Search engine optimisation, aka SEO. Just those three letters alone are enough to send chills down the spine of many small business owners. If you know you need to get on top of your SEO but don’t have a clue where to begin, don’t panic.
SEO is not quite the dark art it can seem at first…Tweet
1. What is SEO?
All SEO really means is making your site easy for search engines to find, so that when someone is searching for the thing you do, they’ll see you.
2. How does SEO work?
Search engines like Google, Bing and YouTube (Yep, YouTube is a search engine, in fact, it’s the world’s second largest behind Google) send out bots – little virtual spiders – which scuttle from page to page across the web collecting information about those pages and storing them in an index.
They use algorithms to analyse the pages and determine where they should feature in the search engine results page (SERP) for a given enquiry.
In order to do this they use hundreds of ranking factors which relate to user experience – how easy, useful and enjoyable a person finds a specific site.
The order sites appear in the SERP is called the organic search ranking – unlike the paid for ads, you can’t buy your way to the top here.
3. Why does SEO matter?
If you’ve got a great product or service it will speak for itself, won’t it?
Well, up to a point, yes, but word of mouth referrals only get you so far.
In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with advertising even a brilliant product can get buried, never to be found – unless the SEO is top drawer.
Think about the last query you typed into your search engine of choice. How many results pages did you look through? I’m willing to bet you’ve never clicked past page three, and probably very rarely past the first page.
So if your site is languishing on page 15 the chances of anyone finding you there are pretty much zero.
4. What factors does SEO look at?
- Content – content is king. This element looks at the quality of your content and the value it brings to the searcher
- Architecture – how the site is built. Is it fast, easy to use and optimised for mobile devices? And, crucially, can the search engine bots crawl it?
- HTML – these tags send signals to the search engines about your content. Headings, titles and meta descriptions all fall under this element.
- Trust – Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT). Are you an authority in your field? Are users satisfied by what they find or do they tend to bounce and look to another site for answers?
- Links – Great sites only link to other great sites. Which sites link to yours?
- User – How your site relates to the user. Are you a local business? Is your content country-specific? And is the user experience (UX) top notch or seriously lacking?
5. Which factors harm your SEO?
As well as the Shoulds of SEO there are most definitely some Should Nots – tactics which can actually get you penalised by the search engines, meaning you won’t show up in the SERP at all. Not even for your own brand name!
Penalties exist because the search engines only want to present the very best content to users. Tactics which try to trick the search engines get picked up pretty quickly and you will pay the price (dun dun dunnnnnn)…
- Keyword stuffing. Ever come across a site or blog post that reads something along the lines of “Looking for a yoga teacher in Milton Keynes? I’m a Milton Keynes yoga teacher, teaching yoga in Milton Keynes! For yoga teachers in Milton Keynes call now!” It reads badly (and don’t even get me started on the overuse of exclamation marks…) and is quite obviously a tactic to get the chosen keywords into the post as many times as humanly possible, leading to poor quality content, frustrated users and a slap on the wrist from Google
- Buying links. We know great quality links can really boost your rankings, but shady SEOs paying for tonnes of poor quality links isn’t just unhelpful – it can get you banned
- Hidden keywords. Once upon a time, many moons ago, you could fill a page with keywords, make them all the same colour as the page – essentially making them invisible to users – and it would count towards your rankings. The search engines have wised up considerably since then, so don’t try it, it looks super suspicious
- 404s and broken links. Content should be kept up to date so if you’ve linked elsewhere on the web or to other parts of your own site that no longer exist, you’ll be penalised. While the odd 404 happens to the best of us (and is a great opportunity for your copywriter to have some fun), users will be left frustrated and unsatisfied if they come across too many
5 1/2. Where can you find out more?
SEO, sadly, doesn’t conform to a static set of rules. The algorithms are constantly being updated, different elements are being given different weightings and, as the shadier SEOs work out new ways to game the system, the system gets cleverer to thwart them.
It can be difficult enough to find your footing in SEO even without the constantly shifting sands, but you don’t have to just leave it all to the pros.
SEO experts Moz have tonnes of free content to help you out – and their Whiteboard Friday series is a treasure trove of up to date info for everyone from tech wizards to the technically challenged, so even total newbies can pick up the basics.
For SEO copywriting, just…