If search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t a big part of your marketing budget yet, your competitors are already years ahead of you.
About 90.8% of the people in the United States have access to the internet. Now, think about how Google’s organic search results get almost 20 times as many clicks as paid ads on desktop and 10 times as many clicks as Google ads on mobile. How do you, as a marketing leader, make the most of this huge chance to connect with your audience?
Put money into SEO.
But unlike traditional advertising and PPC, you can’t just win at SEO by spending the most money. To beat the competition at SEO, you need to know what SEO is and how to invest in it strategically.
As a marketing leader, you know that people act the same way in real life and online. You know that SEO is the best way to reach your customers online and get them to visit your store, but you don’t know enough about the channel to invest in the right things.
I wrote this guide for people who are just starting out with SEO to teach marketing executives the basics of SEO.
I won’t talk about SEO here because I wrote about it in my article about SEO strategies. Instead, I’ll talk about the basics of SEO, which will help you invest more wisely in the organic search channel and get better marketing results.
In this article, I’ll briefly talk about the following:
- What does SEO mean?
- Why organic search is good for business
- Search engine optimization’s most important parts
- Things to think about before you start an SEO plan
- Should you get help with SEO?
What does marketing have to do with search engine optimization (SEO)?
Optimization for Search Engines (SEO)
SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” which is what the letter stands for. It’s the process of making web pages rank higher in search engines so that they get more qualified organic traffic, grow brand awareness, and keep brand messaging under control.
SEO is the process of improving your search engine rankings and getting high-quality traffic from sources outside of your website.
Marketers often talk about keywords, the number of searches, Google’s algorithms, and backlinks when they talk about SEO. But SEO is really about getting in touch with your audience when they are ready to take action. It’s important to know what your customers are looking for and why and to be the first one to give them the best answer.
SEO marketing helps you reach your target audience at every stage of the customer journey at a cost per acquisition (CAC) that is 75% lower than paid channels. Because of this, you get more brand touches, leads, conversions, and sales.
How are SEO and PPC different from each other?
SEO and SEM are both forms of marketing that use search to bring people to your website. But they work in very different ways. When you know how SEO and PPC are different, you can change your marketing mix to get the most out of each strategy.
I’ll explain each one in the next few paragraphs.
How SEO works
From a user experience point of view, SEO is all about making great content that answers searchers’ questions in the best way possible. From a more technical point of view, it means tweaking certain parts of your website to make it easier for search engines to find, understand, and rank your content.
We can find almost any kind of information on the Internet. Still, not many people know how search engines can find answers so quickly. Watch Google’s video about how search engines work for a good introduction.
If you don’t have time to watch it, I’ll tell you the main points that relate to search engine marketing below.
Crawlers read the HTML code on your site to figure out what each page and your site as a whole are for. These bots look at the text and pictures that users see. But they also think about things that users can’t see, like structured data (schema markup) and alt text for images.
They do this for billions of pages on the internet to figure out what each page is about and how it relates to the others.
Then, search engine algorithms rank your content based on certain criteria. For example, do you have content that fits the search terms of a user? Is it safe to use your website? How well does it work on mobile devices? Do you know a lot about the subject?
Several things affect where your site ranks on the search engine results pages (SERPs). The most important signals are how well you optimize your content to rank for relevant keywords and how good of an experience you give your users as a whole.
Also, SEO gives you more say over how Google shows your content to people who search for it. If you use the right code, either by hand or through plugins, you’ll have a better chance of getting featured snippets that make your brand stand out in search results.
How Google ranks things
When deciding what to put at the top of its search results, Google uses more than 200 ranking factors. Some things are more important than others, though.
For example, how quickly a page load is important, but how good the content is more important. Also, some meta tags are very important for how well your site does in search, while others, like meta descriptions, have nothing to do with how well your site ranks. Links are important, but backlinks are different from internal and external links in how they work.
It might seem hard to find specific ranking factors, especially since there is so much false information online. But if your strategy is in line with Google’s Quality Guidelines and your business goals, you’ll be on the right track.
