The Definitive Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

With nearly every business taking its brand presence online, SEO marketing is becoming increasingly crucial for companies of all shapes and sizes. If you’re a business owner considering implementing SEO into their website or blog, you might wonder what it is, how much it might cost, and how you can get started with SEO marketing.

In this guide to SEO, we’ll go over what SEO is, how much you should budget for SEO services, which factors affect the cost of your SEO, whether you can do your SEO yourself, and some pro tips for finding the right SEO agency for you.

What is SEO Marketing and What Does It Do for Your Website's Search Results?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In essence, it’s the process of making your website perform better on search engines like Google. It lets you get more search traffic on the internet and reach more customers than your competitor. Although you can buy a high search engine ranking through paid methods like Google ads, it's much better and more cost effective to rank high organically.

Search engines are very picky about which websites they display. After all, the entire business of companies like Google and Yahoo is providing trustworthy answers to their users’ problems! So making your website search engine friendly with high-quality content, an appropriate meta description, and relevant keywords is crucial for growing your business and helping more consumers learn about your brand.

Successful SEO also has the added benefit of being relatively inexpensive in the long term. The most arduous part of achieving SEO success is getting your website to the first page of search engines. Once you establish a strong search engine presence for your site, maintaining a high ranking is easy. So investing in SEO services today can benefit your business for many years to come at minimal cost and required maintenance. When compared to paid website advertising campaigns, SEO becomes much more affordable in the long term – even if it means investing a bit extra upfront.

SEO marketing is a relatively new business technique. Millions of people use search engines like Google every day. But few actually know how they work and find the right search results! Before we can understand how SEO can benefit your website and help you get more search traffic, we need to comprehend how search engines find their results in the first place. Here’s a crash course:

How Search Engines Work

Search engines are all about giving their users the best possible results when searching for something online. When a user types an entry into the search engine, a powerful computerized algorithm starts looking for the best possible search results in response to their input. In essence, the job of a search engine is to look at all of the websites on the internet, and choose which ones to show the user. This means separating trustworthy sites from untrustworthy ones and ensuring that the user can get value from using the search engine. Search algorithms do this by calculating many factors like the type and number of keywords on a website, titles and headings, the number of images on a webpage, metadata, and even how trusted your website is by other sites on the internet.

Search engines are excellent at selecting which information to present to their users. Unfortunately, this precise and data-driven approach can cause some problems for your brand’s web presence.

There’s a Problem

When you take your business online by creating a new website, the search engine algorithm doesn’t recognize your site or trust it. As a result, even if a potential customer searches for your exact services or products, they might not see your website in their organic search results. Your site will end up buried somewhere on the 10th+ page of the search engine results pages, overshadowed by more established (and therefore trustworthy) websites. Even if your website is presenting high-quality, relevant information, the search engine algorithm needs some time to build trust for your website and start showing it to your audience in response to their relevant queries.

Of course, if a consumer searches for your actual website or enters the website address into their search bar, your site will appear. But the core motivation behind SEO is being discovered by potential customers who don’t know about your specific brand (in other words, organic web traffic). It’s about getting ahead of the other websites and attracting more traffic when your consumers are searching online for businesses like yours.

At this point, you may see the key to SEO success: performing well in search engine results is just a matter of presenting the right information and convincing the algorithm that your site is more trustworthy than most websites on the internet. That’s what SEO is all about!

SEO Basics

We’ve established that SEO is all about making your website trustworthy. But what are the factors that influence how search engines see your site? Although major search engines are continuously changing their process, three main factors decide your website’s search performance: Keywords, Agnostic Features, and Site Authority.

Keywords

Keywords are the most recognizable aspect of SEO basics. They are words you use on your website that are relevant to your audience’s search query – the string of words they type into their search engines bar. For example, if someone searches for an “SEO agency in Canada,”  then the search engine algorithm will look for websites whose pages mention the same appropriate “keywords.”

Keyword SEO is one of the most crucial aspects of improving a website’s performance on search engines. Not only are keywords efficient and relatively affordable to track, but they are also an essential part of making your website comprehensive and relevant to as many search queries as possible.

Back in the early days of the internet, when search algorithms were incredibly simplistic, search engines would simply rank sites based on how many keywords they included – more keywords, higher ranking. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before people began exploiting the algorithm by packing their websites with as many keywords as possible – even if it meant creating a poor user experience.

These days, search engines like Google have refined their algorithms, and having good keyword SEO is about more than just cramming keywords into your web page. Apart from using the right keywords, your web pages also must have the appropriate keyword density. If your site has too few keywords, it won’t have enough relevant data to perform well in search engines. But if your website has too many keywords, it might get flagged by search engines as spam and hidden from your audience.

Keyword SEO is a balancing act. Websites that perfect their keyword relevance and density experience more traffic and better performance in organic search results.

Agnostic Features

Agnostic features are a commonly misunderstood and underemphasized aspect of SEO. Without delving into a lecture on technical IT, agnostic features in SEO can be thought of as the “quality” of your website. They are the aspects of your website that can't be calculated but still affect how human viewers evaluate the site. Search engines do their best to "think like a human" and analyze these features – checking whether your website is worth presenting to the audience.

Agnostic website features include things like your website’s structure (paragraphs, headings, images, internal link structure, etc.), data (like meta description tags, internal links, structured data), uniqueness, and more.

All of these factors will impact how search engines assess the agnostic performance of your site, and whether they choose to show it to your audience.

Site Authority

One of the easiest ways for search engines to determine whether your site is trustworthy is by checking if other websites trust it. In other words, does your website have “authority?”

In much the same way as a good resume includes a “References” area, a trustworthy website will have other websites referring to it with things called backlinks. Backlinks are when external websites mention and refer to your site with external links. For example, WebSuitable is a digital marketing agency. If a marketing news website like Marketing News Canada mentions our services and refers to our website with a link, that counts as a backlink. And if you look at the previous sentence, you’ll see that we just created a backlink for Marketing News Canada!

Backlinks are an excellent way to build site authority. But it’s important to note that not all backlinks are created equal. Firstly, your site will only benefit from relevant backlinks. Getting backlinks from irrelevant sites won’t help your site and can even hurt its ranking if search engines suspect you’re manufacturing false references. Secondly, the authority of the website address that links back to your site also impacts the benefit you get from its backlinks. If you get backlinks from a respected site with high authority, those backlinks will significantly help your site’s trustworthiness. A backlink from a high-authority page tells search engines that your website is trusted by other trustworthy sites. If, on the other hand, you get backlinks from a low-authority site that’s known for spam content, your site authority on search engines will suffer as well.

The SEO Process

SEO marketing isn’t a one-time thing you do for your business – it’s an ongoing, constantly evolving process. It takes time for your entire site to become trusted enough by search engines to consistently rank high in organic search results. Not to mention, search engine companies like Google are constantly updating their algorithms to improve their performance. This means that the digital marketing environment is always shifting, and the SEO strategy of your website needs to change accordingly. There are many ways in which websites can improve their SEO marketing. But most of these techniques fall into one of two major categories: On-Site SEO and Off-Site SEO.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO encompasses things you do on your website that improve its search engine ranking. The first step to building a strong on-site SEO presence for your website is updating all of your existing web pages with SEO standards. This means looking at things like your Home, Services, and About Us pages – ensuring that they use the right keywords, have good agnostic traits, and follow the current SEO best practices that search engines understand. This also includes ensuring that your website has the right internal links to guide your users as they explore your web pages.

The next step for on-site SEO success is establishing a blog. You might have noticed that nearly every notable company’s website has a blog, even if the page is hidden somewhere in the site’s footer. That’s because blogs are incredible tools for improving website performance on search engines.

Blogs allow brands to create content and target keywords that are too specific to include on other website pages. By maintaining a consistent blog, companies can use high quality content to answer the questions that their audience is asking while simultaneously boosting their SEO rankings with the right meta tags, title tags, and keywords.

Over time, a high-quality blog will also help your brand develop the image of being experts in your industry – people who know what they’re doing and whose opinions matter.

Off-Site SEO

You’ve made your website highly relevant by using the right keywords and ensuring it follows best practices. But did you know that you can also improve your search engine rankings without changing your page? Off-Site SEO (also known as Off-Page SEO) is all about using other websites to improve how your own site ranks though link-building campaigns. Backlinks are when another website on the internet mentions your page and "links back" to it.

One of the best link-building strategies to get backlinks that you know are trustworthy and present your brand in the best light is through guest posts. Simply put, guest posts are when you team up with another website and write a blog that they’ll publish on their site. Within this blog, you can link back to your brand, and just like that, you have an excellent backlink!

Some websites specialize in building links and will charge you for publishing your content on their site. While these sites can be a good resource for a quick link-building boost and slightly improved search engine results, the best partnerships are organic. Look for websites that operate in the same niche as your brand and reach out to them. For example, if you run a fitness company, you can look for websites that publish fitness blogs and newsletters. You can then propose a link-building partnership where you write some web content for their site. They get a free SEO blog, and you get to boost your domain authority with free backlinks from a relevant and reputable source. Everyone wins.

How Much Should You Budget for SEO Services?

Many business owners considering website SEO worry about how much it will cost. Because SEO is a relatively new, often misunderstood aspect of marketing, many people think that implementing SEO is expensive.

