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What is SEO and how does it impact your business?

September 27, 2023

Chris Fohlin

By Chris Fohlin, SEO Specialist, Breakout Studio

  • Insights

The majority of online experiences start with a search. Whether it’s Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo, search engines drive more traffic than display ads, social media, or email.

The business leaders and marketing teams we work with know that search engine optimization (SEO) is important, but often, they haven’t yet established a search strategy or they’re seeking guidance on how to take their approach to the next level.

SEO can be full of jargon and myths — and best practices continually evolve. We’re here to explain some of the foundational aspects of SEO. We want our clients to understand the strategic thinking behind web design, learn how to adhere to best practices, and grow their in-house SEO knowledge along the way.

Here are a few commonly asked questions answered by Breakout Studio SEO expert Chris Fohlin to get you started.

Chris has been building and improving websites for over 17 years, beginning his career as a web developer and then moving through functions including digital strategy, business development, search engine optimization, and analytics.

What is SEO? 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of improving a website for increased visibility in search results. 

Most of us hear search” and think of Google, but SEO applies to all search engines like Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo. That said, Google’s share of the US search market is around 90%.

Search results include two types: organic and paid. 

Organic search” is about surfacing high-quality, relevant content. We may sometimes disagree with the quality of the results, but the goal is quality and relevance. There is no option to pay for placement within organic results.

Paid results” are (typically) placed at the top and bottom of search result pages and marked by a Sponsored” or Ad” label. These results have gone through a bidding process in which websites can decide to pay a certain amount of money for placement in results for specific search terms (known as keywords” — more on those later).

Seo and why it matters

Why should I care about SEO? 

Search has become synonymous with beginning a task online, whether visiting a website or seeking information. Data shows 68% of online experiences start with a search engine. This shouldn’t be surprising since our web browsers and voice assistants like Siri have search built-in. Search also offers the path of least resistance compared to guessing a website’s address, even when we almost certainly know the address.

Perhaps because searching is so easy, most website traffic comes from search engines — whether organic or paid. 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search, and another 15% comes from paid search. For B2B companies, combined search (organic + paid) averages 76% of all website traffic.

Search traffic is typically well-qualified, whether it’s an e-commerce customer or a potential client visiting your website. By that, I mean someone used a search engine to define what they were looking for, they were presented with options, and they decided to click through to a specific website that appeared in the results. 

The interest and intent of the user were apparent, compared to interruptive tactics like promoted posts on social media and website banner ads where we’re hoping to connect with the right audience. With the rise of digital privacy, interruption marketing is becoming less targeted and more expensive. Plus, 60% of marketers say that traffic from sources like search engines and blog content provides their highest-quality leads.

Lastly, a valuable reason to care about SEO is its overlap with website user experience and accessibility.

User experience (UX) is about providing a website that is enjoyable, useful, and easy to use. Many UX aspects factor into a well-ranking website, like speed, organized content, page load experience, and descriptive navigation.

Accessibility focuses on building websites responsibly so that people with disabilities or limitations can use them. Overlap between accessibility and SEO includes image descriptions, properly structured content, and readability. That is to say, a website built with all users in mind contributes to effective SEO strategy.

Why not just pay for placement and ignore organic results? 

Paid search certainly has its role in a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Paid search can provide a shortcut to visibility while your content is climbing the ranks in organic search or when organic keywords are highly competitive. Paid placement also has more visibility, given its position at the very top or bottom of the results page.

However, maintaining organic results is less costly than continuing paid placements. Returns on SEO investment are long-term since content doesn’t lose relevance and ranking overnight — even if you stop tending to your website and content.

On the other hand, paid search is a faucet that stops flowing the moment you pause your spend. Not to mention that an estimated 70 to 94% of search users ignore paid results. 

How does SEO work?

Search engines like Google continuously move around the internet (“crawl”) to discover website content. Search engines then build a memory or database of all discovered content, known as an index. If your website is not indexed, people won’t find it in search.

Search engines take into account hundreds of signals to decide how relevant” content is for the terms that people search (“keywords”). Relevance determines how well your content ranks” for a particular keyword. Rankings are considered #1-10 and beyond, #1 being the top organic result.

