Search engine optimization. By now, marketers and small business owners like yourself are probably sick of hearing this term. But even so, you can't ignore it, because SEO could be the thing sitting between you and your first 10,000 sales.
Search engines play a crucial role in online experiences, with 68% of them beginning with a search engine. That’s why people say SEO is important, but the truth is that SEO only gets you part of the way there. Creating a great user experience, gaining authority in your industry, and building a brand people trust — that's the real impact of SEO on your search results.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for "search engine optimization" and refers to techniques used to increase a website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). The goal is to drive more organic traffic to your site from searches.
Landing a high position on Google's SERPs can significantly boost your click-through rate (CTR). In fact, a page ranking in the first position gets nearly 28% of all the clicks. Moreover, the top 5 search results on Google account for about 70% of the total clicks.
What Does SEO Really Do?
SEO helps search engines understand your website and content better so they can deliver it to people searching for related topics. By optimizing your pages and content, you can rank higher in results for target keywords. Some of the ways SEO improves your search visibility include:
- Optimizing page titles, URLs, and content for key terms
- Building internal links between relevant pages
- Earning high-quality backlinks from other authoritative sites
- Creating content that answers searchers’ questions
- Structuring content in a clear, scannable way
- Optimizing page speed and mobile-friendliness
SEO is an ongoing process that requires consistent monitoring and adjustments to account for changing search engine algorithms and user behaviors. While SEO alone won’t necessarily bring huge spikes in traffic, it lays the foundation for building a content strategy and earning more search visibility and clicks over time. The reality is, without any SEO, your website may get lost in the depths of search results where few searchers click. But with a strong SEO strategy, you can rank higher, gain more traffic, build authority, and achieve your business goals.
How Does SEO Work?
SEO is how you get your website to rank higher in search results. But how exactly does it work?
How SEO Improves Your Ranking
SEO works in a few key ways:
- Optimizing your content. This means using important keywords and phrases in your page titles, URLs, headings, and content. Search engines look for relevancy between what people search for and what's on your pages.
- Conducting keyword research. Finding the terms and phrases that your target audience is searching for. Then using those keywords appropriately on your site.
- Earning high-quality backlinks. Backlinks from authoritative sites point to your website. This signals to search engines that your site is a reputable resource.
- Technical SEO. Making sure your website is optimized for search engines, mobile-friendly, loads fast, and has a logical URL structure. All of these factors influence your search ranking.
The higher you rank in the search results, the more people will find and visit your website. And the more high-quality traffic you get, the greater your chances of achieving your business goals like generating more leads or sales.
The Relationship Between SEO and Google Algorithms
Google's algorithms are complex systems used to retrieve data and deliver the best search results. Google's ranking systems sort through billions of webpages to present the most relevant information. Google's algorithms rank websites in search results based on a set of rules.
The Relationship Between SEO and Google Algorithms
Google's algorithms determine how websites are ranked in the search results. They look at factors like:
- Relevance: How well your content matches what the searcher is looking for. Use important keywords and topics in your page content, title, URL, etc.
- Authority: The credibility and trustworthiness of your website. Build quality backlinks from authoritative sites.
- User experience: How easy and useful your site is for visitors. Have a mobile-friendly design, fast load times, and easy navigation.
- Freshness: How recently your content has been updated. Regularly update and add new content to your site. HubSpot finds that updating and republishing old blog posts with new content and images can increase organic traffic by as much as 106%.
By optimizing for these factors, you can positively influence how Google's algorithms rank your website. SEO helps you make the necessary improvements and updates to move up in the search rankings over time. Although Google's systems are complex, focusing on creating a great user experience and high-quality, relevant content is key.
Types of SEO: On-page, Off-page, Technical
The types of SEO you focus on will depend on your website and goals. On-page SEO involves optimizing your actual webpages. Off-page SEO builds your authority through external links and mentions. Technical SEO ensures search engines can access your content.
A study from Ahrefs found that over 96% of pages gets zero traffic from Google, indicating the importance of on-page SEO.
On-page SEO focuses on your webpage content like keywords, page titles, page descriptions, and internal linking. Optimizing these elements helps search engines understand your content and rank it higher in results. Think of on-page SEO as optimizing your content for both search engines and users.
