What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. The goal of SEO is to present your website to search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) in a way that your potential customers can find it when they search online for products and services like yours.
Note that our definition above mentions “search engines” and also “customers”. Who are we really addressing with our SEO efforts? Search engines? Customers? The answer, of course, is that search engines are a means to an end - they are the vehicle through which our website can reach our target audience. In the past however, there has been divergence between offering the best visitor experience and working around search engines. Gaming search engines has been the skill of SEO experts almost since digital marketing began.
The quest to beat Google’s algorithm has made SEO more complicated than it needs to be. However, as search engines are getting better at ‘understanding’ web content, there is less room for gaming. So we can focus on what digital marketing should really be about, which is helping web users find what they are looking for. This is also good news for you, the website owner - you don’t need to pay SEO experts a lot of money every year to exploit Google’s loopholes to put you ahead of the game. As long as your publish useful content, some basic knowledge of SEO will go a long way in making your site visible in search engines listings.
What do we actually do when we SEO a website?
One side of SEO is quite technical - it is the work done by the web developer, coding a search-engine-friendly website. If you are using a website builder like WIX, Squarespace, Weebly etc., it is the job of the techies employed by these web platforms to ensure compliance with search engine requirements.
The other side of SEO, in fact, the most time-consuming part, is to do with:
Creating SEO-friendly content for your website
Reaching out to other website owners who might find your content interesting and useful enough to link to it.
In summary, these are the main tasks comprising SEO:
Task #1 (the technical one) - Making your website accessible to search engine robots
Task #2 - Create content that appeals to your target audience and optimize it for search engines
Task #3 - Invite links and get well connected on the web
We will briefly describe below what each of the three areas involves.
Task #1 - Making your website accessible to search engine robots
The first condition for a web page to be found by potential visitors is that search engines are able to crawl and index it. So your website has to be coded in a way that makes it accessible to crawling robots.
As we said before, this technical work is a web developer’s remit. Is there anything for you, the site owner, to do here? Yes, there are a few relatively simple things you can do:
Keep an eye on how Google gets on with indexing your website. Google provides a free tool called the Search Console, where it will flag any problems it encounters when crawling your website. To see this information, you need to have a Google account and claim your website in the Console, here: https://search.google.com/search-console Once you have claimed your website, the Console will start to notify you about any crawling errors that crop up.
Make your website secure. Security certificates are renewed every year. Make sure yours doesn't lapse. If you see "Not secure" next to your website’s URL in browser windows (as in the screenshot below), you need to flag it up with your web developer.
Your website is mobile friendly. Check on your smartphone that all the content of your website is visible and easily readable by the human user.
This is, in a nutshell, what you need to know about the technical side of your website’s SEO.
Let’s focus now on the things that you, the non-technical website owner, can do to SEO your website. Tasks #2 and #3 are the most time consuming part of SEO. With a bit of training and support, anyone can do them correctly. So if you have time to do it yourself, you will be able to keep your SEO ticking along without a large ongoing budget.
Task #2 - Create content that appeals to your target audience and present it in a way that search engines can understand it
There are two main aspects to consider here - one is to do with the way you organise your website as a whole (let’s call it Task #2.1) , the other with editing individual pages (Task #2.2).
Task #2.1 - Give your site a good, logical structure.
A website that is logically organized and easy to navigate, where visitors can quickly find what they are looking for, will also win points from search engines.
Task #2.2 - Create and SEO individual pages
While on-page SEO is fairly easy to learn, there are quite a few elements to it, so we will deal with this topic in a separate article. Here is a brief summary of what on-page SEO involves:
Speak your customers’ language Your website has to describe your products (or services) in words your customers use. This is where keyword research comes in. Before we start writing content on a new topic, we need to find out what search terms are commonly used online by people interested in that topic. Google actually provides statistical data for all the search queries made by its users, going back four years.
Signal to your visitors and to search engines what each of your web pages is about. To do this thoroughly, you need to place your keyword(s) on the new web page in all the right places e.g. page title, image titles and alt tags, page meta title and description etc.
Task #3 - Get well connected on the web
Being well connected has always helped a business thrive, right? Being well connected on the World Wide Web is equally useful.
What does this mean for your website? It means that getting other website owners to include links to your own site will help increase your visibility and authority on the web. Inbound links are like votes - the more you have, the more popular you are seen to be by search engines. But unlike votes, not all links are created equal. Links from reputable, authoritative websites are more valuable than links from small websites that are not very authoritative themselves.
The context of the links matters too. If you read a web page about fashion, for example, and you find on it a link to a website that sells food supplements, will you not think it odd? Links that are out of context look odd to search engines too. Where your links are placed is important.
Link building has been a thriving industry for a number of years, till Google cracked down on link farms and all dubious link building practices. It is now very hard to build links that look natural, unless they are honestly earned. For this reason, link building is rarely outsourced to SEO companies. It is for web owners to earn them, by posting useful content on their websites.