Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a key method for increasing your website’s online visibility. Essentially, if you optimise your website for both human visitors and search engines like Google, you’ll find that both traffic and conversions improve, as does your revenue. This is why, as a leading SEO marketing company, we have a range of strategies to achieve positive results for just about any business.
However, SEO is such a complicated topic that we’ve put together this essential guide which will give you enough knowledge to have a sensible conversation with your marketing company or even tackle some of the optimisation strategies yourself.
What is SEO?
As mentioned above, SEO helps to increase the visibility of your website in search engines. When we talk about visibility, we’re talking about how easy it is for potential customers to find your website when they search for your business, products, or services in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and so on.
For example, if your company specialises in roof restorations in Brisbane and someone searches in Google for “roof restoration Brisbane”, it’s of course ideal if your website appears high in the search results. That’s a big part of what SEO is all about: making your company/website “rank” as high as possible. Each phrase someone may search for is called a “keyword” or “keyphrase”. The higher you rank for a range of keywords, the more traffic you’ll get to your website.
These search results are referred to as “organic”, which simply means that they appear without any payment (or, in other words, they’re not ads). Displaying your ads in Google’s search results is another topic altogether, but you can distinguish between the two because ads will have a small “Ad” icon next to the website name.
So, we now know that SEO is aimed at increasing your organic rankings in search engines. This is the point where many website owners start to struggle, because there are so many tasks required on an ongoing basis, and each requires a good knowledge of the subject. On top of that, Google changes the way its search rankings are calculated hundreds of times every year, so SEO isn’t something you do once and then forget.
This is one of the biggest reasons why business owners hire an SEO marketing company to manage all of these specialised and time-consuming tasks for them. Business owners may have a very basic understanding of these tasks, but they don’t have the time, knowledge, or enthusiasm to take on the work themselves. Hiring professionals to do a job that requires expertise is a sensible business approach; for example, successful businesses outsource to accountants, lawyers, ecommerce specialists, HR managers, and so on.
How does SEO help with search engine rankings?
We’ve already mentioned that SEO can increase rankings and traffic, but that’s not really the end goal. The goal is to increase revenue, either directly via the website or by generating new leads. However, if we take a step back at this point, what SEO actually does is help search engines understand what you have to offer visitors.
A website which has been optimised properly allows search engines like Google to “read” the site much faster than others. This means that Google can easily identify what a page on the website is about, how relevant it is to whatever a user may have searched for, and how high the page should appear in the search results.
It’s not just about having the right keywords in the page, but actually writing high quality content about that subject. It’s about relevance. Pages on websites with the highest relevance to the user’s search will appear in the first page of results, while those with less relevance will be shown on the second, third and subsequent pages. And very few users will look at any results after the first page (usually, only the first 5-10 results, in fact).
Even if you pay for your ads to appear in Google, you can’t ignore the extra traffic you can generate via organic search. That’s what search engines provide: a flow of free traffic from organic searches. Of course, it’s not entirely “free” if you’re spending time or money on SEO, but at least you don’t then have to also pay for your website to appear!
Why is SEO worthwhile?
If you’re not convinced that increasing your rankings is worthwhile, let’s take a look at some of Google’s statistics, which you can check yourself live here: https://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/
At this moment in time, as we are writing this article, there have been more than 3 million Google searches today, growing at 10% per year. On top of these figures, more than 75% of people use Google to search the internet, so it makes sense to optimise your website for Google, first and foremost. Most other search engines have faded into obscurity but Bing is worth considering too, and it essentially works the same way that Google does.
Because search engines present the most relevant matches to searchers, it also makes sense that websites shown on the first page of the results page get the most clicks, which wouldn’t happen without SEO. This is why so many businesses outsource to a professional SEO marketing company, so that ultimately they can increase their revenue.
What are the outcomes of SEO?
SEO can achieve the following for your website:
- Make your content visible to search engines
- Make your content relevant to searchers
- Grow your organic traffic
- Help increase conversions
- Help increase your revenue
In the end, it’s all about knowing what your target audience wants and giving it to them, but you must let search engines know that your content is relevant to a searcher’s query. That’s where SEO comes into the picture, by driving those visitors to your website.
Another service we offer is called CRO (conversion rate optimisation), and this works hand in hand with SEO. While SEO increases traffic to your website, CRO increases the conversion rate of this traffic (helping visitors to navigate your site and achieve a set goal, such as fill in a form or buy a product).
There’s little point in investing in SEO to increase your website traffic if none of that traffic converts into paying customers. SEO does serve to increase conversions too, because so much of SEO is about content. And by producing high quality content which is relevant to your target audience, it’s only natural that, over time, a higher percentage of your website visitors will convert into customers. That said, CRO goes a lot deeper into this by testing what works — and what doesn’t — on your website and constantly improving in all areas. But again that’s another story which we won’t cover here today.
