In this article I want to explain to you what SEO actually is? What are the challenges we face in search engine optimization (SEO)? And which optimization approaches will help you to get better results on Google in natural search?
What is SEO
SEO or search engine optimization aims to make your own relevant content appear in prominent positions. In addition to the position (ranking), it is crucial how close the match is between the search term chosen by the user, the display of the search results (snippet) and the relevance of the landing page. Search engine optimization is sustainable if the user can efficiently solve his task (task completion) on the website.
Why is SEO so important?
In the following I would like to present 5 reasons why the topic of search engine optimization is so important for you and for many companies:
- On the one hand, and you can check this with your own web analytics data, for many companies Google or search engines are the most important channel for attracting users to their own website.
- Users who come via search engines usually have a high level of motivation on your part to achieve the desired goal. After all, users entered a search term that brought them to your website.
- For many companies search engines are the most important source for using generic search terms to bring users to their own site. That means SEO is (often) the most important channel for acquiring new customers
- Google is grateful: Sustainable search engine optimization usually also leads to sustainable meetings. Once a position has been reached for a search term, it is usually very stable if the search engine optimization has been set up in a sustainable and user-oriented manner. According to a current review, zalando.de, for example, has been number 1 for the term “summer dresses” since February 6, 2017.
The goal of search engine optimization
The goal of SEO is therefore not just to be on top. Search engine optimization aims to be represented in relevant search terms with relevant pages in good positions in the relevant search engines. Apart from Google, these search engines can also be search engines such as Bing, Yahoo or Yandex, but also specialized search engines such as Amazon (product search), Indeed (job search) or Trivago (hotel search). The presentation of the text available in the search engine (snippet) is intended to motivate the user to click on the result, with the aim of meeting the user’s expectations with regard to the content of the search term, text and content of the website. The prerequisite is clear and unambiguous access to the entire relevant website, which is optimally prepared for users, regardless of the device (mobile-friendly).
Web analysis and information architecture as support for search engine optimization
The user expects the search term, snippet and content of the website to match. This content-related agreement can be analysed using key figures that you can collect in Google Analytics, for example. Good indicators here are, for example
- Bounce rate
- Average session length
- Pages / visit
- or conversion rates
Further support for a better understanding of search engine optimization can also be found in the information architecture – this helps to better understand what expectations users have of your websites. In the following graphic you will find important elements from the information architecture and the measures that can be taken to improve the user experience.
The different areas of SEO
Usually search engine optimization is divided into the following areas:
- Keywording: development of keyword strategies
- Technical SEO: technical optimization, such as site speed, crawling and indexing
- On Page optimization: content, metadata, structure
- Information architecture: Sense of Place & Information Center etc.
- Off-page optimization: internal and external linking
- Content marketing: Gaining users and links through meaningful content
- Mobile SEO: Mobile optimization and mobile friendliness
- SEO KPIs: Success measurement using meaningful key figures
- New trends: such as optimization for Google Discover
Definition of SEO on Wikipedia
Search engine optimization, or search engine optimization (SEO), describes measures that serve to ensure that content such as websites, videos and images appear in the organic search engine ranking in the unpaid search results (natural listings) in higher places. By consciously influencing the search engine placements of, for example, videos on the YouTube platform or websites on Google, these can be better listed and generate new reach.
Differentiation and interaction of SEA and SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a branch of search engine marketing (Search Engine Marketing – SEM). The second sub-area in search engine marketing (SEM) is search engine advertising (SEA), such as Google Ads or the placement of Bing Ads. Usually one tries to reach users who have a very specific need via search engines. The main differences between SEO and SEA are
- Billing system: Google Ads has a variable billing model (cost-per-click). Search engine optimization is not free, but differs in the form of billing, which is mostly project-related.
- Effect: Google Ads is very performance-oriented and has clear key figures (impressions, CTR, CPC, RPC) with understandable costs. Search engine optimization is to be understood here more like press work. By bundling many sensible measures, you increase the likelihood of good positions, only a guarantee for top positions cannot be made for you.
- Keyword strategies: The focus in SEO is on certain relevant search terms or search term clusters. With paid search, it is also possible to bid on adjacent search terms, even if they may have a poor Google Ads quality score. In the end, the conversion counts here. An example of an extended keyword strategy: Terms that are important to us are, for example, SEO seminars or SEO training, for which we optimize ourselves (SEO). Nevertheless, we are expanding the application (Google Ads) of our own seminars to include terms such as SEO training, advanced training, etc. via Google Ads.
