What is SEO – A Guide to Understanding SEO

by a Philadelphia SEO Agency

If you are looking to learn more about what is SEO, then this blog post is designed for you! This post is about teaching you the best SEO practices to use when creating your website.  Following these best practices will make it much easier for Google to spider, understand, rank, and index your website’s content.

At IQnection, we do not believe that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about making small modifications to parts of your website. Rather, we believe that it is about making your site perfect for your users as possible. We focus on USER INTENT, and always put the user experience first. In doing so, we also follow a series of best practices, which we feel ultimately also put the user experience first.

If you have an existing website, many of these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but, when viewed as part of the bigger picture you will see that all of these changes work together to make the overall user experience better. Additionally, these SEO changes will almost certainly mean that your website will have a noticeable improvement in Google’s organic search results.

FOCUS ON MAKING YOUR WEBSITE BETTER FOR YOU USERS

You should build a website the focuses on maximizing the benefit provided to your users. All of your website optimization efforts should be focused on making the user experience better.

Website Users and SEO from Google want the same thing.

There are many kinds of users who will visit your website, and you need to constantly be asking yourself questions about each of their experiences. Keep in mind that one of the most important users to your website is a search engine. Search engines are critical because they will help human users discover your website, and also your content.

What is SEO? It is the practice of helping the Google search engine understand and present the content of your website to your audience.

SECTION ONE
What Is SEO - The Basics

STEP ONE: How to Get a Website on Google?

In the past it used to be important to submit your website to various search engines. However, in recent years, Google has become much more sophisticated so that you no longer need to let it know that your website exists. Google is a fully automated search engine. This means that it does not require human beings to submit a website for inclusion in its index anymore. It is constantly looking for sites to add to its index.

There are times when you will want to let Google know that something has changed on your website.  In these cases, there are tools like Google Search Console, which will give you the ability to submit your content to Google. However, this is mostly used to let Google know that you have updated your content and you would like them to come back and re-index your website.

How to let Google know you have updated your website.

The best way to notify Google that you have updated your website is to submit an XML sitemap to them. An XML sitemap is a file that you keep on your website that tells search engines about new or changed pages. Here are links to IQnection’s sitemaps.

  • https://www.iqnection.com/sitemap.xml/sitemap/SiteTree/1
  • https://www.iqnection.com/blog/post-sitemap.xml
How to tell Google not to index parts of your website

Another special file that should be part of every website is a "robots.txt" file. This file tells the search engines which pages they should index and which pages should ignore. This file, which must be named "robots.txt", is it will always be placed in the root directory of your site. Here is IQnection’s robots.txt file

  •  https://iqnection.com/robots.txt

When considering the SEO of your website, it is important to let Google know which parts of your site are off-limits. This could be anything, but typically include…

  • Member area content
  • Software installation files
  • Search result pages
  • Calendars, or other recursive content
  • Server log files or other automatically generated content

For optimal SEO indexing, you should allow Google to access the JavaScript, CSS, and image files used by your website. If you exclude these directories from crawling in your robots.txt, then Google will not render your website as a user will see it, and this will harm their ability to index your content.

Help your users understand your content

When Google visits your website, you should let it see the website just as a human user would see it. A great tool to help you with this is Google’s own URL Inspection tool. This tool is found in Google’s search console. Here is IQnection’s, however you won’t’ be able to access our page, but this will take you to yours if you have an account setup.

In your website’s sources code, there are a number of things that you can do to help both people and Google understand your content. Here are a few places to look;

TITLE TAG

A <title> tag tells both human users and Google what the topic of a page is. The <title> tag should be placed within the <head> element of the HTML. It is important that you create a unique title for each page of your website. Please do not copy and paste the same title from one page to the next.

RICH SNIPPETS

By creating good titles, your title has an opportunity to show up in the search results box of Rich Snippets. When creating a title tag, we suggest that you accurately describe the page's content. Choose a title that reads naturally, as human beings will see your title in the search engines. We also recommend that you use brief, but descriptive titles.

DESCRIPTION TAG

The purpose of a description tag is twofold. First, it gives Google a brief summary of what the page is about. Second, the description tag will show up in Google’s SERP results page, and therefore it needs to be human-readable and written in a way that encourages someone to visit your website.

Description meta tags should be a sentence or two, or even a short paragraph. Just like the <title> tag, the description meta tag is placed within the <head> element of your HTML document.

We also recommend that you have a unique description tag for each page of your website. Doing so helps both human users and Google know what your page is about.

