Chapter 1: What is SEO?
SEO is a rapidly evolving field. Google updates its algorithm every few months but very little is known about these updates. Even SEO experts who have been on the job for years are kept on their toes constantly, trying to figure out the secrets behind Google’s algorithm updates. MWI’s Ultimate Guide to SEO is here to explain and demystify all things SEO.
We’ll first look into what is SEO and its basic concepts in Chapter 1. In the chapters to follow, we’ll delve into more in-depth topics.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing a website’s content, structure and backlinks to maximize website visibility and organic traffic. Search engine optimization entails optimizing different elements on a web page and backlinks from external sites, and can be classified into on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
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Is SEO Important? Does My Website Need SEO?
You might have been told by many SEO agencies repeatedly that SEO is crucial in driving quality traffic and sales, but do you really know why SEO is important?
To understand the importance of SEO, we must first learn how search results are displayed. Currently, there are several types of search appearances on the Google search results page, including Google ads, local packs, organic results and rich snippets. With the exception of ads, SEO can impact your ranking in the search results and affect the chances of certain search appearances. Think about this way, when you search on Google, do you gravitate towards clicking on an advertising page or a page from the organic results below?
Let’s take a look at the chart below that illustrates the click-through rate (CTR) of different search results between 2016 and 2019 in the U.S. In addition to the phenomenon of zero-click gaining prominence, over 40% of users clicked on organic results, with less than 10% clicking on paid results. By now, you should understand the importance of SEO.
As for whether your website needs SEO, it really comes down to how much you value organic traffic. If you have an enormous budget for paid advertisements, you can completely ignore SEO because online advertising alone will tremendously drive your website’s visibility. However, SEO is the path for you if you do not wish to bid your way through or want your website to appear organically in the results.
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History of SEO
Before we delve into the technical aspects of SEO, let’s take a look at the history and development of SEO. The history of SEO can be traced all the way back to the 90s. In 1991, the first website, created by scientist Tim Berners-Lee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, was launched. It was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web. SEO didn’t exist when the first website was created but slowly emerged due to the popularity and prevalence of websites. Then in 1997, SEO began to take off when people started thinking about how websites can rank higher in search engine results.
There are two eras of SEO: before the prevalence of Google and after. Before Google dominated the market, the market share of various major search engines, such as AltaVista, Lycos and Yahoo, was evenly distributed. Early-stage SEO was simple, mainly revolving around making changes to on-page content, titles and internal linking. One way for websites to rank higher in search results was through stuffing the page with keywords, often resulting in an unnatural and non-user-friendly experience.
Google was founded in 1998 to build a search engine that uses links to determine the importance of individual pages on the World Wide Web. The year 2000 was a turning point for the company when it struck a partnership with Yahoo. “Powered by Google” began to appear on Yahoo search results pages, and since then, Google became a household name. The partnership ended in 2004 when Yahoo developed its own search engine and advertising system.
As Google developed, their ranking algorithms became more complex and user experience gradually took center stage. This meant that stuffing a website with keywords was no longer an effective method to improve ranking. Today, Google takes into account both on-page and off-page factors and continuously updates its algorithms and fights against black hat strategies that aim to trick Google for higher rankings. Websites have to establish quality backlinks, provide rich and informative content, and constantly optimize the user experience in order to stand out from the rest.
What’s White Hat SEO, Black Hat SEO and Grey Hat SEO?
Black hat strategies refer to improper, sometimes illegal, techniques used to deceive the search engine in order to improve search results ranking. In SEO, we must be able to distinguish black hat SEO, white hat SEO and grey hat SEO.
Black Hat SEO: Black hat SEO refers to using unethical techniques to deceive search engines in order to obtain higher keyword rankings. Common practices include cloaking, using hidden keywords and getting backlinks from spammy websites.
White Hat SEO: White hat SEO is the opposite of black hat SEO. It uses legitimate techniques that follow the best practices in SEO to reach higher keyword rankings.
Grey Hat SEO: Grey hat SEO lies between white hat and black hat SEO. It shortens the time to reach higher keyword ranking by cleverly using various techniques. It is a legitimate SEO practice, but one must be careful not to cross over the line and engage in black hat SEO.
Can I Do My Own SEO?
Now that you know the basics, you may wonder whether it is possible to do SEO yourself. Why pay an SEO agency for something that’s free?
SEO brings “free” traffic. Unlike SEM, where there’s a door fee to put up an advertisement online, organic traffic can be obtained through free SEO methods. However, with SEO being a broad field that’s evolving with each passing day, businesses must stay up-to-date with industry news, constantly implement optimizations to keep up with the latest updates and adjust their marketing strategies. Not to mention all these work require human resources with the right knowledge and skillsets, which some companies may lack. This makes hiring an SEO agency an obvious solution.
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