An introduction to SEO in a nutshell

(and why it’s important!)

For many, SEO is considered a dark art. Businesses understand that SEO is important, but have little understanding of what it does, how it works and most importantly, where to start. Google has a great deal of information about how to build a fully optimised website, however for those not in the loop, it’s not very intuitive to understand.

Therefore, we have written this beginners guide to SEO. We’re here to help you understand SEO at its core, answer your most frequently asked questions and bust a few myths along the way.

What is SEO and what does it do?

Let’s start at the beginning. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Its your way of telling search engines what you want to be found for. This is achieved by building websites so that search engines can understand them.

Search engines are incredibly smart and are getting more and more sophisticated with each passing day. Despite this, there is a limit to what they can do on their own and they still need us to help them understand the information in front of them. By organising your data correctly in line with best practices, search engines (like google and Bing) can serve the page on your website that best matches their search query aka keywords.

SEO increases website ranking positions and impressions (views) so that your website can be found by your audience. users that find your website via search engine are referred to as organic. As ranking positions increase, so too should the traffic to your website. SEO also includes perfecting the listing for your page to increase your click through rate (CTR).

 

How SEO Works

No its not magic as Shia Labeouf might want us to think. SEO is about making your website better for search engines and users.

Googles mission statement is to organise the worlds data. By making your website compliant with best practice guidelines, you make this easier for them to do. When Google can easily understand the content on your website, it can then show these pages to users looking for the information, products and services you provide. As optimised websites help to improve the user experience, it’s in Googles best interest to rank these websites in higher positions.

Disclaimer time!

Before we go any further,it’s important to understand that many search engines, especially Google, have barriers in place to prevent the mis-use of SEO, especially when this interferes with a users experience (for example, trying to rank for a product you don’t provide because it receives a high number of searches). This will likely see your website slapped with a manual penalty that will remove your website from their index, meaning you cannot be found at all. It is also difficult to Recover from the effects of a manual penalty after it has been lifted, so this should be avoided at all costs.

 

Now with that out of the way, lets continue…

 

Why Target Organic Traffic

Search is by far the most popular method of information finding for users worldwide. With phones and mobile devices now more widespread than ever before, everything we need is now at our fingertips. While Google and various other search engines have now been around for many decades, it is still a unique way of marketing as it targets only users that are interested in what you have to offer, as opposed to platforms such as social media which require in depth knowledge of customer interests, demographics and behaviours.

SEO takes time


Possibly one of the most frustrating things about SEO is how long it takes to see results. Not only does it take Google days, if not weeks to index new content, it can be up to 6 months before seeing the full effects of changes that have been made. This is because Google needs to re-evaluate the new content to make sure the user will still be receiving a good experience.

 

The benefits of SEO

There are numerous benefits to optimising a website. Not only do you get increased visibility for your brand and traffic, you also gain valuable data, that will influence the design of your website and improve the user experience & conversion rates. It’s also great for PR! By creating great content for your audience, you increase the likelihood of earning links from other websites. Think of link building like the digital version of a word of mouth recommendation, this lets search engines know your website has reliable information and provides great services & products and establishes your site as an authority in your field.

 

SEO Ranking Factors


Google and Bing have both claimed that their search algorithm looks at around 1000 ranking factors when calculating the relevance of a web page for any given keyword. And while they hold their cards very close to their chests about what these ranking indicators are, the majority are well known within the industry. Additionally, each ranking factor is weighted differently, meaning that some changes will have a greater effect on performance than others. We could probably go on forever breaking these down and explaining all the different ranking factors and indicators (which we will do over time), however for now, let’s just keep things simple.

At its core, SEO can be broken into 2 main categories;

  • On-page – Changes that are visible on the page
  • Off-page – Changes that are not visible on the page

Which then branches off into these 3 key elements.

  • On-page
    • Content – The text, headers, images and videos that a user can see and engage with
  • Off-page
    • Technical –Elements in the code that search engines use as ranking indicators.
    • Links (PR) – Connections between pages both on your own website and other websites.

What makes a Good SEO strategy

A good SEO strategy should include both fixes and expansions. A fix for example, would be removing a 404 pages (ones that don’t work), where as an expansion would be the creation of a blog article. If your agency is creating brilliant content for the website, but there are issues with the website speed, the potential is some what restricted. Similarly, your website might be a technical masterpiece! but if your not creating exceptional content, how is Google supposed to know what your website should be ranking for?