The 6R of search engine optimization:
First of all, our own SEO definition in a nutshell:
Search engine optimization (SEO) includes all strategies and tactics to be represented sustainably for relevant search terms or topics with relevant pages in the optimal positions in the relevant search engines. With the aim of generating meaningful conversions for the company.
Relevant search engines don’t just mean Google or Bing. In addition to the “main index” from Google, vertical search services such as Google News, Google Images or Google Maps (Local SEO) can also be relevant. Search systems such as the optimization for Amazon (Amazon SEO), jammed, Monster, SlideShare or Youtube or Stepstone can also be important for search engine optimization.
With suitable SEO tools and analysis tools, you can check your search engine optimization:
- which are the right search terms for you -> Relevance
- How visible your website is in the search results compared to your competitors -> Reach
- Which positions you are at with your (relevant) search terms -> Rankings
- How high the click rate (CTR) is in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) -> Response
- how users behave on your site based on the search terms entered -> Reaction
- whether all search engine optimization measures also lead to a verifiable achievement of economic values -> Results
Relevance – Choose the right keywords and topics
The basis of your search engine optimization are research, evaluation, review and expansion of the relevant search terms or topics. In my opinion, this basis is often overlooked too quickly.
1. The research of search terms
The aim of researching search terms is to understand the users as precisely and comprehensively as possible. In order to find the right search terms, own ideas are often collected, keyword tools are used and the websites of competitors are researched. In a first step, the most extensive list of search terms should be researched in this way.
We have put together a number of keyword research tools for you. I have already put together some basic tools for your search term research here:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
- Google Suggest function and as a tool Ubersuggest or Hyper suggest
“Others were also looking for a function” and here a tool (Chrome extension)
Choosing the right search terms is a management decision: choosing the right search terms determines how users can be addressed in the right decision-making phase at the right time. Choosing the right search terms has a direct impact
- the likelihood of good positions.
- the conversion probability.
- brand perception.
2. The evaluation of search terms
In the next step, the researched search terms are evaluated. To do this, you determine:
- Quantitative analysis: how often the researched search term is searched for on Google and other search engines.
- what intention a user has when entering a search term. Is he looking for information (information orientation), for a specific company or a specific brand (navigation orientation) or does he possibly want to buy (transaction orientation)?
- whether the term is an evergreen with a consistently high search volume. Typical evergreens are “weather”, “route planner”, “online marketing”.
- whether the term is an event with regularly recurring volume. Typical events are “Bits and Brezels 2020”, “iPhone X”, “Soccer World Cup 2022” or “Annual Horoscope 2021”.
- in which purchase decision phase the user is. If the user is still in a very early phase of research, is he looking for comparative content or is he already close to a transaction.
Strategic keyword research according to AIDA
In the following graphic you can see what a keyword strategy could look like. With Fahrrad XXL, the user is accompanied with relevant content from the first possible contact point (mountain bike) to the last contact point (buy a mountain bike online).
Further criteria for evaluating a search term are:
- Competitive situation
- Potential for optimization (wording, CI guidelines)
- Possible conversion rates (from SEM experience)
- Plural or singular
- Seasonal fluctuations
- Strategic importance
- Synonyms (“training”, “course”, “seminar”)
- Negative criteria: competitor brand names, prohibited terms, terms with too many words or characters
3. The review and expansion of search terms
It makes sense to regularly check the list created in the previous step. Since Google has no longer really provided exact figures in its Keyword Planner since June 2016, it can make sense for search engine optimization to test your terms first via Google Ads for particularly relevant search terms.
For example, you want to find out:
- how high the exact search volume is for certain terms.
- how high the click rate (CTR) is on different ad texts.
- which product features or USPs convince your users
- how high are the conversion rates for your search terms
Relevant key figures for an upstream Google Ads test to define your perfect keyword strategy are:
- the number of impressions (what is the actual search volume?)
- the level of the click rate (test product features and USPs)
- the amount of bounce rates (are your users busy with your content?)
- the amount of conversion rates (do your users really want to buy?)
Google Trends for advanced analysis of search terms
Even after the first optimization approaches, you should check your own keyword set regularly:
- How do users behave who have come to your own page with exactly these search terms?
- What are the actual bounce rates?
- Which search terms really lead to a conversion?
