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what is seo
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What is SEO? The Ultimate Guide

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation is the science behind driving targeted website traffic from search engines to a website. SEO encompasses a large range of techniques that can push your site up the rankings and in front of the correct audience. 

Many people are still unaware of what SEO is and how it can help their business. SEO deals with organic search results. This is a huge part of the business’s website performance. 

In basic terms it’s all about developing an understanding of what people are searching online, what words they’re using and what types of content they enjoy. Once you understand what people are looking for, you can create a buyer funnel which gets users to complete a conversion or a goal.

Why Is SEO Important? 

Customers can be fed into a funnel via various methods including paid adverts, social media and more. However, organic results take up the majority of the search engine landscape. Organic results receive majority of clicks in the SERPs, even more than paid adverts which appear first.

SEO provides businesses with the visibility they need to be able to attract customers. As long as you’re targeting a topic that is getting consistent searches, organic is the most sustainable method of drafting in traffic. 

Google looks at a wide range of factors when determining the rankings of a website in the search engine. Remember, Google’s goal is to try and find the content most relevant to the users query. If your website can be set up to appear for queries relating to your industry, that’s a huge win.

71.33% of searches resulted in a page 1 Google organic click. Page two and three only get 5.59% of clicks. 

This stat sums up how important it is to make sure you have an SEO strategy set up to work towards better rankings.

Having a website that does not get any traffic is pointless. SEO has a load of benefits that will help your website grow:

  • Better User Experience
  • Primary Source of Leads
  • Higher Conversion Rates
  • Better Brand Awareness
  • Better Cost Management
  • Takes You Ahead of Competition

SEO will help you to have a fast, user friendly website that aligns with Google’s latest algorithm.

Understandably this may be a lot of information to take in. Depending on your willingness to try to complete some SEO tasks yourself and the complexity of your website, you could try to give it a go. However, a SEO professional would definitely help!

Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to work SEO like a get-rich-fast scheme, you will probably resort to using techniques that fall under the black hat SEO banner.

Black Hat SEO refers to techniques used to improve your sites SEO through means that violate Google’s terms of service. Fulfilling tasks using black hat methods can ultimately get your site banned from search engines all together.

Google has a large set of ‘Webmaster Guidelines’. These guidelines feature specific rules that must be followed, if your site violates one or more of these guidelines, then Google may take manual action against it. Once you have remedied the problem, you can submit your site for reconsideration.

Google only issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer has determined that pages on the site are not compliant with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.

White Hat SEO is the complete opposite. It refers to the usage of optimisation strategies that are totally legitimate and follow Google’s guidelines.

The only way to get results that last without penalisation is to follow white hat techniques.

Site-wide SEO Audit.

In order to find out what is wrong with your website you can start with an audit. A sitewide audit is an examination of the page performance before you have completed any SEO tasks. Auditing your site before you start allows for you to determine high priority tasks and whether the site is optimised to achieve your goals. 

By conducting a website audit, you will be able to easily identify opportunities to get rid off your current SEO headache. 

Using sophisticated software like SEMrush will allow you to crawl up to 20,000 pages of your website and the software will perform millions of detailed checks on every URL identifying issues that are hindering your sites organic performance in the search search engines, from broken internal links and duplicate metadata conflicts to page load speed issues and uncompressed JavaScript and CSS files. A good audit from an SEO expert will include analysis for multiple sections of your website:

  • Organic Channel Insights
  • Keyword Strategy Analysis
  • Platform Performance Review
  • Advanced Technical SEO Review
  • Search Console Review
  • Structured Data & Markup Analysis
  • On-page Optimisation Analysis
  • Page Load Speed Insights
  • On-site Content Analysis
  • Link Profile Analysis
  • Competitor Landscape Analysis
  • Google Analytics Review

Now your website has been tested against Google’s major algorithms, quality guidelines and ’best practices’, you have a checklist of problems to fix!

Competitor Research.

Before you start your keyword research complete, it is important to see what your competitors are doing. Conducting competitor research is essential in order to compete in your industry. 

Identify your competitors. Search for websites that sell the same products or services as you and take note of them. Once you have a list of a few competitors, check what keywords they are using for their site. Compile a list of keywords that your competitors are using in their SEO strategies. Do this by viewing page sources and checking meta titles and check out their content. This is important as you can gain inspiration from your competitors and new ideas you may want to use within your keyword strategy. 

Also, you should take a look at your Domain Authority and Page Authority using the Moz tool or SEMRush. Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating multiple factors including linking root domains, total links, quality of links and ‘ranking strength’ which is based over the time the domain has been live and active.

