The Complete Definitive Guide to Search Engine Optimisation
Everything you need to know about search engine optimisation, boosting organic traffic to your website, and ranking on page one of Google.
Dive head-first into our extensive handbook and gain access to stacks of useful resources, how-to guides and explainers.
WHAT DOES SEO STAND FOR?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. If that raises more questions than it answers, you’ll want to continue scrolling…
What is Search Engine Optimisation?
SEO marketing defines the various processes, practices and techniques required to rank on search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
How does SEO work?
Google is essentially an index of the world wide web. Every time you perform a search on Google, it uses bots (known as “spiders” or “crawlers”) to rapidly crawl its vast library for the most-relevant, reliable and trustworthy content. SEO is about understanding that process and using it to your advantage
What is SEO?
93% of experiences online begin with a search engine. In terms of digital business, that’s an extraordinary amount of real estate. So, if you can ensure your brand is the first one in the search engine results for terms related to your industry, you’ll see a huge increase in web traffic, brand awareness and enquiries.
Getting on that celebrated first page of Google is no easy feat, however, which is why SEO is considered one of the most highly sought after and celebrated disciplines of digital marketing.
How does Search Engine Optimisation work?
In a matter of milliseconds, search engines will ask around 200 questions in order to produce the results each individual user is looking for. These questions all centre around user experience.
Google aims to provide the best user experience. Without its users, Google would be useless and therefore worthless to advertisers (its main source of revenue).
So, what questions is Google asking when deciding which pages and websites to show in its results? These centre around technical aspects such as:
1) Site speed
2) How well your page loads on mobile devices
3) Site security
…as well as qualitative elements such as:
1) The quality of content and writing.
2) The level of expertise
3) Relevancy to the search term
These are just a few of hundreds of SEO ranking factors.
More information on How Search Works can be found in this useful video from Google:
RANKING FACTORS: ON-PAGE SEO
Search engine optimisation is as much a science as it is an art. Requiring as much technical expertise as creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking, there are reportedly 200 different SEO ranking factors. Some are more influential than others, of course.
Here are what we believe to be the factors that have the highest impact on search rankings…
On-Page SEO Factors
Google processes 100 billion searches a month. To rank for search terms relevant to your products, services and industry, you need a strong understanding of how your target market uses Google.
What are they searching for? How are they searching for it? What words are they typing into search engines? These are all questions that should come into your Keyword Research.
What is a keyword?
A keyword is a word or phrase that helps search engines (and searchers) identify what a piece of content is about. A keyword is the phrase that users search for in order to get the results they seek.
In the example below, the keyword is “best shrimp recipes”.
What is Keyword Research?
Your SEO strategy starts by identify keyword rankings. In other words, what search terms are people using to find the products, services and information you offer?
Fortunately, there are various SEO Keyword tools available for you to do this.
When creating your keyword list, it’s also worth considering Searcher Intent. Searches are split into three categories:
1) Do (transactional)
2) Know (informational)
3) Go (navigational)
Ask yourself, is your target audience looking to learn new information, or are they hoping to go somewhere (to a shop) or do something (buy something)? This can affect specific searches and how competitive they are.
For example, keywords that indicate buyer intent, such as “cheap”, “products” or “best price” represent more opportunities for direct revenue than “how to” or “where”, most of the time.
The higher the search volume and buyer intent, the more difficult it will be to rank for that keyword. This is because more brands and businesses will be competing for this particular phrase.
When picking keywords, aim for between five and 10 per page/blog post. Realistically, you should target keywords with a high search volume (relative to your monthly website traffic) and low difficulty (below 70-ish).
WHAT IS E.A.T. AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT SEO?
In terms of ranking, search engines reward content that demonstrates E.A.T.
Just last year, Google produced a white paper on how its systems “focus on measurable signals that correlate with how users and other websites value the expertise, trustworthiness, or authoritativeness of a webpage on the topics it covers.”
