Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of optimising your website to rank well in organic (non-paid) search results.
When a person types a search query into a search engine, like Google, the search engine returns a list of pages deemed relevant from its library (or index) of web content. These search engine results pages (SERPs) are ranked in order of how closely it matches what the user is searching for, and perceived quality. The point of ranking pages is so that searchers can quickly find the most useful content related to what they are looking for.
In order to rank pages, search engines use an algorithm that takes into account many factors. I like to simplify the concept as follows:
ranking is based on (i) the most relevant content for the search phrase, (ii) from the best sources (authority), while also taking into account (iii) overall user experience.
Search engines return pages that are optimised for the same keywords the user searched for. As a starting point, you need to optimise pages on your site to rank for keywords that match what your potential audience is searching for. This process is called on-page optimisation.
On-page optimisation includes various components:
- Conduct keyword research to determine which keywords have the best propensity to convert, and how hard it would be to rank for keywords in terms of competition. Use a keyword planner tool to gain valuable insights.
- Write quality, keyword-rich content, but be careful to avoid keyword stuffing (overloading your page with your focus keywords).
- Optimise html elements on your page (title tag, meta description, url, header tags and images).
- Avoid keyword cannibalisation (various pages on your site targeting the same focus keywords).
- Create internal links and outbound links to related content.
- Audit your on-page SEO efforts using SEO analysis tools.
Search engines also take into account whether the searcher is looking for a specific category of content, for example if the user included the word recipes in the search phrase. As part of your on-page SEO, you can create schema markup that give additional clues to search engines about the content on your page, for example that your page includes a recipe.
Authority and quality
To determine how authoritative your website is, the algorithm takes into account how many other relevant, respected websites link to your content (via backlinks to your site, mentions and sharing your content on social media). This is called off-site SEO, as it involves activities outside your website that improve rankings by establishing your site’s expertise, authority and trustworthiness. It is one of the biggest factors when it comes to outranking other pages in organic search, and as SEO specialists will tell you, the most time consuming to get right!
How to go about creating quality backlinks for your website:
- Write articles on quality sites as as a guest blogger and link back to your site.
- Create links from reputable online directories relevant to your business.
- Build relationships with online influencers who can link to your site.
- Create a Google My Business Listing and include your address to improve local search results.
- NAP consistency: ensure your business name, address and telephone number is consistent across all online listings, it signals to search engines that your business is trustworthy and your information is accurate and up to date.
The algorithm also includes other factors that provide for a seamless user experience.
Google uses mobile-first indexing. This means the mobile version of your web page is used for indexing and ranking. Your website should have a responsive design that renders well on different devices, as well as be optimised for mobile speed and performance. There are tools that allow you to test your website for mobile-friendliness and you can also monitor your website for mobile usability issues.
Websites that make use of secure, encrypted connections (identifiable by the SSL certificate padlock in browsers) rank higher in search results. In addition, Google may blacklist a hacked or compromised website, removing the site from its search results. Make website security a priority, enable a security monitoring tool on your site and implement SSL.
Site speed and performance:
Research shows that users are more likely to abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Google includes speed as a ranking factor. There are various factors that can impact your site’s speed and performance (for example hosting and server resources, image optimisation, script optimisation etc.) and you can make use of diagnostic tools to test your website and get recommendations for improvements.
How to approach your website SEO strategy
Start with the SEO hygiene factors, things that are standard best practice like a secure and accessible site, mobile-friendliness, good performance and an overall good user experience. Then focus your energy on climbing in rankings, with an ongoing time investment and commitment to:
- keyword research,
- regularly creating and posting quality content,
- link building.
Remember, with SEO you gain momentum over time as you publish content and build up your following and engagement!
PS: I’m busy designing an infographic for this article, which will be posted here soon.