What is SEO: backlin audit
Above is an example from SEMRush using eBay’s website.

If your competitors have significantly higher authority scores than you, it may force you to alter your keyword strategy (that’s why it is important to complete competitor research first). If you and a competitor are challenging for the same 

keywords you may try to take a different route.

List of backlinks from integrity small business
List of backlinks via SEMRush

Where are they getting their links? Pull a list together of their inbound links and see if you can get your website a link from the same site. A link may come from a ‘Top 10’ blog which could feature your website as well as a competitors, make sure to ask for a link whenever your brand is mentioned. However, make sure to only use the sites that have a good DA, if the site linking to you is poor it could do more harm than good.

Now you have an idea of what your competitors are doing you can start to develop your own keyword plan. When optimising pages of your website it is important to consider keywords with good search volume, relevance and ranking difficulty. Analyse the types of words and frequency used by potential customers to find your brand or service. 

Before you can help a business grow through search engine optimisation, you first have to understand who they are, who their customers are and their goals. This can allow for you to build up a strategy that can bring in the correct type of users onto your site.

A lot of people seem to bypass this crucial planning step because keyword research takes time, and why spend the time when you already know what you want to rank for? If you don’t know which relevant keywords should lead to your site, you can’t drive traffic, sales, and an ROI.

Google’s Keyword Planner is one starting point for SEO keyword research. It not only suggests keywords and provides estimated search volume. You likely have a few keywords in mind that you would like to rank for. Use the research tool to discover the average monthly search volume and similar keywords.

Let’s set up a scenario to help you better understand the process. I own a restaurant in London, England and want to create a list of keywords to use. The obvious term to research first would be ‘Restaurant’.

what is seo: Keyword Planner displaying results for Restaurant
Keyword planner displaying results

But remember, one thing you must be careful when conducting keyword research is using broad keywords. For example searching ‘restaurants’ will have you facing a lot of competition. There is also a large possibility of attracting visitors that may not be as targeted as you think, and thus will not bring you any business. Broad keywords are only useful for those businesses who target customers around the globe. But if your business is located in a specific location.

So to drill our example search term down further, I would add the location of the restaurant, creating the term ‘London restaurant. Although the average monthly searches will drop, I have a keyword that targets real potential customers that are close to my business and could actually book a table if they wish. 

Keyword planner displaying results for Fast Food Restaurants

However, we aren’t stopping there! I could then take this to another level and incorporate what type of food I sell in my restaurant. For example, ‘fast food restaurants London’. This would then focus in even further upon users who are interested in my exact location and type of food that is being sold.

These types of searchers are the kind of leads that your website should be attracting and converting into customers.

Content.

Now we have discussed why you should follow Google’s guidelines at all times and how to efficiently optimise your keywords it’s time to talk content!

As we have found out that Google has gotten smarter over the last 15 years. While you should, of course, use your keywords throughout your content, overloading your keywords into your text will hurt your rankings rather than improve them.

Google has stated that Content is a top 3 ranking factor. Just upload loads of content, right? Wrong. Google only rank high quality content. Also Google has not released any pointers for what is classed as high quality content, or how to create it? They love to keep us guessing.

However here are some tips that we have used over the years:

  • Check your keyword usage. As mentioned above, too many keywords will hinder the performance of your content. Make sure to only implement the keywords that are perfectly relevant to that piece of content.
  • Do more than your competitors. If your competitors are creating lists of the ‘Top 20 Best… whatever’ then you should create the ‘Top 50 best…’! Push yourself. Subpar content will not rank, think of it from Google’s perspective. If someone has a better piece of content that has been sitting on the front page for years, it is going to take something special to beat it. 
  • Constantly update content when necessary. Google’s algorithms are constantly changing and updating and rankings may drop. It is worth going back to old pieces of content and updating the links and imagery, this will help you rank higher and users who read it will find it relevant and up-to-date. 

Another secret to creating good content that is optimised for SERPs is to create a variation of content. Blog posts, social content, how-to guides, infographics and videos are great ways to create efficient content. Creating new and fresh content using different content takes time and resources but it will pay off.

On-Page SEO.

On-page SEO refers to completing activities on a website to improve organic visibility. Optimising individual web pages in order to rank and earn more relevant traffic in the search engines is essential. There are multiple on-page ranking factors that can have a big impact, below we will walk through all the On-Page SEO best practices.

User Experience.

One of the most overlooked parts of On-page SEO is user experience. Rankings are not everything, you could get one million people onto your website but if your website is not optimised for the user properly, your profits will take a hit. 

You must focus on the visitor, that’s the whole point of UX. All of the bullet points above contribute to your websites user experience.

