Updated: May 16, 2022
What is "Search Engine Optimization"?
SEO--"Search engine optimization"--has been thrown around for many years, especially with the boom of the digital age. To break it down, there are two parts: "search engine" and "optimization".
Search engines are software systems that carry out searches. A few of these include Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Optimization refers to the betterment or improvement. Plug these two together and it's not about improving search engines themselves, but a website/ search's placement within the search engine.
Most search engine optimization schemes are devised towards Google because of their overwhelming dominance of the industry. There are cases when targeting other search engines could be beneficial for your website, but it boils down to who is asking the question, where, and why?
Getting to the Top: The Question
In order to be discovered and have a high search placement, your website needs to answer a question. It could answer multiple questions, but its not best to try and cast too large of a net otherwise you will get lost in the crowd.
A good place to start is with what your answer is. What is your website providing others and why would they go there? Then start working backwards into devising the question. Once you've settled on a question or two, reanalyze your answer and really make sure it is providing everything they need.
For example, if you are an online store selling shoes, then the answer you are can be simplified to "purchasing shoes." The questions this can answer is, "Where to buy shoes?" Including niche questions like "Where to buy shoes in Temecula?" and "Where to buy black dress shoes". Now if we use these three questions, the first one is solved, but the other two could be lacking. If you are in a specific location, then it is important that is clearly indicated on your website. If you are selling a specific product like "black dress shoes" then that also should be indicated. However, if you sell flip-flops, then you don't want to "answer" the question of "Where to buy black dress shoes?" because this is at odds with what you are actually providing and can cause others to not go to your site as well.
How to Use Keywords
Keywords can assist you with answering the questions. The relevance of them in association with your site is vital. However, it doesn't stop there. Some key words, like "shoes" or even "purchasing shoes" can have an overwhelming amount of organic searches but be too difficult to get ranked with.
For a keyword to help you, you want to get to the top 10 sites associated with that word(s). The level of difficulty of the word is based off of how many other sites utilize and are correlated to that word. To do this, backlinks are vital--backlinks are other sites that reference the word in relation to your site. The better this other site (the more relevant they are and considered trustworthy) then the greater the influence of their reference.
In addition to the keyword difficulty, the other categories to acknowledge are the amount of traffic the word gets (how often it is searched, oftentimes broken down per month) and the traffic potential (how much organic traffic you could get from getting to the top 10).
If a word is very easy to get ranked in, but isn't searched for nor would lead to any conversion, then the word is useless. The same goes for a highly searched word, that can lead to a lot of conversions, but is extremely difficult to break into the top 10. This latter case will often require increased investment and potentially paying for the word in order to break in (which can be highly expensive).
Understanding what keywords you want to be known for can help you formulate a clearer question-and-answer. There are free resources that can help with choosing the correct keywords: Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs Keyword Generator, and Google Search Console. There are also paid resources as well that may offer more information, but it depends on your needs and how it incorporates into your SEO plans.
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