What does SEO mean and how you can get more visitors to your Website!

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation sounds confusing and complicated.

However, with a little bit of guidance and time, anyone can do basic SEO to start bringing more visitors to your website.

This post will take you on a journey of learning. We will dive into what is SEO and explain in our everyday English guide how you can implement search engine optimisation on your website.

We will cover topics such as how to add your site to google, what SEO analysis tools are available, why you should SEO and the parts of SEO.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation is the process of increasing the number of targeted visitors to your website over a sustained period of time

Graph showing example SEO reuslts improving traffic

Let’s break that statement down

  • Search Engine optimisation is the process
    • This part is easy. The process is the set of instructions you follow to do something. Like following a recipe to make a cake.
  • Of Increasing the number of 
    • Again easy, increasing the number means you are getting more, so if you had 1 visitor a month you would get at least 2. Hopefully a lot more than that.
  • Targeted visitors
    • Targeted, do you want anyone to visit your website or do you want relevant people finding and using your site? Imagine having a website that sells Oranges but getting visits from people looking to buy Apples and Pears. No one would buy from you. You need targeted visitors that are looking to purchase Oranges.
  • Your Website
    • Easy, this is the website you want to grow your visitors on with targeted traffic
  • Sustained Period of time
    • Search Engine Optimisation is a long term strategy, you can see results relatively quickly, but the norm is that your traffic will build up over months and stay consistent for a long time after as well (with a bit of housekeeping).

If SEO is the process to grow your website visitors with targeted traffic, what do we need to look at?

Well, Google, Bing and the other search engines all want one thing, to provide the most relevant content they can to their users.

The search engines use spiders (computer programs) to visit each website, they look at lots of different things to see if a webpage should be at the top of the list for specific search terms.

Google has around 200 ranking factors, don’t worry we will concentrate on the main ones in the guide further down the post.

As a quick overview though, Google and the other search engines take note of things like:

  • Title text
  • URL text
  • Headings
  • Keywords – Relevant to your website we will cover more on this later
  • Crawability (how your website is structured – can all the pages be found easily)
  • User interactions

These are just a few points we will cover in more detail later.

Image of screen with Google written across it with SERPs

Why SEO – Why should I take the time

In short, because your competitors are doing it!

A more detailed answer to the question is, you should be carrying out SEO on your website because if done correctly it will help to grow your website/business by gaining you more relevant website traffic which will lead to more sales.

The internet is a level playing field. If you are competing against some big brands, you can compete with SEO.

It will take effort and time investment, but you can do it. Maybe not for all the keywords you want to, but with smart research (we will show you how later) and good content then you can compete.

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What SEO is not!

  • SEO is not a quick and easy solution, it is not a quick win tactic.
  • SEO is not paid for advertising – You don’t pay the search engines to place an ad at the top of the page
  • SEO is not a one of task
  • SEO is not DEAD – fora  long time people have been saying SEO is dead,  let me repeat that SEO is not Dead and never will be – SEO in one form or another will exist forever (or at least a very long time)

4 Pillars of SEO

At AffinityRising we like to break SEO down into 4 pillars:

  1. On-Page
  2. Off-Page
  3. Technical
  4. Research

We use these pillars to break what we do down into manageable and related groups.

On-Page

Your on-page SEO is your content, headings, HMTL, CSS, Images and anything else you can either see on the page or that shows you the page.

Off-Page

Off-page SEO refers to link building, site structure, URL and anything else that relates directly to your site but is not necessarily shown directly on the page.

Technical

Technical SEO contains site speed, SSL certificates, Robots.txt, XML Sitemaps, site structure, Responsiveness

Research

For research, we include Keywords research, Analytics, Heatmaps, User videos, Questionnaires

SEO Pillars and Factors

All the pillars of SEO contain several factors. These factors work together to assist the search engines in ranking your site.

The search engines will give your site a weighted score for each factor from content to site speed.

Once the search engine has your score for the particular search query, the search engine will then decide where to place your webpage versus the other webpages on the results page.

Understandably the search engines are very tight-lipped about sharing any of the ranking factors directly, as this would mean people can then play the system with black hat SEO techniques.

For now, keep in mind that the search engines take into account all of the ranking factors and not just one on its own.

White Hat, Black Hat and Penalties

There are two approaches to carrying out Search Engine Optimisation. These are White Hat an Black Hat SEO.

