SEO: definition and meaning
SEO is that set of strategies and practices aimed at increasing the visibility of a website by improving its position in the search engine rankings, in unpaid results, called “pure” or “organic” results. S.E.O. is an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization: “Search Engine Optimization”.
These practices are manifold and concern different aspects of a website: optimization of the site structure, HTML code, textual content, management of incoming links (i.e. that from other sites point to your site, called inbound links or, more commonly, backlinks) and outbound (which from your site point to others).
Since Google is by far the most used search engine in the world, most SEO activities concern the study of Google’s algorithm and its periodic updates, and the related actions to make sites more “welcome” to this algorithm.
SEO explained to a 6-year-old
- When we search for something on the search engines, we expect to find the best results first, that is, the most relevant ones with our search. For example, if I search for “3-star hotels in New York”, I don’t want to find the website of a bed and breakfast in California. And I also want to find a lot of information about that hotel, like what the rooms are like, how much it costs, where it is, etc. Doing SEO, therefore, means first of all writing rich and relevant content with the words with which we want to be found.
- The links are the “roads” of the web, that is, the paths we use to move from one site to another. A site with many links leading to it is like a very busy, therefore very important intersection. And – just like in cities – the more the site that links us is important and similar to ours in content, the more comfortable the road that leads to us will be. For this, doing SEO also means trying to get a good number of links from sites that are as relevant and relevant as possible.
SEO and SEM
SEM stands for Seach Engine Marketing (search engine marketing) and is the broadest discipline that incorporates SEO. The SEM includes both paid search results (in which it is possible to appear using tools such as Google Adwords or Bing Ads, previously known as Microsoft adCenter) and organic search results (SEO).
A complete SEM strategy uses both paid advertising and the implementation of SEO techniques. A keyword analysis is performed for both SEO and SEM, but not necessarily at the same time. SEM and SEO must both be monitored and updated frequently to adapt to changing best practices.
In some contexts, the term SEM is used exclusively to indicate pay per click advertising, but it would be more correct to call the latter SEA or Search Engine Advertising.
Difference between SEO and SEA
An important necessary distinction is between search engine optimization and search engine advertising (SEA). SEO differs from SEA in that in the first case there is no direct payment to the search engine to appear in its results. The SEA on Google is carried out through the Google AdWords circuit, the platform that allows you to create sponsored link campaigns, which are marked with the wording “Ann.”.
The payment mechanism of sponsored links is the PPC (pay per click), that is, the advertiser pays a certain amount every time a user clicks on his link. The amount to pay, according to the logic of the auction, depends on how much the other advertisers are willing to pay, so who offers more will be higher in results than who offers less.
Non-paid results are called “pure” or “organic” results, for this reason, SEO, which does not concern paid results, is also called pure or organic positioning. SEO and SEA are both parts of the web marketing macro-activity called SEM, or search engine marketing (marketing through search engines).
Small SEO dictionary
- SERP: “Search Engine Result Page”, literally translated search engine results page, is any Google page that appears after you have entered the term or terms to search for.
- Query: it is any search carried out on the engine. when you enter one or more words into the Google search field, you are running a query.
- Keywords: “keywords” (or search key), are the words you enter in the search field when you run a query. By keywords we mean not only single words but also strings of text, for example, the search “web marketing New York” is a keyword.
- Robot: (also called spider or crawler), is the software that search engines use to analyze all the sites on the network automatically. The robots run continuously to scan the whole network, passing from page to page by means of links. They make a textual copy of all the documents visited and put them in an index. The Google robot is called Googlebot.
- Indexing: it is the process by which the robot adds the material to its search engine database to return it, sorted in a ranking based on its relevance with the search key, when a query is made.
- Ranking: is the ranking of results with respect to a specific query. When we enter a keyword, the search engine returns a SERP of results sorted by the relevance of the documents indexed with respect to that keyword. The ranking is also synonymous with positioning in SEO. Any element, internal or external to the site, that influences the ranking position is called a “ranking factor”.
- Optimization: in SEO, optimizing means facilitating the work of robots as much as possible, providing them with easily accessible content, and making it easier for the software to understand the topic covered by the document.
