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How Does SEO Work?

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How Does SEO Work?

You may have heard that SEO is essential when you want to increase traffic to your website.

When you are looking to increase the volume of customers coming to your store, incoming calls, and online orders, you need to be visible in Google Search.

Optimizing your webpages helps you rank higher and convert more searchers to customers.

But how does SEO work?

In this article, you will learn about the process used by marketers to optimize your website for search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and many others.

Let’s start by learning what SEO is all about.

What Is SEO, Anyway?

SEO stands for search engine optimization.

At its core, SEO is the process of making your site rank as highly as possible in Google when someone types in [burrito blanket] (or whatever it is you sell, promote, or talk about).

The higher your site ranks, the more visible your business is, and the more traffic and sales your business is likely to generate.

You might be a little lost if you are just getting started in SEO.

There are many sites, books, and guides (we even wrote one here at Search Engine Journal) to help you get started. But you might find that many resources offer conflicting information.

Part of the reason SEO frustrates so many people is that it changes continuously.

Why? Because when marketers get their teeth into a new “strategy,” they like to run it into the ground.

Essentially, we are why we can’t have nice things.

Also, there’s the fact that Google is constantly updating its algorithm.

SEO is a never-ending battle to get more eyes on your website and convince Google that your site is worth sending searchers to.

How Does SEO Work? Your Top SEO Questions, Answered

So, what matters when it comes to SEO?

  • Is it all about the links?
  • Does the URL structure really matter?
  • What exactly is a meta description, anyway?
  • Do you need to crank out a 2,000-word blog post four times daily?

Before diving into the more technical aspects of SEO, I will answer the most-asked questions about SEO.

Is SEO Dead?

Yes. It’s completely dead.

Our jobs are over. You should just quit now.

I’m kidding, mostly.

I’d argue that SEO is constantly dying repeatedly. Think of it like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

Strategies we’ve come to know and love get replaced by newer, more effective ones. SEO best practices die, and new ones are reborn.

So while it isn’t dead, SEO is always changing. If you want to succeed at SEO, you’ve got to be willing to roll with the punches.

What Is The Most Important SEO Factor?

There isn’t one golden SEO factor that outranks all the others.

One of the most common answers you’ll get in SEO is, “Well, it depends…”

This might be frustrating, but it’s the truth.

  • Do links matter? Yes, but they need to make sense.
  • Do you have to have links to rank? Probably, but not necessarily.
  • Does content length matter? Yes, but a crappy long post won’t outrank a short, amazing post.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

How Long Does SEO Take To Work?

Well, it depends. (Sorry!)

Only Google knows exactly how its algorithm works.

They release updates, and there are a few lists of the most crucial ranking factors.

The truth is that SEO takes as long as it takes – that might be weeks or even months, depending on your strategy.

If someone else does something just a tiny bit better, you might get bumped off the top of the SERPs.

What Is The Difference Between On-Page SEO & Off-Page SEO?

On-page SEO refers to changes you make on the site you own that impact SEO.

For example, adding an XML sitemap to boost your SEO.

Off-page SEO refers to SEO strategies that happen off your website, such as building links to pillar content.

Link Building Is Hard – Can’t I Just Buy Links?

You could. You could also run your hand through a blender. No one is going to stop you. But it’s often an ineffective SEO strategy.

Rather than buying links, I’d recommend starting with our guide to link building.

SEO Factors That Rule Today & Beyond

Now that we’ve covered the basics, you are ready to get your hands dirty.

Below, we’ll cover a few of the most critical SEO factors.

Keep in mind that SEO trends change constantly, and what works now might not work in a few months.

Relevant, High-Quality Content Wins

There are many technical SEO factors – site structure, anchor text, URL structure, and so forth.

Those details matter, but the backbone of SEO is high-quality content. If you get that right, the rest of SEO will be much easier.

If you want to crack the first page on Google, you need relevant, well-optimized content that earns links.

What do we mean by high-quality content?

Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing content:

  • Keywords are still critical, but context matters more. Google crawlers now analyze the context and look for related secondary keywords that share the searcher’s intent.
  • Include clear, keyword-rich titles, meta descriptions, alt attributes, H1 tags, and URLs. These factors tell Google that your site is relevant and help it rank.
  • Length matters, but relevance matters more. Google says, “The amount of content necessary for the page to be satisfying depends on the topic and purpose of the page.”

In short, ensure that all your content is written for humans first and optimized for Google second.

Metadata Matters

Metadata is the title and lines of text on the search results page.

For example, if you Google [who killed Carole Baskin’s husband], here’s the metadata you’ll see:

Screenshot from search for [who killed Carole Baskin’s husband], Google, July 2022

Metadata tells the user what they can expect to find if they click on the page.

Optimizing your metadata is pretty simple:

  • Include relevant but not repetitive keywords and variations in the title and description.
  • Keep it short, but not too short. Google cuts off meta descriptions around 160 characters, so aim for less than that.
  • Be clear and concise so users know what to expect.

Think of metadata as ads for your content.

Why should users click? What can you tell them?

Use the meta to encourage clicks, which will drive traffic and lead to more business.

Links Matter, But…

Links have been a critical aspect of SEO as long as Google has existed.

Links work as ‘votes’ telling Google that other sites think your content is useful and relevant.

The more high-quality, relevant links you acquire, the higher your site will likely rank for related key terms.

In short, links are still fundamental to SEO.

But, quality matters more than quantity.

If you invest in link building as part of your SEO efforts, target links from topically relevant, popular websites in your niche.

User Experience (UX) Impacts Rankings

User experience (UX) plays a substantial role in how well your website will rank on Google.

However, user experience depends on many factors like site infrastructure and layout, content, and so forth, making it hard to measure.

If you want to win at SEO, UX should be a top priority.

Here are a few best practices to follow:

  • Track internal metrics like time on page, CTR, and bounce rate. These signals are not direct ranking factors, but optimizing your site for high engagement can help indirectly. These statistics can tell you about your content’s performance. Happy users, happy Google.
  • Make your site easy to navigate. Improve your website’s navigation to ensure users quickly find the page they are looking for. “The simpler, the better” approach works perfectly here. Navigation bars, drop-down menus, internal links, and a site search will help.
  • Site speed matters a lot. Your site should load in less than two seconds in an ideal world. Image compression, code and structure optimizations, and faster servers will help. Start with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to see where you stand.

As Google becomes smarter, UX will likely play an even more important role in the future.

So now is the time to learn the basics and implement best practices on your site.

Mobile Matters More Than Ever Before

In 2018, Google moved to mobile-first indexing, which means the search engine uses mobile versions of your site to rank your sites in their results.

Google’s move makes sense because more than 50% of traffic worldwide is generated from a mobile device.

What does that mean for SEO?

First, Google suggests investing in responsive design. You must make your content consistent across desktop and mobile devices and ensure your site loads fast on mobile and desktop.

In short, you need to up your mobile game or site to languish at the bottom of Google search results.

Don’t Ignore Voice Search

When it comes to voice, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

Google said, way back in 2016, that voice searches made up around 20% of all searches performed in the Google app.

Today, over a quarter of all Americans own a smart speaker. Yet 72%  of marketers have no plans to optimize for voice search.

Does voice search matter? It does.

Voice search has grown in popularity and will likely continue to do so. It shouldn’t be your #1 SEO priority, but it does make sense to start optimizing for voice search.

Here’s why:

Most of the voice search optimization strategies also make sense for semantic search.

Here are a few steps to help optimize your site for voice search:

Voice search optimization is not a must-have right now, but voice search optimizations make sense for Google in general and may give you a leg up in the future.

3 Tips For Actually Succeeding In SEO

There are two types of SEO advice: the technical stuff I covered above and the core principles of SEO. The technical stuff will change, but these SEO tips stand the test of time.

If It Seems Shady, It Will Probably Burn You

You might have heard of black hat, white hat, and gray hat SEO.

Black hat SEO refers to the practices that are totally against Google’s terms of service.

