What is SEO?
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is the art of getting your website to appear in search results.
The ‘aim of the game’ is to get your website to show up on the first page of Google, when people search on something relevant to your business. (We say Google, because 90% plus of Australian search traffic is Google.)
Why is SEO so hard?
So far, SEO sounds simple. But there are a few challenges.
First, no one except Google (and only a handful of people there) know exactly how Google ranks pages. The SEO experts have compiled over 200 factors they believe affect search ranking – but no one knows for sure. And no one knows for sure which is most important. This 2015 summary of ranking factors from Moz is a good overview.
Secondly, Google keep changing their algorithm. Why? Because all those SEO experts are ‘gaming the system’ – they work out what the algorithm is and find ways to get results for their sites. Google wants the best sites in search results, not the ones with the best SEO. (That’s not because Google are altrustic, by the way, it’s because the better their service, the more people use Google and the more chance they have to make money from Adwords.) So when a particular factor gets overused, they change the algorithm. They’re tweaking all the time and rolling out more major changes several times a year.
Further, Google actually has multiple algorithms – most significantly, it adds a lot more weight to mobile-friendly factors when someone searches on a mobile device. Which makes sense, since Google wants the search results to be useful to users.
A Practical Approach to SEO
Most small to medium businesses can’t and shouldn’t spend a fortune on SEO. Instead, take the advice of Google and create content which users value.
But don’t stop there. There’s no point in having great content if no one knows about it. You also need to promote your content. That means two main things.
Make sure both people and search engines can easily tell what each page on your website is about. And that they can access it easily.
You have control over most elements of good on-page SEO. Some basic rules include:
- Stick to one topic per webpage. If you don’t know what the page is about, what are the chances a search engine does?
- Make sure your site loads fast. If people have to wait for a page, they click the back button. Good hosting is worth the extra dollars. So is the time spent resizing images so they load quickly.
- Use simple, user-friendly urls. It’s easier for humans when they’re setting up links as well.
- Structure your page properly. Use headings (H2, H3, H4) to organise your content and include topic-related words in those headings. Make sure alt tags in images relate to your page topic. Use additional fields you have like the SEO title and the meta description.
- Keep your writing simple. We’re all time-poor and we don’t want to work to understand stuff. Readability-score.com is a great free resource to assess your writing. We aim for a Flesch-Kincaid score of 60 or above for everything on our website.
- Link related content on different pages of your website.
- Keep updating and refreshing content. Old content may be stale. Updates prove to search engines that someone is still looking after this website! A blog is good for this.
- Don’t duplicate content or copy from other places. Original is best.
- Don’t stuff your page with keywords or try to beat the system.
Off-page SEO is more difficult, and more time-consuming.
In essence, Google looks for evidence that users other than you like your content. Links to your site. Pages shared or liked on social media networks. Inclusion in (relevant) online directories.
But Google also assesses the quality and relevance of those linking to you. So a link from a generally trusted site (Wikipedia, Microsoft, the ABC) is worth more than a link from a photography studio. And a link from the photography studio to a wedding planner is worth more than a link from the same photographer to a car mechanic – because the businesses are relevant to each other!
The trick to off-page SEO is effort over time.
- List in relevant directories.
- Comment on relevant forums, blogs, association pages and so on.
- Get some PR and when it’s online, get it linked back to your site.
- Build a network and promote your content to others in that network so that they will, over time, create links.
- Don’t just publish on your blog. Post on sites like LinkedIn and SavvySME.
- Consider guest blogging. You can write for other relevant blogs. Or you can ask other people to write posts for your blog and hope they then promote their post and your site. Be careful, as this is an area Google is looking at, so make sure there’s genuine value and relevance. (And quite apart from SEO considerations, this is a great way to get real people to your site too – whcih is what it’s all about after all!)
More SEO resources
It’s always good to start with the official guide from Google on SEO.