What is SEO? A Comprehensive Look

What is SEO? A Comprehensive Look

by Andrew Ryan January 31, 2020
search engine optimization
What is SEO?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization.
SEO is the process of creating or editing the content of a website to be the best match to a keyword as possible, with the goal of ranking in the #1 spot.

This optimization process helps the pages of a website gain organic, or free, traffic by ranking higher on a search engine’s search results page.
When a user searches for a phrase, known as keywords, the search engines match those keywords to the most relevant web pages. Those pages matched will be full of content that is useful to that person based on their search.
Search engines use advanced algorithms to determine the best web pages to show a user based on the search.
It will display those pages accordingly, starting with the best match at the top of the first page’s organic results.

Google’s search algorithm uses more than 200 factors to rank websites.

You wouldn’t look for advice on home improvement from a dentist, right? Of course not. So when you search for “kitchen remodeling tips” on Google, you’re not going to be matched up with information about root-canals.

How it works

The search engine algorithms use hundreds of identifiers to disseminate and rank web pages based on the topics of their content. With digital marketing we are constantly evolving our practices. We aim to meet the highest standards for search engine optimization.

Google itself is constantly updating their algorithms. So good marketers have to constantly stay on their toes regarding the changes.

But as long as we create content that is relevant, useful and serves the needs of our browser’s searches, none of the updates will be very harmful to our rankings.

Search engines use these algorithms in an attempt to be as intuitive as possible. They seek to find the most relevant content written on web pages with the best reputations. Search engines want quality AND quantity.

SEO is a long-term strategy, whose motto might be “set it and forget it”. The goal is to create quality content now that will passively send you traffic, for free, forever!

(Maybe with a tiny bit of upkeep.)

The process of optimizing a web page or website to rank higher on a search engine has two distinct areas of focus. Covering these 2 areas will make up the largest portion of this article;

On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO

What is On-Site SEO?

On-site search engine optimization refers to anything that is on your website, including;

  • Keywords
  • User Intent
  • Content, Substance and Relevance
  • Originality
  • Permalinks
  • Page Load Speed
  • Domain Authority and Page Authority
  • Mobile Friendly
  • Structured Data

57% of marketing executives say on-page content development was the most effective SEO tactic.

What are keywords?

Keywords are the subject of your content.

They are also the search terms a user types into a search engine’s search bar. Keywords are the phrase(s) we think of when we want to find information regarding a specific subject. So, essentially, we want our website’s keywords and content to match the user’s search term(s) and their intent.

Search engines look for keywords within a web page’s content to determine the subject.

In turn, marketers create a content strategy for a website based on relevant keywords that our target audience is searching for.

Our goal is to use SEO to increase the organic rankings of the pages on our website, right?
So, what we do is create quality web pages and blog-posts that target those specific keywords. When done properly, we will rank high on the search results page. We target the keyword(s) with the intent on gaining a portion of the traffic searching for that term.

We must determine the best keywords to target and the most obvious keywords aren’t always the right ones. Sometimes there’s so much competition for a keyword that it makes it less worthwhile to target.

Which is why good marketers do…

Keyword Research

Effective SEO means doing great keyword research. You’ll see that there’s a lot of work that happens before we even begin creating a piece of content.

For instance, our team performed keyword research before writing this article. We also did some opposition research and lots and lots of reading.
If your goal is to make it to the 1st page of Google for a keyword like “marketing”, then you probably want to read the articles that Google thinks are good enough to rank on page 1.

There used to be days where choosing the keyword was all that mattered. Lots of marketers, website owners and writers would create superficial content that still ranked on page 1. But, Google has learned and their algorithms can easily identify the difference.

That said, having the perfect keyword in your article is only part of the battle…

User Intent

User intent is another layer of understanding that goes beyond the words of a search term. Search engines want to see that you understand what their web users are looking for.

For example; if a user searches for “best dentist near me” and the search engine shows them web pages about “proper oral hygiene”.

Well, even though the results are relevant, it’s not a precise match, is it?

This user is clearly searching for a list of dentists close to his or her location. Google knows this and won’t just show the user anything related to dentistry.

So, you can see how search intent is playing an important part of On-Site SEO. We have to have an understanding of what a user is searching for. And when we create content, we have to make sure we satisfy that intent with valuable content.

Despite choosing the best keywords to target for traffic and understand the user’s search intent, we also need high-quality content…

Content, Substance and Relevance

Content is the overall body of your article, page or blog-post.

