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What is SEO: the answer you were looking for

Do you want to better understand what SEO is and how you can make your website climb the search engines?

This guide will specifically answer all your questions, including:

  • What is SEO?
  • How do search engines work?
  • What is On Page SEO?
  • What is SEO Off Page?
  • How do you do SEO step by step?
  • How do you make your website appear all over the world?

So if you want to better understand how you can get more free traffic, this is the first step.

Let’s take it one step at a time:

What is SEO?

The term SEO comes from the English language and is short for Search Engine Optimisation.

To explain SEO as simply as possible, I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say you are from Timisoara and you need a dental extraction, but you don’t know any dental office.

You go to Google and search for “dental practice New York”, and then immediately a page appears with suggestions of websites of various dental surgeries.

As in the example below:

Well, all those sites that were recommended to you came about because of their search engine optimisation. In the first part we can see the local results (the ones with the map and directions), and then the organic results.

Those who own the sites in the example above have done nothing more than tell “Google”, through various methods and techniques that you will discover in this article, that there is information about dental practices on the site.

In short, SEO is the process and efforts you put into making your website appear as high as possible in the search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yandex).

It’s a process that requires more work in the beginning, the results show up over time but are long lasting and in the medium to long term beat almost any method of increasing your website traffic.

Doing SEO means that when someone searches for products, services or information that are closely related to what you offer, search engines display your website.

As a means of online promotion, SEO is one of the few free and affordable ways for any business with a website, and its role is to get you as close as possible to your potential customers, without investing large promotional budgets in doing so.

But for this to be possible, you need to know the SEO algorithm and the criteria you need to take into account when it comes to optimising your website, and in the next chapter, that’s exactly what we’ll talk about.

How do search engines work?

The Internet can be likened to a spider’s web. Each thread that makes up the web represents links, and each intersection represents a website.

In this analogy, search engines are actually spiders that walk the web and discover sites and links between them one by one, then organise them into categories and store everything on so-called servers so they can deliver results in milliseconds (you wouldn’t imagine that Google searches the whole internet again every time you do a search?).

When someone searches Google (or any other search engine) for information, it returns as a result all those pages relevant to the requested information.

We’ll talk about the criteria by which sites appear in those positions in a moment.

In more technical terms, these spiders are called “spiders” or “crawlers”. They periodically scan the internet, discovering new sites and constantly making connections between them.

These crawlers not only discover sites but also organise them. They identify errors and the relevance of content on the site as well as the timeliness of the information.

That’s why it’s very important to always optimise our website and watch out for possible errors.

But I come back to this.

Websites are characterised as relevant or irrelevant at search time based on over 200 criteria such as: technical accessibility and lack of errors, the use of representative words in key places, the fact that people spend a lot of time on that site or the fact that other sites link to it.

At BMFHost when we talk about what SEO means, we have a pyramid with 4 very important elements: at the bottom (1) accessibility and indexing, followed by (2) on-page optimisation and (3) user experience, and at the top (4) links from other sites.

Search engine optimisation falls into two broad categories: On Page optimisation and Off Page optimisation.

What does SEO On Page mean?

When we say On Page SEO we mean all those optimisations you make to your website so that (1) search engines better understand what it’s about and (2) people have a more enjoyable experience on it (i.e. spend more time on it).

On-page optimisations include:

  • optimisations for accessibility and indexing;
  • technical optimisation;
  • strategic optimisation;
  • content optimisation;
  • optimisations for the most pleasant user experience (UX).

Accessibility and indexing

If you want your website to appear in the top search engine results, it must first be indexed.

What does this mean?

Indexing a site means that search engines can find the site and access it (see its content) and do this without encountering too many technical problems.

In other words, you need to create an account in Google Search Console where you upload a sitemap of your site and also check it for errors that may affect its indexing in search engines.

This tool will give you important statistics about your site, but remember, this indexing must be done for each search engine.

You should also consider creating robots.txt files that tell search engines which pages you want them to index.

For example, if you have certain pages that are only available to members then you should block those crawlers from indexing those pages.

Be careful!

Many web developers know that while the website is under construction it should not be indexed. Which is fine. It’s just that some of them forget to remove the “In Progress” status and the site blocks search engines even after it’s completed.

If you’ve had a site completed for at least 3 months and you can barely find it even when you search its name, the web developers may have made the above mistake.

Technical optimisation

Sites that score well in SEO are also doing very well technically.

This means they are error-free, have a very good loading speed, have a logical internal link structure and are also optimised for various mobile devices.

