What’s the first thing you do when you want to learn more about a product, service, business, or topic?
Chances are, you type a question into an internet search engine – just like many others do. It’s estimated that Google processes:
And when you type your question into the Google query bar, what are the first results to come up? Does one of them answer your question directly or lead you to a valuable resource? Probably.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what exactly is going on behind the scenes to bring you that incredibly efficient answer? Well, welcome to SEO 101.
What is SEO and why is it important?
To understand how SEO works, and why you need to care, you first need to understand exactly what it is.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of growing the quality and quantity of website traffic, by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine.
Now that you’re an expert, let’s move on. Just kidding, that definition is confusing.
Let’s simplify things.
In a nutshell, SEO involves writing content or copy for your website, using the specific keywords or phrases that people might type into a search bar when looking for information about what you have to sell. The goal of SEO is to get your content to the top of the organic search results — bringing more people to your page, so you can educate them on a topic and/or convince them that your product or service is worth buying.
Since organic search is a term you may not be familiar with, let’s break that down a little bit more…
What does ‘organic search’ actually mean?
If you’ve ever gone to Google to find a coffee shop near you, or to shop for a new smartwatch, then you’ve most likely benefited from ‘organic search’.
Organic search refers to the act of putting a few words or a question into a search bar — ‘best smartwatch for running’, for example — and finding what you need. While some results on Google’s first page might be paid ads (usually right at the top marked with an Ad label) the rest of the list will show up, organically, based on relevance. Organic search is essentially what happens when you search for something and receive in return a list of non-sponsored results, relevant to what you need.
If a webpage shows up as an organic search result, it’s because the search engine’s algorithms believe it’s a suitable fit, based on what they know about the content hosted there.
But there are countless brands making smartwatches for runners, right? So how do those first-page organic search results gain the coveted top spots?
You guessed it: SEO.
How does SEO work?
Search engines do three key things: Crawl, Index, and Rank.
Crawling is the discovery phase of the search engine journey. Search engines have what they call ‘crawlers’, whose ‘job’ it is to scour the internet for content and to look over the code and context for any URL they find. Crawlers can review all kinds of content: images, videos, blogs, website pages, PDFs, etc.
Crawlers are sometimes called ‘spiders’ as they weave a bit of a URL web. When they search pages, they then follow the links on those pages to crawl other, connected pages. Crawlers do this to build up a comprehensive picture of what a website is all about. Once they’ve gathered all the information they believe to be relevant, they move into the second phase.
(Of course, we say ‘they’, but these crawlers or spiders are bots, not people!)
After the crawler gathers their data, the search engine processes and stores that information in an index. This phase — aptly called ‘indexing’ — puts all of the gathered information into a huge database. It’s this database that search engines use to return the results for our search queries.
Ranking refers to the ordering of search results by relevance. When a user puts in a search query, the search engine will pull what it believes to be the most relevant results from its index and display those results upfront. Think about it: when was the last time you went on to read page 2 or 3 of a search engine’s results? You never really need to!
Getting to be on the first page of results depends on your ability and willingness to follow some important SEO guidelines.
Some Basic Principles of SEO
Here’s a short overview of the hard and fast rules for ‘good’ SEO:
- Having a secure and easily accessible website
- Fast page load speed
- Mobile-friendly website (check yours here)
- Optimised, unique Meta Title and Descriptions for each page
- High domain authority
- A user-friendly website experience
- Outbound and inbound links in your content
- Relevant, useful and updated content on your website, related to your business and chock-full of strategically picked keywords and phrases.
And here are some things you need to avoid:
- Spammy guest blogging
- Keyword stuffing
- Quantity of links over quality
- Duplicate content
- Thin content
- Unnatural links
Basically, don’t try to trick crawlers — they’re smarter than you think.
So we’ve learnt that a strong part of SEO is optimising our content to answer users queries. So, let’s look at the different types of content we can create.
Types of content (and how they relate to user intent)
When an internet user searches online, they are almost always looking for one of two content types: informational content and transactional content.
This could also be called ‘educational content’, as the user is looking for information. The way they pose the question indicates that they are not looking for a specific website, and they are not looking to purchase anything (yet). They only want to answer a question or learn how to do something.
An example of an informational search query would be “short hairstyles” or “the Grand Canyon”.
On the other hand, transactional content indicates an intent to complete a transaction (e.g. making a purchase). Sometimes transactional search queries will include the name of a specific brand or website, or even include terms like ‘buy’ or ‘sign up’.
Including both informational and transactional content on your site, where possible, is part of SEO best practice.
Can anyone ‘do’ SEO?
The short answer is yes, anyone can ‘do’ SEO — as long as you have a legitimate website and some knowledge about how it works.
Many business owners give up on SEO because it ’it doesn’t work’. Well, let me tell you, done right, it most certainly does! However, it’s a long term goal, not an overnight success. Stacking up against Paid Advertising, which boasts a faster return on investment, SEO plays the long game and builds up over time to bring targeted traffic to your website, for free.
On top of all this free traffic, the good news is, you don’t need to be a complete SEO expert to start seeing results (pardon the pun).
All you need is a good handle on the basics, some practical SEO guides, time and a little patience and then you can start to drive targeted traffic to your site.
Below we’ve listed some useful resources that we think you will find helpful when starting your SEO journey.