As a business owner, you will almost certainly have been asked multiple times about your SEO. How you are using it in your content, how your website is ranking, etc, etc.
For many, understanding what SEO actually means and how you can use it to your advantage is an exhausting prospect, and that is before any of the ‘hard work’ even begins.
In this guide, we hope to explain as simply as possible how it works and how you can make some relatively simple changes to your content and website to start seeing quantifiable results, all without breaking the bank.
What is SEO?
Let’s begin with the fundamentals. What actually is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Achieving a “good SEO” effectively means that your website is appearing higher up in the search engine results pages when somebody makes a query regarding a service or product that you offer.
Now, there are millions of companies vying for a place on the first few pages of Google. This means that it isn’t hugely likely that in searching for something as broad as “air condition repair”, that your favorite A/C service company will pop up on the first page (unfortunately). But don’t let this make you disheartened about your own website.
There are MANY factors that can affect how you rank in search engine results. In this blog, we are going to first explain how search engine providers like Google analyze your website and its content, before sharing some of our best practices to improve your positioning on search result pages.
And why do you want your website to rank better? So that customers searching for a query that you—or your products and services—have an answer to.
Take control of how people find you
One important thing to understand first off is that your website already has SEO. Whether you have consciously or unconsciously incorporated it into your website content, Google has already made an assessment of your website based on a few founding characteristics.
These can be as simple as an analysis of your website security, how frequently you are updating and adding content, and whether any other websites are linking through to your site.
The problem with leaving all of your SEO up to Google is that it isn’t really optimizing your website at all. When you start to understand how it works, you can make even small changes to your content, such as the title of a blog post or adding a ‘tag’ to an image, and your website will rank better.
The key to getting good at SEO is knowing the audience’s intent, and then delivering it in a way that search engines can understand.
You might be thinking, but why do I need SEO if I can just run a paid advertising campaign?
Well, organic search results cover significantly more digital real estate than paid advertisements. They also appear more credible to savvy searchers and consequentially receive way more clicks than paid advertising. To put that into context, of all searches in the US, only around 2.8% of people click on paid advertisements and even in 2017, SEO was reported to offer around 20x more traffic opportunities than Pay Per Click (PPC) on both mobile and desktop devices.
SEO is also one of the only marketing channels that can continue to pay dividends over time. That is if it has been set up correctly. This means that if you can create a solid piece of content that deserves to rank for the right keywords, your traffic will snowball over time. This is because once people start clicking on your content, it is deemed as higher engaging, so your reward will be a little boost in positioning on SERP.
How does SEO work?
SEO is mainly about what people are searching for online and ensuring that a search engine will deliver them the highest quality results. The relationship between their search and what is delivered is based on the words they are using to search, and the type of content they wish to consume.
Reading your web pages
Search engines discover and catalog online content via a process called “crawling”. Crawling is the discovery process whereby search engines find sites. They use robots—known as crawlers or spiders—to find new and updated content of all types, such as webpages, images, videos, or PDFs.
They start off by fetching a few web pages and then follow links from these to find new URLs. This new content is then added to a huge database called Caffeine and is later retrieved when a searcher makes a request for which the content is a good match.
You can find out if your website has been crawled and indexed by going to Google and typing “site:[yourdomain.com]” into the search bar. For example, for KartHost it would be site:karthost.com. This will give you a good idea of which pages are indexed on your site, and if you want more accurate results, you can sign up for a free Google Search Console account.
If your website is not showing up in any search results, don’t be alarmed. It can be for a number of reasons such as your site is too new, it has no links from external websites, or your site navigation is too complicated.
Organic search results are results that have not been paid for. In other words, an individual has made a query and your website has been deemed to match the query (thanks to some good SEO) and therefore the user has found your website “organically”.
These days, with changes in search algorithms and the way in which people write and create content, it is a lot harder to detect what is an organic search result.
How are URLs ranked?
Search engines use algorithms—a process or formula—to order the information. This is often based on the exact words that are used in the search query.
These algorithms are constantly updated mainly to improve the quality of search results, and more recently to credit content that is original and can be fact-checked.
There are two main types of links that you will hear about.
Backlinks —or “inbound links”—are links from other websites that direct people to your website.
Internal links are links on your own site that point the visitor to other pages on your site.
Backlinks are best to think of as “word of mouth” links, so people will come to your site based on the influence of another person and their site. This is a part of Google’s core algorithm because it will rank the quality of your web page based on the number of other links that are pointing towards it. So, the more backlinks you have from trusted and reputable websites, the better! You will most likely rank higher in search results because of it.
