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Is SEO Still a Rocket Science in 2020?

Is SEO Still a Rocket Science in 2020?

SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) is often thought of as a highly complicated discipline, but is it easier than you think?

SEO techniques are changing all the time, due to algorithm updates and trends that affect listings, but how complicated is it really?

In this article, we’ll go through the fundamentals of SEO, how it can benefit your online presence, and how to implement effective SEO techniques.

As the name implies, SEO is all about improving your online presence by making it easier for people to find your website through search engines like Google and DuckDuckGo. Because search engines are an incredibly common way for people to discover things online, SEO is one of the most effective ways to increase website traffic and lead generation.

The number of people using search engines continues to rise, and this traffic also happens to be very specific, with high levels of interest in what they are searching for. Because search engine users are actively looking for pages related to a specific topic, they are more engaged and likely to buy a given product than people you could reach by advertising on a billboard, for example.

You’re probably wondering how you can reach out to all those users who are searching for products like yours, and how SEO can benefit your business specifically. Let’s start by delving into “backlinks” (links from other websites that point to yours), how they can benefit your online presence and how best to gather them.

How do Backlinks Help SEO?

Backlinks are a powerful metric when it comes to SEO, as they indicate a ‘vote of confidence’ between websites. Search engines interpret backlinks to your site as a signal that others can vouch for your content and deem it worthy of a link, and therefore worthy of a higher ranking on SERPs than content which is not ‘vouched for’.

The process of gaining backlinks is known as “link building” or “link earning” and can be achieved by posting high-quality content that others will want to link to. Alternatively, you can partner up with other sites, sponsor them or make use of online directories to increase the number of websites linking to yours.

Tips on Gathering Backlinks

Not all backlinks are created equal and you should focus on getting links from popular, trustworthy sites for the best results. In terms of marketing, you can think of backlinks like product placement – the more people talking about your business, the better, especially if a popular brand or respected source is recommending you.

Earning backlinks may sound as simple as spamming the comments section of a respected website with links to your site, but there’s a little more to it than that. Most links that have not been vetted by the site manager feature a “nofollow” tag (meaning they function as normal but don’t affect your page ranking), so you cannot piggy-back off the success of other sites in this manner.

In short, the more trustworthy sites linking to you, the better your Search Engine Results Page results will be, and there are two main ways of gathering backlinks: Either create content that people will want to link to or persuade the administrators of popular websites to link back to your site through schemes like content contribution, paid features, sponsorship, etc.

But maybe you already have backlinks from a number of well-regarded sites, or you’re struggling to partner with other industry publications. There are plenty of SEO techniques still available to you, many of which are very beneficial to your brand, including Technical SEO.

What is Technical SEO?

Technical SEO is the process of improving the technical aspects of a website to increase its search engine ranking, either on specific pages or the whole site. Making a website easier for search engines to understand quickly is the basis of technical SEO and can have knock-on benefits like improving the user experience of your site.

Because Google and other search engines aim to present their users with the best possible results for their search, they prioritise relevant pages and optimised websites. Their algorithms and bots evaluate sites based on a range of factors, such as load times, subject matter and the quality of written content, promoting what they think are the best pages for any given search query.

Benefits of Technical SEO

By optimising your website to improve user experience and make it easier for the search engine robots and algorithms to understand your site, you’re more likely to be ranked higher. Conversely, if your website is poorly optimised, with long loading times and content that the search engine bots struggle to understand, your website is naturally going to be lower ranked than optimised sites.

However, improving your search engine rankings is far from the only benefit that technical SEO and site optimisation can bring, so don’t just focus on getting good rankings. A well-optimised website that loads quickly, is clear and easy to use will create a better experience for users and search engines alike, attracting more visitors and encouraging them to stay longer.

But just how effective is an optimised website at getting visitors and leads without SEO techniques, and can you make a successful website with a strong technical foundation alone? While the benefits of creating a responsive, optimised website cannot be overstated, they are far from the be all and end all of improving your online presence…

How Important is SEO?

SEO – or Search Engine Optimisation – is a very common digital marketing technique, used by a wide variety of small and large organisations across all kinds of industries. As more and more people use the internet to research and purchase products, the contest for online visibility becomes even more important to generating leads and sales for your business.

