Let’s begin by answering a straightforward question: What exactly is SEO?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is all about using tools and techniques to increase the quantity and quality of web traffic to a website using non-paid advertising.
With over 6.5 billion web queries daily across millions of websites, most businesses are busy vying attention from prospects.
To rank on top of the search engine results page for terms related to your products and serves — and the problems they solve — you need to master search engine optimisation tactics.
Why is SEO Important for your business?
You’ll keep up with the competition
Running a business can be a lot like being in a cross-country marathon. Whether it’s reaching your audience, capturing your target segment, everything is a race.
Fighting to keep up (or get ahead if you’re one of the savvy ones) is all part of running a business.
It is almost a guarantee that your competitors are doing SEO as well. Because SEO works for virtually any niche. If your business is ranked highly on Google search results, you pretty much dominate the presence of your business over your competitors.
It’s a great way to catch prospects in the discovery phase
When people are using Google, they’re often at the stage before their “purchase decision,” which is called the discovery phase.
In this phase they learn about the various options they have, they’re checking out the pros and cons, etc. This is a crucial time for you to get in front of your potential customers.
They could be looking for literally the exact product or service you provide. Without a properly executed SEO campaign, there’s no way they’re going to find you! You’ll be invisible to them.
You can grow organic web traffic
Bringing in traffic is essentially the entire point of SEO.
First, you build authority as a thought leader in your niche or industry, so your site will be ranked in the top results. Then you attract visitors to read your blog or visit your store. Your website is your salesperson that never sleeps. It should always be working day and night to deliver paying customers right to your business.
Visibility means traffic. Traffic means leads. And leads mean profits.
This simple equation drives internet business. That’s why you always hear about how vital web traffic is. In turn, it’s proof of how essential SEO is for any business big or small.
You’ll build brand identity
Brand identity involves laying a foundation of constant exposure. You cannot create a reputation if nobody knows that you exist.
There are just too many benefits to having a strong brand identity. Customers are more willing to give you their money. Consumers enjoy a good brand story, and they love it if you stay genuine to your narrative.
To forge a company culture and your brand’s unique style, you will need to put in serious effort. That includes getting involved in social media channels and getting your brand using SEO.
You’ll Reinvest in Your Business
Most business owners feel that SEO is an expensive expense. They are only half right.
Yes, SEO can be expensive, but it is an investment in the future of your business.
You get highly targeted traffic to your website, which can bring you compelling ROI and make a huge difference when it comes to constructing brand identity and getting more leads.
In fact, SEO often delivers higher conversion ratios than most forms of advertising. That’s the beauty of targeted traffic.
Unlike say, a Yellow Pages ad that shows up for all kinds of people. The vast majority of these people never be interested in purchasing from you.
With SEO, you’ll typically only gain visibility with people that are literally looking for a business like yours.
You’ll Make a Better First Impression
First impressions matter. People love to say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s only human to make snap judgments on people we’ve just met.
You only have a few minutes (or even seconds) to make a positive impression on your potential customers.
That means that when we glance at the search results pages, we make some immediate assumptions based on what we see first.
People quickly and instinctively attribute a certain amount of credibility to anything they’re exposed to within moments of a first encounter.
These are some of the areas that SEO can improve, such as trust factors that can grow a business’s authority.
What does Google look for?
How does Google decide which website appears as the number 1 position on the search results?
As it turns out, there are several deciding factors, which is controlled by Google’s algorithm.
This Google algorithm is continually tweaked to ensure Google users an optimised user experience. Because nobody likes to trudge through pages of search results that are irrelevant to what he or she wants.
Google now looks for answers to questions that users ask through their search engine. What this means is this: The more relevant your solution is for the user.
On-page SEO strategies
Strategy 1: Using Tags
A title tag < title > is a tag that tells users and search engines what sort of topic your page is about. This tag should accurately describe the page’s content.
Choose a title that is relevant, without using vague titles like “untitled,” “page 1”. You should also ideally be using a unique title tag for each page that is descriptive yet brief.
Avoid long titles as Google will not show the entire portion of their search results.
