Our Brief Guide to SEO – Search Engine Optimisation
SEO (search engine optimisation) is still effective and very important. What is SEO? WHY do we need it? Check out this guide and get started with effective search engine optimisation…
So, you want a new TV, or want to find a great place for a vacation, but you don’t have time to go into town. You may be looking to do some research for your business. Gone are the days when you go to the local library (or for the vast majority of us it is) to do that research.
What do we do if any of the above is true?
Chances are we “Google it”!!
It’s the “in thing” to do when faced with a problem, challenge or even a choice.
It’s becoming more evident that without a presence on Google, in some form or other, your business is unlikely to be as visible.
This guide will help you build up a presence using SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
What you will discover in this guide:
- What SEO is
- How SEO works
- What you need to do to get good search results using SEO
Before we start, I want to reassure you of something important:
Many people in agencies will try to scare you with technical jargon and blind you with the “science of SEO”. It’s rare to get real explanations beyond the technical theories and complexities of SEO.
In this guide, I want to help you to understand SEO and how to construct a successful strategy. You will be able to do this after seeing how the basic parts are broken down for you.
You can jump to any section you need to concentrate on, but it’s a good idea to skim through the content first. When you have that basic knowledge, you can bookmark this guide to use it as a point of reference.
- What is SEO?
- How Google Ranks Content
- Core areas of SEO
- How to track Results
- Local SEO
- SEO Resources
What Is SEO?
SEO is a strategy where your website (or any web page for your business) is set up in order to ensure that your page is found by prospects Googling your product or service.
This may be simplistic in its concept, but it is true. This description doesn’t take into consideration the different customer needs into consideration, even though it’s an accurate summary of the essence of SEO.
When adopted correctly, the core focus of SEO is to expand a company’s presence in organic search results. It’s designed to help businesses to rank more pages high up the search engine results pages (SERPS), which leads to more visitors and a better chance of getting conversions of leads to customers.
SEO, in fact is the driving force to rankings and visibility.
Ranking is a process used by search engines to determine where a web page is places in SERPS. It’s important to remember that search engines rank web PAGES and not web SITES.
This term is used to describe how prominent a specific domain is in search engine results. If your site is prominent in SERPs, you have high visibility. If your pages don’t show up for many relevant web searches, your domain is seen to have low visibility.
Both of these features are a part of delivering the main SEO objectives. Those are traffic and conversions.
This isn’t the only reason you should be using SEO. There is one very important part of business online and offline that SEO can do too.
It helps to build your BRAND!
Good SEO results position your business brand right into the heart of the buying or decision making process.
Because, as you will find out, SEO is all based on RELEVANCE and customer “match”, it will help your marketing strategy to align with new buying behaviours.
Google have admitted themselves that customer behaviour has changed forever.
Search engines are used by people more than any other marketing channel these days. In fact, 18% more shoppers choose Google over Amazon. The search engine is preferred to other retail websites by 136%. Also, B2B buyers carry out 12 searches on average before any engagement with a brand.
People actually prefer to go through the majority of the majority of the buying process on their own.
In a recent HubSpot Research survey it was found that 77% of people research a brand before engaging with them.
Forrester reveals that 60% of customers don’t wish to interact with sales people. Moreover, 68% choose to do their own, 62% having developed their own methods of selecting the right vendor.
It seems that the process has never been more complicated!!
Source: Forrester Research
According to DemandGen’s 2017 B2B Buyer’s Survey, it was revealed that 61% of B2B buyers start the buying process with a broad web search, compared to 56% who go directly to a vendor’s website.
How do they use search engines during this process?
Firstly, they go to Google to search for information about their problem. Some will look for potential solutions.
After that, they check out the available solutions and services by checking out reviews or social media “hype”. They will only enquire with a company after checking out all the available information.
How Does Google Know How to Rank a Page?
The goal of any search engine is to provide relevant answers or information to the searcher.
Whenever we carry out a search, the search engine’s algorithm works to show the pages most relevant to the subject. They are then ranked and displayed according to authority or popularity.