What makes a great user experience? There is no correct answer to that question. Everyone has different opinions however, one thing we can agree on is that a poor navigation, auto-playing music and awful colours is not a great start for a new user who has just found your website.

Page Title Optimisation. 

Think of your page title as the headline of your page, it is extremely important. Title tags have been around since websites first started. Try to keep your page titles unique, Google does not agree with duplicate content. The standard size for a page title is 60 characters (max). Title tags are displayed on the SERPs and are clickable via users. Another thing to keep in mind is how accurate your title is and make sure to keep it in line with the pages content.

what is seo article:  screenshot

URLs.

Keywords in the URL are a ranking factor. It can be more beneficial to also keep URLs shorter rather than longer. This is beneficial for people who want to copy and paste the URL on social media or in an email. If you have two different URLs that link through to very similar content, it’s time to canonicalise them. As mentioned above, duplicate content can harm search engine potential, use a redirect from one of the pages to the other in order for it not to affect rankings. 

URL set up

Internal Linking.

Internal links refer to the links inside a website that are linking to another page on the same site. The purpose of these links are to redirect people from one page to another upon your website. Making sure all these links work properly and link through to the correct pages is essential for rankings and more importantly user experience. If a user clicks on your site and can’t navigate around the site due to broken links, they will leave and likely never come back.

Set up your site structure. Imagine your website as a pyramid, at the top is your home page and underneath is you categories, then your pages. Make sure it flows and follows a logical structure. This is extremely important for usability and a good site structure improve the chances of your site ranking well in the SERPs.

Image Optimisation.

Image optimisation tries to find a balance between file size and quality of image in order to load your website quickly while not sacrificing the crisp images of products etc. Enhancing the performance of your website is a must if you want to be successful. Trying to gain any slight advantage over your competitors will be beneficial. Not only is it handy for user experience but Google prefers faster loading websites and site speed is in fact, a ranking factor. 

Having a slow site will reduce the amount of conversions and increase your bounce rate, although images slow your site down a touch, it is really important you use them. Adding diagrams to content can help users understand what you’re talking about rather than just huge blocks of text.

Unique Descriptions. 

Meta descriptions can be any length however Google ends the snippets after 160 characters, so trying to correctly word your description so it fits under 160 is standard for good SEO practice. Recently we have seen some testing from Google to extend certain snippets to 320 characters although nothing is permanent yet. Think of your description as an organic text ad, users read the description and if they like what they see, they will enter your website.

Case Studies Meta Descriptions

Having duplicate meta makes you compete against yourself. A lot of SEO professionals believe that meta descriptions do not affect rankings. I have to disagree, from 10 years experience there is a clear pattern and jump in rankings when you improve your meta descriptions and remove any duplicates.

Off-Page SEO.

What Is Off-page SEO?

Off-page SEO refers to tactics you can deploy in order to improve your position in the SERPs. However, contrary to what many people believe, it is not all about link building. Off-page SEO is an integral part of your SEO strategy. Both on-page and off-page SEO go hand in hand.

Why Does Off-page SEO Matter?

The relevance, trustworthiness and authority of your site plays a major role in your pages ability to rank. Off-page SEO is important for gaining more business exposure and higher ranking brings in more links, more visits and more social media interaction. 

Building Backlinks.

One of the most common and most effective methods of off-page SEO optimisation. Search Engines use backlinks as indications of the linked to content’s quality. Therefore a site with a lot of high quality backlinks will rank better within the SERPs.

Why build links? As we have found out Google love to change up their ever complex algorithms but one feature remains an important factor and that is backlinks. Link building is important for SEO as it builds trust and authority on the linking pages and improves rankings.

So, How do you gain these links? Well, there are three types of links:

  • Self-built links – These links are created by running through online forums, guest blogging and online business directories. But remember, some of these techniques can be classed as black hat SEO so make sure you are careful when building these links.
  • Natural Links – These links will be gained on merit for creating quality content.
  • Manual Links – Manual links are acquired through link building activities including asking influencers or satisfied customers to share your content.

What are Toxic Links & How Do They Affect My Site?

Toxic links are unnatural links leading to your website. Toxic Links can have a huge detrimental effect on your websites rankings. If you have a large number of toxic links you can be totally excluded from the search engines. Non-removal of toxic backlinks can also invite a penguin penalty. 

Which backlinks are toxic?

Links from these types of sites will usually be deemed as toxic by the search engines:

  • Spam Sites (Created for the sole purpose of link building)
  • Sites which are not indexed within the search engines
  • Sites with a virus or malware
  • Link networks 

Make sure to remove all toxic links once they’re identified, they will lead to your website being penalised.

