With thousands of new websites being created every day, lots of people are just starting to learn about Search Engine Optimisation or, as it’s more commonly referred to, SEO. To help, we’ve put together the most frequently asked questions we get about the subject and have provided the answers for you.
1. What is SEO?
SEO is the process of helping your website rank higher in search engine results. SEO starts with ensuring that your site can be found by search engines like Google and Bing and then looks at ways to optimise your site so that it appears high in the search results. Doing this successfully can significantly increase the number of visitors your website gets and, consequently, improve revenue.
The value of SEO is that organic traffic, the visitors from search engines, is free. The more organic traffic you receive, the less you will need to rely on paying to advertise your website.
2. How do search engines work?
To optimise your website, you’ll need to understand how search engines work. When someone types a query into a browser, the search engines use complicated programs, known as algorithms, to find the best results for the user. Search engines use their own algorithms, so they don’t produce the same results. Today, these algorithms are so sophisticated that they are capable of producing different results for different users. Even if users type the same query, search engines will take into consideration the data they hold about each user and their recent search history to try and personalise the results.
To find the right results for different users, algorithms look at a wide range of factors, known as ranking criteria. It is estimated that there are over 200 ranking criteria and only the search engines themselves know exactly what these are and the importance of each. What we do know is that search engines compare sites based on the topics of their web pages, the quality of information, the security and reputation of the site, how quickly it loads, whether its mobile-friendly, where the business is located and so forth.
One thing website owners need to remember is that SEO doesn’t stand still. Search engines work constantly to improve their algorithms and this means the criteria they judge sites by change over time. For this reason, SEO is an ongoing process, constantly responding to algorithm advancement.
3. What is on-page SEO?
There are three strands to SEO: on-page, on-site and off-site. On-page SEO refers to optimising the content of your site, i.e. the information that you publish for your visitors.
The most important ranking factor is the quality of the information you publish, something search engines judge by looking at the number of other websites that have linked to it, how long people stay on the page, how up-to-date the content is and the terms used in the content. For some types of content, the length of the information is also important, with detailed information preferred to thin content.
Aside from creating high-quality content, one of the chief ways to carry out on-page SEO is to include keywords and key phrases in your text. Keywords and phrases are the terms that users will search for in a query and if you want to rank for them, you will need to include them in your text. Ideally, you should include them in page titles, URLs, sub-headings, content and meta-descriptions, though you should not overuse them as this can get you penalised for what is known as ‘keyword stuffing’.
Besides keywords, you should also include associated terms that a user would expect to find. If you write an article about playing golf for example, ‘playing golf’ might be the key phrase but both the user and the search engines would expect to find terms like golf course, greens, fairways, par and swing, etc.
4. What is on-site SEO?
On-site SEO is all the things you do on the backend of your website to help your site rank better. These include:
- ensuring that the website can be crawled and indexed by search engines – otherwise, it won’t appear in any search result
- making your site user-friendly by being mobile-friendly, well-structured, easy to navigate and straightforward to use
- making your website secure for users by installing an SSL certificate that encrypts data sent between a user’s browser and your web server so that it cannot be stolen.
5. What is off-site SEO
Off-site SEO is about improving the reputation of your site. This is a key ranking criterion and can take time to establish. One of the ways search engines judge reputation is through backlinks: the number of other sites that link to yours. Today, search engines are aware that some people try to game this system by asking for or paying for backlinks and will penalise sites that they suspect of doing this. What they make use of, however, is how many other high-quality sites link to your content. Links from government, education, news and industry-specific sites are especially helpful. To achieve this, your content needs to be high-quality or you need to provide high-quality content for these sites with a link back to your own site.
There are other ways to judge quality that are less difficult to achieve. These include positive reviews of your business and keeping visitors engaged on your website for longer (this is measured by search engines and you can view the details if you register for a free Google Analytics account).
6. How important is site speed?
Site speed has become an increasingly important ranking criterion since the evolution of the smartphone. As more people accessed the internet via mobile networks, search engines saw growing numbers of users abandon websites because they loaded or worked slowly on mobile devices. To improve the services they offered their users, they began downranking these poor performing sites.
Search engines measure site speed in three ways: how quickly the site loads, how soon users can interact with it (click on links or input information, etc.) and how swiftly the site responds to interactions. You can test the performance of your website on both desktop and mobile devices using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Improving site speed begins with the quality of your web hosting. Migrating to a web host that provides high performance shared hosting is one way to increase speed, as is upgrading from a shared hosting solution to VPS. There are, however, several actions you can take to boost the performance of the site itself: removing unnecessary plugins, minifying scripts, compression, optimising images and using a content delivery network.
A slow website doesn’t just affect search engine ranking. It also increases the number of people who will leave your website. Up to 40% of users will abandon your site if it doesn’t load within three seconds of clicking on the link. It is estimated that even a one-second delay in loading time can reduce revenue by 7%.
Search engine optimisation is a big subject with a myriad of specifics that users need to consider. Here, we have focused on the basics, the key areas of SEO that new website owners often ask us questions about. Hopefully, they will have given you an overview of what SEO is, how search engines work, the three strands of SEO and the importance of site speed.
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