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What is SEO marketing?

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What is SEO marketing?

SEO marketing (search engine optimization) is an inbound digital marketing strategy that focuses on driving organic (unpaid) search traffic to your website by improving its visibility in the SERPs (search engine results pages). The best website builders come with built-in SEO features to make this process easier.

What does SEO marketing do?

SEO marketing helps businesses to rank higher on search engines like Google for their target keywords—the words and phrases that their target customers type into search engines. This, in turn, can help drive more qualified traffic to your website and generate new leads for your business.

There are several branches to SEO marketing, including:

  • On-page SEO: This involves optimizing the content on your web pages around target keywords and relevant ranking factors. For example, it might entail ensuring that the content is formatted correctly, with suitable heading tags, alt text, and internal/external links.
  • Off-page SEO: This involves actions taken outside of your website to improve your domain authority and organic ranking positions, such as backlink building and social media marketing.
  • Technical SEO: This involves optimizing your website’s backend to satisfy the technical requirements of search engines like Google. For example, it may involve taking steps to reduce page loading times by minifying code, or setting up redirects to conserve link equity.
  • Keyword research: All good SEO marketing strategies start with careful keyword research. Keyword research involves finding viable high-volume queries that your target customers are searching for using tools like Google Adwords and then validating them.

How departments can use SEO marketing

SEO is primarily the responsibility of the marketing department. However, in some cases, your marketing team may need a little input from the people in your IT and sales departments too.

People collaborating in an office setting

SEO marketing is the responsibility of the marketing department but cross-department collaboration may also be required (Image credit: Fouxels on Unsplash)

The marketing department will take on the bulk of the tasks involved in SEO. They’ll be responsible for putting together your SEO strategy, carrying out keyword research, creating SEO content, and implementing off-page, on-page, and technical SEO. 

Often, large companies will dedicate a chunk of their marketing budget specifically to SEO and may even employ a team of dedicated SEO marketers. This team may be made up of different roles including content strategists, outreach specialists, and content writers.

Some companies choose to outsource their SEO campaigns to third-party service providers rather than handling them in-house. 

SEO also involves making sure your website is well-optimized behind the scenes. Your site’s code, XML sitemaps, and hosting server all impact SEO—and these are all the responsibility of your IT department.

For example, if your servers are too slow, it can impact your page loading speeds (an important SEO ranking factor). Your IT team is responsible for taking care of the backend of your website and making sure this kind of thing doesn’t become a problem. 

The leads you generate through SEO will ultimately end up with your sales department. They’re responsible for nurturing leads that you generate through inbound marketing and guiding them down your sales funnel. 

Thus, you may want to ask your sales team for input when putting together an SEO marketing strategy. For example, they can help you to verify keyword priorities and pick out those that bring the most qualified traffic.

Features and benefits of SEO marketing

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SEO marketing drives long-term results. One of the best things about SEO marketing is its longevity. Unlike paid advertising campaigns—where results only last as long as your budget—SEO can continue to provide returns long after you stop investing in it. It’s not uncommon for website pages to maintain their organic ranking position for years.

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SEO is a low-cost marketing channel. With SEO, you don’t have to pay anyone for ad placements, so it doesn’t have to cost you anything (other than time). This makes it a viable marketing channel for cash-strapped startups and small businesses that have plenty of time to invest but can’t afford costly ad campaigns.

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SEO marketing works hand in hand with pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. SEO can support your PPC campaigns, and vice versa. You can use PPC campaigns to get fast results and use the insights you gather to inform your long-term SEO strategy. You can also double up SEO and PPC to have your website appear twice in the SERPs for a target keyword, thus maximizing your visibility.

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SEO marketing drives targeted traffic to your website. SEO can be an almost limitless source of targeted traffic. The more you work on building your search engine presence, the more search users you’ll reach. Over time, it’s possible to rank organically for hundreds of target keywords and drive thousands of unique visitors to your site every month.

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SEO marketing builds brand awareness and trust. SEO isn’t just about traffic—it can also bolster awareness and improve trust in your brand. Consumers these days are skeptical of paid ads, but if you rank in the search engines organically, it shows users that you’ve earned it and deserve to be there. Ensuring your brand is visible at the top of the SERPs for relevant search queries helps establish you as an authority in your industry.

How much does SEO marketing cost?

tablet displaying seo analytics

There’s no one-size-fits-all cost to SEO marketing—you’ll have to calculate your own costs based on your needs and goals (Image credit: Getty)

It’s hard to pin down exactly how much SEO marketing costs as it depends on many factors including the size of your campaign, your marketing goals, and the keywords you’re hoping to rank for.