Like building 10 sites and interlinking them to make Google think your crappy bitcoin sites are legit.

This is where the acronym PBN comes into play.

Then there is a gray hat, which may not be technically wrong but walks a thin (gray) line.

White hat is above the board, totally legit SEO. Some have convincingly argued that a white hat isn’t a thing anymore.

A lot of SEO pros walk the gray hat line. And a lot of them get burned.

To succeed in SEO, you need to do things the right way.

If something feels off – like buying or selling links – it will probably burn you and torpedo your chances in search.

Trust me. It is not worth the long-term risk.

Read Real Experts

There are a lot of SEO “experts.”

Some of them claim to get you to the top of page one on Google “guaranteed!”

Others don’t actually do SEO but write about it a lot. Make sure your sources are reputable.

Take everything you read with a grain of salt because nothing is universal.

What works for an ecommerce site in tech isn’t necessarily going to work for a restaurant supply store.

Pay attention to what comes from Google directly from folks like John Mueller and Gary Illyes.

Test, Test, And Test Again

SEO is about determining what works for your site in your industry based on your unique landscape.

The only way to figure that out is to test – and keep testing repeatedly.

If you’re using shady tactics, all your work may go to waste if Google’s latest algorithm update changes things. But if you apply SEO best practices and consistently test, you can be prepared for when the winds change.

Testing is an eternal part of any successful SEO strategy.

Conclusion

SEO is ever-evolving.

Every SEO professional would love to find the magic formula that rockets their sites to the top of SERPs and keep them there forever.

Unfortunately, SEO doesn’t work that way.

There are rules and best practices, but SEO’s core is figuring out what works for your site or client and then changing it when it stops working.

My final advice is this:

  • Keep a close eye on your competitors.
  • Follow best practices.
  • Test.

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

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What Is User Experience? How Design Matters To SEO

User experience is the foundation of a site’s usability, and it’s an aspect of on-page SEO that many people overlook.

If your site lacks the positive user experience and ease of use that end users require to navigate your site, you’ll push visitors to your competitors.

In this guide, you’ll learn what user experience (UX) entails, the types of experiences, the difference between UI and UX, and why it matters to SEO.

What Is User Experience (UX)?

UX is how people interact with your website.

You’ll also find this term used for products, but we’re focusing strictly on websites at the moment.

If you have a, intuitive user interface design, users will have an easier time navigating your site and finding the information they want.

If you do have a digital product, such as a SaaS solution, this interaction will also occur on your digital product.

User experience elicits a couple of things:

In short, user experience can provide a positive experience with your website – or it can lead to frustration among users.

Note: Usability is not UX design. It’s a component of UX that works with design to create the experience your users desire.

What Are The Types Of User Experience?

User experience evaluation must look at the three types of UX design to best understand the needs of the end user.

The three types of UX include:

  • Information: One aspect of a content strategy that goes overlooked is information architecture. Time must be spent on how information on a site is organized and presented. User flows and navigation must be considered for all forms of information you present.
  • Interaction: Your site has an interaction design pattern – or a certain way that users interact with the site. Components of a site that fall under the interaction UX type include buttons, interfaces, and menus.
  • Visual design: Look and feel matter for the end user. You want your website to have cohesion between its color, typography, and images. User interface (UI) will fall under this type of UX, but it’s important to note that UI is not interchangeable with UX.

What Is The Difference Between UI & UX?

Speaking of UX and UI, it’s important to have a firm understanding of the difference between the two to better understand user experience.

User Interface

UI design is your site’s visual elements, including:

Visual elements on your site are part of the user interface.

UI definitely overlaps with UX to an extent, but they’re not the same.

Steve Krug also has a great book on usability, titled “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability.” It was first published in 2000, and the book is a #1 bestseller today.

Steve’s insight from over 20 years ago (although we’re now on the 3rd edition of the book) provides guidelines on usability that include:

  • Desktop.
  • Mobile.
  • Ease of use.
  • Layouts.
  • Everything UX.

