SEO for beginners
New to search engine optimisation? Want to get a grasp of the basics before you dive in headfirst?
This guide will cover everything you need to know to get started.
Firstly, what is SEO?
It’s a word that we hear blasted around a lot, often without any real context. Its ubiquitous presence on the web is one of the reasons we’re often too scared to ask the question, “what exactly is SEO?”
Well, don’t be. Even the most knowledgeable marketers can be confused by the intricacies of search engine optimsation.
I’m a content writer and by no means an expert, but I’ve realised that in order for my blogs to get traction and for customers to find our website, I need to have at least a basic grasp of SEO.
So let me tell you what I’ve learnt.
Why does SEO matter?
Search engine optimisation has become a popular subject over the past few years and not just for marketers, but also for business owners, bloggers and anyone with content on the web.
SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the name given to activity that attempts to improve organic search engine rankings.
And by organic, I mean the listings that are not paid for – the unsponsored listings, the ones that you see after the first three sponsored ads.
In short, SEO is the work that goes into getting your website to the top page of Google for the whole world to see.
There are both technical and creative elements that work towards improving rankings, driving website traffic and increasing awareness in search engines and this guide will focus on the basic elements of improving your website’s visibility.
Crawling and indexing
The best analogy to explain crawling and indexing that I found online was from the experts at Moz.
Imagine the World Wide Web is the London underground and the search engines are the trains. Their job is to ‘crawl’ the whole track using the best routes possible, and they do so using the links.
Links enable the search engines’ automated robots, called ‘crawlers’ or ‘spiders’, to reach the vast amount of interconnected content on the web links – and by links I’m talking about the routes to other pieces of content on the web, like the link to Moz at the beginning of this section.
Once these pages are found, the search engines decrypt the code and store certain pieces in huge databases to be brought up later when someone makes a search query.
This is why it’s important to make sure that every link on your website functions and leads the user to another piece of content.
Search engines are essentially designed to answer your queries with the most relevant and up to date piece of content – whether that be in a blog, a forum or another section of the website.
So lets think about how we interact with Google. When I open up Google and search for my favourite cuisine in a particular city, it scours its database of documents and does two things.
Firstly it returns articles that it deems relevant and useful to my query, and secondly it ranks those results in order of popularity.
It’s both the popularity and the relevance of the content that the process of SEO is meant to influence.
How is relevance and popularity determined?
Relevance means more than finding the right page with the right words. In the early days of the web when search engines were less sophisticated, all you needed to do to gain visibility online was to was mention the right words and get others to link to your content.
But search engines are now smarter, wiser, and have grown tired of trickery.
They now rely on complex algorithms to sort the popularity and relevance of their content when a user makes a search query. Each year Google changes it’s algorithm around 500-600 times to ensure that it’s up to date and inclusive of all emerging SEO trends.
These complex algorithms are based on hundreds of factors, including content features, domain authority, readability, load speed and so on.
You need to do your research
A really important element of building digital marketing strategy around SEO is an understanding your audience – what they’re searching, why they’re searching and what language they use to search.
As a rule you should be building your site for the user – not for the search engine – a mistake people often make.
Try and answer your audience’s questions with informative blogs, detailed FAQ’s and up to date content that fulfils the questions that your consumers like to ask.
Avoid building your content around industry terms. “Discount airfare” may be used by industry insiders, but “cheap flights” is more likely to be searched by your consumer.
You still need to have the search engines in mind, but ultimately the user’s interest plays a huge part in the content’s relevance and popularity.
Content links are crucial
Search engines aren’t stupid – they are now sophisticated enough to spot paid and spam links so you need to be careful. The most effective long term SEO strategy is to create great content and get other relevant websites linking to it.
Guest blogging on other websites is great, but to rank above your competition you need to be linked to by relevant and credible websites.
A great way of checking the credibility of links for your site is by using tools like MozRank.
MozRank will give your links a popularity score reflecting the importance of the websites they comes from. Find out who the best people are to link to your website and approach them with great quality content that fits their message.
Check your backend
The Big Three – Google, Yahoo and Bing – have worked together to develop Schema.org, a set of website standards that will let the search engine know what your website is about, making it easier for the search engines to read your websites and index it accordingly.
By using rich snippets you’ll be able to tell Google what information to feature in the search engine results pages, or SERPs – marketers do love an acronym. These could be product reviews and prices, upcoming events that you’re hosting, or details about your product.
The added data will increase your click through rate as the user will be able to find out more about your before they visit your website.
It’s all about the data
Whether you work for your own company or consult clients within an agency – your website needs to see results.
Whilst ranking keywords is a great indicator of progress, your personalised searches make it difficult to get the most accurate readings.
That’s why unique key performance indicators – or KPIs for short – are the best way to track your results. For example – the number of landing pages you have that visitors will be taken to, the time that your users spend on each page, and the keywords driving traffic to those landing pages.
Google analytics is a great tool for this, so make sure you set up your goals and make sure that you monitor the results as much as you can.
Here are five things you can check right now…
1. Check for duplicate content
2. Ensure your site is optimised for mobile devices
This is another big one. Google indicates that over 50% of searches are made from mobile devices and therefore you must make sure your site is responsive and optimised for mobile.
This Google Webmasters video will teach you how to make some quick fixes to improve mobile site performance.
3. Check the page load time
Search engines and site users loathe websites that take ages to load. You can check your site’s load time by using tools like PageSpeed Insights, on Google Developers.
All you have to do is type in the URL and click ‘analyse’. This will generate a full report along with suggestions of how you can improve speeds.
4. Check for broken links
We’ve talked about how search engines crawl the web and why links play a massive part in relating content. This is why it’s important to make sure your links are not broken.
Google Webmaster tool is great for this by helping you find the missing pages on your website. All you need to do is click on the “Missing URLs” and “Linked from” tab to see how many backlinks from your website point to each URL.
Backlinks are essentially any incoming hyperlinks that link to your website from another.
These will help you decide which links are worth keeping so you can direct users to another relevant page using a 301 redirect to ensure users are directed to another relevant page.
5. Make sure you’re using relevant keywords
Use tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner and other keyword research tools to give you ideas and an understanding of how each keyword performs.
It’s really important to find the keywords that are bringing people to your website, then make sure you focus on these keywords throughout your content.
But make sure you don’t go overboard, no one likes to be bombarded with the same words over and over again.
If your completely new to SEO this may sound a little overwhelming, but you’d be surprised how far you can go just by ensuring your website is up to date, loads fast and full of fresh, informative content that others want to link to.
If you’d like to learn about SEO in more depth and find out where a career in digital marketing can take you, then get in touch with our team today.