SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is a set of methodologies and tactics that, when integrated within a Digital Marketing strategy, aim at improving the digital presence or the visibility potential of a site in search engines’ organic results (such as Google or Bing).
From a simplistic point of view, a search engine relies on two main pillars for classifying websites: Relevancy and Reputation. While Relevancy is what we control in a more direct way — after all is what we include or write on a website or blog —, Reputation has an indirect characteristic and is a bit more difficult to control. Reputation considers how we are seen by everyone that interacts with our website, brand or service. It would be extremely easy if search engines only relied on these two factors to rank websites in search. Nevertheless, due to manipulation attempts, search engines consider a much wider range of factors. For example, Google considers more than 200 algorithmic factors.
As mentioned earlier and in a broad way, search engines rely on relevancy and reputation for ranking a website. However, for this to happen, robots need to complete some steps that precede the classification (or ranking) of results:
- Crawling: It’s the process where crawlers (or bots, which are actually pieces of software) request documents referenced on the web. These documents are usually referenced from pages that crawlers previously knew about;
- Parsing: Happens immediately after crawling. Content is processed and links are collected for subsequent crawls–Rendering closely follows parsing, but can be delayed sometimes, since tends to be resource intensive;
- Indexing: It’s the process where requested documents are analysed and indexed for later preparation for serving and ranking. Basically, Google creates a copy of the crawled documents and saves a copy in a “database”;
- Retrieval: It’s a process that immediately precedes the serving and ranking of a document. If Google were a giant library, retrieval would be the reasoning and interpretation of your request after you ask for a book or subject;
- Ranking and Serving: It’s the part visible to users, it usually materializes itself in the form of a SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
How SEO Works
SEO is not something only technical, or that you simply implement in the HTML code of your site. SEO is strongly influenced by Information Architecture, Usability and Web Accessibility. Besides improving your website in search results, SEO also aims to improve the experience for users that will eventually land on it.
SEO divides itself in two big scenarios of operation: Technical SEO, strongly connected to an Audit workflow, and Strategic SEO, only available under a Consulting work model. While the former encompasses the set of tactics needed to achieve improved organic performance, the latter links SEO with areas like Product innovation and Marketing strategy. Going into SEO only by the technical side is often a limited approach and, in most cases, leaves value on the table. When we approach SEO on a purely technical side, we tend to miss the big picture, and analyze only the technical and tactical aspects. This is not the best way to deal with quality issues, and it definitely doesn’t address many of the common visibility problems of a website.
Technical SEO is the set of tactics and technical improvements that can be made on a website, so as to make it become more relevant and accessible to search engines. Now that we understand, in a generic way, the steps that search engines rely on, we map out some of the basic points of approach in technical SEO:
- Crawling and server responses
- Website architecture and URL structure
- Keyword research and topicality
- Page layout structure and accessible content
- Internal linking
- Content optimisation
- Meta data and structured data (Mobile, AMP, PWA, Video, etc.)
- Alternate formats and engines
- Links, dissemination and amplification
- Conversion Optimisation
The vast majority of SEO professionals do not consider the strategic side of SEO within Digital Marketing. In general, SEO professionals only use, in a limited way, a more technical and immediate scope.
An SEO strategy emerges from a SWOT analysis. Thus, the competitive differential is explored in order to give rise to a logical approach and with real growth potential of the online business. Don’t confuse strategy with goals or tactics. A solid strategy is born by answering questions, such as:
- Where do we compete?
- What unique value proposition are we bringing to the market?
- What resources/skills do we use to deliver this value?
- How do we sustain our ability to deliver this unique value?
The strategic SEO plan is drawn from each of the answers to these questions. It is essential to have knowledge of what we do and what we are online, but essentially and also, of what we don’t do and what we aren’t.
Do you need SEO?
SEO is an area that horizontally pervades the digital presence of any online business. It’s important to think about it at any stage of a business. If you’re just starting, you can do it in steps, you don’t have to take on a big SEO project. If you already have a stable business, do not forget the competitive advantage, and make the most of your digital marketing efforts. Avoid wasting resources and time going blind in your digital presence, or even following bad advice.
Where to begin in SEO?
There are plenty of free resources online that will help you on a first stage. If you don’t feel comfortable on the decisions you need to make, I recommend you consider hiring a professional. The decision about what kind of professional you need depends on the size of your business. But be careful during the prospecting and selection process. Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed experts that embark on pursuing myths, putting your website at risk of a search engine penalty.