If there’s one thing this book will teach you about usability, it’s to focus on intuitive navigation. Frustrating website users is the exact opposite of a good user experience.

User Experience

UX works on UI and how the user will:

  • Interact with your site.
  • Feel during the interaction.

Think of Google for a moment.

A simple landing page that is visually appealing, but Spartan in nature, is the face of the Internet. In terms of UX, Google is one of the best sites in the world, although it lacks a spectacular UI.

In fact, the UI needs to be functional and appealing, but the UX is what will stand out the most.

Imagine if you tried performing a search on Google and it displayed the wrong results or took one minute for a query to run. In this case, even the nicest UI would not compensate for the poor UX.

Peter Morville’s user experience honeycomb is one of the prime examples of how to move beyond simple usability and focus on UX in new, exciting ways.

The honeycomb includes multiple points that are all combined to maximize the user experience. These facets are:

  • Accessible.
  • Credible.
  • Desirable.
  • Findable.
  • Usable.
  • Useful.
  • Valuable.

When you focus on all of these elements, you’ll improve the user experience dramatically.

Why User Experience Matters To SEO

By this point, you understand that UX is very important to your site’s visitors and audience.

A lot of time, analysis, and refinement must go into UX design. However, there’s another reason to redirect your attention to user experience: SEO.

Google Page Experience Update

When Google’s Page Experience Update was fully rolled out, it had an impact on websites that offered a poor user experience.

The page experience update is now slowly rolling out for desktop. It will be complete by the end of March 2022. Learn more about the update: https://t.co/FQvMx3Ymaf

— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) February 22, 2022

Multiple aspects of UX are part of the ranking factors of the update, including:

  • Intrusive adverts.
  • Core Web Vitals.
  • HTTPS Security.

You can run a Core Web Vitals report here and make corrections to meet these requirements. Additionally, you should know whether your site has intrusive ads that irritate users, and if your site lacks HTTPS.

Page performance works to improve your SEO. Google’s research shows that focusing on UX can:

  • Reduce site abandonment by as much as 24%.
  • Improve web conversions.
  • Increase the average page views per session by as much as 15%.
  • Boost advertising revenue by 18% or more.

When you spend time improving your site’s UX, you benefit from higher rankings, lower page abandonment, improved conversions, and even more revenue.

Plus, many of the practices to improve UX are also crucial components of a site’s on-page SEO, such as:

  • Proper header usage.
  • Adding lists to your content.
  • Making use of images.
  • Optimizing images for faster loading times.
  • Filling content gaps with useful information.
  • Reducing “content fluff.”
  • Using graphs.
  • Testing usability across devices.

When you improve UX, you create a positive experience for users, while also improving many of the on-page SEO foundations of your website.

Final Comments

Customer experience must go beyond simple responsive web design.

Hick’s law dictates that when you present more choices to users, it takes longer to reach a decision. You’ve likely seen this yourself when shopping online and finding hundreds of options.

When people land on your site, they’re looking for answers or knowledge – not confusion.

User research, usability testing, and revisiting user experience design often will help you inch closer to satisfying the SEO requirements of design while keeping your visitors (or customers) happier.

More resources: 


Featured Image: NicoElNino/Shutterstock



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How to Rank for Google’s Helpful Content Update

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How to Rank for Google’s Helpful Content Update

Zero Traffic from Google—that is what more than 50% of online content gets everyday. Ahrefs found this out last 2020.

And yet, countless websites continue to put them out regularly—a problem made even worse with all the AI-powered content tools out there. The result is an endless flood of low-quality blogs and posts that are, ultimately, not useful for anyone who reads them. 

So, what did Google do in response? They put out another addition to their algorithm, called the “Helpful Content Update.” Their goal with this one was to help make sure that valuable content that actually helps their users (a.k.a., people-first content) would be able to rank. 

Much like with every update, SEO professionals like you and I need to revisit our strategies to stay ahead of the game. In this article, I will show you some tactics I use to write content for people first, while maintaining good SEO practices. 