According to statistics, 70% of people who visit a website that loads in more than 3 seconds will leave the site before taking any other action.

That’s why it’s very important to always check your site’s loading speed and possible errors using tools such as GTMetrix.

Here’s what a BMFHost page report looks like:

GTMetrix calculates your site’s score and at the same time gives you suggestions and recommendations to improve your speed.

Among these, the most common are:

  • compressing the images you upload to your site to load faster;
  • using cache memory;
  • rewriting certain lines of code in a simpler way;

Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything now, in time everything will become clearer. Right now it’s important to get the big picture.

Strategic optimisation

Because nothing that brings results in marketing is done by ear, and in SEO you need to take into account a strategy to help you optimize your website effectively.

One mistake we often see in SEO is “work just for work’s sake”.

That is, entrepreneurs and specialists alike who set out “to optimise” without a plan.

They don’t do a more thorough analysis to figure out which words they are interested in, which ones they can realistically climb to the top of the results, which products are most profitable.

Especially if you’re in a competitive industry, it can take 2-3 years to get to the top. Can you support SEO that much, even if it doesn’t bring in sales?

Keyword research is a very important and complex step, and choosing the most appropriate searches to optimise for is crucial, but most of us ignore it.

What do you need to do?

Choose keywords:

  • on which your site can realistically compete,
  • that have enough searches to be worth the effort, and
  • have economic relevance.

If only large sites appear on a particular search, it may be too difficult.

If there are only a few dozen searches a month, again it may not be worth it.

If they’re too general and not related to what you’re selling, again it’s a good sign to say “pass”.

From the analysis we do at BMFHost, choosing the wrong keywords is one of the main mistakes most websites make.

Here are some more specific mistakes:

Optimizing your site for the most searched keywords

Although many people believe that you should optimize your website for the most searched words, it may take a while for the results to show up no matter how much effort you put into it.

Optimising a page for multiple keywords

Another common mistake is optimising pages on your website for as many keywords as possible.

Usually a page is optimised for one main keyword and its derivatives. For example: what is SEO, what is on-page SEO, what is off-page SEO, etc. See what I did here?

Optimization for irrelevant/unused words

When choosing the words you want to optimise your website for, make sure they are relevant. Terms that are too general (marketing, wine, beer, etc.) will attract a lot of people to your site but not potential customers.

On the other hand, if you choose terms that are too specific, they may not be used enough and therefore not bring you many visitors.

In our case, one of the relevant words for the SMARTERS website is “growth hacking”. This being a relatively new term for Romanians, if we were to use it for optimization, it would generate little or no traffic.

Sometimes SEO may not be an option for business promotion (if you have too new products).

Content optimization

“Content is king” – one of the basic rules of search engine optimization.

In addition to technical optimizations and indexing of the site in search engines, we must consider creating relevant content for those who will come to our site.

Your goal is first and foremost that once the person has landed on your page, they don’t need to search for that thing again.

To help search engines better understand what a page is about, we need to put keywords in places like:

  • Page link;
  • Titles and subtitles (H1, H2, H3…);
  • In the first paragraph;
  • the ALT attribute of the images on the page.

See below how we optimized one of our blog articles for the keyword “sell “.

A page should contain at least 300 words to make it stand out, but to be among the first searches, between 1000 and 2000 words are recommended. In this case, the keyword should be found like this:

  • 1 in the title (H1);
  • 1 in the first paragraph;
  • 2-3 in the subheadings (H2);
  • 6-7 in the rest of the text;
  • 4-5 synonyms of the keyword.

There is no hard and fast rule, but at BMFHost we take them into account and it works very well.

As a suggestion, it would be advisable to analyse the sites that are already in the top positions, as they are a good indicator of how your page should look.

Attention! Excessive repetition of the same keyword can become annoying to people and is considered SPAM by search engines.

A rule of thumb would be to write it first for people and then sprinkle in a few more keywords or other relevant ones.

We can take as an example a women’s shoe shop that wants to optimise one of its pages for the word “women’s shoes”.

Well, in the content of the page we should find several times the keyword chosen as well as its synonyms: “women’s shoes”, “women’s footwear”.

If you already have a list of keywords, add 2-3 synonyms for each one that you can use alongside the main keyword.

Use the search engine suggestions that appear at the bottom of a page or the specific tools.

