what is SEO

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization is about gaining organic traffic to your website with quality content.  Understanding what content your audiences are searching for and providing answers to the questions being searched is good SEO practice.  It is about knowing what the intention is of the user and finding ways to match that intent with accurate and relevant information.  Presenting this information in a way that Google prefers. Which includes careful placement of keywords and structure. Once published the content is recognized by search engines (indexed), the site is crawled by little bots, to see what the content is about, is it authoritative and where should it rank in a returned search. 

 

What Do Search Engines Do?

There is an art to matching the needs of the end user and meeting the requirements of search engines.  As the name would suggest, Search Engines such as Google and Bing, play a big role in SEO.  They decide whether and where the content should appear in the ranking order on a returned search.

How do Search Engines Work?

MOZ  provides a great example of how search engines operate

Search engines have three primary functions:

Crawl: Scour the Internet for content, looking over the code/content for each URL they find.

Index: Store and organize the content found during the crawling process. Once a page is in the index, it’s in the running to be displayed as a result to relevant queries.

Rank: Provide the pieces of content that will best answer a searcher’s query, which means that results are ordered by most relevant to least relevant.

SEO - the Technical Part

Crawlers! What are those? Literally bot creepy crawlies that run through all the content looking for links and relationships to determine when this content should be displayed in a returned search. 

What are SEO Crawlers

Therefore, it is super important to make sure the content is structured with good use of sentences and short paragraphs. Well-defined headings, keyword placement and internal and external links.  If the content meets the SEO standards the better the ranking in a returned search. 

This is where it gets a little techie. Google needs to index the content. What does indexed mean? It basically means the search engine has recognized the content and understands what it is about. The search engine will determine when the content will be displayed in relation to a relevant online search. Where it ranks on the page depends on how well you have mastered the art of SEO and kept within the readability guidelines.

The more relevant the search engine believes the content will answer the user’s question or serve the users intention the higher the content will rank in a search.

SEO and Content Creation

First and foremost, content delivered must be in line with your business goals and company message.  The language and message delivered must speak in a way that is a true resemblance of what you are trying to achieve as a business.  Setting smart and measurable goals, is important when planning SEO because it sets a target which gives the content a desired outcome.  Why is this important?  Part of good SEO is being able to produce content that shows authority, expert, relevant information.  All in line with the intention of the user.  This is known as ‘10x Content’. 

10x content will perform well organically in SERPs.  Search Engine Results Pages will appear in a box.  Google has deemed these the most relevant to answer the user questions.   

These featured snippets have more click through rates than other returned searches.

SEO Example

For example, the searched term – ‘does my dog have worms‘ will be used by someone who is not sure about their dogs health and maybe looking for information on signs and symptoms.

A returned search would be expected of a pet store that sells pet worming products. However, the phrase searched indicates the users is looking for information rather than to purchase. If they were confident with their pets’ symptoms, the term ‘buy dog wormers’ or a search by the brand name of the product may be used.

SEO Goals

Here is where SEO comes into play. The goal is to display a piece of content that goes above and beyond the user’s intention. By addressing their concerns with content that lets the user know and the search engines know, the company are the worming experts. Through offering advice and solve their problem.

Depending on the objective, the content should make the user follow the Call to Action. Which for example, could be either e-mail sign up or increase sales of a product. 

SEO - Where to Start?

The above explains what SEO is and how it works. Hopefully it is a bit clearer now why it is an important component to all online campaigns. For a successful online campaign SEO should be considered in the planning stages.

Registering your page with GoogleMyBusiness – your business profile page will appear on searches and in Google Maps.  It also letting Google know you are there. 

Performing an SEO audit on your site would be a good place to start. This will show how well a site is performing regarding Search Engine Optimization.

There are free tools available online to help with this. Tools such as Site Checker or for an in depth analysis with helpful tips on SEO Analyzer by Neil Patel.

Here’s a video of results from an audit I performed on my own website.  I used SEO Analyzer.   This tool provides a full in-depth result which includes speed test analysis and a list of possible keywords. 

SEO Planning and Structure

Image taken from https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

How to do SEO?

At the planning stages of a campaign, SEO needs to be a key feature. Once the aims and objectives of the campaign is set, the SEO can add structure and framework to the content to help meet those goals.

1. Mobile Optimization. If you are using a CMS (Content Management System), make sure the theme/template being used are optimized for mobile. Mobile web visits account for 58% of all web traffic.  The site needs to display on all screen sizes.  User experience is  tested by Google, along with site loading speed.  This leads to the second point. 

2. Speed Checking. This will be carried out last, but it is an extremely important factor in SEO. If a page takes too long to load, it will affect SEO and ranking. Users will leave a site that does not load fast enough. To combat this, make sure all images are compressed to a 72dpi. This can be done using photoshop or by using WordPress plugins such as Smush or Squoosh. 

3. Keywords. Keywords are vital and there is no escaping this fact. Keywords will inform the search engine and the end user what the content is about.  Keywords need to be relevant to what users are searching for to have a better chance of your content being found.  Ranking in searches is the end goal and keywords are the bridge between your content and the user. 

Keyword research – tools such as Google Keyword Planner or  Keyword Discovery can help plan your keyword structure. 

Long tail and short tail keywords will need to be planned out.  For example, long tail ‘worm treatments for dogs’ short tail keywords ‘dog worms’.  Long tail keywords may have less competition than short tail keywords.  Many users type a question into a search engine and long tail keywords can help match the questions searched. 

The structure of the page needs to be considered.  Where the placement of each long or short keyword is going to be used.  Title pages, h1 headings, meta descriptions, and alt tags on images are crucially important places to use the chosen keywords. 

This is basics to good SEO.  The crawlers will read these to get a good indication what the site is about.  They will then move down through the content.

