The world of SEO is a complex and constantly evolving space. It’s stuffed with technical processes and concepts that for those who have little to no IT knowledge, the mere thought of even dipping your toes in the SEO pool may seem overwhelming.
But as a word of reassurance, the basic understandings of SEO can be easily digested by anyone regardless of their level of IT proficiency. This article is a great stepping stone to familiarizing yourself to the main key concepts found in SEO. By the end you’ll have a well-rounded understanding of how to approach SEO for your business.
So, what is SEO?
SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. It’s the process that helps your website rank higher on search engine results pages for certain search terms/keywords, all through non-paid (or organic) ways. It’s not to be confused with SEM which stands for ‘Search Engine Marketing’ which involves ranking your website higher through paid marketing, like Google Ads on a search results page.
Why do you need SEO?
When you set up a website, there are millions of other websites to compete with. The main goal of SEO is to ensure your website ranks on the first page based on relevant search terms or keywords.
Through good SEO, Google prioritizes your website as a highly relevant, valuable, and credible source – and in turn will end up ranking it higher on the first page. When your site lands on the first page of the search results, it’s incredibly accessible for users and will lead to more traffic to your website – and more customers.
Keeping up with Google Updates
Google rolls out updates on how they crawl, index, and rank websites on SERPs. With every update, their aim is to improve the search results for users and give them better quality information each time. The major updates that require the most attention are Google’s Core Updates, which happens a few times per year and involves significant changes to Google’s search algorithm – their latest Core Update being rolled out from June 3rd 2019. Google has emphasised there is no quick ‘fix’ on your search rankings, there is a gradual application of good SEO practices that over time, leads to better SERPs and higher traffic performance. This just makes all the more important to keep up with Google’s updates and closely monitor any new changes that they announce in regards to their search algorithms and procedures of ranking websites.
How does SEO work? What’s involved the SEO process?
To properly approach SEO, it’s fundamental to understand how it works in the first place. The typical issues people face with SEO comes down to being unaware of all the individual processes involved under the wide scope of the SEO umbrella. Some of the most common SEO mistakes include duplicate content, title tag errors, broken internal links, missing alt attributes/meta descriptions, and more – all of which can be avoided and addressed with the right know-how.
Here’s an overview of what we’ll be exploring in the basic processes of SEO
- Crawling and Indexing
- Keyword research and selection
- On-site optimisation
- Optimise for SERPs
- Multi-Display/cross device
- Technical errors
- Internal link building
- Off-site optimisation
- Backlinks via guest blog posts
- Broken Link-building
- Monitoring Performance
1. Crawling and indexing:
To even qualify your website to appear in Google’s search engine results, you’ll have to ensure your website and pages are ‘crawled’ and ‘indexed’.
‘Crawling’ refers to the process of automated bots, called spiders, that ‘crawl’ or follow the paths of links found on every possible page that is accessible on the internet. Once these spiders finish their crawling, they formulate a picture in how these links are related to each other and inform Google what the website is about.
This brings us to ‘indexing’. Like with a regular book index, Google creates ‘search indexes’ that differentiates the various types of information or pages found online. It’s these search indexes that are used by Google to retrieve the relevant webpages every time you search for something on Google!
2. Keyword research and selection:
The second step in SEO is choosing your keywords. The keywords you choose to rank for are a fundamental part of the SEO process for your website. You should first have a solid understanding of what your website is all about, and then narrow down specific keywords that correspond to what your site has to offer.
Some factors to consider when choosing your keywords is:
- Search volume: how many people are searching for those specific terms or phrases?
- Competition: How many other websites are targeting the same keywords?
- Some techniques to go around highly competitive keywords are to first rank for long tail keywords which have lower keyword difficulty or competition. Then, as your website authority and rank improve, you have more power and control in ranking for other more competitive keywords
- Relevance: How relevant is this keyword according to your business? Will it help attract more visitors or end up being too irrelevant for them?
3. On-site optimisation
3.1 Optimise for SERPs
The first thing people will see on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) will be your website’s title, URL, and meta description. What this is meant to do is give a brief snapshot of your site signifying how relevant it is to the user’s search term or phrase.
The title is an important, if not the most important part in optimising your webpages for search results. A title optimised for SEO should include any keywords that are related to the page, the overall topic or headline of the content, and end with the brand or business name.
Eye-catching and concise section of copy that aims to encourage the user to be directed to the website. Meta descriptions clearly state the value the user can get, including more information or a relevant call to action.
Not only should the URL be readable, but it must include at least one of your targeted for better optimisation and higher-ranking potential on search engine results.
Another relevant aspect for on-site optimisation is the website’s content. To attract more visitors to your website and improve your overall SEO performance, you’d want your site to be filled with relevant information that your audience is avidly searching for. On top of this, the key to great content is that it’s unique, well researched, and takes on a different approach that can’t be found anywhere else. To curate the best content, it’s useful to find what’s already available online, and figure out how to make the quality of content even better with your own addition of information. And lastly, regularly posting blog content on your site (as well as guest blog posts for off-site optimisation) can add up tremendously to your SEO and Google search rankings – so consistency is something to incorporate to your content strategy as well.
For a more detailed rundown, we have a list of do’s and don’t’s for SEO optimised blog posts that focus on how to create high quality content for SEO that drives traffic into your website, fosters a strong sense of trust with your audience, and positions your brand as an authoritative and reliable source of information in your field of expertise.
Despite how dramatic this sounds, there’s no denying that even a few more seconds of waiting can feel like a lifetime. According to statistics from Google in 2018, 53% of mobile users abandon a website that take longer than three seconds to load.
There are several ways you can speed up your website, starting with these:
- Reduce the number of 301 redirects
- Remove any web codes that are unnecessary
- Compress your files that are larger than 150 bytes as well as large images (i.e. via Photoshop)
- Enable browser caching, which saves time by automatically filling in previously details provided by the user
- Monitor and work on improving server response time – ideally this would be under 200ms.
For a secured website, you should use a domain with https which stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) which is the secured version of HTTP websites. This is done by getting an SSL certificate which basically encrypts all the incoming sensitive data (like a user’s personal email, bank details, phone number etc.) between the client and the server – just to prevent other malicious users from getting hold of that information. If you run a business online, where people are often inputting their personal information, getting a secured website is one of the factors Google looks for when determining your site’s rank and authority.
More people are searching on their mobile phones, so optimising your website to display seamlessly on mobiles are a must to survive in the SEO world. With many content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, the displays are conveniently adjusted for you according to mobile, tablet, and desktop views on a basic level and depends on the types of themes used. When your website requires more complex processes, you’ll need to manually adjust your multi-display formats for the best user-experience.
3.6 Technical Errors
If there are technical issues going on that compromises the functionality of your website, there’s no reason for Google to direct its users there.
Luckily, such technical errors are usually brought to your attention by platforms such as Google Search Console. Solving them on the other hand, would require a basic level of understanding in what caused the issue in the first place.
One common type of technical error we’ll explain are known as ‘crawl errors’:
Crawl errors disrupt Google from indexing your website’s pages and content, which makes it nearly impossible for it to show up on search results. This is usually caused by site errors or URL errors.
Site errors are what prevents spiders from accessing your website in the first place. Whereas URL errors refer to primarily the 404 Not Found errors, meaning spiders would crawl a link but be led to a dead-end that breaks the flow of the link.
Additionally, another technical error you should avoid is having duplicate content as this gets you penalised by Google. Duplicate content can be addressed using a 301 Redirect – where Google bots or spiders are guided back to the original page source (instead of the duplicate content page).
Sitemaps are crucial as it allows your webpages to get ‘indexed’ or stored in Google’s search engine index (the database that contains and organises information about all websites). Sitemaps give the bigger picture understanding to Google in how your website is structured and thus enables it to more easily show it to relevant audiences in the search results.
There are two main ways you can include a sitemap – using HTML and XML.
A HTML sitemap is a file that guides spiders to certain links in your webpages, making it easier to interpret how they are all connected or relevant to each other. HTML sitemaps organise and structure your website’s links into categories and subcategories – so indexing can be completed more accurately and efficiently by search engine bots.
To take it up another notch, you can create an XML sitemap. This is a txt file that contains a complete list of all the links found on your website, with relevant descriptions (such as dates it was last updated and meta data of the URL) to allow Google to index your site and understand how all the links are related to each other.
An extra thing to note is what’s known as the Robots.txt file:
There are many cases where you wouldn’t want certain links or pages to be indexed by Google – which will be explained further in the ‘on-page optimisation’ section below.
