Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is a huge subject which you could dedicate a whole book to and still only scratch the surface of what it is and how to do it.
Even then, by the time you had published the book, things would probably have changed and what worked when you started would no longer be as effective.
That’s why there are experts out there who spend all their time researching the most effective methods and trying to figure out the algorithms that search engines such as Google and Bing use to rank websites in their results.
If you are really serious about claiming that top spot on search rankings, you may have to throw a few thousand pounds at one of those companies to make it happen.
But if you just want to know the basics of what SEO is and simple strategies you can use to optimise your chances of doing OK in search engine rankings, here’s Plan B’s starter guide.
So, what is Search Engine Optimisation?
Put simply, SEO is the art and science of growing the visibility of your business in non-paid search engine results.
The higher your website appears in search results, the more people are likely to visit your website and hopefully do business with you.
Figures suggest that 95 percent of people who search for something in Google will only visit links that appear on the first page of search results. There’s the old joke that suggests the best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google search results – that’s how unlikely anyone is to go there!
Why does my small business website need SEO?
Whatever your type of business, without customers you are dead in the water. When it comes to websites, traffic is key. If no one visits your website it is not pulling its weight in your marketing efforts to attract new customers. Simply put, search engines are the roadways which bring traffic to your website.
Although some potential customers may find their way to your website by other means, such as links from social media, many – perhaps even most – will find you through one of the major search engines.
SEO is important to ensure that your website is structured in such a way that it’s easy for the search engines to “understand”.
SEO brings targeted traffic
Search engines provide “targeted” traffic, meaning people who are specifically looking for what you are offering, whether that’s products or services.
If search engines can’t find your site or it’s core purpose, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to drive traffic to your site.
Although search engines are getting smarter all the time and better at figuring out what search queries your content may be a good match for, there is a limit to what they can do. Anything you can do to give them a helping hand is effort worth making.
What steps can I take to make my site search engine friendly?
Although Google and other major search engines closely guard the exact algorithms they use to rank websites and their content, it is generally accepted that there are three basic tenets to search engine optimisation.
If you search for marketing expert in Spalding you don’t want to see results relating to plumbers in Peterborough. That’s why Google and co look first for websites and content which most closely match the search term use.
This means it’s down to you to make sure it is clear to the search engines that your content is relevant to what people are searching for by using the keywords in your copy they may search for. Consider alternative phrases and any acronyms they may use and incorporate those too, in a natural way that doesn’t smack of keyword stuffing.
Most likely, for each search there are thousands of results which are relevant, so how do the search engines decide which ones to put on the first page of results?
This is where we move on to authority, which is where content is ranked according to how trustworthy and accurate it is.
One of the key measures of authority is how many other sites link to to it. These are known as backlinks. In general, the more backlinks a page has, the higher it will rank. The more authority and relevance the site that links to it has, the better.
Content can be relevant and authoritative, but if it’s not useful, Google won’t be keen to place it at the top of the search results.
This is where it’s important to ensure your content is user-friendly – for real people, not just search engines.
Rankings for your content will improve if it is well organised, easy to read and understandable to the reader. It should also answer the specific questions they have or give them the information they need.
This is why Google’s own advice for getting better rankings in their search engine puts making pages primarily for users, not search engines at the top of its list of SEO priorities. This includes ensuring your site is easy to navigate and is “information-rich”
Bing also advises making your content rich in keywords which users would use to search for it and producing fresh content regularly.
On-site and off-site SEO
This barely scratches the surface of what SEO is, but the basic advice is to concentrate on making your content relevant and easy to understand by search engines and users (known as on-site SEO), as well as encouraging other sites to link to it to increase your authority (off-site SEO).
As a small business, ranking on Google or any of the other big search engines may be out of reach for some of the most popular and general search terms, such as marketing expert, but concentrating on improving your site’s local SEO may go a long way to helping you rank when someone is looking for a local business, eg marketing expert in Spalding.
That’s a subject for a whole other article which I’ll come back to another time.
In the meantime, there is so much you can get started on to improve your search engine rankings, and if you are interested in finding out more there are loads of free resources to help you – just Google SEO!