What is SEO?

Have you fully wrapped your head around what search engine optimisation (SEO) is or is it a bit of a mystery?

Perhaps you’re vaguely aware that SEO would be important to your site but you’re not really sure what it means or where to start.

If that’s the case, this week’s blog is for you. We’re going back to basics to look at what SEO (search engine optimisation) is and why it matters to your website.

Simply put, search engine optimisation is the process of getting your website to appear as high up as possible on search engine results pages (SERPs) in the free ‘organic’ listings rather than using paid ads to get you on page one.

In other words, it’s about creating a website that, as well as being engaging, informative and usable for your customers (your number one priority), search engines find easy to understand.

Helping people find your website

There’s an instructional video by Common Craft and Search Engine Land that uses a fantastic analogy to explain SEO. We thought we’d cover it here.

Imagine the internet is a library and that every website is a book in that library. The search engines are the librarians. Each time a customer comes in with a query – i.e. when they run a search -, it’s the librarians’ jobs to find the best books (or pages within those books) to answer the customer’s question. Almost like an index system, SEO is the system that tells the librarians what’s in each book, how it relates to other books, how to find it and whether other people would recommend it.

Helping people find your website

Why SEO matters

A study by online advertising network, Chitika.com in June 2013 found that websites in organic position one (i.e. not the paid ads at the top or side of the page) on page one of Google secure 32.5% of all the traffic for that particular search. Websites in position two get 17.6% of the traffic and websites in position three get 11.4%.

By the time a website is listed in position 11, i.e. the top position on page two of Google, it secures just 1% of the potential traffic. Websites in position 15, halfway down page two, attract just 0.4%.

This makes a strong case for getting your website as high up page one of the major search engines as possible. After all, the more traffic that comes through your website – especially targeted, relevant traffic that’s looking for what you offer – the more you should see an increase in sales and profits.

Search engines want to deliver high-quality results

When all is said and done, search engines such as Google are businesses with customers too and it’s in their interests to meet their customers’ needs. The search engines are constantly striving to deliver SERPs that match what searchers are looking for, which is why the algorithms are constantly being tweaked to deliver high-quality, relevant results.

Google says that it uses around 200 different signals to rank a website, although it has never published a definitive list of what these signals are. Over the years, Google has mentioned that it looks at things like:

  • Presence of search term in the HTML title tag
  • Presence of search term in the body copy
  • Use of bold around search term
  • Use of header tags around search term
  • Presence of search term in anchor text leading to page
  • PageRank of a page
  • PageRank / authority of an entire domain
  • Speed of web site

The above factors seem to be fairly constant, but it’s fair to say that search engine optimisation is always evolving and becoming more sophisticated. At its heart though, the essence of SEO is always to bring customers to the best websites for their needs.

Search engines want to deliver high quality results

What elements of your website can influence its rankings in SERPs?

At SEO+, we strongly subscribe to the view that the best possible way of boosting the visibility of your website is to create it with your customer in mind. If you are able to create a satisfying customer experience, you should see your website rise through the ranks of Google.

But what offers a satisfying customer experience? It’s a good idea to think about the websites that you most enjoy visiting. In most cases, they will:

  • Have relevant, engaging content that answers your questions
  • Have a pleasing, attention-grabbing design
  • Use strong, relevant headlines and calls to action
  • Use clear signposting and navigation to guide you through the site
  • Include appealing images

When you create a great website with relevant content, then the chances are that people will want to talk about it on social media and link back to it from other websites. As we’ve touched on before, these are all cues that the search engines use to determine the quality of your website.

Making life easier for search engines

In the final blog of our recent ‘keywords’ series – Where to use focus keywords on your websitewe looked at how you can make it easier for search engines to understand and list your website in SERPs by incorporating keywords in strategic places on your website.

Going back to Search Engine Land’s library analogy, your page title, for example, is very much like a book’s title in that it summarises what can be found in the book and/or on that specific page.

The meta description is much like the blurb on the cover of your book, inviting people to come in and read more.

Your on-page headings are like the main title for each chapter, telling readers what they can expect to find within the content.

High-quality, legitimate backlinks that have come about through people genuinely valuing, citing and recommending your content are like being quoted in a book’s footnotes, appendix or receiving rave reviews.

Tracking your SEO efforts

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the fantastic tools you can use to track and develop your SEO efforts. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools mean you’ll never be in the dark about SEO again.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below about how you feel about SEO. Does it leave you frustrated and flummoxed? Perhaps your website is performing well in SERPs – if so, what has worked well for you? Are there any questions you’d like us to tackle in future blogs?

Over to you!

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4 thoughts on “What is SEO?”

  1. I really enjoyed this article, Hazel. I like your emphasis on getting your page ranked higher ORGANICALLY. Thank you, too, for pointing me towards the study by Chitika.com and for providing a handy link to their report. I particularly liked your line “if you are able to create a satisfying customer experience, you should see your website rise through the ranks of Google”. I could not agree more with this statement!


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