What is Search Engine Optimisation?

Search engine optimisation (or SEO for short) is the term that we use to describe all disciplines and steps taken to improve a site’s rankings on search engines.

Search engines like Google rank the sites they display to users based on their relevance, trustworthiness, authority, and other factors. Search engine optimisation is the series of techniques and actions we use to bring a website closer to a search engine’s standards, so it can maintain a higher place on the rankings.

The higher your site ranks in search engines, the more visitors you will be able to draw to your page but that’s not the only benefit. With this guide, we’re going to explore not only why SEO is important but also how It works and how to effectively utilise it.

What is SEO?

What is a search engine?

Search engines are amongst the most ubiquitously used online services of all. They’re tools that help internet users search for websites, pages, and content throughout the web. Users input a query or keywords and the search engine finds the best matching results that it can, from written content to images to videos to books and more.

There’s a range of different search engines available on the web, including the following:

Google

Bing

Yahoo!

Duck Duck Go

Dogpile

Yippy

Your SEO efforts can target users of any and all search engines you prefer and increasing your ranking in one is often likely to help your ranking in the others. However, the vast majority of SEO efforts target one search engine in particular: Google.

Google is the most widely used and arguably the most developed search engine of all. It’s accessible on all devices, constantly updating to help find fresh content, and has the widest network of indexed sites for users to search through. As such, it processes over 3.5 billion searches every day.

How Search Engines Work

Google’s primary objective, from a user’s standpoint, is to present the best links possible based on what the user is looking for. How it defines which sites and content best fit the user’s intent has changed dramatically over the years, leading to the development of an algorithm that SEO experts are constantly working to better understand.

How search engines work

Once upon a time, Google would simply find the pages that fit the keywords typed in, but then black hat SEO agencies would attain the top-ranking spot by flooding their pages with keywords that were likely to guarantee more matches.

Since then, Google has evolved a great deal. Now the algorithm takes into account a range of factors, including the following:

  • Relevance: How relevant the content is to not just the keywords and phrases used by Google’s users but also to the intent of their search. Is it the kind of content the user is hoping to find?
  • Authority: How well established and broadly used is the website? In part, this is built over time as older domains tend to rank higher. However, authority can also be established by building inbound links to the page from other high-ranking and widely-trafficked sites.
  • Usefulness: User intent is becoming more important in Google rankings as it begins to understand why it users choose the queries they do. As such, pages that have a specific utility, from answering a question to explaining a topic to describing a product, are more likely to rank.
  • Trust: The legitimacy and safety of the site. This includes the use of security measures like SSL signatures in the URL but not exclusively. It also takes into account whether links leading to a page are from untrustworthy sites, whether a domain is freshly bought or about to expire, and more. Trust is the hardest metric to manipulate, so it has to be built organically.

Why is SEO important

The higher your ranking, the more likely you are to convince web users to visit your website. The more visitors you have, the more leads that you can build on, the higher your chances of converting them, and the more money you stand to make from them.

Furthermore, a higher ranking gives you a place of prestige and trust. According to a widely trusted and cited study by Chitika, websites on the first search engine results page enjoy 95% of all attention and clicks related to any query. On page 2, you’re fighting for a share of a much lower 5%. People trust sites that rank highly, which helps not only your engage numbers, but your brand perception, as well.

Search Engine Watch further posted details on how many clicks you can expect, on average, per position. Out of all clicks on page one, here is the percentage of clicks per position:

  • 1 = 32.5%
  • 2 = 17.6%
  • 3 = 11.4%
  • 4 = 8.1%
  • 5 = 6.1%
  • 6 = 4.4%
  • 7 = 3.5%
  • 8 = 3.1%
  • 9 = 2.6%
  • 10 = 2.4%

Though it’s easy to understand why first position on page one is so widely coveted, even 10th place and a 2.4% share of all traffic directed through certain queries can mean a lot of clicks. The higher you climb the Google rankings using SEO, the more visitors, leads, and money you stand to win.

On Page SEO

So, what about the actual techniques that SEO is comprised of? For convenience, they are broken into two distinct categories. We will explore off page optimisation later, but on page SEO is all the factors that Google will search for on your own website and page. Thus, all the improvements mentioned here are made internally on your end.

On page SEO

Keyword Research

Keywords are no longer the only factors by which Google decides a page’s relevance, but they’re still incredibly important. Creating pages that are relevant to commonly used keywords means your page can fight for a share of the traffic redirected by Google when users input those keywords.