- Are there new terms that are interesting for optimization?
- How is my visibility developing?
- How is the number of search terms developing in the top 100 (potential) and top 10 (sessions)?
These tools will help you answer such questions:
- Google Trends
- Trending Topics on Twitter
- Web analytics tools like Google Analytics
- Analysis tools such as Search metrics or SistrixSistrix as a tool for potential analysis in search engine optimization
Google has been encrypting search results pages since October 2011. The consequence: In web analysis tools such as Google Analytics, you no longer receive any keyword data; it is only shown as a keyword (not provided). This is of course a shame, which is why I recommend the Google Search Console for search term analysis:
Search term research: strategic versus tactical
Search term research generally has two dimensions: strategic and tactical.
- Strategic: For which terms would you like to be found overall?
- Tactical: If you produce a single article for your content marketing, for example, the question is, for which search terms this individual article should be found. Tools like ubersuggest will help you with this.
- Conclusion: Choosing the right search terms decides how you can address your Google users in the right decision-making phase at the right time. Choosing the right search terms therefore has a direct effect on
- the likelihood of good positions.
- the conversion probability.
- the perception of your brand.
Reach – the visibility in the search engines
The reach could also be described in old marketing German as “Share of Voice”. The term visibility has established itself in search engine optimization.
This term was coined by SEO tool providers such as SISTRIX or Search metrics.
The visibility relates to two influencing factors:
- The number and volume of search terms with which a domain appears on Google
- The positions that are filled with these search terms
Reach or visibility can be measured with tools such as SISTRIX or Search metrics. But also with the Google Search Console you can see very well how the impressions of your own domain have changed over time.
Both SISTRIX and Searchmetrics use visibility for the first check of a website. At SISTRIX this value is called the Visibility Index and at Searchmetrics it is called the SEO Visibility.
And this is how both indices are formed:
The SEO Visibility (Searchmetrics) of a domain is composed of the search volume and the positions of the keywords ranking for this input. Searchmetrics uses a factor to weight each position. In addition, it is taken into account whether the keywords are navigational or informational search interest.
For the visibility index (SISTRIX), the top 100 positions are analyzed for a large set of common keywords for a country. Then weighting is also carried out here according to search volume and position. A bad position on a much-searched keyword pays more to the index than a good position on a less-searched keyword. Here you will find how Sistrix defines its own visibility and how you interpret it in detail.
Mobile visibility: Since 2015, a ranking factor has also been whether your site is mobile-friendly. Therefore, your mobile visibility can now also be evaluated using both tools.
Even if the values of SISTRIX and Searchmetrics are not comparable, they are in themselves a good method to quickly (SEO) check problems with your website and to compare yourself with the competition.
The course is crucial
Interesting for search engine optimization are not only snapshots, but especially changes over a period of time.
The question here is: Why did changes come about?
Reasons for changes in the visibility index
When it comes to the reasons for a change in the visibility index, it makes sense for you to differentiate between internal and external factors
Visibility: internal factors
Successful or unsuccessful relaunches
technical reasons, such as the exclusion of pages / directories
technical problems such as duplicate content
Visibility: external factors
Loss / gain of external signals such as links
the optimization of competitors who have an influence on their own visibility
individual penalties from Google
general re-evaluation of your site via signals, such as the core algorithm update, panda or penguin update
New evaluation of search terms by Google, through the use of AI on Google and Bing, such as BERT or RankBrain
Would you like to know what current changes are there on Google? Moz and Sistrix will keep you posted on changes in Google’s algorithm.
Thus, the reach or the visibility is an effective indicator to first become aware of changes in the search result lists. In addition to visibility, you should always include real data, i.e. sessions and conversions (from Google Analytics, for example) in your consideration.
Rankings – your website is in these positions with your search terms
Even if the relationship between reach and rankings is very high, a distinction must be made here:
Rankings are the decisive criterion for even getting the chance of a click. The evaluation of the positions is not enough, however, to enter your set of search terms into Google and to check where you appear.
Because this is made more difficult by Google by two aspects:
The context criteria include, for example:
The personalization criteria include:
your own search history
your own click behavior
You can prevent personalization by using an incognito window in your browser or by appending the parameter & pws = 0 to the result URL. Personalization doesn’t play a big role at Google. Most of the time you can only see which pages you have visited more often.
The context remains, however, despite the possibilities just described. Since the Venice, Pidgeon and most recently Possum updates, context has become even more important for implicit local search queries.
