Organic search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing have grown to be the dominant inbound marketing strategies used by businesses today.
But why is organic SEO so important? How does it work? And what techniques should you use to give your own SEO campaigns the best shot at success?
We’ll answer each of these questions one by one throughout this post.
But first, let’s define our terms.
What is Organic SEO?
Organic SEO refers to the ongoing process of optimizing your website so that it ranks higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for queries relating to your business.
The term ‘organic’ simply points to the fact that you don’t pay for your search engine rankings when it comes to SEO. Instead, you naturally earn favorable rankings by providing top-quality results for relevant search queries. This distinguishes SEO from paid search marketing, which allows businesses to pay for ad placement within the SERPs.
Here’s a snapshot of a typical Google results page. We’ve placed a blue box around the paid results and a red box around the organic results.
The organic SEO process is made up of various strategies and methods aimed at maximizing your website’s ability to rank prominently in search results. These include targeting brand-relevant keywords, producing high-quality content, earning backlinks, improving user experience, and ensuring that your site can be easily crawled and indexed by search engines.
Later in this post, we’ll teach you how to put some of these tactics to use on your own site.
Why is it Important?
So why is organic SEO such a big deal?
Well, the first thing to realize is that organic search accounts for a massive 53% of all website visits.
Secondly, around 68% of click-throughs will go to one of the top three results for any given search query.
So the higher your website ranks in Google, the more organic traffic you’ll receive. And the more traffic you get, the more leads you can capture and the more sales you can make.
But the benefits of organic SEO don’t end there.
Here are some other reasons why you shouldn’t ignore this area of digital marketing:
Brand Awareness and Loyalty
Your organic reach increases once you commit to consistently publishing valuable content.
More and more members of your target audience notice your website appearing high up in the search results, and many of them click through to find that your content does a great job at meeting their needs.
The result is greater brand recognition and a growing reputation for credibility and quality among those who matter most to your business.
SEO is a relatively low-cost method of generating leads and landing new customers.
This is because SEO works by targeting search users who are actively looking for content related to your business or niche.
Attracting these users to your site is primarily a matter of providing them with high-value content. At no point are you required to reach into your advertising pot to pay for impressions or clicks.
High Conversion Rates
Again, since SEO targets users who are already searching for information related to your niche, your visitors will tend to be more conversion-ready. In fact, some studies suggest organic leads convert at almost twice the rate of inorganic leads.
Organic SEO can therefore provide a massive advantage if you’re looking to grow your email list, boost free trial sign-ups, or increase online sales.
With paid search, your SERP listings disappear the moment you stop paying for them.
But with organic search, you can indefinitely maintain whatever rankings you’ve earned by keeping your content fresh, valuable, and relevant.
Of course, the organic search landscape is a competitive one. So you have to be constantly on the lookout for other sites overtaking you in the SERPs. The best insurance policy against this is to ensure your site adheres to SEO best practices. But more on that later.
How Does Organic SEO Work?
Okay. So you’re sold on the importance of organic SEO.
But how does it work?
First, it’s helpful to understand what a search engine like Google actually does.
As you know, the purpose of Google Search is to surface content that best answers a user’s search query.
But to do this effectively, Google uses a program called a ‘crawler’ to scan the world’s web pages and collect information about the context of each page. This data is then stored in Google’s ‘search index.’
When a user enters a search query, Google’s search algorithm accesses the search index and selects the most relevant results for that query based on a combination of ‘ranking factors.’
These ranking factors are far from perfectly understood since Google likes to keep the inner workings of its algorithm a secret. But there are some widely-known criteria that – if satisfied – can drastically improve the chances of a website ranking. In essence, satisfying these known ranking factors is the whole point of organic SEO.
So what do we know improves ranking potential?
Here’s a condensed list of some of the most important known ranking factors.
- Content relevance
- Backlink quality
- Keyword relevance
- Domain authority
- Backlink quantity
- Page speed
- Content freshness
(Some of these are based on Google’s own guidelines and announcements, while others are based on repeated findings from various experiments conducted by SEO specialists. For a deeper dive into the world of ranking factors, check out this recent post from Backlinko.)
