Have you ever sat round a table while a SEO consultant baffles you with a bunch of search engine optimisation mumbo jumbo that you don’t really understand? If so, you’re not alone. But all is not lost – luckily the basic principles of SEO are easier to pick up than you think.
As an SEO consultant who has found himself on the other side of this divide in numerous client pitches and meetings, I’ve come up with an effective approach to communicate what SEO is, and how it works.
Note to all – while I freely acknowledge that this article is not exhaustive (people spend years training in this stuff!), I think the elements covered here give you a good grounding to develop your knowledge, and importantly, be able to understand what your SEO is telling you!
More information on SEO
- For a more in depth look at what Google wants to see on your website see Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
- For more information on SEO principles and how to apply them to your website see Moz’s Whiteboard Friday
What is Search Engine Optimisation?
Let’s start off with a definition:
“Search engine optimisation is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (SERP) -- including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.” Google Quick Answers, Webopedia
That definition does it for me. The one thing I will say at this point is that it is important to realise that there are no shortcuts to the strategies, techniques and tactics. But more about that later!
Why is it important to rank highly?
Depending on who you talk to (and how you interpret the figures!) an average of 30% to 40% of clicks are for the 1st result in search results, and between 50% and 70% of clicks are for the top 3 results. That doesn’t leave much in the way of traffic for websites ranking outside of those top positions.
A recent report from Advanced Web Ranking gave an indication of how many clicks a search result can expect to get (in this study 22% of searches didn’t result in a click of any kind on the search results, hence the top three results add up to 78%).
If you remove the searches where there was no click the importance of a high search position becomes even clearer, with the average click through rate on the 1st result approaching 40% of all clicks.
Branded vs non-branded search
I think it is important to make a distinction between branded and non-branded search.
Branded search is where people already know who you are and are searching for you by name. You should hopefully already be ranking highly for your branded search, and your traffic from branded search is directly proportional to the number of people:
a) who know how you are, and;
b) want to visit your website.
Non-branded search is an entirely different beast. I like to define non-branded search as people looking for a solution to a problem. There are a couple of things to consider here:
a) they are not searching for your brand (although they may be searching for a product or service you provide)
b) they may not be aware of who you are (i.e. it is likely that they are a prospective customer)
Non-branded search is where SEO comes into its own. By appearing in non-branded searches for your products and services you can fulfil a number of marketing objectives including:
a) brand awareness
b) lead generation
c) product sales
d) email subscriptions
e) social media connections
Ranking for non-branded search, especially in competitive verticals, can be challenging, and this is where a comprehensive SEO strategy to identify what you need to do to compete with the top ranked websites comes into play.
On-site optimisation refers to your website and its content. These are elements that you control. The main on-page tasks that you undertake to perform better in search include:
- Create unique pages for each of your main search terms – one of the first things an SEO will look at is keyword analysis to find out which search terms are most popular and relevant
- Ensure all your content is original, comprehensive, and not duplicated anywhere else on the web. Search engines are clever and they don’t rank duplicate content (they can even penalise your website for it)
- A content plan so you can create a regular stream of relevant content that ties in with the keyword research
The key takeaway here is that a single page will only rank for a single search term and it’s closely related synonyms – you need to structure your website so that you have a dedicated page for each of the products, services and/or keywords that you want to rank for.
Example: If your business is repairing mobile phones you couldn’t have a single page about “mobile phone repair” and expect to rank highly for “iPhone repair” – you would need a separate page for “iPhone repair” to have a chance of ranking for that keyword.
Other things that you want to consider are the time on site and bounce rate of visitors. Google tracks everything, and if it notices anything implying a poor user experience, such as people leaving your website straight away (known as a high bounce rate), you are likely to be demoted in the rankings.
I consider off-page optimisation the most important part of SEO. The analogy I like to use is that on-page SEO gets you into the game, off-page SEO lets you hit the ball out of the park.
“On-page SEO gets you into the game, off-page SEO lets you hit the ball out of the park.”
Off-site optimisation refers to the external links pointing to your website, and the gaining of these links is a process called link building that you may have heard of before.
It is the most important part of SEO because the off-site signals that you need to rank are, unlike the on-page signals, generally out of your control and you need to earn them with the quality of your products, services and content.
There are several approaches to link building, and a good link building strategy usually incorporates most, if not all, of the following:
- Create content on your website that other websites will want to link to and then promote it to people who will be interested in writing about it and linking to it
- Establish your organisation as an industry thought leader by
a) writing for other leading relevant websites
b) getting interviewed by other relevant websites
- Gain listings from appropriate (and good) industry related link, event, list and resource pages
- Gain traction and sharing in social media
The key things to keep in mind are that you want links from websites that are:
- rank well
- don’t just give links to anybody
Not all links are the same. Search engines are clever. They assess over 200 factors when they decide to rank each individual page and they assess a significant number of metrics when they decide how much a link is going to help you rank.
Using our previous example of mobile phone repair, if you get a link from the local cricket club, that is unlikely to help you improve your rankings. But if you get a link from Apple or Samsung, it is highly likely to help improve your rankings as the website is both powerful and relevant and is from a website out of your control (i.e. is seen as editorially given).
Technical website optimisation
This one is a bit boring and dare I say it, technical, but ensuring search engines can crawl your pages, and your pages download quickly is crucial to being able to rank. Google can’t rank what it can’t find, and isn’t going to rank a website that downloads slowly because that’s a bad user experience.
I like to think of technical SEO as something that won’t help you rank if you get it right, but it will affect your rankings if you haven’t got it right.
SEO is so important to an organisations inbound marketing strategy that I believe all organisations who rely on inbound sales and leads from the internet should have at least a basic understanding of SEO principles and how to implement them.
Please leave any comments and thoughts below – I love to talk shop!
By Damon Rutherford, Digital Director for Digitator.
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