Improving user experience (UX)

The latest changes in search engine algorithms place great importance on the user experience on the site. The indicators that tell us if our site is providing a pleasant experience are:

  • traffic and time spent by users on the site, the higher these indicators the better the user experience;
  • bounce rate or the percentage of people who have viewed more than one page and the average number of pages viewed;
  • return rate to the site;

You can track all these indicators in your Google Analytics account.

A good user experience on the site is primarily due to the lack of functional errors. In addition to good loading speed, we need to consider the error-free execution of actions that people can do on our site: add to cart, fill in a form, etc.

Good design and relevant content are two other criteria that can contribute to a good user experience on your website.

A modern, streamlined design and a high degree of user interaction can lead to a pleasant experience for those visiting your site.

Other key elements could be: logical organisation of information on the site, having buttons where people need them, using live chat.

In other words, choosing loud colours, a soundtrack or creating too fast an animation on the site can generate the opposite reaction to what we actually want.

That’s why it’s very important to test your website and optimise the form and content according to the reaction of those who visit it.

Install Hotjar from the start on your site, track what your users are doing on the site and make changes based on what you see in their records.

At BMFHost this is one of the basic tools that tells us how well your site is meeting its goals, which is why we recommend it to you.

You can also test the actual upload speed with GTMetrix.com

SEO for mobile

When we talk about UX we are also talking about optimising for mobile devices. It has become one of the most important criteria.

Why is it so important?

At the moment about 80% of website traffic is done using mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

Mobile devices are always at hand, especially now that the Internet is no longer a limited resource. Optimising your website for mobile devices allows you to be close to your customer whenever and wherever they need you.

An unpleasant visitor experience on your website will not only affect the indicators presented above, but also your website’s results.

If the buttons are not accessible, the text is not legible and the images are not positioned correctly, this will make it difficult to use the site, which is why the vast majority of visitors choose to leave the site or not visit it at all.

In general, if you have registered your site in Search Console you will receive notifications about problems. Keep in mind that not all of them are real.

Mobile SEO vs Desktop SEO

By and large, SEO works the same whether a search is conducted from desktop or mobile. But there are a few criteria that influence the results that appear in search engines.

Firstly, with mobile comes location-based optimisation. This means that search engine results will be influenced by the location of the searcher.

Secondly, search engines have started to display sites based on their optimisation for mobile devices.

In fact, Google only has one index (that big catalogue) of all sites, and it’s mobile-first.

You should also bear in mind that your website may load differently depending on the device you are using. Check the loading speed of your website for all devices and make changes accordingly.

Again Google Analytics helps here.

What is Off Page SEO?

Off Page SEO refers to getting links and mentions from other sites.

At BMFHost we like to make the analogy of book citations. When you are an author and others mention you in their books, this means you are an important source of information.

The same goes for websites.

The more often your site is mentioned on other more popular sites, the more important your site becomes. Search engine spiders will come to your site more often, starting to rank you higher in the results.

Thus, Off Page Optimisation involves identifying those sites larger and better known than yours where you can insert links to your site. This process of generating links to your site is called link building and can be done by:

  • guest post articles on other sites;
  • advertorials and press releases;
  • unique and interesting content that can be picked up by other sites
  • collaborations with influencers;
  • link insertion on partner websites.

Not all links are equal

Although you would think that you need to put as many links and as many sites as possible to have the best SEO ranking, I have to surprise you by telling you that this is not really the case.

It’s not just the quantity of links that matters, it’s also the quality of the links.

Some time ago, before the algorithms changed and became more and more drastic, there were so-called directories. These allowed sites to be listed in the categories they belonged to in order to help in the link building process.

Well, these directories have not only become completely useless, but listing your site in such directories can generate SPAM links that will negatively affect their trust level and SEO score.

In other words, it is very important that your website is mentioned in relevant contexts that can bring you potential customers.
For example, if you have an online beauty shop then you’ll want to put links to your website on as many women’s fashion & beauty blogs as possible.

Conversely, if you’re a motivational speaker you’ll find links on business websites, or those of well-known entrepreneurs, helpful.

And links from general sites (news, blogs) help. When choosing whether to try to get a link from a particular site ask yourself: if someone reads that article, does it make sense to click on it and get to my site?

As a rule, when we think about our link generation strategy we start with our customer profiles and try to identify both sites of interest to them and topics that interest them.

Start here.

Do social media links influence the ranking of the site in Google?

There has been a lot of debate lately on this topic and although there have been pros and cons about whether Social Media links influence search engine rankings, the truth is somewhere in between.

The logical conclusion reached is that Social Media links indirectly influence search engine rankings.

