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What is SEO?

A Big Picture Guide for SEO Beginners

You’ve heard of it being used everywhere. SEO this, SEO that. You’ve watched a video or two titled ‘What is SEO’.  You know that it has something to do with search engines. Something about keywords as well? Or backlinks? But even though you’ve learnt a handful more buzz words, you still don’t completely understand SEO and how it’s supposed to help you and your business.

That’s where we come in! With this guide, you’ll learn the very basics of SEO – what it is, how it works and how it can help you. And as a bonus, you won’t have to trudge through the absolute nitty-gritty of this essential digital marketing strategy (not right now anyways!). You’ll come away with a solid foundation for you to start implementing SEO for your business. Let’s get started!

1) SEO 101

Okay, so what is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. In simple terms, SEO is the practice of improving your website so that it ranks higher on organic search results which in turn, attracts more organic visitors from search engines like Google.

This is where you see the results of your SEO efforts.

But why should you, as a business owner, care about SEO? It’s because a lot of people look things up online – almost 3.5 billion Google searches are made every day. Organic search results also appear more credible to people with 70-80% of all searchers opting to ignore paid in favour or organic results. You honestly can’t afford to miss out! A strong SEO strategy will let you take a slice of all that traffic and direct it to your own websites.

Another reason why you should be looking into SEO is that it can be the gift that keeps on giving for your business. Because it focuses on increasing organic traffic, SEO has the potential to continually bring results. Of course, this doesn’t mean SEO is a ‘set and forget’ strategy – it takes constant optimisation. But unlike strategies such as Google ads and paid advertising, SEO does not require continuous funding. A great piece of SEO content can continue to rank well and bring in traffic years after its publish date.

2) How do search engines exactly work?

Before we answer ‘What is SEO’, it’s important to know how search engines work. How do they actually decide which websites to put on it’s prestigious first page of results? It does this with a three step process:

  1. Crawling
  2. Indexing
  3. Ranking

The search engine process. Source: Google

Crawling

All search engines use automated robots known as spiders or crawlers. Search engines send these crawlers out to collect the information they need to index and rank your website. What sort of information do they collect? Things include:

  • Title tags
  • Internal links
  • Backlinks
  • Page speed
  • image alt tags

The list goes on and on – in fact, Google has over 200 factors they use to rank your website! Think of crawling as the way a search engine finds your website in the first place.

Indexing

After discovering your website, search engines then store it in their index. Indexing allows search engines to organise all this information so it can quickly search and provide users with the most relevant content in accordance to their search query.

Ranking

When you make a search query on a search engine, they don’t just provide any sort of information. They instead aim to give you the most relevant and appropriate results. As we previously mentioned, a site like Google uses a ton of ranking factors to determine search engine rankings, and their algorithm changes on the daily.

But how do you ensure that your website content can be found by search engines, properly indexed and then ranked amongst the top results? That is what SEO is all about. And while SEO is focused on search engines, they’re only one side of the coin. The other side involves the users – actual people who will read and view your content.

3) Keyword Research and Targeting

The first step in SEO is keyword research. Keywords are the actual terms that people search for. Keywords can be as simple as ‘running shoes’ or longer and more specific, such as ‘best italian restaurant in my area’. By finding the right keywords to target, you give your website a better chance to rank in search engine result pages (or SERPs).

How do we figure out which keywords are better than others? There are a couple of metrics that can give you insight on how well it will perform. The most useful however, are search volume and keyword difficulty (KD).

An example of keyword research performed with AHrefs Keyword Explorer. Note the search volume and keyword difficulty of the searched keyword.

Search volume lets you know how many people are searching that keyword while KD tells you how difficult it would be to rank on the first page of the SERP. Tools such as AHrefs and SEMrush are able to provide you with this data.

The key to finding the best keywords is to understand your audience. What are they searching for exactly? Why are they searching for it? What words are they using? Where are they coming from? Getting into the heads of search users will give you a boatload of information to help you choose the right keywords to target.

Take your search even further by looking at what keywords your competitors target (or don’t target) and analysing seasonal and event trends (such as search spikes during Christmas).

4) On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the practice of optimising web page content for both search engines and users. On-page SEO can be done in multiple ways but here are the most important ones.

High-quality Content

Remember how we said SEO caters to both search engines and users? Your content might be easily crawled and indexed but if it doesn’t address problems or is difficult to read, Google will choose not to show it to users. Your pieces of content should fulfill search intent, provide value, be expertly written and be unique.

