What is SEO: The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimisation
Did you know that Google processes, on average, more than 40,000 searches every second. That’s more than 3.5 billion searches a day! At least 81% of these searches relate to the discovery of products and services consumers are interested in.
I won’t beat around the bush here.
If you want to capture even a tiny amount of these searches for your business, you need to leverage search engine optimisation strategies by understanding what SEO is.
It’s no secret that positioning your business in front of interested prospects is a core tactic of successful marketing. When it comes to online marketing, your business’s hottest leads will come from search engines like Google.
Every day, there are dozens of people searching for your specific service in your area. It’s up to you to put yourself right in their path so they discover your business first. To put another spin on it, SEO is the secret sauce your competitors are already using to capture most of the online foot traffic in your market.
Imagine what it would mean for your business to have more people viewing your core products and services. All it takes is getting your website to show up in the top 3 results for searches related to your product or service and you’d have the opportunity to capture up to 62% of people who were searching.
The secret to achieve this comes down to answering the question ‘what is SEO’. And that’s why we’re here to help.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a marketing tactic focused on improving your website’s rankings in search engines.
Over recent decades, top marketers have discovered a winning formula for matching people interested in a specific product or service with businesses that offer exactly what they are searching for.
In a nutshell:
Top search engine rankings = more website traffic = more sales
It all comes down to ranking highly on search engines like Google. To achieve this, direct and indirect changes to your website are made with the aim of ‘optimising’ it so that search engines can rank it higher.
The overall improvement of your website lies at the basis of any effective SEO strategy. When you work with an SEO expert, they’ll review your website as it is and see how it stacks up against over 200 factors known to improve rankings. You can also do it yourself if you know how.
Either way, as search engines are constantly changing, it requires ongoing effort in order to keep producing ongoing results.
What’s a search engine?
There are so many search engines we use on a daily basis. A web search engine works like an online library. You enter a search term and it will provide you the best information available on the internet to match what you’re looking for.
In terms of market share worldwide, the biggest search engine is Google. Yahoo, Bing and Ask are other examples of web search engines as well.
SEO services generally relate to being found on these platforms, and in most cases, these services specifically target Google search results. The other engines are used more in different countries and it may make sense to consider them in your SEO efforts as well.
The difference between these engines and directories maintained by real people is the use of automated technology. Search engines are becoming more powerful each day through implementing technology that automatically scours the internet and produces the most relevant results to the specific person that’s searching.
They use algorithms which instruct their technology on how to prioritise the web pages that appear in a search result. No one knows exactly how the Google algorithm really works except for Google itself. However, SEO experts have discovered over 200 factors on a website that will influence its ability to rank highly.
We discuss the most important of these further down. Let’s first look at the difference between rankings you pay for and rankings you don’t pay for.
What is an ‘organic’ search result?
While ‘organic’ in this context has nothing to do with the way plants are grown, some comparisons can be made if we look at what’s natural in each context.
When it comes to traffic generated from search results, organic traffic comes to you through natural, genuine search results. These are unpaid rankings and are the opposite to paid search rankings.
SEO efforts aim to improve organic search results for a few reasons:
Organic SEO efforts compound over time and can see exponential growth of a website’s traffic
Google has stated that organic search results receive more clicks than non-organic listings
Over time, the cost of acquiring leads will significantly drop if you have solid organic rankings by your side
Organic rankings offer higher return on investment
What are non-organic search results?
Non-organic search results refer to paid ads. The Google Adwords network is used by businesses that want to pay for premium ad placements, often appearing higher than organic results.
An effective Adwords strategy can complement an SEO strategy. For instance, in every market online, you are bound to face search terms that are dominated by the big players in your industry. Non-organic placements for these search terms might help give your business a leg up against your bigger competitors that invest larger amounts into SEO.
How does SEO work?
Let’s say you have a plumbing business in Brisbane and would like to attract more locals to use your services.
Doesn’t it stand to reason that when a distressed housewife encounters a broken pipe and has no idea what to do, you’ll want her to find your details first? Or perhaps, you want to target the bigger jobs and have other contractors that work on constructions sites to contact you for instance.
In either case, SEO is your ticket to putting your business in front of your perfect audience. With the digital revolution taking hold, more people are turning to their mobile phones and searching for the services they need on a search engine like Google.
In distress, a housewife will likely search for something like “emergency plumber Brisbane” whereas a contractor might search for “commercial plumbers in Brisbane”. SEO comes down to putting your business at the top of the list for the searches that really matter. If you’d like jobs from both of these types of clients, then you need to target both of these types of searches.
It’s as simple as that.
What are keywords and why are they important?
The basis of all SEO strategies lies in keywords, aka the exact words someone uses when making their search.
“What is SEO” is a different keyword in the eyes of a search engine to “what’s SEO”. Finding all of the possible terms that people are searching for which also relate to your business is the first step in SEO.