Now let’s see what techniques you should use to optimize your site for these ranking factors.
7 Effective Organic SEO Techniques
As a discipline, SEO consists of countless sub-strategies, methods, and tactics designed to help a website rank better.
Those tactics deemed to be ‘above board’ by search engines are called ‘white hat’ tactics. Tactics that try to artificially boost a site’s ranking potential – whether by payment or manipulation – are called ‘gray hat’ or ‘black hat’ tactics
Here, we’ll just focus on the non-negotiable, white-hat tactics that every SEO campaign should employ.
Neglect any of these fundamentals, and your chances of long-term organic success will fall to zero. But if you implement them properly and consistently, achieving better rankings and more traffic will be just a matter of time.
Let’s get to it.
1. Understand Your Market
To boost your organic visibility and attract more visitors to your site, you’ll need to create some high-value content.
But before you create any content, you first need to figure out who you’ll be creating it for.
One of the best ways around this is to create a customer avatar (aka a buyer persona). The goal here is to construct a representation of your ideal customer – including details about their interests, problems, and consumer habits – in order to provide a point of focus for your content marketing strategy.
After all, you want to create content that resonates with your most valuable customers – those who make repeat purchases and spread the good word to others.
You can begin building your customer avatar by identifying one or two of your existing customers you’d class as ‘ideal’ and asking them questions through an interview or survey.
Be sure to ask them about their goals and values, what challenges and pain points they experience as customers, which sites they like to visit for information, and anything else that could help you better understand their content-related preferences.
Of course, if your business targets multiple audience segments, it’s worth creating a separate customer avatar for each category.
Once you’ve built a clear picture of the persona you’re targeting, it’s time to investigate what they’re searching for.
2. Pick the Right Keywords
Keywords lie at the heart of SEO.
By building content around a specific keyword, you signal to Google that your page is a suitable match for related search queries.
But picking the right keywords to target – the right focus keywords – can be a challenging task.
A good way to approach keyword research is to start by brainstorming various topics that are related to your brand and of interest to your customer avatar. You should then build a big list of search terms for each topic.
It’s worth noting that most of these terms should be long-tail keywords. Unlike more generic short-tail keywords, long-tail keywords tend to have a lower search volume and are therefore easier to rank for. Moreover, since log-tail terms tend to address specific user problems or questions, they make it easier to create super-targeted pieces of content.
An easy way to quickly build your keyword list is to use a free keyword tool like Answer the Public or the Ahrefs Keyword Generator. You could even use Google’s auto-suggest function to bulk out your list.
Once your list is complete, the next task is to work out the search volume and ranking difficulty for each keyword. The ideal is to select focus keywords that strike a nice balance between high monthly searches and low ranking difficulty.
There are various premium keyword research tools that let you gather this information in bulk. Our top SEO tool recommendation is Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer, which provides seasonal search volume data and a simple keyword difficulty metric, making it much easier to evaluate the viability of pursuing different keywords.
3. Write Relevant Content
Next up, content creation.
Of course, what you build your content around will depend on the topic selections you made in the previous step.
But whatever you write about, the cardinal rule of all content creation is to provide as much value as possible. The better your content, the more users will see and share it, and the higher you’ll rank.
Each piece of content you create should center around one of the focus keywords you identified during the keyword research phase. Crucially, your content should satisfy the search intent that lies behind that focus keyword, which means your content must fully address whatever problem the user had in mind when they searched that term.
For example, suppose you created a blog post around the focus keyword ‘how to reach 10% body fat without cardio’. Anyone searching that query intends to find results that provide guidance on losing weight without vigorous exercise. Naturally, they’ll feel their search intent wasn't being addressed if each result listed ‘cardio’ as its number one piece of advice.
Wherever possible, try to include primary data in your content to give it an extra layer of uniqueness, and be sure to support any bold or statistical claims with links to external sources.
Of course, it almost goes without saying that your content should be error-free and formatted in a way that’s easy for readers to scan and digest.
