SEO: The Basics

What is SEO and why does my website need it?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is the process of getting traffic from search results on search engines. Google and other search engines rank and display pages it considers relevant and authoritative. SEO combines both technical and creative elements to improve your rankings in search results and drive traffic to your site. Having said this, SEO isn’t solely about driving search engine traffic; it’s also about optimising your site for the user. This guide offers a breakdown of the basic elements of SEO and why each are important for your site.

Starting point: Keyword Research

The first thing to consider when thinking about SEO is the words or phrases people will likely search for that relate to your business, product or services. Ranking well for relevant keywords can make or break your website. It is important to attract the right kind of visitors to your site, as visitors interested in your site are likely to result in financial rewards or other organisational goals. However, until you know what words and phrases are relevant to your website, you cannot properly optimise your page and the content within it to draw in traffic.

When thinking about keywords, you need to consider how well it will convert to actual rewards. Consider whether searchers will find what they are looking for when they come to your site using this keyword – are they likely to spend time on your site once they arrive? Next, look into what other websites already rank for the keywords you have in mind. If many search ads appear in the search results of your chosen keyword, then it typically means a high- value keyword. There is a range of tools to help with your keyword research; see our favourite resources listed at the end of this chapter.

Long Tail Keywords.

The best keywords are the ones that have the most searches… Not quite. The most popular keywords tend to be broad, generic terms such as ‘dresses’. However, in reality, these terms make up less than 30% of searches performed on the web. The remaining 70% is made up from what is termed ‘Long Tail’ searches.

These are unique searches made up of specific words and phrases, such as ‘Blue Maxi Dress size 10’. Long Tail keywords convert much better than generic keywords. For example, the person searching for ‘blue maxi dress size 10’ has a specific item in mind and is much closer to purchase than someone simply browsing for ‘dresses’.

It’s not just important to understand how popular a phrase is with searchers, but also how hard it is to rank highly with that certain search. If big brands in your niche take the top ten results in that search and you’re a relatively small company, it could take more effort than it would be worth to rank well for that search. This is where long tail keywords are your friend. The more specific the words and phrase are, you’re less likely to be targeted by a bigger competitor, and so your page has a better chance of being ranked highly for it. Finding appropriate keywords for your site; which you also have a good chance of ranking well with, should be the foundation of your SEO strategy.

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On Page SEO

Now that you know what keywords you want to incorporate, you need to optimise your web page, so search engines deem it worthy of a good rank. However, this is not simply a case of sticking keywords all over a web page’s HTML so that a search engine picks up on it! Search engines use complex algorithms which analyse user experience (their inclination to stay on the site, link to it and share its content). Most SEO’s now opt for a rounded approach and are willing to sacrifice perfect keyword placement in favour of better user experience. That said, wherever possible, keywords should be optimised throughout a page. Here are the five crucial ways you should be optimising your keywords:

1.

’Title tags’ (page title): Usually, it should be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content. Title tags are used on search engine results pages (SERPs) to display previews of a page. They are key to how a search engine determines the relevance of a page and also dramatically increases the searcher's inclination to click. Optimising Keyword for search engines and user visibility should, therefore, be the prime goal.

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2. Headings: Generally, you should only have one H1 heading per page and then a few subsequent H2 subheadings. These headings should contain keywords while being relevant to the content on the page.

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3. Body Text: Using your keywords within the content of your page is vital, though it should not just be placed randomly or be overly used. Search engines assess the relevance and quality of keyword placement within the body of the text.
4. URL: The URL should describe a page to visitors and search engines. Keywords that appear in a URL help search engines determine relevancy directly.

5. Meta Description: Meta descriptions are not used directly in search engine rankings, but they are still important. If the Meta description incorporates a keyword query, it will usually show up in the search results and can play a big part in whether users decide to click through.

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6. Images and Image alt attributes: For search engines to be able to properly index an image, ‘alt tags’ need to be added to the image. It can help the image show up in an image result of a search and, indirectly, it is useful to have a visual representation associated with a brand name or site.

There are some fantastic resources to help you with keyword placement and on page SEO in general.

While optimised Keywords within the features of a page produce reasonable correlations in search engine rankings, other on page elements often have an even greater impact. The most significant of these elements is the actual content on the page. Content is the reason people click and stay on a website; keyword placement should never compromise what you are writing about. The content on a page should be unique; it should offer specific information on that topic and provide the user with valuable insight.

