To the uninitiated, search engine optimization or SEO can feel akin to learning a foreign language. Rest assured, SEO is more straightforward than it appears, and the benefits of familiarising yourself with it are incredibly lucrative. If you can successfully integrate SEO principles into your site, you can expect to stand out in search engine results, and therefore direct higher volumes of traffic to your website.
When you conduct a search on Google, Bing or Yahoo, paid advertising content usually features at the top. However, the primary search results below reveal content that is ranked according to its relevance and usefulness, as determined by the search engine.
SEO is the process of directing traffic to your website by taking advantage of the free, organic results that appear ranked on search engines. The best SEO tactic is always to aspire to be the best search result, and offer potential readers and clients a site where they can quickly find what they are looking for.
The more consumers who can easily find and navigate a website, the greater the likelihood the consumers read the content and buy products on the website. Simple, right?
Let’s now unpack how search engines such as Google determine the most relevant sites to rank on the first page of the search results. This relevance is determined by checking the web content against an embedded algorithm that takes into account more than 200 factors. While the 200 factors that affect search engine ranking are not all known, most SEO experts would agree that the following factors rank prominently:
- The prevalence and use of keywords
- The structure of the website (user-friendliness)
- Site speed
- Average time users spend on the website
- The quantity of inbound links
- The quality of inbound links
- Mobile usability
What’s more, some of these factors work in conjunction with each other, such as the quality of the content, and the quality of the inbound links. Take a look at the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors to find out more about ranking factors, and how they interact with each other.
SEO is constantly changing
However, search engines are dynamic and consistently improving to enhance search user experience and sort the digital wheat from the chaff. Google reviews and updates its search results, so a site that ranked in first place one week ago might feature further down a week later if a lesser-ranked site positively overhauls its structure, its number of keywords, and refines and optimizes its headings.
Accordingly, SEO should be understood as a fluid process, rather than a fixed one: engaging in short-term tricks such as stuffing keywords into text in an unnatural way, or jamming your web pages full of irrelevant links won’t ensure good SEO longevity. Good SEO strategy is designed to achieve a high ranking in search engine results, even as ranking factors and algorithms change, which may mean making little tweaks and changes sporadically as necessary.
Understanding SEO as a holistic process
If you want to know how you can ensure that your webpage is consistently high ranking in search results, you have to think holistically, with an SEO strategy that permeates every aspect of your website. Holistic SEO is fundamentally as simple as aspiring to create a fantastic website that engages users because it offers excellent, accessible content and great user experience which results in higher conversions. Fantastic websites are more likely to be shared with others, which in turn attracts new users to your website.
So what are the critical holistic SEO practices?
Write awesome content with plentiful, relevant keywords
Awesome content means awesome SEO. When users are engaged with your content, they are far more likely to interact with it and share it. Creating awesome content means carefully considering and developing a layout that can be easily skimmed and shared, anticipates the audience’s needs and speaks directly to the target audience, and is better than content produced by the competition.
What else makes content awesome? Aim to include content that engages at least some of the following characteristics:
- Simple and coherent
Keywords should figure as a critical consideration in your content. Keywords are as much about your audience as they are about your content because you need to think about how your customers frame or ask for your services: this is commonly referred to as searcher intent. Aim to develop content that understands the needs of your visitors, the kind of language they use, and the kind of content they’re seeking.
There are two kinds of keywords: singular keywords and long-tail keywords. Singular keywords are frequently vague and have very tough competition, while long-tail keywords have more defined specific intent, and less competition.
Developing content that is rich in relevant keywords can be guided by talking to your customers, frequenting relevant forums and undertaking a keyword research using tools such as Keyword Explorer.
Use relevant keywords as a starting point, rather than plugging them in at the end of content creation. That way, your content is guided and informed by keywords that speak to your readers’ needs, rather than considering them as an afterthought.
Technical SEO refers to all the SEO activities that are not concerned with content optimization or link building. Technical SEO is primarily concerned with adhering to search engine ranking requirements to improve crawling (which occurs when the search engine is combing the index for relevant websites). It also provides your website with the necessary foundation to shine in search engine results. Key factors that technical SEO takes into consideration include checking for:
- Duplicate content and metadata
- Meta description length
- Website loading time
- Missing H1/H2 tags
- Status code errors
- XML sitemap status
Again, as search engines become more sophisticated and refined, so too do technical SEO requirements: this means you need to stay abreast of any changes.
Search engines rank security highly. Websites that undertake security measures have a better reputation and a higher position in search engine results. Some key security measures that will boost your rankings include:
- Swapping from HTTP to HTTPS (secure connection)
- Phasing out outdated software
- Enforcing security measures to protect from malware and spam
Optimal user experience
User experience is about focusing on the visitor. Providing readers and customers with an optimal experience while using your website goes hand-in-hand with great SEO practice. Certain user experience factors also rank as factors considered by search engines when ranking your website. Some of the essential aspects of user experience to consider include:
- Website speed
- Accessibility of your website (is it easy for people with visual impairments to use or those who are not as technologically capable?)
- Button design
- Website memorability
- Using keywords and language that resonate with your audience
- Enticing titles
- Appealing visuals
- Provide searchers with what they are looking for within seconds of landing on your page
In short, SEO is a crucial consideration for any website owner looking to direct Internet traffic their way. By steadily integrating components of SEO into your content, user experience, security and the technical body of your site, you can ensure high rankings in search results, and improve your bottom line.