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What Exactly is SEO?: 3 FAQs About Organic Search

If you’ve ever done a Google search, you already know what search engine optimization (SEO) is. But you might not realize that’s what you’ve been seeing every time you look something up online.  

SEO means trying to get your content to show up on the first page of a search engine’s results, like Google or Bing.  

But getting your content to show up in these results can be time-consuming and competitive.

In this resource, I’ll walk you through the basics of organic search to help you get a better understanding of what it is, what it does, and if you need it.  

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What is an organic search result? 

When you search for something on a search engine, like Google, you’re taken to a results page after you hit “enter”. This results page is where two different types of content show up: PPC ads and organic search results.  

PPC ads cost money and show at the very top of the search results. On Google, PPC ads are marked with bold text that says “Ad”. These ads are populated by searched keywords, the ad budget, and other factors, like a user’s browser history. 

PPC ad example

Organic ads don’t cost money and make up all the search results below the PPC ads. Organic results are generated from third-party content that Google’s algorithm has selected as the best match for whatever term you searched. These ads are populated by a host of different factors, like your search term, the content’s quality and backlinks, and even how trustworthy the website hosting the content is.  

These ads can fluctuate based on a user’s location, browser history, and the content itself.  

Organic search result example

There are many different types of organic results that can show up, from knowledge graphs to the coveted position zero. Each is ideal for a certain type of content, and Google ultimately decides how to organize and display results.  

What does SEO do? 

Now that you have an idea of what SEO is, you’re probably wondering what its business benefits are. The most obvious reason so many businesses put time into SEO is that, unlike PPC ads, organic results are free.  

Aside from having no ad cost, SEO content can beef up the rest of your marketing initiatives, including PPC and social media ad campaigns.  

While the key purpose of SEO is to rank high on Google’s first page to bring in new customers or clients, SEO really shines when you optimize your content strategy.  

SEO content can consist of guides and resources, instructions, FAQs, walkthroughs, and just about anything in between. Think long-form articles, blog posts, and whitepapers.

When properly optimized, these types of content can bring in organic users directly from Google search, but they can also be used as value-adds for email campaigns, social media and PPC ads, on-site downloads, print handouts, and more.  

That means that you can run an SEO strategy on its own, or couple it with other initiatives to multiply the value and use of the content.

Basically, SEO can do all kinds of awesome things. What it does for you depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it and how it plays into your overall marketing strategy.  

While SEO can bring in all kinds of new clients and customers, it will only work as hard as you do, so, to see results, you’ll need to put a lot of time and effort into your content initiatives.  

Does my business need SEO? 

If you’re trying to decide if you should experiment with SEO for your business, you should ask yourself these questions:  

  • What percentage of my customers or clients find me online? 
  • What type of marketing has worked best for me? 
  • Am I OK with slow growth? 

What percentage of my customers or clients find me online, and do I want that to increase? 

Since SEO is all online, you need to consider who your customers are and if they’ll even look for you using Google search. For example, if you run a business that makes the majority of its money from online sales, SEO could be a great fit.  

But, if most of your customers are through word-of-mouth, and you currently have no online presence, you might want to consider starting with something smaller like building a website or social media page. That way, you can grow your online business and move to SEO when you’re ready. 

What type of marketing has worked best for me? 

Different businesses make money in different ways. Some businesses see huge returns from radio and TV ads, while others base their success off clever social media campaigns. Some focus on print ads in newspapers and flyers, while others bring in the most profit from PPC ads.  

SEO should fit with the type of business you have and the goals you are hoping to reach. SEO is a long-term strategy that takes a lot of time and effort to build, so you need to be committed before jumping in. It works best for businesses that have a lot of content opportunities and who are dedicated to building and maintaining a digital presence.  

Am I OK with slow growth? 

Because so much goes into getting your content into search results, SEO is more of a long game than other digital marketing initiatives. Low-hanging fruit might get you some immediate results, but once you’ve gathered it all up, results can take time. You can’t publish one blog post and expect your online sales to take off overnight. 

It can also be hard to set (and meet) SEO goals as SEO depends on algorithm updates, which can unexpectedly change whether your content shows up and how well.  

However, when done properly, with high-quality content and SEO best practices, optimized content can bring in new users for years after your initial investment.