The “description” meta tag
A description meta tag summarises the content of the page, telling Google what your page is all about. Unlike a page’s title tag which contains a few words, a description meta tag can be as long as 2 sentences.
Description meta tags are necessary because they provide snippets of information that Google looks at to determine the relevance of your page’s content.
Like title tags, it is always a good practice to add in meta description that is accurate and unique for each page.
Structuring your URLs
Most people underestimate the importance of making URLs easy-to-understand. Visitors may be intimidated by cryptic and long URLs because they are unsure about what they are clicking into.
URLs are displayed are part of the search results in Google. Therefore it is essential that you use relevant keywords in your URL instead of generic words.
Your URL should also have a simple directory structure that makes it easy for visitors to know where they are at on your website.
Make your site easy to navigate by following a naturally flowing content hierarchy. Avoid creating a complex web of navigation links that users can easily get lost in.
Sometimes, readers will come to a page that doesn’t exist anymore on your website. By having a custom 404 page that nudges readers back to your homepage, you can improve the user experience.
Strategy 2: Content Creation
Arguably one of the best methods of SEO is the use of quality content on your website. Almost all modern search engine algorithm look at your site for high quality, highly relevant content that answers the user’s questions.
SEO content should ideally follow these fundamental principles:
- Content is always king.
Fresh, quality content (articles with videos and images) on a website or blog encourages search engines to crawl (or visit) more frequently, increasing the number of website pages that become indexed. Each indexed page becomes an opportunity for your prospect to land your site when they run a search.
- Content is produced content frequently.
When your website produces new content on a frequent basis, it signals to Goole that you are a website that has fresh content related to your niche. This improves search results rankings quickly.
- Making people want to reference your site is the easiest way to gain organic traffic.
Downloadable content, infographics, valuable blog posts are all great ways to encourage visitors to reference your website, thus creating backlinks that will generate higher visibility on Google search.
- Lead conversion
If you’re running a website to improve your business, you should use your content as a way to convert traffic into leads.
You can convert traffic into leads by requiring visitors to complete a form in exchange for content (such as an email address).
Doing so allows businesses to learn what those leads’ needs and challenges are, collect qualitative data about their content’s strengths and weaknesses.
As mentioned earlier, search engines have bots that automatically crawl your website, "reading" it to find out what it’s about and then deciding which keywords each of your pages should rank for. To make your website content indexed quickly, these are some tips to follow to get your content ranking on Google.
- Titles – Titles are important because they are vital in grabbing readers’ attention. You should spend time and craft at least 3-5 titles, then tweak them until they are eye-catching enough to raise the reader’s interest.
- Links – Provide links to quality sites that compliment what your website’s content. It’ll encourage sites in your niche to link to you as well.
- Quality – Remember, content is king. You should always put up content that is unique and of high quality. This encourages users to come to visit your site regularly because they can’t find content like yours elsewhere.
- Freshness – If you are publishing content that is evergreen (does not age or become outdated), that’s great. However, you also need to add new content regularly.
- Original – Never publish somebody else’s content as your own. Google can flag it as duplicate content and rank your results lower than your competitors.
- Structure - Use words that are easy to read and content that is structured in a conversational style. This makes your content more readable and easy to follow. Avoid complicated sentence structure as it may confuse the readers. It is always beneficial to organise your content properly so visitors can quickly scan through and zoom into the information that they are looking for quickly. Make use of white spaces and small paragraphs to facilitate readability.
- Keyword density - Design your content around your readers, not for search engines. This means that you should not insert too many irrelevant keywords into your content that is aimed at search engines. This creates annoying and nonsensical chunks of texts that is detrimental to the user experience and ultimately your search ranking.
Strategy 3: Keyword research
To know what sort of content attracts readers to visit your blog, you need to provide the right answers. However, how do you know what are the right answers?
You find out what questions your readers are asking. This involves research into keywords.
In SEO, a keyword is not just a word; it can also be a phrase. This keyword or combination of keywords are what people enter into Google, Bing, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or other sites to find stuff.
