SEO Basics | Part One
This is part one of our series designed to teach you the basics of search engine optimisation. Keep reading to learn about webpage SEO or skip ahead to part two (website optimisation) or part three (brand optimisation) now.
“93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine.”
This stunning fact from Forrester, a leading market research company in the US, reminds us of just how important it is to be part of this initial online experience. Google and other popular search engines present a relatively even playing field where big companies, small companies, news corporations and individual contributors can compete.
To be visible on a search engine results page (SERP) you can either pay for an ad or optimise your site and your brand to be found by the search engine. This process is known as search engine optimisation or SEO. The better optimised your business is for relevant search queries the higher you’ll rank and the more clicks you’ll get. Simple right?
That’s because it is. People like to talk about how difficult SEO is and make it sound unapproachable for the regular small business owner or marketer. But it’s not . . .
The vast majority of SEO is simple and straight-forward. That doesn’t mean everyone can rank No.1 on Google for just any search term. But it does mean that with a genuine product and consistent effort anyone can gain visibility for a relevant search term.
There are a lot of elements to search engine optimisation but this SEO Basics blog series will deal with the simplest elements of SEO which often bring the greatest rewards!
How to Optimise Your Webpage for Search Engines – and users 🙂
Whether you’re creating a new webpage or updating an existing page you should always ask yourself the question:
What’s the purpose of this page?
If you think you know the answer to this question then you should make sure that the person asking for the page to be created or updated and all the people working on it agree on the page’s purpose. If you’re not sure of the answer to this question then you need to…
Decide on your page’s purpose
To find your page’s purpose begin by asking your clients, bosses or colleagues. Sometimes a page will have more than one purpose. That’s ok, but if it does, make sure you can rank these in order of priority. If there are too many purposes for one page or if they’re all a ‘top priority’ then you might need to create more than one page.
If you still can’t come up with a purpose then consider removing or not creating your page. There’s enough content out there and if you want your brand to rise above the noise and mediocracy you should only create content if it’s genuinely useful and serves a purpose.
Another thing to be on the lookout for when setting a purpose for your webpage is:
Is your purpose internally-focused or customer-focused?
An example of an internally-focused purpose could be: “We need to tell people about the cool new product/ promotion/ feature we have.” Or even worse: “We need to keep publishing content so that we meet our departmental quota and get our bonuses.” These may be your reasons but they are not, and cannot be the page’s purpose.
To come up with a real customer-focused purpose try turning your reasons on their head to be more solution orientated. For example: “Our customers are having trouble using our product we want to show them how to use this feature to make it easier for them.”
*problem **action ***solution
This may seem like semantics but setting a page purpose and choosing the right purpose will allow you to create web pages that serve the customers and the search engines best.
Create a list of related keywords
To further serve your customers and search engines you should make sure that your purpose is significantly important to warrant the amount of work you’re about to put in.
Ask yourself: Do you have supporting data for this purpose? Are people phoning your call centre about it? Is anyone searching your website with this purpose in mind? What about Google searches for this?
If these numbers are significant enough to ensure that fulfilling your page’s purpose is worthwhile you can use this data to begin compiling a list of relevant keywords for search engine optimisation.
To start your list you should use your own knowledge and that of your colleagues to come up with topics related to your purpose. Next, start Googling these terms, take note of the autocomplete options that appear as you type, the ‘people also ask’ box and the ‘searches related to’ that shows at the bottom of the page. Now take your list and input it into a tool to get the average monthly search volumes on Google and related terminology.
There are various tools to do this – try signing up for a free trial of Moz’s keyword explorer or create a Google Ads account and check out the in-built keyword planner.
You should now have a spreadsheet (the secret weapon of the SEO) with search terms and search volumes. The search volumes will give you an idea of how important each term is from a search engine perspective. But remember fulfilling the page’s purpose from a customer perspective should be your main concern – so don’t get obsessive 😉
Now, arrange your list into topic groups which you can use to help guide you when structuring and writing the page’s content. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
Create or update your webpage
Now that all the planning is out of the way you can begin creating or updating your page. Hurray! Follow these steps and you’ll be done with the basics of on-page SEO in no time.
#1 – Choose a page URL
An often overlooked but equally important element of search engine optimisation is webpage URLs. That is the actual web address that is visible in the address bar of your browser, on the search engine results page and, if applicable, on your internal website search results page.
Having a good clear URL is helpful to users as it underlines the purpose of the page which in turn increases a user’s trust in the page. On a search engine results page, this means that they are more likely to click on the link. On the page itself, it reassures the user that they are in the right location. A nice clear URL is also good for search engines as it is one of many signifiers confirming your page’s relevancy to a given search query.
URLs are sometimes autogenerated from the page’s main headline text or some other system which you may not have control of. However, it is always worthwhile having a conversation with your web developer before they build a new webpage. You may well get a firm ‘no!’ but before you accept this make sure you get a good reason ‘why’ first.
