Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of adapting elements of your website to work as well as possible with search engines.
It is a very complex practice, made up of hundreds of moving parts and decades of technical expertise.
It should come as no surprise that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the various aspects of SEO and its definitions.
Generally speaking, “SEO” is everything you do on your site that has an impact on how search engines view it. This includes everything from site metadata, to page speed, to mobile compatibility, to the content itself. We consider virtually everything Google analyzes to be part of SEO.
Above I say Google because, well, Google is the one we care about the most. Google has over 92.66% of the search market share and has held that level for a decade. Other search engines have small fractions of the traffic and exposure they have, such as Bing or DuckDuckGo.
However, it’s more than just market share. One of the biggest shocks to global Internet design came in 2011, when Google released its Panda algorithm update. That update penalized duplicate and low-quality content, forcing low-quality sites out of search results and promoting sites with unique, high-quality content.
But how does one begin to analyze the quality of content, in the abstract, using some sort of software? It takes almost incomprehensible amounts of processing power and extremely deep learning algorithms-not to mention a veritable legion of contractors evaluating and refining search results-and an extremely robust set of guidelines.
It’s no coincidence that Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which are part of its global help center, constitute a vast and extensive knowledge base. Over 200 different factors are analyzed and categorized as part of a site’s ranking.
Those 200 factors – each and every one of them is part of Google’s knowledge base.
Technical SEO is a subset of general SEO. These 200 factors are, more or less, all of SEO. However, technical SEO is but a small part of it. But it’s a lot, and while I’m going to list a lot of examples, I’m sure I’ll miss a few. That’s how complex SEO is.
Technical SEO basically includes anything that is a) on-site, meaning it’s part of your website, not another domain, and b) technical, not part of your content. Often, it’s also defined as anything that makes it easier to optimize your site for SEO. It has more to do with getting into the index and getting a ranking than improving that ranking. Of course, most of these factors are more than a simple yes/no checkbox, and improving them can increase your overall ranking.
Here are some of the most common examples:
Developing, updating and submitting an XML sitemap to Google facilitates proper indexing of the entire site.
Metadata. The meta title and meta description are very important parts for both indexing and ranking. However, descriptions may be on their way out.
Link management. How you link to other pages, both internally and externally, and whether you use the rel=nofollow attribute properly.
Rich data. Using schema.org markup for certain types of data helps search engines parse and index it correctly.
Site speed. Especially in recent years, the speed at which a page loads is becoming increasingly important and has become one of the main ranking factors.
Mobile compatibility. Currently, more than half of all web traffic is via mobile devices, and this figure will only increase as mobile becomes more and more powerful and popular. It is more important than ever to make a site usable on mobile devices.
Site structure. Technical SEO includes the overall structure of a site, including its layout and the URL structure of subpages.
Site navigation. For the past half-decade, Google has focused primarily on usability. Sites rank better when they are easier to navigate and use.
Using SSL for a secure site is a relatively recent but increasingly important ranking factor.
Some also consider link building to be part of technical SEO. Links pointing to your site are an important part of overall SEO, that’s true. The quantity, quality, source domains, destination, frequency and relevance of links are important factors. Link building through outreach and other methods is part of SEO. However, much of modern link building is part of content marketing, so I don’t necessarily consider it technical SEO.
Search engine optimization is enormously complex and, as such, there are many different subdivisions and many overlaps between them.
So, for example, there is a division between on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO is any SEO that involves elements of your website. Off-page SEO is anything that involves sites other than your own, which encompasses link building, use of social media, and negative traits such as link wheeling, spamming, and so on.
As you might guess, some elements fall into both categories. “Link building,” as an example, can involve creating link-bait content and conducting outreach to solicit links, which is both on-page and off-page. It is also both content SEO and technical SEO.
Content marketing is the “other half” of modern SEO. Since the advent of Panda, Google has been pushing more and more to center the web around high quality content. They want unique, original, quality content to fill every page they serve to users. When someone asks them a question, they want to give ten (give or take) possible answers on their first page of search results.
Content marketing is all about knowing what Google likes and creating content around it. We know, for example, that Google likes original content, that it tends to prefer long-form content, and so on. Creating content that responds to these desires is a skill in itself.
Content marketing or content SEO also involves knowing all about keywords. Google used to be very strict about keywords. You had to use specific keywords that matched the search queries; otherwise, the content would not be found. You had to use those keywords often enough to rank for the keyword, but not so often that you would be penalized for keyword stuffing or keyword density issues.
This problem has been solved by Google in recent years. Today, Google has a solid knowledge of synonyms and a very smart lexical analyzer that can virtually read and interpret the content of a page. Therefore, blog posts can rank at the top for keywords that don’t even appear on the page, just because the content deals with the topic.