Finding the keywords that users are using is what keyword research is all about. You need to find the keywords that are relevant to the user and your site and build content around them. We’ve covered how to perform keyword research effectively elsewhere, so check it out.

Content Optimisation

Your content is what largely determines relevance nowadays. It must be valuable, and it must match the user’s intent. However, Google also checks to see that it’s legible and easy to navigate through and understand.

Content optimisation makes your content easier to use by, for instance, breaking it up into sections with headings and using images that support the text. Your pages will be ranked on how readable and without error they are, as well as how unique they are. Duplicate text doesn’t rank well.

We explore all how to optimise your content, including how to understand and use meta-data and meta-descriptions, in another article if you’re ready to shape your content up.

User Experience

Google wants its users to trust the highest-ranking sites that it presents. Helping web users get to better content is part of its value proposition. As such, it will reward not only relevance but also quality web design. This includes the page load speed of your website. A load speed of anything longer than 3 seconds is penalised, and for certain sites like ecommerce stores, the acceptable load speed is even shorter.

Growing far more important as time goes on is the mobile-friendliness of the site. A growing percentage of Google users are on mobile devices, nowadays, so sites that aren’t responsive or don’t have mobile-ready pages on m. URLs will slide down the rankings as a result. We have a range of tips on how to improve the user experience and how to make your site mobile friendly elsewhere.

Technical

Besides the relevance and accessibility of your website and content, there are a host of technical factors that count towards your search engine rankings, as well. Some of these are built with site usability in mind, such as ensuring there are no broken links or assets on the site and that URLs are concise and easy to understand.

Other technical SEO aspects include things like XML tags and robots.txt, which are used to create an orderly site architecture that not only helps users navigate but also helps Google’s bots crawl and index the site more easily. We cover how to implement technical SEO factors, including schema, elsewhere in the site when you want to take a look.

Off Page SEO

The other side of SEO is off page SEO. Think of it as how Google sees your site in relation to other websites on the net. It’s largely related to the authority and trust of your website. Here are a few examples of what constitutes off page SEO.

Off page SEO

Backlinks

These are all the links from across the web that lead back to your site. In general, the more links to your site the better, but it’s a little more complex than that. Not all links are equal, for one.

Good links for highly trafficked, authoritative sites with high trust scores are invaluable. But bad links for untrustworthy or unsecure websites can hurt your ranking. What’s more, Google is getting better at spotting spammy link building schemes so you must be careful of where your links come from.

We look a lot more deeply into how to build backlinks through the production of fresh, in-depth quality content elsewhere on the site. That’s the only truly effective way to use them to your advantage.

Guest Blogging

You have a chance to build the links to your webpages and to grow your domain’s authority directly, too. By writing original, authoritative content for other domains, news sites, aggregated resources, and blogs, you can improve the authority of your brand.

Google pays attention to highly trafficked content publishers on the web and guest blogging is a good opportunity to boost your platform off their backs. Just as with earning backlinks, the best guest blogging opportunities are earned organically. By showing thought leadership and creating original, valuable content, you’re more likely to earn a place guest blogging on domains that will bolster your own search rankings.

Social Signals

This term describes how social media is integrated by search engine analytics. Google follows your page on social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to collect data on the collective likes, shares, engagements, and overall visibility of your pages.

If links to your pages are disseminated through social media and widely shared by the online community, that bodes well for your SEO efforts. Social signals are effectively considered another form of citation, just like backlinks.

Check out our how-to article on social signals to learn how to start leveraging your social reach to increase your page rankings. From improving how you structure your content links on social media to making use of influencer outreach, there are a lot of ways to improve your social signals.

NAP Data

Google doesn’t care about just your site itself, but also who is behind it. For businesses, this means your NAP data. NAP stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. That’s effectively what it is, as well. If you display that data freely, it increases your trust score.

NAP data is also crucial for businesses that want to rank highly through local searches, as well. Including NAP data on your website as well as on your Google My Business account that’s linked to your website will help it appear much more frequently.

Conclusion

SEO might seem complex to begin with. Indeed, there are several different disciplines that constitute a comprehensive optimisation strategy, including excellent content creation, technical SEO, research, and social media marketing.

However, the rewards of earning those and keeping your spot amongst the top ranking results are simply too good to pass on. Once your site is initially optimised, it’s much easier to simply keep utilising the strategies above, working on improving links to your site, ensuring future content is search engine friendly, and so on.

Google’s dominance over web traffic is nothing to sniff at. If you want to increase your brand awareness, attract more traffic, and nurture more leads, search engine optimisation is the way to do it.

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