A plain-English explanation of what SEO is, and what it means for small business owners.
What does SEO mean?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Essentially, SEO refers to improvements made to help a website move up the ranks of search engine results.
In this post, I identify and explain the basics of SEO that small businesses should be aware of.
The Truth About SEO
SEO is a dirty word. It’s a buzzword that’s often thrown around by people that don’t fully understand what it means.
The truth about SEO is; it’s not a switch that can simply be flicked on to improve your website’s rankings. It’s a long-term process that requires consistency, commitment and expertise in multiple areas. For large companies, SEO is a complex strategy that involves input from multiple departments to invest in and improve website rankings.
As a small business owner, it’s helpful to understand the basics of SEO but may not be realistic to master. If you have a website and other online profiles, you’re already implementing your own SEO strategy without even realising it. Its efficiency is a matter of how many boxes you’re ticking off. Allow me to explain the basics.
Why is SEO important?
Without spurting out meaningless stats and data, if you think about how much you use search engines in your daily life, you’ll begin to understand why SEO is so important. Many of us use search engines such as Google, daily. That’s why, if we want our business to be successful online, we need to grasp the basics.
It’s Constantly Changing
What constitutes as best SEO practices is constantly changing. The reason for this is because search engines, like Google, make updates to their algorithm regularly. Furthermore, they don’t explicitly reveal what practices help websites rank higher in search results. But, there are numerous resources out there that reveal the factors that contribute to SEO.
Woah! Let’s take a step back. What’s an algorithm?! An algorithm is like the secret mathematical formula that Google uses to decide what websites show in our search results and in what order. To hear it straight from the source, click here.
Thanks to SEO experts like Semrush, Neil Patel, ahrefs (and many more)– we know there are a few things that we can do to help improve our SEO.
However, these techniques aren’t guaranteed and require expertise to keep up with the changing algorithm.
Understanding the Basics of SEO
There are many factors that contribute to SEO. Some are very technical and difficult to master, others are more straightforward. Generally, there are three different types of SEO that experts refer to; on-page, off-page and technical. Continue reading for a basic breakdown and a few examples of each. I’ve also included links to resources that provide further information so you can continue learning.
This literally includes anything on the website or page. Elements on the page that can contribute to SEO include:
Content: The key to understanding on-page SEO is to remember that almost every element on the page contributes.
Keywords: SEO experts, Moz explain keywords best: “Keywords are ideas and topics that define what your content is about. In terms of SEO, they’re the words and phrases that searchers enter into search engines, also called “search queries.” If you boil everything on your page — all the images, video, copy, etc. — down to simple words and phrases, those are your primary keywords.
As a website owner and content creator, you want the keywords on your page to be relevant to what people are searching for so they have a better chance of finding your content among the results.” You can learn more about keywords from Moz here.
Page Headings: Headings and sub headings on the page should have a hierarchy from ‘Heading 1’ to ‘Heading 2’, ‘Heading 3’ and so on.
Internal and external links: internal links are links to other pages of your site and external links are those to other sites.
Images, captions and alt text: optimum use of these elements includes using images of the right size and format, and including appropriate captions. Alt text is used to describe an image when (or if) it fails to load and for vision impaired visitors to your site.
These are elements that are outside of your website and can be more difficult to influence. Elements off the page that can contribute to SEO include:
Authority, relevance and trust: A search engine’s job is to assess the authority, relevance and trust of a website to ensure the results shown are what the searcher is looking for.
Social Media: it’s important to regularly update your social media and remember, the time and effort you put in won’t go to waste. That’s right, it’s not just your website that contributes to SEO.
Customer Reviews: online customer reviews contribute to your SEO. There are two things you can do to manage your business’ reviews. First of all, ensure that you take the time to read and respond to customer reviews, even negative ones. Secondly, regularly ask customers to leave reviews on your chosen platform. I recommend prioritising Google reviews, but you may choose another review platform depending on your industry.
Business and Directory listings: online listings of your business also add to your SEO strategy. Again, it’s an advantage to start with a Google My Business Listing but I also recommend other credible directories such as Yellow Pages, White Pages and social media.
Searcher’s history: Believe it or not, the searcher’s browsing history plays a part in what results Google shows in their searches. Of course, this factor is out of your hands, but it helps to further demonstrate the far-reaching contributors of SEO.
These are the technical or functional elements of your website that contribute to SEO.
Mobile Usability: your website should be formatted for mobile-friendly use. This means visitors should be able to view and use your website easily on their mobile devices. A recent study found more than 50% of web traffic is from mobile phones (Hootsuite, Digital 2020).
Site Loading Speed: the quicker your site loads the better. If your site is lagging, it may be time to consider upgrading or updating it. The average site/page load speed is between 1-3 seconds (this is also recommended by Google). You can test the speed of your site with Google PageSpeed Insights via Google Search Console.
Link building: develop a link building strategy for your site. This involves negotiating external links of high credibility. To find out more about link building, go here.
Sitemap: A sitemap is like a blueprint of your site that helps search engines index your site accordingly. On a WordPress site, there are plugins that will generate a sitemap for you, such as Yoast. To find out what a sitemap is, go here.
SSL certificate and https: an SSL certificate is a security encryption on your site that indicates its safe to visit. You can find out if your site has an SSL certificate by going to your website and looking at the top of your web browser. If there is an image of a closed lock next to your website address, this means your site has an SSL certificate and is secure. If your website doesn’t appear ‘secure’ contact your website host to ask about an SSL certicate.
Here’s a few blogs with helpful information on SEO.
Semrush blog article – The Only SEO Checklist You Will Need in 2020: 41 Best Practices https://www.semrush.com/blog/seo-checklist/
Neil Patel (marketing expert) blog article – SEO Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide for 2020 https://neilpatel.com/what-is-seo/
ahrefs blog article – A Simple (But Effective) SEO Checklist for 2020 https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-checklist/
Hubspot’s list of best SEO blogs: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/best-seo-blogs
As a sole trader, I find it can be time-consuming to work on SEO. Instead, the approach I take for my business is to try to tick off the basic SEO contributors listed above. I also recommend updating websites and online profiles regularly. This is a great place to start. Remember, the truth is there’s no quick-fix or straight forward solution to SEO. And last of all, I’m no expert! But by using this post and taking time to explore the linked resources, you’ll be well on your way to understanding the basics of SEO.
Thanks for reading and all the best with your SEO strategy! Any questions? Please comment below.
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