What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about making the search engines, like Google, Bing, etc., know that your website exists online. It’s about enhancing your webpages to let the search engines understand what each page is about. So when someone searches on any of these search engines using terms related to what you have used in your web pages, those search engines will show your web pages in their search results, prompting the user to come to your website. This boosts your website traffic and increases your chances with lead generation and conversion.
What Is SEO?
SEO can be as simple as integrating plugins or code snippets into your website, or as elaborate as planning and implementing content marketing. Though content is the primary driving force of all your organic marketing, you also have to pay attention to your page loading times, linking, URL structure, schema markup, and a whole lot of factors to make your SEO efforts a success.
Search Engine Land has this amazing Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors resource – keep it handy when planning your SEO strategy.
How SEO works
When you open Google and type and search for something like “louboutin shoes,” you will get about 42,500,000 results within 0.59 seconds. The first spot in this results page is from the Christian Louboutin online boutique website.
So how did that happen?
How SEO works is that these search engines look at the words you have typed, that is, your query, and lists out the best content for your query, starting from the most relevant content to the least.
In this example, my query is “louboutin shoes”, and as you can see in the image above, one or both of these 2 words have been liberally used in the page link, page title, and description.
Now here are a few more of the search results for my query:
As you can see, my search terms have not been included in these search results, as liberally as compared to the first search result. None of the search terms appears in the page link. They only appear in the title and description.
This is a simple example of how SEO works.
In my search engine optimisation training, I delve more into how SEO works using real-world use cases.
Also, since recent times, search engines are giving more priority to the user experience on a website as well. Which means, if a user finds your content good, is able to access and navigate your website with ease, and doesn’t encounter issues like broken links, irrelevant data, etc. search engines will list your website in the top-most search results for the keywords you want.
SEO Basics: Beginner’s Guide to SEO Success
My focus is organic marketing. I drive SEO through content. So here’s the 5-point SEO checklist I follow whenever I start working on any website:
Step 1 – Run an SEO audit
All these tools give scores as well as recommendations on how to improve those scores. So these tools can be used by both technical and non-technical individuals interested in optimising their websites. No coding required, unless of course changes to the source codes are recommended.
As a digital marketing strategist, I need to get to the big and complete picture of my client’s brand, so I run SEO audits on their competitors as well.
Step 2 – Deep dive SEO audit
I have the data from external sources. Now I need site-specific data from Google Search Console and Google Analytics to find data like:
- top 5 entry pages
- top 5 exit pages
- customer journey
- referral sources
- bounce rates
- demographics, interests, etc. to build a customer persona, and more!
Step 3 – Quickstart SEO
Based on the audit data from the previous steps, I usually have to work on the following before I get onto on-page and off-page SEO:
- enforce modification
- enable GZIP compression
- start browser cache
- update URL structure or permalinks
- activate image compression
Most websites I work with seem to have these issues, one way or the other. So it’s standard procedure for me to get started with these when I start any SEO project.
Step 4 – Keyword Research
To start on-page SEO, I start by finding the keywords I need to use for a website. Tools like Ubersuggest help me find the keywords the website is already ranking for. Before moving forward with these keywords, I check with the client if these are keywords relevant to their business.
If yes, I plan my content marketing strategy based on these keywords. I also use LSIGraph to find related long-tail keywords to fortify my organic marketing efforts.
If the keywords I found are not relevant to the client’s business, I ask for a list of competitors and get the popular keywords from their websites. The client verifies the relevance of the new keywords to their business, and I move on to on-page optimisation.
Step 5 – On-page SEO
At this point, I know which keywords to target. If the website already has a blog, I get into each post to update it according to the targeted keywords. WordPress plugins like Yoast SEO are a massive help here!
Elements to Optimise for On-page SEO include:
- Title Tags
- Meta Descriptions
- Content Body
- Image ALT tags
- Links – internal and external – with right Anchor Texts
These are beginner-level SEO tasks. After this step, I move onto the Off-page SEO tactics, but that’s a post for another time.
As I dig deeper into the SEO project, I get into advanced SEO tactics like:
- Schema markup
- Site architecture
- Lead-generation forms
- Local search
Advanced SEO planning depends on the website I am working on, as well as the audit data I have collected. These efforts usually start after 4-6 months of the basic SEO work. The first few months are focused on basic SEO tasks, improving the scores and troubleshooting errors of mixed content, 404 not found, broken links, etc. which are to be resolved at the earliest.
Common Mistakes in SEO
There are times when you can start SEO, be consistent about it, and still not see good results on Google Analytics, Alexa and/or SEMrush. This can be due to the most common mistakes in SEO listed below:
Mistake #1 – Expecting SEO tactics to give overnight results
As a business owner concerned about the performance of your website, you can get swindled by SEO “experts” who promise to make you “viral” within days. When done right, consistently and continuously, SEO can give you good results in a matter of 2-3 months.
Those early results will only get better if you stick to the original SEO strategy tweaked from time to time based on real analytics data. There’s no shortcut in SEO.
Mistake #2 – Thinking of SEO as an easy, one-time setup
There are certain aspects of SEO which doesn’t need any technical background in coding or programming languages like PHP, HTML, etc. It’s easy to do, like adding targeted keywords in the crucial elements.
However, if you working on schema markup or site architecture, your technical background is of great help.
The planning and implementation that goes into SEO is a lot. I usually set up roadmaps for 12 months at a time to handle SEO of any website. And that’s just Phase 1. So don’t consider SEO an easy or a one-time task.
It’s a gruelling exercise to undertake month after month. And with each month, you are supposed to tweak your existing strategy based on the analytics data you’ve been collecting.
So you can’t stop, and you can’t lag behind.
Mistake #3 – Working with wrong keywords
Your website might be ranking for keywords that you never intended for it to rank for. It’s possible. That’s the main reason I always keep the client in the loop on what’s happening.
Another reason for working with the wrong keywords can be guesswork. In popular niches like lifestyle and health, it’s more convenient and easy to rely on guesswork rather than do the grunt work of using keyword tools to collect and collate keywords. And chaos ensues.
Mistake #4 – Undefined customer persona
Customer personas are often overlooked by businesses. But to target the right audience, I need to know who your ideal customer is. I also need to know the type of customer who is already buying from you. And I definitely need the user information from your analytics solution you are using on your website (like Google Analytics) who is visiting your website. All this will make me build and understand your customer persona, so I can plan and create the right strategies to target them.
Mistake #5 – Not using analytics data
To set up a good SEO strategy, you need analytics data about your website. You also need to spy on your competition to get their analytics data. Obviously you don’t have access to their Google Analytics accounts, but tools like Similar Web, SEMrush, Ubersuggest, etc. can give you all the analytics data you would need. So use that, and push through the scores of search results to appear at the top.
Now, over to you!
SEO is as gruelling as losing weight. If you don’t exercise, eat right, and get the right amount of sleep, it will be difficult to lose weight and stay fit. And you need to be consistent about it too. Same goes for SEO.
If you stop adding fresh optimised content to your website, don’t use the right target keywords, and are inconsistent with your SEO practices, your website ranking will tank, and you will have to start from scratch all over again.
So, have you implemented search engine optimisation on your website? What are the SEO tactics you have been using? What are the challenges you are facing? Let me know.
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