Search Engine Optimisation Basics
SEO is a necessary part of running a website. In some cases, it can turn a basic website into a thriving sales engine for any small business.
But the reality can be disappointing. SEO agencies often make minor changes to a client site, then charge costly monthly fees just to run automated reports. And often the results are negligible.
The fees can be staggering, and ongoing, with clients not 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 input to search engines 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 keywords can be specific: “wordpress website designer traralgon”. 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 in 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 to rank higher in search engine results pages and get more relevant traffic to your website. This type of 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 has to be readable. Sentences should be short and easy to understand. Website content should be easy to navigate and well-organised. If your website has to meet accessibility guidelines, use a limited vocabulary understood by someone with a lower secondary education level.
- Unique. Don’t use duplicated content, regardless of whether it’s from your own website or somewhere else on the internet.
- Authoritative and relevant. Content on your site has 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 comprise 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; things that help you to improve the popularity, relevance, trustworthiness, and authority of your website, which.
The largest part of off-page SEO is link-building, basically the practice of generating links to your site and content from around the web. There are three kinds of links:
- Natural links arise 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 when you add your website to an online directory or forum, or have your website linked in a blog comment. Self-created link strategies can be abused, and search engines frown upon certain aggressive link generation techniques.
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.
Google indexes social media profiles, and links from social media networks appear to boost search rank. Like any part of the web that search engines can crawl, social media can help SEO. But activity on social networks, hidden behind logins, like engagement and relationships, aren’t part of the Google search ranking algorithm.
Bing, the Microsoft search engine, looks at how many people you follow and how many people follow you. It uses a social authority metric to add some weight to search rankings.
In many ways, social networks are search engines, so it’s worth considering social media accounts within the context of a broader search engine optimisation strategy. In other words, by 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.