An introduction to SEO

By Leon Tranter | SEO

Sep 23
search engine optimization

You would have certainly heard of something SEO, or “Search Engine Optimization”. This is one of the most exciting and popular topics in digital marketing. It is a subject I personally find completely fascinating and have been learning about for a couple of years. So this is my introduction to SEO.

What is SEO / Search Engine Optimization?

At a basic level, SEO or Search Engine Optimization is a simple concept. It is just activities or steps that you can do that will increase your appearance in the search results. These are known more specifically as Search Engine Result Pages or SERPs

The main search engine is obviously Google (duh), and then there is Bing, owned by Microsoft. Bing is also now the search engine used by Yahoo. Interestingly enough, more searches are actually conducted every day on Youtube than Bing. So some would say that Youtube is, therefore, the second biggest search engine in the world.
But this article is only talking about text search so we will consider Google and Bing to be the two main search engines.

The importance of keywords

The most important concept in learning about SEO is that of the keyword. A keyword is a word or group of word (so the phrase “keyword” is not very accurate, it is often more than one word) that is used for a search.

So if someone types in “basketball” into Google or Bing and hits enter, they will see a SERP for the keyword “basketball”. If someone types in “how to play basketball” instead, they will see a SERP for the keyword “how to play basketball”.

A lot of SEO is about optimising particular pages for a particular keyword. For example, I might try to get my page to rank high for the keyword “how to play basketball”. So I would probably start off by creating a page on my site with that same name.

Remember though that pages and websites can (and always do) rank for multiple keywords. So that page of mine might rank well for “how to play basketball” but might also rank fairly well for “basketball tips” or similar keywords.

Just because you weren’t trying to rank a page for a keyword doesn’t mean it won’t rank for that keyword!

Short and long tail keywords

Another important concept is that of short, medium and long tail keywords. These are concepts from statistics and refer to the length of the tail in a frequency distribution. Basically, short tail keywords are keywords that have a high search volume. Long tail keywords are those that have a low search volume. And medium tail keywords are between the two.

Since short and medium tail keywords are bitterly fought over by big websites with bottomless budgets and numerous SEO experts, many people do not bother trying to rank for them. They instead try ranking for more obscure long-tail keywords.

The four types of SEO

There are four types of classes of SEO: on-page, off-page, technical and behavioural. This last one is a new one and some people don’t even recognise it or talk about it. But it is becoming increasingly important and more people should know about it.

Now let’s go through these types of SEO and see how they work.

On-page SEO

On-page SEO refers to the content, structure and formatting of what’s on a page on a website. So this would be things like the title tag, heading tags, the actual body or paragraphs, what images or videos there are and the metadata around them, and so on.

On-page SEO is very important and is one of the main indicators to Google about the content and meaning of a page.

A very quick overview of tips for good on-page SEO:

  • Choose a keyword (preferably medium or long tail)
  • Make it your title tag
  • Include it in your H1 tag and one or possibly two H2 and/or H3 tags
  • Include a few instances of it in your body text (though not too many, Google sees this as “over-optimization” and will penalize you for it)
  • Make sure to include it in the alt tag for an image on the page
  • Make sure there are a couple of internal links on the page to other related articles on your site (and other articles on your site have links to this, though that is a complex topic)
  • Add a couple of links to external authority respected websites
  • Make sure the website has a reasonable amount (1000 words or more) of good quality content, relevant to the keyword.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO is a very murky and mysterious field. Much of it is speculation since Google is notoriously tight-lipped about it. But basically, off-page SEO is all about links. More specifically, backlinks i.e. links from other sites to your site.

Links are one of the most if not the most important ranking factor for Google in deciding which is the best article to show in the SERPs. So getting links is extremely important. However, the quality of those links is the crucial factor.

 Back in the earlier days of the internet, quantity was more important. So people spawned millions of terrible low-quality sites that just linked to other sites (these were called “link farms”) and they were abused. Google cracked down on this practice, and will now actually penalise a site if it has lots of poor quality links. This has actually led to an unusual tactic of people sometimes building bad quality backlinks to their competitors, to get them penalized (a frowned-upon method known as “negative SEO:).

Backlinking is a huge and complex topic that would deserve its own article, if not its own book.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is not the most “sexy” part of this topic and probably not the most important, but is a good one to keep in mind. This is the basic technical practices of running a website properly. Making sure it loads fast, ensuring it is mobile responsive, make sure it has correct error pages set up, submitting an XML sitemap regularly (basically a file that maps out all the pages on your website so a search engine can index it easily), and so on.

A lot of people neglect these fundamental practices and it can really hurt them, especially page speed and responsive design.

Behavioural SEO

This is a new and interesting field that Google is paying more attention to (Bing is probably not as sophisticated as Google here but is catching up). Basically, Google is paying more and more attention to how people interact with the SERPs and your website.

If Google notices your site appearing in the SERPs but nobody clicks on the link, it sees that as a bad sign and will actually penalise your site for that keyword. It assumes that people have read the description and decided it won’t answer their question.

Also, if Google notices that people click on your website in the SERP but then click the Back button a few seconds later (it can tell this by writing cookies and watching for a reply request of a search result query), it also sees that as a “black mark” on your site and will penalise it. These “downvotes” are small and less important than other factors like title tags and backlinks, but they are still important and should not be underestimated.

Basically, you want your search result to appear attractive to people when they see it in the SERPs, and you want them to spend as long a time as possible on your site.

That is, you want “bounce rate” (the percentage of people that go from your site back to the SERP) to be low as possible, and you want “dwell time” (the amount of time people spend on your page) to be as high as possible.

You can decrease bounce rate by ensuring you have a compelling title and meta description, and increase dwell time by writing a compelling and relevant first paragraph and using media like text and videos that grab people’s attention.

Increase dwell time by embedding videos

Putting a short video (it only has to be a few minutes long) near the beginning of your article can be a great way to increase dwell time. You can embed pretty much any Youtube video you like on you rwebsite, using the Embed HTML code.

You can find the Embed code on the Youtube page for the particular video you want to use on your site. If you paste the HTML of the Embed code into your article (via the Text mode of the WordPress editor), the Youtube video will be embedded into your page.

Now, if someone arrives at your page from the Google search results and decides to watch the video, you can boost your dwell time by a lot.

Instead of spending 20 seconds on your page, some people might decide to watch the video and spend two or three minutes there. This will send a positive message to Google about the quality of your content on that page.

What are white, grey and black hat SEO?

There are also the concepts of white, grey and black hat SEO. These refer to the type of practices used for SEO and whether they conform with the guidelines that Google and Bing provide about how SEO should be done.

This is to be honest a pretty murky area. But to summarise, white hat SEO means you are doing things that Google approves of, black hat means you are “breaking the rules” and doing things you are not supposed to be doing, and grey hat is somewhere inbetween.

I talked about this in more detail in this article here.

Summary

So in conclusion, I hope you found this introduction to SEO to be helpful. As you can see, it is a huge topic. Each of these sub-headings could be broken out into separate articles, if not entire books. Please subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you are keeping up to date on our news and articles about SEO, blogging and internet marketing.

And if you have any questions or suggestions about Search Engine Optimization, please leave them in the comments below! I will read and respond to any comment left on the blog.