Understanding The World Of SEO – Everything You Need to Know

Posted on 15 October, 2018 by Lorna in

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SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – can seem daunting to a new website owner. Technical jargon soon leaves you scratching your head and wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. This article isn’t like the other SEO guides you’ll find online. We’ve stripped it right back to the basics, using language that makes sense. We’ve even put together a handy infographic to make it even clearer.

Disarming The Minefield Of SEO

In my experience, when I utter the word ‘SEO’ to a new website owner, I’m likely to be met with a look of either confusion or despair. There’s no getting away from the fact that Search Engine Optimisation can seem way too technical and complicated when you’re just starting out.

Fear not, though. SEO doesn’t have to be confusing. It’s just that it’s usually spoken of in technical terms that mean nothing to the layman. Even the so-called ‘dummies’ guides to SEO can be impossible to understand. They seem to assume that everyone understands the jargon and can leave you feeling like you’ll never understand. By the time you get to the end of this article, I hope to have remedied that and given you a rundown of SEO that you can understand.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. In simple terms, that’s the strategies you use to get your website to the top of the search engine results. In a single day there are over 4 billion Google searches conducted. Knowing what your ideal customer is going to be searching for can help you get more traffic to your site.

Google ranks websites for the search phrases people use (these are called keywords in the SEO world), and there are lots of factors that can affect your website rank. SEO is a way of increasing your rank so that more people find your site when they perform a Google search.

Up to 53% of people click on the first link in the search results (the one directly below the top 3 advertised links). That means that it’s really important for your site to get as close to the top as possible. Even being on the second page of the results can be detrimental.

Why Is SEO So Important?

SEO is directly linked to the amount of traffic your website gets – which has a huge impact on your sales and revenue. If your SEO is poor, then you won’t reach the customers your business needs to succeed. Getting organic traffic (that’s technical speak for non-ad-related traffic) through a high search engine rank is the most effective way of increasing your revenue.

But SEO doesn’t just impact on traffic. There are other factors involved. When a site ranks high in the Google search results, people put more trust in those sites. It’s psychological – people see a site at the top of the results and automatically believe that site is the best, most authoritative option. If your site is the top out of thousands of possibilities, your site must be good, right? You can see why SEO is important for building a customer base.

How Does SEO Work?

There are two things you need to understand about how SEO works. The first is that your site has to have relevant information for human visitors. They’re your potential customers and you need to cater for their needs.

Secondly, your site has to be optimised for robot visitors. I don’t mean an invasion of Daleks, in case you were getting worried. Google robots (or bots) are the little cyber-bots that look at the code and content of your website and index it. This is called crawling. They mine information that helps Google know what your site is about. There are certain things that SEO seeks to provide for both kinds of visitors. Let’s break those things down:

Humans want:

  • Interesting, quality content
  • Content that is relevant to their search
  • An appealing design
  • Easy navigation
  • Modern features

Search engine bots want:

  • Unique content (not copied and pasted from anywhere else)
  • Relevant keywords (more on those below)
  • Descriptive HTML (your site’s coding)
  • Quick load times
  • Working URLs and Links

putting feet up with cuppa coffee

Delving Deeper Into The World Of SEO

Hopefully now you have a slightly better understanding of what SEO is, why it’s important, and how it works. As a starting point, that’s fine, but if you’re going to use SEO to build your business (and if you’re not, why not?), we’re going to have to get a little more technical. Not too technical. I don’t want to send you running screaming for the hills. Just technical enough that you can start to optimise your site for search engines and humans.

Ranking Rules

Firstly, when it comes to ranking, there are some things you need to understand. Google has a strategy for deciding how to rank websites. This strategy is known in the SEO world as an algorithm and the bad news is that Google often changes their algorithms. In fact, many websites drop in rank when there are algorithm changes. This means that SEO strategies are always changing to keep up with Google’s changes.

White Hat & Black Hat

Secondly, there are two different ways of doing SEO. One is called ‘White Hat’ – this is the right way to do SEO and Google likes this kind of SEO. The other is known as ‘Black Hat’. As its name suggests, this is the wrong way to do SEO. Google doesn’t like it and will penalise websites that use Black Hat SEO. Black Hat SEO is kind of like cheating and you should avoid it at all costs.

Some examples of Black Hat SEO include spammy techniques such as bad article spinning and buying backlinks that harm your ranking. You’ll find plenty of people online who offer Black Hat SEO – but they usually won’t tell you that it’s Black Hat. Avoid them at all costs! Black Hat SEO can result in your website being removed from search engines completely – and how are you going to get any traffic if no one can find your site?

The Technical Stuff

Thirdly, SEO combines a whole range of aspects that can seem mind-boggling at first. Because SEO is aimed at both humans and bots, there are parts of SEO that are immediately obvious and some that only the bots really see. The obvious parts are in the page content. Things like keywords, the length of content, how easy your text is to read, and links to relevant content are part of this.

The bot-related SEO is probably the most technical in terms of jargon, because it’s often within code. If terms like HTML, meta data and ALT tags make you wince, it’s not as difficult as it seems. There are also lots of online tools that can help with these parts of SEO. You don’t actually have to know HTML to be able to use bot-related SEO! We’ll look at these in more detail in the process of SEO section below.

The Process Of SEO – 7 Steps To SEO Success

In this section, I’m going to take you through a whistle stop tour of 7 major elements of the SEO process. By the end of it, you should know enough about SEO to make a start on your own website SEO strategy.

