An introduction to basic SEO

SEO is a term used frequently in digital marketing. Yet, it can be difficult to know just how important it is or where to start. To help you stay ahead, here is an introduction to Search Engine Optimisation and some basic SEO steps you can use which you can easily incorporate into your strategy.

Shocked child holding a book

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) refers to the process of optimising your online content – like a website, blog posts or your social media profile – to enable it to appear as high as possible in search engine results. It involves continuously improving the quality and relevancy of your content for your target audience.

How does it work?

Search engines analyse all available online content in order to locate what they believe to be the best result for the query a user has typed into their search bar. As the largest search engine in the world, Google’s search engine algorithm is what most content should be optimised for and what YOU should aim to satisfy as a business.
Now, there are countless factors which Google’s algorithm takes into account when supplying search results, including information about a user’s preferences (which you will struggle to control). However, there are some key areas that you can regulate which you’ll need to consider to ensure that you keep increasing your position in search engine rankings. For instance:

  • Relevancy
    • Is your content relevant to the user’s query? Does it actually answer the question they asked? If not, you will struggle to get ranked. Also, consider if this content is relevant to your audience. For example, if you’re in the business of selling cars, will your audience really be interested in hearing your opinion on politics? Not likely.
  • Context
    • Consider the context the user is asking questions in. For example, what stage of the buyer’s journey are they at? Do they want an in-depth explanation about a topic to help them learn? Or do they want a quick comparison chart to help them make a decision?
  • Clarity
    • Users are used to getting instant answers. So if you’re not to-the-point or don’t give straight answers, then you’ll probably lose them before they finish reading your content. And if that happens, then there is no chance of them exploring anything else that you’ve got to offer

It is also vital that you are aware of any changes made to the algorithm. Google regularly instigates updates with the purpose of improving search results for users. Some recent significant updates include:

  • BERT – Focuses on the context of words in a search query and will match this to your sites content.
  • EAT – Provides results based on expertise, authority and the trustworthiness of your content.

 

Questions to ask when doing basic SEO:

1. Is your content discoverable?

This is the main question you should always ask yourself when optimising content for search engine results. Because if nobody can find your content, you’ll have no chance of getting the traffic or conversions you’re after.

How to get discovered in Google Search Results

Keywords

By using words, phrases and language in your content that your target audience is actually searching for, this will help Google to recognise that you may be a relevant answer to their question.

Admittedly, it can be tricky to distance yourself from the internal jargon you use inside your business – as well as put yourself in your audience’s shoes – however, tools from SEMRush, Moz and aHrefs can all help you to identify the terms your audience are typing in their searches, enabling you to create content that will match up.

Links

When someone links to your website it acts as a recommendation, not only to the user who clicks on it, but to Google as well. The more links you have, the more highly recommended you’ll be seen to be in Google’s eyes; which will have a huge influence over how high you’re ranked in search results.
HOWEVER, not every link you get will be counted equally! For instance, links from sites with high authority, traffic and relevancy will earn you more points than those from sites with less influence and traffic.

Google also takes into account what you link to in your own content. For that reason, you should link to other content on your website, as well as content from other people – we’ll cover this in more detail further down.

Content Performance

It’s important to remember that Google doesn’t just provide a result and leave it at that.

Once a result is clicked on, from that point onwards Google will analyse the user’s behaviour to help determine whether the result it suggested is actually the best choice, or whether it should change its search position result.

If users leave immediately after opening the page, it’s probably not the best finding for that query. However, if users stay for a while and carry on their journey – by clicking on other links from that page – then it’s likely that the result gave a good answer.

2. Is your content appealing?

It’s important to remember that Google doesn’t just provide a result and leave it at that.

Once a result is clicked on, from that point onwards Google will analyse the user’s behaviour to help determine whether the result it suggested is actually the best choice, or whether it should change its search position result.

