28 Apr, 2016

Understanding SEO: The Basics

We hope you’re ready for lots of SEO related content over the coming weeks (and maybe even months) because this blog post marks the first in our new series of content focused on helping you understand SEO. Today we are starting out with “The Basics” covering what SEO is and the key elements you need to consider when planning an SEO strategy.

So what is SEO?

SEO is the commonly used abbreviation for search engine optimisation. This is the process of attempting to improve search engine rankings (in other words where your website appears on the likes of Google). We say attempt, because it is a notoriously tricky task, with no concrete guarantees thanks for the most part, to the unpredictably of search engines.

It is a process that has no quick fixes or easy wins: instead it is about hard work over a sustained period, with some SEO strategies taking up to 6 months to take their full effect due to the time needed for search engines to fully crawl and index new content.

There are hundreds of search engines out there, but Google is the search engine most commonly referenced when discussing SEO. This is in part because Google has the largest market share in the industry (comScore reports that Google held 63.9% of the search market in 2015, with Bing and Yahoo! following behind), and because Google seems to be setting most of the industry standards for how to actually tackle SEO.

What’s important for good SEO?

Broadly speaking (and we mean, really broadly speaking) SEO has three key areas you need to consider when implementing a strategy: content, links and usability. We will delve into this is greater detail in our following articles on Understanding SEO later. But for now here is a brief overview.

Considered Content

Content is anything from on-page text, to images, to code and Meta data used on your website. All of this content needs to be relevant to your users and properly formatted for search engines to be able to understand and index. The idea is that your website’s content should be quality content and that means it should be useful, correct and sufficiently informative.

Lots of Links

The links element of SEO includes links within your own website (these can be navigational links, in text hyperlinks and buttons) and links to your website from other publications such as news sites and social sites, sometimes known as backlinks.

Links in your website follow two basic structures: vertical links and horizontal links. Vertical links pass down through your site structure from the homepage to the main navigational pages to their child pages and so on. Horizontal links pass between the pages of your website in a more ad hoc fashion, so for example linking blog pages to other blog pages or linking service pages to case study pages.

The aim with on-site links is to create a complex linking structure with a mix of both vertical and horizontal links connecting your content in a meaningful and relevant way.

Unbelievable Usability

Finally the usability element of SEO. This covers almost every element of your website and is a very broad category but there are some key areas where good SEO and good website usability overlap.

First is the issue of site speed; users prefer websites which load quickly (for 47% of consumers that means in less than 2 seconds) and therefore so do search engines. So much so that Google has even built a Page Speed Insights tool so you can ensure your user experience is literally up to speed.

Next is the issue of navigation (which also ties into having a good internal linking structure in your website); users want to be able to access the information they need, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This means ensuring first and foremost that all the interactive elements on your website actually work. You should also use clear calls to action to give the user instructions on what to do and where to go while they’re using your website and avoid any unnecessary clicks within your user journeys, keep things simple.

A Quick Recap

So to quickly go over the key takeaways from issue one in our understanding SEO series:
  1. SEO is the tricky process of trying to improve search engine rankings
  2. SEO is relevant for all search engines, but Google is the search engine most commonly referenced
  3. An SEO strategy can take up to 6 months to take full effect
  4. There are three key elements of an SEO strategy: quality content, relevant links and good usability
In our next blog post in this Understanding SEO series we’ll be looking at the difference between good and bad SEO strategies, otherwise known as ‘white hat’ SEO and ‘black hat’ SEO respectively.