SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a term used to describe a series of tactics and strategies used to get a website to rank higher on the SERPs, or Search Engine Results Pages.  It can basically be broken out into 3 main categories, though most firms just see two main categories.

On-Page SEO

The first is called On-page SEO, which you and/or your webmaster have the most control.  This includes everything you can do on your own website, ranging from the domain name or URL, the title tag, meta data, HTML and other coding for your site, images, video, the actual text on the page, links within your site to other pages of your site, and more.  This can get pretty technical so I won’t try to use a bunch of big words and cryptic acronyms to confuse you.

Off-Page SEO

The second category is off-page SEO. Basically what this means is building links to your site from other sites.  Some of these sites you’ll have at least some control over, others are out of your control.  Some estimate that link-building is about 60% of overall SEO efforts.  We can go into more detail on how to build links and what kinds of links are good and bad in a later post. But basically, each link to your website is considered to be a “vote” for the popularity, and therefore importance, of that page.  But not all links are equal.  The search engines take a number of factors into account, such as the popularity of the website and the web page linking to your site, the relevance, and quite a few other factors.  Search engines have extremely intelligent mathematicians and other experts working for them that create algorithms to determine where a given page should appear in the results for a search.

Improving external page rank

The third category is also an off-page SEO tactic, but it involves building links to the pages that link to your site.  For example, if you create a listing for your business in a local directory, you can also utilize social bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicous, and StumbleUpon (among MANY others) to create a link to a specific page from that main site.  If you submit a press release online, you can also social-bookmark the pages where that press release appears to make it more “important” in the eyes of the search engines, so the link from that page to your site becomes more important.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of expertise required to properly optimize a website, and to make matters more complicated, the search engines frequently change their search algorithms so what used to work a year ago, or sometimes even just a few months ago, won’t work in the future, and some of the tactics that work now may not work in the future.  Why do the search engines do this?  The end goal is so that they can deliver better, more relevant search results to the people using their search engines.

How can SEO Help Your Business?

Particularly if you are selling to consumers, the higher you show up on the search results for a search, the more likely you will get the action you want, usually a sale. Of course there are many, many more factors involved than just showing up and getting a new customer, but as a general rule of thumb, the higher your site ranks for a particular keywords, the better. We’ll cover more about website conversion factors in another post, but for now let’s use a simple example.

Let’s say you’re selling something online, and 100,000 people search for a particular related keyword each month when they are looking to buy what you’re selling. Most people don’t even look past the first page, or maybe two, so the vast majority of those searches will end up on one of the web pages that appears on page one of the search engine results. On average, a certain percentage of the visitors will click on the #1 result, a smaller percentage will click on the #2 result, and so on. We can estimate these averages, so we can forecast, with a reasonable level of accuracy, approximately how many clicks your website will get by ranking at one of the spots on page one.

We can estimate the number of searches on a given keyword per month, and now we know we can estimate the percentage of searches that will lead to a click on each ranking. So we can get a pretty good idea of how many visits we can expect in a month to a page that we get up to page one. That’s an estimate of traffic to that page.

Let’s take this a step further. For this, we’ll assume that a page of your website gets to #3 on Google for a given keyword. So you’ll get about 8.5% of the clicks on that page. We’ll further assume that the page in question has an order form of some sort that gets about a 1% conversion rate, or 1% of the visitors actually buy. So with 100,000 searches on that keyword per month, 8.5% of that is 8,500 visits to that page per month. At a 1% conversion rate, that’s 85 sales per month. From there, you can estimate the profit you’ll make by getting there by making the appropriate calculations that include your average sale amount and your average profit margin. So as a business owner, you can estimate what it’s worth to you to get to page one by how much it will mean in sales and profits.

Of course, the result that gets on page one might not be your website – it might be another page that links to your site. So there’s a percentage of people who visit that page that will end up on your site, so it’s important to include that in your calculations.

We’ll cover more about how to analyze this further and improve your sales results (and your profits) later but this should give you an idea of the value of SEO.

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