What is SEO?
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
A small business guide to Search Engine Optimisation
We often get asked how we can improve a client’s existing website. Most of the time clients want us to get them ranking higher in Google, so our response is always “We’ll do an SEO audit and then fix any issues highlighted”. And not always, but more times than we’d like, we get asked “but what’s SEO?”.
SEO. Search Engine Optimisation. It's the process of tweaking your website and adding some behind the scenes details that aim to help Google (other search engines are available...) find and navigate your website easier, helping you go up the ranks in the search results. It's basically Optimising your website for Search Engines... Search Engine Optimisation!
The point of it all is that it's free (unless you're hiring someone to do it for you) and if done to a high standard can net you lots of organic/natural web traffic (as opposed to using advertising for paid traffic).
Think about the millions of web pages there are in the world, most are constantly being updated and changing, businesses are closing down, new ones are starting up. Discovering all of these and ranking them all by human intervention would take absolutely ages and would require at least thousands of workers constantly focused on one task. This is why search engines use Crawlers and Algorithms instead.
Crawlers are sent out by search engines, sometimes at the request of the site owner, to have a quick glance over the website, its links, its headings, whether the headings match the content, the key words used... there's a lot of data that goes back to the search engine.
Algorithms are like complex machines which take in all of this raw data and fabricate a ranking number out of it based on search terms and queries!
The search engine's job is to match a user with the perfect website, so Search Engine Optimisation is the act of giving every bit of data you can to the search engine's algorithms to help your website match up with the perfect visitor, and help that visitor match up to your service.
Now most Search engines keep their algorithm's ingredients secret, like the Coca Cola recipe, but we know a lot of what factors go into it! Let's have a look at a few of them.
First up, Titles!
The title of the website is like the title of a how-to book, it needs to indicate what the book is about. So having a website called "Finesse" (Which is also the first word I could think of) is fine, finese.com would be a fine website URL, but the title for Search Engines to use needs to showcase what that website does, so something like "Finesse - High quality, trendy, designer fitness clothing" would be perfect.
Now what can get a little confusing is having a website title and a page title, they're totally different. The website title is hidden in the code, its behind the scenes stuff and isn't typically found on the homepage. However, the homepage title could be the same thing - but this would be a H1 Heading. This leads us nicely on to...
Headings seem really complicated if you're new to SEO, but don't worry, we'll explain them! There are 6 Heading formats, H1 to H6. Every page needs to have a H1 heading for decent SEO coverage, we've audited 16 websites this month alone and found that almost all of them were built by the business owners, and they didn't have H1 headings on most, if not all pages.
Search engines love H1 headings, it's an indication of content, like a chapter title of a book. For H1 headings you need to specify it. Throwing down a Title at the top of the page isn't enough, it has to be formatted as H1. Usually in the text box settings it'll give you this option though.
On to H2 headings. H1 headings are the overall theme for that page. H2 headings are like subtitles or ways to section off info. For example, let's think about a fitness studio that offers a range of services.
H1 Heading - BigFit's Services - From weight loss to muscle gain to increased Flexibility
(Notice the key words there too)
Description: BigFit offers a range of services that help you feel great and do great...and so on
H2 Heading - BigFit Yoga - Flexibility and Mindfulness Sessions in Teesside, UK.
Description: Stretch your body and Calm your mind with Yoga sessions available at BigFit's Middlesbrough Studio...
H2 Heading - BigFit's Massage Therapy
Description: Always complaining about your bad back? Feel 10 years younger with a full body massage from BigFit's expertly trained massage therapists...
So as you can see the H1 heading gives the overall theme of the page while the H2 headings split the page up into smaller sections and indicate what that section is more specifically about. For the most part, you'll only be using H1 and H2 headings. There's never really a reason to use H3 because if you're using one, you're probably using a few others too and when you're going into that much detail on various subjects, you might as well just create individual pages for them.
Here's an example though:
H1 Heading - BigFit's Services
Description: BigFit offers a range of services that help you feel great and do great...and so on
H2 Heading - BigFit Yoga in Teesside, UK.