So that the best information is delivered, the search engines look at 2 different things:
- The relevancy of the content of a web page to the search enquiry (The search engines assess this based on keywords or topic), and
- The website’s authority (this is measured by a site’s popularity on the Web. Google works on the assumption that the more popular a site’s content or resources are, the more valuable it is to the searcher).
The way that all this information is analysed and offered if by using the complex system contained in what is called the search algorithms.
These algorithms are considered as secret, but SEO professionals have managed to determine what factors need to be considered when ranking a web page. These are known as the ranking factors and are the main focus of a successful SEO strategy.
You will discover in this guide that adding more content, optimising images and filenames or adding appropriate internal links can affect ranking and search appearance. The reason for this is that each of these actions improves the ranking factor.
Core Areas of an SEO Strategy
Effective optimisation relies on improving raking factors in 3 specific areas:
- Technical website set up
Let’s see what each means and how to set everything up:
- Technical Set up
For a web page to rank, 3 things need to happen: (i) The search engine needs to find your pages.
(ii) The page is then scanned to identify the topic and keywords.
(iii) The page is then indexed. The index is a database of all the content the search engine has crawled. The information is then considered by the algorithm to show a web page for relevant search terms.Simple, right? Google should be able to visit your site just like you don’t you think?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple. The web page looks different for you and the search engine. When you look at the page, you see graphics, colour, formatted text and links.
However, to a search engine, it’s nothing but text.
Because of this, any part of the page that isn’t possible to be rendered in such a way will be invisible to the search engine. You will see everything, which looks great for you, but Google may find the content to be inaccessible.
As an example, look at how a search engine sees an article.This is the original article if you want to see the difference.
You should see these things:
The content is just text. The page was carefully constructed, but the search engine only sees text and links.
Look by the arrow and you will notice that the name of the image is what the search engine sees. If, for example the image showed an important keyword that the page is designed to rank for, the search engine would not see it. Therefore, the image would be useless to help us to rank.
There is a way to see how the search engines see your page. The tool is free and called SEO Browser
This is where technical set up (also known as on-page optimisation) comes in.
It’s set up to ensure your web pages allow Google to have no problem scanning and indexing them.
The most important factors to affect it include:
Site Navigation and Links
Search engines look over a page just like you do. They follow links The “spiders” analyse the page, find links and follow them to do further analysis. Because, as you have seen, they don’t see images. Because of this, set your navigation and links as text only.
Simple URL Structure
Search engines are not fond of long strings of words with complex structure. Keep your URLs short wherever possible. Use the main keyword the page is optimised for in the URL and little else.
To monitor quality, the search engines use the load time of a page as a key factor. The load time is the time taken for the page to enable the reader to see the content. Image size can affect the page speed for example, along with other elements. To find out how to improve your page load time check out Google’s Page Speed Insights Tool.
Dead Links and Broken Redirects
A dead link is a link that goes to a non-existent page. A broken redirect points to a resource that may no longer be there. Both of these provide a poor user experience, but, more importantly prevent search engines from indexing your content. It also raises a “flag” with Google and is not good for your site authority.
Sitemap and Robots.txt Files
The sitemap is a file that lists all of the pages on your website. It shows all the URLs and the search engines use it to crawl and index relevant ages. The robots.txt file is the file that tells the search engines the content they need not index (you may not need specific policy pages indexed for example). Having both in place helps speed up crawling and indexing of your web pages.
Duplicate ContentThere are some opinions that duplicate content is bad for your site. If you have a lot of identical pages, it can be because it confuses the spiders into which page to index for the content you’re trying to rank. Duplicate content shared from other sites is not a particular problem in my opinion, because, if you consider how many news sites there are with the SAME news content and they don’t get penalised, it goes against what is seen as content worthy of a Google penalty to negatively affect your site.
It’s ALWAYS better to have unique content. To be sure, include unique content whenever possible.
Whenever you use a search engine, content is what you get.This content is relevant to the specific issue or problem you’re looking to find a solution for.
This content can come in different formats. It may be text in the form of a web page or blog post, or it may be in the form of video content.
You can find product recommendations or business promotions in any of these formats. You can also find business listings.
