What you really need to know about SEO (and nothing more)
Search Engine Optimisation is crucial if you want a consistent stream of leads from the web, but the jargon around it makes me glaze over. Luckily it’s not half as complex and technical as the terminology makes out. In this valuable guide I’ve ditched the jargon in an attempt to demystify SEO for you once and for all. Use these simple tips to get your content found by people searching online.
Why Search Engine Optimisation is so important
There are various ways to get people to your website: you can tell them about it, giving them a link to your URL; you can entice them there by sharing links to useful articles on social media sites; you can share links back to your site in your email newsletters; you can write a blog so valuable that people willingly refer it to their contacts.
Do all this and you will get visitors to your website. If your content is good enough when they get there you’ll build their trust, generate a lead and ultimately win their business. But if you want to maximise your investment in valuable content it’s vital to think about search engines too.
With 77% of all UK adults using the Internet to search for information on products and services, Google has become an indispensible part of modern life. As a business, harnessing the huge opportunity that search engines provide is crucial for making your online presence as effective as it can be.
Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO as it is known, is a tool any business can use to ensure their content is as visible as possible to those searching for answers on the web. By getting to the first page of Google’s search results people will be able to find you more easily.
Google loves valuable content
Google loves valuable content. Creating high quality content for your site is by far the most important thing you can do when it comes to SEO. Adrian Knight of Digital Investments UK (resident SEO expert here at Spike Design) explains:
“Google’s mission is to serve the highest quality and relevant material to its searches. Help them to do this by producing high quality, valuable content created with the user in mind, and you will do well.”
Like the rest of us, Google hates spam. Thankfully it is getting far better at distinguishing and ranking sites with genuinely valuable content from those who try and manipulate search results with techniques such as keyword stuffing or bogus link building.
“Google is trying to make it so you don’t have to do SEO,” says Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. But we’re not quite there yet. Google still needs a bit of spoon-feeding so it understands your content, indexes it appropriately, ranks it and serves your content over your competitors’ to those searching on the web. Here’s what you need to focus on.
Top 5 ways to optimise your content for search
1. Use keywords you care about. With a little research, you can gain a clear view of the words and phrases people most often use when thinking about and searching for your topic online. You can learn how to speak their language, allowing you to create content to satisfy their needs, which is exactly what search engines are looking for.
To generate relevant keywords first talk directly to your customers and find out why they come to you. Then use Google’s free keyword research tool. This allows you to observe the keywords and phrases that people have actually used to find information online in the past.
“Keyword research is cool – it allows you to gaze into your customers’ minds.”
By carefully targeting your keywords you are more likely to answer the search query effectively or ‘own’ the search, allowing you to get to the top of that search results page. Don’t be too scattergun – keep to within 5-20 keywords for your site.
2. Label your content for search engines. We mentioned that Google needs a bit of spoon-feeding. To feed it correctly you need to set your ‘metadata’ right (<- there’s one of those off putting technical terms we mentioned at the start!). Think of metadata as data about your data, or information about your content. It just means acting like a good librarian and labeling your content correctly so search engines can find you easily. Include your chosen keywords – this is a way of saying to the search engines, ‘Hey! Look at me! This page is relevant!’
- Page titles. Use your keywords in your page title. This is the blue link that appears on the Google search page. Keep it short – up to 72 characters will be visible. Convince the searcher your content is relevant.
- Meta Descriptions. <165 character summary of your page or article using key search terms. This is what appears on Google’s search results and it needs to be informative, relevant, interesting and succinct.
- Headings. Important for the reader scanning your article or page, and for Google too. Use them to show what the page is all about.
- Images. Google can’t read an image so help it by labeling the images you use.
[NB: If you have a blog or a website with a content management system, ask your developer to set it up so you can set the metadata yourself for each new page or article.]
3. Link intelligently in and out your site. When the search engine ‘spiders’ enter your site, you want them to stay there as long as possible so that they can find all the wonderful content that you have in there. To do this, it is important to ensure that you don’t have any dead ends – there should always be links to other pages within your site, particularly those which hold related information. The more links there are to a page, the more the search engines will think it is important.
[NB: Optimise your links by using your keywords within the link text – this is called anchor text since it anchors your web page to the keyword.]
It is also important to link out to other relevant websites. If you write an article that draws information from and links to a host of other relevant sites, the search engines consider that you’re an expert on this subject and will place more importance on your website.
4. Update your site regularly with fresh content. The search engine ‘spiders’ that crawl around the web looking for information do keep a check on your website – they return periodically to see if you’ve modified or added anything. Google, like us, isn’t so keen on stale content – by giving it some ‘fresh meat’ every so often, by adding to your blog for example.
5. Share your content. This point cannot be stressed enough. I want you to fall in love with social media and share your content all over the place! Provided your content is of high quality, the more you share, the more you will gain link backs from other sites.
The rise of blogging and social media has revolutionised how search engines rank websites. A huge 85% of the total factors that influence search engine rankings is dependent on what happens outside of your site (according to Copyblogger’s recent SEO copywriting article).
What other people have to say about your content is more valuable than what you say about yourself. Modern SEO is all about creating content so valuable and compelling that other people naturally want to promote it, to share it, like it and tweet about it. The more that other people link to your site, the more of an authority Google will consider you to be on the subject, doing great things for your ranking.
“Try to make a site that is so fantastic you become an authority in your niche.” Matt Cutts, head of Google webspam team.
Search Engine Optimisation is massively important for anyone creating valuable content. It will help you to make the most of your investment – to get your content found. If, like me, you were originally put off by the jargon surrounding SEO, I hope this has given you some clarity and gets all that great content found by those searching on the web.
- How to write content so that search engines will find you and people will like you
- SEO copywriting – taking it to the next level
Many thanks to Adrian Knight and Claire Rosling here at Spike Island for their help with this article.