You may have heard the term quite often but what exactly is SEO? We thought we’d put together a quick, handy guide that briefly discusses the basics of SEO.
A Simple Guide to Search Engine Optimisation
So firstly, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a process in which effort is made to increase the visibility of a webpage upon search engines. Exactly how to do this seems to be very subjective, with many different trains of thought, tools and techniques employed to do so.
With that being said we are going to do a basic overview, including a few best practices and tools we use, so that you too can master the art of SEO. Let’s get into it…
The Three Pillars of SEO
A good way to briefly sum up the main elements of SEO would be to discuss the 3 pillars. Authority, Technology and Relevance. We'll dive into each area below, but you'll rely on all three to achieve the best visibility in search engines.
When we refer to Authority this is basically how much of a reliable/trusted source of information the search engines perceives your web page to be. When evaluating a web page, the search engines will use a multitude of different factors to then position a particular web page in the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages).
Over the years, one of the main ways to become a trusted source would be to have a substantial amount of links that point back to the page you are wanting to rank higher. However, it’s not as easy as this as Google’s algorithm is able to spot a good link from a bad one. As Google is all about relevance and providing the best possible information for the searcher, they want the websites on the first page to have content that the user will be satisfied with, rather than clicking on it and immediately going back to Google as it wasn't relevant to their search.
Therefore, when looking at links it is important not to try and gain a link from any website. The main culprit that stands out here are web directories. A brief note on these is that some directories are okay and would work to your advantage such as a local listing in a directory if you were a local cafe, with a link to your site and a telephone number. On the other hand a link from a domain with ‘Link Directory’ in the URL may raise concerns to Google straight away as its purpose is questionable, with it offering links that may have to be paid for. Google does not like this sort of link building practice so be careful which directory you choose.
However, the general rule we would follow is that the more relevant to your particular site/field, the better the link for your site.
A handy tool I’ve used over the years is the Open Site Explorer from Moz. Moz is a great resource for anyone interested in SEO, with Rand Fishkin (the CEO & Co-Founder of SEO Moz) carrying out really useful/informative ‘Whiteboard Friday’ videos in which he goes into detail about a particular SEO issue.
Anyway, back to the Open Site Explorer tool. Moz have basically developed a way in which to look at the backlinks to your site, find link opportunities and find links that may be damaging your SEO efforts. They have developed metrics such as Page Authority and Domain Authority, which basically look at the particular page you are trying to rank and also the website Domain as a whole. To get to the tool and see how Moz has calculated the stats for your site visit this link.
When looking at the technical side of SEO we are referring to how well a page can be indexed and crawled by search engines. Aspects such as the HTML code, URL structure and http status codes are what we should be looking into amongst others. There are a number of different tools you can use to test the structure of the HTML with one of the easiest to use being the W3 markup validation service https://validator.w3.org/. Simply copy and paste your URL and it will give you a breakdown of any errors and suggestions on how you can improve your markup.
Status codes are quite an important consideration. This is basically a response from a web server. It is a way a potential problem can be identified and rectified based upon that particular response code. The most common codes are:
- 200 – if you see 200 as a response everything's A okay!
- 404 – usually apparent when a page cannot be found on the server. It’s always good practice to look out for these on your own site as it can lead to a bad experience when a user finds a 404 where content may have been moved to another page URL. Always redirect pages to the new destination or point them to a page with similar content.
- 500 - this is where the server encounters something that it isn't expecting.
- 503 - service temporarily unavailable.
There are more status codes however if you do come across one it’s probably best to let your web developer or ‘I.T person’ know so they can look into it.
Another technical factor that has become a key focus over the past few years is page speed. This is a topic that can be discussed in much more detail, however, we can go into more detail in a future post. Generally though, Google rates this as one of the more important features of a website and is definitely something that you should focus on. A reason behind why it’s now such an important issue is because the amount of searches via mobile devices/tablets as opposed to desktop is increasing, with recent articles stating that mobile traffic now accounts for more page loads than desktops. Therefore, with mobile speed a big consideration, websites need to account for all devices and network speeds. You may ask why this needs to be done? The simple answer is drop off rates.
‘Drop offs’ are literally when a searcher visits a site and because they are waiting such a long time for the content to load, they subsequently drop off and hit back to Google. As previously mentioned, Google wants to provide the searcher with the best possible information with a great user experience. If a site is slow to load it’s not a good experience. Hence why this is one of the more important aspects to focus efforts on.
A couple of handy tools offered by Google are:
- https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ - this does a quick test and gives feedback on your website.
- https://testmysite.withgoogle.com/intl/en-gb - this tests your site with a focus on mobile speed and suggestions where your site can be improved. One of the tests is how your site loads on a standard 3G connection as it states ‘70% of mobile network connections globally will occur at 3G or slower speeds through 2020’.
Relevance is basically the content on the page and how well it serves its purpose to searchers. To have a particular page rank well on a search engine for a specific keyword or phrase it must tick a few boxes. The boxes I’m referring to here are basically including the particular keyword in the following:
- Title tag
- Meta description
- H1 tag
- H2 tag
- Alt tag of an image
- Within the main content (but not too much as this is frowned upon and is basically keyword stuffing)
It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t use the keyword in every sentence as this would not be seen as properly structured content that a searcher would find useful. If you imagine a piece of text with one word repeated a bit too much it would make the content unreadable and it wouldn't flow naturally.
A further way you can make your page stand out to the search engines is to not only mention the keyword a sufficient amount of times, with good quality and relevant information, but to also include other keywords closely associated with your specifically targeted keyword. What I mean by this is that if for example you produced an article talking about ‘Top 5 Cameras Under £500’ it would be a more rounded and relevant article if it included related keywords such as the ‘best SLR camera’, ‘camera prices’ or the ‘best tripod for your new camera’.
A great tool for finding related keywords/phrases is https://kwfinder.com/. This tool allows you to search for short and longer tail keywords (basically phrases rather than single keywords) which can be much easier to rank for. Another useful tool is http://answerthepublic.com/ which finds top questions/queries that are regularly searched for and gives you a visually appealing list to possibly give you inspiration for your next blog post or page.
In conclusion, we hope we have given a brief insight into the wonders of SEO and provided a few useful resources to help you along the way to mastering search engine optimisation.