White hat SEO focuses on being ethical, following the guidelines set out by the search engines and putting in the work on the four pillars to bring about effective and lasting results.

Black hat SEO looks to cheat the system to get fast results with little effort; however, these methods often result in search engine penalties.

Black hat tactics include things like keyword stuffing, link-farming and cloaking. These are not suitable methods of gaining traffic to your website you will be caught, and penalties will be applied.

Search Engine Penalties

The search engines apply penalties to websites for trying to cheat the system. When sites take a black hat approach to their SEO. Penalties can be automatic or manual and can take a lot of time, effort and expense to resolve.

Been hit with a penalty contact us to get help

There is a difference in receiving a penalty and losing website traffic to an algorithm update.

The search engines are all continually updating their algorithms to ensure they are providing the best possible results to the end users. Just like your phone or laptop, the search engines update the algorithms regularly, here is a list of some of the major ones.

  • Panda 20 February 2011
  • Penguin 24 April 2012
  • Hummingbird 22 August 2013
  • Fred 8 March 2017

These are just some examples of major updates from Google

White hat

How Search Engines Work

Search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and duckduckgo are all businesses created to make money.

They all have shareholders or owners that are trying to improve the bottom line as any other business is.

The search engines make money in the main through paid for ads; these are the results that are at the top or the right of the results pages as shown below.

SERP results with different areas highlighted

The red boxes are paid for adverts; hence the prominent position in the results, the blue is google my business results and the green is the organic listings.

Now we know that the search engines make their money from paid for advertising why do they still provide organic listings. That is because without good relevant results in the organic listings (and paid) no one would use the search engine.

Think about it from a users perspective, if you went to a search engine and searched for red cars, but all the results were showing blue cars would you use that search engine again? We wouldn’t.

Clever Search Engines

So search engines go to a lot of trouble to send out little programs called spiders to analyse the internet, they store all the information gathered, including the factors that influence the search results in massive databases.

Then when someone searches they provide the best possible results.

Over time search engines are getting better and better at providing accurate results for search queries, they are doing this by analysing how long people stay on a website after they have clicked a link, introducing artificial intelligence and examining which websites people click on for a given query.

This allows the search engines to understand how a given piece of content relates to a search query and the intent behind that query.

Search Results (SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages) have changed approach in recent years.

They no longer have one top web page for a given query, they take into account factors such as the device the user is on and the users location to provide what they believe is the best results at that time.

Free Website Audit!

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Beginners Guide to SEO & How to implement it

What is SEO, is now over you are about to start with the beginner’s guide to SEO and how to implement it.

How to SEO your website – For Free

Ok, now you have a high-level understanding of what SEO is and how the search engines work, it is now time to teach you SEO you can implement on your website and get real results.

Here is Googles SEO Starter Guide

Here is a list of what we are going to cover in the free beginner’s guide to SEO

  • On-Page
    • Titles
    • Headings
    • Content
    • User Focussed
    • Images
  • Off-Page
    • Link Building
    • URLs
    • Site Structure
  • Technical
    • Site Speed
    • Responsive
    • Robots.txt
    • XML Sitemap
  • Research
    • Keywords
    • Competitor Research

We will share simple guidelines and instructions for each of these points if you follow them you will start to see improvement in your search traffic unless you are in a very competitive field. And even then you can make huge strides towards gaining traffic with enough time.

Laptop with Google showing on screen

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is in your control, it is down to you how good it is.

If you put in some time there is no reason why your on-page ranking factors cannot be as good if not better than all of your competition.

The one par that may prove to challenge some is content, but we will cover that in more detail soon.

Titles

Your page titles are key, they show up in the search engine results pages the blue hyperlink that searchers click on to get to your website.

Image showing title tag in SERP

The blue text above the URL is the title tag.

Key points for title tags

  • Should contain the main keyword for the page
  • The keyword should be near the start of the title
  • Don’t keyword stuff
  • Keep an eye on the length of the title tag depending on characters used (W takes up more space than I) the search engines will shorten long title tags
  • They should be unique
  • Write for users, not search engines to maximise clicks

A good title tag will provide a clear indication of the page topic, it will encourage people to click on it and it will have your pages main keyword in it.

Now go to your website and check the title tags, if you have a lot of pages pick a few and check do they meet these guidelines?

If not and you already know what your keywords are, then go ahead and start adjusting your title tags, don’t change them all at once.

Change a few and see if you have any improvement to your website visitors.