But what separates one keyword from another? Are there good keywords and bad keywords?
The answer is there isn’t. But there are competitive and non-competitive keywords. These will help you understand the ideal way to get Google to get traffic to your website.
In recent years, keywords are taking a backseat when it comes to SEO because they can be easily gamed by ‘black-hat’ SEO marketers, creating a poor experience for Google users.
Nowadays, there is a heavier emphasis on a new type of keywords called, "The Long Tail."
These are low traffic keywords can collectively send you more visitors than a few high-traffic keywords. Once you understand what a keyword is, it’s time to introduce some keyword strategy and start crafting your content.
Observe how many searches and how competitive each word is. The more competitive a keyword, the harder it will be to rank in Google for that keyword.
What keywords describe your business? This is known as keyword research or strategy.
For example, a tennis academy would use keywords like tennis lessons or backhand technique instruction. Does your website contain the appropriate keywords in the right places?
Choose keywords that will help bring people to your site and are highly relevant. Other than using keyword tools, put yourself in the visitors’ shoes. What sort of information are they seeking? How can you answer their questions?
Look at the keyword ideas. Sort by competitiveness. Those words that are not competitive should be used in your website first as individual pages or blog articles.
Similarly, the more searches there are, the more likely it will be that someone will find you by Googling you.
Strategy 4: Accelerate Website Performance
Other than content creation, one of the fundamental ways to ensure on-page content impacts SEO is to make sure that the website loads fast.
Most web users have become accustomed to web pages loading quickly. If the website doesn’t come up fast enough, they move on to the next site.
Google understands this, so when its crawlers get held up dissecting a website’s content because of sluggish page load speed, search rank will suffer.
Here are 5 things you can do to boost your website’s loading speed:
Avoid large, high-resolution
Large image files slow your website down when the user is on a slow internet network. You should use any photo editor on your computer or any imaging tool to compress your website graphics reduced to 72 PPI.
Don’t use your HTML editor to downsize your images.
Downsizing an image using a standard HTML editor will only change the appearance on the screen; the browser still has to load the full image, which can be up to 3x as large.
Make your website Google AMP (accelerated mobile pages) compatible.
Google knows that most internet users nowadays are on a mobile device, so it is pushing for greater mobile compatibility With Google AMP, it wants to improve load times for mobile users, making it easy for mobile users ease to view multiple articles.
Choosing a web-friendly image file format
An image’s file type can help decrease its file size and load time. Choose compressed image file types like JPG, PNG, and GIF. Your web design should ideally not include any unnecessary graphic elements.
There are times when it’s necessary to use a custom graphic to display stylised text (i.e., a logo, special header, or ads), but the more you leverage CSS for displaying specific fonts, the faster the page will load. Also, use the correct format for the particular use (JPEG for photos, PNG for graphics and SVG for logos).
Web optimised video
Most free video editors can optimise video content for the web effectively.
Another good option is hosting the video on a site like YouTube. This allows you to keep your website loading quickly as it does not need to load the video.
Strategy 5: Be mobile-friendly
As the number of Google searches on mobile devices increases, Google has tweaked their algorithms to focus more heavily on mobile-optimised websites.
Having a mobile-friendly website is great for your overall SEO strategy because it gives users a highly engaging mobile experience.
While it doesn't mean that your website will drop out of the index if it has no mobile version. However, if you stick to mobile-unfriendly design, user experience and rankings may suffer.
Without going into too much detail, a mobile-optimised website has the following traits:
- Your site utilises responsive design.
- Your page's content can be read on a mobile device without zooming.
- You've got easy-to-tap navigation and links on your website.
- Your mobile website has high-quality content.
- Structured data is available both on the mobile and desktop version of the website.
- Metadata is present on both versions of the website.
Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP for short) is a new Google initiative to build a better, more user friendly mobile Web by introducing a new "standard" for building web content for mobile devices.
This new standard is a set of rules that form a simple, lighter version of HTML. Any webpage built in compliance with AMP standards will load at lightning speed on all mobile devices.
