What is SEO?
Being expected to remember another marketing acronym may have you running for the hills, but the truth is, SEO is not as intimidating or complex as it sounds. First, let's address the lingo. SEO stands for 'Search Engine Optimisation'. This is the term used to reference all of the strategies that you can use to improve where your website ranks in search engines like Google and Bing.
Why you should know the basics of SEO
Google processes over 40 000 search queries every second, which translates to about 3.5 billion searches a day. Right now, it's pretty damn likely that people are searching online for products and services that your business offers. Sounds awesome, right? So where are the hordes of customers? The problem lies with the depth of their search. Many customers aren’t looking past the first search engine results page. That means that roughly 91.5% of all search traffic is directed towards the top 10 results (Chitika, 2013).
In order for your potential customers to find your website within search engines in a competitive market, you can:
- Pay for search advertising: You can bid for your site to be advertised on the first page of search engines for certain keywords through services such as Google AdWords.
- Optimise your website for search engines: You can optimise your website so that it ranks well 'organically' (i.e not in a paid position) within search engines.
This isn't an either/or situation, you can look into investing into both for the best chance of being found online, but for the purpose of this post, we'll be focusing on getting ranked in organic search results. Search engines use unique algorithms to determine which results feature organically on the first page. These are aimed at providing searchers with high quality, relevant answers to their queries. Using the best practices outlined by search engines, SEO strategies help website owners to improve their rankings and reach their audiences online.
SEO basics guide
While there are many ranking factors and tips out there, here's some easy-to-implement strategies that will boost your search engine ranking.
Choose unique keywords
Think about what you are trying to say on each page of your business' website and choose unique keywords to summarise the content. For example, a florist may choose keywords such as 'Mother's Day flower bouquets' or 'free flower delivery Australia'. Select keywords that your your customers use to search for your business online, picking different keywords for each page on your website. I've found that being specific with my keywords gives much better results than being too generic or broad, as there's less competition, and you attract more targeted customer groups.
TIP: If you need help choosing keywords, use sites such as Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, Soovle or Ubersuggest to discover the keywords people are using to find you online, as well as popular phrases that customers might search for in your industry.
Once you've chosen your keywords for each page, you should use them:
- In your page title tag, preferably at the beginning of the title
- In the URL link for that page, using dashes to separate words (e.g. www.florist.com.au/mothers-day-flowers)
- In the opening paragraph (or first 100 words) on the page and then naturally throughout your copy
- In your h1 heading tags for that page (some content management systems add a h1 tag to your title automatically)
- In at least one h2 sub-heading tag for that page
- In your image alt description and image file name
You should also look at using Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords within your copy. These are keywords that are related or similar to your chosen keywords. You can often find these by searching for your keyword in Google and scrolling to the bottom of the page to the 'related searches' section.
Make your website look and sound great
Getting noticed in search engine results pages is only half the battle. Once a customer has landed on your page, you'll want them to stay and engage with your content. Search Engines use 'dwell time' or the time that people spend on your page to inform them as to whether a given site is high-quality or not. If people are clicking on your page and then hitting the back button straight away, this is a good indicator that your page isn't captivating your audience.
Here's some suggestions for improving on-site experiences:
- Write interesting content that is engaging and relevant to your audience
- Include an attention grabbing call-to-action (such as a button or pop-up) on your page to guide your visitor towards taking a certain action
- Ensure your website is responsive or is mobile-ready so that people can easily read and use your site on mobile devices. Google has started penalising sites that are not mobile friendly, so it's worth the investment
- Use headings, sub-headings and other text formatting to separate copy to allow people to easily scan and read your content
- Ensure your text is written in a high-contrast colour, in an easy to read font, which is not too small. We recommend at least 14-16px for web copy. Smashing Magazine suggests using nothing below 16px
- Captivate your audience with attractive imagery, helpful videos or infographics
Use outbound and internal links
Search engines use outbound links (or links to websites that aren’t yours), to help determine the relevancy of a website for a given search query. Using outbound or external links within articles on your website shows that your content is well researched and informative.
It's also a good idea to sprinkle some links to internal pages (pages within your own website) wherever they are relevant. Internal links assist users in navigating your site and can help to give individual pages a ranking 'boost'.
Get your website up to speed
If your web pages are taking any longer than 4 seconds to load, chances are your visitors are clicking furiously on the back button. People are impatient. They are busy and they want instant information. If angry customers and lower conversion rates aren’t enough to motivate you to improve your load speeds, consider that Google’s search engine results ranking algorithm favours websites with faster loading times. This is because sites that load quickly offer visitors a better onsite experience.
Here are some ways that you can improve your website page loading times:
- Test your site using a page speed analyser, such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This site also gives you some suggestions on how to fix your page load time on both mobile and desktop.
- Always compress images to remove unnecessary comments and colours that add to the size of the file. You can learn how to optimise your images for web here.
- Choose a hosting provider that is fast and reliable. You want your site to load quickly and have very minimal downtime.
- Minimise redirects to and from sites you own as these can slow down your page loading times.
For those of you looking to learn more about tactics you can use to optimise your page loading times, this article from Portnet is very informative (and quite amusing).
Create, share, adjust, repeat
It’s important to know that SEO is an ongoing process, not a one time fling. It requires continuous maintenance over time for the best results.
Here’s how you can ensure your SEO efforts are most effective:
- Search engines tend to like website content that fresh and relevant, so keep your website up to date with new content whenever you can. Many people incorporate blogs, user generated content and social feeds on their website to keep their audience engaged and the content flowing.
- Always promote your content by sharing it across social media, sending it to mailing lists, or contacting people directly. Search engines use backlinks (links from other sites to yours), as a ranking factor. If lots of authoritative sites are sharing and linking to your site, search engines know it must have some pretty interesting and relevant content that people like, so they are more likely to show your website in search results.
- Use Google Search Console, Google Analytics and similar monitoring and reporting programs to track your success over time, address any website issues and adjust your SEO strategy based on known data.
- Be willing to adjust. Search Engine Optimisation techniques have and do change regularly over time. Keep an eye out for new Google updates and be willing to change your strategy to keep up with the latest best practices.