What is SEO in Layman’s Terms?
SEO in layman’s terms is about getting a website to the top of search engines like Google so that it gets more visitors and may make more money.
SEO (search engine optimisation) is the art of adjusting the code of a website and promoting the website on other sites throughout the web in ways that increase the chances of one or more of the pages of the website appearing in the search engine results pages (SERPS) in response to a user typing words known as “keywords” into the search box of their search engine (e.g. Google, Bing or Yahoo). The term SEO is usually used when referring to organic SEO but is sometimes also used in a broader sense to encompass PPC services for which different optimisation techniques are required.
What Is a Keyword?
The expressions “keyword”, “key phrase”, “search term” and “search query” all refer to the particular words that might be entered by a user (surfer) into their search engine. A relatively small change in the keyword entered can sometimes lead to a completely different set of websites appearing.
The Value of a Top Position in Google
Surfers land on the first page of the SERPS and will tend to see and visit the websites that appear at the top of the list for a number of reasons. This may be partly because they will usually see these results first but there is often also an assumption made by surfers that the sites at the top of the list are more likely to be the best ones to visit because Google must have worked that out somehow.
In 2010, some research undertaken by Chikita, using a sample of more than 8 million search results, indicated that the number 1 spot in Google generated 34% of all visits, nearly as much as the number of visits generated by the sites in positions 2 through 5 combined.
The Financial Incentive for SEO
The top positions in Google for the most valuable keywords can therefore result in huge financial gains for the business owning the website at the top and therefore the top positions are fiercely contested. The adoption of search engine optimisation and the growth in the number of SEO service providers has been fuelled by these financial rewards.
Google’s Ranking Algorithm
For any particular query or keyword, Google has to work out which websites to show in its results and its aim is to provide the most relevant and useful results to the surfer as quickly as possible. Google has openly stated that it uses more than 200 ‘signals’ or factors about each web page to determine whether or not to show it in its results, which place to show it and what to show for it. One important factor in determining whether a website should appear is known to be relevance which is a calculation of how relevant a page is to the query entered. One example of relevance is how closely the content (words) on a website page matches the words entered by the surfer. Another important factor is the authority of the web page. Having selected which sites are relevant to the query, Google then has to determine which order they are shown in or in what order they should be ranked. Google’s program for selecting and ranking the websites that appear in its results is commonly referred to as Google’s ranking algorithm or “algo”.
Choosing Keyword Targets
Since the top positions for the most valuable keywords are so fiercely contested, not every website has a realistic chance of appearing on page 1 for those keywords, let alone number 1, so an important part of the job of an SEO specialist is identifying the precise keywords for which a business might be able to compete for a top ranking. SEO specialists are able to turn their understanding of the search engine algorithms to the advantage of their clients.
The hundreds of factors that Google takes into account when deciding whether and where to rank a web page are often broadly divided into two categories. The first category is often referred to as “on-site SEO” and the second is “off-site SEO”. On-site SEO is concerned with the characteristics of your own website like the wording on its pages, the background HTML code, the domain it is hosted on etc. On-site SEO also includes matters like ensuring that your website has been found by the search engines in the first place and that your website’s content has been included in their records (their index). In order for your site to appear in the search results at all several things need to happen.
Spidering and Indexing
The search engines need to be aware of the existence of your site. Your website files will be hosted on a server somewhere and in the case of a new site, something needs to alert Google to the fact that your site even exists. Once the search engine is aware, it will execute a program known as a ‘spider’ or ‘robot’ to read your website’s files. Google’s spider is called googlebot and each search engine has its own spider. Once your files have been read, the content in them will be assessed for inclusion in Google’s index. Some content may be excluded. This might be because it is not considered suitable or it may be because googlebot can not read it. Sometimes obstacles in the website code can prevent googlebot from being able to follow and interpret the code and these obstacles or blocks can therefore hinder the indexation of your site. Making sure your site is structured and coded in a way that the search engines can read is vital.
Search Engine Submission
Search engines provide a facility for you to submit your site for consideration of being including in their index (records) and in the past, SEO service providers offered search engine submission services to submit your site to large numbers of search engines. The more common way to get a new website indexed nowadays is to link to it from another established site. When the search engine spider next visits the established website it will follow the new link on it through to your website. Search engine submission services are still offered but are no longer a valuable service.
Off-site SEO includes factors about other websites that link to yours. Off-site SEO is largely concerned with back links or inbound links. Back links are hyperlinks on other websites which, when clicked on by the surfer, transfer the surfer to your website.
How Do Back Links Work?
If another website links to your website, Google’s algo interprets this as a ‘vote’ for your site. The logic is that if lots of other sites link to yours, then these links must be signs that your site is considered, by the other site owners, as useful to their visitors (because they are effectively directing their visitors to your site). The more back links or votes you have, the higher the status your own website will achieve and the better it will rank. That is actually a vast over-simplification but hopefully it gets over the point about links acting as votes.
