What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Have you ever wondered how a search engine provides certain responses when you conduct a search? That’s where SEO comes in. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is the process of improving your site to increase its likelihood of showing up in search engine results. Search engines are websites such as Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go and many others. These search engines are effectively databases that search and provide results based on keywords and characters specified by a user. When it comes to searches, most people only search the results listed on the first page. This is where search optimisation is crucial as it helps your audience find your website quicker. With the exception of sponsored content (which businesses pay), the webpages that display on the first page of your search engine are generally a result of good SEO skills. In this article, we will provide you with a guide to SEO and how best to utilise the tool to get more organic search traffic to your web pages.

How Does SEO Work?

There are a few factors that come into play to get good SEO. This comes down to keyword research, optimising webpage content and earning inbound links to increase authority and ranking on your preferred search engine. SEO is a forever changing beast that needs constant attention as the rankings are likely to change regularly depending on the age, competition and/or algorithm of the search engine itself. The goal of SEO is to drive traffic to your website and then create domain authority with Google or your chosen search engine. When you have domain authority, you have visibility. This occurs when your site is showing higher on search engine result pages (SERP). 

How do I get my page ranked on Google?

Search engines work by using bots that essentially read through (‘crawl’) web pages to collect information about those pages and index them appropriately to be found by search engines under the right queries based on relevancy and authority. This index is what is used by a search engine when you look for particular terms in your web search, similar to a librarian who is able to look up the required information using an index. With Google being the dominant search engine available, most people optimise their webpages for Google’s search engine based on the sheer search volume it attracts on subjects.

Google has algorithms for SEO that are changing all the time. It works on analysing pages in the index and use ranking factors to determine the order pages should appear in search results. The idea is that the better optimised your website is for particular keyword terms and content, the higher up it will show in search results. However, this is heavily dependent on how much competition you have and might be more difficult to achieve if you have international and/or highly regarded competition. To identify and deliver the correct information to users, Google will ‘crawl’ each webpage to determine the search queries and identify the appropriate relevancy and authority of a page compared to the identified competition. You can obtain relevancy through hitting keywords on topics as well as other factors included in on-page SEO. Authority is measured by the popularity of a website on the internet which can be obtained by traffic to the website. This tells Google that this is valuable content for readers and it will increase your visibility when people search for you.

SEO vs Paid Search Advertising

The main difference between SEO and paid search advertising (such as Google ads) is that SEO relies on organic search rankings, which means you can’t pay to be in that space, you have to earn it. SEO factors in your content and website and using the search engine’s algorithm, it matches search intent of users to the content most relevant based on the given search keywords. To understand the difference between SEO and paid search advertising, you can see the advertisements at the top of most search results pages. These webpage links look the same as the other below though they do have the word ‘sponsored’ or ‘AD’ written above it, this is not SEO, this is an example of paid advertising. Search results that don’t have the words ‘sponsored’ or ‘AD’ are a direct result of SEO and are providing the most organic search results that are in line with the query posed to Google. These results are a direct reflection on how powerful search engine optimisation can be.

Utilising paid search advertising can help with the initial stages of SEO by helping provide potential clicks to your site to help booster your SEO rankings. Both options should be considered as strategies to increase your SEO. While the concept of SEO may seem easy to grasp, Google SEO has algorithms that are changing all the time. No one can predict when Google will change the algorithm, what will change and which pages will be punished for it. 

On-Page and Off-Page SEO

There are two important sides to SEO that need to be considered: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. In short, on page SEO refers to the areas of your website you can control including content and keyword usage. Whilst off page SEO happens outside of your website and relies on mentions and backlinks. We’ve explored the differences in on and off page SEO further below. 

On-Page Optimisation

On-page SEO refers to building content that will improve your ranking. This includes using the correct keywords, writing high-quality content frequently, making sure your metatags and titles are keyword-rich, it is well-written, and much more. Metatags are known as invisible tags that provide data to search engines and users about the content on your page. These tags don’t have a direct impact on search rankings but can increase click-through rate from the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You can optimise these to highlight the most important pieces of your content to make your website stand out amongst the others in search results. These metatags are known to satisfy a person’s query but also intrigue them just enough to click on your site. These kind of tags come in many different forms including alt-text for images, headings, meta descriptions and many more.