Third-party SEO service providers typically offer various different SEO packages that are priced independently. For example, they may offer SEO audits, local SEO services, keyword research services, backlink building services, and more.

You’ll usually have to contact the SEO service provider to request a custom quote based on your needs, but some companies also offer set packages for a fixed price. These packages may include things like page optimization, keyword research, XML sitemap creation and submission, reporting, and content creation.

Depending on what’s included, packages can start from as little as $500 a month at the lower end all the way up to $5,000 a month or more at the higher end of the market.

One of the main SEO services businesses choose to outsource is backlink building. Some backlink service providers charge as little as $50 per high-authority backlink, whereas others will charge $500 or more. Be wary of cheap backlinks as they may come from bad domains, which can land you Google penalties and harm your ranking positions.

If you’d prefer to take care of SEO in-house, you’ll probably want to allocate somewhere between 10 to 50% of your total digital marketing budget to SEO. To hire an SEO specialist, expect to pay upwards of $30k to $40k a year.

Many solopreneurs choose to take care of SEO themselves. In this case, the only cost involved is your time.

SEO marketing FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about SEO marketing. 

How is SEO used in marketing?

SEO is used as a long-term inbound marketing strategy. Marketers use it to make their target website pages more visible in the search engine results pages, thus increasing organic search traffic to the domain.

Typically, this involves optimizing the website and pages around Google ranking factors, such as:

  • Alignment with search intent: Google’s RankBrain helps it to understand the context and intent behind user search queries. Content that matches this intent has the best chance of ranking.
  • Backlinks: The more relevant, authoritative, and natural backlinks you have from different referring domains, the better.
  • Core Web Vitals: These are a set of metrics that measure page experience by looking at things like how quickly content on your website loads and how unstable it is.

Google Search Console dashboard

It can take months to start seeing results from your SEO marketing campaigns. You can track your performance over time using analytics tools (Image credit: Stephen Phillips on Unsplash)

What is SEO marketing and how does it work?

Search engines like Google use complex algorithms to determine which order to rank website pages in for different search queries. The search engine’s goal is to rank the most relevant answers that best match search intent, from the most trustworthy sources, at the top of the page.

To achieve this goal, whenever a user performs a search query, the algorithm crawls all the pages in the search engine’s database and picks out those that are the most relevant, trustworthy, and authoritative. It does this by looking at various ranking factors.

The job of SEO marketers is to optimize your website and content around these ranking factors so that the algorithm pushes your pages to the top.

What does SEO stand for in marketing?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s not to be confused with SEM (search engine marketing), which only focuses on paid search traffic. 

What exactly is SEO?

An example of SEO would be editing existing content on one of your website pages in order to optimize it around a specific keyword. For example, you might add the target keyword to the title, first subheading, and meta description, or you might change the URL structure to include your main keyword.

Another example of SEO would be guest posting on industry-relevant blogs in order to build backlinks and improve your domain authority.

An example of SEO would be editing existing content on one of your website pages in order to optimize it around a specific keyword. For example, you might add the target keyword to the title, first subheading, and meta description, or you might change the URL structure to include your main keyword.

Another example of SEO would be guest posting on industry-relevant blogs in order to build backlinks and improve your domain authority.

Main takeaways

  • SEO marketing is a cost-effective digital marketing channel that can help you to generate tons of website visits by boosting your organic visibility in the SERPs.
  • In addition to lead generation, SEO marketing can help bolster brand awareness and support your paid ad campaigns.
  • SEO marketing is a broad discipline that encompasses many different practices, including on-page SEO, off-page SEO, content creation, keyword research, and more.
  • SEO is the responsibility of the marketing department, but it may occasionally require input from your IT and sales departments too.
  • SEO marketing is a complex discipline with many moving parts. Many businesses choose to outsource it to SEO specialists with costs ranging from $500 to more than $5,000 a month.

Further reading

Want to learn more? Find out why many businesses are still overlooking the importance of SEO and discover other ways to boost traffic to your website.

If you’re looking for a hosting provider that won’t let you down when it comes to SEO, check out our roundup of the best web hosting companies. It's also worth understanding how hosting factors can affect the SEO of your website.

Matt has over five years experience writing for leading publications in the digital marketing space, including Ahrefs, and Bloggingwizard.com, Profitblitz.com. A regular contributor to Wordcandy.com and avid tech enthusiast, Matt has written hundreds of product and service reviews and roundups, in the marketing tech space and beyond.