What is SEO? Is there more to ranking #1 on Google?

In this episode of Make SEO Simple Again, we go back to basics and answer what exactly is search engine optimization?

Is it a dark art?
Is it about backlinks?
Is it all about ranking top on Google search?
What has writing content have to do with it?
And can you do it yourself?

The answers you seek are found in the video.

Full transcript

Hey guys, welcome to Make SEO Simple Again. If you’re watching this, you’re probably a small business owner or a freelancer who wants to learn how to grow website visitors without having to pay for ads or relying on a Facebook or Instagram. And I’m sure you’ve received those kind offers that are promising you to rank your website on page one, position one on Google. But is that what SEO is? Is search engine optimization just ranking number one on Google? Well, by the end of this video, I promise you that you will know the answer to this and more importantly, what SEO means for you. So, let’s get started. I’m Daniel K. Cheung, let’s Make SEO Simple Again.

All right. What is search engine optimization? Well, what is SEO? Wrong answers only, just to have some fun. Well, Jim Floyd says, “Pepper every page of your site with your keywords in white text or whatever color matches the background of the page.” Smiley face. And then… Oh, I’m going to murder your name… but Hrishikesh Pardeshi says, “Find a target keyword, place the target keyword at the start of every line on your page. Duplicate the page with variations in the URL slug. And then, repeat steps one to three for all keywords you research.” Mike says, “Ask everyone to put a link to my website and trade it for candy.” Not a bad idea. And Nina Churchill says, “Make a list of all the cities you serve and make sure that list is at the bottom of every page on your website.” For sure. And Rafael says, “Link building.” Hmm, sassy. And then Peter says, “Instantly can fix all your business issues once you get ranked.” Yeah, that sounds legit. And Itamar… Well, there you go… says, what is SEO? “It depends.”

Why do you use Google Search? Well, the answer is, well, it is there to find answers. And we use Google Search for different reasons. Sometimes we use it to check for spelling. For example, receive is that I before E or E before I? I seriously still don’t know. And I quite often type that into Google. We use Google to find out a simple fact, for example, what is the capital of Switzerland? We use it to track the status of a flight, look for a local business near us, for example, I might search for a Volvo mechanic near me, research for information, for example, best Disneyland itinerary, convert currency and of course, find reviews for products that we’re interested in buying, for example, iPhone 12 review.

It is natural for businesses to want to show up as the first result for Google Search, but is ranking number one the end goal of SEO? How does Google know what to show us? And if we go back to the previous slide, these words or phrases that I’ve highlighted in yellow, those are the things that we type into Google Search, aka keywords. So, how does Google know what to show us when we type in those words or phrases? Well, the answer is through SEO. And why does Google want to help us? It is out of the goodness of their hearts. Well, it’s because of money. Google makes ad revenue as the top and bottom of the Google Search result pages has ads. And every time we perform a search, ads are shown. And if the quality of the answers shown in the non-paid section of the SERPs is what the user is looking for, the more people will return to Google to search for answers and thus make more ad revenue.

So, what is search engine optimization? Well, let’s turn to some definitions. And here’s one from Search Engine Land, “SEO is the process of improving your site to increase its visibility for relevant searches.” Yeah, that makes sense. Here’s one for Moz, “SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” And here’s one from an old Google Support documentation, it says, “SEO is the process of making your site better for search engines.” And finally, here’s a definition from Ahrefs, “SEO is the practice of optimizing content to be discovered through a search engine’s organic search results.” Well, that’s a mouthful. And in my opinion, this one from Google takes the cake. However, it’s not perfect because, in my opinion, SEO is not the process of making your site better for search engines, but rather, for human users.

So, if we assume that SEO is making your site better, what does this actually mean for you and I? For example, would you wait more than 10 seconds for a page to load? If so, in what circumstances would you be willing to wait? Would you trust information from an unknown source? If so, when and for what type of questions. How would you feel if the page you clicked on did not answer your question? Do you want to read a wall of text or skim for headings to find what you’re looking for? And would you trust a page’s information if it has multiple flashing ad banners? Your answers to these questions will give you an indication of what Google wants to provide to its users because after all, SEO and what Google shows on the search result pages is all about the user experience. And therefore, SEO is making your site better in all of these areas.

So, how does Google really know what to show us? Well, the short answer is relevance. And the long answer, it’s understanding relevance via technical SEO, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Now, don’t worry if you don’t know, if you’re not familiar with those three terms, because we are going to cover those right now. And these are the three pillars of making your site better.

First, there is on-page SEO, and this pretty much refers to everything that sits on a page. And that includes the page title, the meta description, of course, the written content or text that is found on that page, including images. The second pillar of SEO is technical SEO, and this essentially means can Google discover the pages on your website? And it’s a process of how to improve the indexing of your pages. And then the third pillar is off-page, and this is adding credibility and relevance as a source of information for a given topic. And so, if we sum all this up, SEO is making sure that your content can be found, is the best answer to the question your audience is looking for and that your content can be trusted. So, again, this all relates back to relevance and proving that you can be trusted for the relevance of that topic.

