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What is SEO? An A-Z Guide To SEO in 2021

  • SEO
What is SEO

Last Updated on March 27, 2021 by Muhammad Junaid Khalid

In this comprehensive beginner’s guide to SEO, you will learn:

  • What is SEO?
  • What does SEO stand for in business?
  • What is SEO in digital marketing?
  • What is an SEO-optimized website?
  • Why SEO is important?
  • How do search engines work?
  • How SEO works?
  • Types of SEO (On-page, Off-page and Technical SEO)
  • Keyword Research and its importance
  • High-quality SEO content creation
  • Link Building and its importance
  • White hat, black hat, and grey hat SEO
  • How to create an effective SEO strategy for your website
  • Necessary SEO tools
  • Can you learn SEO online
  • Latest SEO techniques that could be useful in 2021

Let’s dive into my interesting and insightful SEO for beginner guide that covers all the aspects of SEO!

Introduction

Understanding SEO

Covid-19 has made it clear to the organizations that digital marketing cannot be ignored at all for the survival of any organization/brand. Conventional marketing could be one of the promising factors in the past to increase brand promotion and awareness but that’s not sufficient enough in this digital era where everything is available to the customers in just a few clicks.

So what should be done differently to cope up in this cutthroat environment? Focus on digital marketing – and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the prime tools of digital marketing to keep your products on top of the searches on renowned search engines.

Normally, a person gets attracted to those products first which he sees at the front or to which he has comparatively easier access. The same formula is applied for SEO that visitors click on the initial 4-5 links of the first page of Google and their query gets catered within those few clicks.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO definition

As you understand the concept behind SEO, you also want to know what does SEO means. Here is the exact definition:

Definition: SEO is one of the digital marketing channels to enhance your business in terms of increasing the quality and quantity of the visitors/traffic on your website through organic (non-paid) search engine results.

It is also considered to be one of the digital marketing tactics to stay up to date to remain competitive among the competitors.

In short, SEO optimization helps to increase the exposure and ranking of the company’s website on different search engines against certain keywords that are related to your business to generate traffic and more leads conversion which, in turn, leads to maximum company revenue.

Once search optimization sets up correctly, it brings fruitful results for the company for a longer duration. There are three key terms used in the above paragraph which need your attention to understand SEO more deeply:

Traffic Quality: What if your company deals in selling different computer accessories but the visitors which are visiting your website have completely different buying requirements?

For instance, they are looking for undergarments. Do you think such visitors are of any benefit to your website? Certainly not! This is where SEO can help you by bringing more relevant visitors to your website who are solely interested in your products or services.

Traffic Quantity: The right visitor traffic should come to your website and once it gets clicked with successful implementation, more and more traffic is better for the company to generate more leads and maximize revenue.

Organic: Organic traffic means that you don’t have to pay anything for generating traffic on your website. You need to properly do Google SEO or Bing SEO (two major search engines) in order to get organic traffic.

What is SEO in digital marketing?

Search engine optimization or SEO marketing (as SEO is a part of digital marketing, so it is also called SEO marketing) is a type or you can say a subset of digital marketing. Its purpose is to bring more traffic in the form of customers to the website by ranking the website on the first page of the search engine.

What does SEO stand for in business?

How can a business/brand be on the top of the first page on Google? Your answer and the ultimate solution for any brand is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If your business website is not on the first page of search engines, Sorry. Forget about any sales as more than 75% of the visitors don’t bother to go to the second page of the search results.

What is an SEO optimized website?

An SEO optimized website is one which has:

  • User-friendly design
  • No search engine crawling and indexing errors or other common technical errors.
  • Fast loading speed
  • An SSL security certificate installed
  • Proper keyword research before writing the content
  • Keywords distributed evenly in a page or post.
  • Optimized Images with alt tags and title tags.
  • Proper internal linking
  • Links to authority websites (Backlinking)
Hierarchy of main SEO factors according to their importance
Hierarchy of main SEO factors according to their importance. From top to bottom, the weightage of the factors increases

How do search engines work?

