SEO Terms & FAQ – Answers to 28 SEO Questions

GainTap is a Chicago based digital marketing company and Google Partner. SEO is a specialty of ours and we’ve helped clients recover rankings and get more business through search engines. Contact us to learn how we can help your company.

 

What is a search engine

A search engine is a program that allows the input of questions (search queries) and provides answers in the form of text from web pages and links to web pages that provide the best answers to that question. Search engines use complex algorithms to scan websites, analyze the content and relevance of the websites and then present these results to users of the search engine for specific search queries.

What is a search query?

A search query is the text that is entered by a user of a search engine that is analyzed to generate the search engine results page (SERP).

What is a SERP?

SERP stands for Search Engine Results page. It is the page of a search engine that displays information (search results) following a search query. The information is ranked by relevance with the most relevant queries appearing on the first page. Results displayed on the first SERP will have the most exposure as most users don’t browse past the first few SERPs.

What are search engine rankings?

The term “search engine rankings” refers to the position that a website’s pages show up on the SERPs for specific search queries. For example the first page of Google has 10 possible positions that a website can show up on. They are ranked 1 to 10 from top to bottom. Web pages displaying in positions 1-3 will often get an overwhelming majority of traffic from queries.

What causes search ranking increase or decrease?

Web page rankings are in constant flux. The ranking of a web page depends on over 200 ranking factors including the individual searcher’s location. It’s common for rankings to change daily among competitors.

What is SEO

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s a specialized form of online marketing with the goal of increasing the rankings of a website’s pages on the SERPs for specific search queries (also known as keywords) to drive more traffic to the website from search engines.

How do I increase my SEO ranking?

A simple answer to this is that you can increase your search engine rankings for web pages by taking a visitor or customer-focused approach to your content development and your site optimization. Having relevant content that is focused on your site visitors helps to improve the context of your website and also helps to improve engagement on your website which has been shown to improve your search engine rankings. Having a solid technical foundation prevents slow loading pages, errors and poor user experience. There are hundreds of search engine ranking factors that can influence your ranking and it’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to manage all of these yourself. It can be a good idea to hire a professional SEO to assist you at least on a consulting or part-time basis.

What does an SEO do?

A search engine optimization expert (SEO) seeks to increase the rankings of a website’s pages on the SERPs. They do this through onsite and offsite optimization.

What is onsite optimization?

Onsite optimization (eg: on page optimization) is editing a website’s content, platform and structure in order to make that website’s pages rank higher for specific search queries. This is done by understanding the searcher’s intent and improving the relevancy and experience of a web page for that searcher. There are dozens of onsite optimizations that can be performed with most falling into three categories: improving content relevance, fixing technical issues and building link structure.

What is offsite optimization?

Offsite optimization refers to SEO tactics that are performed that don’t involve directly updating the website or platform that is being optimized. This most often involves link building but can include developing social profiles, building citations (mentions) and updating disavow files to block spammy links.

How do you use SEO?

You use SEO by performing onsite optimization and offsite optimization of your website to encourage search engines to crawl and categorize your website as being relevant for the topics you’re trying to rank for on the SERPs.

What is SEO in Web Design?

SEO in web design takes search engines into account while designing a website. This is especially important for redesigns of established websites.

For example: a web designer may use an H1 element to style text on a website without thinking about the search engine implications around using H1 elements. There are dozens of other areas where a web designer may not take into account what effects their design will have on a website’s search engine rankings.

It’s best to get an SEO involved with with your web design. During web design, an SEO will ensure:

      • A logical information architecture (ex: All URLs for services are in the sub folder “services” ex: /services/dog-grooming, /services/dog-training)
      • Ease of usability and access to information
      • Preservation of important traffic driving pages during a website redesign and / or redirection of important pages to new locations
      • Fast load times that are not weighed down by large images, animations and scripts
      • Pages are targeted to search queries that visitors are using

Is SEO Effective?

SEO can be effective or ineffective depending on the goal of the SEO, the measurements and reporting in place to measure the results, who is doing the optimization, the budget or resources available for SEO and the level of competition in the market. If there are no goals or reporting setup, it’s hard to determine effectiveness. Inexperienced, cheap SEOs can cause more harm than good and a higher competition market requires more resources before SEO is effective.

What are SEO Services?

All SEO services function and attempt to increase the ranking of a website’s pages on search engines to drive more traffic to that website. Some common SEO Services include SEO audits, onsite optimization, content development, link building, competitive analysis, keyword research, media and blogger outreach, SEO penalty recovery and consulting.

How do you do SEO to a website?

See the section covering What is onsite optimization? and How do you use SEO?

What is White hat SEO?

White hat SEO is the use of natural (or good) search engine optimization tactics to rank a website. This follows Google and other search engines’ suggestions and avoids doing risky things that can lead to a website getting penalized. An example of a white hat SEO tactic would be creating a useful piece of content and then promoting it to relevant sources to build links to it.

What is Black hat SEO?

Black hat SEO makes use of tactics that search engines discourage. An example of this would be developing a network of seemingly independent blogs with fake writers and paraphrased content on them that link to each other and back to your main site (money site). Or more commonly, buying links on websites with the intention of increasing a site’s ranking by doing so.