Local SEO.

Local SEO refers to the optimisation of your business to attract relevant local searches. Claiming your Google My Business listing is a great start when tackling your local SEO demons. Done correctly, an effective local SEO campaign will allow for your business to appear on page 1 of Google’s SERPs via a map, business listing or organic listing.

What is seo: Google My Business page

The clue is in the name when it comes to ‘local SEO’. If I search for ‘fast food near me’ Google will display local results and a map of my area. If your business does not appear in Google’s results, you’re missing out on a huge amount of traffic. With more people engaging online with their mobile device, users tend to search for nearby businesses in order to get a quick solution.

Studies show that around 82% of smartphone shoppers conduct a ‘near me’ search.

This stat alone shows how important it is to optimise your local business listing using Google My Business.

If you haven’t claimed your Google My Business URL yet you better hurry because someone else may take it.

Google My Business Map

Google My Business page’s allow you to control what images are provided when someone finds your website’s listing on Google

Google My Business Image Uploader

Upload all your business logos, cover photos, videos and shop interior (if necessary) to your business page. This makes customers gain trust and also pushes your brand to users.

Request a Quote.

Google have added a ‘Request a Quote’ button into their My Business Page. Right now the feature is limited to certain business listings however in the future this new feature will be rolled out among all My Business pages.

Messages sent via users can be seen within the Google My Business app.

This allows customers to get a quick quote without having to even enter your website.

Create Local Content.

Honing down your focus into specific local audiences when creating your content is a great way to attract customers. If you advertise locally to attract new customers then you should create local content to try and attract them organically. 

Search engines are one of the primary ways that people find nearby products and services. Show that you are involved within the local community whether its supporting local charities or events going on. It can get your business name out to more people who are likely to check you out because you’re local to them and easy to contact/visit.

Reviews.

Before you purchase something from a website do you look at reviews? I certainly do. Reviews are a vital part of local SEO as they’re ranking factor within the search engines. Guide your reviewers and ask them to review your product and service at this location. We don’t want to influence the output but rather give the reviewer an idea of the kind of review that is helpful to us and where we have gone above and beyond, our experience is that many people are happy to leave reviews as long as you make the process quick and simple.

Local Citations.

Online directories are used to search for businesses all the time, especially local businesses. It is important that you take advantage of this by listing your website on all the safe and secure citation sites. The links from the citations will help boost your rankings. However, as discussed in the Black Hat vs White Hat section, the domains must be from a trustworthy source.

When you publish citations, make sure that all your information is correct on the current citations that may have been added over the years. Different phone numbers or contact details [NAP’s] may cause customers to not be able to contact you. Synergy between consistent delivery of information will help your SEO.

Google Webmaster Tools.

What is Google Webmaster tools used for? A lot of SEO experts use Google Webmaster Tools in order to analyse the technical aspects of their website. GWT can display data including crawl stats, rich snippets, page errors, HTML improvements and more. 

GWT is a free service that can be used by anyone who owns a website. So there is no excuse for not giving it a go. 

The tool itself is now known as Google Search Console, all the data it provides comes directly from Google so you know the advice is legitimate.

There are a few simple steps that you can follow to get set up.

  1. Register Your Website.

Once you have registered, Google send notifications of any inbound links that your website receives, also you can view data and analysis from your website’s performance. For Webmaster Tools you can opt-in for updates and emails from their blog and other useful information Google provide us with.

     2.   Submit Your Sitemap.

Next, you can set up and submit your sitemap using Webmaster Tools. This tells Google about the pages on the site that they may not be able to see. This sitemap is used to learn the structure of your site. Once you submit your sitemap is can be crawled by Google.

Submitted Site Maps

     3.    Review Your Links. 

Within the Search Console you will find a links section. This features information about the top linked pages, external links, top linking text and more. All of this information can be exported, allowing for you to analyse your best links. Finding out where your best links came from will help you get more.

Top Linked To Pages

  4.    Eliminate Any Errors.

Once you have completed the following steps and are fully set up, you can check on your Site Health and see what errors your website has. The most popular errors include 404 errors and 503 errors.

Error Log Google Webmaster

Once you find the errors it’s important to fix them and continue to constantly check your website health, errors will keep reappearing and you need to make sure you fix them. If you’re looking to improve your SEO reach and fix errors within your site, Google Webmaster Tools is a simple, free way to start. 

What is Google Analytics?

Google analytics provides a huge amount of data related to users who interact with your site. It allows you to track live users on your site and understand where traffic is coming from and you can set up reports to provide data for almost any query.

