What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO), typically refers to the process of improving a webpage’s ranking on search engines like Google through natural means, and thereby driving traffic to the website (also known as organic traffic).
SEO’s relationship to webpage ranking is crucial for any business. Having a good understanding of SEO will let you know what steps to take to improve organic search results (search rankings) and beat those search engine algorithms. The purpose of your web pages is to drive quality traffic and, therefore, sales.
One knowledge bite for SEO 101 basics is that if your webpage ranking is low, it means that potential customers cannot find you.
Table of contents
- What is Search Engine Optimization?
- What is Organic Traffic?
- What is the difference between SEO, SEM and PPC?
- Why is SEO Important?
- What is Search Engine Results Page (SERP)?
- SEO Optimization Factors
- Ranking factors by Google
- Types of SEO
- What is a search engine, and which one is commonly used in Hong Kong?
- How Does a SEO Campaign Work?
- Algorithm updates by Google
- Common SEO tools (e.g. keyword research tools / Website Audit tools / Performance Analysis Tools).
- Can you do SEO by yourself?
- Why an SEO company or agency can help you succeed!
- Why should you pick First Page as your reliable SEO company?
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimization, popularly known as SEO, is the practice of driving website visitors – also called “traffic” – to a website via organic means while raising its search engine ranking based on certain criteria.
In other words, the goal of SEO is to get your website ranking higher on search engine result pages (SERPs). It sounds like a difficult task, but there are countless ways website owners can optimize their website. These help you rank better, get more traffic and drive conversions – win-win!
A strong SEO strategy optimizes a website to provide the optimal user experience, utilizing different techniques to appeal to search engines bots too. There are so many techniques and ways to go about it, SEO can be viewed as an art as well as a science. But this begs the question – why do it at all?
What is Organic Traffic?
The term “organic traffic” refers to searchers who locate your website by:
- Directly typing in your website URL
- A link from another website
- Unpaid Google search listings
The third point is the one site owners have the most direct power to influence, and therefore will be our main focus in this guide.
An unpaid Google search listing is also called an organic listing, which means that the site achieved its webpage ranking by using SEO to get there rather than using paid search engine marketing (SEM) methods.
Websites that achieve rank 1 for their webpage ranking on a set of search terms in Google, Baidu, Bing, or any other search engine for a search term receives the most organic traffic. According to our own research with First Page clients, over 90% of search users click only on the first page of organic search results. Moreover, the top five search results account for 80% of all clicks.
It is evident that organic traffic is crucial for attracting potential customers, and SEO is of utmost importance in digital marketing.
What is the difference between SEO, SEM and PPC?
In the world of First Page and other search marketing circles, you will often come across two common terms, SEM and PPC.
Continue reading to learn more about these two terms and their relationship with SEO.
SEO Vs SEM
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, or more commonly known as Search Marketing.
Search Marketing is a type of digital marketing that encompasses both SEO and PPC, which generate traffic through both organic and paid search.
In simple terms, Search Marketing is the process of obtaining traffic and visibility from search engines through both paid and non-paid means.
So, what’s the difference between SEO and SEM? Technically, they are not different – SEO is just a part of SEM:
- SEO = Obtaining organic traffic from search engines.
- SEM = Obtaining both organic and paid traffic from search engines.
Now, things can get a bit confusing.
Today, many people use SEM and PPC (which we will discuss in the next section) interchangeably.
This concept seems to undermine the value of SEO. However, SEO itself is marketing, just as PPC is marketing.
Here’s the best way to think about SEO and SEM:
Imagine SEM as a coin. SEO is one side of the coin, and PPC is the other.
SEO Vs PPC
PPC stands for Pay-Per-Click, which is a type of digital marketing where advertisers pay a fee each time their ad is clicked.
Basically, advertisers bid on specific keywords or phrases in search engine results. When a user searches for one of these keywords or phrases, the advertiser’s ad will appear at the top of the results.
So, if we imagine Search Marketing as a coin, SEO and PPC are the two sides of the same coin – SEO being the free side and PPC being the paid side.
Also, never think of it as “SEO vs. PPC” (i.e. which one is better), as these two channels complement each other. It’s not an either-or issue – both should be used together for best results (if your budget allows).
As we mentioned earlier, in the industry, the terms SEM and PPC are often used interchangeably. However, at First Page, we do not confuse them.
Whenever we mention “SEM,” we refer to both SEO (organic search) and PPC (paid search).
Why is SEO Important?
Firstly, according to our clients’ comprehensive data, organic search provides over half of the website’s traffic (approximately between 55-60%).