At a high level, ranking factors include:

  • Content – this is most important; content should be high-quality, often in-depth, accurate, and up-to-date
  • Architecture – logical organization of your content into sections; your content is crawlable (no broken links, etc.) 
  • HTML – the code used to show your content in a web browser; code can carry meaning (semantics) and better help search engines understand your content; fast sites benefit humans and SEO 
  • Reputation – demonstrating your experience, expertise, and authority through your content; building trust over time as a reputable source 
  • Links – both within your website, from page to page, as well as links to your content from other websites
  • User – provide a desirable user experience; avoid littering pages with ads and popups 
  • Toxins – malicious code; attempting to game the system using nefarious SEO tactics
  • Location – for businesses with a physical presence, proximity to your audience is important
  • E-commerce – ensuring product information and attributes are clearly defined 

Search engine optimization is an ever-changing landscape. Search engines periodically adjust their ranking factors to provide helpful results. Adaptation is essential as the internet evolves and search engines are better able to account for websites that try to game the system. 

What are keywords, and how do I use them?

Keywords are the terms people enter into search engines, also known as search terms. 

Keywords are the language spoken by your audience. Writing content that performs well in search incorporates these keywords to make your content relevant. If you want to appear for a particular term but make no mention of it on your website, then you can’t expect to rank for that term. 

Tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs can help you research terms and tell you how often they’re searched for, on average, each month (“volume”). These tools will also tell you how difficult it may be to rank highly for a particular keyword (“difficulty”). 

You can use Google itself to search for terms you think are a good fit and see what the results look like. You’re likely on the right track if you see websites and content like yours. 

Once you have a set of target keywords, find ways to incorporate them into your content naturally. We’ve all encountered blog posts written for search engines and not humans. Google’s advancements over the years mean you don’t have to write specifically for search engines at the expense of human visitors. 

15% of Google searches have never been searched before and may not appear in research tools. It’s important to not obsess over particular keyword combinations but rather build a hierarchy of terms from high-level topics down to specific questions or niche sub-topics. Then, create and organize your content accordingly.

Regarding volume, there’s a natural tendency to pursue keywords with the most volume. But these may also be the most difficult to rank for — they’re highly competitive. An equally fruitful pursuit could be ranking high for very specific (typically longer) search terms known as long-tail” keywords.

Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volume but can have lower competition levels, too. Would you rather fight for a few clicks from a thousand monthly searches or corner the market for a keyword that gets 20 or 50 searches per month?

The more broad a keyword is (e.g., laptop”), the more competitive it’ll be to rank because lots of content talks about laptops. The intent of the searcher is also unclear. Are they learning about laptops? Seeking the definition? Trying to buy a laptop? 

A long-tail keyword like 15 inch laptop good for gaming and travel” may have significantly lower volume, but it may have low competition and increased clarity around intent (researching and looking to buy). 

Do links matter? I hear terms like backlink,” but I’m not sure what that means.

We’ll focus on two types of links to answer this question: internal and backlinks.

Internal links are links from one page on your website to another. Internal links are important because they keep visitors moving and engaged with your website. Internal links also help search engines move through your website (crawl) and digest your content. Your website should often link to your most valuable content as a signal of its importance. 

Backlinks are links from other websites to your website. Backlinks are votes for your content, help position you as an authority in your industry, and are considered when Google ranks content. 

It can be challenging to get other websites to link to yours. At the core, I believe that by creating valuable, helpful content, the links will come. You see it all the time with one blog linking to another, and so on. 

It is possible to reach out to other websites and suggest that your content would be helpful to their audience. Sometimes, this works and can be worth the effort. Accumulating press mentions and making guest posts on others’ websites can also be a fruitful source of backlinks.

You may hear of folks paying for backlinks. Search engines forbid this practice and may penalize your website in search results.

Seo content

Does every website need SEO?

Every website should have a solid foundation of SEO best practices and a high-level effort to incorporate specific keywords. A shaky foundation risks compromising any effort towards content. 

Clearly state what your company does or offers to help connect with relevant searches. Clean up and actively avoid technical issues like broken links within your content.

When we redesign an existing website — or design a brand-new website — we implement best practices as part of our process. For a redesign, the new website will launch in a much-improved state compared to the old site. 

