Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is one of the most popular digital marketing strategies around.
It is the process of optimising a website for the major search engines (mainly Google), in a hope to appear as near to the top of the search results as possible.
The first whispers of Search Engine Optimisation began in the late 1990s, when Search Engines were still in their infancies.
Back then, webmasters would stuff their targeted keyword into their website as many times as possible and would be rewarded with higher rankings. They’d also try to secure a domain name that included their main targeted term as this was a strong relevancy signal to the search engine.
As we rolled into the 2000s, Google began to flex its muscles and quickly became the go-to search engine for most internet users.
Over the coming years, Google came to realise that webmasters were using manipulative practices to get to the top of the results. Their ranking algorithm needed to become wiser, and they needed to penalise those employing manipulative practices.
In 2003, Google rolled our an algorithmic updated known as the ‘Florida’ update which turned the SEO landscape on its head. Many websites who’d previously profited from ‘spammy’ SEO tactics found their website falling down the rankings with their organic traffic seemingly depleting overnight.
Florida really put updates on the map, and whilst Google would regularly roll-out algorithmic refreshes, every now and then it would release a full-blown update which would cause major shake-ups in its results.
Nowadays, Google has got a pretty good idea of how to rank websites and it has subsequently become much tougher to ‘game the system’.
You’ll probably notice that most page-one results on Google are occupied by major brands. This is because Google ranking algorithm is largely based authority and trust.
SEO is no longer a case of stuffing your site full of keywords or using link networks. It’s about creating a website that screams ‘authority’, as well as publishing content that is highly relevant to your target audience’s search queries.
Now that we’ve gone through a brief history of SEO, lets looks at more of the specifics.
Why is SEO important?
Google is the most visited website in the world.
Want to know where the nearest petrol station is? Google it.
How about the 35th president of the United States? That’s right, Google it!
Google is an intent based platform. Users visit Google with the aim of finding something out. This is why SEO is so powerful.
What happens when a user is looking for a product or service that is relevant to your business, and you appear at the top of the rankings?
You have a great chance of picking up business.
Being at the top of the search results also builds trust and credibility over time. So whilst the first visit to your site may not result in revenue, the following visits might.
As I touched upon, SEO only requires the investment of time. Ad platforms are a great way to see fast results, but SEO is a long-game.
How do I improve my rankings with SEO?
Just as you want to provide your website visitors with the best possible experience, Google want’s to provide it’s visitors with the best experience.
This means it want’s to produce the best possible results for your search query. But how does it decide this?
There are three main factors:
Firstly, Google want’s to provide searchers with a relevant list of results. So as a webmaster, you need to make sure that the content on your website is relevant and optimised towards your customer’s search queries. This is sometimes referred to as on-site or on-page optimisation
Now, Google indexes billions of webpages, meaning there’s probably thousands of potential results for any one query. Google therefore needs a way of ranking these relevant results. It does this by assessing authority signals.
If a website is authoritative, there’s a good chance that the information on that site is going to be
- High quality
But how does Google measure authority?
Well, there’s no single authority metric, but instead there’s a plethora of signals that all play a part in Google’s decision.
What are they?
No one knows for sure, as Google has never explicitly released it’s algorithm to the public. A fantastic blog post by Brian Dean at Backlinko hypothesises that there are over 200 ranking factors in total.
One that remains close to the top of the list is backlinks.
What are Backlinks?
Backlinks are what is created when one website links to another. They are sometime referred to as incoming or inbound links.
To this day, backlinks remain one of the most important ranking signals in Google’s algorithm
In Moz’s backlink guide, they liken a backlink to a “vote of confidence” from one site to another.
You are essentially telling Google that “this is a good piece of content” and it is therefore worthy of a link from my site.
Some backlinks are inherently more valuable than others. A backlink from a high-authorty, relevant and trustworthy site is much more valuable than that from a low-quality, spammy site.
If your website has a lot of high-quality backlinks, this is a very strong authority signal to Google and is likely to result in higher rankings.
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO or on-page optimisation refers to both the HTML source code of a website and it’s content.
On-page SEO is the foundations for a successful SEO campaign. Without good on-page optimisation, you’re unlikely to rank for your targeted terms.
Earlier in the post, I touched on the 3 pillars of a successful SEO campaign, one of which was relevancy.
On-page SEO has a lot to do with relevancy, and the way Google interprets your content to determine its relevancy to a given search query.
Your content needs to tell Google what terms you’re looking to rank a page for.
Unlike the earlier days of SEO, we no longer need to stuff our content full of keywords, we can instead semantically entwine them and Google’s algorithm will be intelligent enough to understand what it is we’re looking to target.
With that said, there are several on-page elements that you should be paying attention to:
The title tag is an HTML element that specifies the title of a webpage. It is also the clickable headline within the search results as indicated below
A well-optimised title tag will include your primary keyword at the start and must be below 60 characters to avoid getting truncated in the search results.
