Digital Marketing Tutorial
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Positioning (SEP), as some call it, is a key Digital Marketing topic. SEO is the art of improving the ranking of specific Web pages in the “natural” (also called “editorial” or “organic”) search results of the major search engines.
How Search Engine Optimization works
Search Engine Optimization still starts with trying to gain a basic understanding of what your potential Customers will search for in Google and other Web-based search engines to find the products and/or services they need and (hopefully!) you produce, but the specific steps and the process to use that information has changed quite radically in a post-Hummingbird search world.
“Hummingbird”, the code name for Google’s last major search algorithm update, changed the approach to SEO, not the overall steps involved. It is no longer a “search phrase” world – search engine optimization has become a conversation-driven activity.
(To learn more about “Hummingbird”, please visit Search Engine Land’s “Hummingbird FAQ” and then return to these pages to continue learning about SEO fundamentals: Search Engine Land – Hummingbird FAQ )
The concept of “conversational search” is a fairly simple one, but the mind set to perform SEO in this manner is a fairly significant departure from the way traditional SEO was performed in the past. And the tools available to perform this type of SEO have also changed quite dramatically.
With the Hummingbird algorithm, Google implemented their “semantic search” algorithm AND, as importantly, they eliminated the ability to view specific search phrases that led a searcher to a specific page on your Web site with the Web site analytics tool you are using.
(Here’s a link to an excellent post on this subject by Avinash Kaushik on his blog, Occam’s Razor: “Search: Not Provided: What Remains, Keyword Data Options, the Future”)
What’s semantic search? It’s Google’s (and other search engines’) attempt to analyze and provide relevant search results for the much more complex search phrases being entered in today’s search engines. Gone are the days of searchers entering “buy flowers boston” (without the quotes) in Google’s search box. What’s being entered today is something more like, “need to buy a dozen roses in downtown boston today” (again without the quotes).
In other words, searchers are having a “conversation” with the search engine and it is up to the search engine to interpret the meaning of that conversation in order to return truly relevant results.
So what’s different and what has remained the same? The easiest way to answer that question is to outline the new process of “Conversational SEO™”.
First, let’s figure out what is being entered into the search box based on the type of search being performed.
The “conversation” that searchers have with a search engine is typically for one of 2 reasons – either 1) they are using the search engine as “short cut” to get to a Web site they are already familiar with, or 2) they are trying to gain new insights into a subject they are unfamiliar with. And searchers will enter very different search terms depending on which type of search they are performing.
Search #1 will typically be a phrase just like in the “good old days” of SEO. A company or organization name, a specific product or product type, a place, an address, etc. This type of search is very straightforward and does not require much SEO, if any, to get the desired result. For example, all a company needs to do is make sure a link to that company Web site appears in the first few search results when a searcher enters that company name in a search engine.
Search #2 is what SEO has always been about. And how you go about optimizing pages on your Web site for this type of search may or may not be VERY different from how you’ve performed SEO in the past.
Basically what’s happened is the need to create a learning environment on your Web site centered on your product or service. In the early stages of a search, folks are seeking knowledge about a product or service, not about a specific product or service, and you better provide that knowledge if you want to rank highly for this type of search!
So how do we get a Web site optimized for knowledge searches?
FIRST, step away from that search engine! You need to sit down with a pad of paper and describe in as much detail as possible the characteristics of the major “Buyer Personas” that you are most interested in attracting to your Web site.
Buyer Persona – what’s that? Here’s a primer on the subject from HubSpot: How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business [Free Persona Template]
SECOND, now that you have a clear idea of who your major Buyer Personas are, next you need to write down the type of “semantic searches” those folks who want to learn more about the problems that your product or service solves would search for in Google or the other major search engines.
What does a search like this look like? Here’s an example:
Assume you sell a new type of solar energy panel, one that is more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity than the competition, and when state and federal tax credits are included in the net price calculation, it is cost-effective enough for the average homeowner to purchase.
What questions are homeowners (your potential customers!) who want to learn more about solar panels and the cost to purchase and install these panels likely to enter into the Google search box?
- How do solar panels work?
- What types of solar panels exist?
- What type of solar panel works best in my area?
- How many solar panels do I need for my house?
- What do solar panels cost?
- Who sells solar panels in my area?
- Who installs solar panels in my area?
Here’s the KEY point for Web site owners – does your Web site ANSWER these questions?! And note the ORDER the questions will be asked – potential customers don’t ask who sells and installs solar panels until the very end of the search process.
So write down on that pad of paper the series of questions you think potential customers will need to answer in order to make an educated purchase of YOUR products/services.
Next step: enter those questions in the same order you think they’ll be asked into Google and see what Google thinks are the 10 most relevant answers (page 1 search results) to each of those questions in its database. You should also see either some of your competitors or the type of site that offers a knowledge-based response to those questions (i.e. Wikipedia) in those search results. If you don’t, you might be on the wrong path regarding the questions you have formulated.
Once you have a very good idea what questions your potential customers would use to educate themselves on the products and/or services you offer, you then must apply that knowledge to both “on-the-page” and “off-the-page” search engine optimization techniques.
After you have completed the question/answer educational process, made all the required changes, both on the specific pages and on the Web, you then must monitor the progress of this effort to insure that the changes do in fact improve your pages’ rankings on the major engines.
The monitoring process should become an ongoing task. Why? Because the anticipated initial boost in page ranking for a given search phrase on a specific engine can quickly be followed by a decline in ranking for that same phrase on that specific engine.
You also need to have an aggressive, targeted Linking Strategy – this will ensure the long-term success of your Search Engine Optimization program.
Another important area to pay attention to, especially for businesses that depend on walk-in business (a classic “bricks and mortar” operation), please be sure to read about one of the most important search engine trends, Local Search, particularly Google Local Search and Google Places.
Finally, in order to get your site immediate attention on the search engines, you need to do some well-targeted Search Engine Advertising
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 80/20 To Do Lists
Links to two detailed, step-by-step Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 80/20 To Do Lists™ are provided below. Follow the “SEO To Do List” for your situation and you will reap 80% or more of the benefits of optimizing your site for the major search engines.
Additional Search Engine Optimization Resources
Here are several excellent search engine information resources on the Web. If you would like to understand Search Engine Optimization in more detail, please take advantage of these excellent resources.
Here’s the (very) short list of my favorite Search Engine Optimization resources:
Search Engine Marketing – Return to SEM Start Page