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 a search engine?

Search engines are among the most frequently 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:

Search Engine Logos

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 quality 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.

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 ranks in Google 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 ranking 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 great content, 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 two, 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:

Advanced Web Rankings further posted details on how many clicks you can expect, on average, per position for it’s opinion of 85% of clicks being made to website on page one. Out of all clicks on page one, here is the percentage of clicks per position:

Clicks By Position On Google

Though it’s easy to understand why first position on page one is so widely coveted, even 10th place and a 1.5% 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 of on page and off page SEO. We will explore off page SEO 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.

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, there are a range of free keyword and seo tools to help with this.

Google Keyword Planner

Related post: How to do keyword research with these 3 free tools

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.

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.

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 will slide down the rankings as a result.

Mobile Friendly Web Design

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.

Related post: The Only SEO Audit You’ll Ever Need And It’s Free!

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.

Backlinks

Backlinks 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.

Backlink Data

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 blog posts 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 posting 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.

Social Signals

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.

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, but we cover this in more on our How to use NAP Data article.

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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