SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing your website to get organic, un-paid, traffic from the search engine results page.
If you own a website or a business that operates online you’re now probably taking SEO seriously or are at least ready to learn how SEO works and how you can apply basic SEO principles to your website.
This guide will cover a no-nonsense, jargon-busting education lesson, chapter by chapter so you can learn to understand SEO and how to apply it to your website.
What is SEO?
What is SEO?
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website and web pages to climb higher in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). This allows business and brands to draw targeted traffic with a vested interest in their products and services. More targeted traffic means higher Click-Through Rates (CTRs) and you’ll get the attention of prospective customers at the expense of your competitors.
Applying basic SEO principles to your website will allow you to drive targeted invited search traffic to;
- Your homepage
- Your product pages
- Your Blog Content
Why is SEO Important?
Today almost 90% of consumers use search engines to research a new purchase. Consumers are busy and they have many demands on their time and attention which is why they’ll turn to search engines like Google to find the answers to the information they need. This is why the race to the top of Search Engines continues to grow.
In addition to this of those users, 75% will never look beyond the first page of a Search Engine and around 30% of all search engine traffic goes to the first organic result (i.e. the first result that is not a paid ad). A further 15% of traffic is drawn to the second and around 10% to the third.
So, it’s clear that a website will need to rank high within search results to engage with prospective customers. It also means that even if you offer a service that’s superior to your competitors’ in every way it’s less about how good that is and more about how good your website is.
Let’s look at how you can prevent that kind of opportunity loss.
Understanding Search Behaviours (Micro-Moments)
Success in SEO is about taking control of all the variables to put your brand in the right place at the right time. However, it also gives you an advantage if you take the time to understand the psychology that motivates search engine users.
The key to this is understanding and leveraging Micro-Moments. These are the intent-rich moments where a search engine user will instinctively reach for their devices. If they want to learn something, buy something or go somewhere, this creates an opportunity to engage them with helpful and relevant content. Common micro-moments include;
- “I want to go” moments
- “I want to do” moments
- “I want to buy” moments
Present them with high-quality and highly relevant landing pages, and you can position yourself as the answer to users’ problems. Micro-moments allow you to put yourself in the right place at the right time.
Local, National or International SEO?
SEO is like any other aspect of marketing. It needs a strategic and proactive approach that’s tailored to the needs of your market. As such, your approach will be slightly different depending on whether you’re trying to target local, national or international prospects. Let’s take a brief look at how the game is slightly different, depending on your target market.
Almost 50% of Google searches are for local business. If you run a cafe, restaurant or boutique highstreet shop, you’ll need to adopt a localised approach to SEO. One of the most effective things you can do to improve your local SEO strategy is also the simplest. Simply make sure that your business’ NAP data (Name, Address and Phone Number) is kept up to date in your Google Business page as well as any local directories where your business may be listed.
Over 80% of smartphone users carry out “near me” searches. If you run a local cafe, you’ll want to rank in local “coffee shop near me” searches. If your NAP data isn’t up to date, however, local prospects may not find you, or may be annoyed when you’re not at the location where they expect to find you.
Local directories are important for SEO. It’s vital that your business is listed on as many as possible if you hope to gain prominence in your local market. This is one more reason why it’s so essential to keep NAP data up to date. Inconsistencies in names, addresses or phone numbers between directories can not only harm your local search rankings, they can create frustration and confusion for prospects.
Link building is an essential part of local SEO. When trusted, high-authority local domains like local government bodies, local newspapers or successful local businesses link to your website, it does a great deal to lend your business and website legitimacy in the “eyes” of search engines. We’ll talk more about link building later.
Most SMEs will want to use SEO to try and conquer their local market. However, there are some that are aiming for a national reach. If you expect to achieve national SEO dominance, you need to be able to demonstrate to search engines that you’re among the most trusted businesses in the country.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes when it comes to SEO at a national level. It’s simply a case of consistently adhering to best-practice and keeping a close eye on the basics. Don’t worry, we’ll explain those basics in much greater detail later!
