SEO is very subjective and it will only get more subjective with time. There was a time when search engines did not have any competition whatsoever. Since social media became mainstream, the scope of search engines not only declined but it started getting misunderstood.
This post is for those who’ve just discovered SEO and want to get things right from a fundamentals standpoint. Also, if you’ve been trying SEO but not getting results, probably you’re preaching the wrong practices or misunderstood the practice itself. This guide is all about everything you should know about search engines & SEO before even starting to learn more about it.
This simplified SEO guide is optimized, word-by-word for beginners with no technical jargon. You can always look up this guide to remind yourself of the fundamentals & refer anyone who is getting started with an online business to get the fundamentals right. See this post as an outline of the whole concept of SEO. I’ll ensure you don don’t get overwhelmed with the information shared in this post.
With that said, let’s dive in.
Setting the fundamentals right
SEO is a sustainable way of promoting a business online. When I say sustainable I mean evergreen, slow in the beginning but fruitful later.
When you say you’re optimizing a page to be discoverable on search engines, you’re actually fulfilling what the end-users of search engines are looking for.
Take Google, for example, Google’s mission is to organize world information – simple three words but excruciatingly difficult to keep up to. Just for the context, there are over 5.5 billion searches any day across the globe and millions of search results each time, the number of pages Google has crawled so far is beyond imagination.
To facilitate this, the system has to be capable enough to first find what to serve in the search results, then ‘organize’ it in a way that when requested, information is found easily and lastly, upon request from the end-user (search), rank the relevant pages in the most efficient way.
I remember reading somewhere that Google’s relevancy score (to the search query) is around 37%, unfortunately, I can’t find that document to cite here.
The only thing that differentiates Google from other search engines is the relevancy of the search results to the search query.
For instance, If you’re searching for a “keto diet”, you sure, don’t want to find results talking about “Intermittent fasting”. Would you?
“SEO is not a pack of best practices to enable your pages to rank higher on search engines, but it’s of a more a higher-order thinking that matches with the end user’s intent and relevantly creating content around it”
That’s the fundamental thing you should set right from the beginning. Don’t treat SEO as a practice to rank higher, treat SEO as a way of thinking to match end users’ thinking.
What to expect from search engines?
Search engines are getting extremely smarter day by day. If I speak for Google, the search algorithm is being updated at least twice a day. Each tweak is making the algorithm more and more user-centric.
I remember the days when there was nothing called featured snippets and SERPs was an amazing place to be. Even though I didn’t have too many articles ranking, I was loving that phase of the search engine’s evolution. The whole idea of featured snippets is to provide the crux of the information right on the SERPs so that the end-users of Google do not have to find that specific piece of information throughout the page. This has resulted in a dip in traffic and publishers weren’t too happy about this.
It’s not that featured snippets are bad, but it sure is taking away a pinch of traffic from the pages that are ranking for featured snippets. On the other side, featured snippets are on the declining side.
The point I’m trying to make is featured snippets are the classic example of how user-centric Google is getting with each day passing. There are several such features that clearly indicate this intention of Google and they’ve been very vocal about user experience.
Google will do anything and everything in its power to give the best UX to its users and it’s only going to make SEO even more subjective and many more factors will come into play. This will happen at the cost of assuming that the content that publishers are creating “aren’t” perfect for their users, so they give their own touch to give a better UX, in terms of relevant results.
I shared a post on Linkedin talking about how “unknowingly” search engines have divided our attention, and are ruling us.
Google is preaching UX for its algorithm and search engine on the whole, but I don’t see a lot of content educating publishers about UX.
I’m not against the concept of backlinks, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s the #1 ranking factor. I think it’s merely a distraction created to keep publishers busy chasing backlinks while the real essence of SEO continues to lie in creating an amazing UX.
I call UX an unofficial #1 ranking factor for a reason.
To answer the question, the only thing to expect from Google would be to be more stringent towards publishers and hence what shows up on the top of the SERPs.
The future of SEO, is social media a threat to search engines?
As far as I can see, the search engines will dominate the online business industry again. It’s being shadowed by social media, but just that’s a fad.
Social media is getting saturated and there will be a time where the only way to look at social media will be “pay to use”, the organic reach will decline, the user’s intent while on social media will change, the aura of the social platform will change and a lot of things will influence the role of social media on an online business.
However, there are a couple of challenges that Google as a search engine will face in the future:
- Trust worthy content: More and more people are simply seeing organic search as a source of traffic and they don’t care about the UX and hence don’t refrain from engaging in shady practices to get the traffic and make money. No matter how tight a system be, there will always be loopholes & people who exploit those loopholes. E.A.T is a thing but it has a long way to go.
- The abundance of content on social media: The information & content on social media is in abundance, users don’t have to “search” on social media, there’s feed filled with interesting posts, which they consume. This is shortening the attention span of users. There is intent in users while on search engine which I’m sure Google and other search engines will capitalize, but doing that will be one of the biggest challenge in the future. The same “intent” is missing on social media.