This is an important reason why the global SEO industry is expected to reach a staggering $122.11 billion by 2028.
Whenever people want to go somewhere, do something, find information, research, or purchase a product/service, their journey usually starts with a search.
Moreover, today’s search has been “fragmented” across different search platforms. Users may search on traditional web search engines (such as Google, Microsoft Bing), as well as on social platforms (such as YouTube, TikTok) or retailer websites (such as Amazon).
According to the latest report “Online Shopping Behavior of Hong Kong Residents” by the Census and Statistics Department, the average monthly online shopping expenditure is HKD 889,000 per household. Among the households surveyed, 889,000 made online food ordering, while other types of goods or services purchased online include:
- 393,000 households used digital media, online services, and online booking services.
- 353,000 households purchased travel and leisure-related services online.
- 234,000 households purchased electrical appliances, audio-visual equipment, and information and communication technology equipment online.
- 217,000 households purchased clothing online.
For the 1.4 million households who engage in online shopping, their average monthly online shopping expenditure is HKD 1,668. This means that improving your visibility and ranking higher than your competitors in search results can have a positive impact on your bottom line.
SEO is a must-do because search engine results pages (or SERPs) are filled with search features (and PPC ads). SERP features include:
- Knowledge panels
- Featured snippets
- Top stories (news)
- People also ask
Another critical reason why SEO is vital for brands and businesses is that, compared to other marketing channels, SEO traffic is sustainable. In contrast, when PPC ends, traffic ends as well.
SEO is the foundation of overall marketing, and everything your company does matters. Once you understand what users need, you can apply that knowledge to:
- Marketing campaigns (paid and organic)
- Website content
- Social media
SEO is a channel that helps bring the traffic you need to achieve your core business goals (such as conversion, visits, and sales). It also helps build trust. A website with a higher ranking is often seen as authoritative or trustworthy, which are critical elements that Google wants to reward with better rankings.
For businesses, building a website is not enough. A professional SEO strategy can help you optimize website content and structure, improve website ranking, and maximize returns through your website.
In summary, the higher your ranking, the easier it is for users to see your website on search results pages, increase website traffic, and ultimately bring more business.
What is Search Engine Results Page (SERP)?
A search engine results page (SERP) is the page displayed to a user after entering a query in a search engine.
Websites on the SERP are ranked by relevance, with the most relevant website appearing at the top. In addition, the SERP also provides other features such as advertisements and images. Search results continue to change with the constantly increasing content on the internet, and more relevant website content is ranked higher. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to maintain their ranking on the SERP!
SEO Optimization Factors
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of improving the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs). Four different factors can influence a website’s ranking in the SERPs, and SEO professionals work to optimize websites for as many of these factors as possible. These factors are:
- Technical SEO includes optimizing a website’s code and structure for better indexing and crawling by search engine bots.
- On-page SEO, or Content SEO refers to creating high-quality, keyword-rich content that will help to improve a website’s ranking in the SERPs. On-page SEO involves optimizing the content and design of individual web pages to make them more relevant and engaging for users and search engines.
- Off-page SEO encompasses activities like link building and social media engagement that can help to raise a website’s profile.
Think of SEO as a football team. To achieve victory, you need a strong offense and defense, as well as fans (i.e., audience). Technical SEO can be seen as your defense, on-page SEO as your offense, and off-page SEO as a way to attract and retain loyal fans. By improving and optimizing all aspects of SEO performance, businesses have a better chance of succeeding in the fiercely competitive digital world.
You have 100% control over content and technical optimization, but not offsite-SEO, as links from other websites cannot be controlled. Like fans, you have to earn them.
These three elements are critical parts of SEO success.
The success of SEO is closely tied to the optimization of a website’s technical elements.
It all starts with the structure – creating a website that can be crawled and indexed by search engines. As Google Trends Analyst Gary Illyes said in a Reddit AMA, “Make this damn thing crawlable.”
You want search engines to easily discover and access all the content on your pages, such as text, images, and videos. Technical elements to consider here include URL structure, navigation, and internal linking.
User experience is also a key element of technical optimization. Google often emphasizes the importance of fast-loading pages. Core Web Vitals, mobile-friendliness and usability, HTTPS, and avoiding intrusive interstitial ads are all important factors in technical SEO.
Another aspect of technical optimization is structured data (also known as schema). Adding this code to your website can help search engines better understand your content and enhance your display in search results.
In addition, website hosting services, content management systems (CMS), and website security all play a role in SEO.
In SEO, your content needs to be optimized for two primary audiences: humans and search engines. This means prioritizing helpful, high-quality content. You can achieve this by understanding the needs of human search users and following the data and guidance provided by Google.
