Here we will take a look at the basic things you need to know in regards to search engine optimization, a discipline that everyone in your organization should at least be aware of, if not have a decent technical understanding.
What is SEO?
Quite simply, SEO is the umbrella term for all the methods you can use to ensure the visibility of your website and its content on search engine results pages (SERPs).
When we refer to visibility, we mean how high up the SERP your website appears for certain search terms in the ‘organic’ results. Organic results refer to those that appear naturally on the page, rather than in the paid-for sections. Have a look at the picture on the left. the first two results are paid advertising which is marked with a green “AD”.
Paid search is also a large part of search engine marketing. You will find some basics here
Why do you need SEO?
Building a strong site architecture and providing clear navigation will help search engines index your site quickly and easily. More importantly it provides visitors with a good user experience of your site and encourage repeat visits. It’s worth considering that Google is increasingly paying attention to user experience.
In 2014, Conductor suggested 64% of all web traffic comes from organic search, compared to 2% from social, 6% from paid search, 12% direct and 15% from other referral sources.
Of all organic traffic, in 2015 it was found that Google accounts for more than 90% of global organic search traffic. So obviously you need a strong presence on Google SERPs.
What are search engines looking for?
Search engines try to provide the most relevant results to a searcher’s query, whether it’s a simple answer to the question “who is the current US president?” (the answer of which Google will likely provide without you having to leave the SERP) to more complicated queries such as “what is the best wine tour in solvang?”
How search engines provide these results is down to their own internal algorithms, which we’ll probably never truly determine, but there are factors that you can be certain will influence these results and they’re all based around relevancy. For instance: a searcher’s location, their search history, time of day/year, etc.
2) The quality of your content
Do you regularly publish helpful, useful articles, videos or other types of media that are popular and well produced? Do you write for actual human beings rather than the search engine itself? Well, you should. Latest research from Searchmetrics on ranking factors indicates that Google is moving further towards longer-form content that understands a visitor’s intention as a whole, instead of using keywords based on popular search queries to create content.
Basically, stop worrying about keywords and focus on the user experience and providing relevant and useful content for your target audience.
3) User experience
This is related to your site architecture. You need an easily navigable, clearly searchable site with relevant internal linking and related content. All the stuff that keeps visitors on your webpage and hungry to explore further. If you offer an e-commerce shop make sure that the sign-up process is as simple and short as possible.
4) Site speed
How quickly your webpages load is increasingly becoming a differentiator for search engines. Google may soon start labelling results that are hosted on Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) so this may possibly be the ‘mobilegeddon’ of 2016. Which brings me to the next point.
5) Cross-device compatibility
Is your website and its content equally optimised for any given screen size or device? Bear in mind that Google has stated that responsive design is its preferred method of mobile optimization.
If you follow our blog, there is an article about Google’s first mobile index. That means, it will be even more important to make your website mobile friendly. Follow that link to check if your site is mobile friendly.
6) Internal linking
We’ve talked about the benefits of ensuring your site has clear and easy-to-use navigation, but there’s also a practice that editors and writers can carry out when publishing articles to help push traffic around the site and that may lead to higher trust signals for Google.
Internal linking has many advantages:
- It provides your audience with further reading options. As long as they’re relevant and you use clear anchor text (the clickable highlighted words in any give link). This can help reduce your bounce rates.
- It helps to improve your ranking for certain keywords. If we want this article to rank for the term ’SEO basics’ then we can begin linking to it from other posts using variations of similar anchor text. This tells Google that this post is relevant to people searching for ‘SEO basics’. Some experts recommend varying your anchor text pointing to the same page as Google may see multiple identical uses as ‘suspicious’.
- It helps Google crawl and index your site. Those little Googlebots that are sent out to fetch new information on your site will have a better idea of how useful and trustworthy your content is, the more they crawl your internal links.
7) Meta descriptions and title tags
Having a meta description won’t necessarily improve your ranking on the SERP, but it is something you should definitely use before publishing an article as it can help increase your chances of a searcher clicking on your result.
The meta description is the short paragraph of text that appears under your page’s URL in the search results, it’s also something you should have complete control of in your CMS.
Here it is in WordPress:
Write succinctly (under 156 characters is good), clearly and make sure it’s relevant to your headline and the content of the article itself.
Title tags h1 and h2 are used to tell search engines and visitors what your site is about in the most concise and accurate way possible. The keywords in your title tag show up highlighted in search engine results (if the query uses those keywords), as well as in your browser tab and when sharing your site externally.
You can write your own title tag inside the <head> area of your site’s HTML:
You should use a couple relevant keywords describing the webpage as well as your own brand name. Only use relevant keywords though, and the most important thing to consider is that although you are formatting for search engines, you should write for your target audience or humans.
8) Properly tagged images
Many people forget to include the alt attribute when they upload images to their content, but this is definitely something you shouldn’t overlook because Google cannot ‘see’ your images, but can ‘read’ the alt text.
It will also improve the accessibility of your site for people using ‘screen reader’ software.
9) Headlines and permalinks
The headlines for your articles should be under 55 characters to ensure their complete visibility in SERPs. Make sure they’re snappy, attractive and as descriptive as possible. Just stay away from clickbait headlines, do not promise something that the content doesn’t deliver.
10) Local SEO
Increasingly Google is serving results to users based on their location. This is particularly important to businesses out there in the real world who ned to catch a searcher’s attention just at the right moment, i.e. while walking down the street, on their mobile and looking for somewhere to drink a coffee or tea.
You should register with Google My Business and ensure that all of your information is accurate and up-to-date, such as opening times, contact information, customer reviews and that your categorised correctly.
The most obvious way that you can raise your site’s visibility through non-technical SEO means is of course through social media marketing.
You need to make sure you’re present on all relevant social channels (wherever your audience may be), and not just broadcasting your content in a faceless manner, but by using it as a customer service channel and genuinely interacting with people in a friendly, helpful and entertaining manner. Make sure that each social channel has a different voice, which should represent in your content on that channel e.g. Twitter has a limited characters and the usage of hashtags # etc.
12) Duplicated content
If Google finds two identical pieces of content, whether on your own site, or on another you’re not even aware of, it will only index one of those pages. If you have pages with the same content make sure you use canonical tag.
13) Stay away from “Blackhat”
There are many ‘black hat’ practices that can bring the full weight of a Google penalty down on your site, so it’s best to avoid doing the following, even if it looks like a brilliant easy win at the time.
- White text on a white background, or any other color
- Positioning text off-screen
- Setting font size to zero or hiding a link in a single character like a comma or a full-stop
There are ways to manipulate rankings that a user may not ever see, but Google or other search engines will probably find and punish you for that. It is not worth it. SEO is like a marathon – it takes time.
This list of the above 13 points are just the beginning and there are many more to cover. Let me know what you think.