What is SEO?
What is SEO? You may have heard the phrase but don’t know what it means, you may have never heard of it. Here’s an SEO 101 guide for anyone who’s interested in finding out what SEO is and how it can help your business.
In this article you will discover:
- What SEO Stands for
- What SEO is
- Why SEO is Important
What does SEO stand for?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.
According to Search Engine Land in their definitive article “what is SEO”,
SEO stands for “search engine optimization.” It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines.
Moz.com describes it as:
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
So in short, SEO is the practice of increasing visitors to websites by improving their placement in Search Engines.
What is a Search Engine?
A search engine is a website that is an online directory of, well, websites. Google is by far the most popular search engine with a whopping 91% of the market share, followed by Bing (3%) and Yahoo (2%). There are many others, but it’s obvious that when we say “search engines” we mean “Google”. If you want to run an online business, you are on Google or you are nowhere!
Search engines and SEO
There are 1.8 Billion websites in existence, of these 200 million are active (www.internetlivestats.com). This amount of data takes some organising so search engines have developed complex methods of listing this data in accordance with the search queries their users are typing in to the search bar. The search engine wants to give the visitor the results that match what it thinks the user is looking for. These methods of sorting are called algorithms, complex programs that ‘grade’ websites on certain criteria.
Lets say a visitor to Google types in ‘Camping Devon’. The search engine must judge whether the user is looking for camp sites and camping holidays in Devon, or camping supplies. It runs the query through it’s algorithms and spits out it’s best guess as to what you are looking for.
Algorithms – How does a search engine know what results to show?
In short, no one really knows for sure as the exact criteria the search engine algorithms look for is a closely guarded secret. However there some basic guidelines available.
- Keywords – do the words the visitor has typed appear on the website?
- Location – is the business situated in the target location or where the visitor is?
- Do other websites and users like this website?
Keywords – words and phrases on your website that match queries typed in to the search bar on a search engine. By researching the keywords you want to be found for and adding them to your website, you have the basics of getting your website found for what you do.
Ideally you would add keywords to
- Page title
- Meta description
- H1 – h6 titles
- In the text
- Image titles and alt text
Don’t over do it and add the keyword you want to be found for too much, or google will see you page as spammy and penalise you rather than reward you. It also helps to add your keywords as close to the beginning and end of the page as possible, to the start of page titles and meta description and to bold one or two instances in the body of the text.
Bear in mind that you may want customers from a certain geographic area – i.e. where your business is located. So as with keywords, your website needs to tell search engines and visitors where you are.
You can do this by:
- Add your address to the footer of every page of your website
- Add the location into your keywords – geolocation keywords
The NAP – name address and phone number
By adding your business name, address and phone number (with local area code) Google can easily see where you are located and present your business to searchers in the vicinity. Add your business to Google maps and local business directories and this will be an even bigger pointer to the fact that you are a local business. Consistency is key with the NAP – it must be EXACLY the same everywhere it is listed on the web, or search engines might think that there are two business in different (though remarkably similar) locations. If there is a discrepancy, take the time to amend the incorrect versions. Be pedantic too, if your website lists your business as ‘High Street’, then don’t abbreviate the word Street to ‘St.’ – same with counties and cities, stick with either ‘Nottingham’ or ‘Nottinhamshire’ rather than ‘Notts’.
Schema Mark Up
An advanced technique for telling search engines where you are situated is to use Schema Mark up. This ‘microdata’ is a consistent set of specific instructions for search engines. It presents your address in a set pattern with added markers and this can help your website with SEO.
By combining what you do with where you are, e.g. “Digital Marketing Nottingham” you are giving a very clear signal to search engines and visitors about what you do and where you do it. It sounds like a no-brainer, but many, many businesses overlook this simple step on their websites.
Links and SEO
So far we’ve covered the basics of on-page Search Engine Optimisation, but that’s only half the story. Google also rates your site based on what other people think of your website. This is an accumulation of:
- Links to your site from other websites
- Online reviews of your business
Backlinks used to be the beginning, middle and end of SEO, until the technique was abused and Google tightened up it’s algorithm and made it a lot harder to do.
What are backlinks and why are they important?
Backlinks, or links, are precisely that – links from other websites that point to your website. Each link to your site is a ‘vote’ of approval. The more ‘votes’ you have, the higher search engines will rank your site. Google is gaging the quality of your website on the fact that lot’s of other people like it too. Google holds these votes of confidence in very high regard and they are a major ranking factor.
