What is SEO and How Does It Work?
We break down search engine optimisation for small businesses, to help you better understand the complexity of ranking on the search engines.
When you search for something on Google, Yahoo, Bing, even You Tube in Australia, the results that are shown don’t happen by chance. Instead, they are ranked according to an intricate set of determinants, which look at various factors and compares them with everyone else.
The art of mastering these factors and getting a website to appear at the top of the search results, where people can see it, is called SEO or Search Engine Optimisation.
The main goal is to generate traffic from the ‘free’ or ‘organic’ searches – essentially, to make sure users can see you or your business when they search for something related to you. This, of course, also means you need to be seen before any of your competitors.
How Internet Search Engines Work
Search engines, and Google in particular, are ever evolving, and over time new algorithms and artificial intelligence are implemented, changing the SEO landscape.
Nowadays, for example, Google uses machine learning techniques to track user search patterns, displaying relevant content based on their intent, not just their words.
Since the whole idea of SEO is hinged on the algorithms of search engines, each update induces massive changes in the way SEO has to be written. There have been times in the past when SEO strategies have to be reconsidered and new approaches adopted.
If you’re not keeping up with what’s going on in the world of algorithm updates and search engine optimisation, or worse still, not doing any search engine optimisation, your website could be severely affected. Here is a prime example:
This website above has gone from 40,000 to 50,000 visits per month to less than 10,000 visitors. What happened in October 2019 when the traffic started to slide?
The Google BERT update. The biggest algorithm change in the last 5 years, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT for short focuses more on natural language processing and relevancy in search results.
Please note, this is example above is NOT one of our clients sites. It is a website which we have acquired after the owner realised how badly it had been affected and how much work it would take to recover.
We are going to document our journey on our strategies to recover this website and the time it takes. Click here to read about this site.
Here is one of our clients website traffic growth. The website was launched in August 2019:
- Using title tags and meta descriptions
- Focusing on relevant, targeted content and keyword phrases with natural language processing
- Using page links and anchor texts and only sourcing links from other quality, relevant websites
- Using ALT tags for images
- Focusing on readability by real people with the end user in mind
Ethical SEO Techniques are a Must
In the tech world, when something is labelled “Black Hat”, that usually means something shady or disreputable. It could also mean something that breaks the rules of etiquette, and it is this meaning that is applied to blackhat SEO.
Blackhat SEO is using SEO strategies that violate the terms of service of search engines.
Such strategies include:
- Keyword stuffing
- Using hidden texts or links
- Using link farms
- Article spinning
- Content automation
- Duplicating content
- And a lot more!
The main problem with these SEO techniques is that they are not sustainable – they do not generate value, and even if you can fool a search engine to rank you high (it is increasingly difficult to do these days) you cannot fool users who navigate away almost as soon as they enter a low-quality site.
This approach contrasts with “white hat SEO”, or SEO that stays within both etiquette and the rules stated by search engines.
Applying white-hat principles means always looking for ways to give added value to the users. This can only be done by keeping abreast of the current SEO trends, both in the practice as a whole and in your specific industry.
Search and Social Advertising Explained
SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a wider idea that is still related to SEO.
Essentially, SEM is a marketing strategy where a person advertises their products or services by playing with SEO.
By using keywords that would rank them higher in searches, they can reach more potential customers.
SEM has other subdivisions, such as ‘paid search’ or Pay-Per-Click, and other marketing techniques. SEO is, strictly speaking, just one of the components that SEM can have.
Search Engine Marketing can take many forms, even including approaches that integrate social media ads, which is more commonly known as social media marketing, or SMM for short.
SEM and SMM uses advanced copywriting techniques, combined with keyword research for SEO purposes and backed by the business owner paying for advertising on their chosen platform, be it Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc.
Search engine marketing really isn’t a strategy to be used on its own. At the end of the day, you can focus on search engine marketing as an advertising medium to drive traffic to a website whilst waiting for organic search result growth, but you should not neglect your website in the process.
The days of ‘build it and they will come’ are well and truly over. Your website is a needle in a haystack of millions of websites in Australia. When marketed correctly, a website is a valuable asset to a business.
If you rely on search engine marketing without doing any ongoing search engine optimisation on your website, you are likely to find that when you stop paying for advertising, the traffic stops also.
Search engine optimisation is where we focus on this organic traffic and search result growth by continually adding new, fresh and relevant content to the website, backed by extensive keyword research, continually analysing data, measuring results and tweaking as required.
Featured Snippets and Relevant Questions
Google has a perpetual drive to deliver content in better and more informative formats, and featured snippets, and relevant questions (aka People also ask) are two of the many ways it does so.
