If you’re a business owner or marketing leader, you’ve likely heard the abbreviation ‘SEO’. You may have received a spammy email hailing it as the “best digital marketing channel” or you may have spoken to a peer as they preached of the “dark arts that have engulfed it”.

In this article I’ll be explaining the basics of SEO and answering a few of the most questions I get asked about this marketing channel. These questions have been asked of me by both experienced business owners and newbie marketers. So don’t worry if you’re struggling to get your head around the basics of SEO too.

The questions I’ll be answering include:

  • What Does SEO Stand For?
  • What is SEO?
  • Why Does SEO Matter?
  • How Does SEO Work?
  • Can You Improve Your SEO?

What Does SEO Stand For?

SEO is an abbreviation of ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. Whilst we can’t be sure of its origin, industry analyst Danny Sullivan believes it was first coined in 1997. Many from within the digital marketing industry also believe Bruce Clay was one of the first people to popularise the term.

What is SEO?

As the term implies, search engine optimisation is the practice of improving where a particular webpage ranks in the results congregated by search engines. These search engines include the likes of Google and Bing, which are used by billions of people every year to find information, images, videos and more.

For example, if you Google the term ‘Black Handbag’ you will find over 4 billion individual webpages. Having to find the most relevant and trustworthy website from this vast selection would be virtually impossible. Google and Bing therefore rank these 4 billion webpages based upon various factor to simplify it for users.

Savvy business owners want to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds when they search for certain terms or phrases in Google and Bing. They therefore perform search engine optimisation on their website to improve their rank in the results presented by search engines.

Why Does SEO Matter?

If you’re a business owner, you want to get as many relevant individuals as possible visiting your website. The most profitable and sustainable way to achieve this is often by ranking in Google and Bing for relevant terms and phrases.

If we use our previous example of the term ‘Black Handbag’, the website debenhams.com has secured the top position. This will mean that approximately 32% of the 18,000 people who search for this term monthly will visit their website.

However, the number of clicks a website receives begins to dwindle as they rank lower. This is simply as fewer people scroll to the bottom of page 1 of the Google search results and even fewer visit page 2, 3 or 4.

It is therefore important to rank high for terms and phrases that are associated with your product or service. Otherwise you will not only lose out on valuable customers, but your competitors will grow as a result.

Besides advertising, the only way to improve your rank in Google and Bing is by performing search engine optimisation on your website. This is a long-term effort that can take months (if not years) to take effect.

How Does SEO Work?

At the heart of Google and Bing are complex algorithms. These analyse various factors of a website and individual webpages to determine its overall quality and relevance for a search term. Whilst the exact algorithms remain a mystery, a combination of research and experience has allowed SEO consultants like me to understand what the most important factors are.

When performing search engine optimisation most will break it down into two key areas. These are ‘On-page’ and ‘Off-page’ optimisation. Whilst there are various facets of each area, this is a simple way to understand how SEO works.

On-page SEO

On a regular basis Google and Bing will send bots to crawl your website and its individual webpages. These bots will analyse various aspects of those pages, such as:

  • Meta title
  • Meta description
  • Written content
  • Multi-media content
  • Internal links
  • URL
  • User experience

Google and Bing then use their advanced algorithm to determine the overall usefulness and quality of the website and webpage. This algorithm will consider various aspects of those page, such as:

  • Uniqueness and usefulness of the text content
  • Relevance and value added by multi-media content
  • Natural use of keywords (and associated phrases) throughout
  • Appropriate use of internal links throughout
  • Structured and varied use of headers
  • Compelling meta title and description
  • Descriptive yet confined URLs
  • Overall usability and speed of the webpage

By considering each of the eight areas outlined above, your website’s on-page optimisation will be loved by Google and Bing. This will  help you rank higher for your target keywords.

Off-page SEO

In addition to crawling your webpages, Google crawls the entire web to understand how various domains connect with each other. The primary way they determine this is by analysing backlinks (i.e. when a website links to another website on a separate domain).

When their bots crawl the web, Google will pick up on virtually every link to your website. When they find these links they will consider various aspects of them, such as:

  • The authority of the domains that link to your website
  • The quality of the pages those links are present on
  • The relevance of the anchor text that is linked
  • Whether the links to your website appear natural or not
  • Whether the links feature a ‘follow’ or ‘no-follow’ attribute

Misinformed owners or bad SEO consultants will often partake in ‘black hat’ tactics to increase the number of links to a website or individual webpage. However, in 2012 Google rolled out a change to their algorithm (often referred to as ‘Google Penguin’) to target websites who had unnatural and unauthentic links. These websites virtually disappeared from Google overnight.

It is therefore important to only build authentic links to your website from other high-quality domains. Whilst this can be more time consuming, it is an important way to improve your ranking in Google and Bing.

There are numerous ways you can build high-quality backlinks to your website. Whilst none of these are quick wins, they will allow you to progressively increase the number of links to your website from external domains. These tactics include:

  • Create engaging content that people want to link too (i.e. long-form articles, infographics, videos etc.)
  • Share your content on your social media profiles (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.)
  • Publish high-quality content on other relevant websites (i.e. industry blogs, blogging platforms etc.)
  • Add your website to trusted business directories (i.e. Yelp, Yellow Pages, Foursquare etc.)

By trying each of the four tactics outlined above, your website’s off-page optimisation will be loved by Google and Bing. This will help you rank higher for your target keywords.

How Can You Improve Your SEO?

By trying some of the tactics above, your SEO should progressively begin to improve. But remember that SEO is a long-term effort and there are no quick wins in most circumstances. In my experience as an SEO consultant you can expect it to take between 6 – 12 months to begin ranking if you’re performing SEO for the first time.

You may find that you begin to rank sooner if you’ve got an older domain, some high-quality content, and pre-existing backlinks. By implementing the on-page and off-page tactics above, you may therefore supercharge your way to the top of Google and Bing.

I would always recommend increasing your knowledge of search engine optimisation too. Moz offer a superb beginner’s guide to SEO which covers virtually every aspect of on-page and off-page optimisation. If you would prefer to watch a video, watch Ahrefs video tutorial to SEO instead.

If you’re time poor and want to ensure your search engine optimisation is being handled by an experienced marketer, then consider working with a consultant or agency. You can learn more about my SEO consultancy online or book a free consultation now.