If you have had any involvement with the digital world you have probably heard of the term SEO, whether as a concept in your business, a service or plugin offered by your website host, or as an offer in a spam email you’ve received. But what do those three little letters mean? In this quick guide we’ll explore what SEO means, why it’s vital for your business and lay out 5 simple steps you can take yourself to get your SEO started.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. The simplest explanation is that it “does exactly what it says on the tin”, SEO is the process of making your site perform better when people are using a search engine to find sites like yours.
To most of us a search engine is a box on a website where we type a word, short sentence or question, and within a second a list of appropriate websites appears as if by magic. Understanding SEO requires us to peek into that magic.
Spiders and Algorithims
Search engines never sleep, even if no-one is searching for anything at a given point in time, the “back end” of the engine is busy finding and cataloguing information. To do this, the search engine sends out pieces of software known as spiders or crawlers. These collate information on every page on the internet, and return it to the engine’s database. The process is continuous, gathering millions of pieces of data every minute.
When a user searches for a word or phrase, the search engine consults the database created by the spiders and picks out all of the sites that seem to match. It then displays them to the user in order of relevance. The relevance of a page is estimated based on a set of evaluations and assumptions known as a “search algorithm”.
The precise details of this stage are not made public, indeed Google’s search algorithm may be the most closely guarded and valuable secret in the modern business world, but enough information is released on how they work that it is possible to create your website in a way that makes it appear higher in the rankings. This process is SEO.
Why does SEO matter?
SEO is a concept that did not exist 30 years ago, yet now it is one of the most important parts of any business. What makes it so important?
Start with the sheer size of the internet and the marketplace. There are over 1.8 billion websites on the internet, Despite the fact that 6.5 billion web searches are made each day, almost all websites receive no traffic. This is because 75% of users never go beyond the first page of Google results (there are, of course, other search engines, but Google carries 94% of search traffic worldwide). Not being on the first page clearly hurts your visitor numbers, but being at the top clearly provides a boost. Websites that appear in the top position on a Google search are visited by a whopping 35% of search users.
It is possible to boost your search rank by buying paid search ads, but effective SEO works more than 5 times better to generate website visits. Done properly, SEO drives footfall to the offline parts of your business. Research shows that 48% of consumers begin their research with a search engine. 50% of people who search for a product on a mobile phone then go on to visit a physical store later that day. SEO is also one of the most effective ways of driving sales, leads generated by SEO have a close rate of 14.6%, compared to just 1.7% for other methods, such as print ads.
Doing your own SEO
There are three types of SEO that you will need to think about. To understand this, remember the maxim that your website is your shop window. The ground your shop is on is owned by your landlord, this is your internet host. The shop itself is represented by the website and your domain name. We then add three areas of SEO:
- Technical SEO – This is the fixtures and fittings of your shop, the lights, walls, map of the store, and everything that allows your customer to get around the shop.
- On page SEO – This is the signage, pricing and other point of sale materials that hmake the transaction hassle free for the customer.
- Off page SEO – This is all of those little touches that help to promote your business, from your logo on carrier bags to the kid’s play area, to the smile on the face of your sales assistant. These touches keep customers coming back.
All three of these need to be in place to let your website achieve its potential.
Work smarter not harder
Effective SEO is not a mystical dark art; anyone can do it. If you are prepared to learn the basics, and dedicate a few hours a month to creating and updating content, you can master it quite easily.
Here’s a 5 point plan to get you started.
1. Keyword Research
Search engines run on keywords, the phrases users search for. Make sure you know what your customers are looking for, and avoid using words that are too vague, or over-used and so exposed to too much competition. Also try to avoid the phrases used by people who are just “window shopping”, and focus on those used by people who actually buy from you. Tools such as WordStream or Ubersuggest can help you find effective keywords.
Fresh and regularly updated content is key to driving traffic. You might use blog posts, infographics, videos or useful tools. There are a variety of tools online, such as Answer the Public, to help create your content, but the important thing is to plan your content design and schedule, and to stick to your plan.
Your site should be a hub for content about your business. All of your pages should link together, with the homepage at the centre. For example, if you have a blog post about making guacamole, link it to your page about nachos. You can see great examples of this by checking out the author pages on Amazon.
4. On Page Optimisation
This is about making sure that the spiders can identify your page as useful. Make sure that you have features such as titles and headings, as well as descriptive names for your images. You can also boost your ratings by having plenty of links, both to other pages on your site and to other sites. Most importantly you should create a “meta description”. This tells the search engine what the page is about, and provides the snippet of text that appears on the search results page. Take care not to go overboard, it is possible to focus so much on elements of SEO that the page becomes almost unreadable – remember that your aim is to sell to humans, not search engine spiders.
5. Building Links
A big part of how high a page ranks in search listings is the number of links to the page. As such it is worth trying to build these, by getting other people to link to you. While this is important, it should not take up too much of your focus. As a rule of thumb you should be spending 90% of your SEO effort on creating content, and 10% building links. A content first approach reduces future problems by making it easier to build links, since you will have pages that people want to link to. It also ensures that you have higher quality links, and means that people will continue linking to your site even while you are asleep or on holiday.
Good SEO is the difference between a site that no-one sees, and one that boosts your business. Following the steps above will help you on the road to success. We always love to hear what works for others, why not share your experiences in the comments?