Although some of the biggest brands in the world indeed spend tens of thousands of dollars monthly on improving their search engine rankings, optimizing your website for search engines doesn’t have to burn a hole in your wallet. In fact, hiring an SEO agency for your website is often cheaper than building an in-house team to do the same job. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about paying wages, interviewing employees, or dealing with any other pesky administrative tasks associated with building a team.

Many digital marketing agencies understand that small businesses need affordable SEO resources to get their businesses off the ground. So even the most bootstrapped companies can usually find a high-quality SEO option that’s affordable for their budget. SEO services for small businesses can start as cheap as $1000/month!

What Factors Will Affect the Overall Cost of SEO for Your Website or Blog?

Some SEO features are must-haves for developing a web presence, while others are nice additions to your SEO strategy. Understandably, the more features you want, the more expensive your SEO services will be. So let’s look at some of the most common factors that affect the overall cost of SEO for your business.

Location Targeting

Targeting specific locations is one of the best ways to improve your website’s search results by increasing the number of relevant keywords on each page. Location targeting simply means creating a web page that is optimized for a certain geographic location, like a neighbourhood or a city. These location-optimized pages are more likely to appear in the local results of search engines or when a user types the name of your target region into their search query.

Targeting a single location is an excellent local SEO strategy. But did you know that it’s possible to target multiple areas simultaneously? With the right approach and web content strategy, you can effectively target many regions with SEO and rank well within all of them.

Understandably, the more locations you want to target, the more maintenance and SEO work is required. So the cost of your SEO services will rise as you optimize your site for an increasing number of regions.

Keyword Research and Monitoring

Using effective keywords is at the core of your SEO success. But how do you know if your SEO efforts are effective and whether you’re ranking above the competition? Enter keyword research and monitoring. One of the best ways to maintain consistent website rankings through SEO is by finding and monitoring effective keywords. Using the right processes and tools, SEO agencies can keep track of the keywords within your web content and ensure that it continues ranking ahead of your competitors in search results. If it starts falling behind, they can then make updates to your content and help you get ahead of the pack again!

Doing keyword research, performance monitoring, and updating your web content when necessary takes time and effort. So your SEO services will cost more if you monitor a vast range of keywords.

Content Creation

The more website pages, blog posts, meta descriptions, and title tags you create, the more chances you have to use the right keyword phrases and get noticed by your audience. Designing web pages and producing effective, SEO-optimized content that addresses your audience's search intent is no small task. So your SEO costs will rise when you decide to optimize more of your web content.

Reporting/Audit Frequency

Website audits are detailed, multi-layered reports about how your website is performing in search engines and web traffic. They’re an in-depth analysis of how your SEO strategy affects your business. With an audit, you can determine which aspects of your SEO campaign are performing well and what steps you can take to get more traffic from organic search results.

It’s common for SEO agencies to perform such a report and send it to you at regular intervals (usually monthly). Despite this, you may find that you want more frequent reports about your website’s performance. The vast majority of SEO agencies will be happy to perform audits of your site more often. Unfortunately, SEO audits cost your agency extra time and money, and ordering more of them will cause your SEO costs to increase as a result.

Can You DIY Your SEO?

Many business owners (especially those operating on a tight budget) wonder if it’s possible to do their own SEO. After reading this definitive guide to SEO, you might think you’re ready to do it yourself and avoid paying an external agency. So is it possible to DIY your SEO?

Technically, Yes! Practically, No.

In theory, there’s nothing stopping you from doing your own search engine optimization. If you can type on a keyboard, you can create an SEO strategy for your business.

All you have to do is optimize your existing pages, establish a blog, identify your audience's search intent, come up with blog post ideas, formulate a keyword research process, use a keyword tool to perform keyword research, see whether those keywords are worth targeting, see how your competitors measure up in these keywords, write the blog post, edit the blog post, find the right keyword density for SEO, re-edit the blog post, and publish the blog.

Then, just repeat these steps consistently for the next few years; and you’ll have done all of your SEO efforts yourself!

See the problem? SEO work isn’t a part-time thing you do on weekends. It’s a full-time effort that requires significant labour and time to do properly. Executing an effective SEO strategy also involves having the right tools, expertise, and experience to overcome emerging problems and stay ahead of other websites.

Anyone can do SEO. But only select people who specialize in SEO can do it effectively. Search engine optimization is about more than just thinking of keywords and putting them into web content. Countless business owners take the DIY approach to SEO every year, and they all realize the same thing: SEO is tough! You need the right knowledge, experience, and tools to effectively introduce SEO to your website, do keyword research, and maintain your search results for years to come. This is where an SEO agency comes into play:

SEO Agencies Have an Expert Marketing Team

SEO agencies have a team of marketing experts that specializes in creating and executing SEO campaigns. Rather than having to focus on all the facets of running a successful business like a business owner, these teams can put their full effort into creating a winning SEO strategy for your website.