The first steps to any great SEO strategy includes keyword research and a website audit. By conducting keyword research, we gain an understanding of the market and by conducting a website audit, we can identify a variety of ways in which to organise data so that it follows a logical structure and allows the website to run more smoothly. We then create a strategy that incorporates all found recommendations starting with high priority issues.

 

How much does SEO Cost

Ah, the question on everyone’s mind! Of course, the standard answer is it depends. Hourly rates are flexible depending on what you need, the length of your contract and any other services you might currently be receiving. You can get the best hourly rate by providing the agency with regular work and committing to long term retainers. If your industry or target keyword is competitive, this can increase the hours needed in order to achieve high ranking positions, which will increase overall costs, but not the hourly rate.

The more you need, the better your hourly rate. The longer you commit to, the better the hourly rate. Also, if you are targeting many keywords that are competitive, this will increase the amount of hours needed to achieve high ranking positions.

 

If what your asking for is the cheapest and most effective way to make the most of an SEO budget, a consultancy package would be the way to go. We work with you by giving you access to data, and identifying the actions that need to be completed in house to improve ranking positions, users, conversions and behaviour metrics such as bounce rates. It is important to note however, that this strategy is only effective if you have the available time, personnel and resources in house to implement our recommendations. If you haven’t got these, then your essentially paying a lot of money for a lovely chat and a report. Read our article about choosing the right SEO agency to discover how you can get the best deal.

 

What they don’t tell you about SEO

Keyword fluctuation

Keyword positions fluctuate all the time, and when you think about all the factors Google uses to determine positions, it actually makes a lot of sense. You might rank highly for your local area, but not so well in major cities. This can be affected by the time of day, the amount of times a user has seen your ad or the amount of activity your listing receives. All these factors mean you could rank 5th for a keyword one day, and then the next you rank 7th, only to find that in a few hours your in 3rd! Its also not unusual to see your keywords drop off completely, however this behaviour is more typical of newly ranking keywords that have just broken through the top 100.

Sites don’t need to be 100% optimised

If your website has an issue that you just can’t fix, don’t worry about it! Just because there are a few pieces missing from your jigsaw puzzle, doesn’t mean search engines can’t still see the whole picture. Some of the highest ranking websites aren’t perfectly optimised.

How long does it take to get to #1

How long is a piece of string. Truth is no one knows. In my experience, if you begin with a website that has good foundations, and the keywords aren’t to competitive, I have seen rankings reach a #1 position in as little as 3-6 months. That being said, these keywords have a low search volume, but as they are accurate to what the user is looking for they can still receive good conversions.

Don’t stop just because your #1

This is a common mistake I have seen many times. We get a website ranking really well for their keywords and they decide its time to leave, only to find positions are slipping and they need our services again. Getting a website to increase from 3rd to 1st is the majority of the battle. Loosing ground in this area will take almost as long to regain as it does when they don’t rank at all.

Contact a specialist when making big changes

Re-designing the site? Contact a specialist. Changing the domain name? Contact a specialist. Looking to add new countries or languages? You guessed it….. contact a specialist. Even when everything is done perfectly, making large changes to a website will almost always result in a short term fluctuation of rankings as Google is effectively treating your website as a new site. Once it is happy that things are all in order, activity will pick up again in a few weeks. If your website is not migrated properly, you could find it struggling to recover.

 

How to optimise a website

To get started, you first need to hire either an SEO specialist or an agency that provides SEO services. While the basics of SEO are simple enough for anyone to understand, and there is a vast amount of information available online, the time it takes to learn could be a deterrent. It is also vital that whoever is optimising the website is capable of identifying potential issues to begin with. As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one, and agencies have many heads that can help you achieve your goals.

 

We will be building our own guide over time, to help you understand how SEO works in greater detail and how to apply these to your own website. This will include demonstrations of the most effective tools and techniques for identifying issues with your website, understanding your performance data and identifying the next best steps to increase your online visibility. Stay tuned for more updates by subscribing to our mailing list!

If you’re ready to take those first steps into the world of SEO, or have a question you would like us to answer, pick up the phone and ask to speak with an SEO specialist. We can help shine some light on your website and let you know how to become competitive by fully embracing the world of search marketing. Fill out the simple form on our contact page, call us on 01527 757010 or email us at info@indigo-river.com.

All gifs sourced by GIPHY

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