Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is an issue every modern business owner is confronted with when they begin to set themselves up on the Internet, whether it’s just for marketing purposes or e-commerce.

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While the most basic purpose of SEO, making your website rank on search engines, is easy to understand, many entrepreneurs get confusing and mixed messages about what it really entails. Your web developer might suggest quickly making sure that your website architecture is optimised correctly, while your marketing firm proposes a months-long SEO campaign involving content marketing and link building, and your content writer is suggesting you start a blog and have hundreds of new product descriptions written up. What’s really going on?

1. There are two main kinds of SEO

Search engines like Google use algorithms that take hundreds of different factors into account to decide how different sites should rank in their search results. All SEO activities are focused on improving one or more of those factors. There is some debate about which factors are most important, and different skillsets are needed to work on different factors. There are two major kinds of SEO, divided by their focus.

On-site SEO

This kind of optimisation is about making your website a desirable place to look both for users and for search bots. On-site optimisation typically starts with making sure that the site is structured properly, that URLs make sense and include relevant keywords when possible, that pages load properly, that meta tags are properly filled in, and that content is both relevant and formatted properly.

Off-site SEO

Off-site optimisation often overlaps (to an extent) with content marketing. Specifically, it’s about creating signals on other websites that your site has something to offer users. Primarily, this means engaging your target market online and driving engagement with your brand on social media, message boards, and related websites. Relevant content about and links pointing to your business signal that your target audience considers your business to be relevant to them.

2. It takes time to work

SEO is not a “profit” button. Aggressive salespeople often encourage businesses that are experiencing revenue issues to pursue SEO as a way to quickly improve sales. This is a mistake. On-site optimisation can bring some results in a matter of a few weeks or months, but that is no guarantee of increased web traffic. In many cases, those improvements might shift a business’ keyword rankings from obscurity on page 15 in the search results, to the nearly-as-obscure page 4. Most normal users choose a search result on the first page, and reaching that often takes time.

Off-site tactics are about building up authority in the long term, and very rarely produce short-term results. It often takes well over a year before a campaign can bring significant traffic to a new website. Fundamentally, SEO is a part of establishing and communicating your identity on the web. It’s not a quick and simple advertising or sales tactic.

3. Good SEO is integrated with marketing

SEO and marketing overlap in some areas, and complement each other in general. In order for an SEO campaign to be really effective, it needs to be coordinated with your marketing efforts. An integrated digital strategy that seamlessly incorporates SEO is going to be far more effective than a separate SEO guru trying to manage everything related to it on their own.

Content marketing

If your business is engaging in content marketing by producing blog posts, video content, media interviews, or anything else, that content should reference and emphasise the same keywords, content, and products as your website does to create a compounding effect. Using marketing content to drive traffic to optimised landing pages helps to boost search rankings for those pages, which, in turn, helps to drive searchers toward that marketing content.

Social media

Social media marketing is a great way to drive traffic to your website and encourage engagement with content. A well managed social media campaign can raise the profile of your business by driving traffic to targeted content and encouraging engagement with your target audience both on social platforms and on your website. This makes it the perfect complement to your SEO efforts; it’s the perfect tool to draw attention to your marketing content.

By understanding how SEO works, and what it can do for your business, you can make better decisions about how to use SEO services. It’s not a form of advertising or a way to quickly bring in a lot of leads to save a dying business. Rather, it’s a part of establishing your growing business on the Internet. Together with your other marketing efforts, it works to establish your authority online, and makes your website easier to find for users.

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