SEO – Search Engine Optimisation is the process of optimising your website’s online presence in such a way which achieves the positions you want in a search engine, which typically means google as the rest of the search engines are so underused by comparison.
Google provides search engine rankings by forming a judgement about how valuable a website is and how relevant their content is to the searcher’s query. They form this judgement based upon an algorithm which takes into account a variety of internal and external factors, or signals. These signals can essentially be broken down to three different categories, ones which impact; site usability / user experience, keyword relevancy, and site authority:
User experience is itself made up of a number of factors. It takes into account the speed of your website, how easy it is to navigate, how well it can respond to user requirements, just to name a few. Does your site use a lot of CPU power for its tasks? Is it hard to find the answers or products that your visitors are looking for? These are the questions that you should be asking yourself when having an honest look at your website’s successes and its failures. Analytics is key to understanding the answers to these questions, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
Keyword relevancy is a bit of an over simplified term for what is actually a pretty complicated matter. This also involves a number of different signals, such as keyword prevalence, density, uniqueness and hierarchy. In order to optimise your website’s content to fit this criteria, you need to understand what your targets are. Are you capable of competing for the most generic and competitive phrases in your niche, or are you going to have start off with a more targeted campaign with a less competitive phrase? You can’t just put keywords onto your website and hope that it works, you need to be producing content which includes these keywords which is otherwise of a high quality, and successfully answers google’s users’ queries – this is an issue that you need to be cognizant of when coming up with a strategy.
Site authority is what actually determines your ability to compete based upon the rest of the criteria. The authority your website has is based upon a number of external signals, by which I mean signals which are external to what is displayed on your website. This includes links and citations going back to your website, reviews about your business and products online, and social media accounts.
Google doesn’t just play this like a numbers game, it looks and judges the quality of these signals in exactly the same way as it forms a judgement about your website. For instance, if your website manages to get a link to it from another high authority website, such as the website of a government organisation, wikipedia, or big online newspapers, then that goes a long way towards showing your website has some authority in the sector, and probably more so than even having ten thousand links from low quality sources. It also judges how relevant your links are. For instance, if your website is selling garden furniture, having a link on a website which is about car mechanics, even on a relatively high authority website, won’t deliver your website much value.
In addition to these three areas, you also have the pitfalls of SEO; the penalisations. Google, in order to promote site quality and combat internet spam, has implemented a number of “codes of conduct”. These are in place to convince websites to avoid trying to gain an advantage through illegitimate means, or at the very least through means which offer no value to the internet environment, and if you don’t observe these codes then you get penalised and your rankings drop. There are a number of algorithms which threaten penalisation if you meet the criteria, but the two main ones are:
Penguin is a search engine algorithm which looks at the backlink profiles of websites. It judges these links in order to determine if they’ve formed naturally or if you’ve gone out of your way to generate them with the intent of manipulating your website’s rankings. This is a big grey area within the SEO world, and it remains unclear to this day when it is and isn’t okay to build and develop your backlink profile. It has successfully changed the way in which businesses build links though, and the demands people have made for relevancy has increased massively since 5 years ago.
Panda is a search engine algorithm which looks at and judges the content of a website for quality. What it tries to do is determine if the content that you’ve produced was done so just to positively impact your search rankings, without it serving a purpose for your visitors. It forms this judgement based upon how much of your content is repeated and without substance. It has to an extent fulfilled its intended purpose, by causing people and businesses to be far more purposeful about their content and improve it where possible.
SEO’s collect information through tools and implement changes through tools too. This has developed over time as the world of SEO has evolved, to the point where SEO only functions based on the tools it has at its disposal. The most important one is perhaps Google Analytics, which allows you to analyse a lot of information about your visitors, such as how many people have visited your website, how long they stayed, how many pages they viewed, how many left the site without visiting another page, and how many came back for a second visit. It can get a lot more complicated than that, but we’ll leave that for another time.
Google Analytics is the most widely used web tool for business and website management, and it is of gathering and collating a massive amount of data. It doesn’t tell you everything that you need though, and for everything else there is another tool in the toolbox. For instance, using tools which find and review your backlinks. These tools can analyse the data related to each website linking to you, and indicate how likely it is that that link will be damaging your website’s SEO. Majestic can do a lot of this stuff, and if you want to check your backlink profile this is a good place to start.
You also have tools which can check a large number of your website’s important areas. These are called site auditing tools, and they are typically what an SEO agency will use to provide you with your free SEO audit.
Besides everything just discussed, there are still a lot of pretty complicated parts to SEO, including quite a bit of very technical stuff, and implementing this is usually best left to experienced professionals.