Off-Page Optimisation

Off page SEO is optimisation that occurs off your website and onto either another site or platform. This can be in the form of backlinks, content marketing, social media and reviews. Backlinking involves building relationships and creating content that people will want to share. This then can link back or drive traffic to your website. Building backlinks can be a lot of work, though and is not as simple as on-page SEO. Off-page SEO is just as important in building your site’s domain authority against the other websites of your competitors. This type of SEO creates a higher authority with search engines and considers them more relevant, credible and trustworthy. Without it, your site may struggle to rank higher than your competitors that have a higher authority with a search engine.

Black Hat vs White Hat Strategies

No, we’re not talking about actual hats you wear on your head. These are both optimisation techniques you can try to reach your SEO goals. Though results will vary based on how you do it and which technique you choose to give a go. 

Black hat SEO strategy is when you go for quick gains but it does not bode well for long term SEO prospects. Many people used to use this type of tactic to rank sites, however times have changed. Black hat SEO uses sneaky tactics such as keyword stuffing and link scraping in order to rank higher, quickly. This can work for the short-term and will bring traffic to your site, but after a while, search engines like Google will penalise (or even blacklist) your site so you’ll never rank. These kind of tactics violate search engine guidelines in an attempt to manipulate search engine algorithms. This is not the way to go if you want your SEO efforts to count long term and turn into favourable search engine rankings. Not to mention many within the SEO industry believe this tactic to be unethical to get higher in the search results.

White hat SEO strategy is the SEO best practices to build a sustainable online business. White hat SEO is the safest of the optimisation techniques and works within the rules and expectations of users an search engines. It is best done by creating high quality content that is factually correct, user friendly and understanding the optimal keywords that users are searching for (without using too many keywords in one go as this can quickly become keyword stuffing which is a black hat strategy!). There are no tricks or quick fixes with white hat SEO that undermine an algorithm of a search engine. Doing SEO this way focuses on your human audience, using the appropriate search intent for SEO success. White hat SEO is not a quick fix to get obtain a search engine’s organic reach. It takes time, patience and can be a waiting game over a certain period of time but you will see your web pages rank higher on Google and other search engines if applied correctly.

Black Hat SEO Techniques

  • Duplicate content: trying to rank for a certain keyword may cause you to create duplicate content so you can get the keyword/s in multiple times. Google may penalise this tactic.
  • Invisible text and keyword stuffing: This is an older tactic where you include lots of keywords at the end of your article in the same colour as the background. This tactic will get you blacklisted very quickly and kept out of search algorithms and results.
  • Cloaking and redirecting: Cloaking is a misleading tactic in the SEO world. It’s when you mislead bots into thinking there is relevant content on your page relating to a certain subject and then it’s not there. There are good and bad ways to redirect. The wrong way is to buy lots of keyword rich domains and redirect all the traffic to a single site.
  • Poor linking practices: There are variety of ways to get links but some of them are black hat techniques. These include using link farms and purchasing links. Link farms are when a selection of websites all link to each other regardless of relevancy. Purchasing links is risky considering you don’t know what kind of links you will actually receive and how effective they will be. Do not purchase a package that promises 5,000 links in 24 hours – this is the wrong way to build links. You need to get links from relevant content and sites in your niche that have their own traffic.

