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You’ll probably have heard of SEO – or search engine optimisation – even if you don’t quite know what it is. It’s a term that’s thrown around a lot, often by people telling you they can improve it for you. Everyone you talk to is likely to have a slightly different take on what SEO represents, what it can do, and what’s important.
Despite what you might have heard, it’s not a ‘black art’, too complicated to be worthwhile, or a waste of time. It is something you shouldn’t ignore, however.
SEO is a tool you can use to help your website rank higher in online searches. This makes your business more likely to benefit from ‘organic’ website traffic; in other words, traffic you have not paid for. It can help you grow your business.
Why do you need to know about SEO for your business?
Knowing what SEO is and why it’s important will help you better understand how to use it to your advantage to get more business.
You can use SEO techniques to help your website pages become more visible to the search engines and give them reasons to rank you higher in the searches. This in turn should increase your website traffic and consequently increase your potential client base.
What is search engine optimsation (SEO)?
Search engine optimisation is the process of ensuring your website is more visible to the search engines. The search engine bots navigate, or ‘crawl’, the internet, indexing pages. They do this continuously as new information is being added all the time.
When you type something into a search engine they look through all the information they have indexed and search for the ‘keywords’ you have used to find the best matches. They then rank their results and present them to you in the form of a list. These are the search engine results pages, also known as SERP. We’ll look at keywords in more depth later on.
As the top three Google search results get 54.4% of all clicks for a search, and only 0.63% of people click on a result from the second page, you can see how important it is to rank more highly.
What factors affect SEO?
Search engine optimisation is a huge discipline and includes everything from how quickly your website pages load and whether they are secure, to ensuring you have all the right keywords and phrases in all the right places. Things like broken links and mistakes in coding will also make a difference.
It changes all the time as the search engines refine and revise their algorithms.
These are the basics you’ll need to give the search engines reasons to rank you:
1. A secure, accessible website
It might not be obvious but not all websites are created equal. Your website should be created with a website builder that uses all the right code so the bots can find and crawl it. The site should have an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate so that data can be authenticated, encrypted, and decrypted.
The added ‘s’ in a website address (https rather than http) stands for secure, and you should see a symbol like a padlock next to it to indicate it’s safe.
2. Fast and mobile-friendly pages
If your website pages load slowly, or your site is not optimised for mobile devices, people won’t hang around or make the effort to view your content. This makes these pages less attractive to the search engines too as they want to do a good job for their customers. Those pages will therefore be ranked lower.
3. Engaging, authoritative, interesting content
Think about what keeps your interest on a website. Do you want to keep reading dense, boring text of no real value to you? Or would you give up and look for something more interesting, written by someone who knows their stuff?
Search engines want to give their customers what they’re looking for. They want to make sure you know what you are talking about and you’re presenting it in an engaging way.
These days people have a low threshold for boredom and are used to scanning web pages to pick out the bits they are interested in. Bear in mind that the way you set out your website pages will have a big impact on readability too. Try to incorporate shorter sentences and paragraphs, lists, headings, images, videos, and so on.
If others see your content and link to it, this also indicates to the search engines that you are an authority. This is known as off-page SEO and is another reason for producing quality content.
4. Physical proximity
Local SEO is particularly important if your business requires any face-to-face interaction, but is also relevant for online businesses. It’s obvious that if you’re looking for a supermarket or a restaurant you are likely to be interested in the ones closest to you. However, location is pertinent for those searches that are not entirely location dependent too.
For example, if you are searching for a lawyer and you live in the UK, the search engines will want to give you UK-based lawyers unless your search specifies otherwise. Working with a local company gives you the opportunity to meet in person if you want to.
And while you might end up doing all your business together online, you are likely to need someone with expertise in UK laws and procedures.
Equally, if you live in the UK and are looking to buy shoes online, the search engines are unlikely to be returning Australian websites for your search: you might not understand the sizes, are unlikely to want to pay postage from Australia, and will probably want your shoes as soon as possible – and to be able to return them easily for a refund if necessary.
If it’s not clear where you’re based it’s difficult for the search engines to be sure you are the right company for the job. And if you are a business operating in a face-to-face environment, this is vital.
What you need to know about SEO
Firstly, it’s important to be realistic about what you are likely to be able to achieve, either by yourself or in general. Everyone wants to rank first or on the first page of a search, but there are already over 50 billion webpages indexed. (Pages of a website will rank differently).
Imagine there are 20 companies that all do what you do. You all want to rank first when people search for your products or services.
You could all employ digital marketing specialists and instruct them to optimise your website pages so you go to the top of the list.
Some may promise they can do that for you. But there can only be one winner and you’re likely to be competing with international brands with huge reach and marketing budgets. It’s just not possible for you all to rank first. And the chances are there are hundreds, or even thousands, of companies that do what you do. So, what’s the deal?
This is where your content and keywords can make a difference. You want to be doing all the things the search engines reward anyway: after all, they’re basing their criteria for a good website on what they think people want. Keywords and phrases used in the right way on your website will give the search engines more to go on.
What are keywords and phrases?
Keywords and phrases are the search terms that people use when they are searching for something on the internet. If your written content contains the same words and phrases as the searcher, the search engines will know your content should be a match.
You can research the keywords and phrases your customers and competitors are searching and ranking for so you know what to include.
Once upon a time it was enough to stuff as many keywords as you could (hidden and overt) into a page to get the search engines to rank you. As technology has improved, this practice has become obsolete. Keyword stuffing is penalised as people want to read natural, well-written content.
Don’t forget that while it might be very difficult to rank highly for overarching keywords like ‘shoes’ or ‘lawyer’, there might be something more specific you can focus your SEO on. For example, people might search for ‘shoes for children with wide feet’ or ‘lawyers who deal with noise complaints’.
So, think about what you do, do your research, and makes sure it’s reflected in your content.
Great content and SEO
Your main website needs to be well written and contain all the information your customers need to know, with all the right keywords in all the right places. We haven’t mentioned things like tags and titles and meta descriptions, but the way you lay out your site and ‘label’ it for the search engines is key.
Use headings and titles that are tagged as such in the website coding, rather than changing the font size to indicate a heading, for example. If you add the content to your website yourself, make sure you understand how your website builder works: you can follow tutorials or ask an expert.
Content includes things like blogs, videos, downloadable information, case studies, guides, and so on.
If we go back to our example of a shoe store, you could write blogs that answer people’s questions about fitting children’s shoes, or how and why you stock the brands you do. Talk about things your customers are interested in that can help them make informed decisions.
How do blogs help your SEO?
Blogs, if you do them properly, are a great way to:
- connect with your target audience and build a community
- prove yourself as an authority to your customers and the search engines
- get more organic website traffic
- make sure your website is current and updated regularly (also important for the search engines)
- have readymade content for social media
Search engine optimisation is not an overnight fix. It takes time to build authority, but if you are consistent and persistent it should pay off. Writing blogs and case studies can be time consuming, but they are a worthwhile use of resources as part of your SEO strategy.
If you would like help writing blogs and case studies that are interesting and engaging and show people why they should work with you – with all the elements of SEO you need to make them more visible – please get in touch.
If you’d like to know more about SEO you’ll find plenty of resources online. Here are a few to get you started: