15 min read
I remember the first time I was introduced to SEO.
I was sitting in a dark conference room as my then boss presented his computer screen and walked me through the basics of how search engines work. I don’t know what expression I had on my face, but it was probably a blend of dumbfounded and confused.
Search engines on their own weren’t new to me. I typed thousands of phrases into search bars throughout my childhood, but I never understood the inner workings of how Google decided which websites were worth showing first.
Now I was realizing there were a lot of factors that went into how likely your website was to show up on the first page of Google, and they all worked together in harmony if you approached it from the right perspective.
Two hours later, the meeting ended and I found myself back in my office chair, ironically typing “what is SEO” into Google. That was just four years ago, and I haven’t stopped learning about SEO since.
Whether the term “SEO” is a brand new concept or something you’ve been trying to learn on your own, the first step is in understanding what it is. Only then can you can use the definition to influence your optimization strategy.
Search engine optimization, commonly abbreviated to SEO, is the practice of optimizing your website for search engines.
This is done by providing quality, relevant, and easily readable content for users that builds trust with your audience. The better your SEO, the more likely you are to rank well in search engine results for specific keywords.
This blog post was created to be your all-in-one guidebook to understanding the basics of search engine optimization.
You’ll find easily digestible definitions for the most crucial SEO terms, helping you cut through jargon confusion and get back to optimizing your website the right way.
As with anything, let’s start with the basics. Although you may have heard some of these search engine optimization terms thrown around before, it’s good to revisit their definitions to make sure you understand what each term encompasses.
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When someone says “search engine”, do you immediately think of Google? The act of searching for something on Google, or “googling”, has even become a verb in the dictionary.
Google, along with any other search engines, solely exists to helps users find the most relevant answers to their questions.
When a user types in a keyword or question, the search engine will present top results for the user to browse through in what’s called a search engine results page, commonly abbreviated to SERP. Your main goal is to organically get to the top of the SERP for relevant keywords in your industry, but more on this later.
You probably have heard about the Facebook or Instagram algorithm changes that seem to be happening every few months, but did you know search engines use their own algorithm?
While creating an algorithm may sound like rocket science, understanding what it is doesn’t have to be. An algorithm, in simple terms, is a step-by-step process that analyzes data to solve a specific problem. In this case, a search engine will use an algorithm to connect its user with the best answer to their question.
This is probably a term you’ve heard in the digital marketing space, but how often do people actually describe what keywords are, much less how to find them? That’s why we’re putting an emphasis on understanding keyword basics within this Tradecraft issue.
Let’s break down what a keyword is in everyday language. A keyword is a term or phrase that tells search engines what your content is about.
If you were to write a blog post on successful email marketing metrics, common keywords you could include would be “open rate” or “deliverability”. These are keywords your audience will be searching for around your specific blog topic, so search engines will be more likely to prioritize your resource over another that doesn’t include this information.
Now that you know what a keyword is, the definition of a search query will be simple to grasp. When a user types a keyword or phrase into their search bar, it’s called a search query.
Instead of only performing a keyword search, which we talk about in-depth with this Tradecraft blog post, we also want to consider the “why” behind the user’s search query.
What is the reasoning behind their search? Is it to do research on a new product, find the best information on a hot topic, or to simply have their question answered?
Search engines like Google are becoming better at understanding search intent, which means it needs to be a part of your search optimization strategy.
Search engine optimization is a kind of inbound marketing, but what does that term mean? Inbound marketing is the process of attracting new leads and business through your own content creation. This can be through blog posts, podcast episodes, social media marketing, video creation, and more.
Depending on how familiar you are with the SEO industry, you may have heard the terms “black hat” and “white hat” used before.
The main thing you need to know is that white hat SEO refers to sustainable and organic tactics for ranking in search engines, while black hat SEO practices are aggressive and don’t follow search engine guidelines.
We’ll classify each tactic covered in the rest of this article as white hat SEO or black hat SEO so you can decipher the good, bad, and ugly practices in search engine optimization. Keep reading on for more information about how this relates to on-page vs. off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to the practice of optimizing specific pages within your own website in order to rank well in search engines. There are dozens of best practices you can follow to increase your ability to show up on the first page of Google. Here are the on-page SEO terms you need to know.
The definition of site speed is pretty self-explanatory, but to make sure we’re all on the same page (yes, bad SEO pun), it is the speed at which your website loads. Site speed is incredibly important to your user as attention spans continue to shrink, meaning it’s also important to search engines. Google’s PageSpeed Insights can help you check your site speed.
Search volume refers to the number of people who are searching for a specific keyword within a given timeline. Search volume can change over time, so it’s important to do ongoing keyword research to understand how it fluctuates.
If a keyword has a high keyword difficulty score, that usually means there is more competition for ranking organically for the keyword.
For example, keywords in insurance and legal professions are far more competitive than keywords for freelance graphic designers. Understanding the keyword difficulty of your keywords will help you approach SEO from a more realistic, actionable perspective. Tools like ahrefs can help you find the difficulty score for your keywords.
You may be wondering how in the world search engines know all of your website information. When a search engine analyzes your site, they will use a site crawler (or search engine spider) to read and assess your content. Site crawlers also provide up-to-date data, meaning consistent and quality content publishing is key.
As defined by Google, a sitemap is “an XML file where you can list the web pages of your site to tell Google and other search engines about the organization of your site content.” By having a list of all the pages of your website, it helps site crawlers more easily read the file so it can intelligently crawl your site.
