WHAT IS SEO? A BEGINNER’S GUIDE
Search engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is an umbrella term for a whole range tasks you perform both on and off your website. The goal is to attract the attention of the search engines with your website.
Search engines such as Google crawl websites, indexing the information found on every single site, and then providing their users with a list of websites that they determine to be relevant to the search.
Sounds complicated, right?
It’s not only complicated, but search engine algorithms are closely guarded secrets. And to keep everyone on their toes, they change up how they crawl, rank and reward sites on a regular basis.
What is good SEO practice?
Good SEO practices mean that your website will rank well for the niche and market you are targeting. In other words, when someone Googles for information in your industry, you want your website to appear on the first page of the Google (or Bing, or Yahoo) results.
SEO also tells the search engines what your site is about. At heart, SEO is about all of the content that is on your website. It is the pages you choose to create, the topics of your blog posts and the images you use to support your words.
There are technical and design elements that also feed into the bigger picture, but your content strategy is the main part of your SEO strategy.
SEO is somewhat mysterious to small business owners and all but the most tech-savvy. However, it’s really not so complicated. You can easily get a grasp on the basics and do enough so that you’ll attract search engine traffic to your site. Once you learn the basics, there are many more advanced techniques you can learn if you’d like.
Why SEO Marketing is Necessary
At the heart of SEO marketing is a website that is easy for both users and web robots to understand.
Search engines are increasingly sophisticated in working out how relevant a website is, but ultimately the information they receive is based on how real users interact with the websites.
If you want your site to rank well, you need to put most of your SEO efforts into providing information that is useful and relevant to your audience.
Over the years, there have been lots of efforts by dodgy SEO bodies to try to scam the system. The Search Engines constantly fight back, and the result is that it gets harder and harder to find loopholes to exploit.
This is a good thing. Think about it, when you use a search engine to find information, you want to be presented with websites and options that are relevant to your search, not a bunch of websites that don’t offer the information you’re looking for.
It also means that if you follow a content marketing-led strategy for your SEO, you’re building on solid foundations that won’t be penalized when the next Google algorithm update is released.
SEO strategy: Optimise your images
Good SEO practice for images is often overlooked by many website owners.
If you follow some simple steps, you’ll be getting extra SEO goodness that your competitors are probably overlooking.
1. Provide ALT tags for all your images
ALT tags are a readable description of the images on your web page. That’s pretty much it, it’s not very complicated. And WordPress makes it really easy to add your ALT tags to images.
Some quick tips around adding your ALT tags:
- Keep the text short
- Be descriptive
- Use your keyword if possible, but….
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Try to mention the page topic
2. Write SEO-friendly file names
- Don’t leave your file names generic (such as IMG342234.jpg), but give them a short title describing what they are
- Just make sure it’s not identical to your ALT tag, and fit the keyword in if it works. But again, don’t force the issue
- Use hyphens in file names (the search engines read hyphens as a space)
3. File size
Page load times matter. A site that chugs along, taking forever to load, is not going to encourage anyone to stick around. The biggest culprit is poorly optimised image files.
The good news is that it’s easy to keep your images small in size but big in quality.
Download a free plugin such as WP Smush to further optimise your image files.
For a handy checklist on how to quickly and easily optimise your images for a more SEO-friendly website, click on the image below.
SEO strategy: Keywords
Keywords are at the core of SEO. A keyword is a word or phrase that’s related to your website or your business. These are the terms people search for in search engines. The goal of SEO is to rank in the top search engine results pages for your chosen keywords.
There are no hard and fast rules for using keywords, merely some general guidelines. It’s good to use keywords in your titles and sub-titles. Generally, near the top of your content is a good place to put them, such as in your first paragraph. Use your keywords naturally in your website’s written content, descriptions of images, and anywhere else you have text.
1. Finding Good Keywords
Your SEO strategy starts with identifying good keywords. These should be keywords that relate to your website and that your potential customers are likely to search for.
There are tools you can use to help you with your keyword research. Google provide a free tool in the form of their Keyword Tool. It’s free to use, and all you have to do is set up an AdWords account.