When optimizing content for human search users, you should ensure that the content:
- Is relevant to the topic you have expertise or knowledge in.
- Includes keywords that people use to search for content.
- Is unique or original.
- Has high-quality writing with no grammar or spelling errors.
- Is up-to-date and contains accurate information.
- Includes multimedia (e.g., images, videos).
- Outperforms your SERP competitors.
- Is easy to read – makes it easy for people to understand the information you are sharing (subheadings, paragraph length, use of bold/italic, numbered/bullet lists, readability level, etc.).
For search engines, some content that needs to be optimized includes:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Heading tags (H1-H6)
- Image alt text
- Open Graph and Twitter Card metadata
Although some of these elements may not strictly fall under the category of “SEO,” they are closely related to SEO and indirectly help with SEO.
Link building (the process of increasing the number of links from other websites to your website) is the most important element of off-page SEO. Obtaining a large number of links from other relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy websites can bring you significant benefits (such as ranking and traffic). Quality of links is more important than quantity – and the goal is to obtain a large number of high-quality links.
So how do you get these links? There are several promotion methods, including:
- Brand building and brand marketing: Techniques aimed at increasing awareness and reputation.
- Public relations (PR): Techniques aimed at obtaining editorial links.
- Content marketing: Some popular forms include creating videos, ebooks, research reports, podcasts (or guesting on other podcasts), and articles (or blogs).
- Social media marketing and optimization: Obtaining your brand’s exclusive name on all relevant platforms, fully optimizing and sharing relevant content.
- Listings management: Claiming, verifying, and optimizing information on platforms where your company or website information may be found by searchers (such as directories, review sites, and Wikis).
- Ratings and reviews: Obtaining, monitoring, and responding to them.
Typically, off-page SEO does not directly affect your ranking. However, it is important to reiterate that everything your brand does is important. You want your brand to be found wherever anyone might search for you. Therefore, some people try to redefine “search engine optimization” as “search experience optimization” or “search omnipresence optimization.”
Ranking factors by Google
Now that we’ve outlined how search engines work, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of what criteria search engines use to actually rank pages in their index.
Did you know, as part of your SEO 101 basics knowledge, that there are over 200 individual factors that determine site ranking, we will summarize 5 factors you need to know the most.
1. Keyword Intent
To provide relevant results, Google first needs to determine what search users are looking for – the intent behind search queries. To do this, Google’s language model attempts to decipher the match between the relatively few words that search users enter in the search box and the most useful available content.
This involves some seemingly simple steps, such as identifying and correcting spelling errors, and extends to a sophisticated synonym system, so that even if a document doesn’t contain the exact words you’re using, Google can find relevant documents. For example, a search user might search for “change laptop brightness,” but the manufacturer wrote “adjust laptop brightness.” Google’s system understands the relationship between words and intent, linking search users to the correct content. This system took over five years to develop and significantly improved results in over 30% of cross-language searches.
2. Content Relevancy
Next, Google’s system analyzes the content to evaluate whether it contains information that may be relevant to what search users are looking for.
The most basic signal of relevance is whether the content contains the keywords that search users are using. For example, do the keywords appear in the title or elsewhere on the page? And how frequently do they appear?
3. Content Quality
After identifying relevant content, Google’s system prioritizes promoting the most helpful content to search users. To do this, they use the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of the content as signals of content quality.
Backlinks are one of the ways that Google defines expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
4. Page Accessibility
Google’s system also considers the usability of the content. When all ranking factors are relatively equal, whether search users can easily access your webpage can be the winning key.
For example, Google’s system will examine webpage experience, such as whether the layout is suitable for mobile devices, so that those using mobile devices can easily view it. Similarly, they will look at whether the content can load quickly, which is also important for mobile users.
5. Search User’s Background
Information such as search users’ location, past search history, and search settings helps ensure that users get the most useful and relevant results at the moment they search.
Google uses a user’s country and location to provide content relevant to the user’s location. For example, if you search for “football” in Chicago, Google is likely to show you results related to American football and the Chicago Bears first. But if you search for “football” in London, Google will show you results related to football and the English Premier League. Search settings also affect the results that appear in SERPs, such as if you set a preferred language or choose to use SafeSearch (a tool that helps filter out certain types of results).
Types of SEO
SEO needs to be categorized according to the needs of different industries. These specialized fields require additional SEO strategies to address different challenges.
Here are five types of SEO:
E-commerce SEO: Additional SEO strategies include optimizing category pages, product pages, multi-dimensional navigation, internal linking structure, product images, product reviews, schema, etc.