Everything is content
When it comes to SEO, content is what helps to get more search visibility.There are a couple of reasons why:
Customers EXPECT content when searching for a solution to their problem. It doesn’t matter what the person is looking for, content will deliver it. The more you publish, the better the possibility of getting more search visibility.
Search Engines need to analyse content to be able to rank a web page. It’s all based on relevance of content to search enquiry as we spoke about earlier.
As the search engine spider crawls your page, it discovers the topic of the page. By detailed analysis of the page length and structure, it assess the quality of that page. Because of this analysis, the content can be matched or rejected through the algorithm based on it’s relevance to the search query. In short, RELEVANCE of quality content to search topic is key to good rankings.
Content optimising is a process and starts with keyword research.
SEO is all about getting the right people to your web pages. You want to attract people who are interested in what you have to offer them. They must be people who need what you are selling and are therefore likely to become leads and later on, customers.
This is only possible if your web page ranks for the keywords the person is using to search. If it doesn’t rank for those keywords, it’s pretty unlikely they will find your page. If, however, it does rank, but your content is not seen by the searcher as relevant, you won’t get any traction from that ranking.
SEO starts with determining which phrases are entered into search by buyers.
You need to find out which terms and topics are relevant to your business. Then, you need to convert them into initial keywords and then extensively researching what your target audience will see as search terms relevant to them.
HubSpot has a great guide for beginners on keyword research. If you need any help with this important step, use it to identify the keywords and phrases you should be targeting. The whole process is simple and yet detailed.
Now you have a list of keywords, you now need to optimise your content. This is known as on-page optimisation in the SEO world.On-page Optimisation
AKA on-page SEO, on-page optimisation is carried out so that search engines: a. Understand what the topic of the page is and its keywords, and
b. Are able to match the page to relevant search terms.
Even though the content is key and on-page SEO concentrates on the words you use, there are some elements in the page code that require attention too.
You may have heard of these – Meta tags, such as page title or description are the most popular. There are more, so take note of the most crucial on-page optimisation actions (these are generally based on blog content since the majority of content is relevant to blogs. I will concentrate on blog SEO because of this, but this is just as relevant to other pages as well):
1. Keyword Optimisation
The first thing to do is to be sure that the search engine understands what keywords you want to rank the page for. You need to include the main keyword in the following places in order to achieve that:
Post / Page Title: Google places more value on words at the start of the headline, so try to get the keyword in at the start of the headline.
URL: The page URL needs to contain the main keyword. The best way would be to use nothing else. Be sure to remove any stop words.H1 Tag: In many cases, for example in Wordpress or other content management systems, the H1 tag is used to display the page title by default. Be sure to check that the system you use does indeed have that facility.
First paragraph, or first 100 words of content: Be sure to include your main keyword at the start of your content where possible, or at the very least in the first paragraph or 100 words. That way Google will know the topic of the page.
Meta Tags: Search engines use the meta-title and meta-description tags to populate their listings. The meta-title tag is shown as the listing title, whereas the meta-description is the blurb content below the title. The most important thing is the way they use these to understand the page topic even more.
Image names and ALT tags: As previously pointed out, search engines don’t see the image on a page but they see the file name. Be sure to include the main keyword in at least one of the images file name.
The “alt tag” (the text a browser displays in place of an image for visually impaired users) resides in the image code. The search engine can see this code and can therefore determine more relevancy from those tags.
When constructing your content, be sure to include semantic keywords. These are variations or synonyms of your main keyword. They are further proof to Google what your content is relevant to.
Take “Apple” as an example. You may want to use apple as your main keyword. How will the search engine determine whether you’re content is relevant to the fruit or the electronics giant?
If your content includes terms like cider, sugar or orchard. Google will then determine you’re talking about the fruit and rank it for appropriate search terms relating to the apple as a fruit.
This is what the semantic keywords can do to help you get better rankings. Be sure to include them to prove your relevance for connected searches. This also helps with writing content too. In the past, the tendency was to include keywords randomly, which didn’t help with the readability of the content. Using these semantic relevant words, you can write for the reader and then your content will be seen as great quality and you have a better chance of good rankings.
2. Non-Keyword Related On-Page Optimisation
Don’t think of on-page SEO as just about keywords on the page, where and how many times you use them. There are more things that will help your page have more authority and credibility.
