Google currently processes about 63,000 search queries every second of the day.
With the average person doing 3-4 searches a day, this means that there are 1.8 billion people using Google each day and looking for answers to their questions.
The main question we ask ourselves as digital marketers is, “How do we tap into that and get those people onto our site and seeing our pages?”
Depending on the size of the site and the market you’re looking to target, there are a few options available to us. We could pay for our traffic through paid media (e.g. Paid search, paid social, affiliate marketing etc), we could target existing customers with email marketing or we could look to gain traffic organically (for free) through SEO.
But what is SEO exactly?
What is SEO?
SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, is the process of implementing targeted changes to a website in order to give Google (and other search engines) the signals they need to understand what search queries our pages should be found for in the search results.
Whilst paid media is fantastic for an instant ROI (Return on Investment), SEO is a long-term strategy that aims to provide lasting value to a site month after month, year after year. As soon as you stop paying for paid advertisements, the leads stop coming in. However, SEO is a strategy that, if done correctly, will continue to drive traffic and value long after the initial investment/campaign.
Google’s aim with their search engine is to “deliver the most relevant and reliable information available” for any search query a user has. Two key items to pull from this mission statement are ‘relevant’ and ‘reliable’. To understand what is ‘relevant’ and ‘reliable’, the team at Google have created clever algorithms that consume vast amounts of data and return thousands (if not millions) of web pages that they think the user may find interesting as a response to any question it’s given. These results are ranked from the most relevant to the least relevant. And they do this within fractions of a second.
It is the job of an SEO specialist to translate what we want our site to be found for to something that Google can understand. We then need to provide the necessary evidence of why we’re the most ‘relevant’ and ‘reliable’ source of that information so that Google can rank us higher than our competitors.
How SEO works?
To first understand how SEO works, it’s important to have a brief understanding of how Google Search works. This way, we can see what needs to be optimised for each stage of the process, why, and how it all fits together.
Google Search can be broken down into three core stages:
- Crawling – Google crawls webpages and downloads the content to their servers. It does this using crawlers (or spiders). With a good technical setup, we can help make this as efficient as possible for Google.
- Indexing – Google then analyses the content it has downloaded from our pages and stores that information in their index. It’s like a huge library where everything is catalogued and saved. This is where we need to ensure we have the content in the right places and as optimised as possible so it’s indexed in the right places.
- Serving/Ranking – When a user enters a search query into Google, Google scours their index (their library of content) to see what is relevant. They then rank our content based on a number of on-page and off-page ranking factors to decide how relevant we are for that search query.
We’ve already covered a few of the key elements here, but SEO can be broken down into three core categories.
The three pillars of SEO
A fantastic analogy for these three pillars is that of a car. Everyone knows what a car is and vaguely how a car works.
Every car needs a chassis, the thing the wheels are attached to. This is the foundation of the car and without it, what would hold the vehicle together? This is our technical aspect of SEO.
Once we have a solid chassis, we need seats, a steering wheel and bodywork. These are the things that you mainly look at and interact with. They’re most likely the reason why you’ve bought that car in the first place. Without these, we’d be riding around the streets on a board with four wheels. This is our content.
Finally, once we have our beautiful car, we need something to fuel it. Whether you’re a fan of petrol, diesel or electric, every car needs fuel otherwise it’s just a nice looking ornament. This fuel is our links as it is the links that will help push our site to where we want it to go.
Let’s dive into these in a bit more detail.
The technical setup of a site is one of the most overlooked and forgotten aspects when trying to understand how to best rank for “x” search term. We could have the best content and the most authoritative links possible, but if users come onto our site and they’re met with something that doesn’t work, they’re going to have a bad time and we’re going to suffer in the rankings because of it.
Even though most modern website builders claim to be “SEO friendly” or “SEO ready”, many of them aren’t and that can cause issues down the road. Whilst they may look nice, they generally have huge technical issues hiding under the surface that will impact how well the site can perform within the search results.
A site with even a couple of technical issues can create huge problems for Google and these will hinder our performance, not only for our target search phase but across the board. However, once these technical issues have been fixed, we can potentially start to see a huge improvement in our organic visibility.
Sometimes referred to as “On-Page SEO”, the content of our site is the tangible thing that our users will see and interact with. That could be written text, images, video, audio etc.
Once we’ve conducted keyword research, created audience personas and know exactly what our audience is searching for, we can start optimising our site for those phrases. This optimisation comes in the form of meta optimisation (the things users won’t see but Google will) and on-page (visible text) optimisation.
