Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the practice of increasing quality and quantity of traffic to a website. It’s the process of getting traffic from the search results on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
In other terms, it’s the act of acquiring traffic from search engines and into your other digital assets. The asset is most commonly known as your website, but there are other digital assets that we’ll get to as well.
An SEO specialist, Tommy Griffith sums up how SEO works with three broad bullets.
- Document relevancy: The types of content written in a website or for a website to be more relevant to both users and search engines.
- Increasing authority: This pertains to every tactic executed outside of the website in order to let the search engines know it’s trustworthy and valuable to users. Think sales, views, social shares, backlinks, favorites, etc.
- Technical optimisation: Refers to the all the technical work happening behind the scenes in a website. The goal is to make it easier for search engines to locate a website.
Search Engine Optimisation for Beginners
Learning search engine optimisation for the very first time can be daunting. It’s easy to be scared of terms like backlinks, anchor texts, crawlers, dofollows and nofollows, white-hat SEO and black-hat SEO, etc.
The SEO industry is chock full of technical jargon and other complex concepts. And it gets to a point where beginners and experienced SEO specialists alike struggle with what should or shouldn’t be done.
So, today, we’ll help you understand the basics you need to know all about SEO — complete with explanations and easy-to-understand language.
Define Search Engines
The concept of search engines are fairly easy to understand. But when the topic of search engine optimisation comes into play, why is most of the focus directed towards Google? What sets it apart? And on that note, what’s wrong with Bing or Yahoo?
They’re all search engines, yes. And they all fetch information plus content from all over the world and store them in one database. But the reason why the attention is mostly fixed on Google is rather obvious, if you know the stats.
According to a report by netmarketshare, Google holds a share of searches at 76.03%. On the other hand, Bing has 8.59%, and Yahoo with 3.16%. Just by simply looking at that, it’s easy to see that Google’s share of the worldwide searches are larger than the other two — with huge differences in between to boot.
So, how are search engines differentiated from each other?
According to Ahrefs, they’re compared to one another through specialisation in types of content and market, the size of their knowledge database, and how they determine the relevancy of page results.
As you’re probably noticed when you’ve used Google before, the search engine’s database is massive. And when you talk to experts, they will easily tell you without fail that Google calculates web page results precisely, and the algorithm is advanced and smart enough to identify spammy content.
For this reason, more attention is directed towards Google when the topic of search engine optimisation is put forward.
It’s simply because that’s what most people use, and what’s generally trusted.
How does Google operate?
And because Google is the primary place to do search engine optimisation and get the results you want, you need to know how it works.
There are three parts to Google’s basic operation in answering users’ queries: crawling, indexing, and returning queries.
Or in other words: looking for the right pages, storing them in a database, and then showing them to users.
Google looks through every page to find the one that’s most relevant to a user’s query. It starts with one webpage, seeks out the links available on those webpages, follows them, and discovers other webpages. This process continues. It finds links in one page, and then the next, and the next — until every single page on the internet is covered.
Google does this through a computer program that professionals refer to as the ‘crawlers.’ These “crawl” or discover pages and links.
How does this tie in to SEO?
SEO wants to make a crawler’s job easier. And by doing so, it’s easier for webpages to be discovered.
So the crawlers have found pages on the web. Afterward, the crawlers work on extracting data from each pages and “store” or index aforementioned data into Google’s database. This is what gets shown in search engine results.
Ahrefs provides an excellent example.
This is how we see a blog written by a writer in Ahrefs:
But that’s not how crawlers see it. This is how the bots see your content in a website:
As you can see, that’s the kind of information that Google’s spiders look at and store. It looks for the date when the page was created, the title, meta descriptions, the keywords, subheadings, the links leading to and from it, plus other details.
When it comes to search engine optimisation, you want to make sure that the data Google indexes after crawling your pages is accurate. As a result, it’s more likely to show your content in search results.
Now let’s shift the focus to you, the searcher.
When you enter a query into Google’s search bar, it immediately combs through its database for web pages that are relevant to your search. And then it displays them as the search results you see.
It measures relevancy via an algorithm.
It’s fair to say. Nobody knows what Google’s algorithm prioritises. But there is one universally agreed-on factor: high-quality backlinks from one page to the next.
How to Do Search Engine Optimisation for Google
Now that you have basic knowledge of how Google operates — how it finds and stores your webpages in its database. And if you can recall, we mentioned making the job for Google’s crawlers easier. This begs the question: How do you help Google, exactly?
Your answer comes split into two general points: on-site and off-site optimisation tactics.
- On-site SEO: This means tweaking elements within the site, so that Google understands what your website is about. Eventually it decides whether it deserves a ranking.
- Off-site SEO: This is all about earning backlinks so Google sees your page as something to be trusted. Generally, the better and the more backlinks you have, the more your pages receive priority from Google.
#1 Develop content that your target audience needs
Effective content starts with a blueprint. For beginners, effective content that answers your target audience’s needs begin with telling practical stories, educating readers, providing information, or solving a problem of theirs. In addition, high-quality content writing means creating meaningful experiences and helping your readers apply what they learned.
