Anyone who creates content for the web has likely heard of search engine optimization, or SEO. But what is SEO and how does it work? Here are six things content marketers should know before trying to increase their search rankings.

What is SEO?

SEO is all the things content creators do to optimize their content for visibility in search engines, such as Google. It’s not just the written copy you use on your site, says Carlos del Rio, co-author of User Driven Change: Give Them What They Want and owner of Agillian, a search marketing company specializing in technical SEO and conversion rate optimization. Good SEO also means communicating with search engines through code and semantic html markup, creating local listings, creating shareable content, making your content efficiently findable by search engines, and implementing analytics to understand your results, he says.

Why SEO Matters

Even if you think you have the best content out there, it will be tough to get the word out about your brand if people can only find this content if someone shares it on social media or if they already know to visit your site. Providing information potential customers need, when they’re searching for it, can be very powerful, says del Rio.

“Your website can be incredibly empowering for your customers to engage on their own schedule, which will take you much further than broadcast actions like advertising,” he says.

What to Know About Search Engines

Understanding how search engines work is an important piece of understanding SEO. A couple of important things to keep in mind are that search engines strive to pretend they are human, and what they show is very dependent on the person searching, says del Rio. These two points can help you better understand what kind of language, both in content and on the backend, to use to speak to search engines.

How to Rank Well

Online communication is more dependent on style and structure than other venues, says del Rio, which is why placing important information prominently will get you the best results. “Readers do a lot of scanning. If you can’t tell what is important, you will probably skip it,” he says. “If the things that look most important don’t give you what you want, you are unlikely to stay or share the content.”

The speed of your site also could be a make or break when it comes to SEO. “If your site is slow, it will make people and search engines less invested,” says del Rio.

And while you don’t have to be a coder, learning some of the lingo can go a long way. (Learning the meaning of sitemap.xml, robots.txt, and rel=cannonical is a good place to start.)

Become Your Own Biggest Fan

If you’re truly a fan of your product or mission, you’ll be able to write and talk about your business in an engaging way that will get you better results, says del Rio. To that end, while it’s important to constantly work on improving your copy, don’t lose site of working on improving your product, too. “Good marketing can’t fix a broken business model,” says del Rio.

What the Future Holds

Over the last five years, Google has been “dumbing down” their search engine, as del Rio puts it. This push towards simplicity for users could begin to shake up things you were once told about SEO, and content marketers need to be on their toes to keep up with changes. “For the foreseeable future, smart marketers should be looking to expand their understanding of reputation management,” he says. “SEO is about more than just your site, it is about the ecosystem of your brand, your competitors, and your customers.”

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