Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is often seen as a dark art or particularly over-technical, but to be honest, once you get your head round it, the principles are very straightforward. The difficulties arise primarily in the amount of time you need to invest in carrying out SEO on your website because of the many different aspects to SEO, monitoring and analysing the results and making changes accordingly to your website and your overall digital marketing strategy.
You also need to keep on top of changes or approaches as search engines constantly improve their techniques to make their search engine the best and these tweaks impact on where your site might rank in their results as well as the way the search engine displays it’s results.
So what exactly is SEO and why do you need to make sure your website is optimised if you want your business to succeed online?
What is SEO?
For a detailed (and in places technical) overview check out Wikipedia, but in essence SEO is about implementing various techniques to influence how your website appears in organic (or unpaid) search rankings. There are many different techniques, not least of all because of the way the search engines decide on how websites rank – it is reported (links through to an excellent WebpageFX article about SEO, by the way), for example, that Google ranks websites in its results based on over 200 different signals. They use these signals to determine how relevant your website is compared to other websites they have found online (e.g. your competitor’s websites) and use the decisions they make based on this information to rank the websites in search results.
Whilst search engines are relatively intelligent and have improved massively in recent years in terms of understanding what a website is about, the context of the website, etc. they need a helping hand, which is where SEO comes in. That said, SEO isn’t about building a website so that it can be understood well by a search engine, it needs to appeal to visitors rather than Google, and indeed search engines will be testing usability as one of it’s ranking signals.
So, not only do you need to build a website that works well for your business and your customers, you need to make sure your website is better than your competitors and more importantly that search engines know this.
Whilst there are some aspects of SEO which you can’t have any immediate control over such as the age of your domain there are some significant ‘easy wins’ that you can make a difference with.
There are so many excellent guides online that explain SEO in detail, such as Moz’s Free Beginners Guide, Search Engine Journal’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and the aforementioned WebpageFX In-Depth Look at SEO Ranking Factors, so I’m not going to ‘rewrite the wheel’ for SEO, instead I’m just going to highlight some of the key basics which should be enough to get any budding self-help SEO going:
1. Keywords research and implementation
Using keywords used to be just about the main thing you would do to help rank your website in search results. In the ye-0lde days of SEO it was about overloading your website with as many keywords as possible so that search engines understood what your website was about. However, this approach was sub-optimal as websites would be stuffed with so many keywords it impacted the user experience and was easily abused by using irrelevant keywords.
Today, Google and the other search engines don’t need keywords to understand what your website is about, so whilst still important keywords perform a different role and keyword stuffing is seen as a bad SEO technique and will harm your website ranking.
Today it’s about making sure the content on your website is using the words and phrases searchers are using when they are using search engines and then using these keywords in sensible places within your content and also within the coding of your website.
You don’t need to be a coder to make keywords work for your website, you just need to make sure you use them in the right place and there are plenty of tools available to help, whether in terms of auditing your site for the bits you’ve missed (e.g. using services like SEMRush, Moz or Screaming Frog) as well as on-site tools like Yoast SEO for WordPress.
So the steps you need to take to utilise keywords:
- The first step is to research and find the keywords and phrases you need to use. You want to use the keywords relevant to what your website is about (e.g. your services or products) and you want to find a range of keywords that searchers may be use to find your website. You can research keywords using free tools like Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner and you want to use a mix of popular and not-so-popular keywords both in terms of what searchers are using and what your competitors are using – there’s a concept of ‘long tail keywords‘ which is used to describe keywords that don’t get used so much in searches but are also not used by so many other sites, so whilst you could struggle with ranking for popular keywords, you may have a better chance of ranking for the long tail keywords.
- The second step is to utilise your chosen keywords strategically across your website. The key places for keyword placement are in your web page titles, within header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) within web pages and blog posts, within alt-tags of images and within meta-data of your web pages.
- You should also be using these keywords across your other online channels such as your social media channels and in any online paid advertising you have.
2. Optimisation of text and images
There are various formatting rules you need to stick by which will also help. Examples here are keeping your site and page titles within 55 characters so that they display correctly (not chopped off) in search result lists and using small (in file size terms) images (to help with page load performance).
3. Site useability
Your website needs to work well for your visitors and search engines are clever enough to be able to work out whether your site is user friendly or not. Some of the key things you can do to help with this are:
- Breadcrumb navigation – providing a link structure for the current page being visited, so the user can quickly jump back within that structure
- Your website needs to be mobile ‘responsive’ meaning it resizes itself depending on the size of the screen being used to view the website.
- You should have a contact page which includes your business address (particularly important if you want to only attract searchers local to your business – called local SEO)
- A site map to enable easy navigation of your site – it doesn’t necessarily need to be all of your pages indexed like a contents page, but you should list the main parts
- Your website should have quick loading speeds. Optimising images will help with this, but there are other considerations to take into consideration such as server load speeds.
- Believe it or not, use of language, spelling and readability are also ranking factors, so make sure you spellcheck your content and write it in a way that the average person could understand
4. Off-site factors
As well as optimising your website structure and content you should also look at other off-site factors that can help your website rank. These include encouraging other sites (particularly ones which search engines believe to be authoritative) to link to your site, listing your site in appropriate online directory listings and utilising social media to share the content you post.
5. Competitor analysis
Don’t be afraid to see what your competitors are doing online – after all if they’ve managed to find a key hook which leads them to always be placed above you in search engine results then why not try and use the same tactics to compete with them online. This is why you’ll find in a number of keyword analysis tools (like SEMRush) they’ll offer intelligence about how your competitors are ranking for keywords compared to you and also for keywords you’re not currently using.
6. Content, content, content
Finally, probably one of the most important ranking factors for your website and for your business is content and whilst not technically demanding it can be very consuming.
Having an effective content marketing strategy can really help your website rank highly. Search engines are looking for indications of industry insight and content which answers their search users questions and if you make use of your prime industry keywords then you’ve got a fighting chance of beating the competition.
Generally speaking the front-house of your website should be succinct and to the point, providing quick fire answers to your website visitors questions: who are you, what do you do, what’s in it for me? Behind the scenes you should be generating blog posts and content which delves deeper into your business, the services you offer and more importantly demonstrates you know what you’re talking about.
Is it all about Google?
Typically, because it’s the biggest (about 88% of UK searches), we usually talk about ranking high in Google, but of course other search engines are available such as Bing and Ask Jeeves – certainly if you do any research about SEO, or follow blogs like Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch you’ll tend to find the odd article about other search engines, but in reality it’s all about Google.
Why does my website need SEO?
Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve worked it out for yourself. You need SEO because you need your business website to standout in the crowd, be seen in search engine results and more importantly to beat your competitors.
Done properly, SEO can give your business the boost it needs to grow and develop. Just building a decent website is not going to bring in the customers but with a little TLC, ongoing monitoring and having the edge of the SEO tactics you can stand out from the crowd and your business will boom.
Unfortunately, good SEO takes time, effort and patience – it’s a constant review of keywords, optimisation of content, publication of new content and analysis of the results and then often repeating steps to improve further and tweaking here and there to see if you can make a bit more of a difference.
However, help is at hand and with digital marketing services like the ones I offer you can leave the SEO to a professional and focus on what you know best: your business. I can offer an SEO audit of your website where I can review it’s current search engine rankings, build a plan and strategy for improving it further and carry out the work for you. Just get in touch if you’d like to know more.