SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is the process of improving where your webpages appear on organic (non-paid for) search results pages in search engines.
A good way to think about it is that search engines want to show people the best possible search results. The best possible search result would be one which answers a search query in a satisfying way.
This means that having the best possible page for a subject is also having the best possible page for a search engine. Therefore if you make a good webpage for a certain topic, it is very likely that it will be listed highly by search engines.
Overall, SEO is a very involved process but basically involves improving your site to conform to what search engines want, creating original content, and being linked to by lots of high-quality sites.
Search Engine Optimisation is not really one specific thing – any activity involving working to improve ranking on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) can be considered as SEO. It can, however, be broken down into broad topics (which often overlap). It is useful to think of SEO in these terms so you can focus your efforts when necessary.
Note: This is not a complete list – there are literally hundreds of ranking factors for search engines.
On-Page SEO refers to any SEO activity that is done to an individual webpage. This could include:
- Improving content – by writing the best page on a topic.
- Including images – having an image with a title, and alt-tag which relate to the topic of the page helps.
- Improving readability – a page that is understandable by an 11-year-old is ideal.
- Improving metadata – this means the title and description that appear in search engines.
- Including relevant headings and sub-headings – so that people know they are on the right page.
Off-Page SEO refers to any SEO activity that is done to improve the ranking of a webpage without editing the webpage itself. This could include:
- Linking to the page in social media posts – if people share your post, that can really boost your pages SEO.
- Getting links from other sites to your webpage – this includes guest posting.
- Listing your webpage in directories – this is a simple form of link building.
- Branding activities – making people like your site in general will improve the chance people will choose your webpage in SERPs.
Technical SEO basically includes any SEO activity which isn’t to do with content. This could include:
- Improving the speed your pages load at – page speed is an increasingly important ranking factor.
- Setting up AMP pages – this is again to do with page speed, but for mobile devices.
- Not using sneaky tricks – Having invisible text, for example, would be a big no-no.
- Having a site structure that makes sense – linking pages on related topics helps search engines know which pages are important.
- Having a sitemap registered with Google – Use Google search console to do this.
Local SEO is different from other types of SEO in that it isn’t about a webpage – it’s about a business. If a business is based in a specific area, then Local SEO means making people in that area more aware of that business. This could include:
- Setting up profiles on mapping sites – all location-based businesses should control their listings on Google My Business, Bing Places, Apple Maps Connect, Facebook Maps, and Trip Advisor, as well as any other relevant services.
- Being listed in local directories – if there is a directory for just your area, that is exceptionally useful.
- Being mentioned in local newspaper stories – links from newspapers have great value anyway, and this is doubly effective.
- Listing your address and phone number on your site – everyone should know how to find you if they try.
What it looks like
SEO is (mainly) about individual web pages, not websites. Search Engines find the best web pages for individual search terms by gathering details on every single webpage and user (person) they can. Sometimes information on people is only general (ie browser, location etc), sometimes it is specific (search history, age etc).
They do this to try to show each person the most relevant webpage for each individual search. This means that a search by one person may show different results than the same search by another person. Search Engines constantly are testing and improving search results, so it is very difficult for any webpage to be the number one result for everyone, or to stay the number one result forever.
Search Engines find webpages by sending out “spiders” to crawl the web (get it?) which are a type of bot. These bots simply follow every link they find and report what they see. This means having a webpage that is linked to by lots of places makes it easier for a bot to find it. It also means that a webpage won’t necessarily get listed by Google the moment it is made (unless you list it with Search Console).
Google uses complicated algorithms to decide which pages to show each individual. What actually goes into these algorithms is a secret, however, the SEO industry does testing to continuously try to work out what helps and what doesn’t. The algorithms are updated regularly, with big changes and small changes happening. This makes keeping up to date a full-time job.
If you don’t have enough time to devote to making this your full-time job (and very few people do), then follow our top tip below – write the best page you can, and then improve SEO if necessary.
Don’t try to write for SEO – try to write for your audience. Making the best webpage on any subject is always the most important thing.
If you make the best webpage, then it will be rewarded appropriately with web traffic.
7 Things To Know About SEO
- A webpage that people like is usually a webpage that search engines like.
- Search Engines want to show people the best results. Always try to make your page *the best page* in order to improve your search ranking.
- Search Engines want to show people the most relevant & useful results. Make a useful page & improve your relevance to improve your search ranking.
- The main types of SEO are: Technical (backend work); On-Page (making & optimising page content); Off-Page (the internet saying your page/site is great); Local (optimising for your local area).
- According to backlinko, Google uses over 200 ranking factors. Try to do your best for as many as possible (without going mad).
- The speed at which a webpage loads makes a HUGE difference to where it gets listed in search results. Make your site loads as fast as possible.
- High-quality links to your page are (still) a great way at improving your SEO.
SEO Advice for Site Owners
SEO needs to be a mainstay of your digital marketing strategy. Whatever your site is about, you should have web pages which are focused on every related topic you can think of, which are optimised to that subject.
Ideally, you should only have one page per subject, as having multiple pages on one issue means they are competing for interest from search engines. For example, if you have a site about cheese, then one specific page for each type of cheese would be ideal. There will always be some cross over (eg a page about soft cheeses, and a page about brie), but trying to focus pages on different topics works best.
Note: SEO is a slow process. You should work at it continuously, but don’t expect results overnight. If you write good pages and optimise them well, then over time your traffic from organic search should improve. Unlike other forms of digital marketing, however, this improvement should remain steady for a long time.
This of it this way – SEO is like building a house out of bricks, whereas social media is like making a tent. You could live in either, but a brick house will last longer, require less daily upkeep, and will weather more storms.
If you make a webpage which is designed to fool Google’s algorithms into thinking it’s the best webpage, then when the algorithm changes you may find yourself in trouble.
Black hat SEO just doesn’t make long term sense.
SEO Advice for Ad Buyers
In terms of buying SEO – it’s not directly possible. You can pay for sponsored posts on other sites, or get influencers to discuss your brand. You can’t simply pay a search engine to improve your listing though.
However, if you undertake PPC advertising, such as Google Search Ads, then you can improve the effectiveness of your search results. For some reason, people react better to search listings and PPC ads when they are shown together, than either of them separately. It creates a sort of 1+1=3 effect.
To utilise this most effectively, use Google Search Console to work out your most popular pages. Next, find the most popular search terms used to go to those pages. Then advertise on Google Ads targeting those keywords. If you do it right, you should see more traffic to that page than you were previously getting from search traffic alone (discounting the extra traffic you are now paying for).
Not To be confused with:
SEM – That stands for Search Engine Marketing and can include SEO, but isn’t SEO itself.
PPC, Paid Search, or SEA – This refers to paying to advertise on Google or Bing, and is not the same as SEO (although they work well together).
SMM – That stands for Social Media Marketing, and while it can be used to improve SEO, it is not SEO.
Next: What is SEM?