SEO Basics (in 2020)
For the last decade, search engine optimisation (SEO) has been very much a buzzword used by anyone even loosely connected to websites. Most people have some understanding about what it entails and although they don’t always fully appreciate, or often care, about the complexities and the details. It is something which is continuously evolving, and in this series, we will give you the lowdown about everything you need to know about SEO in 2020.
As a digital marketing agency, we want to give you all the tools and knowledge to drive your business forward. We will start with the basics, and by the end; you will feel like an expert!
What is search engine optimisation (SEO)?
Everyone is familiar with search engines, whether they realise it or not. Think about Google, Bing or Yahoo. SEO Marketing is a complex process designed to get your website a higher ranking, thus appearing further up on the search engine’s search non-paid results, known as organic search results. The theory and science prove that the higher you come in the ranking, the more people see it, and the more people click on your site.
The creation of ‘SEO’
The search engines first emerged in the 1990s and with it came SEO and entrepreneurs appreciating the importance of higher rankings. Back then, SEO was used by the privileged few; nowadays it is a necessity for any business regardless of their size. Not surprisingly, it is an industry that is continually expanding. Over the years, the rules have changed, so what worked at the turn of the century, almost certainly won’t work today. However, the objective remains the same, having a great website that targets the right audience.
How do I begin?
To be successful at SEO, you need to be reasonably technically minded, creative, think outside the box and enjoy analytical work. The end objective is always the same, to rank as highly as possible, but there are several different strategies that you can adopt, and different companies will employ different techniques.
Work will need to be done to ensure that the site is structured correctly and that the coding and programming are technically sound. Of course, this won’t keep your readers captivated, but quality content will and will mean that others refer to your website and link to it. Nonetheless, this is still not enough for search engines as the content also needs to be well optimised with relevant keywords and appropriate external reference links.
SEO is complex with all major search engines using algorithms to determine their rankings. While some of these algorithms are tightly kept secrets, most you can understand to a certain degree and they aren’t designed to trip you up. They want the best results for the end-user, the person searching, not the owner of the website.
Google is known to use in excess of 200 ranking factors, and most of them are widely known such as backlinks, the quality of the content as well as more technical aspects which affect the users’ experience such as page loading speeds. If you follow the basic rules, there is no need to understand or even know about all of the factors.
Imagine a cup of coffee
To understand the basics of SEO, think about a cup of coffee. You have the cup, the coffee and for our example, milk and sugar. We will class these as the three essential parts to your drink.
- The cup – the cup is “the backend” of your website, the technical part. Without it being constructed properly, it won’t work, and the other constituent parts are irrelevant. Think about a flimsy cup that leaks all of your excellent coffee before you have had a chance to drink it!
- The coffee – your website’s content is the main ingredient so, in our example, the coffee. We have all had bad coffee, and never returned to that coffee shop again, whereas we are repeat customers of ZYX Coffee because their coffee is great! Your content is the coffee.
- Milk and sugar – the quality backlinks that you reference on your site. Even a great coffee is undrinkable for many without milk and sugar. The backlinks are what finishes your drink perfectly and are an essential part of the experience.
Standing out from the crowd
Whatever product or service you are offering, you want your website to rank highly. So, when someone searches for whatever you offer, your site shows first or at least on the first page. Unless you operate in an extremely niche market with very little competition, you MUST optimise your site. Firstly, you need your site to be indexed so that Google or the other search engines know it exists.
After being indexed, and by employing white hat SEO techniques, you will rank higher on the search engine results page (SERPS). In turn, this will direct more traffic to your website. The relevant content then needs to capture the imagination of the reader, which will almost inevitably lead to more conversions.
To achieve all of this requires meticulous planning, but if you are prepared to work hard, play by the rules and adopt best practices, you can stand out from the crowd.
Should I do the SEO myself or employ an SEO Company?
In this, our step by step guide to SEO for beginners, you will be able to complete a lot of the SEO optimisation on your own. From experience, we know that is what appear to be relatively small changes can have a considerable impact on your rankings. The real question is, do you have the time to do it, or would it be better spent focusing on other aspects of running your business?
Knowing and understanding SEO in 2020 will require a lot of reading, practice and trial and error. There are lots of excellent free SEO guides available on the internet. However, you need to find one written by experts who actually know what they are talking about, rather than just think they do! To top up your learning, there are lots of courses available, including ones organised by Google along with webinars.
If you do call in the experts, they won’t be cheap and as with any service you will end up getting what you paid for, but they will almost certainly achieve results quicker than you could by going it alone. There are lots of factors to take into account, we’ve previously discussed the pros and cons of outsourcing in this article.
Common SEO terms;
Many of the terms that will appear in this guide you will have heard before, but you may not know what they mean. In this section, we will briefly touch upon many of them without expanding further as they will be explained in more detail later in our series.
On-page SEO refers to work on your site intending to improve organic (non-paid for) search results. It is essentially everything that is done on your website with particular focus on the content, ensuring that it is optimised for keywords, length and appropriate references. It also includes the more technical points which we focus on in chapter three but will consist of amongst many other things:
- URL Structure
- Meta tags
- Images and image SEO
- Technical facts about the content (rather than the words)
- Structured data
- Website size, security and speed
Ahrefs has a great site audit feature
Following on from the on-page is the off-site SEO which is equally as crucial to your website success (think about the milk and sugar!). It involves building the authority of the website via quality backlinks from reputable websites. Getting backlinks is easy, getting quality ones are far harder and more time-consuming, but the benefits are fantastic. We will look at this in more depth in chapter 6, but ways to get these quality links include:
- Submission to directories
- Guest posting
- Social media including influencers
- Sponsored Posts
- Writing quality content that others want to link to and reference
You can have multiple links from one referring domain
White hat SEO
We briefly touched upon white hat SEO earlier in this chapter, but it is essentially some rules and techniques that ensure that the work you do is ethical and is in the best interests of those who visit your website. It is common sense, but it is worth reminding yourself now and again to ensure that you don’t take shortcuts which could ultimately damage your website. The constituent parts are:
- To have high-quality, unique and relevant content
- To use high-quality, relevant links
- To ensure is website is optimised as for mobile devices, has fast page loading speeds and has correct coding
White hat SEO is a long term process and offers no quick fixes. You are providing quality, viewed as a good guy and are following correct procedures. Just like in the movies, you will be rewarded for it in the end.
Black hat SEO
To put it simply, black hat SEO practices are at attempt to cheat the system. They are often viewed as unethical as they don’t provide the best results for the end-user. Often, as with most cheating, you will get faster results and the price will be cheap. However, you will almost certainly be penalised equally as quickly, which can even result in your website getting banned from websites such as Google – effectively ending your organic SEO. Unethical practices are listed on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Grey hat SEO
Grey hat SEO is often unethical practices but ones that can be done unintentionally. There is no clear definition offered by Google, Bing or Yahoo regarding this practice, but you should avoid it. To put things simply, you need Google far more than Google needs you, so keeping them on your side is vital.