What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
If you have a website or are looking to get one soon, one of the first little acronyms that you'll hear thrown around is "SEO". But what is SEO and how much do you need to invest in it? Why should you care, and can you do something about it yourself? In this first instalment of 'The Basics', we dial back the technical terms and get to the guts of what SEO means to you and your business.
SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - what's that?
SEO stands for 'Search Engine Optimisation'. It's a broad term that covers a range of techniques used to try to get your site performing the best it possibly can in search engine results naturally. So rather than paying Google to run your ad at the top of the search rankings, the goal of an SEO plan is to bring your website up to the top of the rankings without needing to pay Google.
But how does it work?
Imagine reading through every website on the internet and then trying to put them into topic categories, regions, and in order of which site is the best match for a topic and a region. That's effectively what Google's algorithm is doing every day and is a great starting point for understanding how SEO and search engines work. Unfortunately, Google can't watch through the videos on a website, or see a picture and know what's in it (although we're sure that may change in the future!). What Google can look at is what is written on the site and where it is written. That's the starting point for SEO - the 'on-site' factors which tell Google what your site is about. The search engines also then look at how the site relates to the rest of the internet (eg what other websites are talking about a site), and that makes up the second part of the equation - the 'off-site' factors. A good SEO plan is all about getting those on-site factors and off-site factors targeting the topics and search terms you want your website to show near the top of the rankings in.
So what are the on-site factors I need to worry about?
Exactly what the Google algorithm looks at in ranking a website isn't absolutely set in stone. As the algorithm evolves, different elements of your site will be looked at differently by Google, but there are some 'rules of thumb' you can follow.
And what about off-site factors?
The off site part of SEO can be a little trickier to get your head around. While looking at all the sites on the internet, Google is also following the links between sites to try to better understand what they are about. For example, if your local Rugby Club has a website and it links off to the local Netball team website, Google will be looking at that link to identify if they are related in some way. On top of that, the search engine knows that if a high ranking, high quality website is linking off to another site, then that other site should be looked at in higher regard. Equally, if a low ranking, low quality site links off to another site, then that negative may rub off on that site as well. So where possible, if you can have your site featured in articles on well regarded sites that are about the same topic area that you work in, you'll see benefit.
Also think about sharing your website links through your social media channel's regularly. Google has an uncanny knack of identifying popularity on the internet in general, so if your social media channels flourish (and you link back to your website), then expect good things!
Do I need to worry about anything?
As you do a search for SEO you might see the terms 'white hat' and 'black hat' SEO pop up. These terms basically allude to there being good ways and bad ways of doing SEO, and they get thrown around in different contexts that can be quite confusing. The bottom line is that as Google evolves, some of the techniques used in the past to jump up the search rankings have started to have negative effects. As a basic rule, anything a human would look at as 'unnatural' on your site will increasingly be recognised by the search engines as you trying to game the system. For example, cramming hundreds of keywords in the site meta data used to be the way to tell Google what the site was about - that no longer really works. Same goes with overloading your page with keywords (ie having only keywords on the page without other text around it). Link building in particular can be slightly risky these days - beware of a 'toxic link' - ie a link from a website that has nothing to do with your topic area, from a site that Google doesn't necessarily trust. If you have an SEO specialist that suggests a 'link building' campaign, just make sure they are cautious about where they are getting those links from. Some of these dodgier SEO techniques may give your site a short term bump, but long term could damage your rankings.
Do I need to do anything?
So the good news is that even if you do absolutely no SEO on your site, it's possible it will start moving up the search engine rankings. There are so many factors that contribute to a ranking, that if you have a reasonably good site in a niche that isn't super competitive, then over time your site can creep towards that coveted front page ranking. However, if you aren't running a rankings scan, and haven't got an eye to the SEO side of things, then you are leaving things to chance a little bit. It would be like Usain Bolt showing up to the Olympic final without training for the last year - his natural talent miiiight pull him through, but it's far more likely the runners that have been training will cross the line in front of him. SEO is very much like training in that regard - it can be a pain in the ass, and if you don't do it then it isn't the end of the world...but if you want to win - then it's probably something you should look into.
For more information about SEO or anything in our "The Basics" series, don't hesitate to contact [email protected] .