Search Engine Optimisation, SEO for short, is a huge growth industry. Ever since there have been search engines, there have been people trying to work out the best ways to for their business to rank highly on those search engines, but in the last few years more and more businesses are beginning to see the value in the process. Here, we want to provide a beginners snapshot into what SEO is, how it can help a business and how you can do it yourself.
What is SEO?
Simply put, SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It is the process of configuring a website to rank as highly as possible on search engines for a particular search term (known to SEOs as keywords). As Google hoards over 80% of the search engine market, it is naturally the service that SEOs direct the most attention towards. However, it is also worth keeping an eye on other market leaders such as Yahoo and Bing if you want a fully optimised website.
Good question. SEO matters for the exact same reasons that product packaging matters, or how a shop is laid out. If you have a strong product, you want people to see that product and know how good it is. But if your website is badly optimised, it is the equivalent of hiding your product away. Many people find products and services through search engines, meaning businesses that rank highly on a generic search for a product enjoy increased traffic for their websites, which should mean increased revenue. For example, if you run a national cleaning agency and you rank highly for the keyword ‘cleaners’, you can expect to see more people clicking on your site. Higher profile – higher sales, simple as that.
How can I optimise my website?
Well, there is no one simple answer. SEO involves a range of techniques, and serious SEOs are experimenting to find new ones every day. And as search engines change their algorithms, SEOs respond in turn.
1. Keyword research
First things first, you need to know what keyword you are targeting. For our national cleaning agency, this may be ‘cleaners’, a competitive but profitable keyword to rank highly for. If, however, this agency were only to operate in Bristol, they would be better to target simply ‘cleaners in Bristol’ or similar. Why put the effort in to ranking highly for a competitive term like ‘cleaners’ if most people who end up finding you are going to be in a location you cannot service? This is why it is important to choose your targeted keywords carefully. You can use Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool to help you see what search terms people use the most.
2. On page optimisation
keyword in hand (or a few of them, if you offer a range of products you may want to target a different keyword with each product page), you now need to begin on page optimisation. This involves making sure that your page ticks all the boxes for things that will flag up to a search engine that it is relevant for your keyword. This includes, but is not limited to: making sure the page is accessible to search engines (no Flash sites, not hidden behind a form etc), including the keyword in the page URL, including the keyword at the beginning of your page title, frequent use of the keyword in the main text of the page (between 4-10 uses) and making sure the canonical tag is referencing the correct URL.
3. Meta titles and descriptions
The meta information is the content that appears immediately on the search results pages. The meta title consists of the link to your web page and is used by search engines to find and rank pages, so it should contain appropriate use of your keyword. It should ideally be no more than 65 characters including spaces, as Google cuts off anything after this. The meta description is the writing underneath the title. It is not used by search engines for ranking but it plays a crucial role in getting people to click on your link, so it is wise to fill it with inviting advertising-style copy.
4. Link building
Search engines rely on incoming links as ‘votes’ for a sites popularity. A major news site, or a popular online retailer, will have lots of inbound links as people want to show others new stories or products. Conversely, people are far less likely to link to websites that they think are of little interest, or are poorly designed. A major part of any SEO’s job is to therefore create incoming links for the site they are working on, as this will show search engines that yours is a popular site. However, link building is not just about quantity of links, but the quality also. A link from a respected site, like the BBC or Reddit, is ‘worth’ more than even 50 links from low quality, low traffic sites. This means there is a balance to be struck between building a large link base and also gaining some more exclusive, quality links.
Link building can be a difficult activity. Campaigns can be long and not always fruitful. Methods of building your link base can include outright asking sites to link to you, getting yourself onto relevant directories, using a company blog to link back to your page or producing a piece of content that others want to share and link their friends to. However, top SEOs are constantly thinking up new ways to get links coming into their websites, and it is the best long-term strategy for successful SEO.
Naturally, there is a whole realm of other possibilities for optimisation for those who wish to pursue it. SEO is a full time career and there are many who invest great time and energy into studying the way that search engines operate and how they can better optimise their websites, or those of their clients. Hopefully though, with these basics, you will able to push your website further up the rankings, in turn bringing in more traffic and ultimately, more revenue.