When you work with an SEO agency, you get access to an expert marketing team and its SEO knowledge without the hassle of having to worry about wages, tax deductions, salaries, insurance, or any of the other obstacles that come with hiring employees. Not to mention, building a marketing team even half the size of WebSuitable’s can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year! With the high costs and risks of hiring employees, it’s much easier and more effective to invest that same money into a winning SEO agency.

Agencies Have the Best SEO Tools and Technologies

SEO agencies focus on website performance. So they invest in the best marketing AI and automation tools to ensure your website SEO goes smoothly. These include keyword research tools, AI content & meta description generators, and intelligent SEO editors that speed up and optimize your marketing process. Without these tools that help with keyword research, competitor reporting/analysis, structured data, SEO performance audits, and much more, your search engine optimization efforts will be little more than a guessing game. If you were to get all of these technologies and tools for yourself, the cost could be nearly as much as hiring an SEO agency.

SEO Agencies Know What They’re Doing

SEO agencies work with a range of clients in an array of industries and specializations. That means they have the experience and expertise to assess problems and solve them in record time. SEO is a complex endeavour, and you may run into some problems that you’re unsure how to solve. An SEO agency can overcome these challenges much faster than a sole business owner because it has seen them many times before. It knows the latest search engine guidelines and can make precise changes to your site and keep it ranking high. SEO agencies also have the available resources to devote towards improving your website performance rather than having to split their efforts between many different tasks.

In general, while it’s technically possible to do your SEO by yourself, it quickly becomes impractical. Even DIY-ing small-scale local SEO can turn into a full-time job. If you want to match the efficiency and output potential of a professional SEO agency, you’ll end up spending much more time and money than you would if you’d hired an agency in the first place (and you might not even improve your search results that much). With that in mind, here are some tips to keep in mind when looking for an SEO agency.

Tips for Finding the Right SEO Agency For Your Business

  1. Go Big or Go Home

If you’re looking to hire your first SEO agency, look for a big, established one. Many business owners make the mistake of hiring a small SEO agency, thinking that the smaller size will mean cheaper services. Although that may be true, the services are cheaper for a reason, and your SEO may suffer as a result.

Big SEO agencies like WebSuitable have the experience, tools, and resources to ensure your search engine optimization efforts are a success. These agencies are big for a reason – that have a track record of marketing and SEO success. Clients trust them to create high-quality, relevant content and consistently achieve real results.

Although working with a small agency doesn’t automatically mean you’re getting subpar services, it’s much riskier than teaming up with a well-established, respected, and proven SEO agency. Many large SEO agencies offer local SEO services for small businesses and startups. So working with an established agency doesn’t always mean that you have to break the bank!

  1. Look for Simple Pricing

SEO is complicated. But buying SEO services shouldn’t be. A strong sign that you’re speaking with a high-quality SEO agency is that it offers transparent pricing. The cost of your SEO services should be easy to understand and offer a clear payment schedule. If you’re working with an agency that tries to get you to pay extra fees or hidden charges, they might not be as trustworthy as they seem.

An untrustworthy SEO agency hides its prices for one of two reasons. Either its services don’t work, or its services work, but they’re overpriced. Either way, you should make an effort to steer clear of these agencies and work with a more transparent, professional team. Even if that means paying a few extra bucks in the long run.

  1. Speak with a Strategist

Any respectable SEO agency will have an in-house marketing strategist or SEO professional. These are people who specialize in designing and managing effective SEO campaigns. A professional SEO agency will be able to get you in touch with one of their marketing strategists for a free consultation before you choose to buy any services. This consultation will give you an idea of what you can expect from the SEO campaign, how long it will take to reach your goals, and the commitment that will be required on your end to make the project a success.

Although SEO is extremely technical and complex, an experienced marketing strategist should be able to give you a clear view of the process involved in optimizing your website. If they answer your questions with convoluted theoretical statements rather than straightforward, objective answers, the SEO agency might be trying to hide something from you.

Conclusion

After reading this definitive guide, you should have a good idea of how SEO works and how you can get started to boost your website rankings. SEO is a complex and ever-evolving field, but with the right guidance and resources from an expert SEO agency, you can set your company’s website up for success.

That’s where we come in – WebSuitable offers comprehensive SEO services that will help you improve your website ranking and get ahead of the competition. Our team of marketing strategists and SEO experts has years of experience helping businesses grow online, and we’re eager to put our expertise to work for you. Book a free, no-obligation consultation to get started today!

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