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A Beginner’s Guide To: SEO In 2019

Published: 25th September 2018 | Last Updated: 17th October 2018

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What’s In This Guide

We’re quite a knowledgeable group of people here at Web Design Review HQ and we’ve all had to explain the basics of our industry to family and friends. After realising just how little some people know when it comes to all things web design, we decided something had to be done.

SEO Rule #1: Google is God – Do EXACTLY what Google says. No if’s, no but’s, just do it!

– Simon Macebth, Roundhay Web Design

In this guide we’re exploring a practice known as SEO. Does it mean much to you? No. Don’t worry, a lot of others will have answered no too, you are not alone! SEO is yet another one of those complex acronyms that makes little or no sense to the average Joe. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, three words that very simply describe what SEO is.

In this article we discussed the following subjects:

1) SEO – An Introduction
2) Getting Started With An SEO Strategy
3) The Basics Of An SEO Strategy
4) The Next Step

1) SEO – An Introduction

1. Go On Then, What Is SEO All About..?

SEO is the process and strategy that is used by website owners to optimise both content on the website, and the website itself. When a website is properly optimised, this can result in finding your website on the first few pages of Google. Which in turn means you have much more exposure, so it’s quite easy to see why it is becoming an ever popular practice on (and off) line.

A search begins when person enters a term or word into the search engine websites search bar. This term is referred to as the ‘KEYWORD.’ Google uses AI (artificial intelligence), in the form of spiders or bots, which crawl and assess trillions of web pages and content on billions of sites so you don’t have to.

animated gif with green background and a white outline man working on improving a website on a whiteboard

Using a variety of algorithms the web pages are then ranked. When a user enters a keyword, pages that rank for it are displayed on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page).

A SERP displays the title, address and brief description of the pages it has indexed. It will only display those that it judges will best meet the users’ needs. These 10 results are links to such web pages. A keyword may return in excess of a million results altogether – but will only display 10 per page, phew!

2. Algorithms? You Promised No Jargon…

Alright, alright, but this one’s important. An algorithm is a process or set of rules used to solve a problem. For search engines, they’ve developed highly intelligent and detailed rules for web pages to be assessed upon. All of the algorithms are considered. Google then determines which web pages will best provide the user with the content they are searching for.

In order to keep current, algorithms are constantly updated. In Google’s infancy, a hugely significant factor in judging a page was the amount of times a keyword appeared. Using a keyword so many times may make little sense to a human reader – but by stuffing the keyword in repeatedly, the page was assessed as relevant and likely ranked high.

gif representing the moving components of seo going in to a big seo machine

As technology improved, the spiders were programmed to actually understand the written content. They could recognise the practice of keyword stuffing, and written content that made no sense.

A subsequent update penalised websites and pages Google judged to be keyword stuffing. Sites began plummeting down the rankings! Google places a huge emphasis on high quality, unique written content. Their bots can recognise whether it’s written to appeal to a human or a search engine. Safe to say – pages found to be written for Google at the expense of visitors rarely rank well!

AI (artificial intelligence) is advancing all the time. At present, when crawling a web page’s content, a spider is unable to decipher images. They rely on other methods such as alt tags to try understand the content and relevance. However, we can be certain that before long Google will develop the capability to interpret these images.

3. Why Does The SEO & Ranking Of My Website Matter?

There isn’t a more effective method of increasing visitor traffic without having a big marketing budget, than traffic from search engines. Visitors who arrive on your website via a search engine are described as ‘Organic Visitors’. For many websites (including ourselves here at WDR) organic visitors from Google provide the largest proportion of traffic.

While Google are notoriously secretive about the precise methods their algorithms employ to rank results – one thing is far from secret. Under no circumstances do Google accept payment to manipulate search results.

When was the last time you made an online search using Google or similar search engine?

It is possible to purchase advertising that will see your site appear on a SERP when a user searches a keyword you have chosen. However, those ads are clearly marked as such which can deter many users from clicking. Google Ads can also be hugely expensive, particularly if your preferred keyword is popular. By contrast, organic search results are free and incur no cost when users click them. Done cleverly, it can be a highly effective result.

It’s also worth considering that many users skip the ads and choose from the organic results. Consumers understand that a page that is displayed on merit is likely to be superior to one that is displayed because the owner has paid for it.

4. Your Ranking

Your ranking among the results will dictate the volume of traffic Google provides. Think of your own habits when using a search engine. Do you usually look beyond the first 10 results and view page 2? What about pages 3 & 4?

The fact is that only a tiny minority of users will even look beyond the first page and its 10 results. Even if a glance suggests to them none of the results on that first page meet their need, studies show over 75% of people will change the search term/keyword rather than delving deeper and seeing the 10 results offered on Page 2.

If you’re not on page one, then you might as well be nowhere!