Each page on your website has a title tag, which tells search engines what that page is specifically about. It’s smart to put specific keywords in your title tags in order to rank better for those keywords.
For example, if you are creating a resource specifically for professional bloggers who need help with Instagram marketing, you can optimize that page with keywords specific to your intended audience and resource topic. Having a niche greatly helps with your SEO.
Meta descriptions are meant to summarize your page’s content in 320 characters or less. It shows up frequently in SERPs underneath your highlighted blue title tag.
Within your page content, you can break up your text with header tags that tell search engines and users what your content will cover. You’ll improve your SEO value for keywords you place in the header tag. This will also create extra visual appeal because you will be using optimal formatting techniques.
Did you know that search engines can’t read images? Well, at least not in the way we do. Site crawlers can only read text, so they rely on your image’s alt-text excerpt to read your images. If you publish an infographic on your best blogging tips, you’ll want to also include keywords that are relevant to the infographic topic in the alt-text to describe what it entails.
Remember when we talked about black hat SEO tactics? Duplicating content is definitely one of them. While you may think it is easier to copy and paste the same content from multiple pages of your website, it hurts your search engine ranking.
This also goes for content that has been duplicated from other websites. Not only is this bad for your SEO, but you’ll also run into some legal trouble if you are copying content from other people’s websites. Focus on your own work and optimize that instead.
Canonical tags prevent duplicate content issues on your site. If you have multiple versions of similar content, you’ll want to pick one “canonical” version and point search engines to that. Using the canonical tag will improve your SEO while allowing you to highlight content from third party websites or other pages without your ranking taking a hit.
If you have a page on your website that you have since changed the permalink (which means its URL structure) or have another page you would like to redirect all its traffic to, you will want to set up a 301 redirect.
Nofollow links tell search engines not to follow a certain page. This means that if you put a “nofollow” label at the end of your third-party sourced link, you aren’t passing any of the SEO value to their website. Can nofollow links still be good for your SEO? Yes, and Moz breaks down why.
Have you ever seen a blog post with dozens of keywords listed at the top of the page? This is called keyword stuffing, and it is a bad black hat SEO tactic. We recommend staying away from keyword stuffing and instead weave your keywords into your content. You want to write for humans, not just search engines.
Keyword stuffing, which we addressed above, is the nemesis of readability. If you create content that includes dozens of random keywords, your readability score will be very low. Search engines want to promote content that users will enjoy, so creating content that is accessible and easily readable is important to SEO.
Have you ever searched for a question on Google and before listing advertised links and organic search results, it shows a highlighted box with an answer? This is called a rich snippet.
Google has a special algorithm for assessing the quality, traffic, and overall relevancy of the answer you provide through your content. If the site crawler deems the page as having the right answer, Google will promote it as the rich snippet for answering that specific question.
The rich snippet always shows a small excerpt of the page content to quickly answer the user’s question, and it’s often paired with an image taken from the website page. Being featured as a rich snippet can greatly increase your traffic as it is always the first result on the SERP.
We just covered some of the most important terms for on-page SEO, but what about ranking factors that fall outside of your own website? We break down the most important definitions and tactics that fall under the off-page SEO umbrella, helping you improve your SEO beyond your own content.
Your domain is simply your web address. For example, ours is convertkit.com but yours can end in .co, .org, or any other extension. Did you know that by consistently publishing relevant content, you’re strengthening your domain?
Your domain authority is a search engine ranking score that helps you understand how well your domain can rank in SERPs. If your domain has a high domain authority, it means that it is trusted by users and search engines to provide quality content. This has a very positive effect on your SEO.
Much like domain authority, your page authority score assesses how likely your page is to rank in search engines. Page authority scores range from one to 100. The higher your score, the stronger your chances of ranking.
Broken links are a common culprit of poor SEO. If you delete a website page and don’t include a 301 redirect link (like we talked about above), this will result in a broken link. If you transfer domains or change your permalinks, make sure you have redirects in place to make the transition process smooth. We also recommend running your website through a broken link test before your relaunch.
Backlinks are earned links that are placed in another website that point back to your domain. This tells search engines that your content is of high quality because other sources are sharing and linking to your original content.
However, earning backlinks is different than buying backlinks. Raise your hand if you’ve ever received an email with an offer to pay you money for including a link to their website in one of your blog posts? If I had a nickel every time it happened to me…
Buying backlinks is a common black hat SEO tactic, and it will hurt your SEO if you take part in such practices. Backlinks can only help your SEO if they are organically earned and come from reputable sources.
On the topic of earning backlinks, doing outreach can help you organically grow your SEO if it’s done in the right way. If you write a blog post that may be relevant to another blogger or entrepreneur’s website, you can write them an email to tell them about it and see if they’d like to share it with their audience.
When you decide to do outreach, make sure you personalize your emails and include why it would be relevant to their brand and audience. If you make it all about you, your email will end up in the trash can.
It’s even better if you can build a relationship with the person you are reaching out to, either through commenting on their blog, connecting with them on social media, or replying to their email newsletters. The less spammy the request, the better!
Wow, we just covered a lot of ground with this SEO glossary. I know it’s a lot of information, so take a quick break before you dive back into what your SEO strategy will be.
How do you plan to create a search engine optimization plan for your own blog and website? Let us know in the comment section below!
And don't forget to download your SEO cheat sheet for quick referencing!
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