Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – an Introduction
SEO | Search Engine Optimisation involves getting visitors to your website when they search for a relevant product or service in search engines e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo etc. This will happen if your site appears near the top of the “organic” or natural search result. It is not a “paid” advert – search engines will rank your site according to a number of factors. To rank well, you need to implement best practice on your site, in line with the guidance issued by Google and others.
In the screenshot below, for example; if someone searches “Irish Internet Advice” in Google in Ireland, the IIA comes up as number 3. In fact there are over 22 million results generated but in this case as you can imagine the content on the IIA website closely matches the search term used – and this is one of the main reasons why we appear 3rd
In the image above, there are no paid adverts but where competitors are advertising for terms (in Google this is using a product – AdWords) the ads appear before the “organic” results a small green “Ad” symbol appears to the left of the Ad – see below.
Ideally of course you are trying to be the first company listed in a search result but this isn’t always feasible – as it depends on how much time and resources you and your competitors are putting into the SEO process e.g. if you are a B&B in Galway city, you will not find it easy to get to number one in Google for “Holiday Galway City” (see above). You will not only be up against major hotel groups, tourist organisation and others who may have a full-time SEO team working for them – they will also be paying for AdWords and the organic results down the page.
But there are techniques to help you succeed. And you need to work smart – research is key. Find out what terms are likely to work for you, implement best practice for SEO on your website and then roll-out a strategy to optimise the site over time.
Can I do SEO myself?
SEO isn’t rocket science but for most people, the advice, guidance and technical skills of a professional agency is a worthwhile investment when you are launching a site. And there are some technical aspects to SEO that you are unlikely to be able to cover-off on your own. Do check with your web supplier whether they have an inhouse SEO expert as this is a separate skill to either designing, or building, a website. Also check is the cost of onsite SEO (more later) included in the web quote and ask for a breakdown of activities that will be implemented within the SEO time quoted. It goes without saying (!), btw, that your site needs to be mobile-friendly and this is an important factor to perform in Google too.
Test your site now to see if it’s mobile friendly!
Once the site is up-and-running, fresh, optimised content is a key aspect to driving performance and you can certainly plan to manage content work inhouse over time; and upskill yourself and your team, as necessary.
What are the main activities involved in SEO?
There are two aspects to consider
- Initial work to optimise your website at the outset
- Ongoing work to improve visibility in Google over time
It’s much the same as a bricks and mortar business in some respects; you need the website built and optimised (the shop stocked, decorated and the door open) and then you need to optimise it over time to get people to visit (do your marketing to get shoppers in the door).
Initial work to optimise your website at the outset
You’ll probably need the help of a professional to optimise your site effectively but here’s an outline of the general approach and some useful tools to help get you up-to-speed;
– Research the relevant key terms (what do you think prospective customers would be searching for in Google?) Google and other suppliers give you tools to work out, for example, how many searches there are in each country for each term, every month and how difficult they each term is to appear in page 1 for. Try playing with this Google Keywords Planner for example,
Here’s a sample “Ranking” report below– the stats. are for Ireland and for “animation courses” – 30 people per month search this term in Google, it is 64% competitive (this relates to people spending money on ads but it’s indicative on how hard it will be to perform organically) and this company is appearing at number 5 in the results. Where does your company appear for your terms? Benchmark this initially as you’ll need it to track progress over time.
Implement Onsite Optimisation
One element of this work is to simply naturally knit the key terms you have selected into the content on each page – don’t try to “stuff” the terms in – Google doesn’t like that and it doesn’t make for a good user experience. Do use them in headers though and link them to relevant pages – but only where it makes sense in the context of the content.
The rest of the work is largely technical and there’s a range of activities to be done; the site needs to be structured in a robust, clear manner and the key terms need to be implemented in the background in the SEO Titles and Meta Descriptions. If you have a wordpress site, there is a plug-in called Yoast that helps to optimise websites effectively – your developer will probably add that to the site. The old site pages need to be re-directed to the new pages. The new site map needs to be submitted to Google. If you want to geek it, check out the developers guide from Google!
There are two factors that are becoming more important for obvious reasons and you should discuss these with your agency to be sure they are covered off – security and speed.
In terms of security, Google is encouraging sites to have SSL (security) certs – and sites that have this are likely to rank better in the future. This would mean your site would appear as “https” instead of “http” in the address bar e.g.
The god news is that an SSL cert is cheap to buy and implement so it’s well worth the small investment – it might take a few hours to implement and cost €60 euro per annum.
Speed is another performance factor. You can use this simple tool to check whether speed is an issue for your website or not (green – good, red – bad!) http://www.webpagetest.org/
How Much Does Initial SEO work cost?
How big and complex is your website? Ask your web developer to quote for this separately so you can see exactly what the cost is. Often for a small site a day’s work is sufficient and for a larger site, 2 days preliminary work might be done by a specialist, who could then train inhouse resources to finish optimising the key pages, if there are a large number of products, for example. Obviously this cost depends on the daily rate.
So it’s not too scary!
How do I get the site to perform in Google over time?
Content is still King! Probably the most important thing you can do is to add fresh, relevant content to your website on a regular basis (and remember to optimise it with your key terms). This involves putting the key term most relevant to that content in the main heading or at least in some secondary headings and including it a few times in the article, linked to relevant pages.
Remember if you’ve updated your website and the Google bots crawl it you can be re-indexed and therefore move up the rankings – so in that context you are better off adding, say three articles at different times, than publishing them all at the same time.
Stay on top of security and speed. As mentioned earlier, if the site security and speed are poor, it can impact the performance of your site. You’ll need to make sure you are using the latest versions of software, plug-ins etc. One of the reasons these are updated regularly is because each update typically addresses a vulnerability in an earlier version, which could leave your site open to hacks. Most agencies and developers offer an Annual Maintenance plan – this might range from €600 to €1,000 depending on the size of your site and typically this will include updating the software regularly and taking a back-up of your site, so if a hack does happen – the site can simply be replaced with the latest copy.
Social Media Activity is also a key performance factor and being active across a number of platforms is encouraged and rewarded by Google. If you don’t have time to actively manage a number of platforms, use Hootesuite; its free and you can plug-in up to 3 social media accounts, do one update, and it automatically publishes the update on the three accounts e.g. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Don’t forget YouTube activity too – not least because Video is the last – and next – big thing (and owned by Google!)
Create Links – linking out to other high quality sites from within your content is a good idea. Even better; if you can get them to link to your site, do – good links into your site can help rankings. Remember also to include links to relevant site pages within your blogs so people can logically navigate your site at appropriate times. Getting rid of bad links to your site (a process called dis-avowing) is also a worthwhile activity as they can drag your site performance down (talk with your SEO support).
There are a whole host of other ranking factors and of course we don’t have access to Google’s algorithms (thankfully!) but you can use their own online resources to inform yourself of the latest thinking at GHQ!
Also there are agencies that will implement programmes for you to address all the activities outlined above – if this is something you want to outsource.
How do I measure success?
You’ll need to get your developer to implement Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Conversion Tracking. Remember to ask for training in using these tools as part of the post-go-live process for your website.
Conversion tracking allows you to run a report every month that shows how many people did something you wanted them to do on the site. In the example below, the company is tracking how many people made a course application, contacted the company etc. This is the nuts and bolts of success for most companies.
The other report worth running every month is the Key Word Ranking report as you will be able to see whether your activity is improving rankings month-on-month and which key terms your website is being found for.
Produced by Inspiration Marketing