When SEO specialists in days gone by discovered how backlinks could help SEO, they were able to rank website by building thousands of links to them from all over the web. This enabled poor quality sites to rank highly for terms, even if they were false terms that the site was nothing to do with. Google realised this and in 2012 introduced the infamous Penguin algorithm. This was a game changer that penalised spammy site for their nefarious link building techniques and dropped them from the search engines. Unfortunately many legitimate businesses were also hit and many saw their incomes drop to nothing overnight. A disavow tool was introduced to allow these legitimate business to try and recover, but some has so many backlinks that they could never retain their previous, profitable positions and disappeared.
Links are still important, but Google is much stricter in it’s criteria for a legitimate link. Quality and relevance is now much more important than quantity. A link from a good quality site that is relevant to your business is worth a thousand spammy links. The best way to attract these quality links is to have a great quality website yourself. By writing a blog that helps your customers with the problems and information they need regarding your business, and writing content so good that people want to share it, is currently one of the best ways to attract good quality links. Your site needs to become and authority on your industry and attract ‘votes’ and shares from other authority figures in your niche.
Another, arguably easier method of showing Google that you are a good site is by curating online reviews. We’ve all seen testimonials on websites, independent praise (or critism) to encourage us to buy. There are lots of other place where people can review your business, for example
- Google Maps/My Business
There are also industry specific sites for reviews, perhaps the most famous example being TripAdvisor for the tourism industry.
Again, Google holds these independent reviews of your business in high regard, so it’s a good idea to encourage your customers to leave you feedback on these sites. Google Maps is where I ask my customers to leave reviews, because Maps results appear at the top of search engines for local search. It’s obvious that Google will look to it’s own site first so that’s a good place to start when curating reviews.
Negative reviews and what to do about them
Unfortunately it’s possible that you might not get 100% positive reviews. Disgruntled customers, your competition and other assorted idiots may leave you negative, one star reviews. The best way to deal with these type of reviews is to respond politely and professionally. If it’s a customer that’s complaining, address the complaint and do your best to resolve the issue. Respond to the comments and show the world what a reasonable company you are to deal with, and how you bend over backwards to please your customers, even if they are quite obviously a nutjob!
If it’s the competition that’s giving you negative reviews, or just a troublemaker, again respond to the review. Explain that you are sorry but you have never heard of or dealt with the person leaving the review and that you don’t believe the review to be genuine. Customers and search engines alike will see your comments and judge you accordingly. Of course you can always state your case to the owners of the review site and ask them to remove the non-legitimate comments. Yelp, Facebook et al are well versed in dealing with tit-for-tat reviews and will help you.
The entire world, it’s dog and it’s grandparents are on Facebook, so naturally search engines look to social media when deciding how to rank your website. If your site is getting lots of shares on the various time sucking social platforms available then this is another vote of confidence. By publishing great content and interacting with your audience you can extend your reach to potential customer and show Google that you are well liked. If you have a blog, then share your posts with your followers to increase traffic and reach new customers.
Does SEO take a long time?
The process of crawling and evaluating the internet, despite it’s vast size, is done very quickly. But Google doesn’t make rash decisions and will evaluate your website over a long period of time when deciding whether or not to recommend you as a reliable source of information to it’s customers. Think of SEO as a long term plan for success, taking months and years rather than days and weeks.
Does SEO actually work?
A business with the number one position on search engines for popular terms could enjoy thousands, if not tens of thousands of visitors and customers and huge profits are waiting to be made. However, competition is fierce and there can only be one Numero Uno, and the further down the search engine ranking your business appears, the less traffic, customers and profits you will attract. Even businesses at the bottom of page one can only expect a small percentage of the available business. All the businesses on P2 and beyond… forget it!
This article by Search Engine Watch ably demonstrates how the higher in search engine results you are, the more traffic your site will receive.
So, what is SEO then?
In this post I’ve covered the basics of Organic SEO – there also paid listings that appear top and bottom of every search engine results page. I hope you’ve gained an insight into how search engines look at websites when deciding where to rank them. It goes without saying that there are many layers of complexity to Search Engine Optimisation, far too many to adequately cover in just one article. Maybe you can see the benefit of SEO but haven’t got the time to learn a new skill set – by all means get in touch, we’d love to help you with your local SEO – click here for more information.
I hope I’ve sparked your interest in online marketing and helped you start to figure out the answer to your question – what is SEO?
By Jeff Guest on Friday, May 25th, 2018