Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a term you’ll hear a lot, sometimes with awed tones as if it’s a higher knowledge possessed only by web gurus.
SEO is complicated. Hundreds of factors influence it. But that doesn’t mean you should despair and hand your website over to someone who claims they can easily get you on page one of Google. In fact, if they promise that, you should run a mile.
This basic guide will help you start sorting SEO fact from fiction.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It’s about making your website rank higher on search engine results pages (or SERPs – like Google, Bing and YouTube) for ORGANIC traffic. Organic traffic is any that you don’t have to pay for.
SEO is partly about the quantity of traffic. Obviously, you want more people seeing your site. But quality of traffic is more important. You might attract thousands of visits per month, but if Google tells them you’re a real estate agent selling luxury homes – when you’re actually a luxury home builder – they’re not the people looking to buy from you. Instead, you want to attract people who want your product or service.
Click-through rates also matter. You might rank on page one for ‘hairdresser Sunshine Coast’, but if few people click through to your site, that ranking isn’t converting to more sales.
Does SEO matter?
Only if you want to be found on search engines. If you already have plenty of business through referrals, advertising or other means, your site might just be for credibility and information purposes.
Sorting SEO fact from fiction
There are lots of myths and misconceptions about SEO. Here’s some of them.
1. SEO is dead
SEO expert Neil Patel notes that people have been saying this since SEO started. “New technology may change the way we interact and explore the Internet, but search engines will always be a factor,” he writes, “and optimizing your information for these constantly evolving algorithms will never go out of style.”
2. It’s easy to get to page one of Google
Like most things, if it was easy, everyone would do it. It might be easy to get there for a keyword that nobody is searching for, but that’s as useless as wings on a bicycle.
Getting to page one for search terms that you want to rank for takes work and time.
3. SEO involves filling your page with keywords
Keywords definitely matter. Using them strategically in places like your title tags (the webpage title that’s displayed in blue on SERPs), meta-descriptions (the brief site summary displayed in black under the title tag), headers (headlines on your webpage) and image file names, will help your site to rank for them.
But stuffing your page full of keywords won’t. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Google uses a measure of keyword density to compare your site against what’s normal. If you pack too many in, Googly perceives your site as manipulative rather than a relevant resource, and may demote you.
Google also recognizes synonyms and language variations (like plurals and “ing” endings), so you don’t need to include every variation of your product or service.
3. Links don’t matter
False. Backlinks are one of the main ways Google understands how popular a site is. But all links are not created equal.
You want high-quality backlinks from reputable sites, not dodgy ones from sites selling fake Viagra. Good links will help your site to rank higher.
Bad ones could bury you in an SEO hole that takes years to dig out of.
4. Content doesn’t matter
Just as links help Google to measure a site’s authority, content is how it measures relevance.
The content on your site tells Google what search terms to rank it for. “If you focus only on backlinks, you’re neglecting the experience of your eventual target: a human being,” writes SEO content strategist Maddy Osman. “If there’s no content, the visitor essentially has to guide themselves through the sales process entirely on their own…. And if there’s nothing to help move them towards a sale, they likely won’t make one.”
Your content should always be written for humans, not Google. After all, its humans who need your product or service.
5. SEO is a one-off activity
Like most marketing activities, SEO needs to be ongoing. If you’re setting up a new site, it helps to get it right from the start. If your site is established, an audit can discover where you could improve.
But it doesn’t end there. SEO should be viewed as a long-term business investment that helps your site to rank better over time.
A good web developer can help you with technical SEO factors like site speed, crawlability and responsiveness. An SEO copywriter (like me) can create content that people love to read and feeds Google’s gargantuan content craving.