To rank for specific topics, you need to demonstrate your expertise in that field. Google’s purpose is the sharing and storing of knowledge. It requires its data sources to be reliable and educated, the last thing it wants is to spread incorrect information.
To prove that your business is an expert in a particular sector, you need to consistently create content within that field. Not only this, but you need to present it in a way that suits and engages your audience.
If you run a car garage and regularly blog on your website about car maintenance and the automotive industry, you would struggle to suddenly rank for “dog training techniques”, for instance, even if your most recent blog was the most expertly-written and well-researched guide on dog training.
Why? Because Google has not seen enough evidence on your website to demonstrate that you have any expertise in dog training.
Being an authoritative source in your field requires your name to become almost synonymous with the subject you are writing about. To achieve this, you need:
- Relevant and authoritative links to your website from trusted sources.
- Consistent, up-to-date, reliable information on that subject.
- Plenty of traffic coming to your site.
- Your content to be widely shared on social media, as well as other sites.
- People searching for – and mentioning – your brand name online. This shows that you are a well-known and respected source.
Authoritativeness is measured in Page Authority and Domain Authority, which we cover in more detail further into our guide.
Trustworthiness factors in customer sentiment and feedback in reviews and comments. When building trust, it also helps to include a traceable place of business and contact information – both on your website and using Google My Business.
Increased visibility and accountability means increased trust, both in the eyes of your target market and search engines.
Optimising Content For Search Engines
Once you’ve decided on between five and ten keywords to target for your piece of content, you’ll need to include each of these in the page/blog itself. Where you position each of them is crucial in terms of your ranking probability.
Your keyphrase should appear in:
Including keywords is important, but you can very easily overdo it. This is what is known as Keyword Stuffing. “Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural” will hinder your efforts, as Google is likely to penalise you for trying to game the system.
Never forget who you are writing for. Your website visitors do not want to read repetitive content that sounds like it’s been produced by a robot.
Content marketing is all about getting that fine balance between writing content your readers want to read, but packaged in such a way as to rank on search engines.
WHAT'S THE IDEAL BLOG LENGTH FOR SEO?
Content design has a crucial role in user engagement and search ranking. Writing fantastic content but packaging it in clunky, illegible, daunting and hard-to-crawl design is the equivalent of being the best chef in the world in a mouldy, dimly lit restaurant.
Once again, it’s crucial that you keep your target market front of mind here. Think about what sort of content they want to read. While Google tends to prefer long-form content, it will still prioritise your target market’s needs over its own.
Some people want an expensive, 8-course meal in the fanciest of establishments, while others may be more in the mood for a £3.50 donner kebab dripping with cheap mayonnaise from a greasy chippy down the road.
Context is key. Google the terms you want to rank for and conduct a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) analysis to get a clear idea of the content you need to create. Ask yourself:
This should help you produce content that matches your target market’s search intent.
As long as you’re providing substance and value while fulfilling your target market’s searcher intent and competing with high-ranking competitors, you needn’t worry too much about the length of your copywriting.
There’s a reason why you don’t see lengthy paragraphs or sentences on the web. What works in a novel or magazine article is not necessarily going to work online. The format is entirely different, as are our reading habits when looking at a screen.
While the length of your paragraphs may not directly influence rank scores, it does have a strong correlation with search visibility. Google rewards readability. If your content is difficult or daunting to consume, it is unlikely to find itself on page one of Google.
Imagine clicking through to a website from Google and seeing a huge bulk of text with no line breaks or paragraph splits. It’s very easy to feel immediately intimidated, bored or simply turned off by such a lack of design and structure. Nobody reads like this online.
Pages with huge paragraphs and complicated sentences tend to have a high bounce rate. If Google notices that most people who arrive onto your web pages leave within seconds, it will penalise your content and significantly reduce your chances of ranking.
seo Meta descriptions
We recommend using the Yoast SEO plugin when optimising the metadata of your webpages for search engines. This helpful tool guides you on the best practices in terms of meta titles, meta descriptions and content.