– SEO Experts, Like ALL Of Them!

In the strictest sense this isn’t quite true. Ranking in 11th place or below for a keyword means that less than 25% of people searching that keyword will even see the page that displays your snippet. As you appear on lower pages (24th means Page 3, 41st and you’re on Page 5!) it becomes increasingly less likely the user will see you.

The statistics do not lie. Ranking on page 1 for any keyword will generate traffic. Here’s a small anomaly – the greater the volume of traffic a site/page receives, the greater the chance of ranking higher. More visitors tell a Google algorithm your content must have value and is worth displaying to its users.

2) Getting Started With An SEO Strategy

Search engines consider a huge number of different factors for their algorithms. This can make developing and implementing a successful SEO strategy challenging. Regardless of your actions, the results are impossible to guarantee. For website owners wishing to ‘optimise’ for search engines there are two options; do it yourself or bring in the professionals.

1. DIY SEO Strategy

Devising an SEO strategy can be a pretty complex process. That’s before you’ve even thought about implementing it! However, the resources are available that provide clear guidance and suggestions for site owners who choose to take care of their own SEO.

cogs turning in tandem all with seo related icons in the middle of them

There are numerous free tools available through Google, such as Google Search Console. All you require to access and research the various information it provides is a Google account. Other sites, such as Moz and SEM Rush, require a paid subscription to access. Both are very much targeted at experienced SEO analysts – the language used is very much ‘geek speak.’

However, both provide detailed tutorials that showcase exactly how you can ascertain incredible amounts of information. You can then use this knowledge to your advantage.

2. Hire A Professional Agency

The services offered by professionals can vary tremendously, both by price and quality of work. Some agencies will offer to assess your site before providing you with a report. This report details improvements and tasks that they recommend are simple and easy enough for you complete yourself.

Content rewriting packages may also be available. They help optimise your website by working on tidying your site structure, ensuring URL’s are descriptive and even provide regular content for a blog. Along with improving your site (known as onsite SEO), they can also devise and oversee a link building strategy.

Link building is the process in which you obtain links from other websites to yours. It forms a key component of what is known as offsite SEO. A thorough description of link building can be seen further down the article.

3) The Basics Of An SEO Strategy

1. Keyword Research

Time to go back to school! In order for your websites content to begin ranking for certain keywords, you’ll need to identify what those words will be. Your choice of keywords is crucial and requires lots of thorough research to find the keywords best suited to you. Numerous resources exist, such as SEMRush and Moz, which record the average number of times a keyword is searched for in Google every month. You can use this to determine whether the keyword is getting enough searches each month to make it worth using.

animated gif with two drawn hands one working on a website and the other working with him seo

Some keywords have under 10 searches per month, others see over 20,000. This is where logic comes in – surely targeting the keyword with 20,000 monthly searches is essential? At this point it’s worth considering your rivals. They’re targeting the popular keyword too, and you can put money on it that huge sites want a slice of the 20k potential visitors every month.

2. What should I be focusing on?

It’s vital not to focus solely on volume of searchers. Higher volume equals more competition. Competition that’s likely to be professionals who have put years of work laying foundations both on and off site that make them beyond the reach of most SME (small to medium enterprises). Likewise, it’s not worth the effort to target less than 10 Google searches per month – what percentage of that 10 will visit you anyway!?

Logic plays a key role here. Geographical keywords are always worth considering – using both town/city and the first part of your postcode. It’s worth checking the volume first and assessing the competition. If you were an independent restaurant in Manchester City Centre for example – while the volume will be significant, you’ll be challenging national brands – and established, professional websites and marketing campaigns.

The key is to ask yourself; what would a Google user input into the search bar to find your website? What services do you offer? Could those be keywords for the user? The SEO tools like Moz and SEMRush that we’ve previously discussed allow you to track multiple keywords; so don’t limit yourself to just a few.

– Onsite SEO

Here are just some of the key onsite SEO tasks you should undertake on your website. Some tasks are more important than others, which you will learn below. As a guideline, you should take the time effort to complete the following just before, or immediately after, the website goes live.

1) Check Google has indexed all your pages and its spiders can crawl the pages and content. Simply put, if Google doesn’t have a page in its index, then it can’t show it on its results.

2) Check your content. Then re-read it. Task one is to ensure that everything is spelled correctly, there are no grammar errors and any typos should be rectified. Spiders notice mistakes and it suggests to them your page is showing low quality content. Re-reading content also gives you the opportunity to use a third person’s perspective. Are visitors likely to be impressed when they read it? And crucially, does it make sense and explain to a person with no prior knowledge of your business the things they’re likely to be asking themselves?