Therefore, it is important to include them in your link building strategy but not to spend too much time on them.

The reasons why you should do this boil down to 5 assumptions:

Social Media links generate traffic, and high traffic indicates increased relevance of the site and is one of the important ranking criteria. The more often your website is mentioned in social media and the more it is shared by social media users, the more traffic your website will get.

Social media profiles appear in the top searches on search engines, so when someone searches for your business name, they can easily reach your website through social media.

Youtube videos rank differently on search engines, plus let’s not forget that in Google you can perform specific video searches. So don’t forget to mention your website link right in the description of your Youtube videos.

You increase the impact of the content on your site. By sharing your site’s content on Social Media, users can discover content relevant to them without having to search. Also if it is relevant and interesting to them they can take it and put it on their own site which will directly contribute to the link building process

Social networks work like search engines. Lately, users of social networks are using them to search for products they are interested in. Take advantage of this opportunity and optimise your profile and content to be easily identified by your potential customers.

Very important – once you’ve created your social media profiles and have links to the site, move on. They may help with other marketing strategies, but their role in SEO will be indirect.

How do you make your website appear all over the world?

If you’re considering international use of your site, good news. What you’ve learned so far about SEO doesn’t change with international optimization, and it’s 100% valid.

As domain options for international websites we have so:

  • use of .ro domain and use of sub-domains (us.example.ro);
  • using .ro and using sub-domains (example.ro/us) – the cheapest solution;
  • use of ccTLDs for each country (example.fr) – this is expensive and SEO efforts are higher, as optimisations are needed for each country;
  • use of a widely used .com domain (example .com);
  • using a widely used .com domain and making settings for each language (example.com/?lang=en-us) – although the simplest, it is the least beneficial for sites due to changes in link structure and is not highly recommended.

Of course, each of the above options has specific advantages and disadvantages that you need to pay attention to when establishing strategic international SEO guidelines.

Once you have established your strategy, you can start optimising by taking into account all the basic criteria we have outlined in this article.

And here we are at the end.

Remember:

  • SEO isn’t complicated – it’s a lengthy process, but if you understand how it works and have a clear strategy, it’s very simple;
  • SEO is worth it – even if it requires more work in the beginning, and the results won’t show up immediately, SEO is a free means of online promotion that will bring you measurable results;
  • SEO is more than keywords – if you understand this it means this article was not written in vain;

I hope we’ve been able to explain what SEO is and help you get started on properly optimizing your website, and if you want to get more into what SEO is and how exactly it should be done, don’t forget that we also have a course on SEO that will help you learn practically not just theoretically what to do!

Common SEO Myths

We only use 10% of our brains.”

“Lightning never strikes the same place twice.”

Myths are usually harmless.

But unfortunately, the same can’t be said for most SEO myths.

When you take these as marketing advice, it leads to wasted time and money.

So let’s bust these myths and get you focused on the things that’ll move the needle.

The first and possibly most dangerous myth is that SEO is dead.

Journalists say that many things are dead, like “YouTube is dead,” “Facebook is dead,”

“Bitcoin is dead,” and “romance is dead.”

These kinds of headlines often lead to opinion editorials that end up being nothing more than clickbait.

SEO is alive and well.

In fact, over the past three months, we’ve had over two million visits to our blog from Google alone.

So why do people keep clanging the same gong?

Well, the main argument is that Google is answering more and more queries right in the search results.

For example, if you search for “km to miles,” Google provides a calculator in the results so you don’t have to even visit a page.

In fact, 90% of searches for this query don’t result in a click to paid or organic positions.

But this doesn’t mean that SEO is dead.

You can still get clicks from this keyword and Google doesn’t give definitive answers in the search results for every keyword anyway.

Not even close.

So as long as search engines exist and have users, SEO isn’t going anywhere.

The next myth is that Google only ranks “fresh” content.

Does Google rank fresh content?

Absolutely.

But does Google also ranks old content that hasn’t been updated in years!

Freshness is a query-dependant ranking factor.

Meaning, fresh content matters for some search queries, but not so much for others.

For example, this page on the human heart has had almost the exact same content since 2013.

And if you look at the page’s traffic trend, it’s continually gained search traffic to this date.

Well, that’s because a query like “picture of the human heart” isn’t dependent on freshness, since nothing has really changed.

Now, a topic like “top google searches” is something that changes over time.

And if you look at the organic traffic trend for our post on this topic, you’ll see dips and then spikes in search traffic.

Basically, the dips happened as the content got older without an update.