4. Integrate Your Keywords
There’s no use identifying the right keywords unless you also incorporate them throughout your page.
Keyword integration is one of the most essential components of SEO writing. You should aim to include your focus keyword multiple times throughout your copy, particularly in your H1 headers, sub-headers, and introduction.
You should also incorporate your focus keyword throughout the rest of your on-page elements, namely your title tag, URL, meta description, and image alt text.
Despite the importance of keyword integration, you mustn't go overboard.
Using keywords should not impair your visitor’s reading experience, nor should you try to stuff your page with your focus keyword in a bid to boost your ranking for that term artificially.
5. Earn High-Quality Backlinks
Building high-value content is a necessary but insufficient condition for achieving good rankings.
You also need other high-quality websites to link to your content so that Google can recognize your content is credible and authoritative.
All else being equal, the stronger your backlink profile, the easier it is to rank.
The key here is to earn links from established websites with high domain authority. Multiple, spammy links for low-tier websites just won’t move the needle.
6. Create Topic Clusters with Internal Links
One of the best ways to provide comprehensive coverage of a topic and its related keywords is to create topic clusters.
A topic cluster is basically a group of smaller pieces of content centered around one pillar piece of content about a specific topic. Each of the pages is connected via internal links.
Internal links are an important part of technical SEO since they make it easier for search engines (and users) to crawl and index your site.
But in the context of topic clusters, internal links – used with relevant anchor text – work to reinforce the relationship between related pieces of content in the eyes of search engines. This, in turn, improves your chances of ranking for different terms related to your topic.
7. Improve Site Speed
One of the leading causes of a poor web user experience is slow page load times.
Indeed, there’s now a broad consensus that page speed is a Google ranking factor.
Fortunately, Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool makes it relatively easy to improve on this aspect of technical SEO.
Simply enter your URL into the tool to diagnose speed issues and to receive suggestions on how to fix them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here’s a quick overview of some of the most commonly asked questions relating to organic SEO.
How much does an Organic SEO campaign cost?
The cost of an SEO campaign can differ significantly depending on factors like the scope of your objectives, your site’s current performance, and how soon you want to see results.
That said, the average business investment in organic SEO services is between $2,500 and $5,000 per month.
What's the difference between White Hat, Gray Hat, and Black Hat SEO?
White hat SEO refers to the collection of approved SEO tactics for improving a website’s ability to rank in the SERPs. Such tactics include publishing valuable content, optimizing pages for focus keywords, and improving site speed.
Black hat SEO refers to tactics to improve rankings that violate a search engine’s guidelines. These tactics include keyword stuffing, cloaking, and paying for links and can result in Google penalties.
Gray hat tactics sit somewhere between white and black hat SEO. They refer to neither obviously right nor wrong practices, such as automating content, spinning content, and building a blog or microsite from which you link back to your main site.
What's the difference between organic results and paid listings?
An organic search result is any SERP listing achieved by virtue of providing a suitable answer to a search query.
A paid search result is any Google ad appearing in the SERPs.
How do Organic SEO and Local SEO differ?
Organic SEO refers to the broad spectrum of activities aimed at improving a website’s rankings.
Local search is all about making your business more visible for localized searches. The main focus is to create a Google Business Profile account (formerly Google My Business) to influence how your business appears on Google Search and Maps.
Do I need to follow Google's Webmaster Guidelines?
Yes. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines describe what SEO strategies and techniques are permissible, according to Google. Violating these guidelines could result in a manual penalty.
It’s Time To Grow Organically
For over 20 years, organic SEO has proven itself as one of the most effective ways for businesses to grow their audience and generate more leads.
We’ve seen that the SEO process consists of some fundamental techniques designed to boost a website’s ranking potential. These include publishing high-value, keyword-optimized content for a clearly-defined audience, implementing a well-connected internal linking structure, generating backlinks, and improving page speed.
Now it’s time to integrate what you’ve learned today into your own organic SEO strategy and watch your site climb up the SERPs!
Do you think we’ve overlooked any essential organic SEO techniques? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.