The thought of mastering SEO on your own can be daunting, especially if as a small business owner this is not your area of expertise! The good news though, is that it’s actually quite simple to learn how to apply organic SEO practices to your website management and editing.
Whether you want to boost traffic towards a new product or specifically target a new audience, understanding SEO can help get you there. Below, we explain some of the main concepts, misconceptions and fundamentals regarding SEO to help you effectively boost your business at minimal cost.
Understanding Search Engines
The first step to mastering search engine optimisation is to understand how search engines work. You already know the basic idea: you type something in, and the search engine gives you what it believes are the best matches for your search query. But what happens in the background from query to result?
Search engines essentially work in three steps:
- They CRAWL the internet, scouring over the code & content they find for each URL.
- They INDEX (store & organize) the content found to ultimately be displayed as search results to relevant queries.
- They RANK the content in order of most relevant to least relevant.
When it comes to the crunch, search engines need to show the most relevant results in order to keep their ad revenue flowing, so it serves in their best interest to only deliver results that tick all the search query boxes. With this in mind, the need for optimal page speed, readability and keyword density becomes much clearer, as these are your keys to sending positive ranking signals to search engines.
One of the biggest misconceptions about SEO is that the goal is to trick or manipulate search engines into favouring your page. Some SEO experts do find short-term success with this approach, but the companies behind the search engines are always working to weed out these tactics so your best approach is really to keep your site updated to appease the search engine gods!
One of the biggest misconceptions about SEO is that the goal is to trick or manipulate search engines into favouring your page.
Crawling and Indexing
Now that you have an insight into how search engines work, it’s time to discover how to make sure your site gets noticed by these search engines. As we already touched upon, web crawlers (programs that follow links from one page to another) provide lists to search engines to choose their best results from.
For a search engine to know your website exists, its crawlers need to be able to find it. That in itself is not hard to do; as long as a link to your site exists on some public page, the crawlers will see it. The more significant problem is usually which pages of your website are indexed. Your pages need to link to one another using links that crawlers can follow, or else content on inaccessible pages will do nothing to boost your search ranking. Another consideration is whether you have to log in to access individual pages. Of course, many sites do benefit by having content only available to registered members, but it’s important to be mindful of what content is and is not accessible to crawlers.
One of the most fundamental components of SEO is the keyword. No matter how sophisticated search engine algorithms become, the process still boils down to matching specific sites to certain words typed by viewers. The concept is simple, but selecting and utilizing keywords is very complicated. Contrary to popular assumption, overpopulating your copy with your keywords is not helpful - in fact it can actually be quite detrimental to your SEO efforts. Instead, the secret lies in careful keyword consideration.
Keyword research begins by learning to put yourself in the place of a keyword. What are people looking for when they type specific words into a search bar?
Let’s perform an over exaggerated analysis – a lot of people search for dogs. So, if you own a dog treats website, you might try to drive traffic by filling your site with content about dogs, and place your efforts as the main keyword being "dog" on your site. However, when thinking of a searchers intent, the vast majority of people searching for the word "dog", are not likely going to be looking for dog treats. AND if those people performing a search on “dogs” end up ignoring your site, modern search engines track that behaviour and will remove your site from the search results for "dog".
It's important to understand that search intent, drives a users need to use certain words in their search query. Searches belong to three consumer categories:
- Transactional searches when they want to buy something,
- Informational searches when they want to know something,
- Navigational searches when they already know what website they're seeking.
Applying the search intent to our "dog" example – if you are researching keyword phrases related to dogs, you will want to understand if the people typing those phrases wish to find a dog meme, adopt a dog, learn about dogs, find a dog treat or go to a specific dog-related site. People who are looking to buy a dog, for example, are unlikely to be interested in your site that sells dog treats, regardless of the rest of your SEO.
In contrast, ranking for keyword phrases typed by people looking for dog training will accomplish nothing if your site doesn't provide information about dog training. However, focusing on keywords that promote dog cookies, dog recipes, dog health or dog treats would make all the difference.
Researching keywords is one of the biggest factors in successful SEO. Before you try to rank for specific keywords, you must understand why you want to rank for those keywords. The basic goal is always the same: figure out what the consumer wants to find and give it to them.
Once you identify which keywords you want to rank for, a simple and powerful technique is to see what other sites are already doing to rank for them. To get started, type a given keyword phrase into a search engine and explore the top results. Looking at what those top results are doing right, lets you improve your ranking by doing the same things, and looking at what they are doing wrong lets you focus on outperforming them in those aspects.
Competitor research can also be a way to double-check if you do want to target a given keyword phrase. When looking at the top-ranking results for a given search, reflect on whether it is feasible for you to compete with these sites given the resources they have and the resources you have.
It can be disheartening to admit defeat to a competitor before you even begin, but looking for a different set of keywords where you actually can compete, will save you a lot of time, resources, and pain in the long run.
On-page SEO can seem overwhelming at first glance, but it is actually relatively straightforward. The scary part at first is that it refers to EVERYTHING on your site. But once you break it down, on-page SEO becomes a checklist of generally quick and easy tasks broadly divided into technical and content SEO.
Content SEO includes many factors which affect your page ranking, such as keyword usage, metadata, alt text, page titles, and so on. Tackle these one at a time. For example, consider what makes for a good page title, and research how the topic affects your chosen keywords. Then go through each page on your site and make sure the titles match what you learned. Then move onto the next task.
Technical SEO can be intimidating, but in practice, it is very similar to content SEO, and you don't need to be a code expert to do it. Technical factors that affect ranking are your site's speed, indexability, and mobile compatibility. If your site is slow, you may need to change the way it is coded or simply resize your images.
Off-page SEO is a little harder to maintain, and requires establishing connections with a long-term strategy. The critical thing to understand is that regardless of what is or is not on your site, factors outside of your site can affect the way it ranks. The most technical aspect of off-page SEO is link-building. If other websites link to your site, you'll get traffic when people click those links; also, search engines favour sites that get linked to often, and who also share a reciprocal link. It’s important to remember that search engines take into account the quality of the sites linking to yours, so it’s important to affiliate yourself with high calibre sites to achieve and maintain a good ranking.
The other big part of off-page SEO is exposure. If people are talking about your site, whether or not they link to it, more people will search for it, which in turn boosts your rankings. You can sometimes receive exposure by including a lot of newsworthy material, media or other content that people want to talk about on your site. However, for the most part, exposure is a matter of interpersonal skills and social networking strategies.
The critical thing to understand is that regardless of what is or is not on your site, factors outside of your site can affect the way you rank.
Keep Updated With the Art of SEO
Search engines are constantly updating their algorithm, and what may be working in 2020, may not work in 2021. Stay up to date with the latest developments by subscribing to your favourite source of marketing, technology or business updates and dedicate a little time in your marketing schedule to reading up on the latest updates. Understanding SEO tactics and the theory behind its usage is the first step to implementing your own SEO, and with a little bit of time and patience, you’ll soon be a SEO master!
To learn more about Local SEO Marketing, and to get some tried-and-true tactics, read our blog on 10 Tried-and-True Tactics for Local SEO Marketing. Marketing Your Brand also provide Organic SEO services and coaching, contact us for a quote to improve your websites SEO.
What experiences have taught you the most about SEO? Let us know in the comments section below.