And when we updated the post with fresh data, we saw almost immediate gains in search traffic.

So how can you tell if a query relies on freshness?

The quickest and easiest way is to look at the top 10 ranking results.

If you see that all of the pages have the current year in the title, there’s a high chance that freshness plays a role in ranking.

This is a bit oversimplified, so you can watch our tutorial on republishing content if you want more of a step-by-step guide on this.

Bottom line: Google doesn’t only rank fresh content.

The next myth is that duplicate content will get you penalized.

Duplicate content is exact or near-duplicate content that appears on the web in more than one place.

But there is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.

It’d be impossible to track properly since many pages are syndicated, scraped, and can even be created without you knowing it, like on category or archive pages.

In fact, Google and its representatives have said on numerous occasions that Google doesn’t have a duplicate content penalty.

But that doesn’t mean duplicate content is good for your site.

It can actually lead to undesirable results like backlink dilution, wasted crawl budget, or syndicated content ranking ahead of you.

For example, these two pages from Buffer are near duplicates.

And if we compare the URLs in Copyscape, you’ll see very high match rates.

Now, if we analyze these pages in Ahrefs‘ Batch Analysis tool, you’ll see that each page has generated a good number of referring domains but neither get very much search traffic.

So they could probably benefit from consolidating these URLs into one page and updating it to maximize link authority and search traffic.

To find duplicate content on your site, you can run a free crawl using Site Audit in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.

After the crawl has completed, go to the Duplicate Content report and click on the orange area beside the Content category.

Then it’s just a matter of analyzing and fixing your pages.

The next myth is that SEO is a “set it and forget it” job.

Yes, SEO can lead to free, passive, and consistent traffic that doesn’t fade over time.

But that doesn’t mean you rank your pages and then call it a day.

SEO is kind of like going to the gym.

It’s ok to miss a workout here and there, but you have to go consistently in order to get results and maintain those results.

If you choose to ignore all SEO efforts after you’re ranking high, you’ll likely lose backlinks while your competitors are building them.

Your content will get stale for queries that rely on a freshness factor.

And before you know it, you’ll see a slow and steady decline in search traffic, which will likely affect your bottom line.

The next myth is that social shares help you rank higher in Google.

It’s reasonable to believe that the more your content gets shared on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the higher those pages will rank.

After all, if tons of people are sharing something, it must be valuable, right?

Maybe, but Google’s John Mueller has said that social signals don’t directly impact rankings.

And while that word “directly” is up for interpretation, it makes sense that they wouldn’t use shares or likes as ranking signals.

I mean, anyone can buy thousands of social signals for just five bucks.

But if social signals aren’t a ranking factor, then why do studies like this one show a correlation between social shares and rankings?

Well, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

So the way I look at it is that social shares lead to more exposure.

And that often leads to more backlinks, which we know are a ranking factor.

And pages that rank well in Google get more search traffic, and assuming it’s a shareable piece, will continue to get shared on social.

The next SEO myth is that Pay Per Click Advertising won’t help you rank higher in search.

Paying for ads doesn’t directly influence rankings.

Meaning, Google won’t rank you higher in organic search just because you’re paying them.

But PPC can indirectly help your pages get more backlinks because of increased exposure, just like social shares.

In fact, we spent $1,245 on Google Ads to see if search ads could lead to backlinks.

Long story short, it works well if you bid on queries that have so-called “link intent.”

The next myth we need to bust is that SEO is always about ranking #1.

We all want top Google rankings.

But there’s a point where boosting your position for a single keyword may not be worth the required time and effort.

In fact, our study of 100,000 search queries showed that the top-ranking page only gets the most search traffic 49% of the time.

And the reason for this is because pages can get traffic from tons of relevant keywords, not just one.

For example, if we look at the top 10 pages for the query, “high protein diet,” you’ll see that the top page gets around 11,000 monthly search visits from the US.

But if you look at a couple of the other results, you’ll see they get significantly more search traffic.

Now, if you look at the number of keywords these pages rank for in comparison to the top page, it all makes sense.

They’re ranking for hundreds and even thousands of more keywords.

The lesson to take away from this is to focus on total traffic potential as opposed to a first-place ranking for a single keyword.

And this is something we talk a lot about in pretty much all of our keyword research tutorials.

Now, there are obviously a lot more SEO myths that I didn’t cover, like “backlinks are dead,” and “long-tail keywords are easier to rank for.”

So if you’ve heard conflicting advice related to SEO and want our opinion, let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to give you our take.

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