Top techniques used by leading SEO agencies
Now that we’ve laid out the basics about SEO, let’s move onto 10 key steps and strategies that must be completed to optimise your website for search engines. As outlined above, many of these steps will also enhance your website for your visitors, which ultimately is what it’s all about!
1. SEO audit
This is the first step taken by any SEO professional, because they need to know the good and bad about your website and online presence. An SEO audit is designed to identify weaknesses or shortcomings which may be impacting on your website’s visibility and conversion rates.
To audit your website, an SEO expert may use specialised auditing software, or access tools such as Google Search Console to identify things like how visitors respond to your website, whether visitors “bounce” away quickly (because something isn’t gelling), or whether they spend lots of time on specific pages, and so on. This type of information is vital to optimising your website, because there’s no point in getting lots of traffic, if very few people end up taking whatever action(s) you’d like them to.
Given all of this information, the SEO professional will then outline a list of actions that need to be taken to optimise your website for search engines.
Each SEO agency will have their own checklist for making these audits, but they will usually cover the following areas:
- Domain appearance in search pages (whether your website is being found)
- Google penalties (anything relating to your website which is hindering your results)
- Crawling and indexing (what search engines can “see” on your website)
- On-page (technical and content issues on your website)
- Off-page (factors outside of your website itself which contribute to your rankings)
- Social media (which pages you have and what information appears on them)
Domain appearance in search pages: It’s important to know how search engines display your web pages in the results pages. So as part of the SEO audit, a search on your domain name will be performed. Is this information correct? Does your homepage show above other site pages? Does your website show in Google My Business and other business listing platforms? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed at this point.
Google penalties: If your rankings are low or have dropped recently, one or more Google penalties may be a contributing factor. Your SEO professional will search for Google penalties and if they exist, identify when it was imposed and why. They will then create a plan to remove this penalty. Causes can include having the same content on multiple pages or websites, poor or not enough content, poor backlinks (low-quality websites that link to yours), and the list goes on.
Crawling and indexing: This is the technical part of the audit and includes whether all your pages have been found (indexed) by search engines and which keywords are ranking best. Security and indexing are investigated, as are any mobility issues. There’s a long list of technical issues that need to be checked at this point, such as:
- optimised URLs (page addresses)
- canonical URLs (pages being accessed via multiple addresses)
- robots.txt (a file with instructions for search engines)
- 404 pages (missing pages)
- sitemaps (a list of all content on your website)
- SSL (whether your website is set up securely)
- breadcrumbs (whether your website shows users where they are on the website)
- structured data (code to help search engines understand the content on each page)
Essentially, all of these things relate to whether or not search engines can access the information they need to index your site correctly and whether that information is accurate. An experienced SEO marketing company has the tools to perform this type of technical audit fairly quickly.
On-page: It’s important to ensure that search engines understand the meaning and relevance of your content. This includes page titles and descriptions, subheadings and other formatting. The audit will also establish whether all the content is unique (not copied from another site). Even copying from one page to another within your own website is a problem to Google and can result in lower rankings in search results. Hyperlinks which point to your own pages, hyperlinks to other websites, images, the underlying code, and the quality of the content must all be assessed at this point.
Off-page: This is all about promoting your website on the internet. It includes link building (getting reputable and relevant websites to link to you, AKA backlinks), social media marketing, brand mentions, and more. The more high quality backlinks to your website, the more Google trusts your site and the higher it ranks. This means that your website’s backlinks need to be audited to ensure that they are coming from quality sites.
Social media: A positive social media presence is essential to optimising your website for search engines, so SEO audits will normally cover platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. With the massive influence of social media on just about every aspect of our lives, it’s no surprise that social media can heavily influence the success of your website. These influences (both negative and positive) can include backlinks from social media sites, but also reviews that increase the exposure of your website to a greater audience.
Having a general idea of the relevance of these strategies for increasing your site’s visibility will help you to select the best SEO Marketing Company for your requirements.
Some of these topics are expanded on in the rest of our list below.
2. Keyword research
At the heart of any marketing campaign and SEO strategy is keyword research. The simple goal of keyword research is to identify what your target audience is searching for and how you can rank for the relevant keywords. Often the most difficult part of this process is finding suitable keywords which have an adequate number of people searching for them, but are also realistic in terms of whether you’re likely to be able to attain a high ranking. We call that “competition”.
For example, if you own a hotel in Brisbane, then ranking for the keyword “best hotel” might not be very easy, given the competition, because it’s a very broad term. It’s often much easier to rank for more specific keywords, such as “best hotel in Brisbane”, although that’s still fairly broad. An even better (more specific) keyword might be “best hotel in Brisbane for shopping” or “best hotel close to Brisbane airport”.