Keywords. Include relevant keywords naturally in your page titles, headings, URLs and main content. Choose 2-3 primary keywords that best represent what your page is about. Then use these keywords appropriately throughout the page.
Page Titles. Make sure your page titles include your most important keywords near the beginning. Aim for under 60 characters with your primary keyword(s) and a brief description of the page. This helps searchers identify relevant pages at a glance. According to SEMrush, 36% of SEO experts think the headline/title tag is the most important SEO element.
URLs. Use keyword-rich, SEO-friendly URLs that are descriptive, concise and easy for search engines to read. Avoid overly long or complicated URLs.
Content. Write long-form, in-depth content that provides real value for searchers. Use your target keywords and related, long-tail keywords throughout. Include relevant images, videos, and internal links.
Internal Links. Link to other relevant pages on your site using keywords in the anchor text. This passes "link juice" and helps search engines understand what your pages are about. But avoid unnatural over-optimization.
Search intent. Search intent refers to the underlying goal or motivation behind a user's search query. There are several main types of search intent:
- Informational: Users want to learn facts, background information or details about a topic. Providing thorough, well-researched content that answers the "who, what, when, where and why" questions is key to satisfying informational intent.
- Navigational: Users know exactly what they are looking for and enter a specific website name or product in the search bar. Prioritizing your most important pages and products in search results is important for navigational intent.
- Transactional: Users want to make a purchase, download, register or take some other action. Offering clear calls to action, product details pages and frictionless user experiences helps satisfy transactional intent.
- Commercial: Users are actively comparison shopping or researching potential purchases. Providing detailed product specs, multiple options, pricing information and reviews helps meet commercial intent.
Understanding the specific intent behind a searcher's query can help you determine what information, calls to action and user experiences will be most helpful and relevant, ultimately improving your ability to satisfy that searcher and positively impact your SEO and search rankings.
Off-page SEO builds your website's authority through external links, mentions, and partnerships. Things like guest blogging, influencer outreach, and link building campaigns help increase referral traffic and improve your search rankings. The more authoritative links and references pointing to your site, the more trustworthy search engines will consider your content.
Guest blogging. Write high-quality, shareable articles for other sites in your industry. Not only does this spread your content, but linking back to your site from the byline improves your domain authority. Reach out to sites with a similar audience to your target market.
Influencer outreach. Contact industry bloggers, journalists and other influencers with unique angles on topics related to your business. Provide them with data, insights or story hooks to gain a mention or backlink in their content. In a 13-month Semrush study, over 50% of qualified sites without at least one backlink never reached the first page.
Link building. Reach out to sites in your niche and ask if they will consider linking to relevant pages on your site. Focus on sites with a strong domain authority to pass on the most "link juice." You can offer to become a source, provide assets or form a strategic partnership.
Social sharing. Share your best long-form articles on social media to gain backlinks from social profiles. Encourage employees and customers to share your content for extra reach. Consider promoting your social posts using paid and organic methods.
Together, these off-page tactics can boost your referrals, domain authority and search rankings — as long as you provide valuable, shareable content and form genuine connections with other sites. Focus on quality over quantity to achieve the biggest impact.
Technical SEO ensures search engines can properly access and index your website. It refers to optimizing elements like site architecture, page load times, image alt text, and more.Technical issues can prevent search engines from ranking your site as highly as the quality of your content deserves.
Mobile responsiveness. Ensure your website displays properly and all features work across mobile devices. Use responsive design principles and test pages thoroughly on different screen sizes.
URL structure. Keep URLs short, unique and relevant to your page content. Avoid unnecessary parameters and session IDs in URLs.
Site architecture. Implement a logical, clean site structure that's easy for search engines to crawl. Use sitemaps to guide bots and limit the number of internal pages without outbound links.
Security. Secure your site with an SSL certificate, avoid malware infections and fix any security vulnerabilities. Google considers security when determining domain authority.
HTML improvements. Use semantic HTML, alt text for images, structured data and heading tags appropriately. Avoid duplicate content, invalid HTML and CSS errors.
Focusing on all three types of SEO helps ensure your website and content rank as well as possible in search results. A balanced SEO strategy keeps your on-page content fresh, builds authority through off-page mentions, and makes sure there are no technical barriers preventing search engines from fully accessing and ranking your site.