Look for keywords that have a high search volume and low competition. High search volume means many people are searching for the term. Low competition is important because that means there are fewer websites targeting those same keywords.
When sorting through the data, keep in mind that search volume doesn’t have to be extremely high. As long as it has several thousand searches or more a month, it’s sufficient.
2. Using keywords
If this all sounds really complicated, don’t worry. If you’re writing content for your industry and audience, you’ll naturally use the keywords that your visitors are searching for.
Install a plugin such as Yoast, and after you’ve finished writing a page or post for your website, pop in the keyword you’re trying to rank for.
The plugin will give you tips on how to tighten up what you’ve done. So all you need to do is go through your article and tweak some words or sentences.
3. Tips for using keywords
Instead of targeting words or short phrases, target long phrases, sentence fragments and whole sentences. These are called ‘long tail keywords’ and they have far less competition. Examples would be ‘how to sell on eBay,’ ‘how can I find new design customers’ or ‘why won’t my baby sleep through the night.’
You can also cut down on competition by using geographical terms in your keywords. For example, ‘Brighton plumbing service,’ ‘East Sussex lawyers,’ or ‘South East IT service.’ In addition to reducing competition, you’ll also rank for searches by people in your local area.
4. Keywords and your blog
The best way to get the most out of your SEO efforts is to put a blog on your site and write regularly. A blog gives your audience a reason to keep coming back to your site for more new content. It also gives you a chance to use more keywords on your site. Plus, search engines love websites that add fresh content.
In the past, marketers stuffed content with keywords. They used keywords as much as possible because they attracted more search engine attention. However, as search engines have gotten smarter, this technique no longer works. Use your keywords naturally and make sure you don’t use them too much because you can get penalized.
SEO strategy: backlinks
The basic idea with backlinks is to post content somewhere else with a link leading back to your site. For example:
- You can post content on a different platform – such as YouTube – with a link to your site
- You can guest post – write articles for other websites with a link leading back to your site
- You can list your site on reputable directories
Backlinks are great for business beyond the SEO advantages. By being visible across the internet, you create opportunities for new clients and business partners to find you.
A quick word about listing your site on directories. Look for credible link exchanges and directories, as Google will punish your site if you get caught up in a link farm. A good rule of thumb – if someone is asking you to pay for a link, run a mile. Also ignore all the spam emails that will start filling up your inbox.
Another great way of getting backlinks to your website is through publishing guest posts. This comprehensive article has a list of over 700 guest posting sites that you can dig into. Make sure you bookmark it for future reference!
DIY resources for SEO
If you’re interested in a really comprehensive breakdown of SEO, then I recommend checking out this Beginner’s Guide to SEO. It’s a beast of a download! But it is chock full of all the information you need to get started.
Saying that the magnitude of the PDF and breakdown might be a bit overwhelming. I know that I’m guilty of hoarding untold ebooks and PDFs that I’ve downloaded and never read.
Another way of learning some of the dark arts of SEO is to take an online course. The problem with SEO is that there are lots of dodgy bodies out there, just ready to take your hard-earned money in return for promises and tactics that just don’t work.
Many small businesses choose to outsource their SEO needs to experts who can get much better results. This is completely up to you, but it’s good to do it yourself at least at first. For one thing, you may find that it’s something you can do yourself and get good results.
But even if you outsource, it’s good to have a basic understanding of SEO so that you know what’s being done for you. Additionally, you can make changes or take over if necessary.
If you do decide to pay a company to do SEO for you, make sure you get a clear understanding of exactly what they’re going to do in return for your money.
And remember, SEO is a long-term strategy. If someone is promising super-fast results and it all seems a bit too good to be true, chances are they don’t have your best interests at heart.
Wow…that was a lot of information. So, let’s summarise.
- SEO is the term used for different approaches you can take to get traffic back to your website organically (paid advertising is not SEO).
- Consistent, clear and user-friendly content is at the heart of a good SEO approach
- Optimise your images
- Use keyword tools to help and inspire, but don’t get too literal in your approach. And no keyword stuffing!
- Write for your humans first, not for the search engines.
- Get credible backlinks to your website