Where would we find information without search engines? Perhaps we would frequent the library to discover the answers to our burning queries: “what is bitcoin”, “how old is the queen” and “where is the birthplace of jazz”. Maybe we would visit a trusted source: a high-street bank, Buckingham Palace and then onto the record store… Imaginably, we’d ask a lot fewer questions.
Fortunately, for us, we can ask as many questions as we want and have them answered within seconds. And boy do we ask a lot of questions: Google alone processes over 3.5 billion searches per day.
Thanks to search engine algorithms we don’t have to trawl page after page to find what we are looking for. The web pages which answer a user’s query most efficiently or, in most cases, the web pages which are better optimised (whilst including the answers to our questions) are displayed on the first search engine results page.
‘But how do you optimise a web page?’ – I hear you ask…
This is where search engine optimisation comes in or as it is more commonly referred to SEO. There are many strategies which are utilised to optimise a webpage/website. But, before we get into SEO strategies let’s discuss why SEO is necessary.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of getting traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Typically, each time a query is made on a search engine, e.g. Google, ten organic search results are displayed. These results are websites which according to Google’s algorithm (more about that later) answer the user’s query best. On many search results pages, you will see an ‘Ad’ or a maximum of three ‘Ads’ before the organic search results, these are paid for placements – this practice is known as PPC (pay per click) and is not displayed because of good SEO.
We stated, “SEO is the practice of getting traffic to your website”: the statement is correct; however, we don’t want any Tom, Dick or Harry visiting our site we want to attract the Tom, Dick or Harry who is genuinely interested in our services and products.
This is where the quality of traffic comes in. It’s all well and good getting tons of traffic to your website but if those visitors are in fact looking for something else they will just leave your site and not engage with it. This can have a negative impact on your websites search engine performance as it sends a signal to Google that visitors aren’t getting what they are looking for – when a visitor leaves your site without visiting another page this is known as a ‘bounce’ and impacts your websites ‘bounce rate’ which is an engagement metric you can view in Google Analytics. If a website is optimised appropriately, using the correct SEO strategies, qualified traffic will come to the site. We will discuss high-level SEO strategies later in the post.
Google (or any search engine you’re using) has a crawler that goes out and gathers information about all the content they can find on the internet. Every time a web crawler visits a webpage, it makes a copy of it and adds its URL to an index. Once this is done, the web crawler follows all the links on the page, repeating the process of copying, indexing and then following the links. It keeps doing this, building up a huge index of many web pages as it goes.
Every webpage you see on a search engine has been visited by a website crawler and added to an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with your query. There are a lot of factors that go into a search engine’s algorithm
It is said, Google uses about 200 ranking factors to influence what sites should be displayed for any given search. All ranking factors are not created equal – numerous SEO industry studies have been conducted with varying results to determine what are the most important factors in winning over Google.
It is widely considered that the two most important factors which influence a website’s ranking are content and backlinks. Many of the 200 ranking factors referenced in the above article fall under either content or backlinks. This can be referenced as ‘on-page SEO’ and ‘off-page SEO’.
By now, you should have a strong understanding of what search engine optimisation is and an idea of why certain websites are displayed in search results. But, I imagine, what you really want to know is; how to get your website to appear higher in Google – am I right?
In short, you need to create high-quality content that is relevant to your service/product and acquire links to those pages as well as other key pages on your site. However, it isn’t as simple as that, there is a lot more to conquering search engine algorithms than just writing good content and gaining backlinks (although, it’s a good place to start).
We indicated search engine optimisation can be classified into two areas: on-page & off-page SEO. In fact, there are three main areas of SEO; the third being technical SEO. Let’s take a closer look at the three key areas and discuss strategies that you can apply to your own website to boost your rankings.
On-page SEO refers to any optimisation which is done on individual web pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic from search engines. There are many factors that affect web pages’ ability to rank. The biggest on-page ranking factors are:
It is extremely important to create good content… The content of your web page must answer the user’s query. If you have a page that you want to use to sell holidays to Africa then you must write relevant content about Africa. It is important to pre-empt the questions that people may have relating to a product or a service and provide a high-quality response to that answer.