The result: A query on a general term, as in our case “Online Marketing Seminar”, leads to different rankings depending on the regional context.
These values are useful for analysis:
- Number of search terms in the top 100
- Number of search terms in the top 10
- Number of search terms in the top 4-10
- Number of search terms in the top 3
- Number of search terms on top 1
- Percentage distribution of the search terms on the individual results pages
- Ratio of branded searches to non-branded searches
- Average rankings for the top search terms
- Visibility of individual keyword clusters
- Visibility of individual pages and directories
Note: It is also important to look at the results in Google Analytics:
- How do accesses from the organic area change?
- How many urls actually get hits from Google’s organic index?
- How strongly do visibilities correlate with real analytics numbers?
- How do users react to your content, good indicators here can be the bounce rate and the average session duration.
- What value does your SEO provide for overall business success?
Visibility: tactics and measures
To increase visibility, these measures should be on the plan:
Content strategy and content marketing
Page load speed
internal and external linking
In the case of extensive websites with a lot of content (media, blogs, publishers), aspects such as internal linking, information architecture, crawling and indexing play an even more important role.
Mobile first and search engine optimization
At the latest since the mobile-friendly from April 2015 and May 2016, the entire topic of mobile-friendliness has also been set for SEO. Furthermore, Google announced in November 2016 that the Mobile Index will be the main index in the future. Google has now implemented this announcement from November 2016 with its Mobile First Index at the end of March 2018. Aspects of how you can adjust to the “Mobile First Index” are:
Crawling: Are you having problems crawling the mobile website?
Mobile-friendly: can the website be used with smartphones?
Content: Is the important content included on the mobile website?
Content II: Is content presented in a mobile-friendly way?
Connection: Can Google recognize whether a content page is offered for both mobile and desktop and link them?
You can find more information about the Mobile First Index here and here.
Mobile optimization and page loading speed
On January 17th, 2018 Google announced that from July 2018, page loading speed will be a ranking factor in mobile search. Even if, according to Google, the first thing to do is to detect particularly slow pages, this is again a clear indication that page speed is one of the decisive factors. Google recommends, for example, tools such as Lighthouse or the Chrome extension Page Speed Insights to be able to analyze weaknesses on your own site.
For those who want to better analyze their mobile strategies, there is a blog post on the topic: Understanding mobile users and mobile website traffic better with Google Analytics.
Response – that’s how high the click rate is in the SERPs
Good positions are the prerequisite for the click.
The decisive factor, however, is whether users actually click on your snippet (result).
The first clue arises from two possible sources of analysis. On the one hand from the Google Search Console, which shows not only impressions, but also clicks and the CTR, on the other hand from the real numbers from the web analysis.
In the picture below you can see the numbers of my article on the bounce rate in the new Google Search Console: for example, we were delivered 2,357 times for the term bounce rate (impressions) with a CTR of 12.5%.
Whether or not people actually click on your snippet depends on a number of factors:
- What is the position of your result?
- Snippet design: how good are your titles and descriptions?
- Awards, such as deep links (good information architecture)
- Rich snippets, such as reviews
- Brand: How well known and how trustworthy is your brand?
- Competition with vertical integrations such as Google News or Google Image Search
- Competition from Google Ads
- Featured snippets: Is there a featured snippet above your top position?
Update from December 2017: It is important in this context that Google keeps making changes to the presentation of the snippets. For example, on December 1st, Google increased the length of the snippets, to be precise, the description, from approx. 150 standard characters to approx. in the field of mobile search, it is now around 225 characters. You can find more about this here:
Update from May 2018: In the meantime, Google has withdrawn the extension of the descriptions to 300 characters and, according to its own statements, has decreased to a length that is slightly longer than before. So about 160 characters, but at the end of the day Google has one more reservation, which means that we may also change the length as long as it makes sense for the user.
Optimize titles and descriptions with Google Analytics & Screamingfrog
Note: Here you can find my video on how you can create a process to optimize your titles and descriptions in a prioritized manner.
Titles & Descriptions: Optimizing SEO Processes with Screaming Frog & Google Analytics – 121WATT
How to optimize your SEO processes with the Screaming Frog and Google Analytics. Learn in this video how you can optimize your titles & descriptions with the Screaming Frog and Google Analytics …
Response: tactics and measures
The response can be optimized with these strategies:
Link marketing or link building
Technical optimization (rich snippets)
OnPage optimization with a focus on snippet optimization
Building your own brand through other channels
The best indicators for measuring the success of your SEO strategy in terms of response come from the Google Search Console and are the ratio of impressions to clicks (CTR). But also look in detail for a single document (URL) which search terms lead to high click rates and low click rates.