SERP results showing good titles

Here you can see how the top 2 title tags are of good length, have the keywords in them and explain what the page is about, the 3rd one perhaps by design has been shortened by Google.

Headings

Headings are the next best thing to title tags, you have 6 to choose from.

They are HTML tags but if you are using WordPress or similar to manage your site then the editor will give you a drop down to choose from.

Heading tags are refferred to with a capital H and then the number, for example H2 or H5

Key points for Headings

  • There are 6 heading tags to choose from 1 – 6
  • Each page should have 1 and no more H1 this is the main heading for the page
  • Your H1 should contain your keywords and they should be as far left as makes sense
  • Heading tags should describe what the page is about
  • Sub-headings should be used to break up content on the page H2 – H6
  • Each page does not need to use every heading tag
  • Headings are there to make website visitors lives easier – Make it easier to scan the content

When people read websites they scan the content, unlike reading a book or newspaper where they read each word, on-screen people scan looking for relevant or interesting points.

Use headings to help people understand your content and scan easily.

SEO word with other SEO related words inside

Content

Content is key to ranking in the search engines and keeping visitors on your website, good content flows naturally and is entertaining, informative or both.

Use of headers in your content to break the structure into related segments is a must, doing this allows users to scan your page and find what they are looking for.

Content key points

  • Keep it fresh – put a plan in place to review your content to make sure it is still relevant, if it is out of date update it
  • Don’t copy – do not copy content from other websites, this is known as duplicate content.
    • Duplicating content from another site infringes on copyright
    • Duplicating content from your own site at best splits the traffic between the two or more pages at worst confuses the search engines and leads to a drop in traffic
    • If you have a real need to have pages with duplicate content then look into canonical tags
  • Content should be informative, interesting or fun if possible make it all 3
  • Keep content easy to read, short sentences and bullet points are great
  • Avoid thin content – do not create a page for a blue car, red car, yellow car have one page and include those keywords in that page with as much detail as possible

So keep content fresh, interesting and provide as many details as you can on a topic. Make your pages useful to your website visitors and the search engines will reward you. Oh and make sure your pages are easy to read.

User Focussed

Your website and its pages should be user focussed, this means you should have a design that is easy to find relevant and useful content on, every decision you make on your website should focus on providing the best experience for your website visitors.

Breaking content into bite-sized pieces, adding plenty of images and an easy to use menu structure with good internal linking.

User Focussed key points

  • Bite-sized pieces
  • Easy menu structure
  • Appealing to look at
  • Add Images
  • Good internal linking
  • Link to other resources that users may find useful – On your site or on other websites

Images

Word cloud with words like interested in it

Correct use of images on a website helps keep your visitors browsing and can also help search engines understand the topic of your webpage.

Search engine spiders do not understand images and cannot see them, however, images on a website have an attribute called alt which allows you to put a description of the image in.

The alt attribute should be completed for all images, for 3 reasons, visually impaired users that are using screen readers will get a description of the image, people on slow connections may not load the image but will get the description and finally the search engines will get further indications as to the topic of the page.

Key points for Images

  • Use images that are relevant to the page topic
  • Keep image sizes small to ensure the best possible page load speed
  • Use images to break up content into bite-sized pieces
  • Ensure the alt attribute is set for each image with relevant information
  • Use good quality images

Good placement of relevant images can really take your pages to the next level, go ahead and give it a go on your website, try 1 or 2 pages and see if it has the desired effect.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO relates in the main to things still under your control, but not always or not completely.

For instance, link building is listed under off-page SEO and in some respects, it is under your control but in others, it is completely outside of your control.

Again with a bit of work you will be able to make use of these tips to help build your website traffic.

Chain representing links for link building

Link Building

One of the big factors in getting your website recognised and rewarded by the search engines is how many relevant links you have to your website from other websites.

Each link on a webpage that points to an external website gives a share of its total points to the websites being linked.

The points vary depending on the relevancy of the text in the link, the position on the page and the number of links on the page.

All you really need to understand is this – Getting links from other websites that are about a topic that is related to yours is a good thing.

Building links can be tough, you can go about it in one of two ways, passively and actively.

Active Vs Passive Link Building

Passive link building effectively means you are hoping people find your website, like it and then link back to it from their website.

Active is the opposite, you will search out potential linking websites and specific pages on websites, then you will contact the owner sharing the useful content you would like them to link to and giving them a valid reason to link back. Such as you believe your content ads relevant information to their website visitors.