Some of the on-page and off-page SEO ranking factors that Google looks at are listed below.
- Keywords in title tags, URLs, headings, and the body copy
- Content quality
- Page speed and how users feel
- Backlinks from sites that are trusted
- Internal links
- The main text
Most ranking factors look at how users interact with a page or how well Google understands what a page is about. This is why signals like page speed and internal links are important, but a domain name and word count are not. Google actually tells brands to make pages for people, not search engines.
How PPC works
With pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, you pay to show up in the advertising sections of the search results. If someone clicks on your ad, you have to pay a fee, even if the user didn’t mean to.
How much you have to pay per click depends on a number of things, such as:
- Number of bids for the keyword
- Amount you are willing to pay compared to what others are willing to pay
- Quality of ads
The benefit of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is that it lets you quickly send targeted traffic to specific landing pages on your website. This can be especially helpful for things that need to be done by a certain time, like tests, promotions, sales, events, etc.
PPC, on the other hand, is a much more expensive way to get new customers than SEO. Also, as soon as you stop spending money on PPC ads, the traffic stops. There’s no lasting effect or added value, like with organic search. The only way to keep PPC traffic going is to keep putting money into it.
In other words, SEO is a better marketing investment over the long term. If a page ranks on the first page of organic search results, it can keep bringing in visitors for years with little ongoing work. That means that your SEO keeps giving you a better return year after year.
SEO is good for business
The following SEO statistics show how important SEO is for businesses. This is another reason why you should make the organic search a big part of your digital marketing.
As you can see, the benefits of SEO go beyond just getting more people to visit your website. At a high level, SEO boosts organic growth and lowers risk, which leads to more sales and a higher value for shareholders.
Investments in SEO drive increased brand awareness, stronger brand loyalty, lower customer acquisition costs (CAC), and improved brand reputation.
Let’s look at a few real-world examples.
SEO makes more money from sales
When done effectively, SEO drives tremendous sales revenue.
- Every year, there are 2,9 quadrillion searches.
- Google says that the return on investment (ROI) from organic search traffic is 5.3x, while the ROI from paid advertising is only 2x.
- 49% of marketers think that SEO has the best return on investment (ROI) of all marketing channels.
- In general, SEO traffic is 5 times as high as PPC traffic and 10 times as high as social media traffic.
- Up to 70% of the research that people do before they buy a product or service is done online.
Google is an important part of our lives, both at home and at work. We use it to help us decide what to buy, learn more about products, and find solutions to our problems. We use it to find local businesses and decide which pair of running shoes to buy.
With SEO, you can be there for your customers at every step of their journey. It makes sure that your brand is visible from the time a potential customer realizes they have a problem until they buy something from you and even after that.
When you make high-quality content that fits the needs of your audience, you can control the whole marketing funnel.
SEO is an important part of digital marketing and businesses that don’t use it miss out on a lot of potential sales.
SEO can help you reach your goal whether you want to sell more online products, get more leads, make your brand more known, or even get traffic from TV ads.
SEO improves margins
Search engine optimization makes it cheaper to get new customers and increases the value of those customers over their lifetime. In fact, when compared to paid channels, MTB Strategy has given customers as little as 25 cents on the dollar.
Why does the cost per acquisition (CPA) of organic search come in lower than that of paid search?
First, the accuracy rate of programmatic advertising is very low. So if you pay per impression, there’s no guarantee that the person who saw your ad is even in your target audience. Second, PPC is full of fraud and clicks that were made by accident. Third, paid ads often take away clicks that you would have gotten for free anyway. Lastly, digital ads often use price tricks that cost a lot to get customers’ attention instead of building long-term loyalty.
All of these problems raise the cost of getting new customers, which hurts your margins.
On the other hand, SEO helps you make more money over time. That’s because your costs are higher up front, but they go down a lot after each piece of content is published. On the other hand, performance keeps getting better over time.
