What Is SEO Marketing? Definition, Importance, and Types (2023)

group of characters holding up a search engine's search bar in celebration as they have conquered their learning curve on SEO marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the days of keyword stuffing and clickbait copy.

To rank highly in search results, your website’s content needs to match a potential visitor’s intent. Optimizing your site for SEO is all about understanding how search engines work and how people who are searching online use them.

Get your free SEO checklist

Create a fast-loading website and blog content that both algorithms and customers love. Learn how to rank on Google and get found faster with our Ecommerce SEO checklist.

Learn more

What is SEO marketing?

SEO marketing, or Search Engine Optimization marketing, is a digital marketing strategy focused on improving a website's visibility and organic search rankings. It involves optimizing website content, structure, and performance to attract more targeted traffic from search engines.

Why is SEO marketing important?

Running a successful website is all about getting found by users who are interested in what you are offering, whether that be content or products. In commerce, 59% of shoppers use Google to research a purchase they plan to make in-store or online, while 49% use it to discover new products.

With that in mind, it’s crucial your site appears early and often in search engine results for terms related to your offering. The simple truth is, no matter how great your website is, visitors are unlikely to find it if your search rankings are low.

Types of SEO marketing

SEO activities fall into three general categories:

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

1. On-page SEO

The largest bucket of SEO marketing activities, on-page SEO involves optimizing the content of your website, including text, images, and videos, to ensure visitors and search engines understand what it’s about. That means delivering high-quality content that targets the right keywords. More on that later.

Search engines look for certain on-page factors that can help them determine the quality of your content and, in turn, rank your site in search engine results pages. Examples of on-page factors include keyword and topic relevance, meta information, the slug in your page URL, and images.

2. Off-page SEO

Your website isn’t the only place for SEO marketing—in fact, you can take steps on other websites to boost your rankings on search engines as well.

Off-page SEO generally comes down to building backlinks—that is, links on other websites that point to your site. By getting more high-quality, relevant backlinks, you’ll increase your domain authority. Essentially, the more backlinks you have, the more reputable search engines will interpret your site to be.

3. Technical SEO

Technical SEO involves making changes under the hood of your website in order to improve search performance. Technical SEO ensures your website is fast, optimized for search engine crawlers, and mobile-device friendly.

4 SEO marketing tactics

Now that you understand what SEO marketing is, here are some core tactics to help you climb higher in search results.

  1. Keyword research
  2. Competitive analysis
  3. Active link building
  4. Image optimization

1. Keyword research

The first stop in any search engine marketing project is researching keywords your site visitors are using. If you’re a seller, your products may be revolutionary, but if you’re not targeting the right search keywords, customers may not come across them online.

To conduct keyword research, use a tool like Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or Moz to generate ideas for keywords that may work for your site. Ideally, these keywords will be popular enough to generate significant traffic, but not so popular that you’re competing with giants like Amazon. Use the tools above to narrow down your list of “winnable” and relevant keywords that are specific to your site.

Read More: Keyword Research for Ecommerce: A Beginner’s Guide

2. Competitive analysis

Once you know which keywords you plan to target, your next step is checking out competitors who are already ranking highly in search engines for those keywords. By getting to know your competitors’ SEO strategy, you can formulate tactics that will help you climb the search rankings and overtake them.

A good starting point for competitive analysis is to find your competitors’ best-performing pages and figure out where their organic traffic is coming from. For instance, if a competitor is driving significant traffic through Instagram or an informative blog post, this may give you ideas for content to focus on as you build up your online presence. To do this kind of analysis, you can use many of the same keyword research tools.

Read More: What Is a Competitive Analysis? Definition + Template

3. Active link building

Active link building, though time-consuming, can enhance your search engine rankings by letting more authoritative websites do the work for you.

To begin executing this strategy, make sure you’ve established a presence on social media platforms and local business directories. The foundational links you generate from these influential sites can give you a lift in search engine results.

Next, start pitching your business or products to relevant websites or news outlets used by your audience. If you have subject-matter expertise, consider pitching a blog post that points back to your website. If all else fails, you can also pay to play by launching a PR campaign.

Read More: How To Get Backlinks: 15 Proven Strategies

4. Image optimization

While Google and other search engines are primarily concerned with the written content of your website, they also crawl and analyze your images. By optimizing the images on your website, you can enhance your on-page SEO while creating an added (accessibility) benefit for visitors to your web pages.

Start by incorporating your target keywords into the file names and alt attributes of the image files on your site. This will give search engines another tool for determining whether your content is relevant and valuable.

Next, make sure your images are the optimum size and file format. Images that are too large will have long load times, which affects the experience of visitors to your site. Large images can cause Google and other search engines to penalize your search rankings.

Read More: 10 Image Optimization Tips for Your Ecommerce Website

Want to learn more about SEO marketing for your ecommerce business? Consult our guide: How To Get Your Online Store To Rank on Page One (With Checklists)

Illustration by Rose Wong

SEO marketing FAQ

What does SEO stand for in marketing?

SEO is short for Search Engine Optimization. It is a measurable, repeatable process used to send signals to search engines that your pages are worth appearing in Google’s search results.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing, sometimes called SEM, is where you create relevant, quality content on your website to attract your ideal customers through organic search results (non-paid). You increase traffic by creating new pages or optimizing existing ones.

What is SEO in digital marketing?

SEO in digital or online marketing is where you aim to increase organic traffic to your website through tweaking pages to improve search engine rankings, creating new content to target keywords, and improving your site to be better understood by search engine crawlers.

How do I start SEO?

  1. Find a keyword which has good search volume
  2. Understand the search intent of your keyword
  3. Write your page using your keyword research data
  4. Optimize your page meta title and description
  5. Publish your page
  6. Build links to your page or website

What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

The difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is that SEO focuses on increasing organic traffic, while SEM includes both increasing organic traffic and running paid ads to increase traffic.