file or a noindex tag)
To check if your website is indexed, input “site:mywebsite.com” into Google. If nothing comes up, or if some pages are missing, those pages are not indexed and will not appear in search results.
If your site is not indexed, you can submit an indexing request in Google Search Console (GSC).
What is a search query?
You’ve already heard us use this term a bit in this post, and likely you’ve heard it often when researching SEO. A search query is the term, phrase, or question that users plug into search engines to find certain results.
As we discussed earlier, relevance is a key ranking factor, so how relevant your website or a particular page is to a query will have a huge impact on whether or not it will rank for that query, or how well.
What is a target keyword?
A target keyword is a keyword that you are actively trying to rank for in search results. Identifying target keywords is the first step in developing a keyword strategy, which is foundational to your SEO efforts. The keywords you target should be relevant to your business and industry, and should be search queries that will lead your target audience to your website.
Understanding which terms you want to rank for informs your website copy, content topics, and your overall SEO strategy. Identifying these keywords can help you focus your efforts to rank for them. Even further, ranking well for one keyword can yield more positive results: the average top-ranking page for a particular keyword or search term also ranks in the top 10 search results for nearly 1,000 other relevant keywords.
To determine which keywords you should target, you will need to conduct keyword research. To learn more about where to start with keyword research, read our guide here.
What is keyword difficulty?
Keyword difficulty is a score given to search queries to indicate how difficult it is to rank for a particular keyword. Some factors that impact keyword difficulty are search volume (how many people search that term over a period of time), specificity (as more general terms tend to have more competition), and authority of the websites that currently rank for that query.
Keyword difficulty can inform your SEO strategy, as well as help you determine which keywords are worth targeting.
What are Google’s key ranking factors?
Google’s primary goal is to provide users with the most relevant, trustworthy results for their queries. To do so, Google takes over 200 factors into account when it comes to where things rank in search results.
Some of the most important ranking factors are:
- Relevance: how relevant your website or webpage is to the user’s search query or intent.
- Content: how well your content addresses the search query or intent of the user.
- Site Speed: how quickly your website loads.
- Mobile-Friendliness: if your website is formatted for mobile users.
- Backlinks: how many backlinks your website has received. Quality of backlinks is important as well.
- Engagement: how many users click through to your site, how long they stay on your site, or if users bounce.
How can I best assess how I look online?
Google yourself! The best way to assess your results online is to take a look for yourself, and check back often. Get familiar with your search results – and this doesn’t just mean page 1. Go back till page 10, and audit what you’re working with. Not only will this help you stay on top of your own results, but it will help you track your progress as you implement your SEO strategy.
Why do search results change?
This goes back to Google’s ranking factors, updates, and the ever-changing nature of the internet. Google’s algorithms change multiple times a year, often shaking up results. Competitors can revamp their website or content, pulling ahead of you in results. Trends, such as increases in voice and mobile search, can lead to users turning away from your website if it is not appropriately optimized.
Although the volatility of Google search results can be intimidating, it can also provide opportunity. Results are not static, and there are often steps you can take to improve your ranking.
Why do search results look different for different users or in different places?
Where you search from, as well as what you’ve searched for before, can influence what you see in search results. Remember, Google is trying to give you what you’re looking for, without you having to refine your search. As such, where you’re located or what you’ve searched for before can help give the search engine insight into what you may be looking for, giving it a better shot at getting you where you need to go, resulting in different results for different users.
How do you target local search if you are a local business? For some businesses, local search results can be more valuable than ranking more general terms. Businesses that service particular communities or areas – such as restaurants, doctors, or lawyers – or that have brick and mortar locations can all benefit from local SEO.
Local SEO comes with its own considerations:
- Local search terms: for local SEO, you will want to target keywords related to your location, including your location name, or phrases like “near me” and “close by,” which are growing exponentially.
- Your address: include your address wherever you can – on your website, social profiles, etc. Make sure your address and contact information is always updated across platforms.
- Relevant content: content that is relevant to the area you operate in will have a better chance ranking for local search terms.
- Google My Business listing: you will not show up in local pack results without a verified Google My Business listing. Make sure to claim the listing and keep all information up-to-date.
To learn more about developing your local SEO strategy, read our guide here.
What contributes to my site ranking?
Your website’s ranking is determined by the previously-mentioned Google ranking factors. Google has over 200, with some weighed more heavily than others, that all work together to determine where your website ranks.
While many of these factors are external – links to your website, engagement from website visitors, etc. – there are many elements that you can control when it comes to the makeup of your website. Page speed, site structure, and content on your site are all major factors that influence your website’s performance in results. Smaller considerations, like alt text or meta descriptions, can also have an impact on where your website ranks for certain queries.
To get the most out of your website, ensure that your website runs quickly (you can see how your website does with the Google PageSpeed Insights tool), has little to no broken links or pages, and is accessible and navigable for users. Include any relevant information on your site in places that are easy to find, and keep up with your blog.
What does it mean for a website to be user-friendly?
More and more, Google is rewarding websites that prioritize user experience. Recent Google algorithm updates have penalized spammy sites, or sites that don’t function well for users – the most recent of which being the Page Experience update released earlier this year, which prioritized page speed rewarded sites with positive user experience.
To gauge if your website is user-friendly, check it out for yourself. Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find relevant information? Is it optimized for mobile users?
Google Search Console can also be a valuable tool in determining the user-friendliness of your website by giving you insight into which pages experience the highest bounce rate, which pages users visit or stay on the most, and other metrics that can shed some light on how users are interacting with your website.
What makes a site mobile-friendly?