When you type a query in the search engine, the search engine crawler starts gathering information related to your search query on the internet. The crawler brings all the gathered website’s data back to the search engine and builds an index. The index is then fed to various search algorithms that test the gathered data on various factors (main factors are mentioned in the answer to the above question “What is an SEO-optimized website”).

How SEO works?

I am sure now you are well aware of SEO meaning, let move towards how SEO works. Search engine optimization works by optimizing a website in such a way that it fulfills the search engine algorithm criteria to rank on the first page. It is a set of some basic repeatable processes as shown in the diagram below:

How SEO works
How SEO works

Why SEO is important?

SEO is important because:

SEO is all about ranking your website or webpage on the first page for specific keywords. When your content ranks on the first page of search engines like Google or Bing, it gets attention and acquires a greater number of clicks than the content that is ranked lower.

According to Smart Insights, almost 30% of the clicks go to the search results in Position One on the SERP while the content on Position Three gets 12% of the total clicks. The sites at positions nine and ten only receive about 2% of the clicks.

More than 75% of the users visit the first page of search engines and among these 75 percent of the users, the majority are more likely to click on one of the top 5 suggestions in the search engine results pages.

So, it is obvious that if you want to get maximum clicks or visitors to your website, it needs to appear in one of the top positions. And to achieve top positions in search results, you need to do SEO.

By the way, you can also generate traffic to your website without SEO through paid advertising (PPC) but that is too costly as you need to continuously spend funds to drive traffic to your site.

On the other hand, search engine optimization (SEO), when properly done, can generate a continuous flow of traffic that will increase over time.

Types of SEO

SEO has a vast impact on digital marketing and has various types to bring down the whole complex structure into smaller processes for managing it more easily. We will discuss the three most important types of SEO:

On-page SEO

This is the most common SEO strategy where the main focus is to improve the website interface to make it user-friendly for visitors. It simply includes all the things that your visitors want to see in front of when they visit your website.

It’s simply the art of crafting or optimizing your website in such a way that it answers visitors’ questions instantly. This is only possible when you have highly optimized content on each page as well as usage of high-ranked keywords that are being used frequently by your target audience.

Among many On-page SEO factors, website navigation is one of the important factors when it comes to on-page SEO because if the visitor does not get the required information easily then there is a high chance that he will leave the website and move to your competitor’s website.

In short, the website design should be user-friendly so that a visitor can have the maximum information in a shorter period.

Other than that, keyword placement also plays a pivotal role to bring interest in visitors to keep clicking on different links which increases the chances of more leads and revenue generation. These high-ranked keywords can be incorporated in main headings, URLs, the first paragraph, or even in subheadings.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO includes all the activities which are being done outside the website to improve its linking and search engine ranking. It involves connecting links from other trusted, authentic websites so that your website gets a higher ranking and credibility.

It further helps your website to improve its position in different search results. But at the same time, this off-page SEO is not restricted to just link building and ranking but it goes way beyond that if you want to gain a competitive advantage.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO includes all the activities which help the bot to successfully crawl and index the website by different search engines to improve infrastructure.

Some researchers consider this type of SEO under the category of on-page optimization however it is having its importance in the successful implementation of an SEO campaign for any company.

It is very essential to have all the technical aspects optimized too because no matter how catchy your website is if it is not technically optimized then it’s of no use.

One of the main technical aspects is loading speed which can enhance visitor’s experience. People don’t have much time to wait for a website to get loaded when they visit your page. When your website is technically optimized with good speed then people would love to surf more and visit the web again for any other requirement.

Other than that, since people have started looking for the desired products over their mobiles so you must have the interface available which can give an attractive look to the visitors with all the required information when they open the website via phone. This is only possible when you have worked on the technical aspects to help it run completely hassle-free.

Important On-Page, Off-Page, and Technical SEO Factors

Important on-page, off-page and technical seo factors

Keyword Research and Its Importance

After understanding SEO and its importance in detail, it is essential to know the usage of the right keywords to attract more traffic and leads generation.

But, what type of keywords are required to generate traffic? That is what I will be discussing in this part.  

First of all, what does the term “keyword research” mean?

It is the process of identifying words, queries, or phrases that the audience uses frequently for their searches on search engines.

