What is SEO?
What can SEO mean for my business?
SEO means Search Engine Optimisation. Google and Bing are the two biggest and most popular search engines. Optimisation quite simply means that you do whatever you can to make it easy for one of these ‘big guys’ to find you – or rather your web page.
A website on the internet is like a book in the library. If people don’t know it is in the library, it will sit on the shelves gathering dust. A search engine like Google is the librarian. People come into the library and rely on his or her knowledge and system to find the book that has the information they are looking for.
They will ask something simple like, “Do you have a book on Botswana?” Or it could be more complicated like, “I need information on Makgadikgadi Pans.” Now the librarian needs to know that the pans are in Botswana and must know where the Botswana books are in the library that have information on the pans in them. For this she needs an efficient library system.
Much like an old-fashioned library system, search engines develop a complicated formula that helps them hunt for information for you. These are called algorithms. They are tightly-guarded secrets but a good SEO expert knows the basics and will design your website and help you generate content (think blogs) that will push you to the top of the list of pages the search engine recommends on a particular topic. A librarian will only recommend books she knows have high quality information and images that are relevant and useful. Ditto for search engines.
Search engines collect information on every page on every website on the web. They help people find exactly what they’re looking for. They more you do to help a search engine find your web page, the greater your success will be that you will be ranked higher and appear on the first page. This is where you want to be! Not way down the line where your average ‘lazy’ or ‘time-pressed’ reader won’t find you.
You need a catchy title and description – which is the same as a recognisable slogan and a strong positioning statement. Then you need relevant and useful content and good quality images – which is your product or service (information that you are selling). It’s simple, really.
Why is SEO optimisation so important?
If there are 20 books in the library on Botswana, the librarian will probably only recommend the top three that she rates as the best. You want her to select your book. Same goes for search engines. If there are a thousand different web pages a person can go to for information, you want the search engine to place you at the top of their recommended list. That is the first page the search engine kicks out when you ask it to search for something. It’s called ranking and you want the highest ranking to have the best chance of being selected.
Very few people scan through the long list of web pages a search engine produces, going on to the second, third and fourth pages. Most of us check the title and descriptions of the top six web pages on the first page and pick one that looks the most newsworthy. We trust the search engine to have found the best information for our needs.
So, what you are striving to achieve with a well-optimised site is:
• higher rankings on a search engine (onto the first page)
• more traffic, engagement and shares (people coming to your site, reading what you have to say and finding it interesting enough to share with others – and, of course, coming back again for more information)
• other sites choosing to link to your web page (they think highly enough of your page to recommend it to others)
How do you outshine all the other web pages?
A search engine’s secret algorithm is like a recipe and there are a few basic ingredients needed to make it work. As long as you add these into the mix, you’ve got a good shot of it working.
No single SEO factor will guarantee search engine rankings. It is a combination of a few basics:
• a great HTML title and description using relevant keyword phrases,
• a reputation for fresh and engaging content (that cleverly incorporates keyword phrases), and
• a growing number of inbound links
Search engines are very sharp and will spot any devious tactic used to manipulate a search engine’s understanding of a site’s relevancy and authority. Follow the rules and you won’t be penalised.
Ingredients for effective SEO
Firstly, you need a good understanding of what people are searching for. In other words, what words and phrases do they type into the search bar to tell Google what they want?
If a person is searching for a shop that sells running shoes, does he or she type in… trail running shoes, Nike shoes, running shoes with extra support, cheap running shoes etc. These are ‘bite-sized’ words or phrases people use to simplify their search – and are called keyword phrases. They are very important for SEO. The search engine will hunt for these keyword phrases so make sure your title, description and content are littered with the right ones.
Obviously your competition is going to use the same keyword phrases. If they are bigger and more established than you, what are your chances of outranking them? The key is to know what and who you are up against and to try and be cleverer about what you do. Be ingenious and put a slightly different twist to your keyword phrases.
Speak in the language of your consumer – that is, after you’ve spent some time finding out what exactly they’re looking for and how they speak. Think about how you would search for the product or service you offer. What makes you unique; what make you stand out from the competition. This is your USP; your unique selling proposition.
Once you have a good idea of what keyword phrases to use, generate content that is relevant, useable and shareable – incorporating the keyword phrases on the important pages that you want them to visit. You only need to use keyword phrases on important pages. Once a reader is on your web page, they should spend more time there if the rest of the site is attractive and appeals to them.
Content that is shareable is very important. Once a person has read your page, you want them to share it with others and bring new people to your site. This is a modern twist on ‘word-of-mouth’ and ‘referrals’.
Like any good book, you need a strong title and description. Each page on the web has an official title, although you may not see it as it is embedded in the algorithm. Page titles summarise the information on the page. The description ‘fleshes’ out the title and this essentially is your sales pitch. Why a reader should take the time to click through to your page.
Both should incorporate the keyword phrases and the closer to the beginning of the title and description, the better. The description is what you see on a search page under the main title and what people use to decide if they will take the time to click through to the page. Keep them short, simple and meaningful to the reader.
Your URL is your web address and is a brief description of the site or page. Maximise its potential by including keyword phrases. Instead of http://www.botswana.com/destinations – use http://www.botswana.com/must-seedestinations. Know what your reader is searching for and incorporate it into the web address.
Next on your ‘to-do’ list is generate good content. Search engines reward sites that create fresh, relevant and shareable content. Content must deliver information that is interesting with an emphasis on ‘usable’ so write it from the reader’s perspective. A reader always wants to know, “what’s in it for me?”
Integrate keyword phrases in content carefully. A reader will get irritated if they are scattered throughout for no good reason. Highlight keywords in bold or use italics and link through to other important pages. This creates what web experts call the ‘bounce effect’, where readers bounce from one page on your site to another. It keeps them on your site for longer.
Content should include a major heading (header tag) and sub headings. Once again, incorporate keyword phrases to attract the attention of a search engine and “what’s in it for me” positioning phrases to intrigue the reader.
Copycats watch out! Search engines penalise writers for duplicating copy from other sites. Keep your content original and authentic. Search engines consider something called ‘reputation’ and ‘authority’. The former is where your site is recognised for regularly generating new content that is fresh, up-to-date and engaging. The latter is where a site is rated higher for having content that is respected by its peers. You need both to improve your search rankings.
Make it easy for your readers to share your content; include the social share widgets on your page such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon.
A picture tells a thousand words so intersperse high-quality images in your copy. Use the facility to link the image to your web page. This means if a reader holds their mouse over an image, a URL pops up that can be clicked to take them through to the original web page. This is important particularly when someone is only searching for images. They then have a choice of referring only to the image or going through to the web page for more usable information.
Lastly, an important ingredient in the search recipe is links – more importantly, inbound links. These are sites that link to your webpage as they rate your information as valuable, relevant and shareable. The more sites that link to your webpage, the better. It tells a search engine that this is a source of information that other sites find interesting and ‘authoritative’. It pushes up your search rankings.
SEO is critical for a web page to get higher rankings by search engines, to drive traffic, engagement and sharing, and to increase inbound links. Without it, your web page will be lost in the sea of millions of other pages.
Follow basic marketing principles; know your target market and what they are searching for. Devise keyword phrases to encapsulate search needs and use them in an attention-grabbing title and description. This is your sales pitch.
Create content that is interesting and relevant to your reader. Cleverly incorporate keyword phrases that read naturally and don’t irritate the reader. Strive to create content that is usable and shareable and attracts other sites who will recommend you as a valuable source of information or a product or service to be used. Do this well and you will find your web page featuring prominently on the first page of search engines.