What is Gray hat SEO?

Gray hat SEO walks the line between white hat and black hat SEO. It uses tactics that are not banned by Google but seek to alter search ranking in a potentially unethical, unnatural fashion. An example of a grey hat tactic would be offering different organizations a discount at your retail store if they link back to you on their website. You’re not exactly purchasing these links but you are essentially purchasing them by offering a discount in exchange for links.

How long does it take to see results from SEO?

In general it can take at least 4 to 6 months to see a positive result from search engine optimization work. The amount of time it takes to see results from search engine optimization varies based on the budget allocated to search engine optimization, how competitive the market is and the expertise of the people performing SEO. Larger budgets will allow more resources that can often deliver results faster. A less competitive market can often mean less resources and time are needed to rank. Having an inexperienced person working on your website can deliver mixed or poor results as they won’t know where to spend time effectively.

How much is SEO per month?

  • Most SEOs will charge $125 to $300 an hour for search engine optimization.
  • They usually will not work for less than $750 a month
  • Most have clients spending around $1,500 a month on average.

Costs vary by quality of the SEO, the market you’re in and other factors. For example, if you have an internal team of writers and web developers, your SEO costs may be less because the SEO doesn’t have to perform or hire for that work.

Is DIY SEO possible?

Yes, you can do SEO yourself. If you have a budget of less than $500-$1,000 for SEO, you’re likely better off performing the work yourself. However if SEO is not your primary function, you will have other responsibilities so you need to take this into consideration. It’s always a trade-off between the amount of time you will spend on SEO and the amount of time you should be spending on something else. It can often be a smarter decision to hire an SEO for a one-time audit or temporary consulting instead of spending your time learning SEO.

Where can I learn SEO?

Moz.com has an excellent resource for learning the basics of SEO. You should also read Search Engine Journal and Search Engine Land for search marketing news.

What are some SEO tools the pros use?

We recommend the following SEO tools:

There are plenty of other tools out there including SemRush, Moz, Raven Tools and Majestic SEO. There are new ones popping up every day. If you have no budget for software, you can do an OK job with a spreadsheet and Google Webmaster Tools.

What’s the difference between SEO, PPC & SEM?

Let’s explain these terms first.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) focuses on increasing the rank of web pages for non-paid clicks on a search engine.

Pay-per-click (PPC) refers to the paid ads that are on search engines. For example, Adwords is the ad platform for Google’s search engine.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is any marketing tactic that involves a search engine and is the umbrella category that includes both SEO and PPC.

The key difference between SEO & PPC is that SEO focuses on improving results from non-paid search marketing while PPC focuses on improving results from paid search marketing. SEM is a term that encompasses SEO and PPC so it cannot be compared directly to them.

Should I outsource my SEO?

This depends on your resources, how important SEO is for your company and how well you think someone outside your organization can understand your goals. You will need to have a budget or ability to spend money on an SEO. If you don’t have an internal team to do the work, you will need an SEO firm to physically do the work. If you have an internal team, you may be able to hire an SEO consultant to advise your team.

How do I hire an SEO?

Check out Google’s advice, which mirrors our own pretty closely.

Here’s our recommendation for hiring an SEO.

Find someone who cares about your business

You want to work with someone who is a marketer, not just an SEO. They need to understand your customers, what’s important to them and your business and how to measure results from their efforts.

Look at their case studies / reviews

The SEO you hire should have some proof that they know what they’re doing. They shouldn’t be afraid to reference at least 3 projects they worked on that had great results.

Test them on a smaller project

Always, always, always start a new hire on a small project. You can even test multiple SEOs on a project and pick the “winner” for a longer term project. You want to make sure the person knows what they’re doing, is responsive and is someone you envision yourself working with for many months or years.

Do not sign a long term contract

No reputable SEO is going to lock you into a long term contract. Ideally you should be in a month-to-month or 30 days notice arrangement. It does take some time to see SEO results, so it’s encouraged that you stick with an SEO for at least 3-4 months before moving on. But nobody should force you to work with them.

Should I pursue a job as an SEO?

Being an SEO is a natural path for some web developers, writers and online marketers. If you enjoy that type of work, you may find a career in SEO to be rewarding. You need have an attention to detail, a creative mind and the ability to express technical terms and results in a clear, simple way.

That said, SEO is going on 15+ years. It is a highly competitive field. We also think the SEO world will be shaken up over the next few years and it may not be a wise investment of your time compared to other career paths.

What’s the future of SEO?

Some SEOs, including myself, believe SEO will be changing over the next few years in a way that limits the effectiveness of search engine optimization on search results. One example is the rise of voice search and the delivery of snippets in search results that don’t require clicking on websites to view the information. Rand Fishkin stated in SEO: The Movie that he sees a bright 3-4 years left for SEO. I believe that SEO will take a back seat to PPC as Google rolls out more and more paid search features, effectively reducing the return on investment for non-paid search marketing.



Author: Graham Onak
When not running the day-to-day activities of GainTap, Graham writes about technical optimization for websites and online marketing programs.

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