If you’re looking to improve the overall search ranking of your website, you’ll need to be actively implementing search engine optimisation (SEO). If you’re new to SEO it can seem like learning a completely new language, but you can start making some real, notable improvements just by learning the basics.
SEO isn’t a one-off task. It’s something that needs constant revisiting and improving to ensure you’re getting the very best results.
The fundamentals of SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising your website to gain an increase in organic (not paid for) traffic. The idea is that the better optimised your website is, the higher it will appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). If a user searches for a business like yours and your website appears on the first page of that search, that user is much more likely to visit your site.
But it doesn’t end once the user is on your site, you’ll also want to prevent your website from having a high “bounce rate” (when a user lands on a web page but leaves relatively quickly without completing an action). More importantly, you’ll want your site to have a strong engagement rate too. The emphasis on this particular metric has grown with the arrival of Google Analytics 4 which saw the bounce rate metric replaced with engagement rate instead.
Engagement rate should provide better insight into how users are interacting with your site. Previously, if a visitor clicked a link to your blog post and exited your site without taking any further action it would’ve been classed as a bounce, but that may not have been a wholly truthful depiction.
With engagement rate, Google Analytics now takes into account that the user spent time on your website and if they actually read your blog post before exiting, meaning the content was of some value to that particular user, even if they didn’t feel the need to look around the rest of your website.
Whilst improving your SEO is important, you should always be doing it in a way that ultimately benefits your website visitors. Search engines are growing wise to businesses efforts to get to the top and things like creating low-value content or cramming in too many keywords can ultimately do more harm than good in the long run.
How does SEO work?
Having relevant content and a good site structure doesn’t just benefit the user, they’re also big factors when it comes to search engines deciding how to rank your website.
Search engines send out robots to “crawl” the internet to find new web content. These web pages are then indexed (archived) so that search engines can call upon them at a later date for inclusion on search results pages, if they feel your website is relevant to the searcher’s query.
How do search engines decide how my website ranks?
When these robots land on your website, they’ll crawl and index all your web pages (unless you instruct them not to) and will look for key signals to determine what your website is about and how credible it is.
These signals are known as ranking factors; a set of criteria it uses to grade websites. Search engines use a whole series of algorithms to look at these ranking factors and decide whether your website is worth displaying for particular search queries. The goal of SEO is to ensure that your website can meet the criteria of these ranking factors.
It’s worth noting that, whilst there’s a lot of speculation on which ranking factors are the most important, it can vary depending on the nature of the user’s query.
Basic SEO ranking factors explained
There are various types of SEO, but most notably it can be split in to three main groups: on-page, off-page and Technical.
On Page SEO:
As the name suggests, this is optimising the content “on page”. You’ll want to ensure all the content across your website is relevant and formatted correctly. This will ensure your website is easily readable and is both user friendly and search-engine friendly.
Off Page SEO:
Off page SEO refers to the processes that are used externally (not on your website itself) to help boost its search ranking. Most notably back-linking. Getting reputable websites to link to your website will let search engines know that your website has valuable, trustworthy content.
This refers to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of SEO. Mostly it will be integrated within the actual build of your website and allows search engine “crawlers” to find and crawl your website with any problems. Things like Meta-data, URL structures and site maps.
All three of these play an important role in improving your website’s ranking and all three have both simple and more complicated methods within them, but since we’re looking at the basics here, let’s take a look at the easier processes you can put in place to help boost your website’s ranking.
What are the basics of SEO?
Whilst all SEO practices play their part in helping your website rank, there are methods within each category that are easier to implement, which we’ll explain below.
The basics of technical SEO
Ensure your website is easy to navigate
It certainly may feel easier to create all your website pages on the same level and link every page from your navigation, but from a user’s perspective this would make navigating your site difficult.
Regardless of how complex or aesthetically pleasing a website is, they ultimately all have the same purpose. To serve and provide relevant information to the user. If your website has a lot of pages, consider grouping them into categories.
Optimise your images for SEO
Images can be great for adding a visual element to your website, but they can also pose problems for your SEO strategy if they aren’t utilised properly.
Keep image sizes small
Whilst it may be tempting to add super high-resolution images to your website, they tend to be much larger files which can slow down the load-times of your web pages. Often 72dpi is fine for webpages and keeping the image size around 1500px wide/high (depending on image orientation) will provide adequate quality. To be on the safe side, image sizes shouldn’t total more than 1MB.
Use descriptive image naming
Search engine crawlers read the text of your website, so will be able to see the names of the images on your page. “latte-art.jpg” is far more beneficial than “image-1.jpg”. If you implement a good image naming system, it’ll also help you keep your website organised and make certain files easier to find
Fill in the image alt-text field
When you upload your image to your website, you may be presented with the option to add alt-text. Alt-text explains what the image is about and can be great for giving extra context to search engines, as well as providing a more accessible experience for users. Be as descriptive as possible when filling in this field.
Optimise your website URLs
When search engines crawl your website, they’ll also be looking at the URL for that page. You should be aiming to have clear structure to your links.
For instance, if you’re a clothing store selling t-shirts, you would be aiming for a link that looks something like this:
The first link shows a clear route to the item in question, whilst also specifying that the website is organised, and the item is clearly labelled.
Meta Data is used to instruct search engines on how to read and understand the data on your webpage. This is usually done via a set of tags located within the “header” section of the webpage’s coding.
If you’re using a CMS like WordPress it will provide a form on that page for you to fill in the required meta data, as opposed to having to enter the data manually within the page’s code.