Your site structure is also crucial. The way the pages on your link together has a big impact on rankings. A good site structure provides your site with site links, which increase the navigability of your site and point users to the most relevant information. Sitelinks improve the user's trust in your site and will ultimately boost your rankings. Your site structure should be logical, there shouldn’t be too many main categories, and you should balance the amount of subcategories within each category.

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Image from http://moz.com/learn/seo/internal-link

If you don’t get this basic element right, it will be very hard to develop a successful SEO strategy. A strong site structure should allow both users and search engines to navigate your website. An SEO friendly site structure gives your site a solid foundation from which you build up your SEO strategy throughout the rest of your site and beyond.

Off Page SEO

Unfortunately, having a beautiful site with great content, and keywords optimised to the max, sometimes isn’t enough to rank well in search engines. Activities that exist outside of the boundaries of the web page can have a huge impact on search engine rankings; we call this ‘Off Page SEO.’ Link building is perhaps the most important aspect of Off Page SEO. Search engines attribute a lot of value to who and how many people are linking to a site. A website that has lots of links from other websites is considered by search engines to be an authority within that particular topic. Similarly, trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites which search engines also deem to be an indication of an important site. There are three basic types of links:

  • Outreach link building makes up a crucial part of link building. It requires manually contacting bloggers and creating a proposition whereby you explain why a link to your site would be in their interest, usually as a valuable source of information within that niche.
  • Natural or Editorial Links are links given naturally by sites that want to link to your content. These links require no specific action from the SEO other than that great content is likely to generate links like of this nature.
  • Self-Created, Non-Editorial are links that are created through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles. These links are relatively low value in terms of search engine rankings, but when taken as an aggregate they can still have an impact. In general, search engines continue to devalue these types of links which it increasingly views as spammy. They have been known to penalise sites that pursue this type of link aggressively.

Link building has become one of the most critical tasks required in SEO. We will go into much more detail about effective link building in later chapters. Nevertheless, here are some of the basics of link building that are important to understanding:

  • Avoid links from spammy or irrelevant sites.
  • Links within content are more effective than links in a sidebar or footer.
  • Anchor text plays the most important role in link building.
  • However, if all your links are too rich in anchor text, it can have a negative effect as Google will become suspicious.
  • Reciprocal links (I link to you, and you link to me) are not too effective and will be picked up by Google.

While link building is crucial; there is more to Off Page SEO. Although there is no evidence that social shares on the likes of Twitter and Facebook have an affect on rankings, Google has begun to incorporate a huge number of social signals into its search results. Someone with a large social circle, who shares a lot of material, is more likely to see their material promoted in search results. For publishers, it's beneficial to have your content shared influential users with large social followings.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, having a beautiful site with great content, and keywords optimised to the max, sometimes isn’t enough to rank well in search engines. Activities that exist outside of the boundaries of the web page can have a huge impact on search engine rankings; we call this ‘Off Page SEO.’ Link building is perhaps the most important aspect of Off Page SEO. Search engines attribute a lot of value to who and how many people are linking to a site. A website that has lots of links from other websites is considered by search engines to be an authority within that particular topic. Similarly, trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites which search engines also deem to be an indication of an important site. There are three basic types of links:

  • Outreach link building makes up a crucial part of link building. It requires manually contacting bloggers and creating a proposition whereby you explain why a link to your site would be in their interest, usually as a valuable source of information within that niche.
  • Natural or Editorial Links are links given naturally by sites that want to link to your content. These links require no specific action from the SEO other than that great content is likely to generate links like of this nature.
  • Self-Created, Non-Editorial are links that are created through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles. These links are relatively low value in terms of search engine rankings, but when taken as an aggregate they can still have an impact. In general, search engines continue to devalue these types of links which it increasingly views as spammy. They have been known to penalise sites that pursue this type of link aggressively.

Link building has become one of the most critical tasks required in SEO. We will go into much more detail about effective link building in later chapters. Nevertheless, here are some of the basics of link building that are important to understanding:

  • Avoid links from spammy or irrelevant sites.
  • Links within content are more effective than links in a sidebar or footer.
  • Anchor text plays the most important role in link building.
  • However, if all your links are too rich in anchor text, it can have a negative effect as Google will become suspicious.
  • Reciprocal links (I link to you, and you link to me) are not too effective and will be picked up by Google.
  • While link building is crucial; there is more to Off Page SEO. Although there is no evidence that social shares on the likes of Twitter and Facebook have an affect on rankings, Google has begun to incorporate a huge number of social signals into its search results. Someone with a large social circle, who shares a lot of material, is more likely to see their material promoted in search results. For publishers, it's beneficial to have your content shared influential users with large social followings.