Here, we will help you understand what is meant by search engine optimization, explain why it is important and the methods you can use to build a strategy that is aligned with what search engines are looking for.
In this guide, we will take you through search engine optimization including:
- What is SEO?
- Why is it so important?
- Building a strategy.
Let’s start by understanding the meaning of SEO.
What is search engine optimization?
Well first of all search engines are intuitive and sophisticated software systems that are designed to interpret online queries. Through a complex series of algorithms, they systematically scour the internet to find the most suitable answers.
They then deliver a list of results to us that are deemed to be the best at resolving those queries. We see these results in descending importance, starting with position 1 on page 1.
Google is still by far the most popular search engine but they also include Microsoft Edge, Bing, Safari, Yahoo and Firefox.
Search engine optimization is all about the techniques and methods that are used to improve where your business appears on the results pages.
So, when your audience or customers are looking for the kind of information that relates to your niche, products and/or services optimisation helps to make sure that you are highly visible to your audience.
Why is it so important?
While we gather information from many different sources, major search engines (in particular Google) still have an extremely important role.
98% of internet users for example use a conventional search engine at least once a month.
Making sure that you are visible to your audience when they are conducting their research is crucial to firstly attracting their attention as well as fulfilling their need. To demonstrate further,
- 93% of all web traffic is from a search engine.
- Unsurprisingly, Google is responsible for 78% of desktop as well as 89% of mobile search traffic. In fact, it has become so successful that when we want to find out something, we often say ‘we will google it’. It has become a part of our common vernacular.
- EVERY SECOND, Google processes approx. 63,000 queries.
- Local is important with 46% of searches linked to this.
Based on these statistics, it’s easy to see that if you rank higher on the search engine results page you have a greater chance of attracting quality traffic.
How Does It Work?
Before we go any further, it is worthwhile noting the distinction between two different types of results that we see.
In the example below, we are interested in ‘gardening tools’. Here, you can see that there are two main listings produced.
At the top and along the side, we are served paid, pay-per-click or promoted entries. This in turn will produce its own paid search traffic.
Underneath this though, we have a list of what are referred to as ‘organic results’. The reason why they are there is because they have earned that position by having the right content.
They are considered by the search engines to be experts, authoritative and trustworthy.
Being in this top spot is clearly very lucrative. For example, the average click through rate (CTR) from a Google search i.e. individuals who click on the link for a brand in first position is 19.3%.
So, this is ideally where every brand wants to be however it is naturally highly competitive to get there.
What techniques can be used?
There are two primary areas that you should focus on as part of your SEO strategy:
- On Page.
- Off Page.
On Page Search Engine Optimization
This is what most people are familiar with as it relates to your own page and website content. There are five key areas that you can focus on. These include:
- Keyword Research.
- Quality Content.
- Internal links.
- Meta description.
- Image Optimisation.
Comprehensive keyword research is one of the fundamental pillars of great SEO work. Best practice involves devising a list of keywords that relate to and adequately describe your business’ products and/or services.
Coinciding with this, you should also carry out research into what your prospective and existing customers are looking for to make certain that these are completely aligned.
There are many different tools to facilitate this. Don’t forget to use your own analytics such as Google search console to inform this process.
This is closely linked to the above. If you have done your research correctly, this will dramatically improve the quality of the content that you publish.
Furthermore, if your information is good enough, you will increase your chances of securing a positive ranking in terms of organic search results.
Each page on your website should have relevant internal links to signpost your readers to further information and ultimately to encourage them to take a course of action.
Just like the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, you want to create a series of breadcrumbs that will move people towards a desired goal.
Taking the example of ‘gardening tools’ again a meta description is basically a summary of what your particular page is about.
We refer back to your keyword research as it’s important to make a list of the phrases or terms that your customers are using. These should be integrated into these descriptions as well.. This gives the search engine as well as the reader a clear indication in a few words.
Pictures are a great way to break up content and provide a visual. It’s easier for the reader to digest and can create impact.