- Positioning: it consists in improving the position of a site/web page in the search engine ranking in relation to certain keywords. Positioning (or improving it) is the natural consequence of optimization.
To practice any SEO activity, you must first understand how a search engine operates. A search engine operates mainly (in summary) in the following ways and in the following order:
- action field analysis (crawling) through the use of robots;
- indexing of the material obtained;
- sorting (ranking);
- response to user requests (SERP).
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SEO activity in detail
The SEO activity includes several analytical/strategic and operational phases. Operationally, many different factors need to be considered to optimize a site. An original approach to describe the main of these factors was carried out by Search Engine Land, a well-known and authoritative American magazine in the sector. Search Engine Land has created a periodic table of ranking factors (which periodically updates as Google updates its algorithm).
The main phases of the activity are indicated below:
The SEO strategy phase: the choice of keywords
This phase is fundamental, any SEO activity turns out to be meaningless if an accurate analysis of the keywords to choose for your campaign is not carried out first. The search for the “best” keywords can be carried out with specific software tools, user interviews, competition analysis (competitive benchmarking), and using the same search engine.
For the success of an SEO campaign, it is advisable to select keywords that are not too general, as it would be very difficult or even impossible to achieve good results in good time, but not too specific, since, if they are little sought, they consequently generate little or no traffic per site.
For SEO, it’s better to choose multiple specific keywords (with lower competition and higher conversion rate) rather than some generic keywords (with a lot of competition and low conversion rate).
To make sure that the chosen keywords are actually searched by users – and to get new ideas for choosing the keywords – it is advisable to use the Google AdWords keyword tool. This tool offers statistical data on the number of monthly searches, global or by individual countries, which are carried out by users with a specific search key.
The tool also suggests several similar keywords, which perhaps we had not considered, that could be included in the strategy. In order to correctly choose the keywords, it is, therefore, necessary to find the right balance between niche words and the number of monthly searches. Usually, the more specific the word, the less monthly searches it generates.
SEO “on-page” (or “on-site”) is defined as the set of optimization activities within the pages of a site. This is only part of the SEO activity, the other side of the coin is consequently defined as “off-page” (or “off-site”) and is the set of inbound link management activities (inbound link or backlink) to a site, which is an important signal for search engines when judging the authority of a site.
The on-page optimization, in turn, can be divided into two distinct areas: the optimization of the HTML code and of the structure of a site; and optimization of textual content and images of a site.
I would add that a good positioning of your website may also depend on high elements, such as server-side factors, such as the reliability and speed of hosting, and other factors such as the age of the domain (some experts claim that domains with more than 5 years are considered more reliable by Google) and user behavior on the site (time spent, number of pages visited), but the greatest results are obtained through these two activities.
SEO optimization of HTML code
Each website is made up of an HTML source code which is read by the browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc.) and presents the site in the way we see it. The optimization of the code is, therefore, the activity of optimizing the parts “invisible” to the user, but which affects the ranking of the site.
Of particular importance are some tags that make up the code, such as the title tag – which can be visible at the top of the browser when we open a web page, and in the SERP linked to our page – which is used to specify the title of a particular page.
In order for it to be optimal, this tag must make both the users and robots clearly understand the topic covered on the page, therefore it must include the keywords that we target (those that we think users type to find us). It is also appropriate to provide different titles for each page of the site, in order to optimize each page for a single specific topic.
For example, if we sell office chairs and tables, we will have to make two different pages with “office chairs” and “office tables” respectively as the title, instead of creating a single page.
Another element to consider programmatically is the meta tag description (which appears as a “preview” of the page in the SERP).
Even if the Meta tag description does not directly affect the positioning in search engines, it is extremely important to obtain click-through rates (the ratio between the number of views and the number of clicks) from the search engine results pages (and therefore indirectly can influence the ranking). It must, therefore, contain a clear message, consistent with the content and captivating, to entice users to click on your link rather than those of the competition.
It is advisable to use a length of fewer than 155 characters to make sure that Google does not cut the sentence in half, risking losing its meaning.
A sitemap (or site map) helps spiders navigate the site, so it is advisable that it be present to allow indexing of all pages. Here you can find more information about the Sitemap.