Description: Calm your body and mind with Yoga sessions available at BigFit's Middlesbrough Studio...
H3 Heading - BigFit's Bikram Yoga
Description: more info about this specific yoga
H3 Heading - BigFit's Vinyasa Yoga
Description: More info again
H3 Heading: - BigFit's Ashtanga Yoga
Description: Again, more info
And then you'd close that section off and start a new section with a new H2 heading, like Massage Therapy or something.
So Basically -
H1 - Heading
H2 - Sub Heading
H3 - Sub Sub Heading
Alllll the way to H6. But like we say, you'll probably never need to use H3 headings, it's just good to know when to use them.
Next up is the meta description. Every page has one, it’s not just for the whole website! A meta description is the little snippet of text you see in a Google search listing. You’ve got the main title of the page, then the small writing underneath is the meta description. The description your pages have should reflect the content that’s on those pages, using the same key words to pull it all together. Keep it to under 155 characters but make sure you get a good range in there. Don’t keyword stuff, make it read organically as you’re ultimately appealing to humans, not robots!
This needs to be one of your main concerns when it comes to the ongoing maintenance of your site. Google likes to see updated content as its typically more relevant. The main way to update content on your site is with a blog. Try to get between 1800 and 2500 words in each new post. If you’re updating your blog daily and only have a few lines to say, this won’t be picked up at all and is of no benefit in terms of SEO.
When you’re writing, try to put in key words! These should match the kind of key words found in your meta description too. Keywords should average between 7-9% of all words to avoid keyword stuffing while creating quality relevant content.
Link building can be split into two sections, internal link building and external link building. Internal link building is the act of setting up links on your site that leads to other places on your site, for example “if you like this article you might also like this article”. This is a good way to keep traffic flowing through your site for as long as possible before they leave.
So then what’s external link building? External links are the ones that lead from your website to another site, or from another website on to yours.
“Buy why would I want to send people away from my site?”
These links act like sources and appendices of an essay, but for your site. If you link to credible websites then Google is more likely to think that your website is credible too, and if other sites lead on to yours then you’re more likely to get traffic. These ones are called backlinks, and Google likes them too! If other people are directing people to you, then you must have some authority in your niche, right? That’s how Google’s algorithm sees it.
There are services that offer to set you up thousands of backlinks for an amount of money, beware of these as Google gives some websites more worth than others. If all of your backlinks are spanned from 50 websites from India when your services are all location based around you and you aren’t from India, this won’t work in your favour.
Sometimes you can give your website link to a directory, and in turn set up Reciprocal links. This is like a mutual agreement to share each others links on your websites which in turn boosts both parties SEO scores.
This isn’t set in stone as something that directly contributes to SEO, but it’s been shown to help. Social interaction is the level of actions taken on your social media that links back to the website. So if there’s a post with your website link in that goes viral, this will positively impact your SEO. So if you’ve got a business but not a Facebook page then go get one, they’re great for brand awareness! But you can also drive more traffic to your website.
Off Page SEO
SEO is typically split in two sections, when we’re talking about SEO, we usually mean “on page SEO”. This is things on your website that help Google find you. The other side is “off page SEO”. These are things you can do outside of your website to help boost it up the Google results. Backlinks and social interaction are part of these methods. Be sure that you have both on page and off page SEO methods in place, it’s not a case of needing one or the other. That’d be a bit like having either doors or window frames in your house… you need both!
Lastly we’ve got speed. Essentially you need a quick website to keep your viewers happy. Don’t install lots of transitions or plugins, don’t use images with ridiculous file sizes (you can optimise them for web by using smush.it) and use a good web host. Keep loading times to under 3 seconds to have a positive SEO score. Anything longer than 5 seconds is an issue that needs addressing, as visitors are highly likely to get fed up and leave by then.
And that’s the basics! So as you can see, there’s an awful lot more that goes into a website than just having beautiful buttons and high quality images. But the good news is that once SEO is fixed and effective, you usually don’t have to touch it for a while! Just keep churning out that blog content.
For more help with SEO you can check out this post.
For SEO plugin help for WordPress then check out this post.