SEO is a tricky thing. It’s something most of us have heard of or even know a thing or two about, but it’s constantly changing. It’s something that’s hard to keep up with, but that doesn’t stop it from influencing the way content is created. Whenever SEO comes up in conversation with clients, I tend to hear the same thing: they know that SEO stands for “search engine optimization” and that the better their SEO is the higher they’ll rank on search engines…but that’s about where they draw the line.
We all know good and well there’s more to SEO than this; we just don’t know enough to begin capitalizing on it. To help solve this problem, I reached out to my good friend and co-founder of The Forward Marketer, Eric Lebowitz, to answer some beginner-level questions on SEO for those just getting started (or perhaps too embarrassed to ask).
If you’re looking to learn the basics of SEO and a few expert tips and tricks along the way, read on!
Q: What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?
A: Believe it or not, there is not total agreement on this. Some people define the two terms separately, while others count SEO as a tactic that falls under the umbrella of SEM. I tend to think of SEO as falling under the SEM umbrella.
SEO refers to optimizing Web pages so that those pages appear higher in search engine rankings. It is typically broken down into two categories: on-page and off-page. On-page SEO includes elements like keyword optimization, mobile responsiveness, page load speed and meta tags. Off-page SEO, as the name indicates, is what search engines can tell about a website that happens elsewhere on the Internet. That includes factors like the number of quality backlinks to a site and the number of social bookmarks.
SEM includes any tactic used to drive people to a website via search engines, which includes SEO. But SEM also includes paid search channels—often referred to as pay-per-click (PPC)—like Google AdWords.
Q: What’s the difference between organic vs. paid results?
A: This question has some overlap with the first question. Organic search results are page rankings determined purely by a search engine’s algorithm. Paid results are advertisements that an organization can pay to have displayed prominently on a results page.
Q: What’s the difference between internal and inbound links?
A: This is a fairly simple concept. Internal links are links between pages within one domain. So for instance, a link on your “About Us” page to your “Products” page is an internal link. Inbound links are links that point to your domain from an outside Web domain.
Q: What is the difference between indexing and crawling?
A: Crawlers are the tools that search engines use to compile data about Web pages. That data is then used to create indexes, which is what search engines use to look up search results.
Q: How long does it take to see results from SEO?
A: This can vary quite a bit depending on the resources you have at your disposal. If you have the resources to invest in an SEO firm or marketing agency that offers SEO services, you could begin to see a meaningful change in as little as 2-3 months. In many cases, however, 4-6 months—or sometimes longer—is a more realistic time frame.
Q: What’s a good goal to set for your SEO?
A: This is also highly dependent on an organization’s individual circumstance. Obviously every company would love to rank on the first page for all of its target keywords, but that’s not always realistic. You could make “always improving” a goal, but at a certain point that becomes difficult or irrelevant (if you already rank on the first page, you don’t have much of an improvement left to make). My suggestion for setting SEO goals would be more around adhering to best practices, like biannual audits and prioritizing responsive design for mobile.
Q: What are the three most important things to remember about SEO?
- Good content is more important than ever. As search engine algorithms have evolved, they’ve placed less emphasis on individual keywords and more importance on how relevant content is to the phrases that people are actually searching for on the Internet. In other words, algorithms are prioritizing content based on how applicable it is to consumers’ actual needs. Makes sense!
- Technical factors are critical. Google placed much greater emphasis on mobile responsiveness starting in 2015, a change that came to be known as “mobilegeddon.” Other technical elements like H1 and H2 tags and page load speed are also critical to SEO success.
- Be patient. Improving search results takes time. You can do more harm than good by making wholesale changes to your website before having enough data to understand if your efforts are working or whether you need to reassess your strategy.
Eric Lebowitz is an experienced digital marketer and demand generation expert. He is the co-founder of The Forward Marketer, a marketing firm and HubSpot certified partner that specializes in HubSpot marketing automation and training; SEO; social media, lead generation and management; and marketing strategy. Eric has worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies in industries including technology, retail, software development, real estate, finance, energy and nonprofits. He is also a diehard Mets fan and golf lover.