Proper Keyword Frequency

This refers to the amount of times your target keywords appear in your web page. Your keyword should appear enough times that Google recognises it as the target keyword but not so much that it appears spammy (known as keyword stuffing). A good rule of thumb is once per 200 words.

Source: Google Don’t go overboard with your target keyword!

Using H1 and H2 Tags

Headline tags help Google understand the structure of your page. A well-structured page is more likely to rank higher in SERPs. Headlines should always be wrapped in H1 tags and subheadings in H2 tags.

External links help Google understand the overall topic of your page. It also serves to improve the reputation and credibility of your page, signalling to Google that it is filled with reputable and quality information. With that being said, your external links should link to high-quality websites.

This blog post from healthline contains many external links which link to credible websites.

Apart from those, other on-page SEO practices include optimised URLs and meta descriptions, providing image alt texts, being mobile-friendly and improving user experience.

5) Off-Page SEO

On the other side of the spectrum, off-page SEO refers to optimisation that takes place outside of your webpage. Off-page SEO helps you build authority, reputation and trust for your site. More authority usually means a higher rank in the SERPs.

The bulk of off-page SEO is concerned with building backlinks but can go further than that (such as forums, social media and PR tactics).

Backlinks are links from a website that direct to your own webpage. They’re seen as ‘votes’, and pages that have a high number of backlinks typically rank high in SERPs. This is because, like we mentioned, they build authority for your page i.e. people see your content to be trustworthy and worthy of sharing. Backlinks can be sourced from many places, but there are a few Do’s & Don’ts.

  • Do naturally earn links by sites that want to link to your website
  • Do come from equally authoritative and relevant websites
  • Do have relevant anchor text
  • Do bring in qualified traffic
  • Don’t purchase backlinks
  • Don’t excessively ‘exchange links’ with others

Creating share worthy content is the best way to find backlinks but if you want to find out more ways you can do so in this handy article.

6) Technical SEO

Making sure your website is easily read by search engines is the name of the game with SEO. By optimising your website to function well on a technical level, you can ensure your website is found and indexed by search engines. Let’s find out how you can do just that.

Site Architecture

This refers to the navigational layout of your website. How are your pages organised? Are they all connected? How easy is it to go from page to another? A structure that is overly complex or disorganised makes it difficult for search engines to find specific pages.

How simple or ‘flat’ is your site’s architecture? Source: Google

Site Audits

Noone likes broken pages, website bugs and 404 errors – search engines included. While a broken page might be easily found for small websites, for large eCommerce sites with thousands of pages, looking for them is a much harder task. Luckily, there are many site auditing tools that can make the job much easier – identifying any holes in your website.

An example of a site audit using SEMrush’s site audit tool.

Page Speed

Page speed refers to how fast your webpage loads. And just like how human beings hate slow loading pages, search engines hate them too. Google actually factors in speed when ranking web pages, so it’s important to make sure your page is up to speed.

7) Measuring and Evaluating SEO

Implementing all these SEO tactics is one thing, measuring them and checking to see if they’re working is another. As we mentioned at the top of this article, SEO isn’t a one-time thing. It requires constant evaluation and tweaking to make sure your pages are always optimised.

The following metrics will give you a clear picture of how your current SEO efforts are performing:

  • Search Traffic: probably the most obvious and important metric. Have you experienced an increase in organic search traffic?
  • Conversions: your conversions will tell you the quality of your traffic. Do the keywords you’re targeting bring in traffic that will never turn to a sale?
  • Keyword Ranking: your keyword rankings is a straightforward way of monitoring the performance of your SEO. Dropping keyword rankings might call for an update of current content or a change of direction in keyword selection.
  • Domain Authority (DA): DA is an overall measure of your site’s authority, taking into account factors such as backlinks. It tells you how likely your site is to rank high on SERPs and how difficult it will be to unseat it from it’s position.

Other metrics include bounce rates, time on page and click-through-rates.

Google Analytics is the best place to find this data, though aforementioned tools like ahrefs, Moz and SEMrush can also provide you with the numbers you need to evaluate your SEO strategy.

A sample of AHref’s Site Explorer where you can find data such as backlink count and organic traffic.

Start getting to the top of Google today!

This guide has covered the very basics of SEO but it goes without saying that there is so much more to it. But hopefully, this has given you the key information you need to learn more or to start your own SEO efforts!

Need more than just the answer to ‘What is SEO?’. Check out our blog for more great articles about the world of SEO! You can also ask our experts to answer all your questions and help you kickstart your own SEO strategy! Contact us today and see how we can take your website to the top of Google.

Because we are! Find out just how far we can take your brand.

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