The Robots txt file is used to do just that: exclude links that shouldn’t be indexed and outline the links that you want to be indexed. You can make this on programs like Notepad and upload it to your site’s root directory to allow Google’s bots to use it and index your site more efficiently.
3.8 Internal link building:
Internal links are those that refer to other links or pages within the same website. In one way, it’s great for user-experience: visitors who scroll through your website can conveniently jump to other relevant pages. For Google, it maps out how all the pages within a website relate to each other which allows Google to index it more accurately in its system and show it in relevant search results.
4. Off-site optimisation
Now that we’ve sorted out the SEO processes that goes on within your site, it’s time to learn about what you can do outside your website using off-site optimisation strategies.
As we mentioned in on-site optimisation above, internal linking is a great way to inform Google how all your pages are linked and the types of information it can provide to users.
Internal linking is great to a certain degree, but what holds more weight in the SEO world are external links to other local and global websites. Also known as backlinking, this involves other websites containing links back to your website. External links can pass off authority and increase a website’s credibility, since Google recognises external links as approvals from third parties.
When considering which websites to backlink to, be mindful of the quality and authority of these external websites – just linking to any external website could do more harm than good. Some factors you should consider for external link building include:
- How trustworthy the external link is
- The amount of traffic that the external link receives
- The degree of relevancy between the source and the external link
- The domain’s number of external linking
4.1 Backlinks via Guest Blog Posts
Improving link-building through guest blog posts is a common strategy used to boost your site’s SEO. This is when you’d submit a tailored blog post to an external website with the request that the blog post includes a back link to your site. When executed well, guest blog posts provide a seamless gateway to improving your website’s authority and ranking, whilst providing informative and valuable information to users on the other websites you link to.
But be wary that Google has been very clear on penalising those who misuse guest blog posts for higher organic search results.
There are many who try to ‘cheat’ the system by forfeiting the quality of the guest blog posts with the aims to merely establish link building. From the perspective of Google, there’s a huge preference and need for quality content to be circulating on the internet – one that addresses the needs and queries of its users. So first and foremost, blog posts need to fulfil the requirement in being relevant, informational and useful information that is of value.
Websites that don’t adhere to the proper backlink-building practices will often be caught on by Google’s algorithm and be penalised or given less authority than those who properly execute it.
4.2 Broken Link Building
One type of strategy to use when approaching external link building is what is known as ‘broken’ link building. This is where you can replace links that are broken or don’t lead anywhere with a link of your own, and in turn increase your site’s SEO. The fact that there was a previous link before (currently broken) means the website owner was open to the idea of external links to relevant pages (which many people are still sceptical about). So, given that you can replace the link with top quality and highly relevant information, you’d have a much better chance at successfully link building by replacing broken links!
5. Reviewing and monitoring SEO strategies
Keeping on track of your SEO strategies is quite simple. It’s all about identifying the root causes of reduced website performance and tweaking or adopting new strategies as you go. Sites such as AHrefs to monitor and review them, as it shows how well it is bringing you traffic to your website.
Here are some factors you can look into to ensure peak SEO performance:
- Levels of organic traffic coming into your website
- Review the activities and behaviours of the users. You might need to adjust and improve your site’s user-experiences if your traffic’s engagement levels look poor.
- How much of your organic traffic is converting to your goals? There should be red flags popping up in your mind if your traffic tends to leave your site quickly. This could be due to irrelevance of the keywords you’ve selected, page site speed, readability, or a lack of clear conversion routes.
- Monitor the average ranking positions for the keywords you’ve targeted: Depending on your budget, level of competition of the keywords, and its relevance, you may need to adjust your strategies accordingly – aim to review your keyword performance every 2 to 3 weeks.
SEO is bound to undergo changes over time, but with a solid understanding of the backbone of SEO you’d be one step ahead of many other new website owners and businesses that are completely unfamiliar with the game. From establishing good quality keywords, on-site to off-site optimisation strategies, as well as frequent performance monitoring of your SEO activities, you’ll have a comprehensive and well-rounded supply of knowledge on SEO to drive your website’s visibility and success. For more information and proven digital strategies to further boost your website’s rankings above just the basics, consult with the digital marketing and SEO experts at Integral Media. With over 10 years of experience in the marketing industry and a multitude of happy and satisfied clients to show for it, we pride ourselves in guaranteeing top quality SEO results for your website.