The term search engine optimization (SEO) gets thrown around in marketing conversations like a hot potato.

But is SEO really that important? Absolutely!

Organic search remains the single most valuable marketing channel at your disposal. Whether you’re a behemoth, multi-national corporation or a modest startup operating out of a closet.

Today, organic search directs 73 percent of all traffic to business sites. What’s more, 92 percent of organic traffic goes directly to pages that rank first on Google search.

Clearly, successful brand building depends on dominating search engine results pages (SERPs). But how do you make content optimization work for your company? Read on for our ultimate guide to SEO marketing and Google organic search domination strategies.

A Brief History of SEO

According to Bob Heyman’s book Net Results, SEO started in the mid-1990s with the manager of Jefferson Starship, Bill Thompson. Apparently, Thompson didn’t like where the Starship ranked in search and set out to do something about it.

And who could blame him? The band sat on page four, which clearly represented one of the worst fails in the internet’s history to date.

One thing’s for sure, though, SEO has changed drastically over the past two decades, growing both more complicated and less clear cut.

What remains the best way to dominate search results? Understanding how individuals use search and what they hope to find. Thinking about this process as a journey can help you crack the Google code.

The Buyer’s Journey

Each time one of your prospects or customers begins a new search, they sit poised at the beginning of a journey. You’ve probably heard about this buyer’s journey before.

And while some might argue that it’s no longer a relevant model, it still proves useful in getting inside your customer’s head. When it’s all said and done, the buyer’s journey is simply a path from start to finish for a given task.

For example, this task might involve searching for the cheapest airline tickets to Nashville. Along the way, this “journey” could lead a customer to a wide variety of websites including third-party airline ticket sellers and even travel blogs.

Instead of a neat path, the consumer will probably cut a circuitous trail to their final endgame of purchasing a reasonably priced airline ticket.

In other words, this journey might end up resembling a pile of curly fries rather than the neat hero’s pathway forged in ancient epics and modern works by J.R.R. Tolkien. The internet’s various channels, devices, and mediums are to blame.

Nonetheless, successful SEO strategy requires understanding the “intent” your prospect has during each of their searches and then creating content that satisfies them. The journey model helps you identify and market towards this intent.

How Search Has Changed

Once upon a time, individuals searched for information online the way they looked through the back of a book’s index or a card catalog. They relied on simple words to point them in the right direction.

But almost no one searches this way today. Instead, users enter key phrases and even questions. Why? Because they expect Google to solve problems and answer questions for them.

As a result, instead of focusing on the individual words users type into search boxes, you should focus on why they’re searching in the first place.

What’s more, search no longer remains tied to computers or phones alone. Users now rely on a wide variety of devices to get answers to their questions. These include:

  • Bluetooth speaker assistance
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Smart glasses
  • Smart watches
  • And more

And one thing’s for sure. The diversity of devices used for search will only continue to expand. We now live in a highly connected world, so it’s important to understand how different gadgets relate to each other and a prospect’s search experience.

Say Goodbye to SEO for Dummies

Gaming the system is no longer an option. Keyword stuffing will only get you penalized. The same goes for other backdoor methods to cheat your way to the top.

Instead, SEO now emphasizes many crucial aspects of marketing such as:

  • Content strategy
  • Data-driven insights
  • Technical problem-solving
  • Understanding customer personas

To dominate search today, you need to gift the internet with superior research and content. You need to provide value to your customers.

In other words, you need to make the internet a better place.

Never forget this marketing gem. Customers don’t buy “things” or services. They buy solutions to their problems.

Show them through excellent content coupled with strong SEO that your company has the solution to their problems, and you’ll rank high and convert consistently.

An Effective Digital Content Marketing Strategy

When we talk about SEO, it’s easy to lose sight of anything beyond organic traffic attraction. But the only way to rank today is through a holistic approach that takes into account three primary marketing activities:

  • Attraction
  • Engagement
  • Conversion

How do you do this? First, you need to realize that every page of a website is important from an SEO standpoint. They all serve a function and should be written strategically to reflect that function.

The best website pages will not only attract visitors but also engage them. And, of course, these efforts are all for naught unless you’re also able to convert users to customers.

Besides every one of your pages having a core SEO component to it, you also need to appeal to customers across multiple outlets and channels.

As you create content for your website and other marketing endeavors always ask yourself whether or not your work fulfills the three activities above. If not, go back to the drawing board.

Factors Affecting SEO Today

Many factors can affect SEO today. So, before you blame lagging traffic on your content marketing division, consider these potential issues:

  • The quality of the content
  • How well your site and marketing strategy integrates social media, content, creative, user experience, analytics, and paid search
  • Whether or not proper server settings are in place
  • How fast it takes your site and its images to load
  • Tech issues that make some of your content appear invisible to search engines
  • How easy it is for search bots to navigate through multiple versions of the same page

As you can see, the tech side of things can’t be ignored. And that’s why you’ve, no doubt, heard tales of companies whose traffic fell off sharply after a simple site redesign or update to a new CMS system.

SEO remains at the forefront of everything today. Any changes that you make to your site will affect your rankings.

A good SEO professional who understands the competitive landscape can help you avoid traffic loss. They’ll keep in mind one of the most important aspects of a great website, the ability to provide unique solutions to end-users.

Ranking Concepts to Keep in Mind

The examples above can be organized into three basic categories affecting SEO. They are:

  1. Technical
  2. On-page
  3. Off-page

Technical issues can involve everything from how fast your pages load to how accessible they are to search engines. You can also get dinged by search engines for problems with schema, site structure, URL structure, and indexing and crawling.

On-page refers to the content on your pages. This includes both content that’s only visible to search engines (e.g. structured data, HTML tags) and content visible to the public (e.g. images, text, audio, video).

Finally, off-page refers to what you’re doing away from your website to increase its authority, relevance, and trustworthiness. This includes things like social media marketing, link building, reviews, user-generated content, and PPC marketing.

Besides these concepts, it’s important to consider things such as the overall search experience users of your website have.

Why Search Experience Optimization Matters

Yes, SEO stands for search engine optimization. But because of Google’s legendary algorithm updates in September 2018, the acronym also now stands for search experience optimization. Some are even calling this the “new SEO.”

Search experience optimization represents a revolutionary shift because it goes beyond the basic nuts and bolts of ranking on SERPs. (That said, those nuts and bolts still have a major impact, so don’t neglect them either.)

Google has defined four overriding search experiences or moments that people long