High-quality content and link building are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search.

In order for content to rank well on the search engines, it must actually be useful, informative and substantive.

You wouldn’t write a 200-word senior thesis would you? No, because no topic can be adequately covered in 200-words. Search engines know this, too, and they want to see your blog posts full of interesting and accurate content.

Once upon a time, years ago, marketers would just stuff a blog-post with a bunch of keywords. Before the search engine algorithms became so complex, a website or web page could rank very high on the search results page without offering much value to the user.

Fortunately, those days are long gone. Simply matching your page’s keywords to the user’s search term isn’t enough to land on the first page of Google anymore.

You have to have…


Page relevance is an important factor when a search engine is matching a web page to a user’s search term.

If a person is searching for the keywords “how to swing a golf club” then it wouldn’t make much sense to display web pages about baseball bats. Obviously being relevant to the search term is crucial to a search engine’s ranking.

Still, there’s more to the process of matching up with a user’s search …

And even if it is relevant and useful information, what sets your page apart from the pack?

Google gives big points for…


There are millions and millions of keyword searches performed every single day. There are also millions of web pages and websites and many of them on similar subjects.

So if you were Google, wouldn’t you want to show search results full of original and unique content? Of course you would!

Google uses something called a “crawler” to look at the pages of a website. Among hundreds of factors it looks for, it checks to make sure your web pages aren’t displaying duplicate content.

Duplicate content is any specific content which is shared in more than 1 place on the internet. Google penalizes any web pages or websites that host duplicate content because the original is always worth more than the copy. And Google always knows who’s got the original.

Other reasonable but not so obvious factors have an effect on rankings, too. Things such as…

Page Load Speed

Page Load Speed is a huge factor for on-site SEO.

There is nothing worse than waiting 10 seconds for a web page to load. Unfortunately, the rest of the internet isn’t so forgiving…

Bounce rates increase by 50% if your website takes 2 seconds extra to load.

Google wants to see their users having a great experience. If your webpage takes a lo

Conversion rates fall by 12% for every extra second that it takes your website to load.

Clearly page load speed plays an important role in at least a couple ways;

Not only is it a factor for the search engine rankings of your web page(s). But it also has a direct effect on the potential customers who are browsing your site.

Established and trusted sources always have an edge…

Domain Authority and Page Authority

More critical factors of on-site SEO include Domain and Page Authority.

Domain Authority or “DA”, is a scoring system used by search engines to determine the reputation of an entire website.

There are many factors used to calculate this authority score but an important one is backlinks. Backlinks are technically considered off-site SEO but they have an effect on what happens on your website’s rankings. More on that below.

Page Authority or “PA”, works for a single page in the same way that a search engine ranks an entire website as Domain Authority.

Some pages or posts on your website will rank higher than others. Having separate Domain and Page Authority scores helps the search engines be more efficient with their rankings. Even great sites can have mediocre content, and vice versa.

Both domain and page authority scores actually have some Off-Page SEO features to them.

Both scores rely, in part, upon external links to be calculated, as we mentioned above. Meaning, other websites that point at your domain and your page influence each of those scores.

Another huge influence which is only growing is being…

Mobile Friendly

As the world turns mobile, website owners, marketers and business owners must take heed. Our mobile marketing services can help you address this critical issue. How your website looks, feels and performs on a mobile device may be surprisingly different than it appears on a desktop PC.

In 2019, more than 65% of all website visitors will be on a mobile device. And growing!

61% of mobile searchers are more likely to contact a local business if they have a mobile-friendly site. 

Screen-size plays a huge role in determining a website’s layout, functionality and appeal. 

Images, video content, web-pages and more, all have different sizing requirements for desktops and mobile devices.

Making sure your website and its pages have a responsive layout means that layout will adapt fluidly to the type of device it renders on. Without a responsive design, many of your critical metrics such as bounce-rate or page time will suffer. This will lead to being penalized in the search engine’s rankings.

Google’s algorithms are quite intuitive. And it’s common sense really; Your customers are searching on mobile devices so always make sure you’re giving them a great mobile experience.

Structured Data

When it comes to Off-Page SEO, structured data refers to specific markups on a website or web page that help the search engines easily identify the topics.

While structured data surely isn’t as fancy or flashy as keywords, it’s the unseen “soup and nuts” that keeps it all together.

