Search engine optimization (SEO) is a strategy intended to help a website rank higher in search engines like Google. On the surface, SEO is fairly easy to understand, but there are thousands of factors that could potentially affect your ranking, and there’s always more to learn (since Google is constantly refining its search algorithm).
If you wanted to become a true SEO expert, it would take several years of study and practice, but learning the basics doesn’t take nearly as long; in fact, if you’re dedicated, you can develop a strong understanding of the basics in a week or two. So why would an entrepreneur want to learn these basics in the first place, and where should they start?
Let’s start by covering the basics of SEO. Search engine algorithms work by collecting information on existing websites, forming an index that can be referenced easily; think of it as collecting books in a library. From there, the algorithm uses two main groups of factors to determine how to rank each site for a specific search query: relevance and authority. Relevance is how appropriate a site’s topic is for the query at hand, and authority is how trustworthy the site is.
Ultimately, webmasters have several tools for improving their relevance and authority:
- Technical factors. Sites need to be constructed in a way that allows search engines to crawl them using their automated bots known as crawlers or spiders. It’s also a good idea to construct them using technical standards favorable to search engine results, like employing Schema.org microformatting.
- Onsite content. You’ll also need to master the art of onsite content, fleshing out your core pages with keywords relevant to your brand while producing an ongoing series of blog posts regularly. These will increase the breadth of your relevance while simultaneously serving as anchor points on which you can build authority.
- Link building. Possibly the most important factor is building offsite links, since links are a practical necessity for building authority. Search engines measure the trustworthiness of a site based on the number and authority of links pointing to it, so the stronger your backlink profile is, the better. It’s hard to build trustworthiness with onsite content alone.
Why Invest the Time?
So why should you, as a current or prospective entrepreneur, invest the time in learning these SEO basics?
- Direction potential (and ranking benefits). Once you understand the basics, you can start officially optimizing your site for search engines (or providing direction for employees and contractors to optimize your site on your behalf). Higher search rankings are generally associated with higher traffic volume, which should ultimately make your site more profitable. SEO is also a highly cost-effective strategy, so learning the basics instead of pouring money into direct advertising can save you money in the long-term.
- Context for outsourcing. For most businesses, it’s more efficient to outsource your SEO work with a professional SEO agency. They have access to more specialists and professionals, and tend to employ strategies faster and more efficiently than you can. However, outsourcing doesn’t completely relieve you of responsibility; understanding the basics of SEO gives you the vocabulary and knowledge you need to converse with your account representative, comprehend their approach, and maybe even make suggestions for the future.
- A better eye for search results. Understanding what types of titles and phrases work best for search engines can also give you a better eye for search results. When you’re doing research for your business or looking at competitors, you can quickly filter out results that were created intentionally to get ranked and work to understand why they got ranked as high as they did. Excessively keyword-stuffed or click-enticing headlines should be taken with a grain of salt.
- Context for complementary strategies. SEO works best as part of a suite of online marketing strategies, since it complements and enhances other strategies while also being enhanced by those strategies. Understanding the basics of SEO allows you to contextualize those other strategies. For example, how can you make the most of your press releases to also optimize your site for search engines? How can you use SEO for your new product landing page?
- Backup skills. Even if your business is in solid standing now, don’t forget that 50 percent of businesses fail within the first five years of operation. Learning the basics of SEO gives you a valuable marketing skill that you could potentially put to good use in another professional role.
Every entrepreneur and nearly every professional can benefit from learning more about SEO. Search engines have an enormous impact on how we live our lives, so it only makes sense that we should work toward a better understanding of how they work.