For example, if I was researching online about vacations to Africa, I would, perhaps, search; ‘where to visit in Africa in August’ or ‘how long does it take to fly to Kenya’ or ‘safest country in Africa’. Now, you can’t cover all these questions on one page, or perhaps you can, but what may be a better option is to write blog posts dedicated to answering each of the individual queries. Rather than writing ‘where to visit in Africa in August’ you could write a post about Africa throughout the year – summarising the best countries to visit in each month of the year.
Let’s say your website only sells holidays to Ethiopia. In which case, you won’t want to concentrate on writing content about South Africa, you should dedicate your time to writing good content on Ethiopia and become an authority on the subject. You can perform keyword research and use Google suggest for discovering what people are searching in relation to Ethiopia (or whatever your company focuses on) and write content regarding those topics.
An example of a search on Google.
The top result here is ‘is Ethiopia safe’. Using this nugget of information, you can write a blog post about the safety of Ethiopia for tourists and cover several areas within that topic such as malaria, terrorism, political situation, and road safety. As you can see people are making specific searches relating to ‘2018’ and ‘to work’.
When writing content be sure to write original content. Don’t copy chunks of content from other web pages. Search engines don’t like duplicate content they like high quality, informative, original content. If you write something which is truly informative and interesting then other websites will want to link to it and users will share it on social media. Those links will really help boost your site’s search engine visibility.
Make sure your content contains the following:
Title tags define the title of your web page or document. They are displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as the clickable headline for a given result. Therefore, it is very important to write a title tag for your web page which is a concise and accurate description of a page’s content. Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. There’s no exact character limit because characters can vary in width and Google’s display titles max out at 600 pixels.
Each page on your website should have a unique title tag as each page has its own purpose and can be optimised to answer a specific search query.
A meta description is an HTML element that describes and summarises the contents of your page for the benefit of users and search engines. Many sources state ‘meta descriptions aren’t as important for SEO rankings as they used to be’ however, they still play an important role in bringing traffic to your website and should not be overlooked. The meta description is displayed on a search engine result page.
Example of a title tag & meta description on a search engine results page:
Last year (2017), Google expanded the standard length for meta descriptions from 160 characters to around 300 characters. If your meta description is longer than 325 characters in length it is likely it will be truncated and not display your entire description to users. Another point for consideration is snippet length shown on a mobile device is significantly shorter being between 110 & 120 characters. Therefore, it is necessary to make your first 110 characters compelling and informative.
A well-written URL is essential for both user experience and rankings. URLs should be displayed in line with the category hierarchy of the website.
For example https://example.com/ryder-cup/tickets
This URL clearly shows the hierarchy of the information on the page. Ryder Cup tickets will be perceived as a sub-category of the Ryder Cup by both humans and search engines. Due to the URL structure, it is obvious to anyone (either crawler bot or person) that the URL will take you to a page for Ryder Cup tickets. This is how all URLs on your website should be written.
Don’t write your URL like this: https://example.com/ryder-cup/34784 – “34784” does not infer to anything that a web surfer is likely to search for therefore it provides little value to anyone.
URL structure is important because it helps the search engines to understand relative importance and adds a helpful relevancy metric to the given page.
Headings (H1 – H6) are an HTML tag that indicates a heading on a website. There are six different heading tags – H1, H2, and so on. The H1 is considered the most important tag, and the H6 is the least important. The H1 will also be larger in size on the page than the H2, etc.
Heading tags should be used to inform crawler bots and users about the topic of your page. The H1 is the most important tag so this should be like your title tag, usually, this will be the title of your blog post or page content.
You only need one H1 per page. Using multiple H1’s on a single page including various keywords could confuse the search engine and affect the power of using just one H1.
Web page optimisation checklist:
Off-page SEO concerns optimising your brand’s reputation outside the boundaries of your website. This can be through social media, reviews, YouTube, forums, Q&A sites and the most popular and most important method, link acquisition.
