What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

As an aspiring online teacher and digital nomad, you’ve likely heard the term ‘SEO’ thrown around quite a bit. You may even be aware that it stands for ‘Search Engine Optimization.’ Online entrepreneurs and marketers won’t shut up about it, and have expressed unusual hatred of  ‘Pandas’,  ‘Penguins’, and ‘Hummingbirds’.  But what the heck is SEO, and how does it affect your situation?

The simplest answer is this: SEO is what makes your website show up number one in natural search results when someone looks for something online. Primarily as related to Google. As an example, let’s say you have set up a site offering online guitar lessons. I’m looking to take a lesson, and head to Google. I search for “best online guitar lessons.” If your site came up at the top of the natural list, that means that your SEO is great.

The key here is the term ‘natural.’ I am not talking about the Google Ads which show up in the first 2-3 positions. You have to pay, sometimes big money, to show up there. Natural results are what most people click on, and appearing there is free. Getting there, however, can take a lot of work over months and even years. In this article we are going to give you the quick 50 cent tour of what SEO is.  Stay tuned for later articles in which we go into SEO in-depth.

What is Search Engine Optimization? The basics

SEO is the art/science/magic that makes your website show up number one in Google searches. But of course, you will never show up number one for everything. The first step when you start doing SEO is figuring out which words – Keywords as they are called – you want your site to rank for. Google Analytics Keyword tool is the best tool to find out if a keyword is worth it, and if there is actually anybody looking for it. If you have a Gmail account, you already have access to it. If not, go get a free Gmail account.

Google Keyword Tool allows users to test the keywords, such as “online guitar lessons“, “best online guitar lessons,” “guitar lessons in Miami” and see if anybody actually is looking for them. For solo-preneurs and digital nomads like us, the sweet spot is to try to find keywords that have 500-5000 searches each month. That is enough searches to make a good income. But not enough that big players in the industry are going to bother competing for.

Once you have identified the keywords you’re going to shoot for, the goal is to get your website ranked for those keywords.  For this, there are two parts: what we call on-page SEO (~20% of ranking factors) and off-page SEO (~80% of ranking factors).

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is basically a matter of optimizing the HTML code and the keywords on your website itself. The benefit here is that you have total control over this, and if you built your website in WordPress, a lot of this can be done automatically by installing Yoast SEO.

Incorporate strategic placement of the keywords throughout the site and in written content on the site, such as blog articles.  Make sure your page titles are related to the words you want to rank for, optimize your H1 tags and make sure your internal link structure makes sense.  By placing your site in front of people searching for content like yours, on-page SEO helps your website increase the amount of relevant traffic generated by search engines.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO is the hardest part, and also the most important. The “what” of off-page SEO is easy: you want to get as many webpages as possible to link back to your website. Linkbacks not only serve to get people clicking through to your site from wherever the link is, they also serve as a sort of ‘vote of confidence’ to Google that your site is credible and people trust its content. The more of these that you can obtain, the higher your ranking in Google.

The “how” is the hard part. There is plenty of advice on this topic throughout the web, but I plan on getting into each technique I have used in depth in future articles. Here is just a small list:

  • Guest Blogging – writing guest posts for other websites that include a link back to your website.
  • Industry Specific directories
  • Linkbaiting – creating content on your site specifically designed for other users to link to it on their site.
  • Content creating and outreach – emailing and other ways of getting your content in front of influencers in your industry/keyword realm in hopes that they will share and/or link back to it.
  • Social media – Some social sites play into SEO, while others don’t. Google has long maintained that Facebook shares do not factor in to SEO. In my opinion, they sure aren’t hurting, and at the very least are (hopefully) bringing in clicks to the site.
  • Ask a friend. Do you know someone with a highly trafficked website? Perhaps they are willing to link back to you.

The many hats of Search Engine Optimization

What is search engine optimization and its techniques going to do to your site? SEO techniques fall into three main categories: white hat, gray hat, and black hat. Here’s a basic overview of each:

  • White Hat SEO: White hat SEO, or ethical CEO, is general workings that fall in line with all search engine rules and guidelines. This means your page ranking is climbing based on organic factors such as link backs, keyword optimization, and increased traffic on the site. Perhaps you are creating solid content that is generating links and shares, driving more people to the site, who are then sharing and linking it themselves. This is the best way to boost SEO, as it maintains the integrity of your website and won’t raise any flags.
  • Gray Hat SEO: Gray hat SEO is the practice of using SEO techniques that aren’t technically frowned upon by search engines, but aren’t green lighted either. Basically, this term refers to reading between the lines and interpreting the rules in a way that benefits you. Google may not blacklist or penalize your site for using gray hat practices, but you are running the risk of that happening down the line if policies are updated.
  • Black Hat SEO: Here is what you want to avoid. Google can and will ban your site from its search results if they find evidence of black hat techniques. These include hidden links on other sites, duplicate content or mirror sites (sites that contain the exact same content or links), tiny or hidden text on a site, or other trickery measures intended to push extra links to a specific site.

Final Words

In regards to these SEO topics, I warn of the dangers of black hat and gray hat SEO. I lost a successful business overnight back in 2012. One that I spent years building up and growing. Most of us online entrepreneurs depend on our web presence to survive. Playing by the rules is the best way to ensure continued growth. Good SEO takes time, effort, and meticulous attention to detail. But when done right, the reward of higher profits and more lifestyle freedom make it all work it.

Ray is the founder and creator of Teacher Indie. He is an award-winning entrepreneur who has created online education businesses that have appeared in publications such as Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc Magazine, Buzzfeed, The Boston Globe and many others. His goal is to help teachers from around the world get online and gain the financial independence they deserve.

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