What is this ‘SEO’ term that people keep banging on about? And do you need to know about it to be successful online ?
In short, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice adopted by online content makers to position their websites in high-ranking search results. And yes, you really do need it to cut through the sheer mass of web pages saturating the internet.
With the rise of digital technology and our growing dependence on search engines to deliver information, catering to our every whim on the back of a keyword or two, SEO is the adhesive that connects visitors to websites, customers to products, and clicks to sales. Whether you’re a blogger, digital marketer, business owner or communications professional, a large component of your brand is online and it requires ongoing management to survive. SEO enables you to do this and is essential in any website’s digital toolkit.
If we break down what SEO entails in its most basic form, there are four components that guide the overall practice and they are easier to master than you might think.
Let’s get analytical
An essential resource for website management is analytics software. The ability to track and measure who your audience is and how they access the content on your website provides intelligence that will help define your brand and refine your content.
Online metrics can identify where your audience is from (continent, country and state), how they got to your website, the time they spend on each linked page and additional click behaviours, such as clicking on embedded links, buying listed products, sharing content via social channels and much more.
Google Analytics is the main player in the tracking software market and it’s free to install, so why not set it up and have a play? The program allows you to access data on a basic or more advanced levels (depending on your needs) and includes a series of tutorial workshops and factsheets to help get you started. There are a host of other free and paid-for programs also available so once you have made the decision to track your website metrics it’s worth doing some research to decide which program/s are suitable.
Looking at the backend of your website and measuring its traction online gives you baseline data from which to build effective content strategies and monitor subsequent growth and trends. To understand where you are and identify where you want to be, analytical data is key in painting the complete picture.
Killer, quality content
Despite the influx of emerging and declining digital techniques, the foundation of effective SEO has and will always be good content. Search engines’ primary objective is to deliver high-quality content, anything less and your ranking will be compromised. Google, for example, has tight parameters in place to ascertain the quality and validity of online content and will penalise the hosting website if these standards are not met.
Creating ‘killer’ content is the buzz word of the digital world at present, but its true definition comes from an age-old approach to publishing that hasn’t changed since it was invented. That is, to produce content worth reading about and, beyond interest, is informative and informed, engaging and well-constructed. These standards apply to all forms of digital content, from written copy and images, to video and audio.
There’s no science involved with adhering to high standards when it comes to creating online content, simply give it consideration and follow-through and what you post online will hold optimal value long after its publication date.
It’s all linked
The second component to good SEO practices is links. Note, there is a difference between generating paid links and earning them through endorsement (which again comes back to the importance of high-quality content).
Google doesn’t look favourably on websites that employ misleading practices to anchor links within online content. For example, publishing press releases online with links to products and services can lead to ranking penalties from the search giant, which, in turn, will almost certainly affect you’re brand’s online profile.
On the flip side, links can be used to your advantage, provided the intention is genuine. For example, your website traffic numbers will continue to grow as other sites begin linking to it. Inbound linking, or back linking, is when an external site points to content on your website; the more external endorsements you get, the higher credibility you rate with search engines, earning you top rankings across the board.
So how do you get these sought after inbound links? This, unlike good content, is a more involved process with a number of techniques required. Depending on how much you want to invest in link-building strategies for your website, there are a number of valuable online resources and training guides, including Google’s own TBC page. And when you consider that Google owns more than two-thirds of the search engine market, it really is the authoritative source of information for adopting best SEO practices.
If, however, you’re new to the SEO scene, there are some simple and easy first steps to take to establish inbound linking and you’ll find them all in your own backyard or, rather, your various contact lists.
Reach out to your existing networks for endorsement; connections that you have, including suppliers, donors, employees, industry associations, partners, forums, sibling organisations and anyone else you are affiliated with can help to promote, share and link to your website. And, you can return the favour by doing the same. Building online communities are effective networks for generating inbound links and engaging larger audiences.
If your website is the main body of your business then consider social media to be its limbs, helping to add mobility and function to your brand – a bit like using your hand to feed your mouth.
Social media is now the greatest driving force for building community engagement, sharing content, generating inbound links and driving traffic to your website. Without it, most URLs get lost at sea.
Make sure that you optimise your website by setting up a digital ecosystem of supporting social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram,Google+ and more, if you wish. These accounts should be populated with content on a regular basis, with a focus on inviting audiences to be part of your brand’s dialogue. Ask open-ended questions; proactively seek new members, post interesting content and offer incentives where possible.
Google+ is particularly important for SEO as Google uses its sharing mechanism to identify new and valid content to feature in its search results.
By the powers combined…
At first glance, SEO may seem beyond the realm of mere mortals or small businesses wanting to get ahead online but the techniques involved with optimising content for search engine rankings can be broken down into a four-factor checklist that works in combination to produce measurable outcomes.
Install website analytics to know your numbers and identify your audience; publish quality content that is both interesting and informative; build supporting networks and engage in inbound linking; and establish a platform of social media channels to help extend your brand and its content. Once you have set up the system and are following these processes you’ll find that the rest of the work will take care of itself.
At its core, SEO is based on trust. If your website offers authentic content and services and is supported by external sources, half your battle for top rankings is already won.