What We Know About Google’s Helpful Content Update

The Helpful Content Update algorithm update by Google was designed to improve user experience by putting high-quality content written for people higher up in the SERPs. 

Here’s how Google put it in their own words

“The system generates a site-wide signal that we consider among many other signals for ranking web pages. Our systems automatically identify content that seems to have little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.

Any content—not just unhelpful content—on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”

While this update was first announced back in September 2022, it has now progressed into a global update, impacting all languages. Google also announced that the system will continue to publish new signals over the coming months, helping their site identify more content created primarily for search engines versus people.

What does this mean for your website? Well, there are a lot of changes that others have documented in the last few months, which I summarize for you here: 

  • Purely AI-generated content is considered spam, and Google will be using its machine learning algorithm to detect it.
  • Content made for clicks (i.e., ad monetization) won’t work anymore
  • There may be no manual penalties, but sites have experienced losing organic visibility
  • It seems to affect the overall site performance, rather than hitting specific pages—and Google won’t be telling you which pieces of your content it has deemed as not useful.

Google’s Danny Sullivan also talked about this update possibly working in connection with future updates:

Google’s Danny Sullivan talking about Google

So, like Hummingbird, this update may become fundamental to ranking algorithms—which means that its exact effects could be only observed over the next few years.

Even so, it already puts a stronger emphasis on your content. Writing with a “search engine first” approach should no longer be your angle. 

After all, Google is, primarily, a space for users to learn. So, it makes sense that they’re making no room for unhelpful content.

While this update will undoubtedly be more damaging for poor-quality sites, it also presents an opportunity for well-maintained sites to take a second look at their content strategy. 

How to Optimize Your Content—and Make it More “Helpful”

With this update, we have to start thinking about our content holistically, rather than just trying to gain as many clicks as possible (or maybe even a featured snippet).

To achieve this, you have two main action points to consider: improving your intent and processes, and providing high-quality content.

Let’s go over some tips I’ve come up with in the last two months to better tackle these points (and enhance your writing): 

Review Your Intent and Your Audience

Before you even start on your next blog post, you need to know who your audience is. 

Ask yourself, who are you writing for? What are their needs, and why are they asking these questions? What do they need help with?

These questions will help you tailor your content to help your target audience. Otherwise, it’s likely that whatever you write won’t be considered helpful by Google—and you won’t be able to reap the benefits from your work. 

If you’re having trouble understanding who your audience is, then take a look at your Google Analytics data, under your demographic details report. This is the best place to gain some insight into who is currently looking at your content, as well as other things they might be interested in. 

So, beyond inserting your keyword into your blog post, consider factoring both your intended audience and relevant adjacent content. 

Provide Real Expertise, Insights, and Experiences

When it comes to making helpful, valuable content, it’s a big plus if you have some first-hand expertise to add to your writing. 

Avoid writing on topics that are trending, but you know nothing about. I also highly recommend against simply regurgitating information you’ve seen in other posts. Instead, your insights and experiences with the topic should be the main focus of your writing.

Not an expert on the particular topic you’re currently drafting? That’s okay—not everyone can be one. You can still produce helpful content by doing your due diligence, diving deep into research, and sharing what you’ve learned. 

Remember, readers can see right through you if you’re faking being an expert, so avoid making false claims at all costs. 

Use AI Content Strategically

Though this update may be primarily aimed at reducing the amount of AI-generated content out there, that doesn’t mean your tools no longer have a place in your work. 

AI tools, such as the increasingly popular ChatGPT or our recently-reviewed Content Marketing Platform from SE Ranking, can still be used to improve your work and productivity. The key is to use them strategically. 

Use them to lighten your workload, and avoid depending solely on them. For example, you can use your tools to help you generate better titles or introductions—but always remember to add a human touch to whatever they make. And, make sure that the bulk of the ideas come from you! 

Try to Hit Related Queries (Such as the People Also Ask (PAAs))

I mentioned that we have to start approaching our writing holistically, and that means providing as much valuable information to our readers as possible. 