The easiest way to start your keyword research is to think of the most relevant keywords that people might search for to find your business (or what your business sells), then type them into Google and see what other options Google presents. As you type into the search box, Google anticipates what you are writing and presents you with a list of options that other searchers have already typed into this box; these can form the basis of the keyword list for your website. You will however, need to take this to the next level, because you need to know how easy it’ll be for your website to rank for these keywords (find out the competition level), and there are plenty of free tools online that can help you find this information.
Google Ads Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest are two of these free tools, but any good SEO consultant will use specialised tools at this point, although they might dip into some free tools as well to broaden their search. You want to know how many people search for these keywords every month and how easy it’s going to be to rank for them.
The best strategy is to find a mix of broad keywords, exact keywords, and long tailed keywords (4+ words). While it’s unlikely that a small business will be able to rank for keywords which have a high search volume and high competition, there are plenty of low competition, low volume keywords that can add up to a lot of traffic for your website. An SEO professional will be able to select the most relevant keywords for your target audience.
Once you have a list of suitable keywords, these need to be incorporated naturally into your content. They will also play a huge role in your on-page and off-page SEO activities, but we’ll cover these topics below.
3. Optimising content
While it’s important that your content is optimised for search engines, first and foremost it must be valuable to your visitors.
Generally, longer content ranks better in search engines. Your first step is to decide which keywords to target in a piece of content and then enter these keywords into Google search (or your preferred keyword research tool). Click on the sites that show on the first page, and check out what they’ve written and the length of each content piece.
Your content should not only be more informative than these pieces, but also longer. That’s because if your content is well written and relevant to a visitor’s search, visitors will remain on your website for longer. This will improve your website’s trust factor with Google (ranking you higher). However, while it’s not all about the number of words you write, as mentioned above Google does rank longer content higher in search results, so always keep this in mind.
You must also use your keywords within this content, so that Google can match your keywords to a searcher’s query. These keywords must be relevant to the topic of the content and they must be sprinkled judiciously throughout the content. Don’t over-stuff your content with these keywords, as this is an old and out-dated practice that was used to manipulate site’s rankings’ in Google’s search results. Google is now on top of this and can even issue a penalty for over-stuffing keywords on a page.
A general rule of thumb is that the selected keyword for your content should only be used a handful of times, and then use variations of the keyword sparingly as well. Google can understand the intent behind a keyword, therefore it’s better to write natural content without stuffing the same exact keyword in there over and over again.
What you want is to create interesting, well-written content that drives traffic to your website, using a specific keyword, and covers the topic in depth. It should solve a problem, and be easy to share. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn’t it? :)
4. On-page SEO
On-page SEO also involves using your keywords within your body content, but it also includes using them in headings, subheadings, page URLs, image descriptions and meta tags (more on that below).
Each page must have a primary keyword, and it can also have a few secondary keywords, but again, remember not to over-stuff the content with these keywords. One strategy is to use your primary keyword in the URL and header, and along with your secondary headlines, a few times in the rest of the content.
Meta tags. or metadata. are pieces of information about each page which are provided to search engines. This includes the meta title and meta description, which is what users will see when that page appears in search results. This is therefore very important because if your keyword is incorporated into those meta tags, and the user is searching for that keyword, they will immediately be able to see that your page is relevant to their search. In addition to that, well-written metadata can entice more visitors to click through.
On-page SEO also includes searching your site for duplicate content that needs to be removed or rewritten, as well as the loading time of the pages. No one knows precisely how much weight Google places on page loading times, but the longer a page takes to load, the more your visitors will click away and go to the competition. Therefore when it comes to site speed, every second counts, however this is another topic for another day.
5. Off-page SEO
This refers to how you promote your website around the internet and includes guest blogs, brand mentions, customer reviews, videos, podcasts, social media marketing and influencer outreach. While most people associate Off-Page SEO with link building, it goes far beyond just building links. External links are essential for ranking, because even the best content won’t rank highly without at least a few high quality backlinks (Google uses backlinks to gauge the value of a page).
Your SEO firm can create a plan to help increase your Off-page SEO and your backlinks, a strategy that will be essential for your website to rank higher in the search results. Quality backlinks, whether from guest posts, brand mentions, social media links or testimonials, increase your website’s credibility not only to visitors, but also to Google. With a profile of high quality backlinks from websites with high authority themselves, your website will start to climb up the rankings.
Quality backlinks usually take considerable effort, and they don’t often appear out of nowhere. This is because backlinks typically involve long-form copywriting on very specialised subjects, and meeting publisher guidelines can also be tough — not to mention the fees paid to be published on these sites. We recommend that you always talk to an SEO professional who can guide you in the best way to increase your backlink profile based on your budget and goals.
5. Internal links
Internal links are links from one page on your website to another. These links help Google and visitors to understand your website content structure. Adding more internal links therefore helps associate the pages with one another.
