The world of SEO is complex and ever-growing, but understanding the basics is an important first step! Even just a sprinkle of SEO knowledge can make a big difference to boosting your website’s performance and bringing more customers to your site. In this quick guide we’re going to cover the basics so you can start propelling your website to success!
Oh and before we start, yes this is a ‘quick’ guide. Trust us, SEO is HUGE and even though this seems long, it is just the icing on the cake.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and, in the most simple terms, it is all about optimising your website for search engines (think Google, Bing, etc) so that it appears as high up on the search results page/s as possible. Hopefully in that magic number one spot!
While it may seem simple, there are lots of components of SEO and it takes time to optimise your website and for it to rank high on search engines. This is because SEO is as much about the people and web users as it is about the search engines themselves! It’s about figuring out what people are searching for and the answers they’re trying to find, the words they’re using (we call these Keywords, we’ll get into this a bit later!), and the type of content they’re looking to consume.
If understanding your customers/audiences intent is one side of the SEO coin, delivering it in a way search engines can find and understand is the other.
How do search engines work?
We are certain you have used a search engine before. You probably found this article through one, and if you did, that means our SEO is working! But the steps they go through to show you the results you’re looking for is important to understand when working on SEO:
Search: When a user has a question/query they’ll turn to their favourite search engine and type it in. ‘How do I do this’, ‘ What is the largest XYZ’. The user is looking for a specific answer to their question and they want it quickly.
Crawl: Search engines use bots to crawl web pages to find the most relevant answers to the user’s queries. These bots download information from websites in order to understand the relevance of the page to the user. The bots prioritise scanning through elements of the page such as H1 tags, meta tags and keywords.
Index: When the search engine has all the necessary data from a website it then adds them to an index. From here, they are ranked based on the key ranking factors in order to provide the user with the best results for their question.
Key ranking factors
Search engines, actually let’s just keep with Google from here on out…who uses anything else anyway? Google hasn’t specifically said how many ranking factors there are, but those who work in SEO think there are hundreds. Here are some of the most important ranking factors you need to consider when trying to rank highly on search engines.
Quality content involves hundreds of different elements but in simplified terms it is about providing content that is relevant to the user and great quality. Search intent is the primary goal a user has when searching for something; the answer to their question. In the content you will need to include the relevant keywords, or phrases the user is searching for. In order to rank as high as possible your content needs to be captivating and relevant, using the relevant keywords, and answering the user’s questions.
Backlinks are links from another website to your page. By increasing the amount of quality backlinks, search engines recognise that you’re providing trustworthy content, which will rank your website higher. Think of a backlink as a reference when applying for a job. If you have a reference from Bill Gates, the employer will think, “Wow that is amazing, I must hire this person”. Search engines think in the same way. If you get a quality backlink search engines think; “Wow, that is amazing, I must rank this webpage higher”.
Page speed is exactly what it sounds like: a measure of how long a website or piece of content takes to load. It is essential to have a quick page speed for a positive user experience; the faster the webpage loads, the happier the user (and the search engine) will be. Slow page speed can affect your ranking, as the search engine won’t want to show users a page that doesn’t load quickly.
Mobile / responsive website
Users search on mobile a lot more often than on desktop, so Google now positions sites based on their mobile site usability over their desktop. This is because 57% of Google searches originate from a smartphone device. Google understands the demand for mobile usability to provide a better service to the majority of their users, so they have transitioned from prioritising desktop usability to mobile. In 2016 Google said that their algorithms would “eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages”.
Website technical performance
Not only does your website need to load quickly, work on all different devices and look great, it needs to work correctly. Multiple 404 pages, broken links, missing/large images, buttons that overlay one another and other technical issues? Search engines just don’t like that.
You also need to help Google understand your page. Just having a load of text won’t suffice, you need the correct heading tags, especially a H1 tag, a relevant URL, which is short and includes your keyword, and your title tag and meta descriptions need to help the user click through to your website.
If you aren’t sure what some of these terms mean, head over to our SEO jargon article which will help explain them.
On-site and off-site SEO
All of these ranking factors can be split into on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Using just some of these will greatly improve your chances of ranking highly on a search engine results page (SERP) and getting more traffic to your website.
On-site SEO (On Your Website): On-site SEO relates to everything you can actively do to your website to optimise it. Examples of these are; keywords, headings, content, depth of website, load speed and URLs.
Off-site SEO (Off Your Website): Off-site SEO refers to the activities that you do outside of your own website, on other pages. Backlinks through guest posts, directories, reviews and brand mentions as well as social metrics and brand trust, are all forms of off-page SEO.
Example of how SEO works
We know that these types of things can be easier to understand with a real world example, so take a look at the below for an example of SEO:
Let’s say a user searches for “florists in Swindon”. The search engine will use this search term and start collecting a list of relevant websites that may have some relevance to the query. It will then start ranking them in order that it thinks will be the most helpful for the user:
“‘Florists in Birmingham’ – nope that won’t help the user, we will ignore this one.”
“‘Flowers for sale in Swindon’ – well that might help the user, but we are sure we can find a better one”
“‘Local florist based in Swindon’ – that is perfect, that will go straight to the top”
The search engine will rank these using the above and hundreds more ranking factors. So if you are a Florist in Swindon and your website loads slowly, doesn’t work on mobile, the heading tag of that page doesn’t include ‘florist’ and ‘Swindon’, and your website is filled with issues, you won’t be anywhere near the top.
Basically, whichever website has optimised their website the best, will have the best position.
How do we measure SEO?
Measuring the performance of your SEO is extremely important. Being at the top of search engines might be pretty pointless if the search terms you want to be top for only get 10 searches a year (so you won’t really get any traffic from this search term) Whereas another keyword might get 10,000 searches a year, so ranking number 1 for this will be much more beneficial to your business (although it will be much harder!)
We advise not to just measure your SEO on the keywords you are number one for, but to measure it as a whole. Metrics like:
- Number of leads you are receiving overall and from organic search – SEO will help you attract more leads from all over the web.
- Overall number of keywords you are ranking for – the more keywords you rank for, the more opportunities you have to be found.
- Position of a group of core keywords – not just an individual one but ones that you and your SEO Agency have selected together.
- Your overall and organic website traffic – the more traffic you are receiving the more leads you will get. As long as your web conversion rate is good
By tracking all 4 of these you will be able to see if your SEO is working.
Why SEO is great for small businesses
Using SEO for small businesses can be a cheaper alternative to Google paid ads, and in our opinion is a crucial first step on the digital journey. Search engine optimisation can help get more potential customers to discover your business when exploring the internet to find answers to their queries.
Small businesses can benefit massively from good quality SEO. Did you know that 75% of clicks go to the top 5 results and 68% of all online search queries start with a search engine demonstrating the importance and significance of SEO in a marketing strategy.
Ranking on search engine results pages can be hard when big corporations such as Wikipedia and the BBC are already ranked at the top of the pages. These websites will be optimised to a very high level, have huge inbound traffic and be favourites with search engines, but smaller companies might not have this problem. As a small business, you have a great opportunity to rank on local keywords, and as long as your webpages are optimised better than your competitors, you will rank above them and be one of the first companies your audience sees.
Well this depends on how much you would like to learn about SEO. If you are really interested and this quick guide to SEO has wet your whistle you will need to read a full guide on it! But just to warn you, these are very long and not for the faint hearted. We won’t provide you a link to one, instead you can start learning about SEO by using a search engine and search for; ‘Full SEO guide’.
Or if you are ready to start your SEO journey, why not contact us today to arrange an appointment