Many businesses who decide to take their business journey online find they have the same question on their mind early on, “How do I get my website to the top of Google?”. Semrush found that over 3.5 billion searches are made a day on Google alone, making it the most popularly used search engine. With this in mind, there are several benefits for your business to rank higher in search engines.
To help you get to grips with SEO by discovering the fundamentals. We’re going to look at what SEO means, the differences between SEO and SEM, the strategies involved in ranking in search engines and how to maintain these practices.
What is SEO and SEM?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. Simply put, SEO is the process of making sure that your website is as effective as possible for search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo to understand and present them, so they can direct the right people to your website.
Good SEO practices require your website to be optimised so that your content can be read on any device. Along with ensuring your website is optimised, good SEO practice requires strategic curation of the content which is written on your website, from the keywords used to the descriptive text of images and videos which are displayed. Ensuring that your website is seen as trustworthy and credible will also make sure that you’re covering the pillars of SEO, by using links to other websites providing evidence and sources, along with other websites having links to your content due to the value you provide.
SEM, on the other hand, is an acronym for Search Engine Marketing. SEM is what drives traffic to your website through paid advertising, also known as PPC (pay per click - these include the sponsored posts which appear at the top of your search).
SEO and SEM are different strategies altogether, however when combined, can generate high amounts of traffic to your website, ultimately helping your business grow and reach the goals set in your SEO strategies. Organic search (SEO) will help drive traffic to your website over time based on your content, often without any extra costs. Paid search (SEM) will help drive traffic based on paid advertising to get your product or service in front of customers, with a cost to your business.
Why is SEO important?
If you want to rank higher in search engines, you need to make sure that your web pages are optimised for the search engines to navigate your website and “crawl”. Search engines have what is known as an algorithm, which scans websites and ranks them based on their specific results compared to their competitors. By making sure that your website is optimised, search engines will see your website as optimised and trustworthy. With this in mind, they’ll reward your hard work with higher rankings in their result pages, leading to more traffic to your website and building more equity for your brand.
In February 2023, data from Forbes uncovered that around 200 million websites are regularly visited and maintained, with 71% of businesses having their own website up and running. Their data also revealed that a new website is built every 3 seconds, so it’s clear that there’s a lot of competition online. In such a densely populated online space, SEO has never been more important in helping your business stand out from your competitors.
How Do I Get Started With SEO?
SEO doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process to get stuck into. By learning the fundamentals, you’ll be able to understand the key factors that drive traffic to your website, from the way you write your on-page content to how well your content appears on different devices.
The best way to get started with SEO and building an SEO strategy is by carrying out an SEO audit to understand the factors which are impacting your rankings and how you can fix them. You’ll also be able to highlight which areas of your website are performing well and understand your customer's journeys and intentions.
Once you’ve analysed the information from your audit, you can start to form your SEO strategy. You’ll want to make this a regular task which you complete to help direct more traffic to your website on an ongoing basis.
What is an SEO audit?
An SEO audit is a great way to take a detailed look at your site to evaluate the different factors which will help you rank in search engine results pages (SERPs). You’ll want to consider several elements of your website to make sure that you stand the best chance of ranking higher. There are 4 main subcategories which your SEO audit should cover -
- On-Page SEO - These are elements on your website like the keywords your customer searches for in search engines - we’ll talk more about keywords later in this blog.
- Off-Page SEO - This is all about the trust and authority of your website. Search engines will consider the links which other websites have which lead to your website, including social media shares and links to your product pages or blogs.
- Technical SEO - You’ll need to make sure that your website can be crawled by search engines. You’ll also be evaluating performance issues such as your page load time and site-map (the navigation of your website).
- User Interaction Signals - Evaluating how consumers interact with your website. So if users are coming off your website quickly, search engines will take this as a sign that your page hasn’t got the information searchers are looking for.
To take the stress out of conducting your first SEO audit, we would recommend looking at Backlinko’s easy to use template to help you get started.
How Long Does SEO Take To Implement?
SEO is all about continually optimising your website to ensure that it remains relevant and readable for search engines. In the early stages, it can take several months before your website starts ranking higher on search engines due to search engines are regularly indexing, crawling and reviewing websites while considering a range of factors when ranking search results. The main things search engines consider as they crawl your website are -
- Relevance - Does this page satisfy the needs of the search term better than other websites?
- Quality - is the content produced more helpful and trustworthy than other websites?
- Usability - Is your website offering a better user experience than other websites? Can customers easily navigate the website to get to where they need.
There are often hundreds of pages competing for the same spots on search engines, so it’s important to note that while search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, by staying on top of the fundamentals your chances of ranking higher will increase.
To make sure that your website is consistently optimised for SEO, it’s important to regularly complete an SEO audit. You can do this yourself or by hiring an SEO agency to do this on your behalf.
How do I conduct SEO Keyword Research?
Keyword research is another crucial part of optimising your business’s website to help your content reach your target audience. A great strategy to approach keyword research is to ask yourself the following questions -
- What is your target audience searching for?
- How many people are searching for it?
- What keywords are your target audience using in their searches?
- How many other pages are talking about the same topic?
To get to the answers to these questions, you need to understand your customers, their needs and their goals. If you focus on your customers, as well as the algorithm, you’re more likely to find success due to customers actively searching for these terms. It’s important to recognise the balance between your customers and the algorithm and to know what your customers are looking for. By keeping this in mind, you’ll be able to provide your customers with the answers they’re looking for in your content, directing them to your website.
