What You Need to Know About Search Engine OptimisationThe answers to the SEO questions you never thought you had.
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An Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation
New to Search Engine Optimisation? Or want to understand more about what it means and how it works? If your answer is yes to one or both those questions, then this is the page for you!
Firstly, Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) is a method of updating various areas of a website to improve its ranking on search engine results pages (or SERPs). The higher your website ranking on SERPs, the more likely it is for people to click on your website.
There are so many elements that affect SEO, and so it can become pretty confusing and very time consuming. However, we’ve got the tips, tricks and information you need to make sense of it all.
Because SEO is such a vast subject, there are several basics you’ll want to get down before attempting anything too advanced. If you’re unsure of the what, how and why’s of SEO, at a high level, SEO is optimising your website so more of the audiences you want to focus on, click. Different search engines use different algorithms to crawl a website and match it with a searcher’s query, elements like keywording, mobile optimisations and page load speed all factor into algorithms so they can rank your website accordingly. Search engines do this because it is their aim to provide the best, most relevant and efficient results to a searchers query. If your page takes 10 seconds to load, that won’t just make your website look bad, but it will also make the search engine look bad by providing that website result.
For the reasons mentioned above, it’s important that search engines trust your website. There are a few key methods that will start your website on its SEO journey, and will be mentioned in more detail further on:
• Mobile optimisation
• Image optimisation
Each of these factors are relatively easy to implement, they will however need constant monitoring and updating. This is because the way people use search is ever-changing, and businesses need to keep up with the changing search trends and algorithms used by search engines.
SEO Content refers to the written content and content structure of your website, and how this impacts your website’s ranking on search engine results pages. The three major factors of creating SEO content you want to keep in mind are:
• Site structure
Each factor is essential in ensuring the search engine bots can scan and rank your website accordingly, and the better quality your content is, the easier potential customers can find you.
With keywording comes keyword research. It basically involves creating an extensive list of keywords you’d like your website to rank for, and this list should include both long-tail and short-tail keywords. There are a number of ways you can research keywords your audience are using to find businesses like yours online. Using the ‘related searches’ or ‘search suggestions’ features that some search engines provide are just a couple to name.
The reason site structure is important in terms of SEO content, is because the more easily your site can be navigated by users, the more easily Google and other search engines can read and understand your site’s information. This will then allow search engines to index content relevant to your website’s purpose, giving your business the opportunity of ranking higher in SERPs.
As well as creating enticing copy that offers website visitors information about your business and its services, any blogs or other media content you provide visitors with also needs to be optimised. In both cases, it’s important to use keywords in a way that flows with the purpose of what you’re writing. Search engines tend to penalise websites that are flooded with too many keywords in text that don’t make a whole lot of sense.
On-page SEO is basically what it says on the tin. It’s an organic method of optimising each of your website pages in order to gain a higher search engine ranking. On-page SEO involves both page content and HTML tags (headings and meta-data) that can be optimised.
There are a number of reasons why you need to use on-page SEO for your website. Firstly and most obviously, it helps search engines understand your website and the purpose of your content, allowing them to identify whether it’s relevant to a searcher’s query or not. It’s also a method that gives you more control (compared to off-page methods), as you have the power over the type of content your website showcases. If you put effort into a comprehensive on-page SEO strategy, you will see a boost in organic traffic.
Some of the key factors of on-page SEO include:
• Title tag
• Trustworthiness and authoritativeness of content
• Content Auditing
These are just a few on-page SEO factors that need to be looked at to improve the searchability of your website, and each factor needs to be kept on top of. The way people are using search is constantly evolving, and it’s important to keep your on-page SEO knowledge up to date to keep up with changing trends.
Firstly, it’s important to note that off-page SEO won’t really do much good if you haven’t paid enough attention to on-page SEO. As much as on-page SEO is about the quality of your content, in a way, off-page SEO is about the same thing.
Off-page SEO involves the actions taken elsewhere on the web that will still have an impact on your website’s ranking. That might be a bit of an ambiguous explanation, but we’ll go into more detail.
Search engines believe that the more your own website is referred to by others online, the more trustworthy it is (it kinda makes sense, no-one really advocates a bad website… on purpose). With this in mind, the more you connect with other websites/blogs/influencers and have them effectively “vouch” for your content, the better your website ranking is likely to be. Of course your website content has to be good quality in the first place, in order for others to promote it.
In terms of off-page SEO, there are three main types of links:
Editorially given, without action on the part of the owner of the webpage.
Manually built links
More deliberate link building activity, e.g. getting an influencer to share a webpage
Includes creating backlinks through directories, forums, blogs and/or press releases with optimised anchor text.
