Updated: Jan 20
Welcome to The Beginners Guide To SEO. This article is all about the fundamentals of SEO, what it is, and best practices to implement on the two most popular search engines in the world; Google and Bing. By the end of this article you will have a full understanding of SEO, how it works, and how to implement changes on your own website.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimisation, or SEO as it is more commonly known across the web is the implementation of different criteria in order to increase the volume of traffic to a website as well as the overall quality. You may also hear people call SEO ‘organic traffic’ which means that you have received visitors from non-paid search results.
Although SEO is about getting on the right side of search engines, it is worth noting that the work you do on your website needs to appeal to people. This course will show you how to understand what your prospective customers are looking for and how to answer the questions they have.
By successfully answering their questions, you will improve the quality of traffic to your website and increase your conversion rate, whether you are attempting to sell a product online or provide a service.
What are Search Engines?
A search engine, like Google or Bing are answering machines. They use robots to crawl and evaluate billions of pieces of content to determine which website is the best suited to answer your query.
Consider for a moment, the number of images, videos and web pages that are currently online, well a search engine will catalogue all this information and index it in an order determined by multiple ranking factors.
A search engine wants to put the best answers in front of you, why? So you keep on coming back and using it. We will touch more on the ways a search engine works and processes the information later in the course.
What is an organic search result?
In simple terms, an organic search result is a non-paid listing. To benefit from organic search results, you will need to have a strong and effective SEO strategy.
In the earlier days, if a user typed something into a search engine, they would receive both paid and organic results. These days however, the top spot position is a lot more difficult to achieve thanks to the introduction of image carousels, ‘People Also Ask’ boxes and featured snippets which basically answer a user’s question without them even needing to click through to a website.
For example, if you completed a search for “Bristol weather,” you’ll see an up to date weather forecast at the top of the search engine results. This allows your question to be answered immediately and without having to click through to a website.
Even though this might seem a bit unfair, a search engine has got the user experience at the forefront of its business model. However, remember that search engines make their money from advertising, so the better the user experience, the more likely you are to continue using their services which allows them further opportunities to profit from your queries.
Why is SEO important?
It is always worth investing in social media and paid advertising to generate website traffic, but the reality is that the majority and most cost-effective traffic available to you is through search engines.
To appear at the top of a search engine is extremely beneficial for several reasons.
1. Your website will appear more credible to searchers.
2. Your click through rate will be far higher than if you were to run a paid campaign.
3. Your advertising budget would go a lot further.
Point number 2 in this list is worth noting. Did you know that of all searches, only 2.8% of people click on paid advertisements? That means that SEO has 20x more traffic than Pay Per Click (PPC) on both desktop and mobile.
If you set up your SEO strategy correctly it can pay dividends over time, whereas paid advertising needs continuous funding to send traffic to your website. Creating high quality content, that answers questions, will remain at the top of search engine results and provide you with a constant flow of traffic.
What is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?
This is where you need to be very careful because if you get this wrong, a search engine could penalise you and place you at the lowest end of their search results.
White Hat SEO is what you want to be aiming for. It is all about adding value to your website by publishing helpful content and answering questions. This is a strategy that abides by search engine rules and if implemented correctly, will ensure that your website is successful.
Black Hat SEO needs to be avoided like the plague. This is where someone will attempt to spam a search engine to gain higher rankings. It is an extremely dangerous tactic and has even made businesses bankrupt due to the penalties that search engines have dished out.
What does Google want?
Google is the most popular search engine in the world, so it is worth knowing exactly what it wants from you. Here are the basic principles to live by:
- Never deceive website users.
- Avoid black hat SEO and tricks intended to improve rankings.
- Make your website for people, not search engines.
- Create valuable content.
What doesn’t Google want?
Take note, these are the things that Google doesn’t want to see. By engaging in even one of them leaves you at risk of receiving a penalty.
- Using hidden text (keywords or phrases the same colour as the background)
- Showing different content to search engine robots than what you show to website visitors.
- Taking part in link building schemes.
- Building pages to rank well for specific searches to funnel traffic.
- Creating pages with copied content.
Stop for a moment and think about your own website, do any of these apply to you? If they do then you might have just solved the first reason why your website isn’t ranking for what it should.
What does Bing want?
