With more than 1.8 billion websites and 5 billion webpages online, the chance of your customers stumbling upon your website may be slim, especially if they don't already know who you are. That's where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in, and using an SEO service is one option to get the visibility your business needs. But before you go down that route, it's wise to understand how search works, so you can be clear about what the service can do.
How Search and SEO Works
- First, Google's crawlers search the web to discover new or updated content on the individual webpages that make up every website. They do this mostly by finding new links from existing pages. So, if Google already knows about your home page, and you add a link to a new page on your site, the next time the crawlers visit your site, they'll probably find the new content. Google keeps a list of the web addresses or URLs of the content it’s found.
- Next comes the indexing stage, where Google tries to work out what each webpage is about and what it contains, and catalog it. Google's software looks at text, images and media to do this. Once that process is finished, Google adds the webpage to its index, which is a huge repository or database of all the content Google has cataloged.
- The final step is showing relevant content to people when they search. People search by typing in words and phrases, known as "keyword phrases," but the search results they get can vary by context and location. For example, if you search for “apple,” you could mean the drink or the brand, so the next word in your search phrase will determine which search results you see. Equally, if you are searching for Italian restaurants, you’ll see different results depending on whether you’re in Birmingham, England or Birmingham, Alabama.
Most other search engines work the same way. In addition to Google, popular search engines around the world include Bing, Baidu (popular in China), Yahoo, Yandex (popular in Russia), Ask, and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo.
While tech-savvy small-business owners may be able to handle some SEO tasks, SEO is ongoing and time-consuming.
The point of SEO is to ensure that your webpages show up on search results pages when people type in the relevant search terms, because more than half of all web traffic comes from organic search. But it's not just about appearing anywhere in the search results. Ideally, you want your webpages to show up on the first page of search results pages (SERPs). That's because the top three results get most of the clicks, according to a 2020 study from digital marketing agency Ignite Visibility, which surveyed more than 500 adults age 25-60, and are most likely to send search traffic to your website.
Understanding Search Ranking Factors
One of the tasks an SEO service can help with is optimizing your site for the things Google cares about when deciding where websites and webpages should appear in SERPs. These are called search ranking factors, and Google updates these regularly.
Some of the consistent ranking factors include:
- Links. These include inbound links (links from authoritative sites to your web pages), outbound links (links from your content to valuable content on other sites) and internal links (links between different pieces of content on your own site).
- Content quality (Google looks at expertise, authority and trustworthiness, also called E-A-T)
- User experience (partly measured by "dwell time" or whether people who find your content in search stick around)
Now it looks like Google is adding page experience to the list of ranking factors. As well as security and mobile-friendliness, page experience includes the "core web vitals" which cover how long it takes for a page to load, how long it takes for a web user to be able to interact with the page, and how stable the page is.
Should You Hire an SEO Service?
As a small-business owner, you might be wondering whether you should hire an SEO service, and what you'll get if you do. Here are some of the tasks SEO services handle:
- They live and breathe search, and keep on top of changes in requirements so you don't have to.
- They take care of the time-consuming process of keyword research, finding the right search terms to incorporate into your webpages so that your target customers find you.
- They know exactly what to tweak or create to give your webpages the best shot at achieving a high search ranking, which can result in more traffic.
- An SEO service helps with content strategy and content creation, often suggesting keywords and links to include to make your content stand out.
- An SEO service can help you improve internal linking, and get inbound links from authoritative sources, improving your own site's ranking in the process.
- SEO services can tweak optimization depending on whether you're targeting local or global customers, or customers using mobile devices or desktop computers, for example.
- And an SEO service can take care of technical issues such as improving page speed and mobile usability, both of which affect search ranking.
While tech-savvy small-business owners may be able to handle some SEO tasks, SEO is ongoing and time-consuming. That means it may not be the best use of your time when growing your business. Instead, focus on your expertise and let the SEO service focus on theirs.
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