Simply put, a mobile-friendly site is a site that operates well for mobile users. This means that the site must display correctly on a mobile device, load quickly, and be easily navigable from a mobile device.
Mobile-friendliness should be a priority when it comes to configuring your site. There are a few reasons for this:
- Mobile users are on the rise. In 2021, mobile has accounted for nearly 55% of all website traffic worldwide. This number is likely to increase as the number of mobile device users increases.
- Google prioritizes mobile search. Since the first Mobilegeddon update in 2015, many of Google’s algorithm updates have rewarded websites that are optimized for mobile users. In 2018, Google released the Mobile-First update, which prioritized mobile sites over desktop sites, meaning that Google’s rankings are determined by the quality of the mobile version of a website as opposed to the desktop version.
- Sites that are not mobile-friendly risk losing customers. Over 50% of users report that they are less likely to engage with a company again after a poor mobile experience, and users who have had a poor mobile experience are over 60% less likely to purchase from that brand in the future.
To check the mobile-friendliness of your own site, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendliness tool. To learn more about mobile SEO, read our guide here.
Why has my website’s ranking gotten worse?
There are several factors (you may be noticing a theme here….) that can influence where your website ranks in search results and why it has dropped. Outdated content, broken pages, changes to your site structure, old links, violating Google’s guidelines, or just not staying up-to-date on the newest trends in SEO can lead to other sites overtaking you in results.
If you notice a drop in ranking – or traffic, for that matter – take a look at Google Search Console to see which pages are deterring users. Look at what is ranking in results, and take note of what you could be doing differently. Remove or update outdated content, and make sure to maintain your site’s health.
What is backlinking?
A backlink is a link from one website to another. Also called inbound links, backlinks are one of Google’s top ranking factors. While it used to be the more backlinks you received, the better, quality has overtaken quantity in backlinking. The ideal backlink profile for your website should show links from high-quality, reputable websites.
What is link building?
Link building refers to getting other websites to link back to yours, or securing more backlinks to your website. Links from other websites to yours act as an endorsement, improving your website’s authority and rank in search results.
It’s important to be aware of Google’s guidelines when it comes to link building. Links that are considered spammy, unnatural, or otherwise manipulative can actually result in a penalty to your site, potentially harming where your website ranks in results.
How can I get more links to my site?
Receiving links to your website may require patience, but will pay off in the long run. The best backlink profile is one that has a variety of authoritative sources. Social media, social shares, PR opportunities, earned and sponsored media, and partnerships are just some of the ways to earn strong backlinks to your site.
To learn more about sponsored and earned media, read our guide here.
What role does content play in SEO?
We’ve said it once (or twice, or maybe a bit more than that): content is king in SEO. Content can be one of the most valuable assets in your SEO strategy. Content allows you to target search queries, provide information and insight to your audience, establish yourself as a thought leader, and define your brand voice online. High-quality content can not only have a positive impact on your reputation, but can help you rank for relevant keywords and expand your reach.
What is SEO content?
SEO content is content that is created to rank in search results for a particular search query. However, effective SEO content has changed over time. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and spammy or repetitive content.
Now, like many facets of SEO, content must give value to the user. As opposed to simply keyword matching – though that doesn’t hurt – content should address the intent behind target search queries, and try to answer the question of the user in a unique, accessible, and informative way. While there are certain parameters to keep in mind – longer content tends to perform better, for example – quality and value to the user should be the primary focus of your content.
The impact of high-quality content goes beyond where your website ranks in search results. Quality content can not only help you increase your visibility in search (and, thus, traffic to your site), but can increase your credibility and expertise on the topics you produce content about, as well as the value you give to your audience.
What constitutes quality content?
Quality content can be a bit difficult to define. When creating content, you should consider:
- What information is the user looking for? How can I help answer their questions?
- How is my perspective unique? What can I offer that others can’t?
- What else is ranking for my target keyword(s)?
Like most aspects of SEO, content requires trial and error, consistency, and patience. To learn more about developing an effective content strategy, read here.
Does it help to update content? Can this affect results negatively?
If you have a piece that is ranking pretty well in results, or has recently begun dropping, updating the piece can give it a boost. In fact, updating and republishing old blog posts with new content and images can increase traffic by over 100%.
Additionally, old or outdated content, or content that has struggled to rank, may not add to your website, and is often better off taken down. Make sure to audit your content somewhat regularly to determine what can stay, what can go, and what can be improved.
Online Reputation Management
What is ORM?
Online Reputation Management (ORM) is the practice of influencing the narrative – or reputation – of your business online. Unlike SEO, ORM generally targets keywords specific to your brand or business, as opposed to more general keywords. ORM can be proactive or reactive, depending on the needs of your business and when you begin implementing an ORM strategy.
How do SEO and ORM work together?
SEO is about increasing your visibility in search results by improving and strengthening your presence online. Like SEO, ORM is about increasing the prominence of your owned or positive assets online, and establishing a strong online presence is the foundation of an effective ORM strategy. In the wake of a negative news cycle – or even one unfavorable social media post – your online presence will be your best line of defense.
When should I consider an ORM firm?
Sometimes a reputation concern can become a reputation crisis. When this happens, the impact of negative results can be more destructive or go beyond your own SEO capabilities. Even further, a misstep in the wake of a PR crisis can often make the situation worse.
In these cases, it may be time to consult a professional. If negative news is dominating your search results and defining your online reputation, you should consider reading out to an SEO/ORM firm.
At Status Labs, we will audit your search results and work with you to develop an online reputation management strategy to help you take back your narrative online. Whether you need help navigating a reputation crisis, or simply want to improve how your results look online, consider reaching out to Status Labs for a free consultation.