A strong social presence will organically bring visitors to your website this benefits SEO as traffic equals more traffic. If visitors are coming to your website, search engines will recognise that the site is valuable and display it for relevant searches. Therefore, it is important to post consistently on social media and create engagement.
Reviews are a strong trust signal, if people are discussing your brand on review sites in a positive light then this will bring people to your site. Additionally, speaking to the community through forums and Q&A’s will increase brand awareness and enhance traffic.
Links from other websites to yours act as a recommendation. If your website has a link from an authoritative site in your niche that is an excellent recommendation. The value of links is quality over quantity.
Every website has a domain authority (DA) – a score from 1 to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank. Domain authority is calculated by evaluating linking root domains, number of total links and other trust signals. Websites such as Wikipedia, Facebook and popular newspaper publications like The Telegraph have a DA score of 90+. Therefore, a link from these sites will strongly boost your search engine visibility.
However, there are two types of links no-follow & do-follow. No-follow links do not pass on link juice which means only humans will be able to follow the link and search engines will not. Therefore, a no-Follow link will not directly help to improve your websites domain authority. Yet the brand mention is valuable as is the traffic that will come from that link to your website. Do-follow links allow search engines to follow them and reach your website. Providing link juice and a backlink which directly impacts SEO.
It is important to build links organically this involves creating good quality content that is valuable to your target audience. This can be in the form of text, infographic, or video. But you can’t just rely on writing the content and hoping users will find it and link to it. You can use your social channels to promote it or if it is newfound research you can look to a PR company or platform and send out a press release – this can be hugely effective. If you have mentioned a brand or an individual in your content you can contact them via email, LinkedIn, or Twitter and tell them and they might link to it – don’t ask for the link just inform them of your article with the web page URL. Link acquisition techniques are a blog post in itself – which we will get to writing – in the meantime just Google ‘link building techniques 2020’ – Backlinko is a good result.
Technical SEO is often overlooked and undervalued, yet it is fundamental to a site performing well in search. Technical SEO concerns site usability, search engine crawling, user experience, and indexing.
The first thing to do regarding technical SEO is to review your sitemap. The sitemap tells search engines about your site structure and lets them find fresh content. Your website sitemap needs to be free from errors, redirects, and URLs blocked from indexing. Next, if you haven’t already, you should submit your sitemap to Google Search Console – you can do that, here.
Following this, you should check indexing. First, check the number of pages on your site that are currently indexed by Google by performing site:yourwebdomain.com. Cross-check those results with your site’s Google Search Console property index status. These numbers may be slightly different they should be in a similar ballpark. Next, you need to check the number of URLs from your sitemap and compare that to the other figures. If there are a lot more URLs in your sitemap compared to the amount in the index then your site is not being indexed properly. Check Google Search Console to see if your site has any crawl errors which will stop Google from crawling your site.
Page speed is a hugely important metric. Visitors to your website will not wait for 10seconds for your content to load, in fact, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Therefore, it is crucial that your web pages load as quickly as possible. There are several tools you can use to check page speed such as Google PageSpeed Insights, Pingdom Website Speed Test, and GT Metrix. Each tool is very useful in discovering page speed insights and providing analysis on what is affecting the speed of the webpage.
Lastly, it is imperative that your website is mobile-friendly. Google now uses the mobile version of your site to rank it on Google (for both mobile and desktop search. This means if you have a site optimised for mobile, it will rank well on both mobile and desktop but if your site doesn’t perform well on mobile, it will tank your rankings on both mobile and desktop.
To ensure your site performs well on mobile it needs to have a responsive design. Mainly, this means the design will change to fit the user’s screen on whatever device (desktop, mobile, tablet) which allows the user to view the content as intended. Google has created a helpful tool to test the mobile-friendliness of your website – you can try it here.
So, there you have it, an introduction to SEO and some strategies to get you started on the path to having a better-optimised website. Try it out for yourself, implement my recommendations, and let me know if you see an improvement. If you have any questions or anything to add which could help others improve their website search engine visibility then, please, leave a comment below.
Get in touch if you want to chat more about SEO and your business.