As digital marketers, throughout the course of our days we are asked a lot of questions! And the majority of them probably revolve around SEO because it’s a harder vertical to grasp and understand. However, if you work in digital marketing or marketing in general, you are probably fairly familiar with SEO. But there are still many people who scratch their head when they hear or see this acronym in the wild. Welcome to your SEO learning journey! IMI is here to be your guide for all things SEO and to get those frequently asked questions finally answered.
With everything from the SEO beginner questions, to the questions and answers clients are asking for, and even the SEO questions the experts still find themselves asking, we’ve got it covered. The world of SEO is no one size fits all and is forever changing, but generating as much knowledge as you can about the basics of SEO is the first step toward becoming an organic marketing wiz.
SEO for Beginners
What does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, but what exactly does that mean? SEO is focused on bringing in website traffic through search result rankings organically (naturally), without paying for the traffic through ads. It’s important to develop a strong SEO strategy because the main source for website traffic is search. In fact, Backlinko states that “60% of all traffic on the web starts with a Google search”. The main goal behind incorporating SEO in your marketing strategy is to increase the number of quality visitors to a website through search result rankings, while keeping up with the algorithm changes and updates of Google.
What are the 4 pillars of SEO?
When you think of SEO, you might think it’s complicated because you don’t quite understand how it works and what specific tactics come into play. However, SEO is pretty simple when you look at it from a strategic level. The four key pillars of SEO that earned experts should always remember include the following:
- Technical SEO: This is where you should start when it comes to your SEO strategy. Analyzing your website’s technical SEO will help you understand how well your content and keywords can be crawled, indexed, and explored by a search engine.
- On-Page SEO: This pillar has a bit of a crossover with the first pillar, as you want to make sure your content is well-structured on your technically optimized site. Once you have analyzed the current status of your content, you can then begin to apply optimizations through keyword research to make it even better.
- Off-Page SEO: Off-page SEO is also known as authority building or link building. Incorporating links on your site allows Google to better understand how relevant and reliable your content is, allowing you to generate strong organic rankings. The late Eric Ward (a.k.a Link Mosses) described link building in just a few words, “connect what should be connected” by creating content that is deserving of trustworthy links.
- Content: If there’s one thing you probably already know about SEO, it’s that content is king. Creating valuable and consistent content on your site allows searchers to get their questions answered and fulfill their query goal.
What is the difference between SEO and PPC?
Although SEO and PPC are very different approaches within digital marketing, they work together to achieve the ultimate search engine marketing (SEM) strategy: SEO + PPC = SEM. Like we mentioned above, SEO is a natural way to improve your rankings and overall visibility to searchers and search engines by using organic content. On the other hand, PPC (pay-per-click) allows marketers to bid on the chance to show their ads in SERP, right when people are looking for a specific offer. With that being said, the main difference between the two is that traffic from SEO is free and traffic from PPC costs money (organic listings in Google vs. paid listings in Google). At IMI, our digital marketing expertise ranges from Earned Media to Paid Media, depending on the strategy that you’re looking to create. Understand how we approach quarterly strategies for our clients!
How long does SEO take?
When looking at any marketing deliverable or strategy, anyone buying on for a service is always wondering how long it will take to see results. It’s important to remember and express to clients in the beginning that SEO is a long term investment, and can eventually be your biggest traffic driver if you give it the time it deserves. SEO requires ongoing attention and is definitely not a one time thing. Your SEO strategy takes time, planning, and readjusting to achieve and maintain search rankings, ROI, and overall traffic growth. Whether you’re redesigning your site to be more SEO friendly or your updating your target keywords, each and every change you make can affect your SEO efforts by showing quantifiable results.
What is the purpose of links?
As we mentioned above, links are what make up the off-page SEO pillar. And link building for SEO can be one of the harder parts of the job. Basically you are searching the internet for other websites to link to your site in an effort to build referral traffic and establish authority. Even though this is a straight forward strategy you don’t want just any links, you want relevant and quality links that shows Google you are the authority on a certain topic.