According to Google's VP of Engineering David Besbris:
- AMP pages are 4x faster and use 10x lesser data compared to non-AMP pages
- On average AMP pages load in less than one second
- 90 percent of AMP publishers experience higher CTRs (click through rates)
- 80 percent of AMP publishers experience higher ad viewability rates.
With positive results like these, it is likely AMP will become the standard for mobile websites going forward.
The official AMP Project help pages are the best starting point for those who want to try the new technology out. AMP is a strictly validated format, and if some elements on your page do not meet the requirements, Google will most likely not serve this page to users. So after building your AMP page, check if it passes the validation.
Off-page SEO strategies
Off-page SEO strategies form the second pillar of SEO. They are usually the most difficult to influence, but they can have the most significant impact on your SERP rankings.
Here is what search engines look for in off-page SEO:
Total referring domains
These are websites linked to yours from their web pages. According to SEMRush, the average difference between the 2nd position and the 10th position in a high-volume keyword search (one that sees between 1,001 and 10,000 searches per month, according to SEMRush) is 10,000 referring domains.
Backlinks are links that come from trusted, respected websites (referring domain). These links tell Google that credible, high authority websites find your content worthy.
An anchor refers to the text used by the other website linking to your website. The more you have directed at your site, the better it is for your SEO
Keyword in anchor
This refers to the words the linking website uses to your site. Of all factors, this is the least influential on the domain rankings.
- Total referring IPs – Not be confused with referring domain, a referring IP address is the IP address that hosts at the site that contains a link to the target URL.
- Total Dofollow Backlinks – There are two types of backlinks: nofollow and dofollow.
Nofollow backlinks are when another website links to yours, but they choose to tell the search engine not to count that as a backlink.
Dofollow backlinks are links that allows the search engines to count that as a backlink.
By counting the dofollow backlinks, the website that’s linking to your site is allowing the search engine to follow and provide the SEO benefits of a backlink.
Strategy 1: Link Building
One of the most significant factors in SEO is having a lot of strong and reliable links. While it can be difficult to control what links you can get outside of your website. Here are six link-building principles that can help you build strong links:
Get your website listed on online directories.
Getting your site listed on Google and other search engines should be your main focus. If your business belongs into a niche category (etc. drone photography for wind farms), then you should find a way to get your website listed in industry-focused directories. You can either use your brand name as the link text or use a keyword-rich link text.
Creating quality content can have a positive impact on your link building efforts. Every piece of content on a website has the potential to be linked to, whether it’s a blog, an infographic, or even an online store front. Content creation takes time and effort. By slowly building good content on your website, you can expect an increase in linking domains, pushing your website’s credibility up.
B2B and personal networking
These relationships build credible links across many online sources, including networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
You can post comments on other blogs, making helpful remarks that indicate thought leadership, and sharing content reciprocally are all important networking actions that can build SEO-enhancing links.
If you know other people related to your industry, give mention to people in your network, in exchange for a link on their websites.
Participate actively in social networks
Having regular interactions with people online such as Reddit and Quora allows you to drop links to your own website. Also, consider writing guest blog posts for other sites. As a guest blogger, you will be seen as an authority in your niche, so readers will see your links as credible sources of information.
Repurposing your blogs and other content to create pillar content
A pillar content is a piece of content that serves as a comprehensive source of information on a specific topic. Use your previous website content and put them together into a single article that all visitors can go to find the most frequently sought-after information.
You can also repurpose these content into graphical charts, tables or ebooks that visitors can share or link on their social media.
Establish thought leadership
Focus on answering other people’s queries such as on Quora can help put yourself in a position as a thought leader. Use these platforms to grow your network, and soon people will be linking back to the resources that you provide them.
Strategy 2: Location SEO
If you are a small or local business owner, you shouldn’t aim for worldwide domination in search engine results. Instead, you should be focusing on the geographical location of your customers.
This helps to make sure that your business is reaching the right audience in the right region. There is usually less competition if you try to rank within your area.
Register your business on Google+ so you can add your business location to Google Maps. This helps to define the location of your business.
