A tutorial covering all the intricacies and complexities of search engine optimisation (SEO) is all well and good. But what if this is literally your first time coming across the idea of SEO?
In my experience, I’ve found that digital agencies and experienced marketers alike often overlook newcomers to the concept as a whole. That’s why in this brief introductory guide, I’ll be covering the SEO types, tactics and terminology you’ll need to get to grips with, if getting started with search marketing for the first time.
What Exactly is SEO?
Search engine optimisation – aka SEO – is an umbrella term that encompasses every activity with the goal of appearing more prominently in the major search engines. For the most part these days, the overwhelming majority of SEO efforts focus on Google. There are other major search engines worth considering, but Google nonetheless accounts for approximately 86% of all searches carried out online.
Hence, this is usually where you’re better off investing your time and money.
In terms of what SEO actually is, let’s say you’re looking for the “best LED TV deals” online. You enter the keywords, you hit ‘Search’ and you’re immediately returned with 88 million results. Though chances are, you’ll only take the time to look at the first few at the top of the rankings.
SEO is the strategy adopted to ensure your site and your products/services appear at the top of the rankings. The less visible you are in these listings, the lower your likelihood of driving traffic to your website.
Essential SEO Terminology
With the fundamentals of SEO as a concept taken care of, we’ll now be taking a look at some of the most essential terminology you need to know:
This stands for Search Engine Results Page and refers to the listings that appear upon entering a search term or keyword in any online search engine.
On Page SEO
As the name suggests, this refers to anything and everything you do on your webpages themselves to boost your SEO profile. From images to code to content to keywords, it all falls within the bracket of on-page SEO.
The keywords you choose will form the core of your SEO strategy, as they will determine how your website is found and by who. Extensive keyword research is necessary to determine what your customers are searching for, after which it’s a case of embedding them efficiently, sensibly and discreetly into your content.
Using an “H1” tag tells the search engine that this particular segment of text is important and provides a summary of what’s on the rest of the page. Your “H1” tag is effectively your headline for the page as a whole, which (for obvious reasons) is also the primary keywords or key phrases.
The title of the page is what will appear in Google’s listings and be seen by your target audience. It should therefore provide a concise and accurate description of the content it links to.
Your meta description is the short snippet of text that appears below the title in Google’s listings. You’ve between 160 and 300 characters to capture the attention of the viewer and convince them to click through to your website.
Image Alt Tags
Often overlooked, though of enormous value and importance nonetheless. The major search engines aren’t yet capable of reading and analysing the content of images, though they can and will read your image alt tags. All making a major contribution to your wider SEO strength and ranking position.
Nothing matters more for a strong SEO campaign (or a decent website in general) than quality content. Contrary to popular belief, the key to a successful content campaign lies in writing exclusively with the reader in mind – never the search engine you’re trying to win over. You can’t fool major search engines like Google with content crafted specifically with SEO in mind – it needs to appeal directly to your target audience.
There are some basic guidelines that can help steer things in the right direction. Examples of which include writing at least 300 words of content per page, keeping keyword frequency to no more than around 1% to 1.5% and ensuring every word of your content is unique.
Design and Usability
Increasingly, the physical design and structure of your website (and its subsequent usability) will influence its performance in the search rankings. Broken links, poor performance, inefficient navigation and so on – all taken into account by the major search engines and held against you.
The importance of providing a smooth, streamlined and speedy experience therefore cannot be overstated. Something that may call for third-party support, if you lack the necessary web development and optimisation skills.
Off Page SEO
This refers to all SEO efforts that take place outside your actual website. Examples of which include guest posting, backlink building, social signals, brand mentions and so on. It’s a broad term that encompasses anything with the potential to boost your SEO profile, which doesn’t take place on the pages of your website itself.
Internal linking is also considered a form of off-page SEO, wherein you cross-link between various pages within your own website. Just as long as these links are useful and assist with navigation, they can be an important SEO ranking factor.
As mentioned, it’s usually advisable to keep keyword frequency to about 1% to 1.5% at most. Any more than this and you could be penalised for keyword stuffing – i.e. using too many keywords in the same piece of content in an unnatural way.
Even if the content you’re writing calls for the repeated use of certain words or phrases, it’s better to rephrase or reword them where possible to avoid overdoing it. The added bonus being that in doing so, you might also rank better for a wider variety of words and phrases.
This is where a website attempts to curry favour by hiding a bunch of content and/or keywords in the background. The content in question typically being nonsensical or at least of poor quality, as a means by which to save the time and effort needed to create quality content.
Increasingly, hidden text incorporated into websites for SEO purposes is being detected and penalised by the major search engines. Hence, it’s a tactic to avoid at all costs.
Likewise, duplicating content from one page to another (or from any other website) is a recipe for disaster. Even if you appropriately reference the content you’ve ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere, it will not contribute anything to your SEO profile – it could even send things in the wrong direction.
This is where you click on something in Google’s listings, only to be taken to a page and a website that has nothing to do with what was advertised. Exceptionally annoying and a guaranteed ticket to poor rankings, along with permanent damage to your reputation.
Everyday clickbait isn’t always bad – i.e. somewhat exaggerating the drama of the page, product or service in question – but should never be overused.
What is Local SEO?
Increasingly, Google is showing strong preference to online and offline businesses that focus on local SEO. As the name suggests, local SEO is a much more targeted form of SEO that focuses exclusively on a specific geographic area.
The starting point for any effective local SEO campaign is opening a Google My Business account, claiming your listing and providing helpful information for your customers. After which, it’s a case of publishing localised content, using appropriate local keywords and winning your audience over with as many positive reviews and recommendations as possible.
What is Mobile SEO?
Mobile SEO differs from conventional SEO in that it targets those using devices with comparatively small screens. These days, mobile web users demand the same flawless browsing experience they’d expect from a desktop or laptop. Hence, when determining which websites appear in the rankings for mobile web users, Google intensively analyses the mobile-friendliness of the site in question.
Unless you’re able to provide a flawless experience for every mobile visitor, you won’t be recommended by the major search engines. Far from creating two entirely separate sites for mobile and desktop visitors, this simply means ensuring your website is both responsive – i.e. capable of automatically adjusting to suit the device being used to access it.
White Hat SEO vs Black Hat SEO
There was a time when every SEO tactic was a beneficial SEO tactic. These days, the major search engines are wise to unsavoury and unscrupulous attempts to climb the rankings. Long story short – anything that breaches the rules of the major search engines could see you wiped off the rankings entirely.
White Hat SEO is the kind of organic, hard-working SEO that complies with all rules and regulations set out by the major search engines. Black Hat being the exact opposite, comprising tactics such as purchasing phoney links, stuffing content with too many keywords, content automation, sneaky redirects, inaccurate or misleading content, hidden text, negative SEO and even buying traffic for your website.
Black Hat SEO more or less guarantees poor SERP performance, yet it’s surprising how many online and offline businesses continue to adopt a Black Hat approach.
If you’d like to discuss any of the above in more detail or have any questions on your own SEO strategy, contact Tait Pollack today.