More than ever before, in 2014 SEO became a term that almost everybody became familiar with. At least in the sense of hearing it, for many it remains a mysterious term that is not fully understood.
What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym, the full term is Search Engine Optimisation. For many who have heard the full term, the details of what it is and how it works may still be unclear so I will try to explain in general terms what this is, how it works and how the past year has given us some of the biggest changes in this area to date.
SEO / Search Engine Optimisation refers to the practice of optimising your website for search engines, which means in practical terms making adjustments to your website that will cause search engines to show your website closer to first in the list of results when somebody searches for words and phrases that match what your website is about.
To understand what Search Engine Optimisation is, first let’s take a look at how a Search Engine works.
Most of us have “googled” something, some prefer bing or yahoo, but almost everybody who has used the internet has used a search engine in some format. You put some words in the search box, hit a button and hey presto a list of (hopefully) relevant pages appear. (Note for us older ones we remember when the “hey presto” part took A LOT longer than most of experience now! )
How does SEO Work?
Have you ever wondered what happens between pressing the button and getting the results? Probably not, but to understand SEO this part is pretty important so I’m going to give a general overview of how this works. We’ll use Google as an example, it’s by far the most popular search engine, the most open about how it works and probably used as a template by the others. So if your site does well in Google it will probably do well in the other search engines too.
So Google creates an index of every single web page on the internet. Note that a web page is a single page, so your website will probably contain a number of pages and Google will have a record of each one. This index includes the title, the url (web address), an excerpt (the snippet of info that you see under the title in the search engine results) and some details on what the page is about. Google uses this to determine if your web page is of interest to a user of the search engine for a particular search term.
Firstly, it matches every web page that has the keyword searched for. Then it ranks those pages in terms of relevance to that particular search, and also in terms of quality. Judging the quality of a page is a tricky feat, determined by a combination of factors.
So SEO can be boiled down to a practice where we try to modify our web page to tell Google that it is relevant and of a high quality. If successful, this practice will result in your web page being displayed further up in the rankings and therefore being visible to more people.
It should also be noted that there is evidence to indicate that searchers are more likely than they were to click through to subsequent pages of the search, which has slightly lessened the importance of being at the very top of the search results. In fact, being at the top of pages 2 or 3 has shown to be quite favourable too. However, there is no doubt that if you can make sure your page/site is the first one seen by somebody searching for what you do then that is of massive benefit in getting traffic to your site.
What is SEO not?
There are many many businesses out there who offer SEO as a service and it is tricky to find one who suits you, but there are some key points to cover when selecting an option.
- If they guarantee to get you to #1 in Google, RUN (or get them to sign a contract promising your money back if it doesn’t happen within a certain timeframe!). There are no guarantees with SEO, even less so than there used to be as Google is changing more and more quickly.
- If they offer a quick fix. BE SKEPTICAL. Improvements take a number of months to show results and are dependent on a number of criteria which are changing.S
- If they suggest a one off solution. BE CAUTIOUS. An initial setup on your website to improve SEO is definitely a good idea, however it is not a “set and forget” adjustment but rather needs continual monitoring, modification and improvement as content is added to the site and as Google adjust the methods they use to determine their results.
- If they charge a price which you think is unreasonable. BE CAREFUL. Check out alternatives and ask for recommendations to be sure that you are not being overcharged unnecessarily.
And now to get to the “How Do I Do This?”
- Think MOBILE! Google has threatened to prioritise mobile friendly sites. It then quietly set about doing this without any announcements. But they now officially rank mobile friendly sites higher. For users searching on a mobile device, non mobile friendly sites/pages will not be returned in the search engine results. So it is no longer an option to have a website which does not display on mobile devices. The best option for a mobile friendly site is to make it responsive, as a responsive site adjusts to each screen size and displays correctly across devices. View our previous post on responsive web design here.
- Think USABLE! This is absolutely vital, and not just for SEO! Your site should be easy to navigate. Your menu items, buttons and other links should be easy to click even on a smaller mobile device. Your visitors should be able to navigate around your site to find what they are looking for, see information about you, make contact with you or even buy from you without any non essential effort from them. Google will reward a usable site in search results and your visitors will reward a usable site by not clicking away extremely quickly after landing on the site! A good responsive site will take care of a lot of this, but always explore and test your website to make sure that nothing is missed.
- Think ORGANISED! In order to display pages from your website, Google needs to be able to understand what is on those pages and how they are structured within your site. Keep your site structure as simple and logical as you can, use breadcrumbs, submit a sitemap to Google.
- Think CONSISTENT! Updating the content on your website on a regular basis achieves a number of things. Firstly, it makes sure that Google and other visitors to your site know that you are still around, you are active and your site is still relevant. In addition, it is a way to provide additional information which Google can return to users searching for different search terms. A blog post can be quite specific and targetted in terms of its relevant keywords, which makes it clear to Google what the post is about and for which search it is a good result to display. Once you’re coming up with regular content, there are a number of tools which you can use to schedule the posting of these articles to your website and to your social media for consistency and to save you time!