While Google owns 65% of the U.S. market, they hold a lot more in some other countries and a lot less in others. For example, if you are going into the Chinese market, you will need to have your website optimised for Baidu. If you are looking at Russia, then you need to consider Yandex.
Like you did in the U.S. you need to know your local language, even U.S. English, and U.K. English can have some difference in keywords.
If you are going with a non-English site, you will need someone with local knowledge to let you know how people search for your product and what those keywords and phrases are.
The best person in this situation is typically the salesperson you are hiring within the country.
Some content management systems like Drupal can support multilingual sites, while others can’t. You need to make sure that stuff published in the U.S. can be pushed to other countries after a translation.
You also need to know if your site can do languages that are very different than in the U.S. like Arabic, that reads right to left.
Lastly, just like the real world, location matters. Search engines will give more preference to a site hosted within a country rather than one outside of a country.
Using a content system like Drupal can provide a master website and database in the U.S. hosting that allows a site hosted in Spain to pull information.
Strategy 3: Social Media
Social media is an essential platform for client outreach.
Companies that ensure their websites, blogs, and landing pages are integrated with social media using social sharing buttons, and other plugins are leveraging the impact of these signals to increase their relevancy and rank in search.
Some blogging platforms like Medium and LinkedIn Pulse have built-in social sharing buttons and integration. This allows visitors to quickly share the website’s content on their social media feed.
The key is to offer sharing options on and off the content page so that potential links and content awareness grow.
Strategy 4: Using Public Relations
In the age of social media, public relations have become easily accessible to everybody. PR content provides strong, reliable information that search engines love. News releases and stories can help boost SEO results and create greater visibility for your business.
News, by definition, can be anything new, unique, exciting or useful. That means it can be content about:
- Hiring a new employee or ambassador
- Signing a new contract for service
- Winning an award
- Launching a new service or product
- Creating and offering a valuable new tip sheet or whitepaper
Any of the above can be used in a short press release that you can run on your website. Using press releases, PR is another opportunity to create new links and attract prospects to your site.
Once a press release is published on the website, good promotion using social media tools is what differentiates today’s press releases from those of the past.
In addition to creating press releases, it’s also essential to start reaching out to credible sources (trade publications, industry associations, etc.) and asking them to put a relevant link in their content to yours.
Maintaining and fostering these relationships with the gatekeepers of these sites is crucial to get news providers to put you in their publications for a backlink.
Chances are you aren’t the only person with an SEO strategy who would want a backlink, and because they’re getting inundated with requests, known and trusted thought leaders will be the ones chosen to receive backlinks – so work on those relationships!
If you implement a comprehensive inbound strategy, you’ll be generating the authority and knowledge to showcase your company as an industry thought leader.
This will give you all the content you need to reach out to gatekeepers to start building those relationships.
Things to avoid that will hurt your SEO Rankings
Understanding Google’s algorithm is crucial to SEO success. The key is to avoid bad practices or ‘to game the system.’ Doing so will only be detrimental to your business and get you penalised.
Here is a list of things you should never do to affect your SERP rankings:
- Buying links – Purchasing links is a big no-no unless they are from credible sources. Pay-per-click links via Google’s own AdWords are some of the exceptions. The best links are usually free so if possible, use only organic links.
- Duplicate content – Although the duplicate content is not as massive a penalty as it once was, it is still something you should be fully aware of.
You won’t get a huge penalty by Google, but duplicate content signals low quality content, which can then affect your ranking indirectly. So it is still best to avoid copying other website’s contents.
- Buying reviews – Paying for reviews may look like a quick and easy way to inflate your business’ rating score, it can put a dent in your reputation if you are exposed. Think long-term for your business, and don’t risk your reputation over short term benefits.
- Spamming comments on other websites– Again, not only it is unethical behaviour, you will just annoy the owner of the site. At the same time, you should monitor the comments on your blog to make sure they are high quality and don’t lead to any dodgy or malicious websites.
- Getting your site hacked – If you do not secure your site with SSL/HTTPS, your site is open to hackers who can come in and hijack your site.
