Understanding SEO – a beginners guide

SEOSEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is probably one of the most important digital strategies your business can focus on. This week, I have spoken with many local businesses who do not understand SEO and the benefits of it – hence this post.

Let’s start by going back to basics. SEO is the process of getting organic (or non-paid) traffic directed to your website through search engine results pages (SERPs).

The great thing about SEO is that it can be heavily influenced using a variety of tools and tricks.

There is a big difference between being online and having an online presence. Simply having a website these days is not enough, there are many different things you need to consider to ensure you are appearing in the right search results. At the end of the day, there is not much point in having a website if prospective customers cannot find you!

So, where do you start?

Understanding Search Engines

Google, Bing and Yahoo! drive the majority of online traffic. Most searches for local services and products begin with these commercial search engines. Your potential customers will conduct a search query to find exactly what they are looking for. The search engines then finds the most relevant and useful information to answer the search query.

So how do the search engines decide which pages appear in the search engines results pages? Simply put, they will crawl the web looking for high-quality and relevant content. Using this information, the search engines build category indexes, defined into relevant segments. When a search query is entered, the search engines utilise specific algorithms to help return the best results to the enquirer.

I will not go into any detail as search engine algorithms vary between sites, some of them utilising up to 200 components to decipher rankings on SERPs. It is ridiculously complex.

The important thing to understand is that the quality and content of your website helps the search engines to decide where you rank in the SERPs.

As a business, you can enhance your site by using a range of SEO tactics; this helps to tell the search engine what your website is about and correctly match it to the search query.

The long and short of it is that, in order for you to appear in the results of the search query – you need an internet presence.

How do I increase my rankings?

It is probably worth me pointing out that SEO is a long-term strategy, not a short-term tactic. You may find it can take a while for you to see the results. Also bare in mind that SEO is not really something you can take your foot off. Search Engines are constantly evolving and changing their algorithms all of the time. You will need to keep abreast of regular developments across the digital world.

Anyway, back to the key elements which can really help you increase your rankings;

  1. Quality of content and information on your website
    Google and the other leading search engines believe content is king. Quality content, written in a natural voice is far more important than a page of nonsensical content stuffed with random keywords. The key to this is having relevant content to your business, and plenty of it! Short and sweet does not win the day. Another key element to consider is creation of interesting, useful and compelling blog posts and articles, this gives readers the ability to share your content – perfect for helping to generate backlinks.
  2. Links
    A ‘backlink’ is an incoming hyperlink to your website. The more authentic backlinks you have pointing to your website, the better! Search engines use backlinks as a source of authority for your website. Creating content is super important in generating backlinks; you need to create content people want to share. The more shares you get equates to more backlinks. There are other strategies that can help you build your page links such as, reaching out to partners and customers, eliminating spam and low-quality links, and finally monitoring how many site links you have using software such as SEMrush.
  3. Social Media
    Audience engagement and site popularity is big news. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of having an online ‘presence’. Social media pages are not just great exposure but they can really help build your brand popularity, enabling you to share content, create backlinks and build a following of brand advocates. Social interactions with your prospective customers are remarkably important, and building recommendations from existing customers enables you to build brand credibility – all recognised by the search engines. Not sure which social media platforms to use? Consider your audience. You may wish to read my previous blog on the the top 5 social media myths busted.
  4. Being Mobile Responsive
    If your website is not yet mobile responsive, I would recommend you invest in developing this immediately. More and more web users are conducting searches from the comfort of their phones and tablets. Whilst user preferences shift from desktop to mobile, so will search engines. Many content management systems come with mobile responsive templates so there really is no excuse. It is believed that many search-engines will shift to mobile-first site indexing in 2017.
  5. Find your best keywords
    The focus on keywords has changed somewhat over the last 12 months, however they still remain an important factor in your SEO. It is important to remember that your prospective customers are still using keywords when looking for specific information on search engines. If you have read my previous blogs, you will understand the importance of knowing your customer segments well – this will definitely help your Keyword research. What are your customers looking for? Which words will they use to search? Combine this information with technical knowledge obtained through sites such as Google Keyword Planner and you can gather a wealth of knowledge very quickly.
  6. Metatags and headers
    Make sure all of your metatags are filled in, if you leave this information out the search engines will struggle to understand what your site is about. Plugins such at Yoast SEO for WordPress can really help you get in control of your page titles, meta descriptions and content optimisation. The use of H1, H2 and H3 headers are really important too, do not leave this out of your page text.
  7. Site speed
    How quickly does your website load? If your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load you may need to consider optimising it before you loose visitors. Lets face it, none of us like hanging around while we wait for pages to appear – time is precious. You may need to call upon your technical support to optimise some of the coding on the pages, consider the server response time, switch to using lower resolution images. Search engines see this as an important factor when considering your rankings in SERPs.
  8. Install Analytics Software
    I strongly recommend installing Analytics; it is incredibly important to help identify what is working, and what isn’t working on your website. You can find out where website visitors have come from, understand which pages work best and really understand your audience. My favourite is Google Analytics, it is super easy to use and gives a wealth of information.

There is more – in fact, there is a LOT more. However, these main elements should give you a basic knowledge and understanding of the process.

What next?

Some small business owners are happy to spend time and resources optimising their own websites – however, bare in mind this can be a time consuming exercise.

Many businesses opt to outsource their SEO and overall digital presence, if you are looking to do this – make sure you work with an expert!

To get a grip on optimisation, you need a great mix of technical knowledge, coupled with the ability to produce and promote great content. This is not just a job for a web developer – this is a job for an SEO expert.

Your SEO should not just be a ‘one-off’ event, this is an ongoing and evolving project. It is an important investment for your business and one which you can no longer avoid.