While meta descriptions do not play a role in how search engines decide on what pages to rank, they can have a huge impact on clickthrough rates (CTR) from the SERP.
This 156-character description sits below your page on the search results, and can be the difference between a user clicking through to your website and simply scrolling by it.
To learn how to write a killer meta description and increase your CTRs from Google, check out our Meta Description Guide.
Images are eye-catching and engaging. A great picture or two can be the missing piece of your content, giving it a new lease of life on screen. But their benefits do not end there.
Visual content can also enhance search performance, providing you tick the following boxes…
Image optimisation impacting user experience and site speed.
When creating and uploading an image to your webpage or blog, make sure you:
- Compress its size using Squoosh. This will shrink the file size without impacting the resolution, ensuring your page loads quickly and efficiently.
- Scale the image to fit proportionally on your website. This includes making sure it responds well on mobile devices.
- It is copyright-free.
- Try to use unique images. Avoid obvious stock photos if you can and make the most of free tools such as Canva to create your own designs.
- Use the correct format. JPEG files should be used for large photos, while WebP is preferred for site speed.
Alt tags and file names
Alt tags are descriptive labels on images that help search engine crawlers and the visually impaired identify visual content. Do not leave your alt tags blank or unedited, and avoid file names such as DSC00033144!
Adding a relevant title and alt text to an image takes a matter of seconds, yet can do wonders for your page’s crawlability and accessibility.
RANKING FACTORS: TECHNICAL SEO
While on-page factors cover readability and quality of content, technical optimisation dives deeper into the nitty gritty side of optimisation. This is when you can really zero in on improving crawlability and therefore visibility on search engines.
The security of your website should be taken very seriously.
In order for users to find, trust and interact with your website, it needs to be safe and secure using something known as HTTPS. Only then will your content find its way onto the top spots on search engines.
To check whether your website is secure, you’ll need to look for an SSL certificate. This is the little padlock you see next to a URL on a web browser. If your site does not have one, it will show as “Not Secure”, an immediate turn-off for web users.
A secure website is one that has HTTPS enabled at the front of its domain URL. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. HTTPS is safe. HTTP is not. The key differences between the two can be found in this blog from Cloudflare.
If your site lacks HTTPS and is therefore “Not Secure”, people will be extremely hesitant to click on content and part with their data. They will almost certainly be resistant to input any payment details, too.
Insecure websites can also be vulnerable to hackers. This is why it’s important to understand the risks of not having a secure website.
Slow-loading websites are a huge source of frustration for online users, digital shoppers and marketers. Website speed is vital for UX (User Experience), engagement, and search marketing.
Google does not release as much information on ranking factors as SEO experts would probably like, which makes it all the more important when it does in fact give us an insight into how its algorithm works.
In 2010, an update on Google’s Webmasters Blog was published. This was all about the importance of site speed, something Google is “obsessed with”.
HOW TO CHECK SITE SPEED
To check website speed, head to Page Speed Insights and type in your domain or webpage URL. This will then tell you everything you need to know about web performance, before giving you a score based on:
- How long your content takes to load on desktop and mobile devices.
- The elements on your page that take the longest to load.
- Improvements you can make to improve your score.
How to improve site speed
While there are countless in-depth and very technical improvements you can make to increase site speed, there are also plenty of straightforward tactics that can immediately make your pages load faster.
Domain Authority & Page Authority
Remember the E.A.T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) concept we discussed earlier? While Expertise and Trustworthiness mostly cover metrics related to your content, they key measurements for Authority are Page Authority and Domain Authority.
These two metrics are scored out of 100 and measure your chances of ranking on Google. The biggest influencer on these scores is the number of quality links to your website.
For more information on Page Authority and Domain Authority, as well as how to measure and increase both scores, check out our Page Authority vs Domain Authority segment or the links below.
What are backlinks?