3) Optimise all images so that Google can interpret them. Spiders may be able to understand your written content, however they cannot view images. Alt tags are designed for this specific purpose. Make sure you add an alt tag to every image included on your website, a short description of what is in the image is fine. When I first began working in the web design industry, my manager asked me how I would describe the image to a blind visitor. This was a brilliant way of knowing how to describe what’s in the image. Adding alt tags means that you have optimised your images; meaning the spiders know that your images add value to your pages.

3. Google Snippets

Ensure that each page has a unique SEO title, URL and meta description. When creating a web page using WordPress, site admins who have installed award winning SEO plugin Yoast, have the facility to create these automatically.

screenshot showing a google snippet

  • The SEO title should be unique to the page, you can include a keyword here too if you like. This is what will be displayed as the title of your snippet on Google or other search engines.
  • The URL (or slug as Yoast call it) should be short and relevant. If using more than one word, they should be separated-like-this.
  • The meta description is the snippet of information shown on a SERP. Usually a brief paragraph, it provides a summary of what is on the website or page. Use this to both describe the pages contents while considering what you could say to encourage people to click.

4) The Next Step

The above is just a small selection of the many seemingly insignificant, laborious onsite jobs that should be completed to improve SEO. Once your site is live, you should constantly review its content by editing or deleting content when it becomes irrelevant.

1. Blogging

Google loves new content, perhaps a reason many brands now include a blog section on their website. By writing interesting and informative articles you are updating your site with quality, unique content. A very useful by product of blogging is increasing potential marketing opportunities and traffic – all viewed positively by the spiders.

2. Internal Linking

You also need to be conscious of ensuring your pages link. This is obviously a plus for the user, who benefits from enhanced navigation. However it also enables the spiders to crawl your pages properly. By having links between pages, both internal and external, allow them to access everything.

The research tools of the likes of Moz and SEMRush conduct crawls using their technology of subscribed sites. This mirrors how Google will be viewing, and more importantly, analysing and deciphering said website and its content. They produce a report that pinpoints broken links or identifies content on individual pages that risks harming the overall site SEO performance.

3. Offsite SEO

When we refer to off site SEO, we are referring SEO tasks being conducted in places other than your own website. While onsite SEO tasks are essential to improve the chances of ranking (quality of content is Google’s main focus as we approach 2019), there is some debate over the bearing off site SEO plays.

It’s all about people finding your business on Google.

– True Fact!

A drawback of off site SEO that plays a key role in the doubter’s minds is that there are no immediate results. These results may appear over time, but there is no immediate gratification. This obviously creates scepticism when people have followed a strategy for over 12 months – and see no significant improvement. Analysts and professionals do advise that it can take up to 18 months of consistent work for noticeable, sustained results.

However, when a website’s ranking is improved because of offsite work, the improvement is maintained for much longer. It will also continue to rise if the strategy continues. This gives a big contrast between on and off site SEO. Onsite tasks can be notoriously volatile and typically return to normal a few days after the boost.

4. Backlinks

Almost all offsite SEO jobs involve the practise of link-building. Google’s spiders navigate from website to website via external links between them. When a website links to another, it suggests to the spiders that the content must be of value. The value of links varies depending on the quality of the site providing it. Indeed, some websites are labelled as ‘Spam’ by search engines and a link from one of those to your website is actually a bad thing. The aim of a link building campaign is to show Google your website and content has merit – in a similar way to a student referencing an essay.

An ongoing link building campaign is often time consuming and offers little reward in the short to medium term. Once you’re ranking however, that higher position is likely to be stable for several months after you discontinue your campaign. Back links can range from social media profiles and online directory websites, and from other websites blogs.

5. Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is one of the most effective methods of generating back links for your website. The value in Google’s eyes of an in-content link (when words in the passage of text act as the link) is far superior to one on a Social Media profile. Diversity is key! A range of links, from various websites and platforms, sprinkled across different pages on your site, rather than all pointing to your homepage.

6. Press Release

Another effective method of creating back links is to run a press release. This release can include a link back to your website. There are PR agencies who can guarantee hundreds of placements. Google places less weight on back links from media websites, in the similar way social media back links provide less ‘juice’ than links from blogs. A press release is a great way to get a sharp spike in traffic, generate engagement and show Google your business and site are active

In A Nutshell

The owners of websites around the world often share their frustrations at the amount of time and effort needed to implement an SEO strategy that encompasses every algorithm and rule. The entire topic is fiendishly complex. No sooner do you complete edits to conform to a rule change that a fresh algorithm update follows, twhich requires hours of checking and reviewing content, a new one is released.

As the owner of a website it’s important to recognise that your greatest potential source of traffic is through Google’s organic search. The key word in that sentence is potential. Most websites have some form of SEO strategy in place – and some will be targeting the keywords you want most.

So, in order to have any chance of securing a spot on page one, a researched, consistent and ongoing campaign is crucial. Feel free to browse our many articles which focus on individual details and topics surrounding SEO.

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