The Knowledge: Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) can work magic on your customer figures, if you know how to do it. Hit the right notes and learn what works with our brand new guide and video. 

When you're competing for sales, being seen is everything. Think about the size of the Internet. To get noticed, you need to be right there, at the front of the queue. And when we say ‘queue’, we mean Google, Bing or Yahoo keyword searches. By ranking high in these, you stand a much better chance of getting potential customers to notice you, and flick to your website. The key? Identifying and focusing on the keywords that are relevant and important to your business.

By getting to grips with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), you can achieve those top rankings. Yes, it takes work and time. But as we enter a new chapter in digital marketing, properly optimising your website will have a crucial impact on your business.

Watch our video now, and get to know SEO.

How do search engines work?

We can think of search engines as modern day online encyclopedias, pointing users to relevant resources based on the queries or words they enter.

Search engines collect and organise data from the web using a sophisticated calculation, or ‘algorithm’. This takes into account hundreds of factors across millions of pages. Starting with ‘search bots’ (software that searches the web), it scans the web for sites and their content. Every website is evaluated by its relevance to the user’s search, but also by the quality of its content, and the experience it provides, i.e how useful and useable is it?

Once this complicated search is complete - and all in the blink of a user’s eye - search results are presented on screen, with the highest ranking positions awarded to the highest-scoring websites, according to what the algorithm has worked out. The three biggest search engines are currently Google, Bing and Yahoo although Google significantly dominates in the UK market. 

What is Search Engine Optimisation?

SEO is made up of a variety of tasks geared towards improving the usability, usefulness and popularity of a website. Taking action and working on these enables you to influence the rankings of your website in search engines, depending on your keyword focus.

For clarity, let’s group these tasks into three main categories:

1. Optimise what’s on your page

Your website should be easy to use and navigate. On-page optimisation includes organising all pages into appropriate categories, naming them with fitting titles and descriptions, eliminating ‘page not found’ and other error messages, as well as creating a ‘sitemap’ - an index of all the pages in your website - and ‘robots.txt files’, which specify to search engines the pages which should be indexed and which should be ignored. 

Your website usability will improve significantly for being multi-device ready and allowing for easy social sharing. Text, images, videos and other types of content should be optimised and organised around you business’ target keywords. It’s also crucial that the text content of your pages loads as HTML and not as JavaScript, iFrames, etc. This is so that search engines can easily index it. Looking for more? Try some advanced on-page optimisation, such as authorship, rich snippets and server speed optimisation. 

2. Create quality content

Creating applicable, useful and high quality content for your users can significantly improve your search engine rankings. Content topics should be related to what you do, but also to your brand. In fact, it shouldn’t be about selling more products or services. The aim should be to give your customers and visitors something ‘extra’ - information they are likely to find helpful and pass on to others. The benefits to you? Better exposure of your optimised site, with regular traffic and the promotion of your brand. 

The list of content types you can work on is extensive. You can create a blog (check out this guide to business blogging), make a video series (try our guide to YouTube), build infographics or microsites, perform research, develop lists and write white papers, slideshows or directories. Of course, your product and sale pages also count as content so make sure they contain useful information about what you do and how your offer can benefit your potential customers.  

3. Get popular

The more useful your content is, the more likely its potential for being shared around by your fans/customers/followers/visitors. And the more sharing that goes on, the better it is for your search engine rankings. So as well as creating great content, it’s worth making your share functions are easy-to-use and prominent. Create pages for your business on the main social networking platforms, i.e Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and distribute your content there. At the same time, make sure users can easily ‘like’ and pass on your content using their own social profiles.

Be proactive and reach out to owners of other websites in the same niche as you - are they willing to collaborate? You can guest blog on other sites and gain links back to your pages (either as references to content you’ve created or in your post’s signature). This will funnel users to your site, if they like what they’re reading. Whilst we’re on the subject, links from other websites to yours are very important. Search engines consider them a key factor when evaluating how popular your site is. Remember though, when it comes to links, it’s quality over quantity, every time. The more prestigious the site that’s linking to you, the better. 

Keyword analysis and selection

We’ve already talked about your business keywords, creating content around these and being smart about the search engine lists you’re aiming to climb. But before you can start doing that, how do you select the proper keywords that best represent your business, but that take advantage of a listings gap? For small businesses, it may be next to impossible to rank in top five lists for certain, competitive keywords, if they’re already dominated by big brands. 

Try using a tool such as the Google AdWords keyword finder or KeywordSpy. These will help you identify groups of related keywords, monthly search volumes for them and competition as well as cost-per-click for paid advertising. Cost-per-click is also an indicator of SEO competition, showing you the volume and quality of websites trying to rank for a particular keyword. Check out the preview below of the Google AdWords keyword tool. This shows the data we found when focusing on the search term, ‘business insurance’:

Analysing your SEO impact

It’s all about tracking. Once you start having a go at your SEO, you’ll want to know your progress. There are lots of free tools out there which can make this easy. One of the most popular is Google Analytics, which enables a website owner to track visitors to every page of their site and where those visitors came from, as well as to learn where they’re located and what technology they use.

Our team has developed a step-by-step guide on how to use Google Analytics. Just click on the image below, and start building up your knowledge base.

Common SEO mistakes

Impactful SEO takes lots of time and patience. Optimising pages, creating great content and promoting it are all long term processes, so you won’t see results overnight, and that’s fine.

If any company promises to help you secure quick and significant results, it’s best to steer clear. Certain dishonest SEO firms may use one-off tricks that aim to manipulate search engines, so that a particular site appears to have more relevance and be more popular then it actually is. However, if a website is caught trying to manipulate Google, Yahoo or Bing, it runs a high risk of being penalised and sometimes banned from these search engines altogether. And one thing is for certain - you need these big players on your side. So stick with the methods we’ve talked about above, and give them time to kick in and deliver.

Ultimately, improving your website and creating more content isn’t just about search rankings. It is also about a better user experience and happier customers, or visitors. Your website is your shop floor, so make it pleasant and easy to be in. A quality destination spot, not just the loudest advert on the menu. 

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