A Beginners Guide to SEO – Part 1

SEO can be complex, and despite the huge volume of online resources devoted to the topic, as a business owner you may still be left scratching your head as to how you match up when it comes to your own website and online presence. All is not lost, however. To start driving your online presence forward, I believe that the best way to learn and improve is to start by obtaining a firm grasp of the basics.  Then, once you have a strong understanding of these basic elements, you can use this as a strong foundation on which to build your knowledge and expertise on the topic.

Getting found on search engines is of immense importance if you wish to do business and be found online, and so a relatively small investment in learning about SEO will repay you many times over.

This is part one of a two-part beginners guide to SEO, designed for those who wish to get started with their campaign, and who want to start seeing the benefits of their efforts sooner rather than later. Part 1 provides a simple five-point plan for getting started with some of the more fundamental tactics, while Part 2 will introduce you to some of the more strategic and creative elements which will help drive your SEO efforts over the medium to long term.

The ‘Why’ Behind Search Engine Optimisation

Why should we optimise our website so that is as ‘friendly’ towards Google and other search engines as possible? A rudimentary understanding of the ‘why’ behind SEO will help you to appreciate why you should follow the tactics and strategies in this series, as well as helping you to be mindful of the ways in which you can make it easy for Google to start moving you up the search results in a relatively smooth and uncomplicated way.

One of the best ways of building a relationship with or appealing to another company or individual is not to look at what they do, but why they do it. In business, you may frequently find yourself leaning towards working with businesses that share your values and aspirations – or which exist for the same reason you do. You work with such businesses as you have shared goals and outlooks, and because there is a mutual benefit in doing so.

It is no different with Google. Looking at a company’s mission statement is a great way to find out if they are compatible or a good ‘match’ – and you need look no further than Google’s own mission statement to find out how you can be a good match for them:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

(Highlighted words my emphasis)

Google’s mission – their reason for existing – is to work with you to organise the world’s information, make it easy for everyone to access, and help ensure that this information is useful to those who access it.

Therefore, to excel at SEO, it is essential to start by looking at your own business, your own website, your own online presence, and ask these two simple questions:

  • Can people (and search engines) find my website and the information on it easily?
  • Is my website and the information I am putting out there useful and valuable?

Google and other search engines will reward you for working to answer these questions with a resounding ‘yes’ – and this is the bedrock on which all of your SEO efforts should develop and evolve.

Getting Started with your SEO Campaign

Now that we have helped to establish what Google is looking for – and why it makes sense to align your efforts with Google and other search engines, we can introduce five practical steps you can start taking today to kick-start your own SEO campaign.

# 1. Research Your Keywords

Keywords are the fundamental ‘unit’ of SEO. Keywords are what people use to find you online, and until people start using voice technology or mime to find what they are looking for, it is imperative that you give them some thought. Selecting the most important keywords you wish to appear for on Google will help inform the other steps you will take throughout your campaign.

In simple terms, Google matches keywords typed into its search engine with pages it feels are most relevant to users. The greater the relevancy factor, the higher in search results you may appear. Keyword research involves you researching the keywords that people are using to find the products or services you provide, so that you may align your website and content with what people are looking for.

Once you know what people are searching for, it is much easier to find out how to give them the useful information and content relating to the products and services they are looking for.

Your go-to resource here will be the Google Keyword Tool. Simply enter the keywords which are most relevant to your business, select your target country, and review the results.

To select say the top ten most important keywords for your website, you will be looking for the following:

- The number of ‘Local Monthly Searches’ for each term (number of monthly searches in your target country or market)

- The ‘Competition’ for each term (a measure of how many other advertisers / businesses are competing for this term, indicating the level of competitiveness for this term on Google)

In general terms, you should choose up to ten keywords (or as many as are relevant) to serve as the keywords that are of the highest importance to what it is you do or sell. These keywords will guide the content that you place on your website, the SEO tags that you will add to your website pages, and the topics you write about on your blog – so they should be considered carefully.