- Think KEYWORDS! No matter what changes, this is unlikely to. Google needs to use the words in a web page to determine what the page is about in order to decide whether it is relevant for a particular search term. The easiest and most effective way which Google can do this is using keywords. From your site, you need to check the keywords that people are using to search for the topic covered by your page or post and make sure that those keywords are included throughout the text – including page title, url, image description, etc.
- Think MAPS! Claim your business on Google My Business – set the location, enter your information. Again, be consistent with what you have posted elsewhere in your business details. Letting Google know where you are geographically allows your business to be returned for location based searches where you are within range. For example, if somebody searches for “butchers in Dublin” then a butcher listed on the map within the Dublin area will be returned whereas one who has not listed their business on Google Maps will need to have details of specific locations where they operate to even try to achieve the same result.
There are another 4 factors for SEO, but these are of reducing impact as things are changing. For the most part this is because they have been misused in the past and can no longer be trusted as far as Google is concerned. It is still worth bearing them in mind, though, as they can help get your website seen.
- Social Media
- Make sure your content is easy to share with share buttons throughout your site
- Use Twitter Cards so that when your content is shared on Twitter it always links back to you and in addition will include an image decided by you. View our recent post on Twitter cards here.
- Make sure your social profiles link to each other and to your website, and include social media links on your website. This should let Google know that all of these pieces of your online presence are tied together in terms of your online reputation.
- Local Directories
While a listing on a local directory may not boost your site’s ranking in search results, it is important to know where your company is listed and ensure consistency. Yelp and other sites may have a listing for your business which has been picked up from the world wide web automatically. You need to find out if this has happened, claim it as your business and make sure that the information is both correct and consistent with the rest of your online presence. For example, if your phone number is the same on your website, social media pages, business directories etc then Google will probably return it in search results for your business name as it knows that it is correct.
- Inbound Links
Inbound links are probably one of the most abused factors in search engine optimisation. For a significant amount of time, getting enough inbound links as well as some outbound ones would almost magically give good search engine results. However, Google has got wise to this and it is not nearly as effective now. It is still worth bearing a couple of points in mind in relation to links, however
- Relevant links are seen to improve your authority slightly, so a link from a site which Google respects and which is relevant to your website will have a small impact. It will also drive traffic to your site if visitors to the other site see and click through on the link.
- Links which Google sees as irrelevant or an attempt to falsely affect your performance in their search results may be penalised and in this case will push you further down the results pages.
- Meta Tags
Once the absolute ultimate in SEO tools, meta tags have been usurped of late. However, data in the meta tags will contribute to Google’s determination of the subject matter of your web page in a similar way to keywords elsewhere on the page. So it is worth making sure these are populated with your keywords as part of a complete SEO strategy.
What is your SEO Strategy?
The first thing you should do is search for yourself! Use your business name, your own name and some search terms that you think Google might use and see what results you get. This will give an idea of the changes that you need to look at implementing fromt he list above.
All of our websites come with the WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast installed as standard. This plugin makes it easier to monitor keywords in posts, add breadcrumbs, edit titles and excerpts and quite a bit more. However, too many people install this plugin, or similar ones, and think that their work is done. These plugins are a tool for optimising your website for search, they do not do the work for you!
Focus on the USER
In the past, the focus was on keywords, meta tags, black hat tactics to try to fool Google into liking your site. The recent changes mean that Google is crawling your site in a way that mimics the way your user will view it more and more closely. So to future proof your SEO strategy, tailor your website to your ideal customer.
Budget for SEO
In terms of time, money or possibly both, set aside some time each work to work on your SEO strategy:
- Check your results by using a tool like Google Analytics to monitor your traffic and where it is coming from.
- Review your site to ensure that it meets all the requirements for a high ranking in search results.
- Write some new content – a blog post or two about topics which are relevant to the ideal visitor you want to attract to your site
- Proof read your content! I have seen more online articles than I care to remember where I was fascinated by the topic but spelling, grammar and other mistakes meant that I didn’t want to finish reading them!
- Add some images, audio orvideo if you have it and other media to your post.
- Check your article is easy to read. Use headings, bold relevant text, split blocks of text into paragraphs with enough white space so that it does not look like a chore to read what you’ve written.
- Review the keywords in your content. Some people suggest setting up your keywords before writing your post, but if you are focussed on keywords while you write your post then it is likely to end up reading that way. Make sure you write a good, interesting, easy to read post and then review to check that your keywords are present in all elements of the post without stuffing (putting keywords in everywhere for SEO with a detrimental effect on the information) as Google will recognise stuffing as trying to trick the system and will not reward you for it!
On the positive side…
SEO for Google is no longer a black art, it is moving towards rewarding well designed/developed websites with good quality content which are focussed on providing a positive experience to its visitors.
That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?