4. Content. Ideally before you start writing the content you will have list of short and long tail keyword phrases. These will need to be placed sporadically throughout. The tip here is to not over do it!  You are writing to please both the search engines and the end user – but write for the end user in mind. The readability factor is a big part of SEO. Content must flow naturally with the placements of headings, subheadings, short paragraphs and sentences.  

In the body of the text, keywords should be placed in the opening and closing paragraph.  Avoid over placing and over using keywords.  Longer blogs appear to be more authoritative and hold more weight with search engines. 

The inclusion of images and videos is good practice.  These add to the user experience which is looked for by SEO crawlers. 

Remember the search engines are looking for, relevance, informative, authoritative content. The crawlers will also look for external and internal links. Linking at least two reputable sources within the content adds an element of authority and relatability to the text. The crawlers will use these links to help better understand the content. Internal links are now a big part of SEO. Being able to link the content to other content within your company is proving more important. 

5. On-site and off-site SEO. On site SEO is all within the control of the creator. That is everything mentioned above. Mobile optimization, site speed, image compression, keyword planning and implementation through headings, title tags and meta descriptions. And the inclusion of internal links.

However off site is not within the creator’s control.  It is anything that happens external.  Yet is it another step towards good SEO practices.  This is when another site links to yours.  To search engines this is an indication that it is good content.  This practice is also known as ‘Inbound Links’.  To generate Offsite SEO, guest blogging and regular press releases have been noted by Square2Marketing as ways to generate links form respectable sites. 

The above has provided an understanding into SEO and the basic practices.  However, as Google changes its algorithms an average 12 times per year it is important to keep on top of new trends and best practices. 

What’s new in SEO?

86% of users expect companies to make informative and engaging content. Google now has a goal to rank sites that users love the most at the top. This comes back to proving content that solves the user problem – for example ‘Where should I go for dinner’
To beat googles new updates for raking, Niel Platel recommended stop understanding what google wants and focus on understanding the users.

Repurposing old blogs! This does not mean duplicating old content. That is a big taboo in the world of ranking. Google will rank fresh content that isn’t seen as duplication. As internal links are deemed important, updating old content can be time well spent. Time spent repurposing can be used to sort content by topics. Internal links can the be added to meet the new trend of cluster pages.

Voice Searches – With Alexa and Google Home. Websites are not being viewed a much. Users are asking the device a question and the search engine determines what response to give. This is why it is more important to start creating content with the users intention in mind.  

Good keyword practice is still very important.  New trends such a focusing on topics rather than fighting a good ranking position is thought to be the next SEO trend. 

For example the circle in the center is pillar page or main topic page.  The smaller circles are all posted content relating to the topic and are all connected with internal links.  

Image from Hubspot

SEO 101 - Basic Top Tips

That was a lot of information, even for basic SEO practices.  During my time in college studying – B.Sc Hons Digital Media & Society we discussd SEO practices alot.   We attended SEO events led by Alastair – Website Doctor which gave us good practical advice. 

 I am quite happy to share my SEO Top Tips with you!

Top Tip 1: User Experience.  Spend time thinking about the content.  Research what your audience is looking for and how how they want it presented.  Making sure images are fast to load and videos are included if appropriate.   If it doesn’t look appealing or interesting – you will see a high bounce rate. 

Top Tip 2: Keywords.  Research keywords.  Also use this time to look at what your competitors are doing and saying.  Are they doing it well or is there a sneaky gap for you to jump in.  Once the keywords are identified the hardest part is figuring out how to place and build the body of text around them.  Write for the end user. 

Top Tip 3: Alt tags – Never forget to label images in the back end of the site. With the help of AI, search engines are getting better at reading images. However, the alt tag descriptions should always be filled out with good keyword placement. Not only is this good for SEO but for users that are visually impaired it provides an audio description for better user experience.

Top Tip 4: Language and Tone.  This one is my favourite tip.  Writing with the company goals, visions and values in mind, lets you stand out from the crowd.  It brings the uniqueness of the company into your content.  Let the values of the company shine. If the reader likes whet they read they are more likely to become a customer.  

Top Tip 5: Analysis – Check if its working. During each campaign check Google Analytics to see if the SEO is working and you are on track to meet your goals.  After each campaign, part of the analysis should include the SEO summary.  Only then can you see the impact good SEO had on the campaign and maybe see what can be improved on for the next one.

SEO Tool Recommendations

  1. Yoast SEO – This is a plugin for WordPress.  It is extremely easy to use and guides you through SEO.  The traffic lights are good indicators to how well you are doing.
  2. Smush – This is a plugin which allows you to compress and resize images in WordPress. Fast loading images are essential.  When choosing a plugin a top tip is to check for ones that have been updated recently, have many users and a good star rating.
  3. Page Speed Tests  – Once your page/posts are published, always check the loading time.  This is good SEO practice as it effects the user experience.
  4. Keyword Tool – it is free to use and a good alternative to Google Keyword planner.
  5. SEO Analyzer – Neil Platel is an SEO expert and one to follow.  His analyzer is free and gives an excellent SEO Check
  6. Google Analytics – Its Free!  This tool provides massive amounts of information about your site and the users.  This is one tool I will be focusing one this year, to help buildup a profile and an understanding of the types of content the audience likes.

SEO takes time.  It can be done in house and fitted in as an element to all campaigns.  Be sure to use the same keywords on social media. 

Time to get re-purposing and linking those old blogs! 

Hope my guide provides a little more understanding into what is SEO and best practices for Search Engine Optimization. 

Image of Louise McDonnell in GMIT

Thanks for reading!

My name is Louise McDonnell.  A 4th year Digital Media & Society student.  I will be graduating June 2019. 

 

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