A beginner’s guide to SEO

If you’ve ventured into the world of digital business promotion, it’s likely that you didn’t get far before hearing the term ‘SEO’.

SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, and it’s something you need to know at least a bit about if you want your business to be visible and locatable online.

The problem is that search engines are (to put it mildly) complicated. This means that SEO is also complicated. Even SEO experts will tell you that there is no surefire way to fully optimise your site for search engines, as search engine algorithms change all the time.

That being said, there are some solid SEO basics that it’s worth your while to learn about. The more you know about SEO, the more able you will be to angle your online content in ways that search engines like.

So, without further ado, here is our very basic beginners guide to SEO:

What is SEO?

SEO is the practice of tailoring your online content so that it ranks higher in search engine results. 

Let’s say, for example, that you run a pub in Truro. You want to attract more custom through your website. However, when people type ‘Good pub in Truro’ into Google, the first results people see are your competitors. Your pub doesn’t feature until the second page of results (and nobody bothers with the second page!)

This isn’t because your pub is any worse than the others. It’s because your website has problems – including bad SEO. When Google is searching around for results to the query ‘Good pub in Truro’, it can’t find anything on your site that tells it to rank you higher in its results.

By giving your website an SEO makeover, you can send your website flying up Google’s search result listings. This in turn increases your visibility. Before long, all the emmets you need will be flocking into your pub, eager for the great Cornish pub experience that Google promised them.

How does SEO work?

Buckle up, because it’s about to get complicated. We’ll keep it as simple as we possibly can, but you might need to pop your clever clogs on for this bit:

To understand how SEO works, you first need to understand what happens when someone types a query into Google.

Let’s stick with the Truro pub example. When someone types ‘Good pub Truro’ into Google, Google does three things:

  1. Crawling. Google sends out bots (sometimes called spiders or crawlers) to travel the internet and find relevant content. When these digital spiders reach your site, they will ‘crawl’ all over it, finding information that might be relevant for the query.
  2. Indexing. If the spiders find information that’s relevant to the query, they will take it back to a database known as the ‘search index’. Here, it will be compiled with all the other websites that the spiders have found. Usually, the search index is absolutely massive – a digital spider hive of gargantuan proportions!
  3. Ranking. Once the spiders have finished gathering and compiling data, Google’s algorithm has the job of deciding which are most relevant to the query. It will then organise each website or resource found in order from most to least relevant, and present this list to the user.

So, in very, very basic terms, SEO is all about attracting spiders and convincing the algorithm that your result is the most relevant of all the results the spiders have compiled.

Now, in the very first instance, you need to make sure that the spiders can reach and index your site. Often this is done automatically, but you can kickstart the process by creating an XML sitemap and submitting it to Google. This is a bit of an involved process – if you need help with it, we are more than happy to take a look for you!

Following that, you have to make your site as appealing as possible to Google’s spiders and algorithms.

Making SEO work for you

Think of it this way: when someone types in a query, Google’s spiders go out seeking ‘food’ to bring back for the algorithm. The algorithm then selects its favourite delicacies based on which ‘food’ most closely aligns with the searcher’s query.

So, what you need to do is fill your website with delicious ‘food’ for the spiders to gather and present to the algorithm.

To be totally clear, in this analogy, ‘food’ is content and keywords. The quality of the ‘food’ makes a huge difference to the algorithm, and therefore to your search index ranking.

Now, what the algorithm is hungry for depends a lot on what the searcher has typed into Google. So, to give it a truly mouthwatering menu, you need to work out the kinds of things that your potential customers are searching.

In the case of our fictional Truro pub, people might be searching phrases like:

  • Good pub Truro
  • Pubs in Truro
  • Traditional Cornish pub
  • Good pub in Cornwall
  • Real ale pub Truro
  • Pub that serves food Truro
  • Best pubs Truro
  • Good food Truro

…and so on.  

When the spiders go out searching for these queries, the ‘food’ they will be looking for is keywords and phrases that are related to the search terms. 

So, if someone types ‘Best pubs Truro’ into Google, and the spiders come across the phrase ‘We are one of the best pubs in Truro’ on your website, they will eagerly leap upon that delicious morsel and bring it back to the search index for the algorithm to savour.

This is why blog posts are so great for your website – which we’ve written about previously here.

Keyword research

In order to find the kinds of search terms that you could turn into tasty spider snacks, you need to conduct keyword research.

Keyword research is the process of finding out what your target audience is searching. There are keyword searching tools out there which can help, including Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, and Moz. 

Once you know what kinds of things people are searching, you can write or rewrite your website copy to include these words and phrases. By littering your web content with delicious keywords, you can bring spiders swarming to your online banquet and make the algorithm very happy…or, you can if you get it right…

Keyword stuffing and SEO penalties

Did you really think it would be as easy as stuffing your web content with keywords? Alas, no.

In the early days of SEO, keyword-stuffing is exactly what a lot of companies did. Think of this as the equivalent of fast food. Google’s spiders gorged themselves on keywords that had been crowbarred in with no regard to quality or even to comprehensibility. It was very low quality grub!

The result was a very unhealthy internet. Google was directing users to keyword-stuffed, poor quality, incomprehensible web pages which were designed purely to gain traffic rather than to offer anything of value.

So, Google took action. For many years now, Google has prioritised quality content above all else. Keyword-stuffing will no longer work. In fact, you could be penalised for it. Google may mark you and your business as purveyors of poor quality content, and push you down the search rankings accordingly.

The problem is that you do still need to use keywords in order to give the spiders something to gather in the first place. So, modern SEO professionals walk a fine line between writing high quality content and leaving enough keywords to sate the hungry algorithm. As any good writer knows, ‘good quality content’ and ‘keywords’ are often incompatible phrases!

What our writer does when working SEO is to think of each page like a recipe. The necessary keywords are the ultimate meal, but the rest (copy, web design, images etc) help to prepare that food in high quality, tasty ways. 

So, rather than chucking a load of keywords into the ‘oven’ with a scattering of low-quality copy, try to bake your keywords into your copy in tasty, high-quality, ways. Season them with good writing, and make them look extra-tasty with great graphics and design.

SEO: beyond keywords

High quality copy that incorporates keywords without compromising user experience is the cornerstone of SEO. But there’s more to it than that.

Google’s ultimate aim is to provide its users with the perfect results for their search query. Keywords are a fantastic start, but there’s more to a good experience than just returning exact keyword matches.

The quality and reputation of your page also matters. If Google sees that your page works well, is up to date, consistently puts out high quality content, and gets a lot of engagement, it will deduce that your business has value for customers. It will bump you up the search index accordingly.

So, in order to stay on top of SEO, it’s important to use your website in ways that give value for your customers. Blogging is a great way to do this. An online blog shows that you are active and engaged with your business, that you know what you’re talking about, and that you hold your customers in high regard.

For help with internet stuff, get in touch!

We at Sox are not an SEO agency. But a lot of the stuff we do can seriously help your SEO nonetheless. We can create a slick, high-performing, well-written site for you that will make Google sit up and take notice! We also have some great people we partner with who can help you with SEO.

Get in touch for a free consultation!