Put simply: SEO is the process of increasing a website’s visibility in search engines’ results. Broadly, SEO refers to the practices and methods used to achieve this increased visibility. That’s all there is to it!
Good SEO is important — if your website ranks poorly in search results, you’ll have fewer visitors, and your exposure is diminished. If you utilise good SEO practices, you’ll naturally rank higher in search results, and more people will find your website.
To highlight how important it is to rank highly in search results, consider the findings of extensive research conducted by online advertising firm Chitika, published in their 2013 report The Value of Google Result Positioning (PDF):
- Less than 10% of people visit Page 2 of Google’s results
- The first result in Google receives 33% of clicks
- Page 3 is visited by a mere 1.1% of people; page 4 by 0.4%, and page 5 by 0.2%
There are many factors that influence a website’s ranking, and thus are crucial to SEO success. You can find a more detailed exploration of these factors in our SEO Basics Guide. Here are a few key things that search engines look for when ranking a website:
- Good, quality written content — don’t be tempted to copy and paste content from elsewhere! Always try to write original, quality content that is engaging and holds readers’ attention. Don’t be tempted to recycle content from other sources, or think you are being clever by rewording parts, or changing verbs and nouns: Google is clever and knows how to spot this, and your website may be penalised as a result. See our article on writing good content for more.
- Well-structured webpages — use headings and titles that describe your content well, and make sure your text is broken into paragraphs and sections appropriately. Remember to make use of keywords throughout your pages, perhaps making use of bold and italics to highlight these keywords. But don’t go overboard!
- Authority — the more other webpages link to your website, the better. This contributes to your site’s authority: the number of websites that link yours, as well as a number of other factors, such as the authority of the linking website itself, and how often links appear. Gaining links to your website and webpages from other websites is important, but don’t be tempted to spam your website: Google will penalise your website if it considers you are promoting it via spam.
On-page vs Off-page SEO
SEO is generally broken down into two distinct “types” — on-page SEO and off-page SEO, also known as on-site and off-site.
As the name implies, on-page SEO refers to actions you take on your site to improve your ranking in search results.
The majority of SEO takes place on-page, and includes optimisations such as using SEO-friendly URLs, including your title in an <h1> tag and subheadings in <h2> tags, using your keywords early on and throughout the page, ensuring image elements have an appropriate and SEO-friendly alt attribute, creating descriptive meta descriptions for your pages, and so on.
Once again, off-page SEO refers to actions you take off your site to positively impact your ranking in search engines’ results.
The best example of off-page SEO is building backlinks — links on other websites that point to yours. These might be natural backlinks, where users have linked to pages on your website of their own volition, or manual backlinks. Manual backlinks are those you have either posted yourself (e.g. sharing a link to your site on your social media platform, on somebody else’s forum, and so on) or they may be links you have requested others post, for instance you might request customers provide a link to your website on their own website.
There are many myths and common misconceptions surrounding SEO, which you need to learn to avoid.
Never engage in so-called ‘blackhat’ techniques — such as sneaky redirects, inappropriately described links, clickjacking and other deceptive practices. These are unlikely to be successful, and may result in search engines penalising your website by reducing its ranking, which will undo your good efforts! Google has levied more penalties for deceptive SEO practices in 2018 than in any other year, so never be tempted to resort to ‘blackhat’ methods.