<H1>Use heading tags</H1>

The importance of using heading tags in your website content cannot be understated. It is a critical SEO practice. We recommend that you use meaningful headings to indicate important topics. We also recommend that your heading tags include your SEO Keywords in them, so long as your website’s content actually matches your SEO keywords.

Structured Data Markup

Structured data is code that you should add to your website’s pages that describe your content. Search engines will use this data to better understand what is on your pages. One of the main benefits of using this data is that Google can use this data to display your content in a useful way within its search results.

In addition to using structured data markup for rich results, you can use it to serve relevant results in other formats. For instance, if you've got a brick-and-mortar store, marking up the opening hours allows your potential customers to find you exactly when they need you, and inform them if your store is open/closed at the time of searching.

You can use this data for things like:

  • Your business hours
  • Business location
  • Videos about your products or business
  • Products that you are selling
  • Event listings
  • Your company logo
  • and many more!

Here is a listing of the types of structured data that you can include in your website’s content.

Once you have marked up your content, you can use this tool to see what Google sees. Using this tool will make sure that you have not made any mistakes in your code, or in your markup.

By implementing structured data on your pages, it also makes the pages eligible for being displayed differently in the Google search results.

  •  including review stars
  • fancy decorated results
  • and many more!

SECTION TWO
What is SEO & Your Site's Navigation

How Google looks at your URL’s

Google needs a unique URL for every piece of content that you want it to be able to crawl, or index.

In many of the common web programming languages, it is very possible to make websites that do not need to change url’s in order for new content to load. This is a big no-no for Google and for your SEO. Google relies on a unique URL in order to organize its data.

Let’s take a look at website URL’s.
protocol:// hostname . domain. TLD /path / filename ? querystring # fragment

For example:

It is recommended that you use https:// for your protocol. This is favored by Google, and also is the most secure.

Also, know that your hostname (the www part), is unique from the non-www hostname. Google differentiates between "www" and the "non-www" version of your website. Using the www has become a common convention in URL structure. However, programmatically speaking, the www version can be pointed at its own unique website, which could be different from the non-www version. Therefore, Google treats each URL separately. Therefore, when adding your website to Google’s Search Console, we recommend adding both http:// and https:// versions, as well as the "www" and "non-www" versions.

When referring to the homepage, a trailing slash after the hostname is optional since it leads to the same content ("https://example.com/" is the same as "https://example.com").

Keep in mind that from Google’s standpoint, a trailing slash at the end of a URL denotes a folder (directory) and not a filename. "https://iqnection.com.com/blog" is not the same as "https://iqnection.com/blog/" to Google.

Folder structures are important to Google

The navigation of a website is important to your users as it is to Google. Your website’s navigation helps Google understand the hierarchy of your website and signals which pages are the most important.

Similarly, the folder structure of your website signal to Google which pages are the most important. All sites have a home page, which exists in the root directory of your website. This page is usually the most frequented page on the site and the main landing page for visitors. It is the starting place of navigation and for your SEO.

You should think through how your visitors will traverse your website, starting at your homepage to find the sub-pages and content that they are looking for. Vice-versa, you should think through how your visitors can get from internal pages, back up to category pages, and all the way back to your homepage.

We recommend that your underlying file and folder directory structure matches your website’s navigation structure. This way, your URL structure will signal to Google which pages are part of which hierarchy.

Additionally, another strong signal for Google as to which pages are the most important is the use of the structure data breadcrumbs.

A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of every page on your website that allows visitors to quickly navigate backward in your site’s structure to a previous category or homepage. Additionally, we recommend that you keep the maximum depth of your website to no more than 4 levels deep. Or, another way of saying that, no more than 4 clicks from the homepage.

<ol>
  <li>
    <a href="http://www.example.com/books">Books</a>
  </li>
  <li>
    <a href="http://www.example.com/books/sciencefiction">Science Fiction</a>
  </li>
  <li>
    Award Winners
  </li>
  </ol>
  <ol>
    <li>
      <a href="http://www.example.com/literature">Literature</a>
    </li>
  <li>
    Award Winners
  </li>
</ol>
Simple URLs convey content information

We recommend using a descriptive category (folder) names and filenames. This should be done for the pages on your site, as well as the images and attached PDF or document files. Keep in mind that URL’s are displayed in Google’s search results and therefore should be as human-readable as possible.