There are:External Links: If you can link to other relevant pages, Google sees this as an extension of relevance to your topic and takes it into consideration. It helps to position your content as a useful resource and also helps provide a good user experience.
Internal Links: Internal links help boost ranking in 2 ways:
1) They help the search engines find and crawl other pages on your site. And
2) It helps to show semantic relationships between pages on your site, which helps to determine the relevance to the search better.
The rule of thumb is to include at least 2 to 4 internal links per post.
Content Length: Because longer posts contain more exhaustive information on a topic when written well, it’s been found that long content will rank better.
Multimedia: This may not be a requirement, but multimedia items like videos, diagrams or audio players help to give a page more quality. This helps keep visitors on the page longer and also helps give signals to the value of the content when they remain on the page longer.
We have already discussed how page rank depends on the 2 factors of relevance and authority.
The search engines want to provide the most accurate results for users. Because of this, Google and the other search engines list pages that are considered the most relevant to the search query. They also take into consideration how popular a web page is seen to be.
In Technical set and content we focused on the importance of relevancy and how to increase it. Some of those elements also help provide authority.Links are what are responsible for the popularity element.Let’s find out what SEOs are talking about when they mention links:
What Is a Backlink?
Every time your content is mentioned and pointed to on another website, you get a link (or backlink).
Any article, or social media post that shares your content is valuable and is classed as a backlink. A simple example is this share to this site from a Facebook Post:The links will be from more diverse sources including other websites, which is important. Social media is a great resource to help build authority.
The higher the quality of link the better, but Google uses both quality and quantity of links to determine the site authority. The thinking behind this is that a webmaster will more likely reference a high-quality website before a mediocre one.
It’s important to know that not all links are the same. High quality sourced links will have a positive impact on your site, but the lower quality ones can impact negatively on your site.
Link Quality Factors
Google consider deliberately built links as bad links. Suspicious may be a better word. Low quality links that come from sites with little or no relevance to your site content are also seen as bad links. Each of these can help to reduce your page rankings.
SEOs focus heavily on building links from high quality, relevant sources to get the best from those links in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
Similarly with the knowledge of the search algorithm, we are not 100% aware of what factors determine the link quality, but SEOs have discovered a few:1. The popularity of the site linking out: Getting a link from a domain the search engines see as an authority will have a natural quality attached to it. This means that the more authority the linking site has, the more powerful the link is.
2. Relevance: Links coming from sites that have good relevance to your own will carry more weight that any from just a random site.
3. Domain trust: Just like popularity, the search engines consider a website’s trust. The more trustworthy the site linking out, the better the ranking impact.
The process of getting new backlinks is known in SEO as link building
This process can be very challenging.
Good link building requires patience, creativity and a strategic thought process. You need to develop an effective link building strategy to generate quality links. That is NOT easy.
The links you build must pass the various quality criteria. It must not be obvious to search engines that the links have been built deliberately.
How do you get good links then? Here are a few ideas:Editorial, organic links – These are links that come from pages in which your content is referenced.
Outreach – With this technique you contact other website owners for links. This happens in various ways. You may have developed some great content, so you email the site owner to tell them about it. If they find it relevant and valuable to their readership, they will refer to it. You could suggest where they can link to it too.
Guest Posts – Guest posts are articles you have written for third party sites. The company that owns the blog will often allow one or two links to your site. One in the content itself and one in the author bio.
Profile links – Many sites give you an opportunity to create a link. These may be in the form of a link from a profile. When you set up your profile, you can link to your website in that profile too. Not all these links carry a lot of weight, but some may. They are worth creating even if to provide some diversity.
Analysis of Competition – Many SEOs like to analyse the competition backlinks. That way you may be able to recreate those links for your site too.Now you know what is responsible for achieving success in search for your site, it’s time to see how to figure out if it all works.
How to Monitor & Track SEO Results
The 3 tasks of technical set up, content and links are vital to get any web page into the search results. Monitoring your results will help to improve your strategy even more.
