What is SEO?

Tuesday February 2019

So you've got a bright new web site, and you're hoping for visitors to flock to it, but you wait, and wait, and wonder where everyone is. Your investment in your website is only as good as the engagement it generates. You may have seen the acronym SEO, and know that you're supposed to to it, but aren't sure what it is or how to do it.

What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimsation) is the process of ensuring your website is designed to rank well in search results in search engines. SEO involves a number of  techniques, but many of them are actually quite simple, and don't require great technical knowledge.

What's a Search Engine?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know about Google. If you want to find anything on the web, you type in your query into Google's search box, and it will come up with a list of results for you. Google is by far the dominant search engine, however there are others like Microsoft's Bing - which is integrated into Windows 10, Duck Duck Go, for privacy conscious users, and others that may target specific geographical markets. Given that Google is by far the dominant player in the search market, this article will focus primarily on Google, but getting things right with Google is likely to have a positive impact across all search engines.

Google is remarkably secretive about the exact 'recipe' they use to rank sites in search results, as if they revealed all the details, it would make it easier for people to game the sytem. Google's overwhelming advice is to provide relevant, accessible, high quality content for users. Google does provide a lot of helpful information for website owners on their webmaster central blog, and it's worth paying attention to. There is information about tools and features that Google provides to help webmasters, as well as dos and don'ts when it comes to site content.

SEO dos and Don'ts

Most CMSs and shopping carts, eg Wordpress, Weebly, Squarespace, Processwire, Joomla, Prestashop, Shopify etc, provide the facility to edit content that's relevant to SEO, so it's easy to log into your CMS and ensure all the SEO related details are complete.

  • Do include a unique descriptive title for each page on your website.
  • Do include a short, unique description about what each page on your website is about including relevant keywords up to 160 characters long.
  • Do include quality, well written content on every page that is engaging for visitors.
  • Do ensure that your site is mobile friendly, and preferably mobile optimised.
  • Do ensure that every page on your website includes meta-data to enable easy sharing via social media.
  • Do ensure that your website loads quickly.
  • Don't publish content copied from other websites even if it's permitted.
  • Don't publish content full of spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Understand what people search for

Google provides free Analytics and Webmaster Tools to help you understand how people interact with your website. Google also provides a keyword planner for Adwords. Even if you don't pay for any Adwords, this tool is useful to analyse what keywords might be relevant to your website. You should use these tools to monitor your website and any advertising you have and make adjustments as necessary.

How to use SEO to stand out in a crowd

The web is a crowded place with millions of websites competing for people's attention. If you're in the fortunate position of having a website about a very unique topic, then getting basic SEO right is probably all you need to do. For example, if you have site about New Zealand leprechauns, it's probably not going to be too hard to rank highly, however if you have a site about New Zealand beer, it will likely be a bit harder to rank above competition. In cases like this, it's important to think about what makes your site unique, and use titles, descriptions, and content that clearly convey your uniqueness. In a crowded market, potential customers are going to want to know that anyway, so it's not just about keeping Google happy. Here are some ideas to increase your visibility in a crowded market.

  • Have a blog on your website - You can use different keywords for titles and descriptions that might not fit elsewhere on your site, and provide engaging content that's regularly updated to keep people coming back to your site.
  • Have a how-to section on your website (Yes, even for beer!). Be creative, if your products are food or drink, you can provide recipes, if it's something else, think up questions that people might want answered that could involve your product or service.

Should I pay for SEO?

SEO is not rocket science,  but it does take time to do right. If you get the basics like titles, descriptions, and textual content right, that can go a long way, however if you're not confident as a writer, or researching keywords yourself, sometimes it can be worthwhile to hire someone to achieve a better result.

Many businesses offer paid SEO services, but be wary of any that send you unsolicited emails telling you that there are awful problems with your website that they'll fix for a fee. Providing SEO is a legitimate business, as not everyone is confident enough to do it themselves, but a legitimate SEO business will have a website themselves, and won't try to hide their identity behind an anonymous Gmail address. SEO scams are extremely common, and can be quite alarming in the language they use. Businesses that provide legitimate SEO services won't try to 'cheat the system', which may result in a temporary boost to traffic to your website, but long term may do more harm than good.

Bear in mind that if you're in a highly competitive market, someone offering to sell you SEO services may have a conflict of interest, as if they offer their services to someone else in the exact same market segment as you, then only one of you can be ranked first.

Adwords

Sometimes, no matter how well crafted your website is, there is simply too much competition for it to stand out on its own. Of course Google knows this, and this is how it makes money. Google Adwords allow you to jump the queue by paying to have ads display next to search results. Popular search terms can be expensive, so if you do use Adwords, you need to ensure that you choose search terms that have a good prospect of converting into a sale. Google provides keyword research tools, to help you make the best return on investment. Although Google wants to make money from you, it's also in Google's interest that your advertising benefits you so that you will keep investing money in advertising.

Advertising on Social Media

While not strictly search, you can drive traffic to your website via regular posts to social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Both allow links to web pages, and Facebook will display a preview with the title, description, and the page's main image, if your site is set up correctly. People can click on these links to visit your website, and this can provide an important part of traffic to your website. People aren't going to be particularly interested in clicking on a link to the same page on your website time after time, so having a blog with articles relevant to the theme of your website can be a useful way to create engagement. In your blog articles, you can include links to product or service pages on your site, and then share links to the blog posts to social media. Make sure you provide a means for site visitors to share links to individual page on your website to social media themselves, as this can greatly extend your exposure.