Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is one of those things that has lots of misinformation surrounding it and every man and his dog claiming that they are the one that can get your site to the top of Google.
However, before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that the industry does unfortunately attract unscrupulous types and nobody can guarantee where you may end up on the front page of Google. This is because the only one who has control over search results is Google itself, so there are no guarantees.
So, without further ado, let’s have a look at what exactly SEO is, what it involves and the differences between the good and the bad.
On and off-page SEO
To begin with, put simply SEO is the process of optimizing a website in order for it to be listed by the search engines. This relates to the unpaid variety, rather than PPC and paid search, and the results returned are known as organic results.
On page SEO relates to the content that is displayed on a site, such as blogs, articles, the web copy that tells visitors what the site does and so on.
On page is also concerned with what you can’t see displayed on the site, such as the underlying code which contains meta information, backlinks, ALT tag and so on.
In the case of on page, this means that in order to optimise content to be search engine friendly, it’s necessary to research and use both primary and secondary keywords/phrases that are relevant to the site and content in order for the search engines to better recognise the site as having value to an audience.
Links within the text are also important, as they mustn’t be used indiscriminately, but should again be relevant to the content and industry, as well as (preferably) pointing to a domain with good authority.
Google spiders (or robots) search regularly for fresh content and so it’s important to keep a site updated with good quality content which is grammatically error free.
There is also the code that content creators don’t see and much of this lives in the Header of the site as meta information. However, the architecture of the site in general also counts as on page SEO, as the harder it is for the spiders to crawl the site, the lower the ranking is likely to be.
This means that a site should have a sound, logical structure, which is laid out for ease of navigation and includes a robots.txt site map for the search engine to better understand it. Page speeds and an unbroken link structure is also important to maintain friendliness for the search engine robots.
Links and link building
For off page SEO, link building, or back linking is often the biggest focus of discussion. Guest posting on an outside site with a link back to your site is seen as good practice, unless you buy links, which is bad practice known as black hat SEO.
Off page optimization is not able to be fully controlled by the SEO professional as factors outside of control such as social sharing and comments are dependent on the level of engagement a post might gain.
Black, white and grey hat SEO
You may come across these terms when you begin to delve into the world of SEO and they simply describe good and bad practices.
White hat is the only kind of SEO you should use, as this is based on the rules that search engines want us to abide by in order to make sure that web content is useful.
Black hat is used by unscrupulous individuals in order to trick the search engines into thinking a site is useful. This is done by a variety of means, such as keyword stuffing, where a keyword is used over and over again in content and meta information. Other techniques such as cloaking are also used, where a site has an entry page filled with popular keywords in order to hide the fact that the site is of poor quality.
Grey hat, as the name suggests, is somewhere in the middle and uses a mixture of good and bad practices in an attempt to over-optimise the site as much as possible.
Whilst this is a very brief description, it pays to understand that the use of black and grey hat SEO can have serious consequences for a business that relies on its website. If caught using these techniques, it’s very likely that you will be penalised by the search engines and disappear from the rankings altogether.
The importance of content
Content has always been important but now it’s even more so, thanks to Google updates last year (Panda and Penguin) which altered algorithms to better concentrate on the quality of a site’s content.
Written content should be grammar free with no spelling mistakes, unique to a score of a minimum of 70%, with relevant subjects to the site and industry and good quality links pointing to equally relevant sites.
Content isn’t all about the written word though and it’s important to find a good balance between text such as blogs, articles and whitepapers and video, images and infographics, the latter of which should be further optimised with the use of anchor text and ALT tags.
The changes to Google were essential in many people’s eyes, as the web is awash with useless content and this has become a problem for searchers in Google’s mind.
Finding the balance between usability and SEO
On page optimisation that’s geared specifically to the search engine often doesn’t pay attention to the most important thing, the site’s audience. Whilst it may be great to have a site that is picked up well by search engines, this won’t last if the content is useless to its audience.
This means that content should always be of a high quality and designed to engage the audience, so that they will share it socially and comment. This kind of interaction is more likely to get a site noticed than SEO alone, especially as social continues to rise in importance.
Tools that can help with basic SEO
A decent CMS will be able to help with the SEO for many sites, no matter how many you have. Content creation is made easier with the help of keyword suggestions, SEO reports that tell the creator how it will score for SEO and the ability to make updates site-wide with a click of a button.
There are plenty of these on offer and the most powerful will allow you to carry out SEO on all sites, including mobile without having to do each one manually. Many CMSs can be adapted to suit a site’s individual needs and can be linked to order processing and stock management to further automate the process and increase productivity.
For eCommerce sites this is invaluable, but it’s worth it for sites within a number of industries, especially since many of them can be bespoke, with additional modules designed to help all kinds of industries such as health care and manufacturing.
Whilst this is by no means a comprehensive discussion of SEO, it’s a good starting point for those who need to know the basic terms and techniques. There is plenty that we haven’t covered, such as the importance of keywords, something that warrants a post all of their own.