SEO basics: the what, why and how explained.

SEO, SERPs, digital marketing, Google, search engine optimisation

Hard though it is to believe now, there was once competition among search providers. Google has won the battle so convincingly that its name is now synonymous with search and ‘Google it’ is the first resort of anyone wanting to check literally anything. So SEO actually means ‘how do I rank well on Google?’ as the company has a UK market share of over 85%.

Good SEO takes time and effort but the stark fact is that a bad news story published in a reputable, high traffic news source will be top of search results and there is precious little anyone can do about it.

Search: a very brief history

When Google first launched, there were several other search engines. It wanted to be the best, meaning the most relevant, the fastest and the most comprehensive. Very little has changed. The Google algorithm ranks for relevance, influenced by popularity among other factors, and is updated around 300 times a year, according to the company.

There are people who will tell you they can trick the system. Google can employ the 1000 best engineers on earth and probably does. The credibility of its search results is the single most valuable asset the company has. What chance do you think there is of successfully outwitting Google?

But why bother tricking the system when Google provides advice about how to use it legitimately?

What are the main clues Google uses?:

The algorithm is completely content agnostic, it looks for clues about relevance and popularity. It does not judge! There are a number of factors influencing search rankings but if you get your content, headings, tags and links on your site right, you will be doing better SEO than the vast majority of sites out there.

Content: 

According to Google, the single most important ranking factor. Fresh, original, valuable content updated regularly will rank well. Make it relevant to your audience, write naturally so your content flows and use keywords as and when they’re right. If you have developed a strong keyword list, this should not be an issue! There was a time when people believed that repeating keywords, even if this made the content read badly, would help rankings. Google says it can recognise ‘keyword stuffing’ and will penalise sites for it.

You will also need a content plan to ensure you have a regular supply of new content.

Headings:

Break up the content with headings that reflect what’s being said. This not only helps Google index the content but makes for a better experience for the user.

Tags:

This is one of the most overlooked aspects of SEO. Use your keyword list to:

  • add one or two principal keywords to each main page url. Use a hyphen rather than an underscore to separate them. Keep the url succinct and descriptive.

(note: in most modern CMS, it is easy to edit page urls, just remember to check any links to other pages and re-establish any that may be broken using the edited url).

  • Add title, caption, description and alt text to all images.
  • With any video, add title, description and use any tag characters you can to the full (YouTube has a 500-character limit). Despite much experimentation, video content still cannot be accurately recognised by scanning the visuals, so Google indexes video using the text attached to it and the videos people click on when using certain search terms.

Links:

Google likes sites that have reputable 3rd party links to their content, so link from your content to other sites where it makes sense to do so. You can approach these site admins and ask for a link in return. Do not buy links. They are very unlikely to be good quality, reputable sites have no need to sell links, and Google claims to be able to recognise poor quality links.

A nice SEO tip to finish with:

So that’s a brief summary of basic ‘on-page’ SEO. There is no need to be apprehensive about putting all these tactics into effect and seeing your ranking improve. You will have a significant advantage over most websites out there.

The tip? Almost every B2B site on the web has an ‘About Us’ page. To check if the site has good SEO, click on the page and look at the page url. If it says ‘www.xxxxxxxx.com/about-us’ this is highly likely to be a url auto-generated by the CMS and you can assume the site does not have great SEO. If it did, there would be keywords in the url alongside ‘about-us’.

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