Enterprise SEO: This is large-scale SEO, typically dealing with websites with tens of thousands of pages (or multiple websites/brands) – or may be based on organizational scale (typically organizations with annual revenue in the millions or billions). Enterprise-level SEO optimization requires considering cross-departmental communication, delays, and planning from multiple stakeholders’ perspectives.
International SEO: This is global SEO for international enterprises – optimizing for multi-regional or multilingual websites – international search engines like Baidu or Naver can also be included in this category.
Local SEO: Here, the goal is to optimize visibility in local organic search engine results through managing and acquiring reviews and business listings, etc.
News SEO: Speed is crucial for news – especially ensuring that you can get into Google’s index as quickly as possible and appear in places like Google Discover, Google’s top stories, and Google News.
What is a search engine, and which one is commonly used in Hong Kong?
A search engine is a tool that helps you find information on the internet. The most common search engine is Google, which is used by billions of people around the world.
However, there are other search engines available, such as Bing and Yahoo.
In Hong Kong, the most popular search engine is Google. This is because it provides reliable results and has a user-friendly interface.
What is the most popular search engine in Hong Kong?
It’s Google! Read more about some of the latest Google SEO trends for Hong Kong.
Additionally, Google offers many useful features, such as search suggestions and web history. As a result, it is no surprise that Google is the go-to search engine for many people in Hong Kong.
How Does a SEO Campaign Work?
When you enter keywords into a search engine, the search engine will present related websites to users based on their search intent and algorithms.
To achieve better Google search ranking results, it’s important to understand how Google SEO algorithms work.
Overall, the operation of SEO primarily involves the following aspects:
- Personnel: responsible for executing or ensuring that SEO tactics and work are implemented.
- Process: actions taken to make the work more effective.
- Technology: platforms and tools used.
- Activities: final product or output.
There are many other factors that affect how SEO works. Here’s a high-level overview of six of the most important knowledge and process elements.
1. Understanding how search engines work
The internet is full of endless information, and when you use a search engine to find the information you need, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. How can search engines provide you with the information you need?
The search process is mainly divided into four steps: crawling, rendering, indexing, and ranking.
- Crawling: Search engines use crawlers to discover pages on the web by following links and using sitemaps.
- Indexing: Search engines analyze the content and metadata of discovered pages and add them to their database (although there is no guarantee that every page on your website will be indexed).
- Ranking: Complex algorithms look at various signals to determine if a page is relevant and of high enough quality to display when a searcher enters a query.
Research is a key part of SEO. Some types of research that can improve SEO performance include:
- Search user research: Understanding your target audience or market is crucial. Who are they (i.e., their country and psychographic characteristics)? What are their pain points? What questions can you answer for them?
- Keyword research: This process can help you identify and incorporate relevant and valuable search terms that people use into your pages – and understand the demand and competition for those keywords.
- Competitor research: What are your competitors doing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What types of content do they publish?
- Brand/enterprise/customer research: What are their goals – and how can SEO help them achieve those goals?
- Website research: Various SEO audits can reveal opportunities and issues that impact organic search success on the website. Recommended audits to consider include: technical SEO, content, link profile, and E-E-A-T.
- Search engine results page (SERP) analysis: This will help you understand search user intent (i.e., whether it’s commercial, transactional, informational, or navigational) and create content that is more likely to rank.
SEO strategy is your long-term action plan. You need to set goals – and plan how to achieve those goals.
Think of your SEO strategy as a roadmap. The path you take may change over time – but the destination should remain clear.
Your SEO plan may include:
- Setting goals (e.g., OKRs, SMART) and expectations (i.e., timeline/milestones).
- Identifying KPIs and metrics to stay aligned.
- Deciding how to create and implement projects (internal, external, or hybrid).
- Coordinating and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.
- Choosing tools/technology.
- Hiring, training, and building a team.
- Setting a budget.
- Measuring and reporting results.
- Documenting the strategy and process.
After all the research and planning is complete, it’s time to put your ideas into action. This means:
- Creating new content: This includes recommending what type of content your content team needs to create.
- Suggesting or implementing changes or improvements to existing pages: This may include updating and improving content, adding internal links, incorporating keywords/themes/entities, or identifying other ways to further optimize.
- Removing old, outdated, or low-quality content: This includes content types that have not performed well in ranking, have not brought in convertible traffic, or have not helped you achieve SEO goals.