What Effect Does SEO Have on Your Search?
SEO has a significant impact on your search rankings and visibility. By optimizing your website and content for search engines like Google, you'll start to notice some major benefits.
The higher your rank in the search results, the more people will find and click on your site. SEO helps search engines determine that your content is relevant and valuable, rewarding you with a top spot. More traffic means more potential customers and clients finding your business. Organic search is responsible for 53% of all site traffic, making it a crucial factor for your online visibility.
Higher rankings and more traffic also benefit your SEO efforts in a virtuous cycle. As more people visit and engage with your pages, search engines see that as a vote of confidence that your content is valuable. This further boosts your rankings, bringing in even more relevant traffic over time.
In addition to raw traffic numbers, you'll likely see an increase in qualified traffic. People finding your site through organic search results are demonstrating an active interest in your offering through their search query. They are more likely to convert as customers or leads due to this higher intent.
Not only does this qualified traffic help grow your business, it provides insight into what searchers are looking for. You can use these queries and user behavior data to continue improving the relevancy and effectiveness of your on-page content.
Overall, higher organic search rankings and more qualified traffic help validate your online presence, build your brand awareness and authority, and ultimately support your marketing and revenue goals. SEO serves as a foundation for the rest of your digital strategy by driving the right people to your website.
Improved Brand Awareness
As your brand awareness improves through SEO success, customers will begin to associate your website and business name with quality and expertise. This builds customer confidence and makes them more likely to purchase from you rather than competitors. Customers feel reassured when they recognize a brand they've seen at the top of search results.
In addition, positive mentions and links from other authoritative sources help validate your brand's reputation and trustworthiness. The more relevant backlinks you earn, the more Google and other search engines see your brand as an industry leader. This exposure through organic search results forms positive perceptions in the minds of searchers that carry through to real-world purchasing decisions.
Overall, improved brand awareness through SEO allows you to build deeper relationships with customers and prospects. They come to rely on your business as a go-to source for your products or services. This awareness serves as the first step in the customer journey, establishing your brand as a thought leader and valuable resource that customers will turn to again and again.
Higher Conversion Rates
Good SEO results in the right people finding your site, at the right time, with the intent to buy or convert in some way. By targeting relevant keywords and optimizing your pages, you'll attract high-quality traffic that is more likely to become customers. Your conversion rates will improve as a result.
Search engine optimization not only brings in more visitors, but also helps convert those visitors into customers at a higher rate. Visitors who find your site through organic search results have already demonstrated an intent or interest that aligns with your business goals. They are further along the customer journey and more ready to take action.
By optimizing your pages for relevant keywords and queries, you can ensure that the content matches what searchers are looking for. This increases relevancy and allows you to better meet their needs, making the visitor more likely to buy a product, sign up for a service, or complete some other goal. Visitors are satisfied that their search has led them to a site that provides exactly what they wanted.
The increased relevancy, higher intent, and goal alignment that comes from effective SEO results in a higher percentage of visitors actually completing the desired conversion action. Your overall conversion rate improves, meaning more of the traffic you acquire through organic search actually becomes customers and leads for your business.
Ultimately, the goal of most businesses is to generate revenue and profits. SEO has a direct impact on your bottom line by driving more traffic, improving brand awareness, and boosting conversion rates. In fact, more than 40% of revenue is captured by organic traffic. The more people find you, the more opportunities you have to make sales. By ranking higher in search and staying visible to your target audience, SEO can significantly contribute to revenue growth over the long run.
Search engine optimization achieves this revenue growth in several ways:
- Higher organic traffic. As your SEO efforts improve your rankings and visibility, you will see more and more qualified prospects finding your website through organic search results. This higher traffic volume translates directly into more potential customers and sales.
- Increased conversion rates. As discussed previously, SEO helps attract visitors who are further along in the buyer's journey and have a higher intent to purchase. This results in a higher percentage of your organic traffic actually converting into customers.
- More repeat customers. By establishing your brand as an authority and valuable resource through SEO, you can build trust and loyalty with customers that leads to repeat and referral business. This ongoing revenue from existing customers contributes significantly over time.