Use a directory (folder) structure that organizes your content and makes it easy for both humans and Google to know where they're at on your site simply by looking at your URL. We recommend that you use your site’s directory structure to indicate the type of content that can be found. For instance, https://www.IQnection.com/blog/ tells users that they will be looking at blog related content and not our /about-us/ section.

The easier you make things for Google, the less likely that there will be mistakes. Google is quite sophisticated but will give nicely structured websites an advantage in its index.

SECTION III
What is SEO & How Google Looks At Your Content

The most important part of the SEO practice is creating compelling and useful content. No other activity will influence your rank and placement in Google’s index. One of the most fascinating parts of Google is that it uses human users to determine whether you have good content or not. Humans know good content when they see it.

Google makes this decision in several ways. First, many websites have Google Analytics installed in them. Google will use this data to see which pages are being visited. GA also shows how long people stay on pages, if they bounce if those pages lead visitors to other pages or even to filling in forms. This is a powerful signal to Google whether or not a website has good content. This cannot be faked.

The other way that Google knows which sites have good content is whether or not other websites link to them or not. This could be through blog posts, social media services, email, forums, or other means. Good content acquires links, and links are a powerful signal for the quality of your content.

SEO is About Obsessing Over What Your Visitors Want

In order to understand what SEO is, it is important to remember that the purpose of most websites is to convince a prospect to buy your products or services. However, that usually not your user’s intent. For much of the person’s buying process, their intent is to find the best products or services. They are in a research and decision-making mode. They are not in the buying mode until they reach the end of that process. In fact, your potential customers do not even make contact with you until they are at least 57% of the way through their buying process.

Think through the process that your customers may take when researching and selecting a vendor. What words will they use in Google? What questions will they have? Now, try to create content that addresses each question that they will have. Try to make your website content deliver what your user’s search intent is.

Also, consider creating new content for your users on a regular basis. Not only is it good for your users, but Google also keeps track of how often you update your website’s content. This is another powerful indicator. How fresh your content is signals Google that you care about your website and that you continue to invest in it.

We have had tremendous success by creating content for our clients that nobody else has. Simple things like conversion charts for industry-specific metrics are like candy to your customers. Google will take notice and rank you accordingly. One of the most successful pieces of content that we have created for a client was a “Stud to Nut Bolt Conversion Chart”. This content was uniquely useful to a very specific audience, and therefore our customer's site, which was the only site with one, because very popular.

Worry about your users more than Google

When we discuss Search Engine Optimization, we really are talking about optimizing your content for all your website’s users. Not just Google. Create a website around your visitors' needs, while at the same time making sure that you follow the best practices outlined in this document, you will certainly see positive results.

 

If you are an expert in something, make that clear!

If you assert your expertise & thought leadership on your website, you will be increasing its quality. And, as we discussed earlier, increasing the quality will improve your rankings. Whenever possible, be sure that the content on your website is created by people with expertise in the topic.

When using an SEO agency, you should still be the architect for the content on your website. Let them be the editor.

Length & Quality Matter to Google.

Creating high-quality content takes a significant amount of time, effort, and expertise. Google values thorough content that completely covers a topic. Remember, there is only be one website that ranks in the top stop for any keyword term. This means that you need to be the BEST WEBSITE IN THE WORLD to hold that position. The size of your business doesn’t matter. What matters is that your content is the very best.

Your website’s content should be accurate, detailed, and clearly written. Try to make it as comprehensive as possible, especially when you are writing content that is designed to answer a user’s question.

Also, Google’s index has been trending towards longer and longer content pages appearing in the first position. It is relatively common for Google to favor sites that have content pages that are over 2000 words. This is a lot of content, and it means that you have to be able to explore each subject in a thorough and immersive way.

One example of this is recipe websites. You have probably noticed that when you are looking for a recipe on Google, the pages that rank well don’t just show a list of ingredients and cooking times. Rather, these pages have lengthy content that is well written. Contain descriptions of the dish, great photography, and detailed instructions about how to prepare the dish and other side dishes that would complement it will. Take note of this trend, and try to apply the same concepts to your own website’s content.

What is your content is thin?  Here is a great video from Google themselves about sites that have too little content in areas of their website and how it will affect their ranking.

Hyperlinks Too & From Your Website.

When you decide to use a link on your website, it is important to make the text readable to Google. Don’t just say “Click Here”. Rather, write a description of what the user is likely to find when they click on that link. Having a descriptive link tells users and Google something about the page you're linking to.

