What is SEO and why does your business need it?
Even if you’re not a marketing aficionado, you may have heard the term ‘SEO’ in conversations with clients, partners, or even employees. But what exactly is SEO and why does your business need it? ‘SEO’ stands for “search engine optimisation”. SEO is comprised of a wide multitude of theoretical concepts and practical applications, but we’ll take just a beginner or entry-level look at SEO.
So, what is SEO?
SEO is generally considered to be part of a brand or business’s digital marketing strategy. There are, technically speaking, two forms of SEO – onsite and offsite. Offsite SEO involves promoting your website through using inbound links, which we’ll discuss a little later. Onsite SEO is what we most commonly think of when we discuss SEO, so for the purpose of this article, when we refer to SEO, we mean onsite SEO! In layman’s terms, SEO is the action of enhancing a website’s various site pages in order to increase organic (or unpaid) traffic to that website through the appearance of the website on search engine results.
In order to do this, however, you also have to understand people’s online behaviour – for what they’re searching, the kind or quantity of answers they want, the search terms (keywords) they use in their searches, and the nature of the content they’re after (videos, academic articles, blog posts, infographics etc). Once you know the answers to these questions, you can tailor your website in such a manner that it becomes exactly for what your intended audience is searching, as well as designing and structuring your website in such a way that the search engine’s crawlers find and understand your website.
SEO basics – how search engines work
To understand search engine optimisation, we need to understand what search engines are and how they work. Search engines have been designed specifically to give people answers. Every time a person enters a search query, the search engine sifts through an almost infinite amount of content and uses a myriad of factors to ascertain which pieces of content are the most likely to answer the search query satisfactorily.
They do this through the discovery and cataloguing of the content they come across, through an algorithm method called ‘crawling and indexing’, followed by ‘ranking’. ‘Crawling’, as the name suggests, refers to scouring through online content that the search engine thinks might fit the search query – this is the discovery component. ‘Indexing’ refers to the search engine cataloguing any given piece of content based on a plethora of criteria. Finally, the search engine ‘ranks’ content it thinks will best answer the searcher’s query based on how it’s been indexed – this is ultimately what you see on a Google (or Bing or Yahoo!) search results page.
SEO basics continued – SEO search results
Search results come in two forms – paid and organic. Paid search results are (somewhat inconspicuously) labelled with a box that says ‘Ad’ to the left of the search result. Typically, about 3 ads are listed before organic search results. These organic (or unpaid) results are where SEO comes in. Because you’re not paying for your web page to be listed, you need to augment your page in such a way that the search engine decides it will perform well.
SEO basics continued – how to improve your SEO in a few simple steps
When it comes to improving your website’s SEO, there are a few basic principles that are really important to follow.
- Firstly, even though we want search engines to recognise the page, you need to structure your web page and write the content in such a manner that is designed for people, not search engines. Obviously, you need to include the keywords for which you want to rank, but don’t do it in such a way that makes your content unreadable or nonsensical.
- Think carefully about the kind of content you want to put out – ideally you want to produce content that is engaging, unique, and most importantly, valuable. Empty platitudes manifesting as paragraphs of text is NOT what searchers want, even if it helps rank your website and drive traffic to it. For this reason, it is advisable not to use automatically generated content, or hidden text and links. A good web-page experience is invaluable for attracting potential customers – customers know what information they’re looking for, and if they clickthrough to your site and they can’t find it, you’re not going to get that conversion or sale.
- Ensure that your web page’s structure is clean and logical. Include strategically placed keywords in your headings and subheadings – not only will this help search engines when indexing your page, but it will also help the searcher navigate your page to find what they’re looking for. A well-made page will do wonders to enhance your business’s credibility and trustworthiness.
- Have both inbound and outbound links to and on your page. Inbound links are links to your page (that you want to rank highly) that exist on other sites, like Craigslist or forums relevant to the industry your business is in. Outbound links are links on your page that direct a user to other sites that have content which is relevant to the content on your page.
- Make use of tags (especially tags including keywords) in your coding. The first of these is the title tag, which is the text that appears as the first line of the search result. Then you want a meta description tag, which is the content that appears under the title tag in the search result. Thirdly, you want header tags, which are your headings and subheadings in the content itself (we touched on this in point #3). Lastly, you’re going to want image alt tags if you have images in your content. These are pieces of text that describe the image which appear to users if the image can’t load. It’s important for all these tags to include the keywords for which you want your page to rank for when they’re searched – but use these in a logical and readable manner. Don’t try to fool the search engine.
- Make sure that your URL’s make sense and are simple, hierarchical, and include your keywords. They need to be short but also descriptive and if possible, they shouldn’t include any characters that aren’t Latin letters. For example, example.com/2understand/context/follow! Is a bad URL, but www.example.com/understand-and-follow-contextwould be a better URL as it follows the abovementioned principles.
Why does your business need SEO?
SEO drives more website traffic
Other forms of online platforms can direct traffic to websites – we’ve mentioned paid advertising, but there’s also social media, public access catalogues and e-Commerce sites. However, the vast majority of online website traffic is propelled by search engine results. Organic search results have an array of benefits which paid advertising does not – they cover more ‘digital real estate’ by having to sift through so much content, they’re more credible to people who know that much of the paid results won’t answer their questions, and on average, they have a much higher clickthrough rate than paid advertising. Statistical data analysis has shown that organic search results perform up to 20x better than paid advertising and other online platforms. So, in a nutshell, it is absolutely critical for your business to perform SEO on your website if you want that website traffic – and you do.
SEO provides great ROI – for free
As we’ve mentioned before, organic search results are free. And, when done right, they’re one of the few digital marketing platforms that pays dividends over time with little to no additional work. If you set up your SEO properly, Google will rank your web page consistently, causing your website traffic to increase exponentially over time – it’s possibly the only form of digital marketing that improves by itself, whereas paid advertising requires constant funding and work in order to direct web traffic to your website. Good SEO – and that means good ranking – will also give your business a competitive edge over competitors within the same field, market or industry. This is because the more optimised of the two brands’ sites is going to draw in the potential consumers and possibly convert them into clients, patients or customers (depending on the nature of your business, of course). And while it’s more difficult to calculate the ROI that is generated as a direct result of SEO marketing as opposed to paid pay-per-click advertising, through software like Google Analytics, it is doable!
Now that you know about SEO at an introductory level, are you ready to take the plunge? Consider outsourcing to experts – it’s worth their time and your money!