Do not pay for links, these links are generally not good and the search engines are getting better at finding them and at best ignoring them at worst penalising the websites involved.

Also do not enter into link sharing schemes where you offer to link to a website if they link to you, again the search engines can spot these and will at best ignore them at worst penalise the two sides.

Another active method of trying to get links back to your website is to make use of social media by sharing your content. The people that follow you on social media already like something about what you are doing online, so this can be a really effective method to get links if you have a following.

Here are some useful links if you want to dig deeper into building backlinks

https://backlinko.com/high-quality-backlinks

https://ahrefs.com/blog/how-to-get-backlinks/

URLs

URLs are the address of a webpage, you can see them in a browser and they look like this

Example of website structures

These URLs tell the browser you are viewing the internet on where to go to for the webpage you want to view. They also give information to the search engines about the page content.

If you are using a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla or similar then they will have a setting in the options tab that lets you automatically set the URL to search friendly, however, if your site is done in pure HTML and CSS then you will have to manage them yourself.

You should make your URLs readable, most CMS default method is to use a URL generation method that makes sense to computers using numbers and sometimes even symbols.

This is not a good URL structure, don’t worry if these come after a? however, as then they are passing information rather than being a true part of the URL.

So good URLs are

  • Readable and memorable to humans
  • Contain the keyword for the page where it makes sense
  • Have a clear structure – If you offer multiple services then put all of them under services in the URL for instance. www.example.com/services/service1 then you would have www.example.com/services/service2
  • Are off a manageable length, the longer a URL is the more likely it is that it will be copied incorrectly, people will forget it or it will put people off visiting the page

There you have it, a short and succinct brief on URLs, go and take a look at the URLs on your website and see if they match these points.

Don’t forget to come back and find out about site structure.

Site Structure

The structure of your website is how all of the pages link together.

Think of it like a hierarchy or an organisation chart. The idea is to have as flat a structure as you possibly can this should make it easier for people and search engines to find all of your pages.

The second thing to consider with site structure is to have no pages more than 3 clicks away from your home page, if that is not manageable then certainly do not have critical content more than 3 clicks away.

Internal Linking

To assist with the rule of no more than 3 clicks away and to help website visitors and search engines find all the pages on your website a good internal linking structure is critical.

Internal linking is adding relevant links in your webpages to other content on your site that may be useful.

So if you have a blog post about how widgets can help you achieve your goals then a link to the widget product page would be a good idea as long as it’s relevant.

Points are passed for internal links as well, so a good linking structure will show your users and search engines which pages on your website you believe to the most important, this will then give them a boost if the users and search engines agree.

Key points for site structure

  • No more than 3 clicks between the home page and other pages
  • Proper internal linking – Link from one page to other pages on your website
  • Flat structure

Technical

Picture of server cabinet to represent technical

Don’t worry, although this is called technical SEO we will keep it as simple as we can, so as many of you as possible can follow along.

The points we have listed here in the main are easy enough to check, and should not be too difficult to resolve.

There may be some issues you find under site speed or responsive where you need help if you are not technical but we will come to them as we go.

Site Speed

With more and more people browsing the internet on mobile devices the speed your webpages load at is becoming critical to its success.

Here is an article on Marketing Drive which shows a 3-second rule before you start losing users.

Now the speed at which your webpages load is only partially within your control. Some aspects of it such as server specifications unless you host your website on your own server are controlled by your host and how much you are willing to pay.

Other aspects like the images you use on your website are within your control.

Now you want to have the best possible images you can, but they should be loaded in the correct size for the page and be as small as possible.

There are free tools available online or as downloads that can help reduce image size. GIMP is an open source image editing software which you can use to change the image sizes and reduce the quality (without it being visible on the web) to reduce the image size.

Image representing speed, showing swirly line moving down road

There are lots of other aspects that affect site speed such as javascript, CSS and any plugins you may have on your website. You can even get plugins to help resolve some of the site speed issues if you have any.

Sitespeed Tools

A good place to start is with a site speed test, here are 3 different free website speed test resources you can use that give you the issues and links on how to fix them.

https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

https://gtmetrix.com/

https://tools.pingdom.com/

Please keep in mind with each of these that they are trying to get your site as fast as possible, some of the benefits may not be worth the effort for you to try and resolve.

Give it a go run your site through one or more of the speed tests now. Let us know how you got on in the comments below.

Responsive

Responsive design for websites is a must in the digital age, users will browse your website on different devices with different operating systems and screen sizes all day long.

