Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art and science of getting URLs a high placement—also referred to as rank—in the “organic” (i.e., unpaid) section of the search engine results pages (SERPs). It’s an ever-evolving balance between publishing content that’s valuable to your audience and making sure it’s easy for both humans and search engine robots to discover.
Where you rank on the SERPs depends on hundreds of different criteria, and nobody knows exactly what those criteria are—although hundreds of SEO practitioners and agencies have made their guesses.
However, through hands-on experience and guidance available from Google and Bing, there are many known best practices. These can be divided into two core areas: On-Site SEO, and Off-Site SEO.
On-Site SEO refers to factors on your website that you have control over—including content, design, and development—that affect your visibility in organic search results.
On-site optimization is all about making your website appeal to search engines and the people who use them. It requires attention to both the visible face of your site, as well as the behind-the-scenes coding and technical setup.
“Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors here,” Google advises in their Search Engine Optimization Guide.
Compelling content is well-written information that’s relevant to your audience and related to the purpose of your site. It’s unique, relevant, and engaging. For effective SEO, it should also include the same keywords and phrases potential visitors to your site might use when searching Google or Bing for products, information, or solutions to problems.
Two things you should be careful to avoid: duplicate content and bad content.
Duplicate content can be caused inadvertently through features like printer-friendly versions or code related to site analytics. It can also happen if content is copied from other sites, even if republished with permission. SEO resource MOZ has some helpful advice to help you avoid being penalized for this.
Bad content is content that offers no value for your readers. It might be completely off-topic, poorly written, stuffed with keywords (and little else), or otherwise unhelpful for humans. If it isn’t good for real people, it won’t help your SEO results.