Behind every single site on the search engine results pages (or SERPs) sits a multitude of ranking signals that determine how Google and other search engines rank each and every site from the often billions of results returned.
With that in mind, let’s take a very quick look at how it’s done.
Why is SEO Relevant to my Business?
Many bigger companies have dedicated teams whose sole focus is SEO. Many more will work directly with local SEO agencies, who can utilise economies of scale and in-house experience.
These investments make sense when you look at the importance of organic search. Nearly all online sessions start with a search engine, and 75% of users never navigate past the first page of the SERPs. So, if you’re not ranking high, then you’re effectively invisible to anyone who hasn’t heard of you already or hasn’t already discovered your website by other means.
Talk around optimisation is rife with intimidating acronyms and technical language, and no two SEO strategies are the same. It’s estimated that Google’s algorithm currently looks at over 200 ranking signals to determine a website’s position in a given search.
In reality you can still rank relatively well without getting all the technical details perfect. A few basic, yet important, changes are enough to make your site look more appealing—and discoverable—to search algorithms.
The best keywords are usually balanced between volume and level of competition. A highly competitive keyword means many people use it to search for your product, but if most of your competitors are already trying to rank for these, then you may just end up wasting time in an already saturated space.
There are free tools online that help you research and harvest keyword data, like Keyword.io and Google Adwords Keywords Planner. Most of the popular CMS platforms like Wordpress are also already built with features that help you manage your SEO, with little to no technical background needed. The most popular of which is Yoast SEO.
TIP: Try to think like your ideal customer. What are the words they might use to find products and services like yours? Also, try to think about the problems and issues they face every working day that may lead them to need your products and services.
If you’re only targeting customers in a particular city, make sure you append the city name to your keywords.
Your webpage contains a lot of elements to tweak, but for the sake of simplicity we’re only going to talk about the basics. These are also the ones that have the most impact.
● Page title: The little label on the tab of each page, and the title you see in bold in the SERPs. Make it rich with relevant keywords, but not to the point of illegibility—the title still needs to read like it was written by a human.
● Meta description: This is the little blurb under the links in the searches. Search engines don’t read keywords here. However, any word that matched the searcher’s query will be bolded, which helps catch the user’s attention
● Content: Content is so important to SEO, and it’s often skipped over in favour of obsessiveness over keyword frequency. Weighty and informative content can be incredibly powerful if it’s useful to the user. Well written long-form (over 1,000 words) content will always rank far better than short and repetitive badly written content, so invest in a good copywriter and don’t cut corners here.
● Images and videos: Contrary to what many marketers believe, simply adding images or videos will not significantly improve your SEO. Rather, the purpose of rich media is similar to heading tags: they can engage users and make them stay longer on the site, which itself is a ranking signal.
● HTTPS: For a number of years now, having a website that uses a ‘secure connection’ between it and the visitor has been a ranking signal, and it’s relatively easy to implement. To know whether your website uses HTTPS look for a little padlock in the browser address bar. If you don’t have one, speak to your web developer or hosting company to get it.
● User experience: A great majority of searches are made on mobile, which is why Google has placed a premium on the experience. The search engine now primarily references the performance of your mobile site when evaluating for relevance, not desktop. So if you want a quick way to improve your rankings, check if your site looks and functions properly on smartphones.
Your site also needs to be fast. Online users are only willing to wait an average of 3 seconds before ditching a site. Droves of people leaving so quickly will look very bad to search engines and will hurt your ranking. Google has a great tool to test the speed of your website —if you’re worried about the results, again, speak to your web developer, hosting company or an SEO specialist.
● Offsite signals: Appealing to search algorithms boils down to credibility. One of the main ways the search engines do this is through offsite signals, primarily links pointing from other websites to your site. Once upon a time this was a numbers game, but unsurprisingly this resulted in a lot of fake websites being set up to sell links. Google got wise to this over a decade ago, and nowadays, this lazy link-building tactic can actually see your site go down in the search results.
If Google and Bing think a third party site linking to yours is genuinely relevant, authoritative and useful to your audience, then you will get a boost (what SEOs sometimes call ‘link juice’).
There are many offsite linking tactics you can use to build links, such as reaching out to sites that welcome guest blogging or listing your business on local directories.
TIP: To explain exactly how to do this yourself would take many more words than I have available here, so I would encourage you to take a look at our guide with simple to follow steps. How to build links.
SEO is a constantly evolving and complex discipline, but you don’t have to be an expert to get started. These are just a few fundamental practices that will get your site off on the right foot.
If you’re in a competitive industry (and who isn’t) then the services of a professional SEO agency in Bristol can prove invaluable in the long run.
Paul Morris is the Managing Director and founder of Bristol-based SEO agency Superb Digital.
Business & management coach, mentor, trainer, author, speaker, social entrepreneur, (and chief pot and bottle washer!)