The Heading tags (h1, h2, h3 …) are used to delimit the text in paragraphs with titles and sub-titles, they are also useful for making users and engines understand the topic of the document. It is, therefore, appropriate to use H1 for the main title of the page, including in it the keyword corresponding to the title tag (note that they are two distinct things: the h1 appears in the document as a title and is visible to users, the title it is visible in the browser tab and appears connected in the SERP).
Alternate text (alt) is an attribute to add to images. Robots cannot read the text contained in the images, so it is important to add this attribute to make search engines understand what the image represents.
The URLs of the pages are optimal if they do not contain characters like “?”, Which cannot be scanned by some robots and if they also contain an indication on the content of the page.
In addition to the data relating to each page, another important element concerns the structure of the site itself – and consequently of the navigation menu – optimal if hierarchical (or “tree”), because it can be easily scanned by robots, and in which each page of the site is connected by at least one link from another page.
It is also necessary to check and possibly fix the presence of broken links within our site since an excessive number of “broken links” can lead the engines to suppose that the site is abandoned.
Content optimization (SEO Copywriting)
Content is actually the most important part of SEO, in fact, advanced search engines, such as Google, are able to read the textual content of a document, “understanding its meaning” and attributing a quality and relevance score to the queries. The importance of the activity of creating quality content is exemplified by the well-known SEO mantra “Content is King”, the content is King (a phrase attributed to Bill Gates).
It is therefore advisable that a site really contains useful and interesting content that creates value for users in order to obtain a good positioning on search engines. A site poor in the content will not be well-positioned, or in any case, it will be difficult to maintain its position in the long run.
To ensure the presence of quality content on your site, it is also good to update it by adding new texts with a certain frequency. For this reason, opening a company blog integrated into your site is the best way to obtain a good long-lasting positioning.
It is of fundamental importance, in addition to having good content, to have unique content, therefore not copied from other sites. Google notices when content is not original and penalizes it drastically in its results.
Of course, the content must include the keywords with which you want to be found, but in such a way as not to be unnatural for the visitor. Google and other modern search engines use semantic text analysis systems that include synonymy and correlation between terms.
Given this evolution, we can easily understand how the excessive repetition of the targeted keyword (in jargon keyword stuffing) in a text – as SEO did several years ago when the algorithms were less evolved – does not produce any improvement in positioning ( on the contrary, there is the risk of devaluing the user experience and obtaining the opposite effect). Instead, it is advisable to write naturally, with the aim of producing interesting content for users, not for robots.
The activity of writing SEO content is called SEO Copywriting, and it is the art of combining good writing with the elements of optimization.
Although it is essential to have optimized pages, this is rarely enough to achieve the desired results. Off-page optimization essentially concerns the management of links on other sites pointing to ours.
In the 1990s, the two founders of Google, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin based their success on the belief that the pages mentioned with the most links were the most important and deserving. This was the real great innovation of Google, which changed the internet search market forever. In Google’s eyes, a link to a page is essentially a “vote” for its content, in other words, it expresses the desire by the webmaster or owner of a site to cite an important resource worthy of being visited by users.
The logical consequence of this premise is that one of the main factors affecting Google’s ranking is the number of links pointing to a site. However, the importance of a site is not entirely calculated on the number of links received. Google also considers the importance of the page from which the link originates. A link from a page of an authoritative site is worth more than one from a poor quality site. It is therefore theoretically possible to be positioned better than a competitor with fewer links if these are of sufficiently high quality.
To calculate the importance of a page, and consequently the quality of a link, Google has devised a formula called PageRank, a “vote” from 0 to 10 that assigns each web page based on the number of links to that page. The PageRank formula, which has remained secret for years, was later disclosed by Google. Here is a simplified version of the formula:
Where is it:
- PR (u) is the PageRank value of the page u that we want to calculate.
- PR (v) is the PageRank value of each page that links u page.
- N (v) is the total number of links contained on the page where the link is.
- d (damping factor) is a factor established by Google and which represents the possibility of users not to follow any links. Normally it takes the value of 0.85, but can be changed by Google in individual cases.
From the formula, therefore, it can be seen that as the overall number of links of the sites pointing to u increases, the PageRank increases, but it also depends on the PageRank of the individual pages linking u and on the number of outgoing links from those pages.
