Search engine optimization: basics for beginners

If you want to be successful on the internet, you first need to find potential customers online. There are many paths leading to a website, but more often than not a search engine (like Google) leads you there. As a website owner, you want your site to be placed as high up as possible in the search results and this is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. We have summarized the most important basics and ideas on the topic.

What is search engine optimization?

For the last few years search engine optimization, (SEO), has been one of the most important branches of online marketing. The basic principle is quite simple: if you optimize your website’s content for internet users you will be rewarded with a good position in the list of search results. Whereas the aim of using SEO is to reach a good position in the organic search results, Search Engine Advertising (SEA) aims to reach a good position in the inorganic search results through fee-based ad placements. Both areas are disciplines of Search Engine Marketing (SEM); the generic term SEM refers to all online marketing efforts relating to the search engine.

Organic and inorganic search results

Google’s search results are comprised of organic and inorganic results. SEA is responsible for the inorganic (i.e. paid) results. By using Google AdWords, every website owner can opt for paid ads and secure themselves one of the top positions in the search results. These ‘sponsored links’ will be identified as such and will be easy to differentiate from the organic results. To get a higher ranking in the organic, natural search results you need a good SEO analysis and then to carry out an optimization based on the results.

What does SEO aim to achieve?

The main aim is to get your site, whether it is an online shop, blog or a different portal, to rank as near to the top as possible in Google’s organic search results. Website owners aim to optimize their site for relevant search terms (keywords) depending on the site’s content. If you are selling women’s purses, search terms such as ‘buy women’s purses online’, ‘cheap women’s purses’ or similar keywords are of interest. If your site is positioned quite high up in the search results, it increases the chances of potential customers clicking on your site. In addition to Google, there are also other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo, but Google is definitely the market leader and generates 87.7% of all search queries in the US (Dated: May 2017) and 92.5% of all queries worldwide (Dated: May 2017).

Advantages and disadvantages of SEO

One of the biggest advantages of search engine optimization is the very good cost-benefit ratio. The high positioning on Google is not bought, but achieved through good optimization. To obtain this, a lot of work and cost have to be invested. But in comparison to keyword-advertising, the financial implications are relatively small. If Google realizes that customers and readers often visit the site, buy products, and recommend the shop to others, your site starts to build an online reputation, which in turn increases your ranking.

An additional advantage: using numerous SEO analysis tools makes it possible to not only monitor your own success, but also that of your competitor, while simultaneously receiving helpful tips from them. Tools like SISTRIX and Searchmetrics provide a detailed analysis of your competitor. You can find more information about this topic in the text entitled ‘SEO Tools’.

There are also disadvantages when it comes to SEO: you are dependent on Google. An SEO strategy that is successful at the moment could end up being invalid when the next algorithm update takes place. Building a reputation can be a long process that can take weeks or months, so it is difficult to calculate how much time and money will be spent. Paid ads show results within a few hours or days. If you stop SEA, the visibility of your site will quickly decrease again. Search engine optimization, however, is a very sustainable discipline with a long-term effect.

The basics of on page and off page SEO

SEO is divided into two large sections: on page optimization and off page optimization. On page SEO is more about the design and quality of the site itself and therefore content, structure and images play a significant role. Off page SEO is about what happens outside your website. It includes all actions that tell Google that the site’s content is relevant to visitors of other websites. Linking external websites to your own is therefore important. Only by considering both of these disciplines will you be successful in your SEO endeavors.

On page optimization

On page SEO refers to the measures that can be carried out on your website. This means that the responsibility lies in the hands of the website owner and is not dependent on third parties, unlike the case of off page SEO. It focuses primarily on content adjustment; structural and technical components also play a part.

The most important areas of on page optimization:

  • Content: The aim is to create content that is unique, topic-relevant, and of high quality. Duplicate content or even plagiarism should be avoided at all costs. When distributing keywords, make sure to use synonyms and always write for the reader’s benefit, not for Google’s crawler.
  • Structure: Just optimizing content is not enough; the structure also has to look appealing. Using titles, subtitles, paragraphs, and lists can increase readability for the customer as well as for Google.
  • Multimedia content: Texts, images, videos, and graphics also belong to the content of a website. In order for Google to be able to read these elements, file names, titles, and alt text of images and videos should also contain keywords.
  • Metadata: Metadata, or meta tags, provide information that can be read by browsers and search engines. The most important attributes for on page optimization are title and description.
  • Link structure: Internal links do not just benefit the reader, they also benefit Google by helping it navigate a website. When optimizing a website’s internal link structure it is recommended to keep the length of the click path as short as possible.
  • Technical: An additional method involves optimizing the source code. This can be achieved by using search engine friendly programming. Long loading times or errors in the code do not sit well with Google.

Off page optimization

Off page SEO combines all measures indirectly relating to a website, especially signals that originate from external sites. When site A is linked to site B, the online reputation of site B should, as a rule, increase. It is important for Google to know how relevant or popular a ranked site is. Referrals (backlinks) and references to other sites or on social media are therefore important factors for a position in the search results.

The most important areas of off page optimization:

  • Linkbuilding: Backlinks are among the most important ranking factors, which explains why backlink building is a big part of off page optimization. Backlinks are used to measure the popularity of a site. It is not just about quantity, but also the quality of the links. The term ‘link building’ describes all active efforts to generate backlinks or to acquire backlink partners. There are currently many different link building strategies in action.
  • Social signals: The ‘social signals’ area deals with all signals from social media, like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Comments under blog articles often count as social signals. How important these actually are for a website’s ranking can only be speculated since experts are of different opinions. The fact is that positive signals, such as likes, shares and comments, do help. Companies that actively use social media, whether it be through competitions, surveys or other posts, are usually rewarded with more attention, increased visitor numbers, and customer loyalty.

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