There are many different kinds of links that you can use on your website. Some types of links lead users from one page of your site to the next. These include navigation links and in-line content links. Another kind of link leads users off of your website to other websites. These are called external links. In either case the better your linking text is, the easier it will be for both human users and for Google to understand what the page your linking to is about.

This is very important in SEO, as generally pages with the most links are the most important pages on a website. It is another powerful signal that Google uses when ranking your website in its index. We recommend that you choose descriptive anchor text, which provides a basic idea of what the page linked to is about.

It is also important that links are formatted in a way that distinguishes them from the other types of text that you have on the page. Your content isn’t useful to a user if they accidentally click on one of your links. This would actually hurt your ranking as that page would show significantly less user engagement and a high bounce rate. Therefore, Google would most likely drop that page down in its index.

When you link to another website, you will be conferring some of your site's reputation to them. Sometimes users can take advantage of this by adding links to their own site in your comment sections or message boards.

This is a very important concept, because if you can get other people to link to your content, then they will be conferring some positive reputation to your website. This, over time and with enough positive links, will yield your website moving up in Google index.

If you want to place a link on your site, without passing them any of your site’s reputation, you can use the “nofollow" attribute in your link tag. For instance, you may want to enforce this if you allow public comments on blog posts. If you're interested in no-following all of the links on a page in your site, you can add the tag <meta name="robots" content="nofollow"> inside the <head> tag for the page. This is an ideal tactic for forums or blogs when you do not necessarily control what other users will post links too.

<a href="http://www.example.com" rel="nofollow">Anchor text here</a>

Optimize Your Images

HTML markup will help Google find and process your images. By using the <picture> element you can also specify multiple options for different screen sizes for responsive images. You might also use the loading="lazy" attribute on images to make your page load faster for your users. For information about how to use this, we recommend this article from Mozilla.

When embedding an image into your website, it is important to use the ALT tag and also to use a descriptive filename for every image. Google is not yet sophisticated enough that it can interpret images and know what they are, so these two attributes are essential in telling Google what is in the images.

Another good reason to use the ALT tag is to assist people who are using screen readers or other assistive technologies. This is helpful, for instance, if someone has a vision impairment and they want to know what is in the picture that is being displayed.

If you are using the image as a hyperlink, then the alt text for that image will be treated similarly to the anchor text of a text link.

However, from a Google perspective, text links are superior to image links. As
Lastly, optimizing your image filenames and alt text makes it much easier for Google to index your images in the Google Image Search. This can be a fantastic source of traffic for a website if utilized correctly. You can also create an image sitemap which can help Google quickly find information about all of the images found on your website. If you sell images, this could be a fantastic way to get your images into Google’s index quickly and accurately. The structure of this file is similar to the XML sitemap file which we discussed earlier.

Make your site mobile-friendly

Depending on your industry, you may find that the majority of your website’s visitors are searching for viewing your website on a mobile device. As a result, it is now critical to have a mobile version of your website rendered when both human users and Google visits your website.

In fact, starting in late 2016, Google began the process of switching it’s index over to a “Mobile First” index. This means that sites are being ranked by their mobile presence first, rather than how they would render on a desktop.
There are multiple ways of making your website mobile-friendly, and Google supports many different implementations. However, the most recommended method is to use “Responsive Web Design” when constructing your website.

We recommend that you check your website using the following two tools provided by Google.

If your site serves lots of static content (like blog posts or product landing pages) we recommend that you implement AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). AMP is a slightly modified version of HTML that ensures your site will render quickly and be mobile friendly.

SECTION IV
Analyze Your Site's Performance

Analyze your search performance and user behavior

Google provides an amazing assortment of free tools for webmasters to use in order to help them analyze their performance in their search engine. We have referenced several great tools already in this document. However, the most popular tool is the Google Search Console.

Search Console provides two categories of information:

  1. Can Google find my content?
  2. How am I performing in Google Search results?

Using "Search Console" will help you find and address issues that may be impacting your website’s ability to rank. Cleaning up issues can help your site perform better in search results.

With the service, webmasters can:

  • See which parts of a site Googlebot had problems crawling
  • Test and submit sitemaps
  • Analyze or generate robots.txt files
  • Remove URLs already crawled by Googlebot
  • Specify your preferred domain
  • Identify issues with title and description meta tags
  • Understand the top searches used to reach a site
  • Get a glimpse at how Googlebot sees pages
  • Receive notifications of quality guidelines violations and request a site reconsideration

Google is by far the biggest and most widely used search engine. However, Microsoft has a similar set of tools that can be found here.