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SEO basics: What's SEO and what do you need to do?

Scarborough SEO expert John Allsopp profile pic

The three key SEO elements (plus one) explained by SEO pro John Allsopp

I'm going to keep this SEO explanation as brief as I can, you'll be able to click through on each topic for more SEO info once I've written it. This article gets into the how, if you want the why, you need my top page on SEO.

Firstly, SEO is Search Engine Optimisation. It's NOT tricks to help you fool Google into getting onto page one of the search results. SEO is a set of legitimate techniques to help Google figure out what you do, to help your genuine prospects find you when they need you and to satisfy their needs in the moment. Sounds a lot like marketing, right? And usability. And accessability. And internationalisation.

So what's SEO Analysis?

SEO companies normally offer a free SEO analysis or SEO check, which is usually a computerised assessment of things like keyword density and page load times. If you go looking for an SEO analysis online, you'll find they are lead magnets, if you request one they'll try to sell you SEO services. I question whether the things they mark red are really important or just help them sell. Oh hush my cynical mouth!

A safe place to get some data is Google Webmaster Tools. You could spend happy days correcting crawl errors, working on HTML improvements, fixing security issues, and under tools>extra resources you can find a speed tester, working on that. Also check Links To Your Site (more on that later). We call these SEO hygiene issues, checking for SEO negatives. Getting rid of negatives is not sufficient for great SEO ranking, but it is necessary.

A big one is duplicate content. In your browser, try to access your website starting with http://, http://www and the two https variants. Everything should come back as the one version you've decided to use.

SEO Keywords analysis

SEO Analysis could also mean keyword analysis ('keyphrase analysis' is better).

The Google Keyword Planner, Answer The Public and LSI Graph all give you ideas about the search terms people are using to find what they need. Spreadsheets at the ready, there may be thousands of search keyphrase possibilities. It's quite neat that you can probably work out your potential income from the SEO investment required to rank for a particular search phrase.

Website ranking

You don't have a website ranking, you have hundreds of them, one for each search phrase the search engines think you are a match for. Webmaster Tools gives you this under Search Traffic > Search Analytics .. I habitually click on all of Clicks, Impressions, CTR and Position (it should remember that, really) and then sort by Impressions, then Position shows how far down the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) I am for each phrase Google has deemed me appropriate for.

There are only 10 slots on page one of Google, so anything higher than 10 means you are lost in the outback (but being listed is good and means you have SEO potential).

On page SEO

Having checked your website for SEO boo boos (nope, I really wrote that myself not because anyone's searching for it), next you need to write unambiguously about your topics ('SEO basics' in this case) so that Google knows what you are on about. Don't throw in wobblers like, go off at an example tangent, just write about eg. SEO Basics concisely and keep mentioning it.

Ideally, you would analyse your search keyphrases into topics and write about each one, arranging them into a hierarchy and interlinking only up and down (it's called the SEO silo). Alternatively try building one super-awesome 'SEO explained' page (see below). This is content marketing .. it doesn't have to be text of course, videos are great. I mean why don't I tweet about SEO basics, write a Facebook update, create this article, do a version as a powerpoint presentation and explain SEO basics on video or in a webinar, create an infographic, make shareable images containing the basic SEO points. I could write an SEO basics song. All of those would link back to the original article. Maybe let's not do the song but you get the idea.

Writing for SEO is a specialist skill. Double check your pronouns and other opportunities to be more specific. A couple of paragraphs above I changed 'investment' to 'SEO investment' and 'possibilities' to 'search keyphrase possibilities'. Cut the fluff.

Your page title and meta description ought to contain the search phrase too. The latter will probably be what appears in the search engine results page, so try to make it motivating and persuasive.

I think the jury's out on page length and SEO. I would say write until you can't write any more without damaging your target keyphrase density. I'm testing a hero page about PPC for opticians.

Write for human readers. No keyword stuffing - no-one will read it! And Google knows that SEO basics and SEO explained are almost the same thing, so don't feel overly constrained. Express yourself, but stick to the topic.

Building links, what are backlinks?

Google won the battle to be the best search engine because of backlinks and its idea that a web page people link to is better than an otherwise equivalent web page people don't link to. A backlink is like a human vote a search engine server can use.

For any search engine position worth getting, you'll need other websites to link to you. Techniques abound for that and I'll get into that in some detail in another article.

Also, the text people use when they link to you matters. If you write a web page about A and people keep linking saying you're about B, you'll rank eventually for B.

Website submission

You don't need to. Google will find you, 48 hours max. Unless you really are sat in a faraday cage, even if you only send an email to a colleague (eg. of a website in development) .. it's Google's job to find stuff.

SEO optimisation

So far I've covered the main SEO basics, the three main processes of search engine optimisation.

  1. Check for technical SEO stoppers
  2. Sort out your website content so it's SEO friendly
  3. Get links

That's SEO in a nutshell.

White hat SEO

It's true, all us professional SEO people sit at our desk wearing white stetsons. Union rules, eh?

Not true, it basically comes from the old cowboy films where those wearing white hats were the goodies, and those wearing black hats were the baddies.

I've not heard much from black hat practitioners for a while so maybe Google has actually fixed the problem. Basically black hat SEO practitioners will say they can get you on page one if you use their secret special trick. It might even work. But it won't work for long, and you might get yourself a Google slap.

Think of Google as God. I'm serious. It knows your every move, and with the rise of artificial intelligence .. you know the social media players know you better than you know yourself, right? You can't beat Google, they can see into your soul, so behave yourself. SEO and the web is a beautiful thing, us marketers are just here making life better for everyone finding problems and solving them. Do that. I am absolutely serious.

Rich snippets and featured snippets

OK, deep breath. The web formats information for us humans to consume. For years, however, there have been massive efforts to ALSO format web pages so computers can make more sense of them.

Also, in the same way us web developers had to adapt to mobile, we have to get ready for voice-controlled computing devices such as Amazon's Alexa and Google Home, where people are going to ask for simple things and want simple answers. Search is moving to voice. In June 2017 9% of UK households had an Alexa.

These snippets come from enhanced markup (codes) embedded in your website. Rich snippets show up as extra data in your SERP listing, see the Hermosa Guest House listing here:

A rich snippet example from the bed and breakfast market

A featured snippet is likely to come up for the sort of thing you would ask from a voice controlled computer, for example:

An example featured snippet

You can see they are short, popular answers to specific questions and .. you have to earn your place here. The website traffic is reportedly worth it, assuming you have a way to monetise it.

That's SEO explained

Web page hygiene, on-page SEO and backlinks are the SEO basics, but we need to get prepared for voice search and to mark up our websites so that, in an increasing number of specific markets (eg. recipes and cinema listings), our data can be presented directly in Google's search results.

If you would like help with your SEO so you get on page one of Google for important, profitable search phrases (instead of your competitor) .. type things into this form .. because otherwise something awful will happen: nothing.

(I really want there to be someone in this world called Rich Snippets.)