You need to track data about traffic, engagement and links to measure your SEO success. Many companies set up the own sets of SEO key performance indicators (KPIs), but here are some of the most common ones:
- Organic traffic growth
- Keyword rankings – split up into branded and non-branded terms
- Conversions from the organic traffic
- Average time on page and the bounce rate
- Your best landing pages attracting organic traffic
- Number of pages indexed
- Links growth, which includes new and lost links.
Up to this point the focus has been on ranking web pages in general. One of the most effective ways to build your site authority in the eyes of Google is to “go local”.
You have a business right? You may want to build beyond your local area, but if local SEO can help you build up your brand in the eyes of the search engines, you have a great resource to grow further. As you grow your authority, you gain local customers and from there the business develops into other areas.
You may not have thought of your potential local market, but believe me, it’s well worth it.
Considering that 97% of customers use search engines to find information locally. They use the local search to find vendors and even a specific business addresses in their local area. 12% of customers are looking for local business information every day.
Local searchers take action more than the more general searcher. In fact, 75% of searchers will visit a local store or company premises within 24 hours of the initial search for information.
Question is, is local SEO different from what we have been talking about previously?
Answer is both yes and no.
The principles of search are similar for both local and global search. The difference is that the LOCAL search is a lot more specific and a site can be positioned relevant to their location as well as their content relevance to the search as well. The “local” algorithm analyses things based on local relevance and ranks LOCAL sites according to relevance and authority in that specific locality.
The search results appear differently too.
- They will appear specifically when the search has a local intent. An example could be “plumber near me” or plumber in “location”
- The results shown have relevant local businesses or places linked to that search
- The results concentrate on delivering specific information to users from local sources. This means the searcher can get served locally.
- They are targeted to mobile users primarily because most local searches come from a mobile device.
If there is a relevant search in the locality, however broad, the chances are the “local pack” will appear with relevant local businesses.
An example of a broad search for “restaurant” proves this. My internet service provider IP address is around the Bridgend area in South Wales, UK and the local pack comes up showing 3 restaurants in the that general area.
You will see that these results don’t always contain links to a website. They do show a list of restaurants in the locality and a map to show their location. Clicking on the listing will give you more information for that business that will include:
- Business name
- Opening Times
- Phone number
If the business has a website, it will be linked to. They often show directions too, which is really handy if you choose that particular restaurant.
The information provided can help customers to choose which business to choose. It also allows Google to determine how it’s ranked.
Local Search Ranking Factors
Google is looking into the proximity to a searcher’s location FIRST. Because of the rise of local searches with the term “near me”, it’s logical to assume that Google will try to present a local business close to the searcher first.
Keywords are just as important for local as well as general SEO. The one difference between local and general is that the local SEO on-page optimisation requires the listing of the company name, address and phone number (known as the “NAP”)
This makes sense when Google searches the local area to associate your business with your locality.
The authority is assessed in local search by more than just links. Reviews are important as are citations, which are references of the business NAP in local and niche specific directories.
The information that a business includes in the Google My Business listing (Googles local business listing management system) plays a big part in the rankings too.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but these are the important things to remember to get your business to stand a chance of ranking in the local search.
We provide a full done for you service in local SEO and national SEO. Book a consultation with me Today. (It’s free btw)
Black Hat SEO
One particular form of SEO I want to steer you away from is “black hat SEO”. You may find that you get lured into using some of these techniques to get quick results. This is ok if you are prepared to throw away your website in order to get a “quick fix”.
These black hat practices look to manipulate the search engine algorithms by using techniques that are wholly against the guidelines. These techniques include keyword stuffing, cloaking (hiding links in code so that users don’t see them. Remember that search engines DO) and buying links.
Ranking pages in Google takes time, so it may be tempting to bypass things a little by doing a little black hat. You do so at your peril, because your site can be wiped out at any time and it takes months of work to get it back.
There are no quick fixes to long term success, and long term is what you want, right?Beware of someone telling you things that are too good to be true. It usually means they are just that.
SEO Resources & Training
This brief guide is a good starting point with SEO. There is a whole lot more to learn.
Check out these great resources:
You can also check out these great blogs to get more information and tips as they appear. Many SEO experts share their experiences and tips:
- Technical Set up