Sometimes this causes problems, when someone searches for a specific meaning of a specific keyword and Google gives them results for a more common but incorrect meaning. However, that’s what the quotation mark operator is for: by putting quotation marks around the keyword, it searches specifically for that keyword and usually solves the problem.
Image SEO is another form of SEO you can consider. It focuses on Google’s image search function. Getting images to appear and rank high in image search is a whole different beast, involving the use of alt text, file names, captions, and surrounding content to give context to the image. It is more complicated and used less frequently, as image search does not generate as much traffic or as many conversions as standard search.
Local SEO is a specialized variant of SEO that deals primarily with location-based search and search results. A small business that only serves half of a city doesn’t care if someone three states away finds its content; it just wants people in its area to find it.
Furthermore, local SEO is not limited to organic search results, but is concerned with things like local knowledge graph results and map results. Local SEO is all about focusing on website elements such as contact blocks with name/address/phone, map embeds and keywords with the city/county/region name.
SEO for e-commerce is, as you might expect, SEO for e-commerce sites. This is SEO for product descriptions and has some overlap with technical SEO in that it is one of the primary uses of rich data markup. Properly presenting a product, making the product description appropriate for keywords and usability; all are part of store SEO.
E-commerce SEO can also include site structure and navigation elements. Category pages, product searches, display pages, dynamic pages that require canonicalization, and visual page elements are important. Moreover, e-commerce SEO not only takes into account the usual Google search channels, but must also be concerned with Google Shopping search results.
It should be mentioned that different people have different definitions for some parts of SEO, and it is always variable what falls under each type of SEO. Some consider, for example, that on-page SEO and content marketing are the same. They divide SEO into three categories. On-page SEO is content, off-page SEO is link building and promotion, and technical SEO is everything else.
You may have also heard of negative SEO. Negative SEO is SEO that a certain person may do that actively harms another site. For example, backlinks hurt a site, so if you buy thousands of spammy backlinks aimed at a competitor, it is possible to sink their search rankings and allow your own to flourish. However, the chances of this succeeding are very low, as part of Google’s algorithm can differentiate between intentional attempts to manipulate rankings and obvious attacks.
According to Google, Negative SEO does not exist. However, many webmasters disagree and can cite examples of cases where it has occurred. There hasn’t been any major general study on it, but I have seen it before, and it has even happened to one of my sites. The reality is that negative SEO attempts are usually beneficial to the site temporarily, and are easily disproven if they harm the site, so they are largely ineffective unless completely ignored.
Another SEO term you may see around is “hat” SEO. In particular, colored hats: white, gray and black. Actually, this is not an SEO category, but a sort of moral system for SEO.
“Hats” and colors are terms that come from hacker culture, but before that they came from things like Spy vs. Spy, and even before that they came from Western movies. In classic westerns, one visual way to tell who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” was the color of their hat. Those with white hats were the good guys and those with black hats were the bad guys. In SEO it’s the same thing.
White hat SEO practices are those that follow the rules, work within Google’s framework to boost a site, and are generally good.
Black hat SEO, on the other hand, is SEO that doesn’t care about Google’s rules, but how it actually works.
Gray hat SEO is sort of a middle ground between the two. It involves techniques that, while not against the letter of the law, do go against its spirit. Google could change its guidelines at any time and turn a gray hat technique black or white, but it usually does not. It remains in a sort of limbo until some major factor forces Google to make a change, usually widespread abuse of a technique.
The central element of this tourism SEO is the tourist himself.
The traveler: he is the one who has the money in the bank that will help feed you, as a business, and the OTAs, as well as the search engines, as intermediaries.
The tourist, is the protagonist of the trip, is the figure who will find you on Google if you do the SEO we are going to talk about now …. and who will book directly with you in the best case scenario.
Considering the immense and extensive nature of SEO in general, it’s no wonder that many webmasters are looking for shortcuts. There is simply too much to do in SEO at all times. Where should you focus your efforts? Learn technical SEO? Should you focus on content? Should you worry about negative SEO?
Actually, the answer is: everything is important, and the most important thing is usually content. In fact, most SEO experts consider it the most important search factor.
Luckily, there are resources that can help you with this problem. Semrush perform automated audits of virtually every aspect of SEO in general, pinpoint problems and let you know where to focus your initial efforts. Some experts, such as Neil Patel, also offer their own tips and guides to help you with a more DIY approach. And of course, you can always consult an SEO firm for a hands-on audit (and sell you on their services to fix the problems they find, of course).
It is very important to recognize that, although there are many subdivisions and subfields of SEO, it is all part of search engine optimization. You need to pay attention to all of it.
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