- Lower customer acquisition costs. Compared to paid advertising and other marketing channels, SEO has very low costs once it is established. This makes it an efficient way to acquire new customers and drive revenue.
All of these factors — higher traffic, higher conversion rates, repeat business, and lower costs — work together to translate the benefits of SEO into real financial gains and increased revenue for your business. With a strong SEO strategy in place, you can see a measurable impact on your bottom line and overall profitability.
How To Measure the Long-Term Impact of SEO
To truly see the impact of your SEO efforts, you need to monitor several key metrics over the long run.
Click-through Rate (CTR)
The click-through rate (CTR) measures the percentage of searchers who click on your listing in the search results pages. A higher CTR indicates that your listing is more relevant and attractive to searchers, enticing them to click through.
You should monitor your CTR over time to see if your SEO efforts are improving how searchers perceive your listing. An increasing CTR shows that:
- Your titles and descriptions are becoming more relevant and compelling
- Your rankings are improving for more relevant and popular keywords
- Your website's authority and trustworthiness is increasing in the eyes of searchers
In the long run, a higher CTR translates to more organic traffic and increased leads from search. So CTR is an important metric to track as part of measuring the overall impact of your SEO strategy.
Once on your site, are visitors engaged or leaving quickly? A lower bounce rate means your content is relevant and helpful. Visitors who find useful information pertaining to their search queries are more likely to engage further by exploring other pages, which lowers the bounce rate.
On the other hand, a high bounce rate indicates that the content may not be meeting visitors' needs, or that the site experience is confusing them. As you improve the quality, relevancy and usability of your site through SEO, you should see the bounce rate decrease over time. This shows that your efforts are making the site more valuable and interesting to searchers.
The number and quality of websites linking to you impacts rankings. Are authoritative sites linking to your content? An increasing number of backlinks from relevant and authoritative websites indicates that your content is gaining recognition and trust in your industry. This can lead to higher rankings and more organic traffic as search engines see these backlinks as a vote of confidence for your website. SEO experts unanimously agree that backlinks have a substantial effect on search engine rankings, with 67.5% of them believing in their impact.
Some things to monitor regarding your backlinks:
- The number of new backlinks you're getting each month. Are they increasing?
- The relevance and authority of the websites linking to you. Are more high-authority sites linking to your content over time?
- The anchor text of the links. Are they using relevant keywords that match your targeted keywords?
- The type of links (do-follow, no-follow). Make sure most of your links are do-follow to pass PageRank.
- Any issues with the links, like spammy links, private blog networks, or link schemes. Address these promptly to avoid penalties.
The more relevant, natural backlinks you can acquire from authoritative sources in your industry, the more it signals to search engines that your content deserves high rankings. So monitoring key metrics around your backlinks can reveal how effectively your SEO strategy is generating high-quality links over time.
Time on Page
The amount of time visitors spend reading pages on your website is an important metric that can reveal the effectiveness of your SEO efforts over time. As you improve the relevancy, quality and usability of your content and site through SEO, time on page should generally increase. This indicates that:
- Your content is meeting visitors' information needs and providing value. Visitors find your pages useful and interesting enough to spend more time reading them.
- Your website experience is easy to navigate and understand. Visitors are able to find what they want and consume your content without friction. According to Forbes, 38% of users will stop engaging with a website if the layout is not attractive or it's too hard to use.
- Your SEO strategy is generating the right kind of traffic. Visitors who find your pages through organic search are those who are most interested in your topic and willing to invest time reading.
You should monitor changes in time on page metrics for your highest-traffic pages:
- Home page: As you improve the relevancy and value of your main content, time on home page should increase.
- Key category pages: For important sections of your site, check if visitors are spending more time reading as your SEO efforts improve the quality and relevancy of that content.
- High-traffic product pages: For e-commerce sites, monitor changes in time spent on your best-selling or most-viewed product pages.
By regularly checking your CTR, bounce rate, and other metrics, you'll get a clear picture of how your SEO efforts are influencing search results and impacting your business. While change may happen slowly, tracking key metrics is the only way to truly measure the long term success of your SEO strategy.
Remember: over 96% of pages get no organic traffic.
SEO is an investment that pays off, so stop making excuses and start making progress!