An introduction for beginners
You may have noticed the term ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ (or SEO for short) get thrown around a lot in relation to websites and marketing. Most of the articles you find online (including some of our own) start with the presumption that the reader already has a basic understanding of what SEO is and how it can help their business. However, everyone has to start somewhere, so we thought we’d create a guide for the total beginner who has only just come across the term.
In short, SEO is a process that someone undertakes in order to try and optimise their website so it can be found easily and ranked highly by search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
This is what gets large companies like David Jones and R.M. Williams on the first page of Google when a person searches for something generic like “clothes shop South Australia”.
I should pause here to point out that Google has left all its competitors in the dust when it comes to market share in this industry. As such, they provide the benchmark that all websites owners should aim to meet if they want to be successful in the search engines. So, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to refer mainly to ‘Google’ throughout this article. But keep in mind, that best practices when it comes to optimising your website for Google will also be beneficial across many search engines.
What Determines Who Ranks the Highest on Google?
For those who hate geek talk and jargon, I’m going to break down a couple of commonly used terms first.
(Also commonly referred to as a “spider”)
Think of a ‘bot’ like an internet robot. It’s a software application that runs automated tasks all over the internet.
An algorithm is a process or set of rules that need to be followed by a computer after a certain event occurs. For example, the process the computer follows after someone enters a search into Google.
According to Google, there are over 130 trillion individual pages on the internet. When someone is searching for information, it’s the job of the search engine to sort through these pages and determine what will be most useful for the searcher.
Step one: Google Bots Crawl the Internet
Google instructs its bots to crawl as many pages as they can find on the internet. By this, I mean that the bot will explore the website by moving through the link from page to page. While they do this, they look at a variety of different things from the code behind the website, to the text on the page, to images and more. All this information is then stored in an index for Google to draw on.
Step Two: Google’s Algorithm Gets to Work
Google has created an algorithm that tells the search engine what to do when someone searches for a particular piece of information.
For example, if I search for “best place to eat in Millicent, South Australia”, the formulas and processes contained in Google’s algorithm will quickly analyse what I mean by this term then sort through its index to find the website pages it believes will be most useful to me. They then rank these pages with what they believe to be most useful at the top.
Just to make SEO even more difficult, Google is constantly changing, updating and improving on this algorithm. As a result, many things that were considered "best practice" a few years ago may be useless now. Even worse, some previous best practices are now something that might cause Google to penalise your website for doing the wrong thing.
While this constant ‘shifting of the goalposts’ is something that causes many business owners to gripe, Google isn’t doing it to screw us over. They simply want to provide us with the best possible experience when we are using their search engine (and as a result, it keeps us coming back). It’s what has made them so popular and turned them into a household name.
If Google identifies a new way to determine what information is relevant, they will implement it. If they discover a way in which people are trying to get around the algorithms by “cheating the system”, they will change those algorithms to prevent this.
Yikes! So how am I supposed to get to the first page of Google?
Where your website ranks in Google’s search engine is very much dictated by the competition it’s facing.
For example, we are currently the only business called Bizboost in South Australia. So if you search for “Bizboost South Australia”, our website appears first. We are also the only website development company in Tailem Bend. So when you search “web development Tailem Bend”, our website appears at the top of the page.
In comparison, there are hundreds of different web development companies in South Australia. So appearing on the first page of Google when someone searches for “web development South Australia” is much harder.
But don’t despair just yet. There are still some basic steps you can take to help your business perform well in the search results. Some of these steps are quite detailed and will be better covered in a separate blog post. However, I will give you the basics to get you going:
- Hire a web developer that knows their stuff: there are basic steps that we will take when launching a new website for a client, like submitting it to the search engines like Google and Bing. (This means it can then be found by those bots we mentioned above).
- Ensure that your website is mobile responsive: Google can tell whether a person is searching from a computer or from a mobile device. They will prioritise websites that are mobile responsive (meaning that they adapt to the screen that they are being viewed on) as they consider this to be a better experience for someone who is searching from their mobile or tablet).
- Use Keywords on Your Website: Make sure that your website includes words that searchers might use when looking for a business like yours. For more on getting started with keywords, click here.
- Keep Your Website Up To Date: Making changes to a page signal to Google that your website is being maintained and is, therefore, more likely to be up to date.
- Engage a Professional: All our websites are made to be search engine friendly. In training, we’ll also show you how to optimise your website when writing content and setting up new pages. However, there are further steps that can be taken to give your website the best chance to rank highly in the eyes of the Search Engines. If you are interested in learning more, contact us.
On a related note, it’s worth mentioning to avoid any company that makes sensationalist claims about their ability to get you to the top of the search engines within a few weeks. If it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
These companies often use methods that Google consider to be “cheating the system” or getting around their algorithms in an artificial way. It never takes long for Google to discover these tactics and change their algorithms to penalise anyone who uses them.
Rather than trying to beat the system, focus instead on what you can change about your website to make it a better experience for both the search engines and also visitors to your website.