You’ve no doubt heard of SEO - but what does SEO mean and why is SEO important for small businesses? This introduction to search engine optimization will cover the basics and introduce you to the key terms to familiarize yourself with.
Let's start at the beginning
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation”.
It’s the practise of optimising your website for search engines, so that they can better understand your business or service.
In doing so, you are helping a search engine connect your website with users who are trying to find businesses like yours or services like those that you offer.
How to win more clients
Why is SEO important?
SEO can increase the quantity of the visitors (or “traffic”) to your website.
Perhaps more importantly, SEO can also increase the quality of the traffic going to your website, by connecting you with visitors whose needs best match the products or services you offer.
It does this by improving a website’s search ranking.
For example, if you own a DIY store in Bristol, you’ll want your website to be among the first results to be displayed when somebody searches “DIY store Bristol”. You’ll also want to rank highly for various other phrases such as “DIY supplies Bristol” or “Screwdriver Set Bristol”.
But how do you optimise your website for search engines like Google? First we need to look at how search engines work.
SEO terms for beginners - the basics
How Do Search Engines Work?
Search engines have one simple goal - connecting the searcher with the most relevant content from the web.
They do this by constantly scouring the web for new and updated content, scanning billions of web pages, images, videos and more in the process. This process is known as “crawling”. The search engine will then catalogue this information which is referred to as “indexing”.
Every search engine will then have slightly different methods for “ranking” this information. In other words, deciding which content to display when somebody searches for something.
To determine which content is the most relevant, a search engine considers factors such as:
Website Written Content - The words, sentences and paragraphs included on your website pages.
Technical SEO - Is your website fast and mobile friendly? Is the code clean and easy for search engines to read? These factors help search engines crawl your website and determine whether they see it as trustworthy.
Do other websites link to yours? - If other websites link to your site and are sending traffic to yours, this is another indication that your content is trusted.
These are just some of the hundreds of considerations which help a search engine determine the relevance of the content on your website. So where should you begin when starting your SEO journey?
On-Page Optimisation For Beginners
How to Improve Your Website SEO
The first two factors noted above - Website Content and Technical SEO - fall under the category of “On-Page Optimisation”. On-page optimisation is a great place to start when improving your website’s SEO because it involves factors that you can influence directly.
ON PAGE OPTIMISATION
For the most part, improvements in your website’s technical SEO will never be noticed by a visitor. This is because technical SEO relates to ways of optimising your website to help search engines crawl and index your site more effectively.
You can help search engines do this by ensuring your website has clean, well-organised code in a programming language that a search engine can easily understand.
Some elements of technical SEO will impact visitors to your website. Improving loading speeds and mobile optimisation are examples of technical SEO. Having a website that is quick to load and easy to navigate on a mobile device is great for visitors and highly valued by search engines.
This probably all sounds… technical!
In truth, these examples above only scratch the surface of things you can do to optimise your site’s coding for search engines.
However, as someone new to SEO (perhaps you are a small business owner) it’s unlikely that you have coded your website yourself, so seek help from your web designer or the online website building service that may be hosting your site.
Website Written Content
Optimizing your written website content for search engines is an area in which you can personally make drastic improvements to your website’s search ranking.
There are several opportunities to improve your on-page SEO through written content, which we will explore below.
Each has a different set of requirements and best-practices, but every example shares one vital consideration: the inclusion of “Keywords”.
SEO begins with keywords
What are keywords?
In the context of SEO, keywords are the words and phrases that people type into search engines to facilitate a search.
“DIY” is an example of a keyword, but so is “DIY store” or “home maintenance supplies”. These are sometimes referred to as "key phrases".
If the written content of your website contains words and phrases that match those that somebody is typing into a search engine, the search engine is likely to see your content as relevant to that person.
At a very basic level, if somebody searches “DIY Store” and your website homepage contains the keyword “DIY Store”, a search engine will see your homepage as relevant content to that person.
How do you know which keywords to include in your website content?
There are two things to consider - Search Volumes and Competitiveness.
Keyword Search Volumes
It is pointless trying to rank highly on search engines for keywords which no one is searching for.
Instead try to select keywords with reasonable search volumes, as these are more likely to increase visitors to your website.
Be mindful of competition when selecting a keyword.
“DIY Store” is a relevant keyword for every DIY store in the country, whereas “DIY and plumbing store” may have a reasonably high search volume, while at the same time, being less competitive.
There are free and premium paid-for keyword tools which can help you identify suitable keywords. These tools will look at search volume data and keyword competitiveness to make your selection process a bit easier.
To some extent, it is also possible to identify keywords by asking your customers how they search and by considering what keywords your competitors are using. Be mindful that this method lacks the data which keyword tools are able to provide.
Always remember that relevance is king. There is no point in using keywords that are high in search volume and low in competitiveness if they have little relevance to your business or the services that you offer.
Google Searches Related To
SEO Beginners Example
In this example, the phrase "SEO for beginners" was entered into Google.com
When the results are returned on the search engine results pages (SERPs for short) if you look underneath the list of websites, Google actually provides other keywords for you to consider including on your web page.
