What is SEO?

What is SEO? You may have seen adverts where people promise to rank your website on the first page of Google. To do this, they use a technique called search engine optimisation (or SEO for short). This no-nonsense guide aims to explain what SEO means and give you lots of background detail on how it works.

Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO as its abbreviated to) is the process of improving the search position of a website (or individual web pages) in a search engine’s natural results. (These are sometimes known as unpaid or organic results). The idea is that the higher ranked the website is and the more often it appears in the search results, the more likely a visitor is to click on it to visit.

Search engine optimisation is now possible for lots of different types of products and services, including videos, images, books and news items. Although it can include local search too, other techniques as well as SEO can be used to rank a website at the top of Google for a local business.

Is SEO is a type of internet marketing?

Yes it is, however it is quite technical and differs to more common types of internet marketing. SEO involves understanding lots of different factors including:
  • an understanding of how search engines work
  • what algorithms Google, Bing and the other search engines use
  • what the target customer is searching for
  • what search terms (keywords) are typed into the search engines
  • which search engines are the most popular with the target audience

So how do you optimise a website?

The process of optimising a website involves three main steps:
  • Optimising the website’s HTML and coding so that any barriers to it being indexed correctly are removed.
  • Editing its content to make sure it is relevant to the search terms being targeted.
  • Promoting the website by increasing the amount of inbound links (commonly known as backlinks).

What is SEO: 1. Optimising the website

A search engine, such as Google, evaluates a website differently to how a human would. Google can’t see how nicely your website is designed or how much value your products/services provide. It has to judge a website from a technical point of view.

When the Googlebot (Google’s search crawler) finds your page, it will process it to compile a massive index of all the words it sees and their location on each page. It will also process information included in the main content tags and attributes on the page, such as Title tags, ALT attributes, keywords in the url, meta descriptions, header tags and whether the website loads correctly on different devices. Therefore its important that these elements are set up correctly.

What is SEO: 2. Creating relevant content

Another really important area of search engine optimisation is making sure the content of web pages is correct. This aspect of SEO includes many areas such as ensuring that each page has a unique and descriptive title/description and the correct amount of keywords for each targetted search term are contained in each page.

The search engines have developed so much in recent years that they are able to determine if a website is useful to visitors. Therefore, creating “link bait” websites or stuffing the content full of keywords is no longer useful to getting websites listed. These and other similar nefarious techniques are known as Black Hat SEO.

What is SEO: 3. Increasing backlinks

The number of people that link to your website directly influences your position in the search engine rankings so an industry has sprung up around getting relevant sites to point to your website. If Google detects that you have paid for the link from a website or that you own the website that links to you then you can be penalised for this.

There are many different ways to create links back to a website including, but not limited to:

  • commenting on blogs and forums
  • adding links in social profiles
  • sharing on social networks
  • addition of a website to web directories
However, the best way to do create quality backlinks is to write great content and have people link to it. This is also what the search engines are looking for.

Does SEO just work on the desktop or does it work on other devices too?

SEO works on all devices and this is a something that needs to be taken into consideration when planning an SEO strategy. As most searches are done on mobile now, Google ensures that your website will only appear higher up the rankings if it does work on all devices. Google makes many changes to its algorithms and one of the challenges for site owners is to ensure that they understand these changes and modify their websites accordingly.

What is White Hat and Black Hat SEO?

You may have heard the terms white hat SEO and black hat SEO used. There are two different types of SEO techniques: ones that search engines recommend as best practise and ones that they do not approve of. Search industry experts have categorised these as either white hat or black hat SEO. The white hat SEO experts tend to produce results that last a long time whereas black hats know that their techniques will be discovered at some point by the search engines and try and get away with it as long as possible, making money while they can. (Churn and Burn.)

White hat SEO is usually considered as writing content for people, not search engines, and then using best practise techniques to ensure the search engines index and rank this content. Black hat SEO practitioners try to improve rankings by cunning methods. These include using hidden text, providing people and search engines different content (cloaking) and building up personal blog networks to provide lots of links to their own sites.

Final words

I trust that this article has answered the question "What is SEO?" In many ways, search engine optimisation is like quality control for websites. Its about checking that the site is structured correctly, Its about making sure that the content that sits on the site is useful to people. And finally, its about getting people to share the content and link to it. Creating authority pages, getting the content shared and keeping on doing this – this circle is what creates strong and sustainable Google rankings.