You can research keywords online using free keyword research tools such as Google Keyword Planner which will help you discover relevant keywords and a range of the average number of searches. Alternatively, there are paid tools including Semrush Keyword Magic Tool, which will give you these suggestions, along with a wide range of other SEO tools and benefits. With these suggestions, you’re supported with more specific details including the keyword density (how often it appears in searches as a percentage) and a more accurate average search volume.
When looking at keywords, you’ll want a mixture of long-tail keywords, which are akin to short phrases, which customers may search, along with head keywords, which are words which drive high search volume.
What does an SEO agency do?
An SEO agency supports businesses with their online visibility by completing everything from SEO audits to formulating a strategy to improve their online visibility to increase traffic to their website. By consulting with SEO specialists, you’ll be supported by experts in search, who have a deep knowledge of SEO practices and keep up to date with the changes from search engines.
By delegating the time to an expert company to do the thorough analysis, you’re able to work on other areas of your business, with the peace of mind that your search engine rankings are on track to increase.
How Do I Get On Google?
To get onto Google in any capacity, you need to make sure that your website is indexed, to allow the algorithm to crawl your website and know where to go.
To get started with this, you must have a sitemap, which is a file which lays out the structure of your website and how pages relate to one another. Some website host platforms create this for you, so you can check your web pages on the platform you use. Alternatively, on your website's homepage, enter “/sitemap.xml” or “/sitemap_index.xml” after the .com/.co.uk as you’ll usually find it here. If you don’t currently have a sitemap, and your website host doesn’t offer this feature, Shopify has a 4 step guide to creating your sitemap which you can read here.
Once you have your sitemap, upload it to Google Search Console, by following these steps -
- Log in or create an account for Google Search Console.
- Click sitemaps.
- Select add a sitemap.
- Paste your xml sitemap.
- Click submit.
By carrying out these steps, your website will be submitted to Google which goes hand in hand with various elements of your SEO strategy. This will make the start of Google’s ability to crawl your website to understand your content and rank your pages on their search engine.
Is There Anything Else I Should Look Out For?
Whilst you’re conducting your SEO analysis, there are a few key areas you need to check and optimise to give your website the best chance of ranking higher -
Page Load Times
With website performance being a key attribute for search engines to rank your content, knowing how to monitor your website’s performance is crucial to ensuring your website is optimised for SEO.
A big factor in performance is page load times, which is how long it takes your page to fully load on your visitor's screen. Thankfully, there are great tools such as GT Metrix, which will allow you to run a report to find out how long your website takes to load, whilst pointing out elements which are impacting the speed, such as large images. A great place to start is by compressing images (making the file sizes smaller), as smaller images will help your website load faster.
Data from research.com in 2023 showed that over 50% of web traffic comes from mobile devices. This is regularly increasing, which emphasises the importance of making sure your website is optimised for mobile devices.
If you’ve ever visited a website on your mobile which was not optimised, you’ll have experienced how difficult it can be to navigate and read. Fortunately, many modern website platforms optimise your websites automatically, but if not, you might want to consider speaking to someone who is proficient in HTML coding. You can easily check if your website is mobile-friendly using tools such as Google Mobile Friendly Test.
Meta descriptions are the pieces of text which are displayed alongside the webpage in the search engine results page. Meta descriptions are used by search engines to generate previews which tell searchers about your page. By having clear and concise meta descriptions which are unique and include your keywords, you’ll persuade more customers to your website. It’s important to ensure that your meta descriptions accurately reflect what’s on your page, allowing algorithms to interpret the content easily whilst crawling and avoid high bounce rates.
Alt text (alternative text), allows screen readers to read the images on your website out loud to users who are visually impaired. It also allows the text to display if your images don’t load, and helps the algorithm understand the images which appear on your website so they can appear in the relevant search results. Search engine algorithms do try to read the images, however, you’re able to be more accurate by implementing your own alt text, containing the keywords you’re hoping to rank for. Making sure your alt text is descriptive, relevant and accurate is crucial to allow as many users to access your page at any time along with search engines to understand your page will help you appear within more searches.
E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, and search engines use these 4 principles to review content on a website using a large team of quality raters to assess the expertise of content creators. Ensuring that your website’s content is created with E-E-A-T in mind will help your website be rewarded in the rankings if the search engines feel comfortable that your content is accurate to customers. When broken down, each principle’s definition makes it clear how to tailor your content -
- Experience - Demonstrating that you have expert knowledge of the subject or topics your website discusses. Providing data and research along with any credentials or qualifications you may possess will support you with this.
- Expertise - Demonstrating your knowledge by including case studies, portfolios and testimonials will show that you’ve actually provided the product or service your website is showcasing.
- Authoritativeness - By showing that you and your business are highly commended, your website will be rewarded. Getting authority comes by being a thought leader, having a strong social media presence where you regularly post and comment and by collaborating with other recognised industry experts. You’ll also have your content shared by other websites, often in your industry or news sources, which already have a strong reputation with search engines. These will also lead to backlinks, which are links to your website from other websites.
- Trustworthiness - To be seen as trustworthy, you need to make sure that your website is open with your identity and contact information, your website is user-friendly and you’re ensuring that you adhere to ethical guidelines such as GDPR and other relevant laws and regulations.
There’s a lot to consider when you start to implement an SEO strategy, but by taking steps towards developing your SEO skills, you’ll be able to make the necessary improvements in no time. Once you’ve developed your SEO knowledge, you’ll be able to optimise your website to ensure that you have a better chance of your customers finding you in search engines.