SEO is an unbeatable long-term investment because it has a negative relationship between cost and performance.
SEO lowers a brand's risk
Most CMOs know that SEO brings in visitors. But it’s also a great way to protect the reputation of your brand.
If someone searches Google for your company’s name or a product, they should find good, relevant information. You don’t want searchers to find old, negative news stories or bad reviews. SEO lets you decide what people see when they search on all of the major search engines.
This is very important for building trust among shareholders since 44% of a company’s reputation is tied to its CEO.
I’m not just talking about making up for a bad name. When SEO is used in a strategic way, it can find weaknesses and strengthen a good search landscape against future problems. So, you’ll shorten the length of a crisis, which will make it hurt your brand’s reputation and sales a lot less.
Important parts of an SEO plan
Before you can invest in search engine optimization the right way, you need to know what makes an SEO strategy work.
Technical SEO is the process of improving a website so that it meets Google’s technical standards. Most of the time, SEO experts and web developers take care of these things. The most important parts of technical SEO are:
- Website architecture
- URL structure
- Page rendering
If Google can’t find or get to your web pages, it can’t rank them. You’d be surprised at how often webmasters block Google from getting to parts of their site by accident.
The next step, after Google finds your content, is to index it. Like when there are problems with crawling, simple mistakes can cause Google to leave important pages out of its index. This means that users won’t be able to find them through organic search.
Structure of a website
Google can figure out the order and relationship of each page on your domain based on how your website is built. A simple, easy-to-understand, and well-organized structure also makes it easier for users to find what they want.
Being short, descriptive, and focused on keywords helps Google and users figure out what a page is about.
Page User Experience and Ease of Use
SEO is no longer just about putting keywords in the right places in the content. It’s also very important to give users a great experience. The Google Page Experience Signals are a set of metrics that measure how well a website page works and, in turn, how the user feels about it.
Google measures six-page experience signals. Core Web Vitals are the first three, which are:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): This is a way to measure how quickly a page loads in a browser.
- First Input Delay (FID): This is how long it takes for a page to become fully interactive.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) is a way to measure how much the layout of a page changes.
Google also pays attention to the following three-page experience signals:
- Mobile-friendliness is a way to measure how well a site works on mobile devices.
- HTTPS – Checks to see if the connection to the site is safe by using SSL.
- No Intrusive Interstitials – Checks how many pop-ups get in the way of browsing.
Use Google Search Console or Google PageSpeed Insight to see how your website does on Core Web Vitals. This is the easiest way to find out how your website does. This will also tell you what you need to do to get better scores.
Even though how your website works technically is important, what’s on it is even more important. Google says that good content is one of the three most important ranking factors. But what does it really mean for content to be good? John Mueller of Google recently gave a definition:
Mueller went on, “How you put things on your pages, how you use images, and how fast you work are all kinds of things that come into play.”
As you can see, good content marketing doesn’t have to be long or hard to understand. And it’s more than just what’s on one page. To win at organic search, you need to create a culture of content that puts users first. Invest in great content across your whole domain, no matter what form it takes.
In MTB Strategy’s Content Strategy Playbook, you can find out how to do that.
Alignment of search intent
What a user wants to do when they type a question into Google is called their “search intent.”
When someone searches for “men’s soccer cleats,” for example, they probably want to see eCommerce product pages. When they search for “best men’s soccer cleats” or “indoor vs. outdoor soccer cleats,” however, they are looking for more informational content.
To get on the first page of Google, you need to know who you’re writing for. Why are they doing this? How do they put together their searches? What kind of format do they expect the content to be in?
Search intent is an important part of search engine optimization because it has a direct effect on how the user feels. If someone is looking for an overview article about a topic and lands on your service page instead, they will probably go back to Google and choose another result. So even if you rank well, that traffic won’t turn into sales if it doesn’t match what people are looking for.
Popularity and confidence (E-A-T)
As a general rule, Google likes to rank websites that have a higher PageRank because it shows that they are trustworthy, well-known, and authoritative. In fact, Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG) say that Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness are some of the most important ways to judge the overall quality of a web page.
