Your crash-course guide to SEO

8 July 2016

seoYour crash-course guide to SEO

While SEO is a term that you’ve probably heard a hundred times before, you might not be entirely sure what it is. Generally speaking, SEO (which stands for Search Engine Optimisation) is the name given to any activity or strategy that increases the visibility of your website. Still not clear? To understand how SEO really works, we first need to take a closer look at how a search engine works…

The majority of all traffic on the internet is driven by search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. This means that the majority of people using the internet only ever visits pages that a search engine has directed them towards. In short, users will enter a variety of keywords into a search engine, and are presented with a list of relevant websites in turn. So far, so good.

The problem is, while search engines are pretty good at matching up the keywords entered with a list of relevant websites, they do need a little help indexing the websites in the first place…

You see, in order to maintain a robust index of websites that they can deliver in response to relevant keyword searches, a search engine needs to work fairly hard. It has to constantly check websites all over the internet with its ‘spiders’ – the indexing tools used by search engines to discover what information a website contains – and then it needs to decide how relevant this information is to various keywords. So where does SEO fit in?

Basically, having a website that is optimised for search engines – and their spiders – makes it easier for search engines to get a more complete picture of the information contained within your website. With that, it’s more likely that you’ll receive traffic that is more interested in what you’re saying, selling, or offering.

Fortunately, there are many ways to optimise a website for search engine indexing. These vary from the words you’re using to describe content, through to the way your website is structured. Even the number of external websites linking to your site can affect SEO – if your content is constantly linked to, it’s a good indication that you have something useful, interesting, or worthwhile to say! Some of the changes you can make are incredibly easy, too. Ensuring you’re using correct meta-tags, keeping a constant stream of interesting and authoritative content, and making sure your website loads quickly can all improve your SEO score, and can improve both the quality and quantity of your traffic in next to no time.

It’s clear then, that making sure your website is as good as it can be in terms of SEO is incredibly worthwhile. It helps to deliver good quality traffic (people coming to your website who are interested in what your website has to say), it helps to increase the quantity of traffic to your website (because more people start linking to your page once they’ve visited), and it helps to spread your content right across the web!


Understanding and Improving your Technical SEO

Since your website’s rank depends on its SEO score (see ‘Your crash-course guide to SEO’ to discover why), what can you do to help push it up the rankings?

To begin with, it’s worth knowing that SEO is composed of three distinct categories. First, there’s On-Page SEO, which takes into consideration how optimised your content is. Second, there’s Off-Page SEO, which focuses on the quality of inbound links to your website. Finally, there’s Technical SEO…

Technical SEO is the aspect of SEO that focuses on how easily search engines can crawl your site and index your content. Remember that it’s the information in this index that a search engine draws from when delivering results. Remember also that there are a thousand different ways to tweak and improve your Technical SEO score. For now, though, we’ll focus on three easy wins you can make to increase your SEO ranking right now…


You (probably) need a faster website…

The truth of the internet is that people aren’t going to wait around for a website that loads slowly. They’re going to leave and potentially visit a competitor’s website. This is clearly a bad thing.

So, how do you get your website to load more quickly? There are plenty of easy fixes to be found here, but you should always start by diagnosing any potential problems with your website first. We recommend using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to do this – it should easily show you where the problem areas of your website are.

Generally though, you can usually speed up your website by optimising images, by serving content with HTTP compression, and by caching information so that a user is not re-downloading your website every time they visit. Try to aim for a PageSpeed score of 80 or above, and you should see your ranking improve.


You (probably) need to optimise your website for mobile visitors…

With your newly hastened website, the next thing to consider is how optimised your pages are for mobile users. With more people than ever accessing the internet through mobile phones and tablets, ensuring that your page works well on a smaller screen is essential.

The easiest (and arguably) best way to ensure your website works well on smaller screens is to use a responsive design when putting your website together. Essentially, instead of setting fixed widths for elements, you should set percentages. That way, a particular element will always take up, say, 75% of the screen, rather than 1000 pixels. Of course, there are plenty of other smaller tweaks to be made, but this simple change can do a lot for user-friendliness… and your SEO ranking.