So, how does on-page SEO, the first pillar, help make your site better? Well, it’s through content. Search engines love content. Without content, search engines have nothing to understand what a page is about. So, how do you make your content better? Well, what do you need to make sure The content better is probably a better question. You’ll need to research suitable topics that are related to your business. You will need to write the content and cover it well so that you solve the user’s questions. This often means formatting your text so that it is not a wall of text, including strategic headings to allow someone to quickly pass the page and to find what they’re looking for, adding images or graphics that support the topic you’re covering and producing supplementary content to support your main topic. On top of this, you’ll need to review past content and update it to give it a fighting chance of ranking well in the SERPs. And yes, you can totally do this yourself without the aid of fancy SEO tools.

So, the next question, how does technical SEO help make your site better? And the answer is, Google cannot rank a page if it cannot find it. Technical SEO makes sure that your pages can be easily discovered by search engines. And so, naturally, how do you make your website better for this? Well, we need to first understand how search engines work. And there’s a three-step process. First, there is the crawl, then there is the render, then there’s the index and finally, and what we all crave for, is ranking of the content. And when it comes to technical SEO, it involves the first three steps, the crawl, render and index, because without this, it cannot rank your page or website for a given keyword.

And here are the things that you can… Well, let me rephrase. What can you do to make your website get crawled, rendered, indexed, and ranked better? Well, you can add structured data to help search engines better understand what the page is about in relation to the website and to the topic you are trying to rank for. You can check for duplicate versions of the same content and apply appropriate 301 and canonical tags as required. You can improve the site architecture by reducing page depth of critical pages and adding internal links to relevant pages of content.

And there’s a lot of things you can do. And you don’t need to know what these things are because at this stage, we’re just building out a better understanding of what it is. And once you kind of know what each pillar is in relation to why it’s important to search and to your users and therefore to your business, then you can go into the individual things that you need to do so that your pages can get crawled, rendered, indexed and therefore ranked better. And while this may seem like impossible tasks right now, you can totally do all these yourself as well.

So, how does the third pillar, off-page SEO, help make your site better? Well, the answer is backlinks. Backlinks help build trust and trust is something that cannot be gamed, rushed, or faked. It takes time to earn trust, and it can take just one bad decision to lose all of that trust that you’ve built up. So, how do you get Google to trust you? Well, as I’ve already said, trust takes time to accrue. And unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when another website links to you. Google sees this as a vote in confidence in the relevance of the content and the trustworthiness of the information found on that page. And the purpose of off-page SEO is to add relevance of a particular topic to your target page and increase your credibility as a source of information.

Now, most people, including SEO agencies, fall into the trap of building links for the sake of increasing the number of backlinks. Off-page SEO is about getting other credible sources linking to you. So, if your website is very new or your business is very new, off-page SEO, by logic, should not be a priority. You need to first earn the trust of Google by getting your technical SEO and on-page elements, right? So, if you notice that your competition has more links than you, what do you do? You don’t just go out and rush and build links. Instead, invest in on-page, so the quality of your content, as a way to earn meaningful links.

However, life, as we found in 2020, is not fair. You can produce the best answer for a question, but still not show up on page one of the SERPs. You can invest weeks into making sure that Google can crawl, render, and index your pages effectively and still not show up on page one of the SERPs. You can publish amazing first-hand research and acquire links from major media publications, but not show up on page one of the SERPs. It can sometimes take weeks, months, and even years to rank for a competitive keyword. And sometimes you just cannot beat established media outlets in certain industries. And for some searches, the first page is dominated, the entire first page is dominated by high authority websites.

So, what do you do when the keyword you’re targeting is dominated by these authority websites? Well, we go back to what we’ve just covered. What is SEO? It’s the process of making your website better. And so, what you want to do is target more specific queries instead, and increase your credibility one subtopic at a time, until you become an authority yourself.

So, as to recap, what is SEO? Well, Google wants to show the best results to its users and to keep them coming back so that they can make more money off ad revenue. Therefore, SEO is doing all the things to make sure that your website is better for Google users. This means producing amazing content, and this can be either informational or even commercial. It includes making sure that Google can crawl, render, and index your pages so that it can rank them. It involves building trust over time to prove to Google that you are worthy to claim a top spot on page one of its result pages. And it means going back to previously published pages and revising them so that they’re relevant to users in the present. Do these and maybe, just maybe, because there’s no promises in SEO, you can achieve the top of the SERPs.

So, what do you think? If you have any questions about SEO, leave them in the comments below or tweet me at danielkcheung or visit the website, makeseosimpleagain.com.

And that, my friends, is what search engine optimization is. And hopefully, you have a better understanding of what search is and what the components of SEO is and what the priorities are for you. And as always, thumbs up if you liked it, subs if you loved it. And I’ll see you in the next video.

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