To understand what SEO really means, let’s break that sentence down and look at the parts:

  • Quality of traffic. You can attract all the visitors in the world, but if they’re coming to your site because Google tells them you’re a resource for Apple computers when really you’re a farmer selling apples, that is not quality traffic. Instead you want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in products that you offer.
  • Quantity of traffic. Once you have the right people clicking through from those search engine results pages (SERPs), more traffic is better.
  • Organic results. Ads make up a significant portion of many SERPs. Organic traffic is any traffic that you don’t have to pay for.

How SEO works

You might think of a search engine as a website you visit to type (or speak) a question into a box and Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or whatever search engine you’re using magically replies with a long list of links to webpages that could potentially answer your question.

That’s true. But have you ever stopped to consider what’s behind those magical lists of links?

Here’s how it works: Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the Internet. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query.

What is on-site SEO?

On-site SEO (also known as on-page SEO) is the practice of optimizing elements on a website(as opposed to links elsewhere on the Internet and other external signals collectively known as “off-site SEO”) in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic from search engines. On-site SEO refers to optimizing both the content and HTML source code of a page.

Keywords, content, and on-site SEO

In the past, on-site SEO has been synonymous with keyword use — and specifically, including a high-value keyword in several key locations on a website.To understand why keywords are no longer at the center of on-site SEO, it’s important to remember what those terms actually are: content topics. Historically, whether or not a page ranked for a given term hinged on using the right keywords in certain, expected places on a website in order for search engines to find and understand what that webpage’s content was about. User experience was secondary; simply making sure search engines found keywords and ranked a site as relevant for those terms was at the heart of on-site SEO practices.

In this way, on-site SEO is less about keyword repetition or placement and more about understanding who your users are, what they’re looking for, and about what topics (keywords) can you create content that best fulfills that need. Pages that meet these criteria have content that is:

  • In-depth.”Thin” content was one of Google Panda’s specific targets; today it’s more or less assumed that content must be sufficiently thorough in order to stand a good chance at ranking.
  • User-friendly. Is the content readable? Is it organized on your site in such a way that it’s easily navigable? Is it generally clean, or littered with ads and affiliate links?
  • Unique. If not properly addressed, content duplicated from elsewhere on your site (or elsewhere on the Internet) may impact a site’s ability to rank on SERPs.
  • Authoritative and trustworthy. Does your content stand on its own as a reliable resource for information on a particular topic?
  • Aligned with user search intent. Part of creating and optimizing for quality content is also delivering on searcher expectations. Content topics should align with the search queries for which they rank.

Non-keyword-related on-site SEO

Beyond the keywords (topics) used in content on a webpage and how they’re discussed, there are several “keyword-agnostic” elements that can influence a page’s on-site optimization.

Those include things like:

Local SEO

Local SEO is all about increasing search visibility for businesses that serve their communities face-to-face. These can be brick-and-mortar businesses with physical locations, like a grocery store or dentist’s office, or service-area businesses that operate throughout a certain geographic area, like an electrician or house cleaning company. This includes everything from claiming a Google my business listing to ensuring a franchise location appears in a local search on Google (a process known as location data or citation management). It also extends to managing online ratings and reviews, local-centric social media engagement, and beyond.

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