If users leave immediately after opening the page, it’s probably not the best finding for that query. However, if users stay for a while and carry on their journey – by clicking on other links from that page – then it’s likely that the result gave a good answer.

How to get clicks on your search results

Title tags

You can customise the page title – that’s displayed in Google’s search results for your page – through your title tag. You should always include keywords that you’re targeting in your page title. Not only will this help Google to understand that you have got an answer to the query; it will also tell the user that you’re a relevant result.

Context is really important at this stage since users will make judgements about how your content aligns with their situation. Because of this, you should try to line up your titles with the exact problem the user is having.

For example, if they’re on a budget, they’ll want results that say “Cheap” or “Free”. Quite often people looking for instructions will look for “How To” or “X steps to”; or people looking for a local service will want results with their location in the title. Read more about local SEO.

Meta descriptions

Similar to title tags, you can customise the description shown as part of the Google search result by editing your Meta description. Google may sometimes ignore the Meta description you’ve written if it feels like another part of your page would be more relevant to the user at that point.

Keywords should again be a huge focus here, as Google will take them into consideration when ranking your site. If users can’t see the words they’ve searched for, they will be less likely to click on your result.

Less than 160 characters will generally be displayed as part of your Meta description, so being clear and succinct is key to a great Meta description. Think of this like an elevator pitch – what can a user expect from your content, and what benefit will they get from it?

3. Does your content provide a good user experience?

As we mentioned earlier, Google will also consider the user’s experience with your content when ranking you. You want them to stay for as long as possible to show that people are engaging with your content. You also don’t want them to click on another search result after visiting your site because this will signal to Google that another result is a better option than yours (causing them to become ranked higher than you).

To keep people on your site, you obviously need to create content that is relevant and useful to the user. Yet, there are other factors to consider that will influence the user experience on your website.

How to improve the user experience on your website

Speed

According to Google, sites loading within 5 seconds have 70% longer sessions than those that load more slowly. Simply put, if your page takes too long to load, users will leave which tells Google that you’re not the best result for the search query.

You can increase your page speed by making the size of your files smaller and by reducing the amount of unnecessary code the browser has to deal with. Test the speed of your page using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Design

While the design of your website won’t be a main part of your SEO activity, it can have a huge effect on your search engines rankings, so should definitely be considered. Is your page easy to read and navigate? What fonts and colours have been used? Is the page cluttered or messy?

Having a page that is easy to use will make users stay on it for longer, which will help Google to see you as a relevant search result.

4. What actions can users take after reaching your content?

Google and other search engines are there to help users start a journey online. The point of them is to help you find a webpage that gives users the answers they need to continue that journey.

In other words – they don’t want people coming back to the search box after every webpage they visit.

By having clear actions a user can take to help them continue that journey (primarily through links), your content is demonstrating how you are a part of an online ecosystem – which will also help to prove your relevancy around a certain topic.

How to keep the user journey going from your website

Conversions

Conversions are the primary goal for almost every piece of content online – they can be a lead generation; sale of a product, or a sign up to a mailing list for future marketing.

Every page should have a clear user journey to a conversion point – e.g. if the page is a product page, it should have a “buy” button, and if it’s a blog or article you should look to include a hyperlink like “Find out more about X product”.

Internal Links

Linking to other content on your website – that is relevant to the current page – should be a priority when doing SEO. They provide a way for users to carry on their journey – by learning more from you – which indicates that you are a good source of information on a particular query.

Internal links also help Google to understand what your content is about, and contribute towards the rankings for each other.

External Links

As well as internal links, it’s also good practice to link to other sites with related content when possible. This can help users to continue their journey, by accessing useful research or resources, which means they don’t have to go back to the search engine to find it themselves.

A well implemented SEO strategy can drive more traffic than paid and social put together, and will improve the quality of your website as it will reduce the cost of your paid activity.
The world of SEO is constantly evolving, and changes are being made to the algorithm all the time. Yet, as long as you optimise your content to be as relevant and useful as possible, you’ll be off to a good start.