When your website experiences issues or malfunctions, such as a decrease in traffic, slow page load times, unresponsiveness, disappearing from the index, the entire website going offline, broken links, or other potential catastrophic issues, you need to respond promptly. Therefore, monitoring is a critical part of SEO.
6. Data Analysis & Reporting
If you don’t analyze, you can’t improve it. To make SEO decisions based on data, you need to use:
- Website analytics: Set up and use tools (at least use free tools like Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools) to collect data.
- Tools and platforms: You can consider an “all-in-one” platform (toolkit) or choose specific SEO tools. If you have resources and the tools on the market don’t fully meet your needs, you can create your own tools.
After collecting data, you need to report progress. You can use software or create reports manually. SEO reports should tell a story, usually compared to the previous reporting period (e.g., year-over-year comparison). This will depend on the type of website (monthly, quarterly, or other intervals).ShareLikeDislike
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Algorithm updates by Google
Google’s algorithm updates are enough to make even the most seasoned SEO expert pull their hair out.
The seemingly endless cycle of changes can be frustrating, but it’s important to remember that Google is just trying to improve the user experience.
After all, that’s what its algorithm is designed to do. The most recent updates target two types of content: helpful content (aka Helpful Content Update) and spam content (Spam Content Update).
Helpful content will be rewarded with higher rankings, while spammy content will be demoted.
This update is just one more example of how Google is constantly working to ensure that its users get the best possible results when they search for something.
Like to learn more Google’s recent updates?
We have a great on-page Google Helpful Content Update post you can read to learn more fast!
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Like to learn more about on-page SEO?
We have a great on-page SEO blog post you can read to learn more fast!
Common SEO tools (e.g. keyword research tools / Website Audit tools / Performance Analysis Tools).
Any good SEO campaign starts with keyword research. After all, how can you optimize your website for search engines if you don’t know which keywords people are using to find your site?
Once you’ve identified the right keywords, it’s time to audit your website. This will help you identify areas that need improvements, such as broken links or duplicate content. There are many website audit tools available, including Screaming Frog and Lumar.
Finally, you need to monitor your website’s performance to ensure that your SEO efforts are paying off. Google Analytics is a great option for this, as it provides detailed insights into your website’s traffic and engagement levels.
Can you do SEO by yourself?
SEO is a tricky business, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. You might be thinking to yourself, “Can I really do SEO myself?” The answer is maybe.
If you’re the type of person who’s always tinkering with your website, trying to get just the right mix of keywords and content, you might be able to pull it off.
But SEO is also a full-time job, and if you’re already working full-time on your business, you might not have the time or energy to tackle it yourself.
How easy is SEO to do by yourself?
SEO is also a full-time job, do ask yourself… Do I have the time? If not, best to leave it to professionals or an SEO agency. Contact us!
That’s where an SEO agency comes in. An SEO agency can help you create optimized content for search engines and get your site in front of potential customers.
So if you’re wondering whether you can do SEO yourself, the answer is maybe.
But if you want to ensure that your website gets the most traffic possible, it might be worth hiring an SEO agency.
What issues could you face if doing SEO by yourself?
Doing your own SEO can be incredibly rewarding. After all, who doesn’t love getting free organic traffic from Google and being top of search results?
However, it can also be a bit of a minefield – especially if you’re not up-to-date with the latest algorithm changes. Also, using tools like Google Search Console can be difficult to master.
One of the biggest issues you could face is ranking. If your page cannot get keyword ranking, then it’s basically invisible to Google.
Another issue is that your page might not be crawled by Google at all. This means that even if you do have great content, no one will ever see it.
So, unless you’re confident that you know what you’re doing, it might be worth leaving the SEO to the professionals. This is so much better than trying to have search engines discover your website blindfolded!
Why an SEO company or agency can help you succeed!
There’s no denying that SEO is a complex and ever-changing field. Trying to keep up with the latest algorithm updates and best practices can be a full-time job in itself.
And that’s where an SEO company or agency can really help you succeed. By staying on top of the latest industry developments, they can help you ensure your website is always optimized for the search engines.
In addition, they can provide valuable insights into your website’s performance and offer recommendations for improvements.
So if you’re looking to give your website a boost in the search engine rankings, an SEO company or agency can definitely help you achieve your goals.
Why should you pick First Page as your reliable SEO company?
You’re looking for an SEO company to help your website rank higher, but there are so many options out there. How do you know who to trust?
It can be hard to know who to trust when it comes to SEO. Many companies make big promises but don’t deliver results.
First Page is a top-ranked SEO agency in Hong Kong that has helped businesses just like yours see real results. We have the experience and expertise necessary to help you beat the competition and reach the top of the search engine rankings.
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