Back in 2018, I was a fresh website design graduate and I had just landed my first client. It was my first project; I was tasked to design a website using all I had learned in school. Upon completion, the website was a sublime work of beauty, in my opinion. However, I was dumbfounded when my client complained that he wasn’t seeing his website rank for keywords relevant to his business.

This was a pivotal moment, I learned that albeit a website is well-refined, it’s true worth is in its ability to rank on major search engines. If no one discovers your business website online, you cannot expect to gain revenue. To put simply, no search traffic equals no sales, unless of course, you raise awareness about your website through traditional marketing channels or social media.

Most people are not aware that ranking on the first page of search engines is crucial to their website’s success. In fact, my client was lost as to how to tackle this problem. Encountering this conundrum led me to conduct my own research. I had studied digital marketing and web development in university but never had I come across the concept of SEO.

At first, I was absolutely bewildered by the concept of optimizing a website. Everything I was learning seemed esoteric to me. It was like going back to university; I had to unlearn a lot of the practices I had adopted as a student of web design because, as I would learn later, what’s looks appeal from a design perspective, can hurt your website ranking. However, that lesson is for another day. Let’s talk about is. What the hell is it?

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is the process of increasing the probability of a particular company’s website emerging from a search.

Interestingly enough, 80% of all website traffic starts with optimizing your website for search engines. Therefore, having a concise online marketing strategy is vital to the success of your business.

The SEO Process Simplified

A lot of things go into making a website rank on search engines. SEO is predicated on the principle that you must optimize your website for both search engines and people. So most SEO efforts are forged from the intent to make a website user-friendly for human beings and readable for Google’s (or Bing’s) algorithm.

If your website is not optimized for humans, people will leave your website; it’s that simple. This concept is self-evident. You wouldn’t stay on a website that is confusing or difficult to navigate right? I hope not.

If your website is not optimized for search engines it simply would not rank. Search engines use algorithms to analyze your website and generate results. These algorithms identify key phrases that match what users type into search boxes. Basically, SEO is a game of appeasing Google and Users.

Users want a great user experience. This involves providing users with quality content, fast page load speeds, and a user-friendly interface— make navigating your website seamless.

Google looks for keywords matches, quality links to the page, original web content, to name a few. Frankly, the list of ranking factors is exhaustive. Like any other subject, takes months of training and practice to be good at search engine optimization. To give you an idea of the major ranking signals, see my list below.

Here is a cheat sheet of the ranking signals to look out for in 2020:

Simple Guide to SEO in 2020

Most Important Ranking Factors

  • Content helpfulness for the query
  • User experience
  • Content length
  • Site reputation and authority
  • Site structure
  • Use of quality multimedia (images, video, and interactive tools)
  • Quality links to the page
  • Internal links to the page
  • Outbound links to quality sources
  • Author reputation
  • URL length

Important Pass/Fail Ranking Factors

  • Site speed
  • Mobile friendly
  • Broken links on your site
  • Too many ads or affiliate links
  • Age of content
  • Copyright issues or plagiarism
  • SSL
  • Schema usage (when it is relevant)

Pro tip: It may be tempting to buy links or plant sneaky redirect links on your website, but don’t do it. Search engines like Google harshly penalize websites for what is known as unethical black hat SEO practices. Rule of thumb, it feels unethical, it probably is.

Today, more and more businesses are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into SEO. Although the early results can be astounding, it’s important to be cognizant of the fact that SEO isn’t a quick fix. It is a long term investment. It will take at least 6 months for your website to gain any substantial web traffic, and optimization never ends. Search engines often change their algorithms, you may rank today for ‘office chairs’ and in a few weeks, that ranking can plummet drastically.