You may know what these keywords are instinctively, but it is a good idea to reference them, perhaps by listing them out somewhere. Tip: choose keywords for which there is good search volume, but which are made up of at least two words, and which ideally have low-medium competition.

The trick here is to choose keywords which people are using to search, but where at least some of the keywords aren’t high-competition ones. In short, it will be easier to increase your search engine ranking for terms which are not highly competitive. Therefore, ensure that you have some diversity in your keyword list.

# 2. Map Keywords & Content to Web Pages

The second step is to take a look at your website and ask yourself this question:

- Does each page on this website have a clearly defined topic or theme?

Let’s say you are a company offering legal services. If you offer a range of different legal services, each corresponding to a particular area of law, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to have a unique page for each service? And wouldn’t it make sense to have well-written, descriptive and unique content on each page – matching the overall topic or theme of each page? After all, the more relevant and useful content and pages that you have on your website, the more content there is for Google to gather – and the more content there is to be found by the people searching for your services.

In this way, you can ensure that your website follows a very logical, clearly-defined structure. Think of it as arranging all of the different pieces of content and all of the different pages on your site into compartments. This also means that you can link from one page to the next in a simple and sensible way. Your ‘About Us’ page can include links to each of the different services that you offer, for example.

It is also important to think of the variety of relevant content that you can add to each of these pages. If you offer a particular service, instead of just writing a short blurb about this service and what you can offer, why not add a video where you describe this service (another chance to appear in Google search results), a client testimonial, or a case study where a company hired you with positive results?

Think in these terms:

Relevant Keywords + Useful Content + Well-Presented Pages = Google-Friendly!

# 3. Make Your Website SEO-Friendly

It is now time for a fresh look at your website, and some simple steps you can take to make it more SEO-friendly and accessible (remember the Google mission statement?).

There are a number of actions I recommend here.

SEO-friendly URLs

One of the easiest ways you can make your website instantly more accessible to search engines like Google is to ensure that the URLs on your site are as simple, clear and descriptive as possible. How many times have you seen a URL which looks like this?

www.website.com/search+result=3jk1xP&cc300=product-30001

If you had written a song, and wanted to slap a title on it so that it could be easily found by anyone, would you be happy with the link above as the location for your song online? Or would you be happier with the following link:

www.website.com/search+result=my-new-song

Why be happy with jumbled up links when you can have well-formatted links that are easily accessible to both Google and search engine users? It is more difficult for Google to find your website pages and content with complex URLs, so ensure that you implement SEO-friendly URLs from the outset – or ask your webmaster to review this for you if they are currently much more complex than they need to be.

Title tags 

You may have heard of ‘SEO tags’ or ‘meta-data’, when people talk about optimising their websites. Probably the most important element in making your website more SEO friendly, and therefore increasing its ability to move up the rankings, is the title tag. The title tag is the text label which appears when you hover over a browser window containing an open web page, and it is also the piece of text which acts as the title for your page as it appears in search results.

The title tag is one of the most powerful indicators to search engines as to the relevance of your page for a particular search query. If I have ‘bike shop London’ added as the first few words of the home page title tag on my bike shop website, then this is a strong signal to Google that my website is relevant to people searching with that term – and will definitely help me to maximise my ranking for that particular term. While the extent to which it will help will depend on the competition levels for that term, as well as other factors, it is still very important to take advantage of the title tag in maximising what it can do for you.

So, you can see where your keyword research comes into play here. Choosing the right keywords in step 1 will help you to choose the optimal keywords for inclusion in your title tag.

A key consideration here is that if the keyword search a user performs on Google matches up with the keywords in your title tag, you may be eligible for extra attention, since the keyword will appear in bold in your title tag. See an example below, where ‘case studies’ and ‘social media customer service’ appear in bold in the title tag, since they match the search query entered on Google.

