What Is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation as its acronym stands for, is a process of marketing that is focused on using various techniques and actions to allow your website to rank higher in organic search engine results, therefore making it more visible to the wider community and increasing traffic to your site.
Here is a useful video from Google’s Matt Cutts on How Search Works:
Search engine optimisation is absolutely vital to the success of any website or digital marketing strategy, and without a well-thought out, researched understanding of it you may likely find that your website never quite achieves the results that you are after.
Let’s have a look at just what SEO is and how you can use it to your advantage.
On-page search engine optimisation describes any factors that have a result on your organic listing due to changes you make to your actual website.
We will explore how to use this to your advantage below, but on-page SEO includes factors such as:
- Keywords (placement and density)
- Title and content structure
- H1/H2/H3 tags (these are header tags, and refer to your headings and subheadings)
- Meta data & meta descriptions
- HTML code
- User-friendly permalinks
- Fresh, original content
- Image optimisation
- Internal links between pages on your own site as well as links to external, reputable sites
Off-page search engine optimisation is the direct opposite to on-page SEO, and these are factors that have a result on your organic listing but are not controlled by you. These are things such as:
- Links to your site from other popular, authoritative sites
- Social media shares
While you may have some small control over these – by conducting manual outreach with a view to generating social shares or links to your website, for example – generally it’s someone else’s decision, rather than your own.
White Hat SEO Versus Black Hat SEO
White Hat SEO
White Hat, a term used in reference to a ‘morally good’ person, is a type of SEO where the user conducts optimisation strategies that completely adhere to a search engine’s rules and regulations, aiming to improve their SEO ranking through methods that focus on their human audience.
This will be through factors such as producing relevant content for your audience, complete with keywords, strong structure and link building.
All efforts are focused on providing relevance and information to the audience, rather than producing anything solely aimed at search engines.
This is the most common method of SEO and is the one that is used by those who want to build a long-term, reputable website.
Black Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO is frowned upon in the marketing community, and refers to a more aggressive, illegitimate way of conducting search engine optimisation.
Rather than focus on the audience, users of this approach focus on purely the search engine, looking to exploit any loopholes or cracks in the algorithm to boost SEO ranking.
This may include tactics such as keyword stuffing or using hidden text, as well as using off-page link-building tactics such as article spinning and private blog networks which allow the user to create hundreds and thousands of links to their website in a very short period of time, giving the illusion of popularity and creating a quick boost search engine ranking.
Generally Black Hat SEO tactics are used by those looking to make a quick buck on their website, and search engines actively try to ban these users, firstly with warnings and later with IP address-wide bans which can affect other websites that the user controls.
Why Is SEO Important?
Search engine optimisation is vital to the success of your website. Without it your page will become lost within a search engine’s hundreds of thousands of search results.
SEO dictates where everything sits in the world wide web and effective use of it can help you to sit just a little higher than your competitors.
Whichever search engine you’re using, whether it be Bing, Yahoo! or the undisputed king, Google, they all work in the same way when it comes to good quality, SEO-friendly sites.
Google, with almost 80% of the market share, is the largest search engine and those looking to rank higher on Google’s pages must comply with their strict, but ever-changing algorithm.
Google’s market share as of Jan 2015, source: http://gs.statcounter.com/press/yahoo-gains-further]
This algorithm, although no-one knows exactly what it contains (except Google employees!) is well understood by SEO experts.
Google’s algorithm, and indeed others from Bing and Yahoo!, run all websites through their algorithm and rank pages based upon how it performs against that algorithm.
Generally they are looking for relevant, authoritative and legitimate content and websites with correct and proper use of keywords, structure, tags, backlinks, as well as the other factors detailed in the graphic below, courtesy of Moz.
How SEO experts rank factors in Google’s algorithm, source: https://moz.com/learn/seo/what-is-seo]
These algorithms are incredibly smart and know when you are employing tactics simply to trick your way to the top of page one.
It is worth remember that there is not only neutral or positive SEO, but also negative SEO.
Poor knowledge of SEO best practice and the use of certain ‘tactics’ can actually have a negative effect on your website, causing it to lose rankings and traffic, especially in the long-term.
The algorithms are constantly changing to ensure they are staying current and innovative. For example, it was only in 2015 that Google’s was updated to reward websites that are mobile responsive, meaning they adapt to being viewed on a mobile screen, and penalising those sites which are unable to do so.
As with all of Google’s algorithmic changes, this is designed to ensure that websites shown to their users are of the highest quality and do not detract from their search experience.
Think of Google as an ‘experience’ engine, rather than a search engine and you’re halfway there.
How Can I Improve My SEO?
It’s vital that you understand that SEO is not something that you switch on and off, it’s an ever-changing process that you need to keep up to date with in order to continually improve the organic visibility of your website.
You may have the nicest looking website in the world, but if you don’t make SEO a priority nobody will ever see it.
For on-page SEO tactics, find out what the keywords are in your market. If you sell chairs but find out that more people search for ‘seats’ per month, then start using ‘seats’ rather than ‘chairs’.
Google has a handy tool called Keyword Planner that can help you search for your keywords.
Do your best to encourage and increase backlinks to your site from reputable sources. Perhaps reach out to your clients to list you as a provider, or customers to link to you with a testimonial.
The Importance of Content
Content is undervalued by many companies who see it as nothing more than written articles for their viewers to read, but if used in the right way its importance cannot be stated enough.
It is the best way to increase SEO on your website, as within a piece of content you can cover keywords, h1/h2/h3 tags, meta data, structure and authoritative links, as well as many of the other factors that decides a page’s SEO ranking.
When writing content, ensure that all of it is fresh and original as Google’s algorithm can detect where large sections or sentences have been replicated, and this negatively affects SEO. Use tools such as this to check you haven’t plagiarised by mistake.
Of course, use keywords, but write naturally and for your audience.
Don’t try and cram a keyword in simply for the sake of it, Google can detect this.
Write content that is relevant to your audience and the rest will fall into place. Great quality content has the chance of being shared virally on the internet and though social media, creating further SEO-friendly backlinks for you but also increasing organic reach.
Search engine optimisation is perhaps the most important thing to consider when you are setting up and building your new website. Ranking on the first, or even sometimes the second page, of a search engine makes all the difference in websites that do well and websites that never get seen.
Although many of the factors of SEO may seem tiny or insignificant, each can have a large impact on where your site sits. As no-one is able to get a search engine algorithm score, you must make sure you stay on top of all the different areas of SEO to give your site the best possible organic reach.
As you can see, SEO is a major part of any online business. Without it, your pretty website may never be seen by your customers.
Knowing what SEO is and how to use it properly is fundamental in making sure that your website, your business, increases its organic traffic month after month.
Without a properly structured SEO strategy, you are leaving potential customers behind.
You need to take advantage of the sheer volume of people who are looking for your business, your services and get on board with SEO.