Beyond foundational practices, you can decide how intentional you want to be regarding keyword research, creating and refining content, monitoring rankings, and resolving technical issues as they arise.

If I can only focus on a few aspects of SEO, what should they be?

Quality content that provides value to the user is the number one factor when it comes to ranking in search results. Content has long been at the core of SEO, and search engines continue to improve their ability to understand good” content, which means the weight of other factors shifts over time. 

Content that is thin and doesn’t say much of anything won’t rank well. Content that is overproduced purely with search engines in mind risks a lack of user engagement — and search engines may de-value it over time.

Select areas for focus:

  • On-page content: engaging and relevant headings and supporting copy 
  • Page titles: focused on the single topic of your page 
  • Page descriptions: convince people to click on your link in search results 
  • Internal linking: provide natural pathways from one page to another for humans and search engines alike 
  • External linking: much like a school research paper, cite your sources to add credibility to your content 

How long does it take to see results from SEO efforts?

SEO often offers a mix of quick wins and long-term results. 

I’ve seen quick wins in a few weeks to a few months. Long-term efforts require continual research, adjustments, and experimentation, which may take 12-18 months before seeing the desired results.

The average page in the top 10 is two years or older, so new content is often up against long-standing information. But trust in your process and the content you have to offer. Stay focused on your visitors and provide a valuable experience. 

How do I know if SEO is working? What should my goals be? 

Before diving into SEO-specific goals, ask yourself about your website’s and your visitors’ goals.

Website goals may include:

  • Sales (purchase) 
  • Contact (reach out via email, phone, or form submission)
  • Download (useful resources)
  • Email sign-ups (for a newsletter mailing list)
  • Consume and share (valuable, helpful content) 

Then, consider how search traffic, and therefore ranking well in search, can support your website goals. Are you looking to get in front of potential buyers of your product? Or provide answers to popular questions? 

The first SEO achievement tends to be increased search impressions” (the number of times you appear in results). When your content first breaks into the ranks for keywords and then climbs the rankings, it’ll appear in results more and more.

As your content’s rankings improve, visibility increases and clicks start to follow. Ideally, your content appears in the top three results for your target search term since 55% of clicks go to the top three results

Potential SEO goals to consider including in your website strategy:

  • Immediate: eliminate any technical issues and adhere to best practices so that you know you’re not holding back the potential of your content 
  • Near-term: beginning to rank for the right keywords; this means breaking into the top 100, and then climbing up 
  • Long-term: ranking in the top 10, or even top three, for target keywords; also, continued maintenance to avoid repeating technical issues or straying from best practices over time

Many keyword research tools will shed light on how difficult it will be to rank for each search term. Factor this into your near- and long-term goals to properly set expectations — with yourself and your team. 

Lastly, persistence is key. SEO is often a long game. It’s easy to give up too soon. Like compound interest, SEO calls for periodic investment and time before the results take off to exciting heights. 

What tools or resources do you recommend?

  • Google Search – play with different terms and see what the results look like; observe the suggested searches as you type and the types of features that appear in results (like People Also Ask) 
  • Google Search Blog – more useful for consumers; read about new features and learn tips 
  • Google Search Central Blog – geared toward SEO professionals; includes algorithm updates and ranking changes 
  • Google Search Console – monitor your website’s Google Search, and uncover issues as Google perceives them 
  • Performance in Ahrefs and SEMRush – similar tools that offer a ton of capability to discover technical issues, find target keywords, monitor rankings, and more. Both tools also publish valuable blogs to continue SEO education.

From best practices to intentionality 

When we design and build a new website, we incorporate SEO best practices to leave our clients with a site that is an immediate improvement over the previous version. When clients decide to dedicate resources to SEO strategy (keyword research, competitor analysis, etc.), that’s where a website’s potential to connect with customer demand and yield results takes off.

The Breakout team can help you figure out where you stand, create a collaborative SEO plan, and help you maximize your reach. We’re a creative agency with the full-scale power to strategize, design, write, develop, build, and launch brands and websites that grow and scale alongside our clients. Check out some of our recent work or reach out to our team today to learn more about our process and start building something together.

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