These are searches that other users have previously performed and which Google see as being related to the original search keyword.
This is a search engine optimization technique that has been used on this web page. You will notice that this page contains some of these keywords.
Where to Begin
Optimising Content for SEO
Page Titles & Meta Descriptions
The page title or “title tag” (1) and meta description (2) are what gets displayed on a search engine results page. These are the first items a potential visitor, come customer, will see about your website when they are searching.
The page title should act as a very succinct one line summary of the page contents. The meta description is slightly longer and allows you to expand on the contents, for example a little about the services you provide or key details about the product on that page.
Search engines display only the first 50-60 characters of a page title and allow for a meta description up to 155 characters in length. It’s worth spending time refining the copy in the meta description so that it includes keywords and tells a potential site visitor what it is that your business can offer.
It is also a good idea to include a call-to-action, this will act to prompt the searcher to click on your SERP link. Examples include: "Find out how we will help you" or simply "Contact us today".
For example, this web page has the following page title (also known as meta title) and meta description:
You will notice that the title clearly states what the page is about and provides the searcher with a short introduction to the content i.e. it is a short guide on SEO.
The meta description continues this theme by informing the searcher that it is a "beginners guide", so anyone who already is an SEO expert probably should not read this and, it includes a call to action at the end.
Google Sometimes Rewrites Meta Descriptions
One thing to be aware of, is that Google sometimes takes it upon itself to rewrite your meta description if it believes there are better words to use. It will scan the content on the page and then extract text to use. On occasions, this page is listed in the SERPs as follows:
You will notice that an extended (greater than 155 characters) meta description is shown. This gives you more exposure on the search results page, but unfortunately the call-to-action has been removed.
Written Page Content & Blogs
Every page on your website is a new opportunity to optimize your website for search engines. Above all, search engines value unique, relevant and engaging content.
It should be easy for you to include relevant content on your website - simply by succinctly describing the products or services that you offer, using keywords within titles, subtitles and descriptions.
You might find it more difficult to add unique or engaging content on your website. Starting and regularly maintaining a blog is a great way to add this kind of content to your site and is often referred to as “content marketing”.
If we stay with the DIY Store example, there may not be anything particularly engaging about the descriptions of the DIY products that you sell.
However a blog post titled “How to Put Up A Shelf in 4 Simple Steps” or “Our Top 10 DIY Hacks” are examples of content that people are more likely to engage with, link to, or share with others.
Multimedia (Rich) Content & Alt Text
Search engines don’t just look at your website copy (text content), they also highly value multimedia or rich media content when ranking websites.
“Alt-text” is associated with images on a web page. This is referred to as "alternative text" and it will appear on a web page when an image fails to load. Alt text is also used by screen reader software to "say" the words to visually impaired people, as this helps them understand what is in the image.
From an SEO point of view, Alt text is also crawled by search engines and represents another opportunity to add keywords to your page.
For example, your “About Us” page on your website may contain an image of the front of your store. Be sure to include Alt text that describes the image coherently using keywords. For example “The front entrance of our DIY and plumbing supplies store in Bristol”.
If you have ever used Google Images, then Alt text helps those images to appear in the results for particular keywords.
Off Page SEO
Earning high quality backlinks to your website is worth its weight in gold, but it is time consuming to do right.
We’ve focused a lot on On Page optimization because you can influence these factors directly.
However, we said earlier that search engines are more likely to trust content if other sources are linking to it. These types of links are known as “backlinks” or “inbound links”.
You can help generate backlinks by writing new and engaging content that people may want to link others to, or perhaps by inviting bloggers or other website owners to try out and write about the products that you sell.
It’s hard to guarantee that people will link to your website, but obtaining and increasing backlinks is a valuable long-term goal for improving SEO.
The SEO Cycle
SEO Is A Continual Process
Search engine algorithms change, as does the way people search for things online and what they expect to find.
For example, we’re still yet to see the full impact of how things like voice search will change the SEO landscape. We recommend that you keep an eye on what others are doing.
And, once you start performing SEO, ideally you should never stop. Even when you reach the number 1 slot on the search engines, your competitors are always trying to knock you off, so you have to keep improving your SEO to stay there.
You should also review your SEO keywords multiple times throughout the year to make sure you are targeting keywords that are bringing you traffic which converts to leads and sales.
Start growing your business
SEO For Beginners Course
Now that you understand the basics of SEO, you’re ready to start your journey to becoming an SEO pro.
We have designed an SEO beginners course especially for you which will guide you through each of the steps you need to take to successfully perform SEO on your website.
As you work through the lessons, you will be able to test out what you learn on your own website. The online course also includes tips & tricks on how to achieve higher rankings quicker.
There are bonus lessons on how to abide by Google's guidelines so you don't get banned before you even start. What is that I hear you say? You did not know that Google can penalize and ban websites? Then you must take our course...
You can also join our Yewbiz Members program which provides comprehensive support to grow your business through a series of guides, downloadable templates, easy to use toolkits and much more.