Now that being helpful is the name of the game, it’s a great time to take a look at all the related queries users have for your intended topic. Here’s what comes up when I google ‘wedding catering:’

PAAs and related searches for the keyword "wedding catering"

Check the PAAs and related searches that pop up when you type in your keyword. These aren’t just generated questions Google thinks people might ask—they’re actually being searched up by real people! These will provide good subheadings to include in your next blog article.

Ask Yourself: Will Readers Be Satisfied After Reading Your Content?

Things like word count and keyword density are now a thing of the past with this update. The most important thing now is that your audience enjoys what they’re reading, or they learn something of value from your article. 

In short, they leave your site feeling satisfied

So, always gauge your writing by asking this question: will people be satisfied after reading this?

For example, if you’re writing an article on how to properly brew specialty coffee, will the reader come away from your article with more knowledge than before? Will they have all their questions answered? Will they know how to properly brew their new coffee beans?

If the answer is yes, then you’re doing great. But, if you’re unsure—or the answer is a resounding no—you must make some changes. 

That said, not every reader that comes across your work will be happy with what you’ve written. It is, after all, impossible to please everyone each time you publish something. However, as long as a majority of your audience is satisfied, then you’re doing something right! 

Revisit Your Old Posts

Lastly, because this update affects you sitewide, it’s a good idea to look at your previous work. 

If you’re like me, then you’ve been blogging for upwards of a decade—and that might mean some of your posts aren’t as valuable to readers today. The content might be outdated, or not up to snuff with newer guidelines, but either way, this bank of legacy content can bring your traffic down.

So, revisit your work and review its ability to provide your readers with the answers and experience they’re looking for. Take the time to check if you need to make some additions to make it useful once again, or redirect them to newer content. I highly recommend prioritizing evergreen content, which is something I covered in my Blog Writing 101 guide.

This is especially important if you’re in any industry that moves fast (think fashion or tech). Content here usually goes from helpful to obsolete in a matter of months! 

Key Takeaway

Google has always favored people-first content, and this recent update is just the latest in many of their attempts to make sure the right content gets to their users. 

The Helpful Content Update will continue to release tweaks to their signals over the coming months, so it’s prime time for us SEO specialists to take a second look at our content and writing strategies.

Luckily, this update could be a win for you—just keep these tips in mind, and you’re on the right track to getting the most value from your content efforts. 

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What Are the Benefits of SEO? (And How to Get Started)

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What Are the Benefits of SEO? (And How to Get Started)

If you are a business owner, you may have heard about how vital search engine optimization (SEO) is. But how can it help fast-track your business’s growth, get more customers, and make a difference to your bottom line?

In more simple terms: Why do SEO? 

1. It increases your organic share of voice

There are an estimated 3.5 billion searches on Google each day. To tap into this audience, you’ll need to do SEO. 

One of the key benefits of SEO is increasing your organic share of voice (SOV). More organic SOV means more traffic, leads, and revenue for your business.

It also means more market share in your industry. We can see from the graph below that there is a strong relationship between SOV and market share

Relationship between SOV and market share graph

At Ahrefs, we calculate organic SOV by dividing the traffic to the site by the total search traffic for all keywords.

In other words, if you only track one keyword and the top 10 positions are occupied by pages of your website, your SOV is 100%.

So how can you measure organic SOV?

We first need to create a new project in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker and add our keywords for the website we want to track.

How to add keywords in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker, via Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

Once you have added a new project and added your keywords, you can go to the dashboard and check your SOV.

It should look something like this:

SOV screenshot, via Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

If you click through the SOV on the dashboard, you can look at your competitor’s SOV compared to your SOV.

SOV vs. competitors screenshot, via Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

If no competitors are showing in your dashboard, you can change that by: 

  • Going into Settings.
  • Clicking on the Competitors tab.
  • Clicking on + Add competitor.

Enter your competitors manually or press the + to add them from the list below that shows the keyword intersection.

Adding competitors via settings menu, via Ahrefs' Rank Tracker

Once you are happy, click the Save button and return to the dashboard. You should now be able to compare your competitor’s SOV against your website’s SOV. 