Performing structured data SEO is the equivalent of a tune-up for your vehicle’s engine. It’s not something you can see from a distance, like fancy wheels. And it won’t get you style points, either.
But when the going gets tough you can rest-assured that you’ve built a strong foundation for your website to build upon.

Optimizing your meta-tags and your website’s coding is a great way to increase your search engine rankings. 

Concluding our take; On-Site SEO

You may feel a bit overwhelmed with SEO already and I hope we’ve made it a bit easier to understand. Admittedly, search engine optimization can be a bit complicated but it’s also extremely important.

That’s why it’s so important to find a local SEO agency that can either craft an SEO blueprint to guide you or do the work for you, properly.

Now that we’ve covered On-Site SEO at length, let’s get to another important aspect of search engine optimization…

What is Off-Site search engine optimization?

Off-Site SEO is essentially what other webpages tell Google about you. It’s a score determined by your reputation among your “peers”, or other websites.

  • Link Building and Backlinks
  • Social Scores
  • Reputation and Reviews

Generally speaking, off-site SEO is like community-outreach for your web pages.

Your presence on social media plays an important role as well. There are lots of measurable “signals” that come from social media that can help determine a web page’s value.

And for obvious reasons, your ratings and reviews across the internet play equally important role as identifiers of your web page’s value.

Link Building

As we talked about above, a website can increase its domain authority by having other websites with similar content, linking to it. These are called “backlinks.”

Backlinks are links located on other websites that link to your website or web pages.

Successful link building can be achieved through several different methods;

Some include guest posting on other blogs who will display a link to your website along with your contact information.
Another method for link building is to leave comments on blogs or websites with a link pointing back to your own webpage.

How link building works

Say you own a website about “Arts and Crafts” and the big box crafts retailer “Michaels” has a link on their website pointing to your website.
If Michaels thinks you’re content is so great they’d link to it, then Google will see you as an authority for Arts and Crafts.

High-quality content and link building are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search.

Google has made it clear how important it is to have lots of backlinks to your website. But as you’ll read below, most bloggers, website owners and even marketing agencies fall short of this off-page SEO strategy.

Are backlinks all that important?

91% of all pages never get any organic traffic from Google, mostly due to the fact they don’t have backlinks.

55.24% of pages don’t have a single backlink. 

This is why it is so imperative to choose the best digital marketing agency to perform your search engine optimization.

Proper on-site SEO isn’t enough. Clearly, off-site SEO and backlinks can have a huge impact on how much organic traffic a website receives.

Another factor on that list is social scoring.

What is social scoring?

Social scoring is the cumulation of your engagement on social media.

Google is paying attention to how many Likes and Shares your web pages receive across the internet.

It makes sense that if a lot of internet users are Liking and Sharing your web pages that you must be onto something! This is another way that Google’s algorithms show off their intuitive nature.

Ratings and Reviews for SEO

Are reviews and reputation scores really important for SEO?

88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations.

Again, it just makes sense that Google would rank a web page with a 5-star average higher than it would rank a web page with a 2-star average.

That’s why reputation management is critical.

We already know that internet users are deciding on who to give their business to based on reviews and ratings. But maybe you didn’t realize how those same scores are effecting your ability to rank higher on the search engines. Well, they are. And for good reason.

Google’s algorithms are intuitive and as such, they rank your content higher on the search results pages if you reviews and ratings are good. Think about it, how trustworthy is the content coming from a website with a 2-star review rating?

Wrapping up off-page or off-site SEO:

Make sure you’re using approved methods when implementing any SEO strategy. If you want to hire a marketing agency then make sure they do honest work. If not, you will be doing more harm than good.

Generally speaking, off-site SEO is like community-outreach for your web pages. And to be “social” means building links, which are like digital handshakes between 2 websites. Making friends online can go a long way!

So far we’ve covered a lot of the factors of on-page and off-page SEO. Admittedly, there’s a lot that goes into making a web page rank higher on the search engines. Some methods are technical, some are more intuitive and they all play an important role.

But we’ve covered enough of the technical aspects of search engine optimization and how it works. Now, you probably want to know…

Why is SEO important? And do I need it?

While SEO has the goal of ranking higher on the search results page, the implementation of proper SEO creates many other benefits.
You build trust among your peers and your customers who view your informative content.
You’re creating free traffic for your website which means more customers.
And all of these great benefits are 100% free of charge.

  • Builds Trust
  • Creates Traffic
  • It’s Free

On the first page alone, the first five organic results account for 67.60% of all the clicks.

81% of people perform some type of online research before making a large purchase.