Your website needs to look as good on all of them and work just as easily.

Testing your website to see how it looks on different devices can be quite difficult unless you have a drawer full of old phones that you can use to test different browsers and operating systems etc..

Here are some resources that will let you see how your website looks on different screens.

https://www.responsinator.com

http://quirktools.com

Have a look at how your website looks if it isn’t working on different screen sizes you need to decide if your website needs to work on them.

If it does then you either need to look at the template you are using or speak to a web designer.

Contact Us if you would like some help

Robots.txt

Image of robot on desk representing robots.txt

The robots.txt is a file on your server, it is a simple file, to begin with until people start making lots of changes. The robots.txt file gives instructions to the spiders that crawl your website, it tells them where they can go and where they cant go.

If you have areas of your website that the search engines don’t need to index then you can tell them that in your robots.txt.

If you are not sure or don’t want to get involved in anything too technical I would log in to your hosting control panel and access the files folder.

In there you should find your robots.txt file. Open with a text editor such as notepad, do not use a word processor like Microsoft Word or you can navigate to your domain /robots.txt to see if it exists and what it contains.

Once you have found it check that it looks something like this

User-agent: *
Disallow:

Sitemap: http://www.example.com/sitemap.xml

This tells all robots with the * that they can access all your pages as you have nothing after the Disallow: if you had a / then you would be telling the spiders not to go to any page on your website.

You can specify specific areas for the spiders to not crawl with a Disallow: /Private

The sitemap reference should always be the last part of your robots.txt and it tells the spiders where to find your sitemap which we will cover next.

here is a good example from MOZ on the robots.txt

XML Sitemap

The XML sitemap is a directory of your website, you can have more than one of them, but should always have at least one.

Open a new tab in your browser and navigate to www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml or www.yourdomain.com/sitemap-index.xml and you should see a list of sitemaps or a list of pages on your site. If you see a list of sitemaps click on one and you should see a list of pages.

If you don’t have a sitemap and you are using a CMS then you can get plugins which will generate them for you. For WordPress Yoast SEO plugin is highly used.

Research

Magnifying glass for research

Research is where you can get an advantage with SEO. With proper research, you can find the low hanging fruit in your target industry and work on ranking for those keywords. It doesn’t have to take long but the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Keywords

Keyword research is key to any successful SEO campaign. Excellent Keyword Research can help you find the low hanging fruit and maximise the ROI of your campaign.

To carry out your keyword research, start by thinking about your clients or customers and what would they search for?

Even better ask them if you can.

Make a list of all the keywords you have come up with and head over to one of these two tools, Google Keyword Planner or Uber Suggest and enter your keywords, both of these tools will give you a list of suggestions, search volume and competition statistics. Keep in mind the competition on Keyword Planner is for Paid search. But at least it gives you a rough idea. Uber gives you competition info for both Paid and Organic traffic.

Once you have the lists in either tool, you can export to CSV and open in your favourite spreadsheet program, such as Excel or google docs.

Sort the list by search volume highest to lowest and then competition lowest to highest.

Take a look down the list and get a feel for the numbers, especially the search volumes and the competition once you have this filter the sheet to remove the high competition and low search phrases.

Now you have a list of keywords, take a look down the list for applicable ones, you will have some that are too generic and others that don’t match your product or service. Remove these.

The ones that are left browse through them and highlight any that have a high search volume usually over 1000 and a low competition score for your keywords. Pick around  3 – 6 keywords.

These are the keywords you should start targeting.

Jumble of wooden blocks with letters on them

Competitor Research

We have the option to use a few different tools to check our competitors.

You can use the Uber Suggest tool from the keyword research to get keyword ideas and see if there are any paid ads running, Neil Patel also has http://neilpatel.com/ to analyse sites from an SEO perspective (you can run your pages through this as well). SEO Checker and Nibbler all of which will let you see different things about the website or specific pages.

It is recommended that you test your site and then look at a few competitors to see where you can gain an edge.

All of these reports give you actions you can take to improve your site and instructions on how to do so.

One last thing that you can do is following your competitors on social media to see what they are promoting, or what they think is relevant at that moment in time.

Great Job in gold on black

Well Done! You have made it!

That is the end of our post explaining what SEO is and providing a beginners guide to SEO. I hope you found it informative and enjoyable.

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you thought.

If we can help you with any of your SEO needs get in touch and let us know

If not good look with your website.

Steve

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