Sometimes we can optimise what is already on the site to improve our visibility within the search results. However, we will also need to create new content to ensure we’re targeting all of the phrases that people are searching for.
If you would like help auditing your existing content or would like us to help you create a content plan, please let us know.
Sometimes referred to as “Off-Page SEO”, links are a vital part of the puzzle that are often very misunderstood. Links are not a numbers game. We’d rather have a high quality of links rather than a high quantity of links.
Links from 3rd party sites to our site are like tiny votes of recommendation that Google can use to identify whether or not that page (or site) is a reliable source of information. The more links we have from other reliable sources, the more reliable we look.
For example, if we’re able to get a link from the BBC to our site, that would be an incredibly powerful vote of recommendation for us and make us look like a reputable source of information.
On the flip side, a link from an unknown site with no authority isn’t likely to pass any value and does nothing to help us look like a reliable source of information.
You can find our beginners guide to link building, here. If you would like help with links or would like to hear about our digital PR service, please get in touch.
How to improve SEO
If you’ve been reading about SEO for long enough you will more than likely have come across John Mueller. John is the Google Search Advocate. Essentially, he’s one of the key players at Google who helps SEOs understand what Google is trying to achieve with their algorithms.
John hosts regular webinars and answers a huge number of questions from site owners asking “how do I improve the SEO of my site?”. His answer is usually something along the lines of creating unique, compelling and high-quality content.
Good technical foundations
There is generally the assumption from his side that the technical setup of the site is good but as previously mentioned, this is something that often flies under the radar. Unfortunately, the changes required to fix technical issues, if you don’t have a developer on your team, can sometimes be fairly expensive to implement. This is why we would always recommend that you work with a reputable SEO agency to conduct a thorough technical audit of your site and produce a list of recommendations prioritised by their potential cost/impact. If this is something you would like some help with, please get in touch and we can discuss doing a technical SEO audit for you.
Unique, compelling & high-quality content
However, what is unique, compelling and high-quality content? Whilst John’s advice is quite vague, it does help us understand what Google are wanting to see and this will be very different for every site and every niche.
Google loves to see unique research, content that they’ve never seen before and content that users will enjoy reading. If you’re an established brand with access to data no one else has access to, this unique research will be much easier for you to collate. However, if you’re willing to source the data yourself through questionnaires, surveys, interviews etc, you can create a fantastic resource that your audience (and Google) will love.
If you have conducted your keyword research and mapped out your key user personas/journeys, you should know what your user’s main pain points are and how to create content that will engage them. This is the content that you need to be creating as this will bring the right people to your site.
Once you’ve created a fantastic piece of content, make sure you keep it up to date. There is nothing more frustrating than finding an article on the topic you’re interested in, only for it to be so old it’s no longer relevant. These updates can be as simple as optimising the content using your Search Console/keyword research data or expanding on the topic with new learnings.
Find your community
Good content is also link-worthy content.
If you’re creating good content, share it with your community wherever they may be. Whether that be forums, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter etc. This way, people interested in your area of expertise will your content and potentially reshare it with their networks. It can be a great way to gain genuine links from reputable sites that are actually interested in what you’re creating.
Depending on the type of content you’ve created, you could even send it to relevant journalists to see if they would like to cover it on their respective sites/publications. Whilst this does fall under digital PR, it can be a fantastic source of incredibly authoritative backlinks. If you would like any help creating a media list or reaching out to journalists, please let us know.
4 actions to improve your SEO
So, now you have a better understanding of what SEO is and how to approach it, what do you do next?
- Conduct regular technical checks of your site to ensure everything is being crawled and indexed as it should be. A couple of fantastic tools to help you achieve this are:
- Before creating a post, thoroughly map out its purpose:
- What keywords are you going to target with it?
- Which of your audience’s pain points is it going to address?
- What are the key calls to action going to be?
- How will people find it from your existing content?
- Use Search Console to update your content for the relevant phrases you’re getting impressions/clicks for but not currently mentioning on the page. This is a great way to better understand how your audience is searching and could also surface additional post ideas.
- Find where your audience hangs out and be active in those communities. Reddit has a board for almost every community under the sun and not everyone in those communities has the same expertise as you. Share your knowledge and link to relevant posts wherever possible to help spread awareness of your content.
SEO has historically had a bad reputation for being a bit of a black box. However, when done correctly with the correct partners it can be a fantastic way to reduce your reliance on paid media and accelerate the growth of your business.