If SEO seems a bit mysterious, that’s because it is (kind of!). But it doesn’t have to be. While it isn’t a pure science and there’s no guarantees, there are still actions that can be taken to make your site friendlier to search engines and to visitors alike. The good news is optimising your site is a bit like a snowball. The more momentum you give it, the bigger your efforts grow.
How Do Search Engines Work?
First let’s back it up and have a refresher on how search engines work. As mentioned in our first SEO post, they work so well you might not have ever thought about how they work. Search engines go out and visit every website on the internet via bots to collect information. That information is then stored until a search query is submitted to the search engine. The search engine then has to display the results based on the information previously gathered from websites.
This is how a search engine knows whether a website is about rocket (the vegetable) or rocket (the space craft). The results are then shown as an index of websites. These results appear in a certain rank order based on over 200 factors. Google, Bing and Yahoo are not exactly open books when it comes to what these factors are and how they are weighted. Fortunately the SEO industry does research and surveys with experts to determine anecdotally what ranking factors are used and how they have seen them applied in practice.
What is SEO?
At its simplest, search engine optimisation is the process of improving your website and digital activities to increase your website’s ranking on search engines. These activities are broken down into: on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO. Even without doing any SEO, your site will already be ranking for something as long as your website is being indexed by search engines. It just might not be for the keywords and ranking you want.
Why Optimise Your Site?
If your website is already ranking, then why optimise your site? Chances are your website is getting some traffic through search engines, but is it the right traffic in the right numbers? By doing SEO, you’ll be getting more of the right traffic to your website. When you get the right traffic, they are more likely to convert which in turn boosts revenue. Your website should be seen as a tool to be used by your business. Sometimes tools need tune-ups to keep them sharp and up to date.
All SEO efforts work together, so focus needs to be given to all three areas of SEO factors to ensure success.
SEO is about getting the most out of your website by making the best it can be
This would best be termed as the SEO you can “see”. As you have probably guessed by now, this is the SEO that is done to optimise the individual pages. This type of SEO usually starts when launching a new website and continues on through the life of the website. It’s also where keywords come in. These are important because keywords are what Google is looking for when they index your site so that they can match search queries with the best pages possible.
While on-page SEO factors aren't weighted as heavily as they once were, it is still an important consideration as you want to have a website with good UX and content that is unique and encourages sharing and linking. As much as your content should be optimised for SEO, it’s more important to make sure that it is readable by your customers first and foremost.
On-page SEO includes:
- Images with alt-text
The design of your website doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to display content in a logical way and provide a clear path to conversion or what you want people to do on your website.
As with on-page, off-page is aptly named because it focuses on the activities that boost your SEO off site of your pages. The biggest component of off-page SEO is link building. Link building is almost a little bit like a popularity contest. Generally, the more funny, positive and interesting you are, the more likely people will want to hang out with you. The same concept applies to websites. The more engaging your content is and the easier it is to share and link to it, the more likely people are going to do that. That makes link building sound easier than it actually is. In the ideal world, this would all happen passively. People visit your website, think it’s great and then link to it. More often than not, you will have to do some work to get links. It’s worth it though as links are important!
Link building is also about building relationships with other websites and forums around the internet because people are more likely to link to a website where they have a rapport with them. One thing to note is the quality of links. Gone are the days where you can buy a load of links and not worry about the consequences. Take care to make sure your links aren’t spammy; otherwise it can do your website more harm than good.
Depending on how web savvy you are, this might be an area of SEO you need to get a developer to help you with. Technical SEO focuses on adhering to the rules set out by search engines for being crawled and indexed. This includes things like site speed, 404s and redirects, indexation, robots.txt, noindex, rel=canonical, site structure and internal linking structure. All of these components are a map that tells search engines how to look at the website. It tells the bots what to index and what not to index, as well as what pages have moved to and where, along with judging the code as a predictor for how fast the site will run.
While not as visible as on-site SEO, it’s still an important part of making your website run. Your website could have perfectly optimised content, but without properly executed technical SEO, search engines won’t index and rank your site.
What SEO is not
Not all online efforts are considered SEO, though. The main thing SEO is not is paid advertising. This includes Pay Per Click (PPC) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The reason why paid advertising falls under this is because it makes no difference to the way your site ranks. In a sense, it’s a way to bypass SEO because your ad will appear in addition to organic search engine rankings but it won’t do anything to raise your position during or after your advertising campaign.
That’s the basics of what SEO is and what it’s not. It’s about getting the most out of your website by making the best it can be, to generate better quality traffic at a higher quantity.
And if making your website the best it can be wasn’t motivation enough, another by-product of SEO is brand awareness. Once people have found your website through search engine rankings, the aim is to get them to be return customers who are aware of your brand and recommend it to other people. Your website can’t do all the heavy lifting, though. Your sales and customer service teams play a part in fostering a positive brand image and customer experience.
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