Achieving SEO dominance in another country is challenging. Especially if that country has a native language that is not your own. Your first step should be to ensure that localise content for international language. This is about more than translating it into the language of your intended location. It means using geotargeting with international-friendly URLs. You also need to use the “content-language” meta tag in your HMTL <head>. Your web development team will be able to help with this, but this guide will help you if you prefer the DIY approach.
As with local link building, you’ll need to find and reach out to high authority sources in your chosen country to improve your international rankings. You should also install welcoming prompts to redirect users from your .com website to their country’s equivalent.
Whatever your approach to SEO, you need to gain an understanding of how search engines operate if you’re to climb organically in rankings without throwing money at paid ads.
Let’s take a closer look into the inner workings of search engines…
How Do Search Engines Work?
How Do Search Engines Work?
The better you understand search engines, the easier it is to generate an approach to SEO that appeals to their priorities while also bringing value to new prospects and existing customers alike.
If you can spare 5 minutes, this video by Code.org does a great job of explaining how search engines work. It’s explained by senior figures in Google and Bing yet avoids getting overly technical.
Search engines don’t search the whole internet in real-time. If they did, SERPs would take forever to appear on your screen, rather than a fraction of a second. When users perform an online search, they’re searching through information that has already been logged and indexed by search engines. This is why they’re able to respond to queries so quickly. In order to do this, however, they use a system of crawling and indexing. This enables them to draw from the ever-expanding network of information that is the internet.
The better you understand these processes, the better positioned you are to tailor your website’s infrastructure to them.
Spiders and Crawling
We call the internet the World Wide Web, and it’s easier to understand it if we think of it as a giant spider web. Each of the billions of websites around the world is connected by hyperlinks. Think of these as the gossamer strands in a spider’s web.
In order to ensure that they draw from the entire internet to respond to search queries, search engines use programs called spiders or crawlers. These are constantly moving throughout the internet, moving through links to view every single page in a website before moving on to the next. Before it leaves a website it logs all the data that might later prove relevant to searches.
It’s important to remember – Spiders can’t jump, at least not in this context
As spiders crawl a web, they can only get to the next page by following the links. If a link is broken they cannot jump. If a page isn’t linked to elsewhere in your site, the search engine won’t know it exists because it can’t follow a hyperlink to the page. This is why you should always be on the lookout for broken links when making changes to your website architecture. Not only do they make it impossible for crawlers to access your page, their presence indicates that your website might be poorly maintained. And this may count as a red flag against your website in terms of rankings.
The data logged by crawlers is then indexed. This means that the data is added to an enormous database called a Search Index. When users carry out a search engine query, the results that appear in SERPs are drawn from the Search Index rather than the internet proper. The data that’s collected will play a huge part in making the content that comes up in SERPs relevant to the query. Which is why things like keywords are so important.
Speaking of indexing, it’s absolutely essential that you ensure your web design is responsive. This means that it looks good and handles well on a mobile device as well as a desktop computer. Search engines, especially Google, tend to index the mobile version of a website. This is called mobile-first indexing. If your pages don’t have a mobile version to index, you could be missing out on an opportunity to climb in SERP rankings.
When you perform an online search, millions of listings are generated. A ranking algorithm is deployed to present users with what it thinks are the most relevant pages. This takes into account keywords in the search query, the sequence of the words in the search query and increasingly the context of the search terms used. For example, if you do a search for “Best quality duvet” and the search engine finds a great quality, highly trustworthy page entitled “Best quality comforter” this may also be shown in your SERP.
Websites consider more than what’s just on the page. They’ll also consider how many other sources are linking to the page, as well. The more sites link to a page, the more trustworthy the algorithm considers the content on that page to be.
Search Engines Always Evolve
The internet is always changing, and search engines are always changing too, in order to provide a better service for their users. Because unscrupulous webmasters are always trying to exploit search algorithms, they must keep making constant changes to ensure that users experience good quality, trustworthy results in SERPs.
Indeed, search engines are changing at such an incredible rate that businesses can drive themselves to distraction trying to pre-empt how these changes will affect their SEO strategies and try and get ahead of the curve. As search engines make greater use of AI and Machine Learning it can be very difficult keeping up with the minutiae of how they work.