So, if you want to sustain your digital presence, and your business, into the future then YES, you need it!

61% of internet users do research on a product online before making a purchase.

75% of people never scroll past the first page of search engines. 

However, every business is different. And while nearly every website could benefit from free traffic, some won’t. There are a few instances in which it makes sense for a business to focus on paid traffic. But a strong SEO campaign never hurt anyone, ever!

Why? It builds trust and authority, it creates traffic and it’s free!

It builds trust with your audience!

When you begin creating lots of content that is value-packed and regularly viewed by an audience, you’ll be seen as an authority. Not only will you gain customers but you’ll expand your bottom-line when they defer to your expert judgment. And if you’re creating fantastic content, you can be assured those visitors will be back.

It creates website traffic!

If a website’s purpose is to generate traffic, then obviously more traffic is a good thing.
Organic website traffic typically accounts for a large portion of any website’s traffic. And that’s good!
It’s better to have lots of free traffic rather than having to pay for it.

It’s free!

There are many methods used to increase a website or web page’s traffic. Many of those methods, such as SEM or search engine marketing, cost money.
However, SEO or search engine optimization, is the method used to increase a website or web page’s visibility in the organic, aka free, search results. It’s the method we use to build long, lasting avenues of traffic to feed our website.

It takes time to create quality, relevant content that your audience loves and shares but also ranks well on the search engines.
What’s so amazing about SEO is the passive and perpetual traffic that it creates!

With a strong SEO campaign, your pages and blog-posts will send you traffic all day and night, 24/7, with only minor periodic upkeep.

Is it starting to make sense yet?

There’s a lot of technicality to it all but in truth, the search engines just want good, quality content that’s packed with value and relevant to your audience.

Search engine optimization is actually a lot of fun and something we truly enjoy at Andrew Ryan Marketing! It’s not a “get traffic quick” scheme. Long gone are the days of cheating Google into reaching the top-spot on page 1 of the search-results within a week of publishing. It takes time…

Leads from search engines have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (ex. cold-calling, direct mail, etc.) have a 1.7% close rate. 

So, how long does it take?

Creating content takes time for research and writing.
If we’re talking about the content-creation part, a single blog post such as this one you’re ready might take anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days, to 3 weeks to write!
Good research can take 30 minutes to a matter of weeks. It depends on the subject and the writer, of course.

It’s not worth doing if you don’t plan to do it right. But how long it takes to create content is entirely up to you. Some will move faster than others, no doubt.

3-6 months

Ranking on the search engines will take some time.
Once a web page or blog-post is created and optimized for the search engines, it usually takes 90 days up to 6 months to see the results.
SEO, or search engine marketing, is not a “quick fix” scheme for getting traffic.

It takes time for the search engine’s crawlers to scan your website and begin disseminating the data. It takes even longer for the search engines to rank the web pages.
In some cases, I’ve seen web pages begin to rank within weeks. And in other cases, it’s taken months for some of my pages to begin showing on the search results page.

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. Many websites don’t perform proper SEO because of the time and diligence it requires. But we reiterate, there’s no traffic like free, targeted traffic!

And naturally, at the end of this blog-post, most of you really want to know…

How much does SEO cost?

Other than being “free” to create, many businesses will hire a writer or an agency to manage their SEO campaign.
Some freelance writers may charge as little as $20 for 400 words of keyword-rich copy.
Some agencies may charge thousands to a large company with plans to establish themselves as an authority in their field.

When determining how much SEO costs, it really comes down to the individual business and its goals.
Smaller businesses would do well to create just 1 or 2 pieces of content a month.
Whereas larger, more socially active businesses may require several unique pieces of content to be created every week.

What is SEO? In conclusion.

Search Engine Optimization is a cornerstone of digital marketing. While many people overlook it because of the sheer effort it requires, it provides long-lasting benefits for your website traffic.

A proper SEO campaign requires a business and a marketer to be in touch with the customer’s needs.

When we commit to providing new, original content for our customers to engage with, we’re serving their needs while building a strong reputation and following for our business.

Search engine optimization, blog-posts, videos and content marketing offer us unique ways to stand out from the competition and attract new business. Not to mention, the branding and name-recognition that goes with it!

The best part of SEO is, it’s going to drive free-traffic to your business forever! (When done properly, of course!)’

Fill out the form below and the staff at Andrew Ryan Marketing in Johnson City, TN will create a tailor-made SEO and digital marketing blueprint for your business, for free!

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