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SEO in a Nutshell

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of getting your website to appear on page one of the major search engines’ organic search results when someone searches for something relevant to the products or services you provide. 

Search engines do not charge you to appear in the organic results. And if someone clicks on your organic listing and visits your website there is no charge for that either, unlike with the paid search results. 

For most people, SEO is all about getting to the top of one search engine in particular: Google. That’s because Google is where most of the potential traffic can be found.

Therefore, most SEO campaigns tend to be focused on doing the things that are likely to please Google. However, these same techniques are likely to increase your organic rankings on other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo! as well.

For Google to display your website on page one of the organic results it needs to believe that:

  • your website is highly relevant to the search term that was entered
  • your site has authority

Relevance

To explain what we mean by relevancy and authority and to demonstrate why both are important to Google, we can use the example of choosing a book in a bookshop. 

Suppose you were going on an expedition to a desert island and wanted to buy a book about survival skills. You head to your nearest bookshop where there are thousands of books on all sorts of different topics.

To help you narrow it down to books about survival skills you would look at things like the title of the book, the description on the back of the book, the picture on the front cover, and the table of contents.

You might also have a quick skim through some of the pages of the book to get a feel for the content.

In other words, you are using various clues provided by the author and the publisher to help you work out if the book is relevant to what you’re searching for.

Authority

Having applied these relevancy tests, you might end up with a shortlist of three books.

Let's suppose that two of them are written by people you have never heard of. The third one is written by Bear Grylls. You’ve seen some of his TV programmes about how to survive in the wild, you’ve read articles he’s written in magazines, and you’ve heard him interviewed a few times recently on the radio.

It’s quite clear that, when it comes to survival skills, Mr Grylls knows what he’s talking about – in other words, he has authority and credibility.

As a result, you choose his book from the three you had shortlisted.

seo - SEO in a Nutshell

Google Works Like You Do

This is how Google works too. When you search for something on Google, it aims to deliver results which are both relevant and which also have authority and credibility.

So to be successful at SEO you've got to convince Google of two things: 

  1. That your site is highly relevant to the type of keywords that your target audience are likely to use when searching on Google and that it provides useful and well-written content.
  2. That your website is an authoritative source on that subject.

How is SEO Done?

To increase the relevancy of your site, and to make it easy for Google to understand what your site is about, you will need to do onsite SEO activity such as:

  • making sure all your pages have relevant title tags and relevant headlines
  • optimising meta description tags
  • ensuring the content of each page is rich in keywords (but not overly rich so as it sounds unnatural)
  • setting relevant descriptions (known as alt text) for the images on your site
  • optimising your website's HTML code and compressing images so as pages load as fast as possible
  • making sure your site works well on mobile devices

An SEO project typically starts with keyword research to determine what terms your target audience is searching for on Google and therefore what keywords your site should be optimised for.

The next step is to carry out an onsite SEO audit. This involves checking your site thoroughly to identify what needs changing and updating to improve the site’s relevancy for these keywords. The audit also identifies the technical SEO changes that are needed in order to improve the site speed and reduce browser errors. If you want to do your own SEO audit there are various SEO tools which can help you.

It usually takes about a month to do this research and auditing. Once it's done, a full list of required changes can be provided to your web developer to implement. Alternatively, if you're running a WordPress site with the right kind of plugins, you may be able to do the changes yourself.

And They're Off

Having addressed the onsite issues, it's time to begin the offsite SEO campaign, which is all about increasing the authority and credibility of your website through the use of content marketing and link building.

Google measures your website's authority using a number of factors, such as how much you and your business/brand are being talked about elsewhere on the web and how many other websites link to your site.

seo - SEO in a Nutshell

However, it's not all about quantity. These inbound links to your site need to be the right kind of links and they need to look natural.

It’s no good rushing out and paying for hundreds of low quality irrelevant sites to link to you. What Google wants to see is content on third party sites which is relevant to your industry/sector and which links to your site and/or mentions your brand.

For example, if you were a photographer, your offsite campaign might involve:

  • Writing an article of your own (or paying a copywriter to do it for you) about the latest developments in camera technology and having it published on a specialist photography website with a link back to your own site
  • Arranging for a wedding planner who has their own blog to write an article on choosing a wedding photographer, publish it on their blog, and include a mention of your business and/or a link to your website in the article
  • Listing your website in relevant online directories
  • Looking for links which point to sites which are out of date or no longer active and seeing if you can get those links pointed to your own more up to date content instead (this is known as dead link building)

An effective offsite SEO campaign has two benefits.

Firstly, it's the modern version of PR. Having content on other sites that talks about your business and/or links to your website raises the profile of your business. And it means that potential customers might naturally discover you by clicking on a link to your site whilst they are reading related sites on the web.

Secondly, a good offsite SEO campaign will raise your profile in Google’s eyes and mean that you have a better chance of ranking highly for your chosen keywords.

Don't Expect Instant Results

Getting content created and then finding bloggers and other website owners who are willing to publish your content is a time-consuming and very manual process.

It is not something that can be automated or rushed – because it has to appear to Google that these links to your site and this buzz around your brand is developing naturally, rather than because someone is forcing it to happen purely for SEO purposes.

That’s why, as with traditional PR, it usually sense to engage a specialist SEO agency to handle this work for you.

It is also one of the reasons why SEO has to be viewed as a medium to long term strategy, rather than as something which will bring instant results. If you want a quick fix you'll need to rely on Google Ads instead.

However, once it has had time to get established, an effective SEO campaign covering both onsite SEO and offsite SEO will pay for itself in terms of the ongoing free traffic that you get from Google and through the PR and brand building that you get as a secondary benefit of the offsite SEO activity.

About the Author David Miles

As a digital marketing consultant, author and trainer, I specialise in helping businesses in the financial services sector use the internet to get more enquiries and increase profits.

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