Featured snippets are often short paragraphs, with answers presented in a simple format. These snippets are sections of web pages that specifically answer a searchers question. They appear above position number one on Google, yet are not paid results.
Google now delivers answers to search queries in the follow format:
- Paid Advertising
- Featured Snippet
- People Also Ask
- Organic Search Results
In 2020, featured snippets are known as ‘position zero’ and is Google’s way of delivering the most useful content right there on the search page.
These snippets are special not just because they are usually the first that people see when they search, but also because they are readable by voice search artificial intelligence such as Siri and Alexa.
This is just another reminder of how search is changing in 2020 and one of the many factors you need to consider when optimising your website for the search engines.
Voice Search is On The Rise
Speaking of voice, it is also slowly but surely making an impact on the SEO scene, and it appears to be a major factor affecting how SEO works in 2020.
The biggest implication of voice in SEO is that more emphasis will be placed on natural language. Voice search is especially adapted to follow the flow of everyday language, so voice AI also need to be able to respond in a way that its users can understand.
Another implication is that keyword search will be longer than many are used to. Voice search does not lend itself to the same conciseness of written searches, and some data suggests that the average voice search uses more than 20 words!
In practice, this means that SEO specialists will need to work on their long-tail keywords. Keywords in the form of questions will likely make an impact also.
Google is still the epicenter of SEO, and last year the search giant released its BERT algorithm, a new system that promises to help end-users find meaningful information by understanding more about word contexts.
For example, ‘Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?’ Ok, so I couldn’t resist a Sesame Street joke in referencing the BERT update, but in all seriousness, that example I just gave you is a 10 word search phrase.
Would a user type that into Google? No. Would they speak that as voice search? Probably. Here lies a new challenge for SEO in 2020.
This means that your content will have to match not just the word strings that users search, but also the intent with which they search.
SEO specialists will now need to take extra steps to understand how consumers think for the niche or website we are optimising, and what we anticipate the users are expecting to gain as a result of their search. That was really the core essence of the BERT update.
Content is everything, and this tenet will prove to be even more important as relevance and value take the lead in SEO.
As both users and search engines get smarter, the race to have the best content in any given topic continues.
SEO specialists, like ourselves, take time to dig into the sub-niches of their clients industries, and mine them for valuable information that the public could benefit to know about. This helps our clients get outstanding achievements in search results.
Knowing how to write for SEO purposes is an art; beginning with SEO copywriting.
Google EAT Score
Currently, Google also checks for the Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EAT) of any entity that publishes content on the web. The better the overall reputation these entities (and those who publish under them) have, the better the search result.
For SEO, this means keeping your content in a focused field that is directly within your area of expertise. The era of having an umbrella approach to content has definitely ended, in a Google-backed attempt to stem the tide of people publishing content to the web without the proper credentials.
The Tech Side of SEO
Aside from looking at the words that comprise an article, Google also looks at how those words are presented.
This is the technical side of SEO, and this becomes more important in 2020 as users are treated to an ever more immersive internet experience.
In the same vein as providing as much value as possible with your content, it is also important to serve the content in the best manner possible.
This means making sure your content loads quickly, and that your user experience is beyond par. The latest expectation from the search engines is that pages load within 2 seconds.
This means SEO specialists will also have to look at the technical foundations of websites, optimising everything from text to images, to site structure.
Mobile First for Search
Mobile phones have eclipsed desktops as the most-used devices to connect to the Internet, but you’d be surprised at how many websites are not optimised for mobile phones.
Experts suggest that web designers and SEO specialists should start putting out mobile-first content, and even mobile-first websites as a whole.
In the back-end, this also means looking at mobile searches to know what on-the-go users might be looking for, and how to optimise a website for common local seo searches.
SEO is, in essence, a simple endeavour – but it isn’t easy to accomplish thanks to the nuances.
What most companies need, however, is not an SEO strategy that tries to catch on every new trend and hype.
SEO needs to consistent, and focused. It also needs to be robust enough to weather the storm of algorithm updates and created with the needs of consumers and the goals of the business.
To create a working SEO strategy, the company’s vision and purpose needs to be clear.
There must also be a set of concrete goals, which would in turn steer the direction of the site content. We will discuss the goals for your website with you when we map out your SEO plan.
Many website owners do not spend enough time working on their SEO strategy for it to be effective.
If you are among these, you can always consider getting in touch with a digital agency such as us. Such a partner can help you craft and implement an SEO strategy according to your budget and business goals.