There are numerous meta data tags, but the basic ones you should be including (at a minimum) are as follows:
Self-explanatory, the title tag tells the search engine crawlers what the title of that page is. To avoid confusion, all pages should be uniquely titled.
This field allows you to provide a brief description of the page that will appear when your website is shown on a search engine results page.
There is a high chance that a large portion of your website traffic will be viewing on a mobile device. With this in mind you should be specifying the viewport. If you leave this out, you may find that users have a poor mobile experience.
The standard viewport tag is:
<meta name=viewport content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1″>
Keyword research basics
Keywords are words or phrases that you would like your website to rank for on search engines. If you’re unsure where to start, take a few minutes to jot down all the search terms you think a potential customer would use to look for businesses like yours.
For instance, if you run an accommodation business in the Isle Of Wight you’ll most likely want to be ranking for search term ‘accommodation Isle Of Wight’, but when you search for this, Google’s results appear to show websites that have written about the top hotels.
Whilst it won’t hurt to go after these bigger search terms, you should also be thinking about what makes your business unique when compared to your
competitors. Do you cater for certain dietary requirements? Do you offer late check-out? Are you operating a sustainable business? By identifying these points you’ll be able to create a set of keywords that may not have such a high search volume, making your website more likely to rank higher in those searches.
For instance, when you search “Eco accommodation in Isle Of Wight” instead of just “accommodation Isle Of Wight”, Tom’s Eco Lodge tops the search results because they’ve identified and utilised a unique element of their business.
There are a few ways you can also determine what users might be searching when looking for businesses like yours.
Google is a great place to start your keyword research. Not only are these methods simple to do, they’re also free!
Use Google Auto-complete
You’re probably already familiar with the “auto-complete” function on Google’s search bar; well, it’s also a great tool for understanding how users search for businesses like yours.To start simply type your main keyword in to the search bar and it will bring up search queries that it thinks could be related to what you’re typing. It’s a good way of discovering keywords that many not be completely obvious.
Related Google Searches
At the bottom of each Google search results page there is a “Searches related to” section, which shows what other search terms Google thinks are closely related to the original query.
Google Keyword Planner
Another free tool you can use is Google Keyword Planner. Not only does this give you the average search volume for your chosen keyword, but it also returns a list of other related keywords for you to consider
Optimise your content
Once you’ve determined your keywords, you’ll want to ensure you’re creating quality content. It’s advisable that each page contains around 300 words, anything less and search engines might not consider that page valuable enough to include in search results.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re not duplicating content on your pages, whether it’s from an external site or an internal web page. Search engines see this as low-value and it will affect your ranking. Aim to make each of your web pages unique for best results.
Be sure to revisit your pages and refresh them when you can. Whether it’s tweaking your content to better reflect your keywords or creating new blog posts, search engines like to know the website is still active.
H1 and H2 Headers
When search engines are trying to “understand” your content, they look at the headers/headings on the page to determine what the important sections of information are on that page. When creating these headings, you will need to mark them up as such. Often page builders will include the option to do this without having to add anything to the html.
The largest of these headers will be your H1 tag. There should only be one H1 tag per page, usually the page title or blog title will make up the H1.
Any subsequent titles within the content should make use of the H2 tag. This will keep your content organised and easy to read for both user and search engines. Where needed you can also use H3, H4 etc, depending on the level of the content.
Search engines will “follow” every link provided on your webpage (like a human user would), even if it links to an external website. So, when search engines see other websites linking to yours, they take it as a sign that your web page is reputable and trusted.
That said, if you’re a relatively new website, it can be hard to get people to link to your site and to build your presence online. To increase your visibility and hopefully generate a little extra word of mouth discussion about your business, you could reach out to more established sites if you feel you would be able to create some collaborative content. If you can write content that benefits another site, such as via guest blogging, then this can naturally lead to earning you a backlink for your own website.
Guest blogging basically means you’ll write a feature guest post for a more reputable website, usually a website that is related to the industry you specialise in. Often when you write these posts, the website you write for will allow you to link back to your website in the author bio of the post.
Create shareable content
Another way to improve your online reputation and, in turn, support your SEO efforts is to create valuable, shareable posts that contain a link to your website.
For instance, you could create a page on your website that has a useful downloadable pdf, or maybe a blogpost better explaining some breaking industry news. Whatever you decide to create, make sure it adds real value to your website.
You can then share this content to your social media accounts with the hopes that other people will like it and share it on their social media channels and their own blogs too. This tells search engines that the content you’ve shared is useful and if it is being linked to via external websites, it may help improve your off-page seo.
Setting up online listings correctly
Listings are (often) free online directories that you can submit your business information to. Whilst just having a directory won’t necessarily improve your ranking, it’s worth setting yourself up on the major ones to ensure there’s no conflicting information about your business across the web. It can also make your business easier to find depending on how potential customers are searching for your services.
using good quality directories can also create additional traffic to your website and whilst Google has said it doesn’t class links from directories as a ‘big’ ranking factor, directories do have additional advantages.
Directories are a great way of improving your brand’s reputation. Most give the option for customers to leave reviews, or ask questions about the business, meaning that searchers can see your business is active and provides a great level of service.
If you’ve never created an online listing Google My Business is a good place to start. It’s arguably the most popular online listing and by creating one, you also help Google have a better understanding of your business too.
When setting up your account be sure to enter all the information exactly as it appears on your website (and do the same for other any other listings too), an abbreviation, spelling mistake or difference in information can end up causing confusion for Google and may end up creating negative results.