Writing high-quality content builds trust with target audiences, familiarity, and builds brand identity.
- Choose a topic to rank for: Start by putting yourself in your audience’s shoes. Know what they’re looking for, what they want to know about, and what resonates loudly with them.
- Include keywords in subheadings and titles: Make the value of the post clear in the title. It should help both readers and search engines understand what the post is about. Also, set the proper expectations, and which format the blog post should be in.
- Shortening the URL: Shorten your URL without losing the context to what the page or the blog content is about.
- Include alt-texts on the images you use: Alt-texts help search engines find them. It tells the crawlers what the image is about.
- Meta descriptions: This gives search engines and your readers firsthand information about what’s inside the blog content. The suggested length is around 150-160 characters. Longer, and they get truncated.
- Include links in the article: Remember how we mentioned that Google’s crawlers go through all the links in a webpage? This helps search engines find the page.
- Don’t forget visuals: Visual content keeps your target audiences engaged. Videos, in particular, are really effective. They increase user retention and lower the bounce rate.
#2 Do keyword research
People look for keywords about your business in a wide variety of ways. Although they’re phrased differently, they all ask the same thing. It’s crucial that you know how the majority of your target audience is looking for you. You optimise your content this way.
And you have two options on how you can do it: guessing or through keyword research tools.
Keywords must be chosen on a page-by-page basis. For instance, if you sell multiple products, each keyword is different for each product page. The same thing applies when you start to accumulate blog content in your website.
#3 Compelling titles for each web page
So far, we’ve discussed on ranking web pages for popular keywords. But ranking isn’t going to be enough if your target audiences don’t bother to click on your webpage.
And this is why titles and descriptions are so important. They have to be as click-worthy as possible. It has to attract target audience attention in the search results.
There’s no science to choosing and writing compelling title tags and descriptions. Again, it all boils down to understanding target audience and knowing what is important to them. This will help you craft compelling titles that attract the clicks.
- Create descriptive titles: Your titles should give readers an idea about what they’re getting into, but avoid clickbait.
- Include keywords: Prioritise your titles sounding conversational and natural, but make sure to include keywords in the construction.
- Avoid truncation: Google shortens titles that are too long. At the most, make sure it’s only 55 characters long.
#4 Optimising images and other visual content
For a lot of people, giving pictures proper titles can get a little tedious. But that’s something that needs to be done. In order to properly optimise your images, you need to name all of your images appropriately.
Google has stated, “The filename can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image. For example, my-new-black-kitten.jpg is better than IMG00023.JPG.”
And on that note, don’t neglect including alt tags with descriptions to your images too. This is the text that appears when your image fails to load (for some reason) or if said user is making use of a screen reader.
For your reference, this is what it will look like:
<img src=”/my-dog-jumping-fences.png” alt=”A picture of my Husky, Shadow, jumping the fence.”/>
In addition, in naming your images, you can help Google understand what they are better and group them accordingly.
#5 Short yet descriptive URLs
There are two forms of a URL that you would see: the untidy ones and the organised ones.
An example of the former: https://environmentthinkers.com/2019/07/28/ab456CG56884.php
And the latter: https://environmentthinkers.com/running-sustainable-businesses/
A surface glance at the two will easily point out which one includes the keywords that would be targeted, and which of the two would most likely receive a click when you find them in search results.
The general rule of thumb for URLs is to keep them short and descriptive.
#6 Using sub headings
Your users have an influence on how well your site and your important pages will rank. This means you need to do your best to optimise things like your title, your image tags, and your overall article.
Web content that’s difficult to look at and read affect user experience. People will end up leaving rather than sticking around to explore and discover more.
For this reason, it’s important to separate written content with clear subheadings, like <h1>, <h2>, and <h3>. Aside from being a hierarchy of content, they also tell readers about what they’re currently reading. Don’t forget to add your keywords within the header tags too. But avoid keyword stuffing and make sure they sound natural.
#7 Earning high-quality and relevant backlinks
Backlinks are crucial.
If you’re new completely to search engine optimisation, backlinks are hyperlinks from a different website that refer to your domain or target a specific webpage. Simply put, when other websites link to you, that’s a backlink.
Higher-quality and better backlinks give you a higher chance of ranking a page — which results in higher search traffic. And so, this begs the question, how do you build high-quality backlinks?
The most common methods for beginners are guest posting, broken link building, and researching competitors’ backlinks to replicate them and create something even better. Another great thing to do for starters is to earn links from people you already have great relationships with.
You just need to reach out and ask.
Search Engine Optimisation Takes Constant Learning
What you need to acknowledge about search engine optimisation is that you can’t achieve success overnight. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Essentially, you’re investing time in a tactic that takes a lot of time and effort, but pays off in the long run when you’re doing it right.
In addition to being a waiting game, SEO is also all about consistency. You need to stay in-tuned to the latest changes in algorithms and methods to keep up and stay on top.
SEO today is all about:
- Creating quality and relevant content.
- Targeting high-converting keywords.
- Actively working to earn high-quality backlinks.
- Developing a website and content that’s UX-friendly.
- Constant monitoring for necessary changes and improvements.