A beginner’s guide to SEO

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the cornerstones of digital marketing. In essence, it involves altering your website and its content so that it ranks highly on the search engine results page for the specific search phrases you’re targeting. For example, imagine a small florist in Leeds. If potential customers are searching for a local florist online, they’ll type in ‘florist in Leeds’ or ‘Leeds florist’ into the search box of Google, Bing, or Yahoo. The search engine results page will then appear, and the customer will see a list of relevant results. The user will be far more likely to click on websites that are higher up the list than those lower down, or on the second or third page. There are many variables that contribute to a website’s ranking. Good SEO practice has the potential to boost your ranking for targeted keywords, increase traffic to your website and significantly improve your takings.

Understanding the algorithms

The algorithms used by search engines to determine ranking are very complex, and obviously aren’t available for the public to view. Google uses a number of algorithms, including PageRank. PageRank measures the importance of a website by counting the quantity and quality of links directing traffic towards that page. Essentially, if lots of other website owners and content writers think that the content on your website is valuable, they’ll add hyperlinks on their website leading back to yours – boosting your site’s importance in Google’s eyes. Google also places value on the frequency of updates to your website, the length of the content, user experience, keywords and phrases in titles and header tags, and original content. Google does not pay attention to social media data including Likes and Retweets.

Common mistakes

SEO is always changing. Companies who think they had it sussed three or four years ago will soon run into difficulties if they haven’t changed their approach to SEO since then. It’s very common for so-called SEO experts to carry out site changes that are more likely to harm a site’s ranking than increase it. Here are a few of the most common mistakes we come across:

  • Keyword stuffing. You’ll usually need to feature your keywords or phrases at least once on a page for it to rank, but when the sheer density of keywords compromises the readability of your site Google will realise that you’re putting SEO over user experience and will penalise you, and when building links with your target keywords, anchor text also has a critical importance.
  • Poor quality backlinks. In the past, all backlinks were treated equal. Link ‘farms’ quickly developed to boost sites to the top of the rankings. Google has cracked down on this practice so that the quality of backlinks is extremely important. Poor quality links will now cause your ranking to plummet, so tidy them up if you can.
  • A focus on keyword density. There is no magic optimum keyword density that will cause Google to rank your website highly. SEO web copy shouldn’t be written significantly differently to standard copy. If you find yourself trying to force keywords into sentences, take a step back and rewrite it.

There are many complex technical aspects to SEO, but if you merely want a starting point, focus on producing and uploading content to your website. This content should contain your targeted keyword or phrase as near to the beginning of the copy as possible. It should be original, and engaging.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.