Keyword selection

To have a better selection of the keywords, the most important thing is to understand the website’s target audience and have a fair idea of what keywords they often use for searching your content, product, or services. Only then, you will be able to place such keywords in main headings or URLs to have more visibility of your website over different search engines.

In short, the right keywords could get your website in front of the right audience.

Keyword selection is considered to be the foundation of SEO. The better the keywords are, the better results you achieve through SEO implementation. You need to focus on two things while selecting keywords:

Keyword difficulty

Keyword Difficulty (KD) means how much difficult the keyword is to rank on the search engine. In many SEO tools, it has a scale from 0-100%. Usually, keywords with KD greater than 60% are difficult to rank while it will be easier to rank as the KD goes down below 60%. Because of extreme competition, many keywords increase in difficulty.

Keyword volume

Keyword Volume suggests the number of searches on a particular keyword. The volume is for a specific time range. You could also find keyword volume by using a proper SEO tool.

Before selecting keywords, you need to question yourself on the following things:

  • What type of keywords is being used by the visitors to search your blog’s topic or products on search engines?
  • How many people are searching for specific keywords?
  • What is the difficulty score of your selected keywords?
  • Location of your target audience

Along with this, you can also excel in your keyword research by looking at which keywords your competitors are getting traffic over their websites. Once you have the bank of such keywords in your hands, the right SEO implementation will give a competitive edge to you.

Believe me or not, but, you must have an SEO tool to do keyword research. Without an SEO tool, you will be nowhere in the competition with your potential competitors who are using costly SEO tools to boost their rankings. At the end of this article, I have listed some SEO tools. You must have one of these tools to carry out all the SEO of your blog/website.

High-Quality SEO Content Creation

Without having the right and quality content, it is impossible to attain the desired page ranking on different search engines. Therefore, it is essential to have quality content to get maximum attention from the target audience.

SEO content includes writing the best content and structuring it in such a way that the audience grabs the maximum information in a lesser amount of time. It’s all about how you keep your audience engaged and happy through this SEO content.

No matter how good looking your website interface is, if it does not have the right SEO content under different headings then you can never get the right target market.

Link Building

Creating links is one of the fundamentals of SEO success which increases your authority and giving your website a symbol of an authentic or trusted source of information.

The main goal of having this link building is to have maximum visibility on different search engines. The person cannot ignore link building keeping in mind that link building itself is a time taking and complex process.

However, it has significant importance in SEO when rightly implemented. Following are a few of the reasons why link building is important for SEO:

  • High ranking on different search engines
  • Increased credibility and trustworthiness
  • Search engines find new pages on your website faster

The external links that connect to your website must be of good quality. The reason being is when search engines crawl pages on the web, they extract the content and keep it in their indexes. They do not just look at the content but also consider the count and quality of the external links as an important ranking factor.

White Hat, Black Hat and Gray Hat SEO

What is White Hat SEO?

White hat SEO practices mean following the SEO guidelines given by search engines. These are legal or you can say fair SEO practices.

What is Gray Hat SEO?

Gray hat SEO practices are neither white hat nor black hat but in the middle. These are the practices for which search engines have no proper guidelines. These are not “bad” practices like the black hats. You may be or may not be penalized for using these tactics.

In my experience, using gray hat SEO techniques in moderation along with white hat yields the best results. In fact, all the SEO gurus around the world are using gray hat SEO techniques and they admit this fact too.

Neil Patel, a renowned SEO expert, founder, and CEO at neilpatel.com admits to using risky SEO practices (gray hat) in his article “12 Risky SEO Tactics That Might Work”:

neil patel

What is Black Hat SEO?

Black hat SEO practices are banned practices or using unfair means to get search engine rankings. No doubt, these tactics can instantly increase the search rankings but in long term could be disastrous for your online business.

Moreover, these techniques clearly go against the search engine’s SEO guidelines. If search engines caught you using black hat SEO tactics, they would penalize or even ban your website. Avoid these practices at any cost.

white hat, black hat, and gray hat seo best explained
White hat, black hat, and gray hat SEO best explained

Some common white, gray and black hat SEO practices you should know about

white hat, black hat, and gray hat seo practices

How to create an effective SEO strategy?

