How SEO Works, and Why It’s Confusing (At First)

If you’re curious about how SEO works, the answer isn’t always clear-cut. But that’s not the only reason it’s confusing. While it’s true that SEO is an important part of helping your website stand out against your competition and attract new leads, there are factors that it relies on that might seem more than a little counterintuitive.

Here’s an overview of what SEO is, why it’s important, and what factors you should focus on when managing it for your website.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is a fancy term that describes how well your website can be found using search engines like Google, Firefox, and Bing. The higher your website ranks within each engine’s algorithm, the closer to the top of the list its name pops up when people search for products and services that relate to your business.

How is it confusing?

Keywords and content are the two algorithmic factors that trip a lot of marketers up.

Keywords / keyword phrases. In the past, webpages would rank higher the more frequently a specific term or phrase was used (for example, customer service training). But some businesses abused this idea by peppering the same keyword tens of times across a single webpage. The reality? You still need to include a keyword multiple times for a page to rank, but it has to make sense within the context of the post. The confusion is making it appear natural, when most marketers have lived with the mentality that repetition doesn’t sound real or engaging.

Content length. There was a time when simply having a blog made your website more valuable than a competitor’s. Now everyone has one, which means it too needs to distinguish your brand. And while keywords are part of that process, a blog’s length — and the length of content on any page of your website, for that matter — also contributes to that purpose. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the more copy is present, the more valuable your page may appear from an informational standpoint (regardless of the actual quality). Second, there’s some debate as to whether or not search engines use the duration of time that you spend on a website as a ranking factor. For instance, if you click on a link, go to a webpage, and then click the back arrow a few seconds later — commonly referred to as pogo-sticking — the argument is that search engines will see this behavior and down-rank the relevance of that page. Others claim this isn’t a factor to worry about, which is nice, because the alternative might be having to write 1200 to 3000 words per blog…and that’s, well, a lot.

Is there more to how SEO works?

Absolutely. You’ve got long-tail keywords, related keywords, website speed, and backlinks from other sites to review. Plus, you’ve probably got pages that don’t perform well (or at all) that you could identify, retool, or simply delete. It’s also important to include alt text on all of your images so that search engines will “see” what you’re posting, and also identify that you’re 508 compliant for users with disabilities.

Where’s the best place to start?

When in doubt, start with this simple framework for producing stronger content that can help improve your SEO ranking.

  • For each page (or blog), identify a keyword phrase. Ours above is “how SEO works.”
  • Aim to use the keyword phrase in the heading or title, as well as the subheading or first sentence.
  • Use the keyword phrase at least 3 more times in the message body.
  • The word count for the blog or webpage should be at least 400.
  • Each page or blog should include at least 1 external link, preferably more.

What comes after this framework?

Once you feel comfortable managing the five points above, focus on page speed. Even if it seems imperceptible to you, the longer a website takes to load will automatically lower its ranking. From there, you can play around with other tools and website analytics to get a better idea of how to fine-tune your process, which we can discuss with you in more detail if you’re interested.

For more advice on how SEO works, as well as receive a complimentary audit of your own website, click the link below to get started.

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