To a beginner, the concept of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can seem like complex wizardry that mere mortals could never begin to comprehend. This guide aims to demystify SEO by taking you through a quick crash course on the basics – including what it is, why you need it and the factors that determine success. At the end of it, you should have a good enough foundation to get you started.
Because Google takes up more than 90% of all online searches globally (excluding China), other search engines like Bing and Yahoo generally follow the giant’s lead.
So, although we’ll single out Google a lot in this book, the information presented is relevant for all popular search engines.
- What is SEO?
- Local vs National SEO
- Why do you need SEO?
- What are the factors that influence SEO success?
- To conclude
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation (or simply SEO) refers to a set of techniques that online marketers employ to get their website, or certain pages of their website, to gain more “organic” or “free” visibility in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). A search engine results page is the list of web pages returned to you by the search engine as a response to your search query:
All popular search engines provide search results ranked in order of their relevance to the user as determined by the engine’s algorithm. These are what we refer to as organic search results because they’re free and not influenced by paid advertisements. The higher your website appears on the search results pages of the common search queries (words and phrases) used by your potential customers, the more organic traffic you will get from search engines.
Local vs National SEO
There’re two main types of Geographic SEO: Local SEO and National SEO. In Local SEO, the focus is on promoting your business online within a specific geographic area such as town, city or state. Optimising for local SEO ensures your site ranks highly for “local” searches – where searchers are looking for nearby businesses that offer the product or service they need. Local search is ideal for when you’re targeting customers in a specific area.
In contrast, national SEO is much wider and targets potential customers from the entire nation. National SEO is ideal for businesses that offer their products or services across the country or internationally. Because of the increased number of competitors, national SEO is naturally more difficult and costlier than Local SEO. As you can imagine, International SEO is harder again.
Why do you need SEO?
A common misconception about SEO for people new to this type of digital marketing is that it only benefits online businesses. The truth is that any business, online-based or the traditional brick and mortar operation with a simple website, can benefit greatly from SEO. That’s because ranking highly in SERPs brings qualified potential customers, who are searching for your products or services, to your website resulting in increased sales for your business.
Your business will gain the following benefits when you undertake search engine optimisation:
- Increase in traffic (visitors to your website). Unlike paid advertisements that people can choose to ignore, organic results are user-intent-driven which means that if your website ranks highly, traffic to your website will almost certainly increase. While not immediate, traffic to your site will increase steadily as soon as you start implementing SEO strategies.
- Quality organic traffic. Think of your website as your online virtual store or office. Ranking highly in the search results puts your store first in a long line of businesses offering similar products or services. Potential customers who are looking for information related to what you offer will, therefore, find your website and possibly convert to customers. In addition to being organic or “free,” leads generated by SEO are of higher quality as these people are actively searching with the intent to engage.
- Increased brand credibility. People trust Google, a lot. By extension, people will be more trusting of your brand and the credibility of your business when you are among the first listings in Google Search Results Pages.
- Better Return On Investment (ROI) than traditional Ads. While Pay Per Click (PPC) advertisements appear above (and below) organic search rankings, 71% of searchers will ignore the Ad and click on the organic results listed on the first SERP1. Additionally, 14% of SEO traffic will convert to sales2 as compared to 2-4% of the traffic from paid ads.
- Edge out your competition. SEO has grown to become a core component of any marketing strategy. This means that it’s almost certain that your competitors are already taking measures to improve their visibility in search results. Implementing your own SEO strategy helps you keep up and compete favourably in your industry.
What are the factors that influence SEO success?
No one outside Google knows the exact formula that is used in determining search results rankings. SEO practitioners – through experience and lots of experimenting – have, however, identified several key ranking factors used by Google and other popular search engines. The key factors that influence search results rankings, and hence SEO success, include:
- Quality content. Search engines only want to point their users to the highest quality, unique, content that will answer their search query. As such, you will need to ensure that you have high-quality content covering topics that are relevant to your business’ potential customers. Your content should be long enough, contain relevant keywords (these are words people use in search that relate to your business, product or service) and should provide value to your visitors.
- Links to your website. Google takes it as a vote of confidence when other trusted websites link to your site. It’s like getting a recommendation from a trusted third party. The more links you have from high-quality websites, the better your website will rank.
- On-page optimisation. This involves taking steps to make it easier for search engines to understand what each page on your website is talking about. It includes optimising each webpage’s URL structure, title tags, meta descriptions as well as alt attributes. Structured markup such as Schema markup will also help engines understand and display your site’s content better for the best SEO results.
- Mobile-friendliness. More than 50% of all Google searches come from mobile devices3. As such, Google places a lot of weight on your site’s compatibility with mobile devices and uses this as a key ranking factor for its search results. It’s therefore critical that your visitors get a similar experience when they visit your site from a mobile device as they would from a desktop device.
- User experience. A poor user experience leads to unhappy searchers. Search engines know this and use user experience as a key ranking factor. It’s, therefore, critical that your website offers visitors an optimal experience when they visit. Some of the factors that you need to address to improve user experience include page load times, navigability of your site and your site’s overall appearance/ aesthetic.
Experts put the exact number of ranking factors used by search engines at more than 200, so this list is far from exhaustive. However these five are the factors that carry the most weight and the ones you should focus on when you’re starting out.
Search engine optimisation is the best way for businesses to improve their online visibility while reaching potential customers who are actively searching for information relating to their product or service offerings.
For SEO success, make sure your website meets the following requirements: great content with the relevant keywords, high-quality backlinks from other websites, is optimised for SEO on each page, is mobile friendly and has a great user experience.
As they say, good things come to those who wait; and patience is key for SEO. While achieving high search rankings will take time and effort, the benefits are worthwhile and will include improved online visibility for your business, more high-quality traffic to your site, and ultimately, increased sales and profits with no expenditure on paid advertisements.