Some Back Links Are More Equal Than Others
All back links are not equal. Or, to plagiarise George Orwell (from Animal Farm), “all back links are equal but some are more equal than others”! Back links have different characteristics for example whether they are on a high authority site, whether they are on a site or page that is about the same topic as your site and also what “anchor text” the back link contains.
What is Back Link Anchor Text?
The anchor text is the text that you see in a hyperlink. For example, a hyperlink to the home page of this website might appear like this www.adjuice.co.uk, like this AdJuice or like this SEO Companies Surrey. The anchor text in the last example is “SEO Companies Surrey”. Of these 3 links, the last one is most likely to help the home page (the target page) rank better for the keywords in the anchor text. Another over-simplification but this tends to be the case as a general rule.
Back Link Relevance And Back Link Authority
Back links work a bit like references. If you were applying for a job and needed to supply references, your chances of coming first out of all the candidates is increased if you have the best references. If you were applying for a job as a local councillor and supplied a reference from a previous employer in the construction industry that might be useful. If you were able to supply a reference from a local government office, that would put you on an even better standing. That’s like a relevant back link because the reference is from a source that is on the same topic. But if you were able to supply a personal reference from the Prime Minister, now you have the best reference possible because it is both relevant and high authority. The best back links are from high authority sites that are about the same subject as your site and contain your target keywords in their anchor text.
Do I Need Off-Site SEO?
To be most effective in search marketing terms, a website should have both its on-site SEO factors and its off-site SEO factors optimised. In a not very competitive online niche market, on-site factors alone may be sufficient to rank well but usually it is not possible to rank number 1 for a highly competitive keyword without very good off-site SEO factors also present.
The importance of back links to ranking well is so well established that it has resulted in a whole industry emerging to supply the needs of link builders. The industry includes armies of link sellers, link exchange schemes and link farms created to manipulate rankings or ‘game the algo’.
Back Link Quality Versus Quantity
High quality links are not easy to acquire so some SEO companies and webmasters go after quantity rather than quality and it is not uncommon to see websites with tens of thousands of low quality back links in the quest to gain the number 1 position in Google. Many of the largest SEO companies in the UK are involved in large scale link spam schemes (“spamdexing”) of one form or another in order to acquire tens of thousands of links for their clients.
Google Ranking Penalties
As much as SEO companies try to game the system, Google tries to detect and clamp down on manipulation of the results in order to preserve the integrity of those results for the benefit of its users. If blatant manipulation is detected, Google has been known to administer severe penalties that can sink a website without a trace in a matter of minutes. Success that depends on breaking search engine rules is more risky and is not therefore a sound or robust long term business strategy.
Merit Based Back Links
The back links that are most likely to stand the test of time and therefore provide the most stable long term rankings are those links that are merit based i.e. they have been genuinely earned by virtue of the usefulness of the website to its visitors. In other words, if your site provides something that your visitors find useful they may wish to refer to it again and are more likely to link to it. They can do this in any number of ways such as linking to your website in their own website, their blog, online articles, press releases or social media sites.
Conversion Rate Optimisation
SEO services may also encompass CRO (conversion rate optimisation) which addresses the problem of how to maximise the chances of a surfer, after arriving on your website, of carrying out the actions that meet your goals. A conversion may be a sale or, for sites that don’t sell online, it may be some other identifiable action that you wish your visitor to take such as signing up for a newsletter or downloading a document.
SEO in a Nutshell
What SEO boils down to is the employment of all these SEO techniques to maximise the number of qualified i.e. relevant visitors. The correct choice of keywords and an effective SEO campaign can help to ensure that your site ranks highly for the keywords that will attract the right visitors to the pages within your website that are most relevant to their search query. The wrong choice of keywords may result in no rankings or possibly good rankings but which attract the wrong kind of visitors.
The Four Cornerstones of SEO
Effective SEO should be underpinned by:
1. Website content that is useful to your target market or audience .
2. Website structure that allows your content to be found easily by surfers and robots.
3. Website promotion that maximises visibility of your content.
4. Measurement and management to enable continuous improvement.
Each one of these four cornerstones may be the subject of a separate strategy. Dealing with website content is not as simple as creating it, publishing it on your website and inserting keywords throughout the site. It is a specific website page that appears, or ranks, in the search engine results for any given term, not a website. How you organise the content of your website into different pages and how the navigational hierarchy of the site is decided may make or break its effectiveness from a search marketing perspective. Internal linking structure between the pages within a site can also make a big difference to rankings and help your visitors find the content that is most useful to them.
SEO encompasses certain aspects of site design and that is why the worst mistake to make is to wait until your website has been finalised before you contact an SEO company.