Rather than lie awake at night wondering about how you’re going to keep up with the changing nature of search engines, think about the following…
Search Engines Focus on Quality
It’s important to remember the big picture. Search engines are always evolving to provide better quality, highly relevant results to users. If you ensure that your content is of consistently high quality and stay on top of the basics, this is a far more sustainable long term strategy than immersing yourself in the world of search engines and making sweeping changes to your website every time Google announces a new algorithm.
Which brings us very neatly to…
How To Do The SEO Basics
How To Do The SEO Basics
A marketing agency can help you to up your SEO game using a combination of paid ads and organic strategies to draw more traffic to your site, keep a steady flow of new content coming in, fix technical problems that might prove SEO red flags and generally improve your chances of being recognised by search engines.
However, that’s not to say that you can’t take steps to improve your SEO on your own. In this third and final chapter, we’ll look at some of the basics that you’ll need to cover to improve your rankings and draw the right people to your website.
White Hat vs Black Hat
You’ve likely already heard terms like White Hat and Black Hat SEO used. Mastering SEO is like being a Jedi Knight in Star Wars. Just like the force, there’s a light side and a dark side to SEO. Those looking to get ahead quickly may throw their honesty to the wind if it gets them fast and easy results. As such, they may resort to some dirty tricks in an attempt to game Google’s ranking algorithms. This is called Black Hat SEO. The trouble is that the quick gains such techniques get you pale in comparison to the penalties. As Neil Patel explains here, Black Hat SEO can actually get your website banned from Google.
Some examples of Black Hat SEO which you should absolutely never use include;
- Keyword stuffing (overusing keywords in ways that make your content illegible).
- Using invisible text that’s the same colour as the background for keyword stuffing.
- Content spinning (copying and pasting content from other websites).
- Linking to sites with irrelevant or poor quality content.
- Cloaked redirects that take users to another site or page.
Instead, focus on the following best practice or White Hat SEO techniques. It might take a little longer to see the results, but they’ll be much more sustainable and ensure that your website consistently ranks well on SERPs.
Keywords are one of the most powerful tools in your SEO arsenal. They ensure that your content gets noticed by the right people at the right time. They also ensure that search engines continue to provide their users with high-quality and relevant results.
Knowing the right keywords to use at the right time can help you to engage your audience. In order to do this effectively, however, you’ll need to carry out a little keyword research.
The first stage of keyword research is trying to understand the mentality of the prospects who are trying to find your products or content. The better you know your customer profiles, the easier this will be. Try to think about the kind of language that they’re likely to use in their searches.
Next, try to come up with some relevant search terms that you’d like to rank for. The best way to do this is to come up with 5-10 categories (known as topic buckets) and fill each with a range of keywords. Try to use a combination of short tail (one word) and long tail (phrases) keywords. For instance “boots” is a short tail keyword while “best boots for hiking” is a long tail keyword.
Keyword research should also include looking at how well your competitors rank for the keywords you’ve chosen. Highly relevant yet low-competition keywords are more likely to get your brand noticed.
The content on the page counts for a goodly portion of your search engine rankings. Every time you write a product page, landing page or blog post you have the potential to improve your SEO. Let’s take a look at some of the on-site improvements you can make to your content and how they influence your search engine rankings.
Optimise Your Content
Plugins like Yoast can help you to tailor your content to be more SEO friendly. However, they are not a magic bullet that will send your content skyrocketing in SERPs overnight. Such plugins can help you to ensure proper keyword use and placement. They can also encourage you to write compelling meta descriptions that are more likely to ensure Click-Throughs. They also encourage you to write in ways that make your content more readable, thereby improving things like scroll depth and time on page. These are all metrics that search engines value, and indicate that your content is of good quality.
However, these plugins can be something of a double-edged sword. Sticking to their recommendations too slavishly can be detrimental to the quality of your personality. We’ve all read content that is clearly designed to appease search engines rather than provide value for the reader. The result can be jarring. Remember who your content’s for- your customers and prospects. It needs to be geared towards their needs, worries or concerns. It needs to help them solve their problems and address common pain points. It needs to provide real value.