Links to your website, also known as backlinks, tell Google that your site is trustworthy and of value. Backlinks contribute to Domain and Page Authority.
An internal link is one that directs people from one part of your site to another part of that same domain. An external link is an incoming link from another website to your content.
If an external website is willing to send their visitors away from their content and onto yours, it shows your page is reliable and informative, two things that go a long way towards ranking on search engines.
When building backlinks and performing link outreach, you should aim for Follow Links. These are links that directly affect your ranking, contribute ‘link equity’, and act as an endorsement of your website.
Mobile-friendly and responsive websites
The responsiveness of a website on mobile impacts bounce rate, session duration, page speed, interactivity, engagement and, of course, rank position.
Responsive web design requires:
Pictures that fit onto each screen, and do not distort or blur depending on the device of a user.
Quick loading times
Across all devices, including mobile, desktop and tablet. People will not wait around for your content to load.
Your content must be easily accessible. Make sure each page is easy to find by using straightforward site navigation.
User Experience (UX)
In 1998, design expert Peter Merholz coined the term User Experience (UX). Why? Because he believed “human-interface and usability were too narrow.”
“I wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system,” he said.
If your visitors are not at the forefront of every choice and decision you make for your website, you’re doing something wrong.
You could adhere to every SEO tactic in the world, but if your customers do not feel engaged and fulfilled after arriving onto your website, all of your efforts have been wasted. Not forgetting that, if your users are disengaged and your bounce rates are high, your search rankings will suffer anyway.
Your website should successfully entwine high-quality search optimisation with the very best User Experience.
UX has, of course, moved on and evolved over the years with new technologies and mediums.
“User experience refers to the singular and accumulated experiences that occur for users as a consequence of them interacting with an object in a given context.”
When evaluating and improving your UX, ask yourself:
- What do my customers want, need and expect from my website?
- How can I make each visit valuable for them?
- What are their limitations and abilities online?
Strong UX should mean that users:
- Visit your site
- Engage with your site (by visiting different posts or pages)
- Take the time to explore what you’re all about
- Leave your site feeling satisfied, with their needs met.
This factors in everything from bounce rate to site speed, structure, navigation and content marketing.
When making changes to your website, be sure to keep a close eye on your Google Analytics, as well as Domain Authority, Page Authority, keywords and so on.
SEO Reporting Guide
Our go-to resource includes:
- The most-important metrics
- How to measure your success
- Factors to improve
- Tracking conversions from the SERP
- Improving your return on investment (ROI)
COMMON SEO ISSUES
There is a huge amount to take in when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation, and it’s common to run into issues and errors. In fact, a lot of SEO is actually about identifying and fixing issues in order to boost your authority scores and chances of ranking high on Google.
Here are just a few of the most common SEO issues we come across…
A broken link is a hyperlink that leads to a 404 error. This means that someone has tried to link to your site, but a mistake has been made along the way. Broken links can damage your site’s authority, but fixing them can actually give your content a huge rankings boost.
Discover how you can transform broken links from a weakness into a strength in our SEO Backlinks Guide.
Avoid copying content directly from other sources. You will be penalised for this by Google as it is plagiarism.
Always aim to create unique, original content. Not only will this create a better experience for your users, but you are more likely to rank on search engines, providing you’ve followed other guidelines.
Copied content is not to be confused with duplicate content, of course. Duplicate content refers to “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar,” according to Google.
You will not be penalised directly for duplicate content, but it can still influence your SEO. Similar content in multiple places across the web can confuse search engine crawlers, as they don’t know which sources to rank.
More information on duplicate content can be found in our additional resources below…
What is Local SEO?
The objective of local SEO is to rank for queries performed on search engines and apps near your shop, office or building of work.
This includes Google Maps, “near me” searches and review websites. By appearing as a local business in top rank positions, people are much more likely to interact with you online.
There is an abundance of SEO tools readily available at your fingertips. You don’t even have to look for them – we’ve listed them for you!