Recommendation

Check out Michal Pecánek’s article on SOV to get a detailed guide on how to measure SOV.

2. It’s less intrusive than other types of marketing

Intrusive marketing is annoying.

It may seem obvious. But when our lives are full of adverts, cold calls, and emails from random people trying to sell you their products all the time, it’s very advantageous to be an inbound marketing channel

Intrusive outreach example, via Linkedin.com
An intrusive marketing example sent to me from LinkedIn.

SEO targets people who are actively searching for your services or products. 

Because of this, it’s excellent at converting—all you need to do is focus on what they are searching for.

You can find what your customers are searching for using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Enter a relevant topic and go to the Matching terms report. Here, you’ll see many topics your customers are searching for, which you can target.

Matching terms report example, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

You can search, discover, and analyze keywords using our very own Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

SEO is not just for Christmas.

In all, 45.6% of SEOs say SEO takes about three to six months. It may seem like a long time for the channel to work, but SEO is a long-term marketing channel where growth typically compounds over time. In other words, if you put the time and effort into SEO, the results will likely be well worth it. 

Looking at Ahrefs’ organic traffic graph, most of our rapid growth occurred in the last year or so when our traffic started to compound. 

Ahrefs.com organic traffic performance

Google’s algorithm updates mean that your website’s traffic will fluctuate. But as you can see from the graph, it’s a positive trend in the long term.

Over time, you should be able to rely on SEO to bring in a constant stream of traffic to your site. 

When we asked ~4,300 SEOs how long SEO takes, they gave a variety of responses. But only 16.2% of SEOs said that SEO takes between one and three months.

Pie chart showing percentage breakdown of SEOs responses to how long SEO takes

I agree with the majority of SEOs here. But I would add a qualifier—that it depends on the type of website you are working on.

For example, if you set up a brand-new website, it will have little to no authority. This is because it will have no links pointing to it and will probably have minimal content on the site. 

These elements are just some indicators or ways in which Google judges your website’s authority and decides which top results should be on its SERPs.

Recommendation

If you are improving the SEO of a website that’s been around for a few years, then the SEO will likely take effect faster. This is based on my experience, but you may get different results with your website.

Unlike paying for PPC, organic search traffic is free. 

If Ahrefs used PPC to pay for its organic traffic, Ahrefs’ Site Explorer estimates it would cost an eye-watering $2.3 million per month or $27.6 million per year.

Monetary value of Ahrefs' organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can see from this example why improving SEO and increasing your organic traffic can be a highly valuable investment for your business.

Getting started with SEO doesn’t always mean you have to spend a lot, either. If you are willing to learn about SEO basics, you can do a lot of the work yourself to bring costs down.

Recommendation

When it comes to tools, you don’t have to spend a lot when you are starting out. You can use Ahrefs Webmaster Tools for auditing your site and our free SEO tools to optimize it further.

It’s always on—24/7

Unlike paid marketing, SEO is always on. It continues to work for you while you are asleep. 

You’ll get more overall value from SEO than other marketing channels. It doesn’t cost any extra to have it running all the time.

Another benefit is that once your website is established with good rankings, SEO will maintain them over time and drive consistent traffic to your website. 

The only thing that can stop this is if there is a serious technical issue with your site or you have fallen foul of Google’s search guidelines

Reduce your dependency on PPC 

It’s easy for a business to rely on pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, but it can be expensive to maintain this marketing strategy. 

SEO can help you change this.

Once you have some important keywords ranking number #1 on Google, you can consider turning off some of your PPC marketing, which could result in significant savings for your business.

5. It improves user experience

Many people have high expectations for websites these days. They expect them to be clear, intuitive, and lightning-fast. 

When websites don’t work as people expect, they get frustrated. And if they have a bad experience, this can create a negative perception of the brand. 

To do well in SEO, you’ll need to provide your visitors with the best possible user experience. 

But how can you optimize for user experience in SEO?

SEOs typically divide user experience issues into three categories: 

  • Site speed
  • Core Web Vitals
  • On-site optimization

Let’s take a closer look.