Every page on your site should have a unique title tag.
The meta description is an HTML tag that provides a brief summary of a web page. Google often displays the meta description below the title tag and URL in the search results.
Much like the title tag, each page should have a unique meta description that includes your targeted keyword(s).
Together, the title tag and meta description have a large influence on Click Through Rates (CTR). Enticing titles and meta descriptions can improve CTRs markedly.
The URL needs to clearly display the hierarchy of information on your page.
It is also a good idea to place your topic/subject and targeted keywords in the URL. For example, if you have an entertainment website that is talking about the history of James Bond, your URL should look something like:
As you can see, this clearly displays the hierarchy of the information on the page and includes the subject line in the path of the URL.
Image ALT Text
Although ALT tags are not a strong relevancy signal, I’d still recommend that you pay attention to them.
Each image on your website should have unique and descriptive alt text. Where it makes sense, it would be worth getting your keywords in the alt text, but this isn’t always necessary or possible.
The page content
Your actual content is probably the most influential on-page SEO factor. It goes without saying that your content should be well-written and user-friendly, but there are also several SEO considerations to bear in mind when creating content.
As I’ve continued to stress, relevancy is one of the main pillars of SEO success. Therefore, you need to ensure that your content is specific and relevant to the topic and keywords you’re targeting.
Trying to target all of your keywords with one single page is unrealistic. The chances are, you’re going to need to create multiple pages in order to fulfil all the search engine’s relevancy signals.
So once you’ve done your keyword research and themed each of your targeted terms into pages, you can start to create your content.
The H1 is your main headline for the piece of content you’re creating. Each page on your site should have a unique H1 which is relevant to the keywords you are looking to target.
Your subheadings (<h2> to <h6>) can be used to target smaller, ancillary terms that you’re looking to target with that page.
The length of the content
One of the most popular questions I get asked is:
“Jason, how many words should this piece of content be?”
Truthfully, I don’t think Google is using word count as a ranking signal, but I can say this; Brian Dean from Backlinko analysed over 1million search results and found that the average word count of a Google first page result is 1,890.
So, it seems that long-form content ranks higher in Google’s search results than short-form.
The use of keywords
Whilst Google is now much better at understanding what keywords it is you’re trying to target, it’s still worth trying to get you targeted terms within the content body where relevant.
The key nowadays is to avoid keyword stuffing, but instead focus on creating a piece for the user that has keyword intent.
Internal and external linking
It is also believed that linking out to high-authority pages can have a positive influence on the authority of your page, but it’s unlikely to significant impact rankings.
Internally linking to other pages on your site (where relevant) can also be a fantastic way to increase authority flow, improve user experience and potentially keep users on your site for longer.
What is off page SEO?
Off-page SEO (or off-site SEO as it’s sometimes called) refers to SEO activity that takes place outside of your website.
We’ve discussed that your on-page SEO is important for relevancy. Well your off-page SEO is important for authority.
When we talk about off-page SEO, we are largely referring to building backlinks.
I’ve already discussed what backlinks are above, but now I’m going to talk about the different types of backlinks and how you can use them to improve your search engine rankings.
Earned vs built
In an ideal world, we’d all create content and earn backlinks naturally. But unfortunately, if no one can find your content then no one is likely to link to it.
For people to see your content, the page needs enough authority that it ranks well in Google. How do we build authority? Through link building.
It’s important to mention that intentionally manipulating links to your site by buying/selling links or participating in link farms/schemes goes against Google’s webmaster guidelines and could land you in hot water.
Instead, when building backlinks you need to focus on providing other websites with value. This could be in the form of a guest post, editorial content, product round-ups or reviews.
When you create a great piece of content, you may also want to reach out to relevant sites in your niche and let them know that it’s live. If the piece is good enough, they may link to it in the future.
As I touched on above, not all backlinks are created equally, and there are several factors that influence a backlinks perceived quality:
- The authority of a referring domain/page
- The relevancy of the referring domain/page
- The anchor text of the backlink
- The volume of other links on the referring page
- The freshness of the backlink
The higher the relevancy and authority of the referring domain, the more of a positive effect it is likely to have on your website.
For example, if you have a website about James Bond movies, and you get a backlink from an IMDB page that’s talking about James Bond, this will have a positive impact on your site.
Nowadays, it is less about the quantity of backlinks to your site and more about the quality. I would much rather receive 1 high quality backlink than 50 low quality ones.
I hope this blog post helps to build your understanding of SEO and the elements that go in to a successful SEO campaign.
This is very much the fundamentals of SEO and I accept that there are something things I may have left out. Fear not though, more blog posts will be coming soon!
Is there anything that you’d like me to cover in the future? Let me know if the comments section – I’d love to hear from you!