Let’s use an example to talk about link building. Say you’re writing a blog for a real estate brand and the subject is “newest trends in the housing market”. It’s important to use both internal (links to other pages on your site) and external (links to other sites on the same industry topic) links. After this blog is published and gains some traction, now is the time to ignite your link building strategy. Find other similar blogs on the topic at hand and start reaching out and presenting your piece of content as a valuable blog on the subject. Once more blogs and websites are sharing and linking to your piece of content, Google can then better understand who has the authority.
What is organic content and how does it work?
When it comes to content, there are two general types. There is content with the purpose of putting readers into the funnel and then there’s broad content. Now let’s break it down. Content such as product pages, longform content, and white papers is content with a specific purpose in mind. You want readers to understand what your business is about, so they can continue moving down the buyer funnel to eventually purchase what you’re selling. This is what the client wants to hear. They want a clear plan for how content creation will make them money and how it will affect their ROI. This type of content is a necessary factor for SEO, but all in all, specific product content just doesn’t get shared. Google must be factored into the strategy.
On the other hand, there is broad content, better known as blogging. This is the stuff that the audience interacts with and the type of writing that helps Google better understand where your site should be placed in SERP. When creating content, whether that’s an infographic to help boost SEO, a blog, or even a video, you should adjust your mindset to position yourself within reader’s point of view. What will grab the reader’s attention? What type of content will make my website more searchable? What are the questions that the readers need answers to? What type of content is most likely to get shared? Once you find what your audience is looking for, it’s time to infuse your writing with SEO, specifically keyword research (which we will dive into a little later).
Ultimate purpose of content: Blogging allows your website to rank higher in Google SERPs, therefore increasing your visibility and traffic by reaching your target audience during the discovery phase in an overall effort to increase your business revenue.
SEO for Experts
How has SEO evolved?
There’s no doubt that the SEO role has changed over time. From Google putting a stop to spam and black hat techniques to the preferred user device shift. But what exactly is the main focus now? Let’s start with devices. In the past, SEO experts were focused on optimizing for desktop specifically because this is where the majority of traffic was coming from. However, mobile has quickly taken first place when it comes to the primary device. In fact, comscore reported that mobile consists of 65% of digital media time, and officially surpassed desktop in 2015.
Next, let’s talk about technical SEO. Technical SEO has always been there, and always will be an important part of the strategy. However, as the years have passed technical SEO has become much more of a requirement rather than an option. Not only are you keeping up with Google’s algorithms and tracking the changes, but you’re also keeping up with new factors that always come into play (page speed, mobile responsiveness, indexing, and more).
In addition to these changes that we’ve seen in SEO, we have also seen additional changes when it comes to planning for SEO such as, a crack down on link schemes, a rise in relevant organic content, the many changes made to SERP via Google Algorithms, and keyword research to focus more on placement rather than density.
What should your SEO roadmap look like?
When bringing on a new client, you might be wondering where to start and how to start crafting their roadmap to success, because an SEO strategy is necessary when it comes to generating organic and qualified leads. Before embarking on a new project, it’s important to think through your process and put a strategy in play. Below is a quick step-by-step guide that we use at IMI to create a high-level SEO gameplan.
- Research & Discovery
- SEO: Industry analysis, keyword research & mapping, and competitor analysis.
- Content: Content audit and share of voice audit.
- GOAL: Understand who your target audience is, what the competitors are doing, and what keywords are driving the conversation and dominating search result real estate. Here you can create a shared objective for both SEO and content.
- SEO+Content: Quarterly strategy & roadmap. Here is where you take your research and discovery and put it into tangible tasks. Does the site need to undergo technical SEO changes? What does the current content on the site look like? Is local SEO in affect? What does the current link landscape look like?
- GOAL: Align cross-channel support of strategy to combine SEO and content efforts.
- SEO: Technical audit, on-page optimization, link opportunities, and consulting. This is where your strategy and planning comes to life!
- Content: Content creation and publishing, along with promotions and influencer activations (if you have the budget for this).
- GOAL: Enhance performance through collaboration and necessary deliverables.
- SEO+Content: Monthly reporting and insights. This is where you can measure what you’ve strategically done for your client, understand what has done well, and decide what could still use improvements.
- GOAL: Cross-channel performance and strategic recommendations.
What are some of the most significant SEO updates?
