An introduction to SEO
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a powerful marketing tool which is often under-utilised by small businesses. SEO is about making it as easy as possible for search engines to understand your website so they can match it to relevant user queries.
For example, if someone searches for “marketing Adelaide” or “web design Adelaide” – and you’re based in Adelaide – the search engine will include your website in the results. How far up that list you appear depends on many factors including how much competition there is and how well your web pages are optimised.
SEO is complex. It can take a long time to see results and there’s no guarantee of success. However, just by implementing some basic SEO, you can expect to improve your search results. If you don’t see these results immediately, don’t give up. SEO is an ongoing process and takes time to take effect.
How SEO works
Most search engines basically work in the same way. When a person wants to find something, they type in a word or phrase, called a search query.
The search engine then compares that query to its catalogue of web pages, and displays the best matches on a search results page.
The goal is to create the most relevant list of results possible, to help people find what they’re looking for. The results page includes links to websites, but you might also see local business listings, items for sale, advertisements, images, maps, videos and more.
Search engines take many factors into account when considering which results to display, in what order. Google has previously revealed that their algorithm assesses approximately 200 variables. Thankfully, you don’t need to know what all of these are in order to make a significant improvement to your ranking. Maintaining a website that appeals to both users and search engines can be as simple as:
• using relevant, descriptive keywords for your titles, content, URLs and images
• having fresh, relevant content on your site
• creating content that people want to share and link back to
How search engines see the web
In simple terms, when you ask a search engine to find something, it looks through a huge list of previously catalogued pages, called “the index,” and pulls out relevant results.
But before a page can make it into “the index”, the search engine first needs to know what the page is about. That way, it can easily find it the next time someone performs a similar search.
So how does this work and why does it matter for your business?
Well let’s say you own a café and you have a website to promote it online. When you look at a page on the site you see the front facing images and text. But when a search engine looks at the same page, in addition to seeing what you see on your screen, it also sees the code behind it, called HTML .
Specific parts of this code help the search engine understand what the web page is all about. And knowing which parts are important can help you to optimise your site so it can be found more easily.
How to optimise your website for search engines
The more descriptive website content is, the easier it is for Google to understand what the purpose of a site is – and therefore match the purpose to related search queries. Try and add fresh content regularly to help your site stay on Google’s radar. Note that optimised, valuable, relevant onsite content is one of the very best ways to grow your authority with Google and users. If you have a blog, this can be a great channel for providing new, topical articles to existing and potential customers. Alternatively, fill your website with descriptive content that search engines and users will value.
Search engines assess the readability of the text on a page, so it’s important to use plain English where possible – don’t use jargon. Try to keep sentences under 20 words and vary their length. Use subheadings to break up long sections of text. If you’re not sure about whether something you’ve written is easy to understand, make sure it’s proofed and edited. Get someone in your office or team who has a knowledge of writing to take a look.
Keywords – terms such as “marketing agency” or “small business marketing” – are one of the ways search engines know how relevant a web page is to a search query. It’s important to use keywords that are descriptive and related to the web page or website in question. Try to use keywords in your page content and in the metadata. Make sure you don’t resort to keyword stuffing, which is using keywords that aren’t directly relevant or overusing keywords so they sound unnatural. Using a particular keyword once or twice per hundred words of content is ideal.
When search engines scan your text, they pay close attention to where any links go and what the anchor text (the highlighted text that takes you to a new web page) says. Search engines view inbound links from other sites as a vote of authority. The more quality links to a particular website, the more authoritative that site is to search engines. If you’re linking to other sites and vice versa – a blog is a great way to attract people to your site with valuable, relevant information (for SEO purposes or otherwise).
Website SEO elements
Each element of your website offers further opportunity to enhance your search ranking. It’s worth reviewing these to see how and where you can add value:
URLs should tell both searchers and search engines what a page is about. You can achieve this by using descriptive keywords separated by hyphens (website.com/web-design-Brisbane).
The main heading of your page content (H1) is an important ranking factor and should be used to describe the web page as a whole. Each page should have just one descriptive H1 heading. Headings H2 to H6 (largest to smallest) should be used as sub-headings – they can be used multiple times per page. You can use H2s for example to break your content into several main sections.
Anchor text is the clickable text in links. It helps search engines understand what the web page being linked to is about. Using appropriate keywords, brand or company names is more meaningful than using a phrase like “click here” or “read more”.
Metatags contain snippets of text that describe the content of a web page. The text doesn’t show on the web page but it’s used by Google and other search engines in search results.
Title tags show in the browser tab and search engine results page. The title tag influences where the page ranks in search results. It needs to tell the user what the page is about as well as containing the keywords that you want search engines to pick up on. Title tags should not be longer than 60 characters. The recommended formula is Title Containing Keywords | Brand Name. If you have a long brand name, it is okay for this part to exceed the character count slightly.
Meta description tag
This is the description that’s displayed in Google search results below the title tag. This description should not exceed 160 characters. And though Google does not factor the description into search engine rankings, a clear description can encourage a searcher to click through to your website.
An ALT tag is used to describe an image on a web page. Search engines cannot see the image itself, so they rely on ALT tags instead (and so do people using screen-readers). Where appropriate, use target keywords in the ALT tag.
Image file names
File names should be brief and descriptive, with words separated by hyphens.
Optimising for your local search area
In addition to optimising content, links and metadata, there are things you can do to be more prominent in the results for local searchers – those in your suburb, city or region with queries specific to your products or services.
Google My Business
Google My Business listings show as map listings at the top of the page for local search results, improving your website visibility and making it easy for potential customers to find you. To make the most of this, set up a listing or verify an existing listing – and make sure that the brand name, address, contact details and business category are accurate. Encourage customers to leave reviews on this listing and respond to any reviews you receive, whether positive or negative. To get started, follow this Google guide.
Contact Us page
Make sure your website has a Contact Us page that includes up-to-date contact details and an embedded Google Maps listing. Follow this guide to embed the map on your site.
List your business on local directories, including popular directories such as Yelp, True Local and the Yellow Pages. Local directories are great for increasing your online visibility, website traffic and provide the same vote of authority that links do.
Want to learn more about SEO, or get a further explanation of some of the techniques discussed in this guide? We’d love to have a chat with you about your SEO needs. If you prefer to do your own research, here’s a list of recommended reading:
• Moz is an excellent resource. You can find out more about SEO fundamentals in their SEO Learning Center