If hackers try to inject malicious code, Google puts up a notice under your website link when it appears in the SERPs: “This site might be hacked.”
And when that happens, it’s challenging to get this resolved, so do yourself a favour and implement SSL as soon as possible.
- Keyword stuffing – Shoving lots of keywords in your meta descriptions, text and content hoping to get Google’s attention is a big mistake. This is now no longer a viable SEO strategy since Google now is prioritizing the relevance and context in which the keywords are placed, this approach is anything but productive.
How long does it usually take for SEO to work?
The short answer is “it depends.”
How long it takes comes down to several variables for your own website compared to the same variables for your competitors’ sites.
There are three specific criteria that play a significant role in how long your SEO will take: competition, inbound links, and content.
In general, the more competition you are facing from your competitor's webpages, the longer it will take to see results.
Both the difficulty and time necessary will usually follow a bell curve, in that the webpages ranked lower will be easier to outrank, and it will become increasingly more difficult and take longer to outrank the webpages that are at the top 1 to 5 positions.
But there’s another important and often ignored factor of competition that most people don’t see, and it’s the relationship between the volume of competition within a niche, and the skill level of the SEO practitioner behind the top-ranked webpages in that niche.
Think about this way:
Demand drives companies into a niche, leading to increased competition. In a highly competitive niche, it usually becomes favourable for bigger companies with deeper pockets — hence they can afford to hire the best SEO marketers to work for them.
If you see yourself in this type of situation, it usually means you got a long and tough road ahead of you.
- Inbound Links
While it’s no secret that links are a huge factor in SEO, they can also affect how soon you see your SEO results.
The higher the volume of links to your website, the quicker you will achieve SEO success. But links from any sites won’t cut it. If you are receiving a ton of links from low-quality sites, not only it won’t push your SERP ranks up, you could potentially get penalised instead.
So, in general, the faster you can earn relevant, high-quality links, the sooner you will rank, as long as you are growing at a natural pace (not cheating the system).
Remember that quality content matters. Don’t think about poorly written articles that you can buy from Fiverr. Spend time to write content that is relevant and engaging.
You don’t need to be writing thousands of words every time – your content just needs to be long enough to solve your visitor’s problem.
Also, make sure you are publishing new content on a regular basis. Doing so can encourage search engine to index your website more frequently, speeding up your SEO efforts.
Publishing frequently also encourages readers to revisit your site regularly, which may help signal positive user experience to Google.
When you are doing your SEO right, you may be seeing improvements in organic ranking and an increase in traffic for keyword topics with little competition in just a couple of weeks.
On the other hand, moderately competitive topics might takes months, while highly competitive phrases could even take one year or more!
It may take a long time to see the fruits of your labour, but it will be well worth the hard work as you will begin to see organic traffic flowing to your website, like clockwork!
In a Nutshell…
To achieve SEO success, you will want to take a two prong approach – Both on-page and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO means doing all the backend optimisation to make your website friendly for both desktop and phones, which helps your site get picked up by Google easily and quickly. That means having the proper tags, URL structure, meta descriptions.
More importantly, you need to be continually putting out high quality and unique content that is highly engaging and relevant to the readers, using keywords and long tail search terms.
Off-page SEO is basically link building and creating social signals for search engines to determine the authority of your site as well as the context of your site. Here’s a guide to link building you should really check out.
The end goal is to get as many backlinks from other reputable sites that are closely related to the topic of your website and your site’s internal pages.
On top of that, you will also want to build up links from different types of sites (blogs, news sites, forums, directories, social media, etc.) with natural linking patterns, and a healthy mix of dofollow and nofollow links. Avoid any heavily keyword optimised anchor texts.
Follow Google’s Content Quality Guidelines closely, avoid bad practices of SERP ranking, and more importantly, avoid any unethical link-building schemes. Remember, short term gains can result in long term pain.
About Murray Dare
A digital marketing consultant and entrepreneur,
Murray runs his marketing agency Murraydare.co.uk and several online startups.
Murray has helped startups and businesses achieve online success through a considered approach to marketing.