White Hat SEO Techniques

  • Understanding and implementing keyword research: back in the day, keywords just meant one word terms. Now they have become a string of terms. These terms can be longer phrases in a particular niche that draws in the intent and context of the page content.
  • Creating quality, relevant content: the Google search engine has a variety of tools that it uses to evaluate site content. These things include the length of your content, topic and relevancy, distribution of keywords, age of article and internal and external links included. 
  • Making your site responsive and mobile friendly: with more and more people using their mobiles to browse the web, it’s important to make sure your content translates well to mobile. This also includes user experience (UX) design which entails how a user experiences your website and the accessibility standards around it.
  • Claim your local business listing (GMB): when it comes to local SERPs, having a local business listing can rank you higher than others on the map based on location. Research shows that more than 80% of smartphone shoppers conduct searches ending in “near me” to get the most relevant and geographically close option. 
  • Utilising content marketing opportunities: creating content on your site is useless without traffic. To make sure your content is put in front of others, you can share links to your site or page via social media, through email marketing, and/or have it published on websites that have a higher ranking.
  • Using schema markup: this is known as the language of search engines. It is used to read and understand your content pages. You can utilise schema markup by creating meta tags, title tags and many more for your pages. Using schema markup is important to Google as it can use this information to create snippets and fill out the “people also ask” section on the search results page. 

SEO Techniques for Success

SEO requires a lot of time, patience and action. It is not something you can expect to see results from in a day, overnight or even within a week. Depending on the site and it’s authority, it can take up to a few months for any changes to be seen and may only be a small change in the beginning. SEO relies on daily actions with a long-term goal. Here are a few techniques that can build up your website for good SEO:

Choosing a Simple, Memorable Domain Name

Your domain name matters more than you would think. If you already have a domain name, it’s not a massive deal for SEO but it can be the difference between users finding your website on the first go rather than scrolling through search results on their preferred search engine. Try choosing a domain name that does not include hyphens or generic names like bestbeautysalon.com. You want users to have a memorable experience on your site and that goes for the naming conventions as well.

Well Thought Out and Executed Content

There is a well-known saying “content is king”, coined by Bill Gates back in 1996. Research shows that a Google user is happy when they find the result that answers their query in the best way. Search engines like Google looks at ways to always try to provide the best experience possible by sending you to the content that is the most relevant and has the best user metrics. You should be making sure your content is answering questions correctly and the best way possible.

Creating good content however requires a few elements to be included:

  • Quality: the competition in content can be fierce. Therefore, your content needs to provide high quality value. This involves adding more value than your competitors by making it more in-depth or more insightful to ensure your site ranks higher in the search. It also is helpful to create longer content – this tends to rank better as users peruse your site longer, which Google loves.
  • Intent: Search engines such as Google will put lots of emphasis on the search queries intent. It wants to understand what the user is looking for when they search something. When creating your content, it is important to understand this as well. This will help you create the best content for your audience and the search engine algorithms.
  • Freshness: Posting frequently helps your Google rankings. However, posting frequent content is just one way to keep your website fresh – you can also update old content with new or updated information to stay relevant and up to date. Updating your content can also help you stay at a certain level in rankings or even propel you higher than before. Updated information is always well regarded when it comes to SERPs.

How to write great content

  1. Understand user intent: Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) you need to know what your reader will want to accomplish when they land on your page.
  2. Know who your audience is: It is important to understand who your reader is – what they like, what they dislike, why they’re there, etc.
  3. Break it up: People have increasingly short attention spans, so writing big chunks of text can be painful for the reader. Break it up with headings and images to help digest the information and keep your readers interested in your content.
  4. Make it actionable: Every part of your website should have a clear call to action, including your content. It should be clear to the reader what their next steps are.

Conducting Keyword Research

SEO is all about targeting the right visitors to your site. You need to attract your target market, not just anyone on the internet. Attracting to your target market can lead to either selling your products or services to someone who is in the market for what you’re selling. This is where keyword research comes into it. Keywords are the phrases that users type into search engines to generate results. The key to keyword research is discovering and identifying terms and topics relevant to your business to match the user’s search intent. Google understands this technique and rewards a site by bumping a sites visibility up the search result list the more it gets found and clicked into. 