Let’s face it, Google is always switching things up and tweaking their algorithm. Because of this, the main role of an SEO’s job is to keep up and be aware of these changes. Throughout the history of algorithm updates, most of them go unnoticed and don’t require your full attention. However, there are some major algorithmic updates that you should always be aware of as an SEO expert:
- Panda 
- Poor-Quality Content
- Penguin 
- Keyword Stuffing
- Spammy and Low Quality Links
- Over Optimization
- Hummingbird 
- Contextual, Conversational, and Semantic Search
- Pigeon 
- Local Listings
- Mobile 
- Google Mobile Friendly Pages
- RankBrain 
- Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence
- Possum 
- Local Search Results
- Fred 
- Affiliate Heavy, Ad Centered, and Thin Content
If you’re still looking to familiarize yourself with additional changes that affect earned media, IMI SEO’s monthly blog addresses a good portion of the changes that we’ve seen when it comes to our practice.
SEO for Clients
Why can’t I just buy ads and skip SEO?
A common question asked by potential clients during the sales process is why they can’t just buy ads and forget about SEO. The answer, SEO and PPC work better when used together. Even though these verticals are addressed through different strategies, the efforts compliment each other. You can increase your visibility and exposure, keyword research (paid and organic) can be shared, best performing ad copy can help when it comes to creating an organic content strategy, and much more when it comes to department collaboration.
In addition to working well together, SEO and PPC both play important roles in the conversion funnel on their own while still working together. SEO creates awareness and interest through content at the top of the funnel, where as PPC tends to drive users to the bottom of the funnel to take action.
How do you report on SEO?
There are a variety of ways you can report on this digital marketing vertical. Since SEO is more of a long term investment, your insights can range from organic traffic to keyword ranking performance. Depending on where you’re tracking, Google Analytics tends to be the mothership of data pulling platforms. In addition to Google Analytics, there’s Google Search Console, SEM Rush, Google My Business, and other helpful platforms. When it comes to the most intriguing data, our team tends to report on the following:
- Total Organic Traffic and Year-over-Year (YoY) changes
- Organic Conversion Rates and Goal Competitions
- Time on Site and Bounce Rates
- Local SEO Performance (if applicable)
- Landing Page Performance
- Blog Performance
- Keyword Ranking Performance
- Insights, Next Steps, and Recommendations
What should I know when it comes to organic keyword research?
The power of organic keyword research lies in how well you know your target market and how they are searching for your brand. Put yourself in the mind of the searcher. What specific words are they using? What questions do they ask? What device are they using for the majority of searches? Are you seeing any trends?
After you know who the target audience is, it’s time to dive into your research. Start discovering specific long-tail and short-tail keywords and how they are being used in content. Understand how often those specific terms are used in search to make sure there is enough search volume to make an impact. Then you can start strategizing and categorizing your keyword research to implement on your site, within your content.
What can SEO do for me tomorrow, next week, or next month?
In short, SEO puts your brand on the map. Remembering that SEO is a long term investment and it doesn’t happen overnight is key. When it comes to organic digital marketing tactics, you might not think you need it, but there are many benefits that prove you should. Organic search is most often the primary source of website traffic. This type of search is a huge factor when it comes to visibility, making it a critical component of the buyer funnel and ultimately encouraging users to engage or convert. Incorporating SEO into your marketing strategy not only helps organically, but it also helps other efforts included in your digital marketing gameplan. If you’re still not convinced, there are more benefits that support the organic efforts:
- Increase in Site Visibility
- Improve User Experience
- Better Rankings in Search
- Increase in Overall Website Traffic, Engagement, and Conversions
- Increase Brand Credibility
- Dominate the Audience Discovery Phase
SEO can and will make a noticeable impact as a long term strategy. As the market evolves, so should your SEO tactics. The more time, effort, and budget you put into your SEO strategy, the longer your site will be a worthy contender in the industry. Even though SEO efforts can’t be calculated in the same way PPC is calculated, it is still a quantifiable initiative. With the right analytics in place, any skilled SEO expert can piece the puzzle together and understand the connection between actions taken, performance, and growth.
SEO is an important member of the digital marketing team! If you’re looking for an SEO partner, IMI offers services for just that. Learn more about what we can do for your brand today.