- Privacy policies: This has nothing to do with SEO but people are getting conscious about the privacy on the web and search engines will have to adapt to it whether the owners like it or not. There will be less interest based ads on search engines, and this will directly affect the SEO industry on the whole. It will be very interesting to see how search engines responds to this situation.
You should know this because if you’re just starting out, it’s very important to know the problems search engines will face in the future so that you’re prepared to take on the world when that actually happens.
“To know the future, you have to know the past”
Getting started with SEO
If you’ve made it this far, that means you’re interested in making a career out of SEO or using it for your benefit.
Before you even think of getting into the SEO industry, I want to introduce you to a reality check. If you don’t have that knack for making someone else’s life better, you will not be good at SEO.
I’ll tell you why. The whole point of SEO marketing is to create something that the end-users of search engines are looking for. If you’re relatively new, they’re not expecting you, they wouldn’t even know you.
Technically, you’re working hard to make the lives easier of someone else’s audience (which eventually will be yours). With that said, here’s what you need to know before starting out as an SEO. These are the pre-requisites that will help you decide if you will be good at this job or not.
- Majority of online experience begin on a search engine. This means, there’s traffic on search engine that too warm traffic. People who’re most likely to convert if you nurture their search intent right. Since this is a global fact, a lot of people are a part of the rat race with little to no planning & strategy.
- Understand the core elements of SEO. Majorly, there are three known fragments of SEO. On-page, On-site & off page. On page is everything you do on the page to make that page eligible to rank on search engines. On site is on the whole site level and off page is outside your website/blog.
- Black and white hat SEO are set of practices that people incorporate to achieve SEO goals. Black hat SEO are the practices that do not comply with the guidelines (general & advanced) laid by Google. White hat SEO are the practices that comply with those guidelines. Black hat SEO is not sustainable way, sooner or later, search engines will find and blacklist your site from their index.
- Content is the king but context is the kingdom. People are so much focussed on content that they forget to think about the purpose behind creating that content. Thinking of context forces you think of the audience, the promotional strategy, the purpose and everything that’s required to create epic piece of content.
- Quality and quantity is never ending debate. But I personaly feel creating content quantity-focused will eventually help improve the quality, which will further create less content. Don’t refrain from createing content in bulk so that you know what works.
- Keywords are like motivation, and it wears off. People long for it to get things done but it’s the purpose that actually get things done. Focusing on topic is like focusing on the purpose, and not motivation. Search engines are way past the phase where it relies on keywords to consider those pages to show it to it’s users. When creating content, do a topic research rather keyword research.
- Checkout these quality rater guideliens that Google has created to educate people who’re helping Google improve as a search engine. These guidelines will help you understand what’s important for Google and what its looking for to serve its users.
Job/business opportunities in SEO Industry
SEO Industry is now worth well over $80 bn. This was estimated 3 years ago, at that time, and with the pandemic becoming a part of our lives, it has changed the numbers at least 2x. Everybody is online (well over 5 billion people are connected to the internet) and this pandemic has shown us the future. It’s digital.
Businesses were forced to shift their business efforts online or die. With this shift, people have realized that a part of their operations must happen online to survive. Furthermore, many traditional businesses also have realized that it’s very fruitful to have a business online, endless business opportunities are what’s on the internet.
With all this happening, the SEO industry from a job applicant’s point of view is a gold mine. In the US, the average salary of an SEO is $52786, which is crazy.
Even in third-world nations, the SEOs are paid well if you have that knack of befriending the search engines and optimizing pages around one common idea of great UX for Google’s users. While nations are simply logical boundaries, the internet has enabled people to work for anyone from anywhere.
I personally have worked for many clients from the west.
If you’re aspiring to work as an SEO (freelancing/full-time job) here are a few of the most important elements an SEO should master at:
- SEO Title: Although the role of a title is to convey the idea of what the page is about, just like the journals and assignments we used to create in school days. SEO title has a very significant role in the SEO of a page. If your page is ranking on the top but no one is clicking on the result, this will indicate search engines that the result doesn’t deserve to be at the top and hence your ranking will drop. However, this doesn’t mean you should have click bait titles, making it spicy is okay but don’t create misleading titles.
- Meta description: This is the description that shows on SERPs telling users what this post is about. You have upto 160 characters to convey the message to users. Use thisspace to summarize the whole post, focus on the outcome the end user will get. Mold the outcome around the search intent, again, you only have 160 characters to pack so much of information.
- The right way of keywords optimization: The thing about modern day SEO is that you don’t have to optimze for keywords now. The algorithm is smart enough to understand what the page is about just by scanning through the post. What it finds difficult to understand is the topic of the post. Sure, there’s headlines, the title, but what about the context? As you already know there are 5.5 billion search every single day and the intent of that search varies every single time. How’d you expect an algorithm to understand the context of the post without explicitly mentioning it? Is most cases, humans need that explanation, why can’t an algorithm expect it? So the need of the hour is to optimize a post for the topics and not the keywords. If you pay close attention, you’d see keywords getting covered in topics but the opposite isn’t true.