1) Research & Analysis

The first step in successful SEO is research. Never think you can miss this step out. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know your industry, you still need to do research. Your SEO strategy will suffer if you don’t.

The research stage is where you look at your competitors. What are they focusing on in their content? There are online tools that can help you with this. You also look at your target market. Who are you trying to reach? What are they going to be searching for? What problem do they have that your product or service solves? These are all questions you need to ask.

It’s also in this stage that you decide what your goals are. What do you want your target market to do when they land on your website? Are you looking for sales or signups? What kind of conversion rate are you looking for?

2) Finding keyword opportunities

Keywords are really important in SEO. The way keywords work is quite technical, so I’ll just run through what you really need to know. Keywords are SEO-speak for the words and phrases that people search for. These can be single words (short-tail keywords) or phrases of two or more words (long-tail keywords). Nowadays, because of voice searching (using Siri, Alexa or OK Google), search phrases are more common than single words. The way keywords are being used is changing because of this.

Understanding what your target audience is searching for is only part of keyword strategy. Ranking for keywords is not always straightforward, especially if you’re using a highly competitive keyword. Highly competitive keywords are those terms that a lot of websites are trying to rank for, which makes getting to the top of the results much harder.

Good keyword research can not only show you what keywords your competitors are using but can also reveal opportunities that they’ve missed. There might be similar keywords that your competitors have overlooked, meaning you have a better chance of getting to the top of the listings. This is a really effective way of getting more traffic, conversions and sales.

In the world of keywords, there’s something called keyword difficulty. That’s jargon, really, for longer search phrases. The theory is that people who search for more specific things – such as “web designers who offer discounts for students” – are more likely to become customers. Their specific search term means there is a higher level of intent behind their search – or, in simple terms, they’re looking to buy a product or service, rather than just browsing. Identifying these kinds of keyword strings can boost your conversion rate and revenue.

3) On-page SEO

This is where it gets a little more technical, I’m afraid. There’s no avoiding the jargon if you want to have an effective SEO strategy, however. Jargon doesn’t have to be a barrier, though, and it sounds more complicated than it actually is.

On-page SEO is the technical term for the ways in which you can make it easier for Google bots to crawl your site, as well as making your website a positive experience for your visitors. There are some terms you need to know if you’re going to get this stage right.

Meta data

Meta data is Google bot heaven. Bots love meta data because it’s makes the task of understanding what your site is about much easier. There are different types of meta data, including meta title and meta description.

The image below shows how meta data works. You’ll see that the title is what shows up in the search engine results in blue. Below the URL is the meta description. This is how bots know what your page is about and what kind of searches are relevant to your site. I can’t stress enough how important it is that your pages have meta data. Without these snippets, you’re much less likely to rank in the results.

A print screen of the yoast SEO section showing where users enter the meta data for a web page on a WordPress web page.

There are tools online that you can use to make sure your meta data is optimised with the right keywords. The image below shows one of them. These tools will help you make sure your meta data is the right length, too.

URL Structure

The way your URL is structured is important for your SEO strategy. Google likes websites that are well organised and structured, with good URL hierarchy. It’s important that your URL contains your primary keyword.

Headings

In HTML, there are tags known as H1, H2, H3 (and so on). Whilst you don’t need to know HTML to use them (site builders such as WordPress build these in as part of their text editors), it’s important that you do use headings. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it makes your content easier to read. Secondly, Google likes them. Put your keyword(s) in your headings for maximum SEO impact.

Image ALT tags

Google bots can’t read images, so if your site uses images such as infographics, it’s really important to use image ALT tags. Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress make this easy for you. When you upload an image, there’s a box for the ALT tag. Use your primary keyword so that Google knows what the image is about.

4) Getting the content right

Content is King in the world of SEO. Strategically placing keywords within your content and making sure the content is an appropriate length are two important aspects of SEO-focused content. Keywords should be placed in the title, in the first paragraph, in the headings, and in variations throughout the text. It’s important to avoid ‘keyword stuffing’ – using keywords excessively and in a way that makes the text unnatural to read – as Google frowns on this.

5) Speed and performance

The speed at which your site loads is one of the often-overlooked aspects of SEO. There are online tools that you can use to check how quickly your pages load. Your website visitors want a site that loads quickly; in the modern world no one likes to wait for anything – especially now there’s broadband offering speeds of 1GB per second. This is also something that Google will look at when they’re ranking your website, so it’s important to get it right.

6) Link building

Having other sites link to your site is what’s known in SEO circles as link building. Google looks at the types of links to your site, and rates them according to their value. Getting high quality links from reputable sites is a real rank booster. There are various ways of getting these links, such as through guest-posting or having high-value sites review your product or service.

link lockets represent linkable content

Avoid buying backlinks, however. Not only does Google frown on buying links, but generally the links you buy won’t be good quality and will ultimately harm your ranking.

7) Analytics

You’ve heard of Google Analytics, right? This handy tool helps you to understand your site’s visitors better. You’ll be able to see what search terms they’re using to find your content, the conversion rate, and bounce rate. All of these insights can help you see how well your SEO strategy is working. Google’s Search Console can also be used to see where your site is ranking for your target keywords.

Summing it all up

So, there you have it – our comprehensive guide to SEO made simple. I hope this article has helped you overcome any fears you might have had about SEO for your website! This is, of course, just a starting point, and you’ll probably need to delve even deeper into the technicalities of SEO in the future. Now you know the basics, though, SEO shouldn’t seem quite as daunting.

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