It is fantastic for segmenting data and making the hard stats easy to read. To constantly improve your SEO campaign it is important to pay close attention to the key bits of data within analytics. All the screenshots below have been taken from the Google Analytics website. 

Is Google Analytics free to use? Absolutely, that’s why it is essential that you use it to help your business!

We won’t bore you by going over every single report within GA because we will be here for days, however, we will discuss the most prevalent and important reports.

Set Up Your Analytics Dashboard.

Analytics Dashboard Features

Step One – Sign into Google Analytics and navigate to Admin > Property Settings. Make sure that all the information entered is correct and all of the buttons are switched ON.

Step Two – Now we shall make sure that we set up the basic settings. Go to Admin > View Settings.

Google Analytics Basic Settings for Dashboard

Make sure that all the information is correct including time zones, URLs etc.

Step Three – Add filters in order to get the most accurate data, this makes sure you’re not wasting time processing incorrect data.

Google Analytics View Filters

You can use filters to exclude traffic from particular Ip addresses, include only data from certain domains and convert URLs into text strings.

Step Four – It’s time to set up goals! Goals give you extra information, with goals you can track what people are doing on your site and what you can expect them to do. You can set up buyer funnels for specific products, the customisation is endless.

Google Analytics Goals

Step Five – Set up alerts. Navigate from Admin > Alert. If a certain goal is reached, you will receive a notification on your account. This is perfect for someone who may not always be able to access analytics everyday. Any major changes will also send an alert to you.

Now we have your dashboard set up, we can jump into the report sections. we will run through the most important ones that you can use to aid your SEO campaign.

Organic Metric.

Remember, SEO only impacts organic traffic. So to take a look at only your organic traffic sessions, open your channel grouping report. This can be done by clicking Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

Google Analytics Organic Metric

Clicking on organic search will allow for you to view a detailed report which includes only organic metrics.

Google Analytics Organic Chart

Featuring information including sessions, new users and bounce rate. This report can help you determine your best performing top landing pages, keywords and which search engines are sending the most traffic to your site. Analysing this information is a great way to understand how your website is performing. 

Identifying Slow Pages.

Google Analytics Slow Page Chart

Slow pages kill sites. It can kill the user experience of your website. Making sure you have no slow pages is essential. How can you see if any of your pages are slow? To measure page load times navigate to Behaviour > Site Speed > Page Timings.

As you can see on the left of the screenshot we have an average load time per second. The best part about this report is that it views the load times on a page by page basis. Allowing you to create a list of URLs that are performing poorly and then you can fix them. 

Make sure to save some data from before you have optimised these pages, then afterwards. This will allow you to compare the speed and see if what you have done is actually working. Most likely your conversion would improve if your site was faster.

Conversion Goals.

You could have a huge number of traffic but if none of it is converting it means nothing. To test the quality of your organic traffic, you need to be tracking all your conversions.

Conversion goals can filter the traffic to understand what percentage of all your websites conversions are resulting from organic traffic. This is a real tell of how good your current SEO tactics are.

To view this go Conversions > Goals > Overview.

Google Analytics Conversion Overview

Assisted Conversions.

If someone found your website on Google and didn’t convert, but later returned to your website directly and then converted? This is very common as it is strange for someone to convert after landing on a website for the first time. This is why conversion goals only scrape the surface of conversions in general.

The next report we are going to look at is ‘Assisted Conversions’. Go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions.

Make sure to watch out for any drops or rises within this data, this can show whether leads are no longer qualified. This data is fantastic as you can break down each channel featured on the conversion path of a user.

Google Analytics Assisted Conversion Chart

Mobile Performance Report.

Mobile first is here. It has been for a while now. We need to make sure that our mobile performance report is set up in order to gain valuable insight into how our website performs on tablet, mobile and desktop. 

Google Analytics Mobile Report

As you can tell from previous reports, Google Analytics love segmenting data to make it easy to read and understand. This report can be broken down so you can see which mobile devices are used to access your site. For this view go Audience > Mobile > Overview.

Consider the conversion rate for each of the devices as this can indicate which of traffic is most valuable to your business. This will allow you to make informed decisions about which SEO tactics you could deploy next.

Finally!

Commit some time to complete a review your current strategy and see how you can improve upon it.

Hopefully you’ll realise that SEO is a necessity if you want to grow your business.

I recommend starting with the basics. Run a website crawl, start some keyword optimisation and implement it into your content! If you feel like you do not have the time to complete some of these tasks, contact a professional and run through some ideas to get expert advice. don’t let your competitors pull away.

Published by Kristin Atkinson

Multi-award winning owner, founder and Managing Director of Integrity Search & Integrity Commerce®.

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