Reaction – this is how users behave based on the search terms entered
Assessing users is no longer easy since users’ search results were encrypted. The encryption means that no search term data is transferred from users to web analysis tools such as Google Analytics.
These search terms are marked as (not provided) in Google Analytics. You can see the effects here using the example of the 121WATT. The changes since its introduction on October 18 are quite dramatic.
The consequence: All evaluations based on search terms are falsified. Considerations in comparison with time are particularly difficult to interpret.
[Pro tip]: Here you can find detailed information about what (not provided) means in Google Analytics and how you can get your keyword data back in Google Analytics.
Despite the best search term research and optimization, the user decides how relevant the page is in connection with the search term entered.
These factors are indicators of high relevance:
Bounce rate or bounce rate
Length of stay
Pages per visit
Conversion Rate – Macro and Micro Conversions
Since, as I said, researching the search terms is no longer easy, we combine two analysis approaches:
On the one hand, we consider the relevance based on the search terms (see Report 1).
On the other hand, we also look at the behavior of users when calling up the target pages if they come from the organic area (see Report 2).
Google Analytics Report:
Here is a downloadable report we put together for analysis. The aim is to measure the efficiency of the pages:
Report based on entry KWs / Filter Organic (SEO sessions) – download here for Google Analytics
Reaction: tactics and measures
The tactical measures to optimize the reaction are in the focus:
Layout and design
Conversion optimization is particularly important here, as the behavior of users as a signal is becoming increasingly important for Google. These user signals, which Google calls long clicks or short clicks, are important to determine whether the result was good or bad for a user.
The panda update, first released in America in February 2011 and on August 12th. was rolled out in Germany, tried to recognize whether the content you generate for your users is really helpful and whether the user can do his job as best as possible on your side.
Results – does the optimization also lead to a verifiable achievement of economic goals?
In the end, what counts are results. And by far not just the short-term and immediate ones.
In the recap for a conversion summit, we learned from the lecture by “Mr. Web Analytics “Avinash Kaushik put together the following thoughts:
if 2% convert, what does the rest actually do? The 2% are those who make up the immediate turnover. But too often we don’t focus on the remaining 98%.
Besides the immediate macro-conversions, are there also micro-conversions that have no immediate, but medium or long-term economic value?
List of possible micro conversions
Creation of wishlists
Write a review
Become a Facebook fan
Go to a store locator
Calling up specific, strategically important company pages (product pages)
Request for an information package
When considering the ROI of search engine optimization, you should consider the input factors
the output from the point of view of macro conversions and micro conversions can also be kept in mind.
SEO makes websites better in themselves
One aspect of optimization that cannot always be assigned directly to (sustainable) search engine optimization is that it leads to better websites:
Improvement of the page speed -> reduction of bounce rate, increase of pages / visit, higher conversions
Optimization of the internal linking -> reduction of bounce rate, increase of pages / visit, higher conversions
Better information architecture -> reduction of bounce rate, increase of pages / visits, higher conversions
Link marketing -> more relevant traffic, better networking in the relevant environment, higher trust
Search term research -> Development of a user-friendly information architecture
Snippet optimization -> Analysis of the most important USPs
Results: tactics and measures
The essential SEO tactics for optimizing the results are:
Page concepts (information, navigation, transaction)
Keywording, keywording, keywording
New trends in search engine optimization
Google Discover as a new traffic channel
Google Discover: There are always new trends in search engine optimization. We will gradually expand this block for you. And whenever there are interesting new developments in search engine optimization. A new topic is, for example, the optimization for Google Discover. From the user’s perspective, Google Discover is the ability to read your own search and history content on your mobile phone based on interest. Some publishers now have a higher user volume via Google Discover than via classic search. What approaches there are to do SEO for Google Discover we wrote here in an article.
Summary: methods of search engine optimization (list)
These SEO methods are part of the overall system of search engine optimization:
Search term analysis – keywording
Domains and domain management
Page speed optimization
Link building and link marketing
Snippet optimization / rich snippets
Do you feel like doing more SEO? Then you will find our next dates for my SEO Basic Seminar here: