SEO is often pushed as a necessary part of running a website, a magic bullet that can turn a basic website into a thriving sales engine for any small business. In reality, SEO companies make a few minor changes to a client site and then charge costly monthly fees just to run a few automated reports. And often the results are negligible.
I’ve had numerous clients pay ridiculous amounts for SEO work without really knowing what was done, why it was done, and how it was supposed to improve their business.
SEO is an important part of digital marketing and I want to write more about different strategies, but this post is really to lay some groundwork and provide some definitions and explanations of SEO basics.
Basic SEO terms
Keywords are the words or phrases that people use to find your products or services. SEO consultants work with clients to develop a keyword strategy where they consider who is looking for you and what words they might use in a search engine to do that. Keywords can be broad “website designer” or specific “wordpress website designer traralgon” and usually the more specific keywords are easier to target in your SEO strategy.
SERP is an acronym for search engine results page, the list of results that a search engine returns in response to a keyword query. You want your website or a specific page on your website to improve its position on the search engine results page since the majority of people searching won’t go beyond the first page of search results.
An inbound link, also known as a backlink, is a link to your site from another site on the web. Most search algorithms use inbound links as a factor in determining whether your site has authority and is relevant for certain keywords.
PageRank or PR is an algorithm used by Google to determine the importance of a website and where it should rank in Google search results. Google doesn’t reveal the PageRank score for websites and some ways, it isn’t especially important; a site with low PR can still have a good rank in search results for targeted keywords.
On-page SEO, sometimes on-site SEO, is the practice of optimising your web page in order to rank higher in search engine results pages and get more relevant traffic to your website. On-page SEO involves optimising the content as well as the technical and meta elements on your website.
Content typically refers to the text content on your pages and posts. For SEO purposes, website content needs to be:
- In-depth. Your content needs to be thorough to stand a good chance at ranking. Most SEO professionals recommend around 500 words of text on a page.
- Readable. Your website content needs to be readable. Sentences should be short and easy to understand. The content should be organised and easily navigated. If your website has to meet accessibility guidelines that also means using a limited vocabulary that would be understood by someone with a lower secondary education level.
- Unique. Duplicate content is frowned upon whether it’s from your own website or somewhere else on the internet.
- Authoritative and relevant. Content on your site needs to be trustworthy and reliable. It should also relate to the search query that the page ranks for, meaning, don’t optimise a page to rank highly for the search term “oranges” but present information about “apples”.
Metadata refers to elements or markup on your site that provides information about your content. That means things like the title tag, meta description, the alt property on images, and schema.org metadata.
This is a bit of a catch-all and it includes the semantic structure of your website, how you use heading tags to create context and denote topics, the creation of XML sitemaps, installing an SSL certificate, providing internal links, making sure your site is mobile-friendly and loads fast… it’s a long list of things that contribute to the hundreds of factors that make up the Google search algorithm.
Off-page SEO, sometimes called off-site SEO, are the things you can do beyond your website, to improve your rank. Off-page SEO cover the things that help you to improve the popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority of your website, which, I’ll admit, is a bit ironic, since most SEO campaigns are meant to improve your site popularity.
The largest part of off-page SEO is link-building, basically the practice generating links to your site and content from around the web. There are three kinds of links:
- Natural links which are given out because someone likes your content, for example, reviews or mentions on a blog.
- Manual links come from link-building activities, such as clients linking to your site, or inline influencers sharing your content.
- Self-created links are links created by adding your website to an online directory or forum or having your website linked in a blog comment. These types of links are often abused and may indicate SEO tactics that are frowned upon by search engines.
Social media is a relatively new part of SEO. In 2014, Google announced that social signals—things like Twitter followers or Facebook likes—do not affect search rankings.
But there are a few things to note.
Social media profiles are indexed in Google and links from social media networks do appear to boost search rank. So while activity, engagement and relationships on social media aren’t part of the Google search ranking algorithm, it seems that social media is treated like any part of the web that search engines are able to crawl.
Bing, the Microsoft search engine, does look at how many people you follow and how many people follow you and use social authority metric to add some weight to search rankings.
What’s more, social networks are, in many ways, search engines themselves. So it’s worth considering social media accounts within the context of a broader search engine optimisation strategy, in other words, optimising content and links to help users find you through social networks.
For most business owners it shouldn’t be too hard to learn the basics of SEO. I’m not suggesting that you need to manage your own SEO campaign but it’s definitely worth understanding how SEO fits into the larger marketing picture for a business and the ways that it can help.
It’s also fairly easy to get an idea of the limits of SEO. It’s hard to optimise your site for keywords when you’ve got no content and it’s difficult to improve your on-page SEO if you’re not a web developer.