This article covers the key elements of SEO for self-starters and includes actionable steps to help you optimise your site. Read on to learn the basics and start getting traffic today!
- What is SEO?
- Search types and user intent
- 3 pillars of SEO: Content, Links and Code
- Step by Step Guide for beginners
What is SEO?
SEO is short for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a way to make a website better so that search engines are able to crawl and surface your content at the right place and time. There are over 200+ factors that determine your ranking position, which are also dependent on the industry that you are in, the service you provide or the content that you write.
PPC (Pay Per Click advertising) vs SEO
PPC is Pay Per Click and is easily confused with organic results (SEO). You can identify PPC results via the little ‘ad’ tag that is on the left hand side of the result under the title. PPC is, as the name suggests, an advert that you pay for if somebody clicks on the result. You do not pay if someone clicks on the organic result but it is harder to appear for and that’s where this guide comes in.
There are 4 identified search types that reflects the intent of a user that might find a site.
- Informational: This is where you create pages that provide the user with answers. Offering information that teaches or guides will fall into this category. Questions such as how, what, where and who will be answered with informational content.
- Navigational: This type of search helps users find the page within a company’s website that they are looking for. For example, if a user saw a dress on ASOS that’s green and velvet but accidently closed the browser they will try and find this page again via Google typing in ‘ASOS green velvet dress’. They’ll be navigated straight to the page that they were looking at and so their intent has been fulfilled.
- Transactional: Words such as buy, register, sign up and download usually mean that the user is in their transactional part of their journey. ‘Buy’ is usually a popular one and so products or services are more likely to show up in the search results.
- Discovery: One of the more recent search types is exploring or browsing, which Google caters to with predictive searches, ‘people also search for’ options.
3 Pillars of SEO
There are three main pillars of SEO, content, links and structure. Below I go through each one, giving a basic explanation so that a beginner is likely to understand how it works.
- Contextualisation: Helping Google understand what the pages are about is one of the most fundamental parts of optimising for the web. Adding the right wording onto the page can make or break your visibility so be sure to do your keyword research (read below to find out how) and include it within your meta data (also explained below.)
- Keyword Research: The podcast episode on keyword research explains this in more detail but essentially there are multiple ways to do this research for free. Google’s keyword planner tool and Answer the Public are the tools that help you see how many people are searching and what wording they are combining to find what they’re looking for. The latter is great for question and answer-based content as it shows the kind of things people are asking about your topic and product. Then, Google trends is also a free tool that shows the peaks of these searches so you’ll be able to see if there are any trends in the past 5+ years.
- Meta Data: This is various coding tags that are within pages for you can optimise and contextualise your pages. Page titles are self-explanatory as it’s the title of your page and shows up in your browser bar too. Meta descriptions are the snippets that show up in the search results and usually contain call to actions to encourage users to click through to your pages. A H1 or Header 1 is the title on the page that’s visibly the topic of what you’re doing to discuss whereas the H2 or Header 2 can be multiple subtitles throughout your content. The latter is a great way to structure content so that it’s readable to your user as well as a SEO best practice tactic.
- Long Tail Keywords: These are a group of 3+ words that people search for and are usually specific as to the item or question that the user is trying to discover. Although they have less search volume it also means there’s less likely to be competition for these terms but as they are known to convert a user higher because the intent is up there too, it’s worth focusing your efforts on.
- Voice Search: As more people are starting to use voice search we need to be aware that queries may change. For example, when we speak we tend to use more ‘fillers’ such as ‘please’ or ‘how do I boil an egg’ rather than ‘how to boil egg’. Near me terms have increase by over 80% (Oct 2018 stats) which means it’s super important to have the keyword of your location in your content too. Listen to podcast episode on voice search for more.
- Personalisation: Google’s Rank Brain update means that our search is personalised with machine learning and some of the things that are taken into consideration are location, demographic and browser history. Keep this in mind when optimising your content.
- Internal links: linking between pages is very important, especially to pass authority from the homepage to your categories, sub-categories and then your products for example. It’s a way to show a search engine the hierarchy of your site as well as helping the bots discover all of your pages.
- Sitewide navigation: headers and footers on your site are very powerful. By linking through to important areas or categories in your site you’re telling search engines that these are pages it must visit and give emphasis to. These pages will be given a lot of authority, especially as all of your pages will be linking to those via the navigations.
- Orphan pages: you must try and avoid pages that have no parent. For example, creating advice guides that do not link from product pages, categories or even have a hub for helpful or inspirational content means that you essentially have created a page that ‘floats’ and is hard to crawl or the user to find.
- External links: Getting natural links are one of the most fundamental factors for ranking well. Whether it’s influencers or press that link to your site, they all offer an indication that you’re an authority in your field. Google’s guidelines however state that if you pay and influencer or provide a product in exchange for a link then it should be ‘nofollow’ so that their search results are no manipulated.
- Localisation: Gaining external links from local charities and sports clubs can help sites to show up in a particular area, even if the links are ‘nofollow’. Think about sponsoring a local club or volunteering to increase your chances for this. Greg Gifford is a guru in localisation so be sure to check his site out.
- Social media: All social media links are ‘nofollow’ but they are now a confirmed ranking factor. Listen to the social media episode for tips on how to use it or the one on digital marketing that discusses an experiment with social media that worked really well!
How a search engine works explained in plain English! A spider/bot crawls the site, the database stores that information and the algorithm looks at that to surface the page that’s most relevant to the user at the right time.
- Site speed: with mobile first indexing the time it takes to load your page is super important, especially on a mobile device or tablet. Use a site speed checker to know your own metrics.
- Redirect: These are most often used by ecommerce sites because when a product is no longer sold the page will be redirected to the category for example. This is a way to keep the site neat and tidy and although it’s something the user doesn’t always notice it’s useful for user experience as well as crawlers. The two most common redirects are 301 and 302.
- Canonical: is a useful tag when you’re consolidating the authority of the one page and removing duplication, especially when you have a handful of the same page that only differ by the URL because there is different tracking used.
- Hreflang: is a way to show search engines the language of the page, so if you have the same page but translated into French, the crawler will be able to understand this.
- URLs: create user friendly URLs that are easy to read, understand and follow. This isn’t just good for crawlers to understand the hierarchy of your site’s pages but also for users who sometimes use it like breadcrumbs.
- Limited crawl budget: Did you know a search engine only has a certain capacity/time to spend on crawling your site? That’s why keeping it ‘tidy’ is advantageous as you’re allowing the bot to look at only the important pages to later than surface it to the user.