SEO: The Beginner's Guide to Search Engine Optimization


New to SEO? Need to polish up your knowledge? The Beginner's Guide to SEO has been read over 3 million times and provides comprehensive information you need to get on the road to professional quality Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, and increase awareness in search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.
SEO isn't just about building search engine-friendly websites. It's about making your site better for people too. At Moz we believe these principles go hand-in-hand.
This guide is designed to describe all areas of SEO—from finding the terms and phrases (keywords) that generate traffic to your website, to making your site friendly to search engines, to building links and marketing the unique value of your site. If you are confused about this stuff, you are not alone, and we're here to help.

Why does my website need SEO?

The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, GoogleBing, and Yahoo!. Although social media and other types of traffic can generate visits to your website, search engines are the primary method of navigation for most Internet users. This is true whether your site provides content, services, products, information, or just about anything else.
Search engines are unique in that they provide targeted traffic—people looking for what you offer. Search engines are the roadways that make this happen. If search engines cannot find your site, or add your content to their databases, you miss out on incredible opportunities to drive traffic to your site.
Search queries—the words that users type into the search box—carry extraordinary value. Experience has shown that search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization's success. Targeted traffic to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other channel of marketing. Investing in SEO can have an exceptional rate of return compared to other types of marketing and promotion.

Why can't the search engines figure out my site without SEO?

Search engines are smart, but they still need help. The major engines are always working to improve their technology to crawl the web more deeply and return better results to users. However, there is a limit to how search engines can operate. Whereas the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and increased attention, the wrong moves can hide or bury your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal.
In addition to making content available to search engines, SEO also helps boost rankings so that content will be placed where searchers will more readily find it. The Internet is becoming increasingly competitive, and those companies who perform SEO will have a decided advantage in visitors and customers.

Can I do SEO for myself?

The world of SEO is complex, but most people can easily understand the basics. Even a small amount of knowledge can make a big difference. Free SEO education is widely available on the web, including in guides like this. Combine this with a little practice and you are well on your way to becoming a guru.
Depending on your time commitment, your willingness to learn, and the complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. Firms that practice SEO can vary; some have a highly specialized focus, while others take a broader and more general approach.
In any case, it's good to have a firm grasp of the core concepts.

How much of this article do I need to read?

If you are serious about improving search traffic and are unfamiliar with SEO, we recommend reading this guide front-to-back. We've tried to make it as concise as possible and easy to understand. There's a printable PDF version for those who'd prefer, and dozens of linked-to resources on other sites and pages that are also worthy of your attention.

Each section of this guide is important to understanding the most effective practices of search engine optimization.

So what is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization, and there is nothing really mystical about it. You might have heard a lot about SEO and how it works, but basically what it is is a measurable, repeatable process that is used to send signals to search engines that your pages are worth showing in Google’s index.
Basically Google uses a complex mathematical formula called an algorithm to give a score to every website and every search people to do in Google to figure out which website should rank best for what people are looking for. Think of the algorithm like a collection of empty buckets. One bucket gives you a score for the quality of your site, one bucket gives you a score for how many sites link to you, one bucket gives you a score for how people trust you. Your job is to fill up more buckets in the algorithm than any other website. You can affect your search engine ranking by having the highest score in terms of quality of your site, of having the highest score in terms of authority of your website, of having the highest score in terms of the most trusted store for that search that people are looking for. The good thing is that there are hundreds of buckets, and for every single one of these buckets these scores put together in the algorithm to figure out where you rank is an opportunity for you to fill it up and rank better. So optimizing your site for search results really means getting the highest score in as many of these points as you can.
Now, some buckets are worth more than others, and the three main buckets that you need to be aware of for search rankings are quality, trust and authority. So quality: what Google is trying to measure when they’re trying to figure out what sites should rank is offering something valuable or unique or interesting to googles searchers. For example: good content - if you are selling t-shirtsand you are using the same description that every other t-shirt seller is using on their website then you are not offering anything unique to Google’s searchers. Even though your t-shirts might look pretty cool, the content is the same as everybody else’s, so Google has no way of telling that your t-shirts or your t-shirt site is better than anybody else’s. Instead, offer people interesting content. For example: offer them the ability to personalize their t-shirt. Give them information on how to wash it. What’s the thread count? Is it stain resistant? Is this something you should wear in the summer or is it more heavy for winter? Give people information, or even be more creative. Get people to share pictures of themselves wearing the t-shirt. Create a community of people who are interested in your product. Get a famous person to wear it and share that picture online. Do something different, do something unique. Show Google that you are different and better than the other search results.
Trust is another important bucket that you need to be aware of when you are trying to get your site to rank in Google. Google doesn’t want to show just any website to it’s searchers, it wants to show the best website to its searchers, and so it wants to show sites that are trustworthy. One thing Google has indicated it likes to do is penalize sites or stores or companies that consistently have poor reviews, so if you have many poor reviews, in time Google is going to figure out not to show your site in their rankings because Google doesn’t want to show those sites to their searchers. So prove to Google’s algorithm that you are trustworthy. Get other highly authoritative websites to link to you. Get newspaper articles, get industry links, get other trusted sites to link to you: partners, vendors, happy customers - get them to link to your website to show that you are highly credible and trustworthy.
And finally, the other really important bucket is authority. Google wants to show sites that are popular. If they can show the most popular t-shirt seller to people looking to buy t-shirts online, that’s the site they want to show. So you have to convince Google - send them signals that your site is the most popular site for the kind of t-shirts that you sell. Fill this bucket by building a fan base. Build a social network, get people to link to you, get people to share your t-shirt pages on their social network saying ‘I want this!’, get people to comment, leave testimonials, show pictures of themselves wearing the product or using the product, Create a fan-base and then rally them to link to you and talk about you. That’s how you prove to Google that you are trustworthy and authoritative.
So if you think about it, SEO is really just a process of proving to search engines that you are the best site, the most authoritative, the most trusted, the most unique and interesting site that they can offer to their customer - the searcher. Get people to talk about you, produce good quality content, get people to link to you, and Google will be more confident that you are the best result that they can offer to their searchers, and that’s when you will start ranking on the first page of Google.
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