If you have a business then you most probably have a website. And that means you need to understand the basic principles of SEO. Even if you’re the least technical person on the planet? Absolutely.
You see, more quality traffic to your website (the whole crux of SEO) means more leads and more conversions. Not sold? Read through to the end of this guide and we promise you will be.
What is SEO?
Let’s kick off with the basics, shall we – what exactly is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and it’s the process of improving both the quantity and quality of traffic (visitors) to your website via a search engine, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.
It’s about maximising your business’ visibility on SERPs (search engine results pages), and working to ensure that, when a customer types a relevant search query into the search bar, your website will be one of the first (if not the first website) that they’ll see.
When we talk about SEO, it’s important to note that we’re referring to the organic traffic coming to your website, as opposed to traffic that’s come via paid advertising. More on that another day.
Why is SEO so important?
Websites have multiple traffic sources, such as click-throughs from your social media channels, referral traffic from links on other websites (e.g. a news site), or direct traffic (when someone actually types your website name into the search bar). For most sites, though, organic search engine traffic is the primary traffic source, so it pays to pay attention to SEO.
A website that’s doing all the right things from an SEO perspective is more visible, user friendly and trustworthy.
How does SEO work?
Once upon a time, when SEO was first a ‘thing’, all you had to do was lace your content with keywords (more on these below) and it was job done. Not so these days, when search engines look at literally hundreds of factors to determine the quality of a website.
The purpose of search engines like Google is to trawl billions of pieces of content on the web, and serve up the best ones based on whatever the user is searching for. Nowadays, this process is made up of three parts:
The search engine’s robots (often referred to as crawlers or spiders) will trawl the web for relevant content, assessing the content and coding of each URL.
The robots will then organise the content they’ve discovered. A web page must be in the index to have a chance at being displayed on the results page.
The bots will then present a list of results that they think will best answer the search query in question, and these results are prioritised from the most relevant to the least relevant.
As you’ll know from personal experience, you’re way more likely to click on a website that appears in the first few search results. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself clicking to say the 10th page of results before deciding on a website to explore.
The importance of Google
All search engines are on the same page when it comes to serving up high-quality results to users, and each has its own set of rules when it comes to SEO guidance. That said, with around 75% of the overall search market share, Google is the King, so it’s important we pay close attention to the tech giant’s SEO guidelines.
Google’s E-A-T Concept
One of Google’s most important ranking factors is the E-A-T concept, which stands for Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. The search engine seeks out and pushes up websites that demonstrate these characteristics. If you can showcase a consistent tone of voice, impeccable grammar, a well-structured, user-friendly website – and content that’s optimised for keywords – then you’re doing a good job of building what’s seen as a high-quality site. We’ll talk more in detail about these factors in the next section.
The more high-quality your website, the higher it’ll show up in the search engine results. The higher the position of your site, the more traffic you can expect.
Getting started: SEO strategies you should be thinking about
Improving a site’s SEO is no overnight job. In fact, there are all sorts of technical factors that have to be taken into account, such as 404 errors (page not found), and pages that are really slow to load. Those are for another post, another day, though.
In this section, we’ll introduce you to two hugely important SEO strategies – site architecture and content optimisation.
When we talk about site architecture, we’re referring to the structure and layout of a website. Just like Ross and Rachel, Ben and Jerry, or cheese on toast – UX (or, user experience) and SEO should go hand-in-hand. A good site architecture is one that both search engines and users can easily navigate.
Site structure and navigation
You should approach your page structure logically, carefully considering topics and sub-topics and what should be kept where. When it comes to naming your pages, it’s important to create SEO-friendly URLs, too. Here are some tips…
- Use lowercase words
- Join each word with a hyphen
- Keep your URLs nice and short (stick to 128 characters or less)
- Make the URL name as descriptive as possible, e.g. with the main keyword included
Once you’ve got your structure and naming down, you can ensure your pages are cleverly interlinked, where appropriate. For instance, let’s say you’ve got a page dedicated to autumn fashion must-haves. You might want to link to pages focused on cosy knits, outdoor footwear and jackets and coats. This is great for the search engines and for the user.
In a nutshell, you’re aiming for pages that are easy to read and look aesthetically pleasing. Avoid going OTT – an abundance of colour and logos, for example, isn’t easy on the eye. Instead, use images, bulleted lists and headings to break up the text, and avoid long chunks of copy.
Headings, in particular, are hugely important. Each CMS (content management system, i.e. your website’s backend) gives you the ability to choose particular headings based on content hierarchy – these are known as H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6.
All pages should only have one H1, as this tells the search engines and your reader what the focus of the page is – the title, if you like. The headers then follow a logical structure to help the search engines and users understand what each section of the page is about, and its relation to the previous section. Here’s a short example using a H1, H2 and H3:
H1: How to Feng Shui your Living Room (this is the page title, and tells us what the page focus will be)
H2: The Principles of Feng Shui (next level down, exploring a particular sub-topic of the parent topic)
H3: Decluttering your space (a level down again – a paragraph explaining one of many principles of Feng Shui)
You may not use all the header types available, and that’s perfectly ok. Some pages will just have a H1 and a mix of H2s, for example. It is however important that you use these instead of just bolding your text, for instance, as the search bots can crawl your content more effectively with this heading structure.
A site that’s well structured and easy to navigate is all well and good, but if your page content isn’t also optimised for SEO, then it’s not working hard enough. Here are must-dos…
Make creating high-quality content your priority
At the end of the day, your content needs to add value. That means it needs to be well written, and laid out in a way that’s easy to digest and understand. And it goes without saying that spelling and grammar needs to be on-point. Your copy should also demonstrate a strong and clear tone of voice – in other words, what personality do you want your brand to reflect? Formal? Conversational? Calm? Tongue-in-cheek? Whatever your tone, it needs to feel consistent across the site.
Conduct keyword research
When we talk about keywords, we’re referring to the words or phrases a user types into a search engine. Keyword research is a great starting point when it comes to boosting your SEO. By using keywords that your customers are searching for, and that are relevant to your business, and then sprinkling them across your web pages in a savvy and strategic way, you can connect your website to the user searching for the product or service that you offer.
There are multiple keyword research tools out there that’ll help you determine the kinds of keywords you should be including. You can also check out what competitors are doing, or brainstorm ideas based on what you know about your customer base.
We cover the topic of keyword research in detail here, if you want to find out more.
Practice link building
This is the process of getting links (also known as hyperlinks or backlinks) to your website from other websites. Essentially, the search engines look at links like these as a thumbs up for your content. That is, if they’re from a reputable source, such as another good-quality website, as opposed to a spam-like link in a comments section (more on this below).
You can discover the ins and outs of link building strategies here.
Create Meta Tags for all pages
Meta tags appear on the search engine results pages, as opposed to on your own website. This content tells the user what your page is all about. Think about it in the same way you would the blurb on the back of the book. Your Meta Tag can make all the difference between someone clicking on your page and someone moving on to the next result down on the SERP, so it’s crucial it’s written effectively. Find out how here.
Black Hat versus White Hat SEO
Now we’ve covered the basics of what SEO is and how it works, let’s briefly discuss the good and bad kinds of SEO.
White Hat SEO is the good kind – the practice of improving the user experience in order to rank higher in the search engine results. Black Hat SEO, on the other hand, refers to dodgy practices to get that same outcome. It’s essentially an approach designed to trick the search engines into believing a website is super-useful and relevant, when that’s actually not the case at all.
This is the practice of filling your pages with keywords (the words and phrases that users type into Google, as we discussed above) in a non-strategic way. For example, if you’re a travel company attempting to sell holidays to Tenerife, it’s stuffing the phrase “holidays to Tenerife” into the copy as much as possible, with no thought to page flow or readability.
While natural links are good for SEO (from partner websites or bloggers, for example), self-created links refer to unnatural links planted to drive traffic to a website. You’ll find these in places like directories, hidden in infographics, or shoved in unmoderated blog comments.
The search engines like unique content, so anything that’s been copy and pasted from another site is understandably a big no-no. That goes for duplicate copy across your own website, as well.
The above are just a few examples of Black Hat SEO, but it’s helpful to understand the basics so you know what not to do, and to ensure alarm bells start ringing if someone tries to convince you any of the above are a good idea.
The bottom line is that search engines are more sophisticated than ever, and will penalise practices like this. High-quality, high-value content wins every time, so focus on this – for your customers and the search bots, and you’ll be happy that you did.
It’s a lot to take in, we know. But if you can get familiar with the principles above, it’s the first step in taking your SEO strategy from zero to hero. Alternatively, call in the experts – get in touch with the Bubbl team and we’ll take it from here.