It should be noted that some methods of self-created link building tend towards black hat SEO, and are generally frowned upon by search engines, so be wary.
There are some non-link related off-page SEO methods. These methods encompass almost any activity that occurs outside of your website, and still helps improve your search ranking. They include:
• Social media marketing
• Guest blogging
• Linked and unlinked brand mentions
• Influencer marketing
These methods still have some elements of sharing your brand across the internet and reference your desired webpage somewhere, so aren’t all completely non-link related despite the term.
SEO Best Practice
Because there is so much that encompasses SEO, it can be tricky to keep up with everything. From keyword research to managing the use of backlinks, maintaining your website for search engine optimisation is a never-ending job.
There are a number of ways in which you can give your website an SEO tune-up fairly quickly and simply, and these include:
• Optimising for mobile use
• Use topic pages
• Make your business’ contact info obvious
• Add a Live Chat function
These are all key methods that will boost your website’s visibility online, giving you the opportunity to receive more website visitors. But whilst these methods will help improve your search engine ranking, ranking isn’t the most important factor of SEO success.
Website ranking in SERPs is highly subjective. Search engines personalise results based on a person’s previous search queries as well as what they’re typing into a search bar there and then, trying to understand the customer journey and the stage they’re in. This means that if your type the same key phrase into Google as your neighbour, you could well receive different search results. This is why rather than focussing on being number one at the top of SERPs, you should aim your efforts on creating an SEO approach that generates great results for your business (this doesn’t always mean ranking top).
Other SEO best practices include:
• Optimising images and videos for fast loading
• Use target keywords in places that make sense
• Update URL’s to make them relevant to the page
• Create a compelling meta-title and description
• Link to other trustworthy websites, and have other websites link to yours
Technical SEO is quite a broad field that not only covers optimising the indexing and crawling of your website, but also any technical methods that aim to boost your website’s visibility online. In order to fully understand the capabilities of technical SEO, you should have some understanding around:
• How websites work
• How search engines read websites
• How users interact with websites
This is mainly so you can have fluent conversations with your website developers, as there may be times when they need to carry out some optimisations.
Technical SEO is a highly important part of search engine optimisation because, basically speaking, you can have a website with the best quality content in the world, but if it doesn’t meet technical requirements of search engine algorithms, then it’s not going to rank.
Because technical SEO is such an expansive topic, there are several fundamentals that can be focussed on in the short-term before attempting the more advanced technical SEO techniques. Some of those fundamentals include:
• Speeding up your website
• Resolving issues involving duplicate content
• Creating an XML sitemap
• Adding structured data mark-up
• Registering your site with Google Console
You may read some of those methods mentioned above and think “what in the world does that mean?” (understandably so!). There are a number of resources available that delve deeper into how each of these techniques can benefit your website, and you may need some assistance from SEO and website experts to carry some of them out.
Organic SEO is basically the process of optimising your website for search engines naturally, rather than paying to have a higher website ranking or more clicks. It’s everything to do with front-end content (both written and visual) and back-end optimisations (site mapping, meta-data and everything else that isn’t necessarily seen by website visitors).
Organic SEO is a must for any business. Whilst some companies have the resources to pay for higher rankings in search engines, this isn’t going to be the case for all businesses. Also, SEO isn’t a ‘one and done’ type of project, it needs to be monitored constantly in order to keep your business competitive and ranked as highly as possible in relevant SERPs.
With that in mind, there is a pretty extensive list of organic methods that will help you optimise your website for search engines. One of the most important factors is keywording. You need to make sure you use keywords that relate to your business’s offering, industry, and location (although there is a difference between organic SEO and local SEO), and factor in how your target audiences use search to make sure your chosen keywords correspond to their ideals.
As with anything, creating an organic SEO strategy will help your business focus on key SEO techniques that can be updated and monitored regularly, to give you relevance and a constant competitive edge. Your strategy should answer the following questions:
• What research needs to be conducted, how is it going to be conducted and by who?
• How often will each SEO technique need to be monitored, and by who?
• How will you monitor progress?
• What are your competitors doing in terms of organic SEO (what seems to be their target keywords, how often are they updated)?
Answering these questions are essential in order to build a comprehensive plan that futureproofs your website (to a certain extent – we don’t know what future technological advancements will bring!), and increases the quality of potential leads.
So, what is paid SEO and why is it useful? (blog) Firstly, paid SEO involves businesses paying/bidding for certain keywords in order to appear higher in search results than businesses that are organically ranked. It’s useful for businesses because it gives them an opportunity to gain a higher number of website clicks compared with organic optimisation, in a more subtle way. So rather than having to wait patiently for your SEO to build up, you can pay for the privilege to have it seen on page one of search results.