When content is highly relevant and valuable to the reader it’s much more likely to encourage reading in full, repeat consumption, social sharing and even virality. Even Neil Patel- one of the world’s foremost authorities on SEO- is a firm believer in the power of putting readers first.
Some content will go viral, generating tons of hot traffic to your blog, while other content will be lost in the archives.
If you want more of the first kind, you’ve got to put your readers first
— Neil Patel (@neilpatel) March 2, 2020
The next time you sit down to write a blog post, just think “For readers. Not robots!”.
Adding Fresh Content
Search engines like expansive websites that are constantly updated with new content. Why? Because these are the websites that add value for users. They give users more relevant, high-quality content to enjoy. Hence, they keep coming back. When you add new pages and posts to your website, you also create more hyperlinks to encourage users to move around more within your website. This is another signal to search engines that you have a high-quality, trustworthy site. Sites with poor quality content tend to have low time-on page statistics and high bounce rates. The more time users spend on your website, the more likely it is to win the approval of search engines.
User Experience (UX)
Keeping users engaged with your website isn’t just about the content you write in your pages, It’s also about how easy, intuitive and satisfying you make it for users to navigate through your website and get easy access to the content you need. This means taking the time to consider your User Experience (UX).
UX can have a powerful influence on SEO. If your website has a nice flow and keeps users engaged, your bounce rates will be significantly lower. This may also mean that you take steps to improve your page load speeds. Especially in an era where many users will engage with your website through a mobile device. Visitors are increasingly unlikely to wait around for pages that take more than one or two seconds to load. In fact, a page load speed of just 5 seconds can increase your bounce rate by nearly 40%. Fortunately, there are lots of ways in which you can improve page load speeds without needing to become a technical whizz overnight. Even little things like saving images in lower resolutions can make a big difference. Given that your website will most likely be viewed through a mobile device, your images can still look great without needing to be super high resolution.
Off-Site Link Building
While internal links are important in encouraging users to spend more time on your site, you also need to invest in building external links. Ever since the late ‘90s search engines have used off-site links as a means to gauge a website’s quality. The more trusted sources link to a page, the greater the probability that it will add value to a user. As such, search engines will rank it more highly in search engine results. However, not all links are created equal. In an era where Black Hat opportunists are always trying to game the algorithms with link spamming, search engines need to gauge which links are of high quality and which aren’t.
In the eyes of Google (and where Google goes, the other search engines follow) a high quality link is one that is E-A-T or Expert- Authoritative- Trustworthy.
There are many factors that influence this decision but one of the most quantifiable is a site’s Domain Authority (DA). A high DA is an indicator to Google that a website is widely trusted and high value.
So, before reaching out to other businesses, bloggers, local journals and the like be sure to use the online tools created by Moz to calculate the website’s Domain Authority. A score of 60 and above is considered excellent, 50-60 is good 40-50 is average and below 40 is considered fairly poor. Keep in mind, of course, that websites can take steps to improve their domain authority. If you take steps to increase yours, you’ll be a more attractive prospect for businesses looking for reciprocal links.
Social Sharing / Links
Finally, one of the best ways to build off-site links is through social sharing. Social sharing does not directly influence SEO ranking for Google, but there’s evidence to suggest that it can improve rankings for other search engines like Bing. Moreover, social sharing improves your online visibility, increasing your rankings in less direct ways.
Sharing links to new product pages and blog posts on social platforms makes it easier for prospects and customers to engage with your brand and perceive the value you bring them. It also encourages users to keep coming back to your website and checking back for updates.
If a brand new prospect finds your website through your social feed, spends some time looking at your products, reading your blog posts and moving through your website, these are all encouraging behaviours for search engines.
SEO can prove something of a rabbit hole. No matter how much time and effort you dedicate to making yourself more visible to search engines it can feel as though it’s never enough. However, stick to the basics and carry on adding value to website users and you’ll already have won half the battle. A search engine’s job is to bring high-quality, relevant content to users.
Maintain your high standard and keep up your keyword research and you’ll find that SEO is E-A-S-Y!
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