You’ll also want to avoid using unplayable content, such as flash videos, since these cannot be played on most mobile devices. Try to avoid pop-ups too; as annoying as they are on desktop websites, on a mobile they’re likely to induce rage, and could potentially lose you custom. Finally, mobile users may be working off a slower connection than their Wi-Fi at home. Make sure your pages are optimised using the information above!


Finally, you should (probably) stop confusing search engines…

With search engines periodically indexing your website to discover new content, they can quickly get lost—unless you have a clear and simple site architecture. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to ensure your site is easy to navigate.

First, make sure you have a sitemap that lists all of the URLs on your website. While these are designed for humans to navigate around your website, search engines can also use them to get an idea of the pages your website contains. There are tools and guides online to help you create these sitemaps, such as Google XML sitemap, so don’t worry if you’re unsure.

Once you have a sitemap, you also need to minimise the number of bad page redirects. A page redirect usually happens because you’ve moved or deleted a page, and you want the link to point somewhere else. By ensuring that you’ve properly redirected pages (and you’re avoiding 404 errors!) a search engine will update its index to give authority to the new page—resulting in no loss of ranking!

There are plenty of other ways to improve the technical rating of your website, but these three are ideal places to start – and should have a noticeable effect almost immediately!


SEO: Analysing your competitors, and tracking results…

One of the biggest headaches with SEO is that it’s almost impossible to be doing everything right at the same time. While you might’ve spent countless hours ensuring your website is technically optimised for the likes of Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, you could be neglecting the content you’re producing for your audience. Or, perhaps your content is perfect, and you’re getting a huge number of off-site SEO links, but a competitor is outstripping you on social media and is now getting more traffic than you on the keywords you’re ranking for…

The good news is that everybody else will be in the same position as you – and certainly your main competitors will be facing the same struggles as your website. That means that if you take the time to do some comprehensive analysis on your competitors, you can discover weaknesses that you can take advantage of in order to grow your traffic…

There are many ways to analyse your competitors. To begin with, you could try researching the number of backlinks their websites are receiving. By using tools such as Ahrefs or Majestic, you can easily discover how many websites are linking to your competitors’ websites. And, armed with this information, you can decide how hard you need to work increase the number of backlinks to your website.

You should also make sure you research the keywords you’re hoping to rank on. Search engines are smart, and look at intent and synonyms when ranking keywords. What this means is that when Google, for example, sees the keywords ‘shoe polish’, it assumes that the user wishes to buy shoe polish, and will show websites that sell this product. It might also show websites with shoe cleaners, and websites with shoe polishing tips… You get the idea.

By entering the keywords you wish to rank for into a search engine, and clicking on the first few links, you should be able to see how well each competitor website satisfies the original search query. If the websites listed for your keywords don’t satisfy the question, you can probably outrank it with some focused content.

Finally, it’s worth taking a look at user satisfaction… Most sites these days allow users to share content direct to social media, and give a tally of the total number of shares. If this is high, than people are probably happy with the information on this page, and you’ll have a hard time out-ranking it. Similarly, if there’s a comments section and a lot of positive comments, the page is probably ranking well and will be tough to overtake. Of course, the opposite is true, too, and if you find a page with negative comments, or zero shares, you might see it as an opportunity to represent that information on your own website…

However you’re tracking the competition, and improving your own websites SEO, you also need to take time to track your results. By far the most popular way to do this is to use Google Analytics to track the number of visitors to your website.

Google Analytics is free to use, easy to set up, and a great tool a variety of reasons. It can allow you to follow trends, and discover which pages are doing well. You can use it to see how many new visitors you’re receiving (and how many old ones are returning). And, crucially, it can tell you which keywords are bringing traffic in to your website. While the ins-and-outs of Google Analytics deserve to be discussed in more depth at a later time, if you take nothing else from this article you should set up a Google Analytics account straight away. It’s the only tool you’ll need to monitor your efforts, and efficiently track your results!

If you need any help or advice for your own digital strategy, simply get in touch! You can also follow Viva Digital on Facebook to receive regular news, tips and how-tos in your feed. Thanks for reading.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

With more than 20 years of industry experience in the UK, USA and Australia under his belt, Paul Smith is a seasoned professional who will infuse your digital marketing with his wealth of knowledge and expertise. Paul specialises in digital strategy, SEO and data analytics.