It’s important to do your research and be tactful when going ahead with paid SEO advertising. The more focused your target keywords, the more likely you are to receive better quality potential leads that click. It’s not always the best option to try and pay for a higher ranking with the most popular keyword to do with your business/industry, it’s likely to be more unfocused and although more people may click on your website, there’s a lower likelihood of conversion. E.g. you’re less likely to get quality leads from the keyphrase “Brighton antiques” compared to “Specialists in Georgian antiques, Brighton”.
There are several reasons for choosing paid SEO services as a method of promoting their businesses, the most notable is time. It takes on average, between three and six months to rank organically in search engines, whilst paid-for SEO can offer more of a head-start. If you’re thinking about starting a paid SEO campaign, here are some things to keep in mind.
You may or may not have already heard of local SEO. In the most basic terms, it’s the methods used to optimise your website to show in ‘near me’ search results. Local searches are becoming more and more popular, in fact, over a two-year period, there was over a 900% increase in mobile searches for ‘near me today/tonight’ (Think with Google, 2018).
Convenience is a significant reason why these types of searches have become increasingly used. No one has the time anymore to scan through results that might not be applicable. Whilst searching for ‘Thai restaurants in London’ has a specific location named, there have to be hundreds (maybe even thousands) of results, so using ‘near me’ rather than the location name filters them more efficiently.
Here are some ways you can optimise your SEO for local searches:
• Keyword research
• Listings pages (Google My Business, Apple Maps, Bing Places etc.)
• Local citations
• On-page SEO
• Link building
Whilst this list isn’t exhaustive of all the ways you can help your business show in local searches, they are each key to boosting your local profile.
Researching keywords that will help you show up in local results isn’t going tot be difficult, it might however be time-consuming. The general format to go with is ‘service in location’, for example ‘hairdresser in Southampton’, ‘hairdressing in Southampton’, ‘hairdressers in Southampton’ (it’s important to note down as many variations of your services as possible). Use Google autocomplete and related searches to help with generating keyword ideas.
Claiming and verifying your Google My Business page is one of the most important factors of local SEO. Google My Business is a free tool that allows businesses to manage their online presence across Google. It’s the profile that shows up if someone is searching for your company specifically, or if your company shows up in ‘near me’ searches, and provides all the contact information (and more) that a customer needs to know.
Whilst Google is the most used search engine, Bing and Apple also have similar tools that can boost your presence for people that use those search methods.
Local citations are the places on the internet where your business name, address and phone details (NAP details) are mentioned. Citations can be structured or unstructured, a structured citation for example would likely be how your contact info is displayed on your website or social media- in a structured way with each detail on a new line. An unstructured citation would be if all your NAP information resided on the same line, separated by commas.
Citation signals are one of the top local ranking features search engines use. This is likely because it serves further verification for business details that are already listed on Google My Business, Bing Places, Apple Maps, etc.
It’s important to use location keywords where relevant in content, headings, title-tags, meta-descriptions and URLs (but don’t go overboard, only use location keywords where they fit naturally!). If your business has multiple locations, think about giving each location its own page (only if you have a physical office there!), as having the location in a URL (e.g. localiq.co.uk/Kendal) will help improve local search rankings. If you serve one location, but have multiple offices within that location, then maybe think about narrowing down location pages further (e.g. if your business was in the Lake District, you could have /lakedistrict as well as /windermere, /ambleside, /keswick etc.).
If you want greater visibility for local searches, consider including links on your website that direct people to local resources or local knowledge. As an example, if you owned a restaurant in Cardiff, you could include links to the local producers you get your ingredients from, or links to traditional local attractions people could visit before or after visiting your restaurant. Basically, the aim of link building for local searches is to promote your business as well as your local area, but in a way that kind of makes sense for your business to do.
Encouraging customers to leave reviews in places such as Google My Business, and replying to those reviews shows the search engine that your business is active, it’s also the same if your replying to reviews in places such as TripAdvisor. It’s important to respond to both positive and negative reviews to make the most out of the platforms (of course be as polite as possible when responding to negative ones – you don’t want to give a bad impression!).
SEO and Images
In 2018, Google image searches accounted for more than 22% of all internet searches. That’s why images are such an important part of SEO. Some people may not realise it, but images have a big impact on SEO, from image sizing to image alt text. Here are ways you can optimise your images for search:
• Choose the right image format
• Image compression
• Use original, high-quality images
• Beware of copyright
• Create descriptive alt text for each image
You’ve probably noticed that when you save down an image, there are multiple image formats you can use. They can include PNG, JPEG and GIF, and each have their own advantages and disadvantages:
PNG’s provide higher quality images that are crisp and clean. The only issue is that it will have an impact on page load times. If your website can handle it, then great! If not, then it might be better to go with JPEG. If you only need a 400 x 400 pixel image, then you could well be safe with PNG.