That’s all you need to know before even starting out as an SEO. Everything that you hear other than this is not fundamentals. If you learn to nail these three things, you’d not need to worry too much about every other thing you hear about SEO on the web.
If you prepare yourself around these three things, you’re ready to be absorbed by businesses looking for SEOs. Sure, you’ll have to start from ground level and scale from there. Furthermore, there will be a lot of technicalities & subjectivity involved once you master these three elements of SEO, so be prepared for that.
If you’re aspiring to run an SEO agency, you’ll have to wait. SEO is too big to learn in a small bit of time. Start with a job, learn from the master’s playbook, and once you feel confident that you know enough to support businesses, then take that leap. The same goes with your own business as well. If you have an existing business, it’s too risky to run SEO experiments on a live business. If you want to practically learn, Start a blog and carry out the experiments there. I did the same and you’ll learn a lot that way.
Recommended Tools for SEOs
From the invention of the wheel to reusable rockets, tools have been an integral part of human evolution. SEOs are no different. As SEO you will need to learn to use a lot of tools but as a beginner, you’re expected to have basic knowledge of a few tools, if not fully know about them.
Here are the tools that an SEO should know:
- Google search console: Formerly know as Google webmaster tools is a free tool from Google that let’s you access key insight of your site. Something that will help you grow your site multiple folds. Most important feature I love is the impressions data that GSC shares. I never optimize a post for keywords untill the impressions data of that post doesn’t starts showing up in GSC. It tells me what Google thinks my page ‘should’ rank for (but isn’t ranking at the top) and based on that data, I can optimize for those keywords and start climbing the ladder. An impression is basically keywords that your page is ranking for (irrespective of the ranking position) but isn’t getting clicks. There’s more to Google search console that just impressions data, check this playlist on YouTube to learn more about it.
- Google analytics: Another free tool from Google that is more about traffic than keywords. Google analytics is so advanced that you won’t need any other tool to know about your site. One of the most exciting features that I love in Google analytics is the interest of audience who visit your pages. The main idea behind that piece of data is to give you gist of what those people are ‘also’ interested in which is gold mine of content ideas in itself.
- Google trends: If you’re planning to create a news website, Google trends will be a great tool for you. On Google trends, you can find amazing content ideas based on what’s trending. It’s a great way to discover the trending topics and create content around that. Since there is search volume of those topics, your pages will instantly get views from Google. Although there’s not guarantee of any sort but you sure stand a chance to get a flood load of traffic.
P.S: I have curated 25 tools from Google that every blogger should be aware of
SEO Marketing FAQs
What is SEO in simple terms?
SEO simply is an order/degree of thinking that enables you to match the search intent of people who’re looking for something on search engines. There’s little to no technicality involved in thinking like your end-users. Just think of the scenarios of when would someone search for the topic you’re planning to write about.
How do beginners do SEO?
Unfortunately, SEO is one of the most misunderstood concepts in digital marketing. Beginners think stuffing keywords still work but this isn’t 2010 anymore. SEO is way bigger than stuffing keywords. Now, search engines need pages that cover topics and keywords. Topic talks about your expertise, authority, trustworthiness.
Is SEO easy to learn?
What isn’t? What’s not? If you know the fundamentals right and if you apply right, SEO is easy. It’s all about matching the search intent, Google has made the algorithm strong enough to find users for your content. But first, you need to make sure that your content is what Google’s users are looking for.
Can you do SEO yourself?
Of course. Unless you’re planning to manage SEO as an agency, you can do SEO alone. SEO has several elements(site audit, on-page, backlinks, etc), of which you can pick one and provide that as a freelance service. Once you grow into a confident professional & financially, you can expand your team and offer more services.
Is coding required for an SEO?
Yes and no. There are several aspects of SEO that require coding skills, for example, structured data. Furthermore, knowing HTML-CSS is always cheery on the cake. However, you can always delegate coding-related tasks to someone with that acumen, or simply take only non-technical aspects of SEO.
What are the soft skills required for SEO?
SEO as a profession requires a lot of soft skills such as critical thinking, communication, convincing ability, data analytics, coding, etc.
Final thoughts, TL;DR
I have been learning SEO since 2011 and even today I don’t think I know enough. Since search engines are evolving and the priorities keep changing every now and then, it’s almost impossible to know everything at any given point in time.
However, the fundamentals remain the same. SEO has always been & will always be about matching the intent of the search and creating content around it. You just have to keep up with the pace at which search engines are growing.
Connect with the right people on social media and see what they’re publishing. They usually share updates that you should know and keep up with. Also, follow the official source to learn more about what’s cooking in for you as an SEO.
Lastly, don’t expect SEO to work magically and bring you results in a matter of months. If you want a sustainable business, give SEO its time to do its thing. Even if you use shady tricks to fool the system, it’s just a matter of time that your pages get banned on the search index only to never be discoverable.
If you know someone who’s looking to get into SEO, please share this post with them. They need to get the facts straight.
That’s it for this one. I’ll see you in the next post 🙂