In brief: Outsiders often view search engine optimisation as a murky field filled with shady practices and dodgy deals. In the first of a series of posts, our Introduction to SEO sheds light on what makes up this incredibly powerful tool for online businesses and introduces you to the ways you can build authority and grow your traffic without spending a penny.
SEO, as a discipline, has come a long way from its roots in the 90s. When the industry started, link-buying and keyword stuffing were the order of business for most SEOs because, back then, they worked.
Nowadays search engine optimisation encompasses much more and user experience has moved front-and-centre. In fact, according to Moz, how well your content solves the user’s problem (what they call “Searcher Task Accomplishment”) has become one of the most important ranking signals.
Whitehat vs Blackhat
As you delve further into the field, you’ll start to hear the terms “whitehat” and “blackhat” SEO. While the specifics are worthy of another post entirely, the difference can be summed up in three words: don’t do blackhat.
Blackhat SEOs use spammy, underhand and aggressive tactics to make a site rank higher, or make a competitor’s site rank lower. They might use techniques like cloaking, private blog networks and similar methods that are generally against the search engines’ terms of service.
The result of being caught using these strategies is usually a manual action or penalty against your site which could permanently cripple your traffic and business.
In contrast, Whitehat SEOs use strategies like those below to both provide a great experience to users and to make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your site. It should go without saying that we would class ourselves as whitehats here at MarketSuite.
Table of Contents
- 1 – What is SEO?
- 2 – Technical SEO
- 3 – Onsite/User Focused SEO
- 4 – Link Building
- 5 – Local SEO
- 6 – Take Aways
Put simply, search engine optimisation is the continuous process of improving your website so that it appears higher in search engine results for searches that are relevant to your business. While there are a lot of activities that come under this general heading, at MarketSuite we tend to put them into one of four groups:
Technical SEO is the nitty gritty stuff, the nuts and bolts that underpin your site. Ultimately, this boils down to the code, the structure of the site and making it as easy as possible for search engines to index and understand the the site. Essentially, everything that isn’t to do with the actual, user-facing content.
Technical SEO can be further broken down into 4 sub-categories:
- Mobile-friendliness – You’ve probably heard the terms “responsive design”, “mobile-friendly” or even “mobile first”. These days, having a mobile optimised site isn’t an option. If you want to rank well, for anything and get a good return on your website, you need a responsive website.
- Site Architecture – To make it easy for search engines to index your site, you should be on the lookout for “orphan” pages. These are pages with no links leading to them. You should also try to keep all your pages (certainly all the important pages) within three clicks of each other. Sitemaps that tell both bots (XML sitemaps) and real people (HTML sitemaps) also fall under Site Architecture.
- Site Speed – Site speed is an important ranking signal for Google and many other search engines.
While not as important as the relevance of the page, improving page speed also improves the experience for your customers, potentially improving time on site (yay), brand image (double yay) and even the conversion rate (did someone say party?) Things like reducing image size, using compression and caching can all improve your page speed.
- General Technical SEO – Anything that doesn’t fall under the other three categories, we lump together here. Ensuring that the robots.txt file isn’t stopping key parts of your site from being indexed and implementing effective structured data are part of general technical seo.
While there is a lot of crossover with technical optimisation, user-focused optimisation basically covers anything to do with your content. This is what a lot of people think of as SEO: keywords, titles, descriptions and while it’s true that these are important, there are many other facets that aren’t immediately apparent.
Semantic relevance, a measure of how closely your content matches what users are searching for, has become one of the most important ranking signals. By carefully planning how you present information and the indirectly related keywords you use you can more accurately target relevant searcehes.
At MarkeSuite, we consider User Experience (UX) to be central to search engine optimisation, even if it’s not a direct ranking signal. One of the ways Google and other search engines can measure UX is by bounce rate. If lots of people are clicking on your site but most of them are bouncing straight back out (known as pogo-sticking), this is a strong indicator that they should stop ranking your site as highly.
How do search engines know one site is more authoritative than another? At its heart, the answer to this is simple: links. Sites with lots of links coming from other sites with a similar focus tells search engines that this is an authoritative site.
For example: you own a local Italian restaurant and you want your website to show up highly when people search for “Italian restaurants in weymouth”. If you have links from lots of food blogs about how good your food is, then the search engines will show you higher in the search results.
If you own a local business (and even if you don’t) you want to rank highly in local searches. In the above example, we imagined an Italian restaurant. If your business depends on trade from a specific geographical area, you need to invest in your local search presence.
There are a few ways that you can boost your chances of apprearing in local searches:
- Google My Business listing – Your Google My Business listing lets you tell Google and searchers about your business. It contains your opening hours, customer reviews, contact details, links to your site and the physical location of your business. Best of all: it’s completely free!
- Local news sites – It’s never too early or too late to be featured in the local news and it can be a really powerful way of improving your local presence. Not only does it raise your brand’s profile, the news site is likely already associated with the area you’re targeting.
- “What to do in…” posts – These can be on either your own site or an external site (a local blogger for example). Either way, they signal a strong geographical connection with your business.
The above is nowhere close to an exhaustive list of everything that makes up SEO. It should, however, give you an insight into what modern SEO looks like and how it can be used to grow your online business.
The best thing about SEO is that it doesn’t need to cost anything. That might sound ridiculous from someone offering their services as an SEO (among other things) but really, a lot of what makes up SEO can be done easily, in-house, even (possibly especially) by a one-man-band.
In every post we make, we will include (at least) one practical task you can do yourself. If you have a website, even if you’ve never done a day’s SEO in your life, here are our three take aways for first time SEOs:
- Set up a Google My Business listing – if you own a business, even if you don’t have a website yet, get yourself a GMB listing. It’s incredibly simple to set up: all you need is your address and some basic information about your business. If you are running a business from home and don’t want your address to appear in the GMB listing, you can create a “service-area business”. For more help on this, see the Google help pages
- Start building some links – whatever type of business you run, you can build links in local media. Journalists like it when you make their jobs easier so, if you’re just launching, write to them about who you are and what you do. A press release is a great way to build exposure, even for really new companies. If you’re a bit more established, getting involved in charity events and raising money can be a good way to get links from local news websites.
- Assess your site – there are a thousand tools out there that can help you find ways to improve your SEO. Google PageSpeed Tools helps you find ways to speed your site up. Moz’s Open Site Explorer helps with finding link building opportunities and gives a good general assessment of your site’s authority. Finally, Google Search Console is a treasure-trove of information on potential improvements, site and crawl errors, search metrics and much more.
Our Introductions Series will continue with an Introduction to Content Marketing.