It also says that they figure out a page’s E-A-T by doing the following:
- How good is the person who made the Main Content is?
- The credibility of the Main Content creator, the Main Content itself, and the website.
- The reliability of the Main Content creator, the Main Content itself, and the website.
Google E-A-T is especially important for websites that affect your finances, health, or safety. Your Money, Your Life” (YMYL) sites are held to the highest E-A-T standards by Google because bad information could hurt consumers.
Make sure you know what E-A-T is if, for example, your website offers financial services or medical advice.
Who is in charge of SEO?
Most of the time, the head of marketing (VP or CMO) is in charge of leading search engine optimization efforts. SEO needs cooperation from a lot of different departments, like communications, content, design, web development, brand, sales, and eCommerce, as well as from outside partners. Also, most search projects need approval from executives and the ability to make decisions at a high level.
But marketing executives don’t directly manage or carry out SEO activities on a daily basis.
Additional team members would be in charge of different parts of the SEO program, such as project management, researching topics and keywords, making content, analyzing pages, technical optimization, building links, etc.
At the executive level, SEO should be the main source of information about the audience, which will help all marketing efforts move forward. But many executives don’t use organic search to its fullest potential to bring more value to the business than just traffic.
Forrester Consulting says the following:
The way business leaders think about SEO is too small. To get past the top barriers, companies need leaders who are open to a new way of thinking about SEO. If a company’s leaders want to really rule the market, they need to connect their new SEO investments to clear and measurable brand improvements that drive business growth and improve their reputation. This will require changing the way people think about SEO and getting people to see it as a long-term strategy, not just a way to get people to visit a site.
Should you hire someone to do SEO for you or do it yourself?
Whether you should hire an outside company to do SEO or do it yourself depends on three main things:
Search engine optimization is a time-consuming process that needs a dedicated team of SEO experts to drive business results that keep getting better. People need years of experience with technical optimization, SEO tools like Google Analytics, Search Console, Moz, and Ahrefs, as well as knowledge of keyword research, on-page optimization, content strategy, link building, and more.
So, outsourcing SEO means that a business will get results faster and spend less overall.
It’s important to remember that outsourcing SEO doesn’t mean getting rid of your current team. On the contrary, they are essential to your success when working with a partner. When you hire an SEO company to do the work for you, your team gets fast access to a lot more bandwidth.
What about risk, though?
When you choose the wrong SEO company, you run the risk of something going wrong.
It’s not that organizations do bad things on purpose. It’s because most companies don’t know who their market is. They try to work with local businesses, SMEs, and enterprise brands all at the same time. They do this because they think they can get the same results no matter what size of customer they have.
But local SEO is very different from SEO for a large business.
To do well in each of these markets, you need a completely different business model. So, in order to handle bigger deals, they need to either cut corners or hire other people to do some of the work. At first, any SEO company may only get mediocre results. But over time, performance will stay the same or go backward.
How do you know if you’re talking to the “wrong SEO company”? They are like one of these three things:
- Digital marketing firms that do it all
- SEO firms that work with all sizes of businesses
- White hat SEO companies say they can get results quickly and cheaply by using risky SEO methods like buying links from directories and keyword stuffing.
Stay away from SEO companies that do everything for everyone when you’re looking for one. Look for companies that do search engine optimization for brands like yours as their main business.
US-based enterprise brands and Fortune 1000 companies work with MTB Strategy to make SEO strategies and content strategies. If this is you, let us know.
SEO is what's to come
One thing is certain: SEO will only become more important over time. As the amount of online information available to consumers continues to grow, they will continue to rely more and more on search.
Brands that put more effort into SEO now will benefit for a long time. They will be able to reach a much larger audience, get more leads and sales, and build stronger customer relationships than brands that don’t care about SEO.
NOTE: Bing and Yahoo also search engines, but this overview is mostly about Google because it has the most market share.