What is SEO?
What is SEO? It is a term that is often bandied about by web professionals, especially those involved in marketing of any kind, whether it be actual or digital products. So what exactly is it? Search Engine Optimization is making your site valuable to the user, and making that value clear to search engines such as Google, Bing and all the others so that your site comes top of the search results pages. Sadly many SEO so-called professionals forget the first part of that and simply try to game the search engines using a variety of devious techniques that in the end simply don’t work.
SEO is simple on the face of it, but when it comes down to actually doing it and achieving those high rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPS) it is down to hard graft and painstaking attention to detail. It also requires that you keep up to date with how the major search engines are currently ranking sites – and that is something they don’t always tell you up front.
There are two types of listing that you will see on the SERPS, paid and unpaid. Paid listings are those where site owners have purchased advertising. You should never forget that most search engines are basically advertising companies, they exist to sell advertising – that is how they make money. A paid listing is usually marked as an advert and doesn’t really fall within the remit of SEO, where you appear depends simply on how much you are prepared to pay.
Of more interest to most site owners is getting to the top of the SERPS without it costing too much – or any – money. Pages are listed in answer to a query put in by the user, the order of their listing being the sites that are most relevant to the query in the eyes of the search engine. Usually they get it pretty much right but every now and then you do see something that really shouldn’t be there. That can be down to accidental or deliberate misinformation being provided to the search engines by the site.
SEO is an ongoing process because the search engines are constantly refining their methods of ranking sites to provide more value to the user. It is a process that should never stop if you want your site to remain visible.
The Pillars of SEO
There are five main pillars of SEO and much time is spent by SEO professionals arguing over which is the most important. We take the view that the ultimate aim of a site is to offer value to the person visiting, to answer their question and provide them with what they want so we rank those pillars in this order:-
- Keyword Research
- Social Media
- Site Optimization
It is an old adage that ‘Content is King’, one that you disregard at your peril. Your site must have the content that the user is looking for, and that content must be relevant and of value. It should also be regularly updated so the content does not become stale or your visitors will be bored and not return. Unless yours is a hobby website the chances are you want to make some form of income from it. To do that you must have visitors, and you must keep them interested enough to want to part with their money.
However important search engines are, at the end of the day they do not have wallets, users do. Please the search engines by all means, but most of all please your users – the way to do that is good content, demonstrate that you are an authority in your field. There is simply no other way so that has to be your first priority.
Keyword research is vital in making sure your content is what your users want. You need to know what people are looking for in your marketplace, and the terms that they are using to find it. You might know the technically correct term for the third widget on the left past the doo dad in the engine but, if your customers don’t, they will search for the third widget on the left past the doo dad in the engine or something similar.
Keyword research is painstaking work, you have to put yourself in the mind of your customer and think how they would approach a search for your product. On top of that many other people will be using the popular keywords so you will have a lot of competition. The art is to find those slightly more obscure keywords that give you a way in and allow you to start building a reputation for answering questions. The science is in how you approach that search and handle the masses of data that is available to give you achievable targets.
Social media is important in SEO as not only does it allow you to engage with your users on a personal level, it gives you up to date information on how and what your users are looking for in your market, it also sends signals to the search engines that you are active, current and regarded as a provider of reliable information in your field. You can use it to drive traffic to your site, to do market research and so much more.
There are many different social media platforms, unless you have a professional team you cannot be active on all of them so you need to choose the ones where your market lives. This again requires careful research into demographics and social behaviour – your social media presence requires almost as much optimization as your website.
Backlinks, links from other sites to yours, are vitally important – and often difficult to achieve. The search engines will follow links on others sites to yours, these links score highly in the algorithms because they demonstrate that other people value your site. Professional Directories are useful sources of links but these are not particularly high value. Links from within good content on other sites, from social media mentions and reviews and from recognised authorities in your field are far more valuable.
Obtaining these links can be challenging but it is always worth the effort to have a well placed link to your site from elsewhere.
Having made sure your site has all the prerequisites to keep users happy and they can find you, then you need to turn your attention to making sure that your site is easily accessible to the search engines, technically as perfect as you can make it.
You need to make sure all your pages are properly marked up for the search engines so they can easily see what is there. You need to make sure that everything is properly tagged and labelled. You need to make sure pages are accessible for anyone with a disability. You need to make sure your images and content are properly formatted on all devices. You need to make sure your code is clean. You need to make sure it loads as fast as possible and more.
The list of technical requirements is long but nothing should be neglected as it is in this fine detail that you can make it up those last couple of places in the rankings. From experience it is hard, tedious work and you need to regularly examine and re-examine every single page of your website that is listed.
Achieving Good SEO
SEO is a process, some of which is creative but much of it is simply hard work. There are many tedious jobs that require skill and expertise together with a good knowledge of the tools available. Poor SEO can leave your site languishing at the bottom of the rankings with little hope of improving – as will trying to game the system.
First and foremost you need a plan, SEO is not something you do once and then sit back and relax, it is an ongoing process. There is no doubt that you can achieve a lot on your own, and for many site owners that is enough. However if you really want to reach the dizzy heights of page one of the SERPS without spending a lot on advertising then it can be worth obtaining some help and support in creating and executing your plan.