Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a digital marketing method used to increase the quality and quantity of organic search traffic to your website.
Let’s break that down a bit further.
Organic search traffic is any unpaid traffic that comes from search engine results pages (SERPS). Paid ads have not played any role in getting them to your site.
But you don’t want just any traffic. You want to attract visitors who are genuinely interested in the products and services that you offer. That’s why the quality of traffic is essential to the definition of SEO.
Once the right people click through to your site from the SERPs, you want a higher quantity of traffic. The more traffic, the more chance of conversions.
Why is SEO important?
Organic search is a HUGE source of traffic to websites.
If two websites are selling exactly the same thing, sites with an SEO strategy are more likely to rank higher, attract more traffic and win more sales.
In fact, studies show that the number one position in Google has a 27.5% Click Through Rate (on average).
But it’s not just about ranking on search engines.
Good SEO practices improve the user experience of a website, too.
This is no coincidence. In recent years, Google has focused more and more on rewarding websites that provide a better experience for visitors.
We’re talking about sites that are faster, mobile friendly, contain useful and fresh content, are easily navigable, and so on.
How SEO works
Now you know what SEO is, let’s sneak behind the scenes and look at how it works.
Google and other search engines have crawlers that go through websites and gather data to build an index.
When you search on Google, the search engine scans its index of “hundreds of billions” of pages and feeds it through an algorithm to find a set of results that give the best answer to your search query.
What you see on the search engine results pages are the websites that Google finds to be the most relevant, trustworthy, and authoritative on the subject you’re searching.
There are known as ‘organic search results” – this means they rank based 100% on merit.
Search engines rank their organic search results based on lots of different ranking factors, such as social metrics, keyword usage, brand signals, user interactions, and many more.
We won’t list them all here – Google uses more than 200 ranking factors in its algorithm.
This is how experts weight the importance of different ranking factors in Google:
Image credit: Moz
All of these factors boil down to three key things:
- Relevancy: Google looks for pages that are most closely related to your keyword.
- Authority: This is Google’s way of determining if the content is accurate and trustworthy (more on this later).
- Usefulness: Content can be both relevant and authoritative, but if it’s not deemed useful, Google won’t position it at the top of the search results.
That’s where the “Optimisation” part of SEO comes in.
Research shows that websites on page 1 of Google receive almost 95% of clicks.
So, you need to OPTIMISE your website to ensure search engines can understand what they're seeing, index your site and rank it higher on the SERPs.
But while it’s tempting to focus on optimising for all the individual ranking factors, remember Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the best experience for its users.
That’s why Google tends to put lots of content-rich sites on the top of SERPs. Because these are the pages that users want to see. If users wanted to see product pages in the top of organic results, Google would deliver.
This is why content and SEO go hand in hand.
How to do SEO
You know we said there are more than 200 ranking factors for Google? That means there are hundreds of SEO tactics you can use.
SEO involves technical and creative activities which are often grouped into on-page SEO (or on-site SEO) and off-page SEO (or offsite SEO).
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO includes all the activities that you do on your website to rank higher and earn good quality traffic from search engines. This includes:
Keyword Research. Analysing the types of words and phrases used by your target audience to find what they’re looking for online.
Technical Auditing. Ensuring your website can be crawled and indexed by search engines, and is free from errors.
Content. Creating unique, relevant content that your target audience will find useful and helpful.
Metadata. Creating meta tags and meta descriptions that make it easy for crawlers to understand what’s on your pages.
Page load speeds. Making sure your site loads quickly and provides a great user experience.
These are just a few examples of on-site SEO tactics.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO (or off-site SEO) encompasses all those actions taken outside of your website to improve your organic search ranking.
Optimising for off-page ranking factors involves proving your site’s trustworthiness, relevance and authority.
The only way to prove this is to get other reputable places on the internet to link to and promote your website. In other words, you need a backlink strategy.
Here are some more off-page SEO tactics:
Social media marketing
Mentions (linked and unlinked)
The evolution of SEO
There’s another big thing you need to know about SEO:
SEO is always evolving.
Just to confuse things, search engine algorithms change all the time. Google changes its search algorithm up to 600 times each year.
This means SEO tactics need to evolve too.