Tip:  the most important keywords should appear closer to the start of your title tag, and your title tag should be no more than 70 characters in length. This helps prevent the tag becoming cut-off in search results, and will help prevent Google substituting your tag for a shorter one of their own (undoing your hard work).

Meta-descriptions

When you search on Google, you get a list of results with a small piece of text (or snippet) under each result, which lets you know a bit about each result. You review each snippet in deciding which listing may be most relevant to your search, and then you click on one of the results. How relevant the snippet is to what you searched for is a key factor in the number of clicks your search results listing will receive. If people believe that your particular result is a good match for their search by looking at the snippet, then it follows that they will be more likely to click through to your site.

The key to creating well-written and highly-relevant meta-descriptions again goes back to the previous points on keyword research, content, and mapping both of these elements to particular pages. The meta-description should be 1-3 concise sentences which read naturally and incorporate the most important keywords for that page of your site. Again, I recommend adding the highest-priority keywords or phrases nearer the beginning of the tag. As is the case with the title tag, keywords in the meta-description tag which match the search query the user entered will also appear in bold font– again giving more prominence to your listing and increasing the likelihood that the searcher will click through to your site.

Image alt text

Another important addition to your website will be the image ‘alt’ tag. This tag is an area where you can add some ‘alt text’ (alternative text) to describe what an image on your site is about. It is much easier for Google to read text than images, meaning that if your images do not come with alt text, you are missing an opportunity to give Google more information on what these images are about.

This is a missed opportunity to help your rankings, and so I recommend adding some short, descriptive text within the alt tag for the images on your site. For example, if there was a picture on your site of a person fixing a computer, you might add ‘computer repair’ as the alt text for that image.

Read more about image alt text and best practices for adding this text to accompany your images.

Be sure not to over-use the same keywords or phrases in your title tags, meta-descriptions and image alt text. Diversity, variety and relevancy is key.

# 4. Add Google Analytics

This is an obvious but often overlooked action when it comes to optimising your site and setting yourself up for success.Google Analytics is a free tool which allows you to access a huge range of data on your website. I recommend installing it as your site goes live, or as soon as possible for your existing website. It will give you a superb level of detail on where your visitors are coming from, how they are finding you, how long they are spending on your site, where they are dropping off, which content and pages they are viewing, and lots more.

It will also provide you with valuable information and statistics via the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ report, which you can access without leaving the Analytics interface. This report allows you to view your current positions in search results for a range of terms, the number of impressions your website pages are receiving (impressions are the number of times your site appeared in search results), the number of clicks, and the percentage click-through rate to the pages on your site.

Read more about the Search Engine Optimisation reports in Analytics, and note that to access your Search Engine optimisation reports, you first need to set-up Google Webmaster Tools. Read on to find out more about Google Webmaster Tools.

# 5. Add Google Webmaster Tools

Google Webmaster Tools is a fantastic resource for your website. Google Webmaster tools is a free portal provided by Google which monitors your website and provides data on any actions that you need to take around issues which may be affecting your website. These issues may include errors which Google has found during its crawl process, for example broken links or issues with the speed at which your pages load. Think of it as your website’s doctor – only instead of only being available from Monday-Friday during certain hours, it is there for you 24/7! Not only that, but it is also there working in the background for you 24/7, gathering data on your website’s performance and overall health.

The easiest way to get set-up with Google Webmaster Tools is to first set-up Google Analytics. The reason for this is that once you have Google Analytics installed and have Administrator access to your Google Analytics account, you can then set-up and verify your Google Webmaster Tools account within minutes.

Read more about Google Webmaster Tools and how to get set-up with an account. Be sure to combine both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to get all of the data available to you on your website’s performance. This data will prove indispensable in helping to guide your overall SEO and online marketing strategy.

Thank you for reading part 1 of this two-part beginners guide to SEO. What has worked well for you in terms of kick-starting your own SEO campaign?

Feel free to leave comments or ask questions in the section below.

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