Simplifying further, we can say that the higher the PageRank value of the pages that link to us and the number of pages that link to us, the higher our PageRank will be accordingly. A high PageRank, although less important than in the past, is still a factor that Google takes into consideration to position the pages in its ranking.
In addition to considering the quantity and quality of the links received, there are other factors related to the links that affect the organic positioning. In addition to being a quality “vote”, the link is in fact – for search engines – also thematic information. With this in mind, there are two factors that determine the value of each link pointing to our site: the theme of the page of origin and the anchor text of the link. For an incoming link (to our site) to have an effective value for us, it must come from a page that deals with the same theme (or as relevant as possible) treated on our page.
For the same reason, the anchor text, which is the word or words that form the link (therefore the clickable ones) must be relevant to the theme we are dealing with. For example, if our goal is to position ourselves with the keyword “positioning on Google”, the maximum value for us is to receive links with the anchor text containing the words “positioning on Google”, that is our reference keyword. This way, the search engine will consider our page relevant to that query.
The “off-page” activity, therefore, consists mainly of the management of link popularity (link popularity) and is a very important part of the process. This part is often longer and more difficult than the “on-page” part since we do not have direct control over the sites of others. To manage link popularity, as we have said, it is necessary to obtain links to your site from other relevant and relevant sites with respect to the topic dealt with by the site, but how can you do it?
The management of link popularity is built through actions more or less compliant with Google guidelines.
Link earning vs link building
Since links are signals of interest, it is clear that obtaining links is a natural consequence of having quality content on your site. But on the other hand, the acquisition of spontaneously inserted links could be a slow process.
For this reason, many SEOs over the years have devised different tactics to obtain links from other sites in a non-spontaneous way. All of these tactics are called link building.
These techniques, especially in some very competitive sectors, have been used excessively, becoming spam phenomena. There was a time when practices such as link exchange, spam links on blogs and forums, compulsive subscription to directories (lists of links) of dubious quality were practices on the agenda, and they worked very well for SEO.
To stem these manipulative phenomena, Google constantly updates its ranking algorithms, introducing new and increasingly sophisticated systems for identifying unnatural links – the most famous of which is the algorithm called Penguin – or other spam techniques, and take measures to consequently, or penalize the sites that use these practices in its rankings.
By Link earning (or Linkbait), literally earning links, we mean the production of interesting content in order to attract natural links (“bait” means “bait”). If you write useful, interesting, fun things, users will be spontaneously led to link your site, since the links ultimately represent a sort of editorial “vote” on the quality of content.
As Google itself declares in this page of its guidelines:
The best way to encourage inclusion in other sites of quality and relevant links to yours is to create unique and peculiar content, capable of naturally gaining popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays: links are usually editorial votes given by choice and the greater the usefulness of your content, the more likely it is that another user will consider them valid for their readers and insert a link to them.
The link earning activity can be carried out through the production of articles of interest for a specific niche (research, studies, news, official documents, interviews, etc.), but also with the creation of multimedia content, such as videos or infographics. The latter is currently very popular due to its good viral potential.
Guest Blogging (or Guest Posting) consists of looking for blogs or online magazines prepared to host articles written by us. It is a fair exchange, a sort of “do ut des” in which both parties benefit from something: the hosting site gets new content for free, whoever writes the article gets a link to his site in return.
This activity is an excellent public relations tool (Digital PR) as well as link building, but it must be done respecting some simple rules. It is a good rule to write first as if we were writing on our site, if in fact, we write poor quality articles for the sole purpose of obtaining a link we would lose the trust (consequently probably also to the possibility of being published) of those who host us.
Digital PRs are the digital version of public relations, or all communication activities aimed at developing relationships with institutions, companies, press bodies, consumers (but also “influencers” such as journalists and bloggers) with the aim of promoting a brand or product.
The influencers (translatable with the “influencer” neologism), as the word itself suggests, are people capable, thanks to their recognized notoriety or authority, to influence the opinion of other people on a theme (such as a product or a brand ).
Thanks to digital PR, for example, we could establish relationships with bloggers and journalists of online magazines with the aim of publishing articles that talk about our product or brand. Of course, this activity can give us an advantage in terms of reputation, but – if we manage to include a link in the article – also on the SEO side.