One of the key reasons search engines are turning to automated technology that takes care of ranking relevant pages is that people search for the same thing using different words.
Different people also search for different things using the same words.
Search engines are making their algorithms more clever so that the intention behind a search is what is answered rather than just addressing the exact words used. For example, a search for ‘seo’ will bring up different results to a search for ‘what is seo’.
Google’s algorithm interprets the intention of the first search to be looking for SEO services whereas the second search is looking for information.
It’s all common sense really. If someone is looking to buy something, that’s what Google shows them. If they are researching or looking for reviews, they’ll receive a whole different set of results.
Before we move on, it is also important to note that the location in which a search is taking place will also influence results. Someone searching for ‘plumber’ in Gold Coast, Australia will receive a different set of results to someone who searches the exact same thing in Melbourne. Even if they do not put their location in the search box, it will still take effect and only show relevant, nearby plumbing businesses.
Other core factors that influence Search Engine Rankings
A number of SEO experts have produced studies which examine what factors of a website actually influence rankings. They’ve analysed the search results of hundreds and thousands of keywords and have grouped essential SEO factors into the following:
Search Engines want to provide their users with a great search experience. If they send you to a website with links that don’t work, slow loading time, spammy content and pop ups, you are going to have a poor user experience. Keeping your website’s user experience up to scratch is therefore essential for good rankings.
2. Keywords matter
As mentioned before, search results are driven by keywords. The exact words you use in various parts of your website will affect if you rank and for what search terms you rank for. Ideally you want to rank for the most impactful keywords that are being searched for most frequently yet have lower amounts of competition.
3. Quality titles make a difference
Each page of your website needs to have an official title that summarises the contents of the page and tells search engines what answers readers will find on that page.
The content (or lack thereof) can either make it or break it when it comes to a solid SEO strategy. Websites that have fresh, high quality content being uploaded tend to rank higher than sites that have low quality, spammy content or no new content at all.
5. Links are an important backbone
A website that has a lot of links coming to it from authoritative, high quality sites will look good to search engines and is likely to rank higher. Search engines are also becoming very adept at recognising spammy links which have the opposite effect on your rankings. In other words, never buy links. These will hurt your SEO and ability to rank organically.
6. Words used in links
In addition to the quantity and quality of links pointing to your site, search engines look at the words used in the links. Google assumes the words used to link to a site are relevant to that site.
To improve search experiences for their users, search engines favour high quality websites in their results and penalise poor quality ones.
8. Reputation is important
Sites that publish consistent, engaging and high quality content and have growing numbers of fresh, high quality links rank well in search engines.
Search engines are constantly refining and changing their algorithms. In 2017, Google made over 2,453 changes to how their search engine works. That’s why SEO is an ongoing process. The above factors however, remain the core foundations of an effective SEO strategy.
Technical SEO: On-Site and Off-Site
As mentioned above, there are a number of factors that influence a website’s rankings. Over 200 individual factors that fall into the above groups have been identified so far by SEO experts. These are likely going to change over time, along with any major search engine algorithm updates.
To help get our heads around everything a website needs to succeed in SEO, industry experts separate components into two categories: on-site and off-site SEO.
On-site SEO relates to the factors that you control on your site. It is also referred to as on-page SEO and includes elements like:
- The content you post
- The links included in the content
- The structure of the site
- The titles and descriptions of each page
- The titles and descriptions of each element on the page (including images, videos and animations)
- Fixing any technical errors on the site
- How long a page on the site takes to load
- The HTML and coding structure that powers your site
- Using correct heading tags and optimising them
- Mobile friendliness and responsiveness of your site
- Site security
- Plus many more
Anything you have direct control over, that you can change and that takes place on your website is considered on-site.
It stands to reason then that off-site, or off-page SEO relates to anything that you have little control over and that takes place off your website. Examples include:
- Links on other people’s websites that point back to your site
- How your site is indexed by google
- Trust, authority and credibility you’ve earned from the online community
- How long people stay on your site for
- How old the website’s domain name (or URL) is. Older domains have more authority in Google’s eyes
- What country or city a user is searching from
- Links and activity on social media related posts (including likes, comments and shares)
Is SEO right for your business?
No matter your business type, your industry or whether your business is small, medium or large, SEO is likely to be of benefit. As the effects of SEO compound over time, your cost per customer (or cost per acquisition) lowers over time, giving you a higher ROI than with most other marketing techniques.
The reason SEO is so powerful is because it is one of the few online marketing activities that bring in more business and cost less over time. Couple that with the extensive data that can help you see exactly what marketing actions are bringing in the most revenue and your business is primed for spending limited budgets more effectively and yielding better results.
If you’d like an SEO expert to assess your website and opportunities for improvements, get in touch with us today. We offer free audits of websites for local Australian businesses.