It also needs to be indexed though and the best way to do this is to add alt text and a description.
This means that if there is an issue with an image loading for example the reader can still determine what the content is about.
The above is an example from Google Docs of how you can add and change this. All you have to do is right click on the image and it will bring up a drop down menu.
Further down the list you will see Alt Text (Ctrl+Alt+Y). You click on this and change as necessary. It’s also possible to do this on hosting platforms such as WordPress, Go Daddy, Square Space, WIX etc.
As the term suggests, off-page refers to anything and everything else that takes place away from your website.
Again, the purpose of this is to improve your site’s search engine rankings by using alternative techniques that build your credentials. In other words, you need to be able to prove that you have authority within your field and are a trusted source for Google and others to rank you.
In the following section we show you how to conduct off page optimisation. Firstly, here is a summary of the key techniques that you can use::
- Build backlinks.
- Contribute content to an alternative website that isn’t a direct competitor. Add strategically placed links that will entice readers to your own website.
- Identify broken links.
- Digital PR.
This is still fundamental to the development of a successful off page strategy. But how does link building work?
Each page on your site obviously has a specific url which is basically the technical address that identifies each one individually.
In the example we used above, we could have Garden Tools For Sale at Ireland’s Best Prices | Shop Now (thegardenshop.ie)
Let’s say a landscape gardener has compiled a review of companies that sell the most comprehensive range of tools, they might include this link referring their followers to this site.
This carries weight and provides validation for search engines because it is an independent recommendation.
The level of weight attached to the link will in turn be based on how credible the source is as well. If the referring link is associated with a reputable company then the more valuable the link is.
There are opportunities to add value to companies and individuals who compliment and enhance your business.
This can be done by creating relevant content and getting this published as a guest contributor.
This method can be achieved through an outreach programme whereby you identify a list of potential companies or individuals who fit your values and compliment your business as well as vice versa.
You need to make sure that you produce relevant material but this collaboration can be great for networking and developing your customer base. Brand mentions via social media are another way to boost your credibility.
Identifying Broken Links
Broken links are where you click on a link but instead of bringing you to the information that you want, you typically receive a message to say that an error has occurred.
Essentially, you don’t have access to the page or information in question.
This means an opportunity for you to replace this with one of your own and utilise the dead link by making it live through your site.
Identifying such broken links can be done using third party resources. Once you have designed a page to answer this question you can contact the webmaster and request a link to yours instead.
So basically this involves getting your news out there. Reporters and journalists are constantly looking out for interesting topics.
You can do this in a variety of ways. First, you can keep an eye out for relevant subjects.
Twitter is a good place to monitor this. Here, you will find generic requests for information under #journorequest.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly what you do but can be opportunities to provide related content.
Press releases are another great way to spread awareness regarding your business with the purpose of earning quality backlinks. Again, this has to be newsworthy items with content that is easy to explain and digest.
Alternative Search Engine Optimization
This is basically an extension of your on page techniques but focuses more on the technical aspects.
There are some basic rules you should follow when it comes to making sure that you can deliver the best user experience possible.
- Load time.
- Mobile friendly site and pages.
- Identifying issues with site performance.
- Keyword cannibalisation.
- Scan for duplicate content.
Page Load Time
Waiting for an eternity for site pages to load can be incredibly frustrating. Third party tools can help to make this seamless and quick.
Mobile friendly site and pages
We all know that the majority of search queries are carried out on mobile devices however very often websites aren’t optimized to display properly on these types of screens.
This can lead to higher bounce rates etc because the user can’t read or scroll through.
We have spoken about the importance of keywords and phrases already. Search engines work by taking clues from your content i.e. the type of keywords you are using and matching this to queries.
Sometimes people think that if they stuff content with these keywords that it will improve rankings. But that would be wrong.
This could in fact hurt your position in the results. Balance is key here. You do need to highlight what your subject matter is but not to over-do it.