Content and SEO
Links need to direct searchers to something, and that is content! But what exactly is content?
Content is essentially anything that is consumed by searchers, so video, images, and text are all included. A large part of determining how your website will rank is understanding how well your content will match the intention of the query.
For example, imagine you are searching for car tires to drive in icy conditions. You can search for this in a number of ways, and here are three examples:
Q: What is the best tire for driving on ice?
Q: What type of tire do I need to drive on ice
A: Best Tires For Ice | CarShtuff
Winter tyres: should I buy them? – Autocar
Comparing Winter & Snow Tires vs. All-Season Tires
Q: Ice car tire
A: Ice Tires vs. Snow Tires | Car News | Auto123
The Best Snow Tires and Why You Absolutely Need Them …
Best Winter Tires for Safer Snow Driving – Car and Driver
As you can see, the results are quite different. By using the word “best” in the search query, your results are more likely to be blog posts listing products. The other two examples contain a broader mixture of results including some lists but mostly comparison articles.
Keywords are the words and phrases that people will type into search engines to find answers to their queries. To unlock the real potential of a keyword, you need to understand first what your target market is searching for in your content, services, or products.
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make when conducting keyword research is that they focus too much on what they want to be ranked for, as opposed to what their audience actually wants to see. Ensuring that you focus on the needs of your audience will make for much more successful campaigns and much more effective use of your resources.
You will most likely have an idea of a few keywords that you want to rank for, usually relating to the products and services you offer. A good idea is to test how these keywords rank—particularly how competitive they are—by using a keyword research tool. These tools can really dig into a deep understanding of words, but we’ll keep things simple for now. Once you have entered these first “seed” words, you will find other related keywords, common questions, and topics that could offer new opportunities for making your content more visible.
A long-tail keyword is considered an extension of a keyword that usually determines a more specific query. So let’s take an easy-to-recognize example. Say you are selling shoes. The word “shoes” will have a mind-bogglingly large number of results attached to it, so you won’t stand much of a chance at ranking highly. However, if you produce a specific type of shoe, for example, you are a manufacturer of custom golf shoes, then those words “custom golf shoes” would be a long-tail keyword.
Best practices to follow
As we just suggested, you can have the most valuable piece of content anyone will see all year, but if it hasn’t been optimized, it won’t do your business much good. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some things you can do, and what you should avoid.
DO make your website pages primarily for users, not search engines. By this, we mean that you shouldn’t pack your content with so many keywords that it becomes illegible or just exhausting to read.
DON’T deceive your users. This can be sometimes referred to as clickbait, meaning that you will create sensational titles that have nothing to do with the content just to encourage people to click through to your site.
DO avoid any tricks that are specifically trying to improve search engine rankings. Now this one sounds counterintuitive, but it ties in with the first point. Your website needs to be helpful first and foremost. Another way to think of it is to ask yourself if you would present your content in this way if search engines didn’t exist.
DON’T automatically generate content. This can do significantly more harm than good because it will make your brand look untrustworthy and completely amateur. Search engine algorithms are also now getting better at detecting and prioritizing original content and content that can be fact-checked.
DO think about what makes your website unique, valuable, and engaging. This also comes down to how you really want your business to be perceived. Nobody likes a copycat after all.
DON’T participate in link schemes. What even is a link scheme? Well, it can easily be confused with a link strategy, but let’s look at the Google definition: “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results.” The key point here is that it is one thing to create a fantastic piece of content, which you then share, encourage others to share, and then write guest posts for industry-leading websites in the hope that you will get backlinks. It’s another thing entirely to just pay a website owner to link to your site
DO make sure that your website is easy to navigate. That means having easy-to-understand menus that are categorized correctly and using uncomplicated language.
So you have gone through this guide piece-by-piece, absorbed all of the information, and made all of the necessary changes to your website. What now?
You’ll be wanting to know if all of your hard work has paid off, and that is where a website audit will provide all of the answers you need to see if you are on track to meeting your goals.
And most importantly, don’t forget that SEO isn’t just a do once and forget about it kind of thing!
As search engine algorithms are always changing, you will want to be sure that you are aware of any significant changes that could affect your website and your content. It is also highly recommended to keep on top of your website maintenance and security in particular as these factors are now playing a big role in SEO also.
Plus, keep that content coming! Little refreshers to your website content will remind the bots and your audience that you are still active and relevant.
Even a small amount of SEO knowledge can make a big difference and the internet is full of free SEO education—such as on Moz’s site! A particular favorite of ours, and a hugely valuable tool for you is their Beginners Guide to SEO.