Most people think that SEO is a series of complex processes. They often drowned in the sea of information about SEO that is available on the web. According to Mathew Woodward, a British blogger, and an SEO expert:

“SEO is nothing but a set of a few repeatable steps or processes”

And that’s absolutely true. All you need to know is to design these steps and then apply them repeatedly. But keep in mind that SEO is not free. You need to spend a sufficient amount of money on SEO tools or to hire an SEO specialist.

Here is my seven-step SEO strategy checklist that I am using for this blog. These are the SEO basics or you can say SEO fundamentals:

  1. Optimize for technical SEO. Make sure that search engines can fully crawl your website.
  2. Create a list of keywords by using keywords research tools.
  3. Create content based on these keywords (The content must be different and provide value to the reader).
  4. Optimize for on-page SEO.
  5. Build links to authority websites (Backlinking) and remove toxic backlinks with the help of SEO tools listed below.
  6. Improve and update old content.

Can you learn SEO online?

Here are some excellent resources where you can learn all aspects of SEO free of cost:

  1. SEMrush Academy (Free certificate included)
  2. Hubspot SEO Courses (Free certificate included)
  3. MOZ SEO
  4. Yoast SEO training

SEO tool is a must:

As I mentioned above, SEO is not for free. Everything has a price. In my seven-year journey of learning blogging by myself, I have learned the bitter truth that blogging and SEO are not free.

You need to have some tools to effectively perform website SEO. Otherwise, your website will be nowhere near the first page of SERPs.

Just think yourself. Without spending on SEO, how can you compete with the competitors who are using premium/paid SEO tools and spending thousands of dollars on SEO?

Well, you can still do manual SEO without using tools, but the results of manual SEO have no competition with the results of SEO tools. Also, you need a lot of time for doing SEO without tools but I can assure you that the results will always disappoint you.

SEO tools

Following are some of the best SEO tools in the market:

  • SEMrush
  • Ahrefs
  • MOZ SEO
  • Majestic SEO
  • Google Keyword Planner (The only free tool in the list but it is not a complete SEO tool. You can use it for keyword research only with limitations)

Among these tools, I highly recommend SEMrush or Ahrefs. I personally use SEMrush for my blog. It is an all-in-one SEO tool that can perform complete website technical and On-page SEO audit, keyword, and backlink research. You can also grab your competitor’s keywords and backlink data.

But one feature that I like the most about SEMrush is that it can generate trending topics for your blog niche!

You can sign up for their 7-day free trial. Grab this free trial and use this tool to create a list of keywords, create a list of your competitor’s keywords and backlinks and generate content ideas.

This 7-day free trial is enough to collect data for your blog for the coming two months. Once your blog becomes established, you should go for its Guru or Pro plan as this tool is the backbone of any blog.

After signing up for their free trial, I highly recommend first get to know about using this tool effectively. First, take their SEMrush SEO toolkit course to learn about using this tool and then start using it to get the maximum advantage.

Latest SEO tricks that could be useful in 2021

How about if I would say that you can double the traffic by using the latest SEO techniques? Yes, you heard it right! There are some techniques that can help you attain an instant boost in traffic and visibility in the search results. In fact, combining these techniques with the above SEO strategy will give you extraordinary results:

  • Use Mobile-first themes for your website or blog.
  • Use keywords in URLs.
  • Grab competitor’s keywords and use them to create articles.
  • Use beautiful infographics in the blog posts.
  • Use Rich Snippets.

Conclusion

I hope you have learned something different and gain value from this SEO guide. I have tried to build a bridge over the bridge. There is a lot to learn about SEO. Google algorithms are updating continuously and there are always new SEO factors born from these updates.

Don’t get confused. The pillar factors in SEO will stay consistent and will remain the backbone of SEO forever and those pillar or basic factors are:

  • Simple and user-friendly website/blog design
  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimization & removing common technical errors
  • Building authority by Backlinking

Start your SEO war with these four weapons and once you publish some quality content, move towards the advanced SEO tactics one by one. Don’t try to apply all the advanced tactics at once. This will make things messy for you!

Note: Does this article provide the info you’re looking for? Is there any information you think of missing or incorrect? You can give your opinion in the comments section below.

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