Utilising On-Page and Off-Page Optimisation

Improving the actual structure of each page can have big benefits for SEO. Common on-page optimisation strategies include optimising the URL to incorporate keywords, updating the title tag of the page to use relevant search terms, and using the alternative text (alt text) to describe images. Updating a page’s meta tags (such as the meta description) can also be beneficial. Google also uses on-page SEO to understand a users experience and intent for landing on a page which then helps organise and rank your page. Off-page optimisation can be utilised by having other sites link to your page. This works best when the content is relevant on both sites.

Introducing Images and Videos

Adding in images and/or videos is not a requirement for SEO though it does help show a search engine the quality of the site. It also helps to keep users engaged on your page longer the same way using longer content does. 

Creating Easy to Digest Website Architecture

While external links are helpful for SEO, so are internal links. You can improve your website’s SEO by making sure key pages are being linked to and that relevant anchor text is being used in those links to improve a page’s relevance for specific terms. An XML sitemap can be a good way for larger pages to help search engines discover and crawl all of the site’s pages. An XML sitemap is a file of all your websites essential pages so that search engines can crawl these pages to understand the website structure. It’s important to have Google crawl your website pages entirely to have an impact. This can be done through a tool called Google Search Console.

Using Semantic Mark Up

Another SEO strategy is optimising your websites semantic mark up. A semantic mark-up (such as Schema.org) is used to describe the meaning behind the content on a page. This can include helping to identify who the author of an article is or the topic and type of content on a page. Semantic mark up can help Google generate rich snippets to be displayed in the search results page as the main answer to a question – this can be in the form of extra text, review stars or sometimes even images. A great use of semantic mark up is by using heading tags within your content writing instead of manually changing the font size every time you need a subheading.

Focusing on Local SEO

Local search engine optimisation is best used for local businesses. You can use this by including a specific location into your keywords in content to ensure you come up for search results based on location only. This type of SEO is targeted for smartphone users mainly as searches locally generally occur on a smart device. While locality is imperative to local SEO, you must also include items such as the company’s name, address and phone number. These other items help the search engine determine your location even further. To rank higher with local SEO, reviews from users can help highlight the businesses authority in the online space.

Tracking Results on Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a Google tool where you can optimise the visibility of your website, check on indexing and crawled pages as well as search queries and errors. This tool will also tell you if you have anything important missing from your HTML and you can optimise for that. Google Search Console can be used to monitor the amount of traffic coming to your website, the amount of impressions you receive from search results, the click through rate and the average position your site is ranking on Google. A great feature of Google Search Console is their top queries feature which tells you exactly what areas your web pages are showing up in search results for users. You can also track how many clicks you get from certain terms which can help you understand how to optimise your content better for more search results.

Tracking Results on Google Analytics

Google has another product to assist with SEO called Google Analytics. Using Google Analytics, you can track your websites performance, understand visitors demographic and behaviour when interacting with the site, measure the return of investment (ROI) of marketing campaigns and improve your bounce rate of users. A bounce rate relates to the amount of time a user spends on a particular web page. By analysing your users bounce rate, you can determine how best to create enhancements to create the search experience longer and fulfilled.

Summing Up Search Engine Optimisation 

SEO is not a one size fits all approach to understanding how people search for products or services or how to rank best on the major search engines. There is no secret recipe unfortunately as there are many ways of tackling search engine marketing and optimisation. SEO can be a tough beast to tackle if you’re new to learning SEO. You can research and do a DIY job of managing the SEO for your webpages alone or you could engage with a SEO expert to learn, understand and see the benefits of utilising search engine optimisation for your businesses online presence. It’s best to try as many tactics as possible (without using black hat SEO techniques) to achieve the best result. You can’t put all your eggs into one basket with SEO, it works based on a variety of different components of your online presence. SEO takes time, effort and a lot of patience to hopefully achieve higher rankings on search engines though it is definitely worth the extra leg work needed to make it happen.

  • Germaine Muller
  • Director at Futuretheory
  • Germaine is the Co-Founder and Director of Futuretheory. He enjoys delving into and writing about digital, marketing and design.
    View all posts by Germaine