If you’re updating an existing page you probably shouldn’t change the URL but if you do, make sure you get the old one redirected to the new one.
#2 – Decide how your page will appear on SERPs
SEO title or meta title
The ‘meta-title’, sometimes called ‘title tag’, ‘SEO title’ or just ‘title’ is all the same thing (they like to confuse us ;-). It is the title that shows up on the search engine results page for your brand. It’s also often shared with the ‘browser title’ which is the text that shows in the tab of a web browser such as Chrome.
You can check if an existing page has a Meta Title by following these steps:
- Right-click on the white space of your webpage
- Select ‘View page source’
- Do a Control+F search for ‘title’
Most content management systems (CMS) will have a place where you can add or edit this for your page. If yours doesn’t, have a chat with your developer and bring sweets 🙂
Meta Titles should be 50 to 60 characters long including spaces. You can check the length of your title by popping it in an excel sheet cell and entering the following formula in the cell to the right of it =LEN(A1). Replace ‘A1’ with whichever cell the meta title is in.
A good title tag is closely tied to the purpose of the page. It should be unique, descriptive, readable and if possible attention-grabbing. You should also consider including one or two of your keywords. Be sure not to overdo this at the expense of writing good copy. A lot to ask for in 50 to 60 characters we know. But once you get into the swing of it you’ll find that writing title tags is a lot of fun!
SEO description or meta description
The page’s ‘meta description’ or just ‘description’ shows up underneath the title and URL on a search engine results page. A meta description should be about 140 to 160 characters long, again including spaces. This is a critical element for search engine optimisation.
Meta descriptions should be descriptive ;-), full readable sentences ideally with a call to action. Try to include some relevant keywords but again don’t obsess. View your meta description as ad copy designed to convince the reader that your page will provide a solution to their problem. And fulfil their search intent.
Below is a (slightly dry) example of a title, URL and description for one of our pages:
It’s important to note that Google may choose to create its own title and/or description for your webpage. This happens when yours are too long, too short or not relevant. Don’t stress if this happens to you, Google (usually) know what they’re doing. Though do consider revising your title and description to be closer to the searchers intent.
#3 – Create page headlines and structure
Every webpage should have just one main headline which lets the visitor and search engine know the main purpose of the page. The main headline should be short, readable and include the primary keyword for your page. It should also be descriptive enough to reassure a visitor that this page fulfils their purpose but enticing them to read more.
Another tall order, so make sure you take enough time to get this right. Sometimes it’s best to return to the main headline after you have completed the rest of the page.
In order for a search engine to know that this is your main headline, it has to be text-based (not part of an image) and given an H1 tag in the code. Each page should only have one H1 and every H1 on your website should be unique. You can check if a page has an H1 by:
- Right-clicking on the white space of your webpage
- Selecting ‘View page source’
- Doing a Control+F search for ‘H1’
If you don’t have an H1 or can’t tell how to add one in your CMS speak to your developer.
Next, you need to work on the main content. Break your webpage content down into chunks which ideally will also match your keyword topics. Each chunk should have a headline; ‘H2s’ for big sections, which if necessary can then be broken down into smaller chunks with ‘H3’ and ‘H4’ headlines. Unlike with H1s, one webpage can have multiple H2s, H3s etc.
If the design of your page makes this difficult, work with your designer and developer to ensure it still looks great, works well and is optimised for search. And don’t back down 😉
#4 – Optimise your images
Modern web design includes a lot of visual content – and so it should. Images, videos and rich media really connect with the viewer in a way that no written content can.
However, images can also severely slow down a website. Ensure every image on your webpage is no bigger than it needs to be either in dimension or in resolution. Speak to your designer and/or developer about this or give image optimisation a go yourself. You can check how images are affecting your speed on Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
Image file names
Apart from stopping images from slowing down your page you also want to optimise them to be picked up in image searches. You can do this by giving the image files unique and descriptive names. So instead of 4907erj71.jpg, you can have Michelle-Obama-smiling.jpg.
Image alternative text
You should also add an ‘alt tag’ to each image. This is a piece of text that indicates to the search engine what the image is. Alt tags are visible when an image is not rendered. They improve accessibility for the visually-impaired using screen-reading technology.
Ideally, all the images you use will be highly relevant to the page’s purpose and keywords. Including these keywords in the image name and alt tag will help with page ranking.
Image hover text
If you want a title to appear when someone hovers over the image you can also add an image ‘title tag’ but this has little benefit for search engine optimisation and is really just a design feature.
Finally, if the caption, description and any other text surrounding the image relates to the image this will further signal to search engines that it’s relevant to a given search query.
As you can see SEO isn’t particularly difficult, so go on, give it a go! Do what you can, pick the low-hanging fruit and enjoy reaping the rewards of more organic search traffic.