For example, if a visitor has enjoyed reading one article on your website, providing them with a link to a similar article that might expand on a few points makes sense. It also helps to keep visitors on your website for longer, something that Google factors into its ranking algorithms, because it increases your website’s trust factor.
Internal linking also helps Google crawl and index (find all the pages on) your website, because Google follows these links, gaining an understanding of the relationship between your content.
7. Schema markup
Schema Markup (also known as structured data) can make your website’s listing in search engines more informative and useful. When a page on your site is shown with extra information, this is called a “rich snippet”, and may include images, customer reviews, star ratings, frequently asked questions, maps, and more.
Essentially, setting up the appropriate code tells Google what your meta data means, not just what it says. Most people are familiar with HTML tags that tell a browser how to display the content on a page that’s included inside tags, but it doesn’t tell Google what it means. It’s like listing your phone number on your website; to Google this is just a series of digits, but if you include code to say “this is our phone number” then Google now understands the context. This is what Schema Markups does!
Website owners can use Schema Markup themselves, as long as you understand HTML or have appropriate website software you can use. The only hiccup in the case of editing HTML directly might be that you need to access your website’s source code for the final step, so you might want to talk to your web developer or SEO marketing company to help you with this step (or they can do all of the work for you).
8. Local SEO
For the past few years Google has moved into promoting local SEO so that it can increase the user experience by presenting local businesses first (when relevant). This is particularly important for businesses with physical premises who want to promote their products or services to local customers. Whether at home or when they are walking down the street using their mobile phone, local SEO is a powerful strategy for many businesses.
One of the best strategies is to claim your Google My Business account (it’s free), making sure that all your information is correct. This account can help customers find your location, increases your visibility in local search engines, and displays useful information to searchers (opening times, address, reviews, and so on).
Your business can show up in Google Maps searches, as well as the “local pack” (a short list of local businesses mixed among the other search results), earning trust from customers, boosting your business’s appeal, increasing traffic and sales, enhancing engagement, standing out from the competition, and ranking your website higher in the search pages. Just go to the Google My Business page and follow the prompts. Or again, your SEO provider can help with that.
9. Social media
One of the simplest ways for businesses to drive traffic to their website is by using social media marketing. You need to create a social media profile where your target market “hangs out”, and use it to engage, educate, and inform your audience about your brand, products and services. Social popularity helps Google to understand your business too, and where it stands among the competition. Google also crawls major social media sites, looking for backlinks, which can directly improve your general search engine rankings.
While we don’t really know where Google stands with social media shares, we do know that social media profiles rank highly in Google. So well in fact, that if you search for a brand online, you will often see the company’s Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram profiles among the first results. Visitors sometimes search for a brand’s social media profiles to gain an understanding of a company, so apart from increasing your brand’s visibility, social media can also increase engagement and sales.
There are a number of strategies you can use to increase the visibility of your website across social media networks:
- Add a share button to every page
- Use your website’s keywords in your social media posts
- Link back to your website from your social media posts
- Add links to your videos on YouTube and SlideShare (etc)
- Make use of relevant hashtags
- Optimise content for mobile devices
- Create shareable infographics
- Look for influencer marketing opportunities
10. Mobile optimisation
Online shopping or eCommerce is a rapidly growing option for many consumers, and an untapped resource for many businesses. The latest statistics for the Australian market indicate that for 2020 the revenue from eCommerce sales will total more than $32 million AUD with an annual growth rate of 5%. User penetration is more than 70% and the average revenue per user amounts to nearly $1500 AUD. All of this means that businesses who have not already optimised their websites for mobile devices are missing out on a lucrative market.
Strategies that should be incorporated into your website’s SEO plan include a mobile-friendly website theme, fast page load times, and videos designed for mobile screens. You also need to ensure that your content is easily “skimmable”, images are high quality and responsive, and buttons are easy to find and click on small screens. Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is also another proven strategy for mobile devices, as it creates lightweight versions of your normal website pages, and these are designed specifically to load almost instantly on mobile devices.
Knowing the basics of SEO will help you increase the visibility of your website in search engines. It will also help to increase customer engagement and traffic to your site, improve rankings and ramp up your sales and revenue.
If you want to achieve all these goals for your website, knowing the basics isn’t enough, however it will help you to understand what needs to be done on your website to achieve these goals and it will help you to have a full and frank discussion with your SEO marketing agency about what they can offer.
As you can appreciate, SEO isn’t simple. It takes a lot of knowledge, skill and effort to get it right. So unless you have the time to learn everything you need to know about SEO and keep yourself up to date with all the changes that occur frequently, your best plan is to consult an SEO professional. They can create a plan to optimise your website, increase its rankings and give you an edge over the competition, and you may even be able to handle some of the simpler tasks yourself with a little guidance.