Site speed

Site speed is one of the most critical factors for your visitors. If your website is slow to use, visitors will likely leave your site and probably not return.

A few years ago, Google tested 900,000 websites worldwide. It reported that 53% of people would leave a website if it took three seconds or more to load.

To test your site speed, you can use a tool like webpagespeedtest.org. Let’s take a look at Ahrefs speed metrics using this tool.

Ahrefs' speed performance

We can see above that the speed index is under three seconds for Ahrefs. If your website loads in more than three seconds, then you may want to consider speeding up your website. 

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are Google’s quality signals it introduced to quantify the user experience of your website. 

They are:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – For load performance.
  • First Input Delay (FID) – For visual stability.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) – For interactivity.

Here’s what Google classifies as good and bad scores for these metrics.

Good Needs improvement Poor
LCP <=2.5s <=4s >4s
FID <=100ms <=300ms >300ms
CLS <=0.1 <=0.25 >0.25

Defining metrics for user experience is a benefit, as website owners can know exactly how their websites perform against Google’s expectations. 

Monitoring Core Web Vitals and site performance may sound technical, but you can keep an eye on them using Ahrefs’ Site Audit

For example, here’s a screenshot from the Performance dashboard highlighting two issues with CLS and LCP. 

Pages with poor CLS and poor LCP, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

As you can see from the above, Site Audit automatically identifies all low-performing pages for you.

On-page optimization

On-page optimization is another area of SEO that can help benefit your website. With on-page optimization, SEOs critically examine your website and audit it for any issues that may impact the user experience.

A good example of on-page optimization is adding subheadings, or heading tags, to your articles. Adding subheadings makes your content easier to read by establishing a visual hierarchy.

Subheadings improve readability by creating visual hierarchy

On-page optimization is less quantifiable than Core Web Vitals, but spending time on it will pay dividends for your website in the long run.

Ahrefs’ Site Audit can monitor headings, image alt text, internal linking, and other on-page optimization factors.

Here’s an example of a scheduled report you can get for heading optimization opportunities.

Heading optimization opportunities, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

You can use this report to identify many improvement opportunities for your website.

6. It puts your store online

If your business has a physical store, you can add it to a Google Business Profile for free.

Google My Business local listing example for Google San Francisco

Adding your business to Google’s business listings means you will appear on Google Maps when someone searches for your business or related keywords.

It’s a great way to highlight your business locally. For some businesses focused on local trade, this listing can be one of their most crucial organic search assets.

It also gives you a helpful way to communicate your business hours and opening times to your customers—something they will appreciate.

By having a solid organic presence and utilizing tools such as Google Business Profile, you can be sure that your online business will pick up sales even when you can’t open your physical store. 

So how do you set up your own Google Business Profile listing?

Setting up a Google Business Profile is straightforward and a three-step process.

  1. Claim your business profile 
  2. Add your business hours and details 
  3. Manage your profile, share any business updates, and respond to customer reviews

Once you have done this, you can monitor your business profile’s performance with the built-in analytics.

GMB analytics, via Google My Business

Using a Google Business Profile allows you to discover how people are searching for your website and helps you to understand how your business connects with customers online.

Building trust with customers is just as important online as it is offline. You wouldn’t buy something from a physical shop if the shop was run-down and the service was poor. 

The same applies to websites.

Your website should be fully operational and perform well in search engines. It should be secure and provide a great user experience to your customers. 

Having good SEO on your website shows you’re an authority in your industry. It shows you have the information and expertise customers are looking for.

It also means searchers will click on your website in the results because it is more prominent than your competitors—you will get the customers, and they won’t. 

The bottom line here is that by improving your website’s SEO, more visitors will trust your brand, which will drive more traffic and sales.

Learn more

Now you know the key benefits of SEO, you may want to start learning about it in more detail.

I’ve collected some helpful resources below to help you get started, so you can learn about SEO and start to reap the benefits:

Got more questions? Ping me on Twitter. 🙂



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