JPEG is probably the most common option. Whilst images won’t have the same quality as PNG, they will generally have a faster load time. It’s also possible to adjust the quality level to find a good balance.
In an ideal world, you would be able to upload images to a website without having to worry about size and load speeds. However, as this isn’t an ideal world, these are both things you have to think about. The main reason image size is so important, is because it impacts on page loading speed, which is a key factor in Google’s search ranking algorithms. The higher the image size, the slower it will load. Just to be clear, by image size, I don’t necessarily mean the physical size of the image, but the file size of an image.
Better quality images are going to naturally have a higher file size, however there are ways to compress images without losing visible quality. Tools like Photoshop can help massively with optimising your images and reducing their file size, there are also similar free tools that can help.
Create Descriptive Alt Text
Image alt text basically explains what is happening in the image you’re uploading to your website. The search engine ‘bots’ that crawl your website can’t read images, so this is one of the ways image alt text helps. It’s important to try and add keywords to your alt text, giving you better chances of ranking well in search engines (make sure they’re added where it makes sense, just spamming keywords will likely penalise your website).
As an example, let’s say you’re a marketing firm that specialises in social media, and you had an image of a woman at a desk on her laptop you wanted to upload to your website, rather than simply adding in the alt text field ‘woman at desk on laptop’, a better option would be ‘blonde haired woman working on social media marketing from laptop in modern office in Southampton city’. This not only uses a solution keyword ‘social media marketing’ is also includes a location keyword ‘Southampton’, giving your business a bigger opportunity of ranking in local search results.
The more original your content, the better. Original, high quality images are more favoured by search engines compared to stock images. The issue with stock images is that they tend to clutter a lot of websites, and you should be wary of having too many duplicates of content (whether that’s images, research, or other information). Whilst it may be more costly and time-consuming to create your own high-quality photos and images, it may well be worth the investment.
Beware of Copyright
This may not be an element of optimising images for SEO, it’s important to keep in mind. Conducting image searches in search engines can give you endless pages of pictures and gifs, and while these pages are free to view, the images themselves may not be free to use on your website.
If you are using a stock image website, make sure look through what your license involves, e.g. you may have to reference the photographer and website underneath stock images used on your website.
Image optimisation for search engines shouldn’t be ignored as they can have a substantial impact on your website rankings.
What is negative SEO? Well, negative SEO is any harmful activities aimed at sabotaging search ranking’s of a competitor’s website. There a number of negative SEO methods that can be used against your business, which include:
• Website hack
• Creation of toxic backlinks
• Creation of website duplicates
• Fake negative reviews
Whilst negative SEO attacks are few and far between, it’s important to understand what they are, how to identify them, and how you can overcome them.
If your website sees a significant drop in visitors, there is a chance it could be due to negative SEO attacks. However, there are a couple of other reasons that might lead to a drop in traffic, these include:
• Update in search engine algorithms – search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to provide the most relevant results to a searcher’s query, therefore some optimisations may no longer be as big a ranking factor as they once were.
• Getting filtered out by Google’s algorithmic filtering
This is why it’s important not to jump to conclusions as to why your website might not be performing as well as it has been previously.
Luckily, Google are pretty good at distinguishing between backlinks that you have created and ones that have appeared out of nowhere, although this can be made more difficult if your website has poor quality content and not much of a backlink profile. Better quality websites are less likely to be the target of negative SEO attacks because it’s generally a more time consuming and costly activity for attackers to carry out.
There are several ways you can protect your website from harmful backlinks:
• Use backlink audit tools regularly
• Check the value and trend of your website’s authority score
• Regularly update your disavow file (you can ask Google not to take certain links into consideration when assessing your site)
There are also ways you can work to take down copycat website and pages:
• Contact the provider where the fake website is hosted and explain why it needs to be taken down
• Report it to Google via a Google form
• Use the FTC Complaints Assistant
To reduce the chance of a negative SEO attack on your business’ website, ensure you have quality content and take all necessary precautions. There are a multitude of tools available to help with monitoring your website and flagging any potential problem areas.
Advanced SEO is pretty much what it says on the tin. It’s basically any SEO technique that needs a high degree of prior knowledge in order to carry it out effectively.
Some examples of advanced SEO techniques include:
- Use of synonyms
- Semantic distance
- Phrase-based indexing
- Entity salience
Whilst these all sound like obnoxious words and phrases, using each of them can positively impact your business’s searchability online.
You can learn more about each of these advanced optimisation techniques and how to embed them into your website here.