Next up is the second most popular search engine in the world, mainly down to the installation settings on devices powered by Microsoft. Bing accounts for nearly 3% of searches (which shows just how powerful Google is with nearly 92% of the share). Although Bing uses a very similar algorithm to Google, they require some additional work:
- Social shares provide positive signals and as a result can impact how you rank.
- Ensure page titles are relevant and clear.
- Write engaging content.
- Backlinks are a signal of popularity.
- Build a fast and responsive website with a focus on user experience.
- Describe what is in an image using ALT tags.
What doesn’t Bing want?
Much like Google, there are certain things that would be wise to avoid. Make a note of the points below and avoid them when creating or optimising your website in the future.
- Minimum page content that focuses on adverts or affiliate links.
- Keyword stuffing in page titles, URLs and content.
- Duplicate content.
- Spamming link tactics or the purchase of links.
- Avoid non-letter characters in URL’s.
Google My Business Guidelines
Your business will qualify for a Google My Business listing if you operate locally or provide a service within a local area. To successfully benefit from a business listing, Google have created some basic principles that you need to be aware of. To check if you are eligible, does your business fall into any of the following categories:
- My business has a physical address that it operates out of (e.g. estate agent)
- My business operates at the address of customers (e.g. electrician)
If the answer is yes to either of the points above then congratulations, you are eligible for an inclusion in the Google My Business index. You can set up an account through any Gmail account my searching ‘google business listing’.
Once you have successfully opened an account, you will be able to add your business name, address, telephone number, website address, opening hours as well as many other features.
This is a very useful tool to those selling locally but Google has found that some users take advantage of this free service. Here are some things that you need to avoid.
- Stuffing your listing with service or geographical keywords.
- Listing your business under incorrect or fake addresses.
- Adding fake reviews, either positive ones to your own, or negative ones to your competitors.
- Using virtual offices or PO boxes instead of real street addresses.
Focusing on the user
As tempting as it might be to fool a search engine, the only person to benefit in the long run are your competitors. Instead of cheating the system, focus on understanding what the user wants to see as a result of their search.
If you keep this at the forefront of your SEO strategy, then you are on the road to success.
There are several different user search types and it would be beneficial to understand the expectancy of each one.
1. Transaction User: This user is looking to purchase something, or they are looking for attractive offers. For example, they may search for “good deals on the ford fiesta”.
2. Navigation User: A navigation user knows what they are looking for and just want to get there. For example, if someone searches for “Nikon” then they want to go straight to the Nikon website.
3. Information User: This user is searching for information on a specific question. For example, “what is the best laptop to use with photoshop?”.
As a quick exercise, you can Google your desired keywords and take note of what appears. For example, if you typed in “white cat”, it is very likely that a photo carousel would appear at the top of the SERP. This tells you that people searching for that keyword term often choose to look at the images.
Another great exercise to do while you have your computer open is to understand what your competitors are ranking highly for and then ask yourself the question, ‘how can I provide 10x the value of their content?’.
As we touched on in the introduction, content is king. By providing high quality and dense content, your website will establish trust and credibility and over a period, will out rank your competitors.
Before you move on
The exercises above are great practice for your future SEO strategy but before you set off to quickly, it is important to gain an understanding of your website’s goals.
To achieve any goal, you need a plan. SEO is no different and by having a plan you will be able to focus on key areas, track conversions, target the right user and where to set your benchmarks.
What to measure
All websites and businesses are different, so it is difficult for us to be specific with this, but some of the most common indicators to track on a website are.
- Contact Form Submissions
- Telephone Calls
- Email Subscribers
Hold on a minute, why aren’t the words “traffic” or “rank higher” on there? Well, we missed those out on purpose and here’s why.
Improving your search engine ranking and increasing your traffic looks great on paper and if this all happens then the course would be worth sitting through, right? WRONG.
Without a goa, like the ones listed above, how will you maintain your business? There is little use in ranking if nobody clicks through to your website and makes a purchase or calls through to your business. Always keep your business objective at the forefront of your SEO strategy because that is the only way that your company will survive.
Here is a quick example of how a high volume or traffic doesn’t always mean good news. Which one would you rather have?
1. 10,000 monthly visitors and 30 people call your business? Or…
2. 3,000 monthly visitors and 400 people call your business?
I really do hope that you picked option two. Before setting off on your SEO journey, make sure you have established your business goals, then create an SEO strategy to allow you to accomplish them, not the other way around.
If you would like any further help or support with SEO then please use the contact page on our website and a member of our team will be in touch to discuss your requirements.