If potential customers struggle to find you online, then you’re missing out on a growing demographic that could make a huge difference to your business. Used effectively, SEO offers a wide variety of benefits, and we’ve outlined five of the most important reasons to use SEO below:

1. Increasing Website traffic

Aside from web design, traffic is one of the most important aspects of your website, as it is closely linked to brand awareness and lead generation. Because as much as 64% of website traffic comes from organic searches, you need to focus on improving your SEO techniques to increase traffic to your site.

The internet is a sea of information, but search engines allow users to find what they are looking for, provided the search engines can find your website and identify key phrases. If the search engines are unable to find and understand your site, neither can potential customers, meaning you lose out on newsletter subscriptions and sales.

2. Get a Competitive edge

SEO isn’t a new technique, and it’s quite likely that your competitors are already using SEO in some form, which is all the more reason to implement an SEO strategy of your own. By using SEO techniques to increase brand awareness or reach users searching for specialised goods in specific locations, you can get an edge over your competitors.

By employing various strategies like focussing on searches in your local area or narrowing the selection of keywords you target, you can excel where others focus on a broader scale. With effective SEO techniques, you may even overtake your competitors when it comes to online traffic and lead generation, though the longer you wait, the more likely your competitors are to cement their positions.

3. Achieve Better rankings

When over 70% of click-throughs happen on the first search engine results page of Google, you really don’t want to be stuck on page two or three. Because most users find what they are looking for on the first page, your SEO efforts should focus on achieving higher SERP rankings and being seen more prominently by more search engine users.

Making sure that you have up-to-date information (especially on your Google Places listing, if you have one) and using local keywords will help search engines recommend you to users. Another key factor to consider is your ‘bounce rate’ as search engines prioritise sites that offer a good user experience, penalising sites that can’t retain visitors for long.

4. Marketing to Mobile Users

Speaking of the user experience, more and more people are browsing the internet on mobile phones and smart devices, so making your site mobile responsive is more important than ever. As well as vastly improving the user experience for mobile users, search engines favour sites that are mobile responsive, so making your site mobile responsive is a win-win.

By ensuring that your website performs as well on desktop PCs as they do smartphones, you can ensure that mobile users have a better experience and increase your rankings. While optimising your site for mobile users should feature in your Technical SEO strategy, optimising your site for mobile users is a worthwhile effort regardless of any other planned improvements.

5. Attracting Inbound Leads

SEO and inbound marketing share the same overall goal-getting potential customers to come to you – and can complement one another. While some inbound marketing strategies require a lot of resources and attention (such as a weekly blog), SEO needs initial setup but can continue under its own steam for long periods of time.

With an effective SEO strategy, interested users will come to you in greater numbers, and you’ll be able to reach potential customers that you wouldn’t otherwise. While there are dozens of ways to effectively increase your online presence, you should always strive to do things by the books, as any site found to be violating a search engine’s terms of service will be penalised by said search engine.

The wide spectrum of legitimate SEO techniques allowed by the major search engines are generally referred to as white hat SEO. Unlike black hat SEO (techniques which are frowned upon by the major search engines), white hat techniques will result in long-lasting benefits to your online presence, rather than penalties and punishments.

What is White Hat SEO?

The term “white hat SEO” refers to all kinds of SEO tactics that are allowed by the terms and conditions of most search engines and the laws of the land. Generally regarded as those tactics which are ethically and legally acceptable, white hat SEO techniques will help to improve your online presence whilst maintaining the integrity of your website and reputation.

Contrastingly, “black hat SEO” is used to refer to the many kinds of SEO tactics that are NOT permitted by major search engine terms of service. Because black hat SEO usually results in penalties for any sites found guilty of these shady practices, let’s move swiftly onto a list of permitted and recommended white hat SEO techniques, which include:

  • High quality content and services
  • Making your site responsive and optimised for mobile users
  • Using descriptive, keyword-rich meta tags
  • Making your site easy to navigate

Why Are White Hat SEO Techniques Important?

In order to be well-regarded and ranked highly by the major search engines, you need to play by the rules – their rules, to be specific. Failure to abide by their terms of service can get your website penalised or even banned from search engines, seriously harming any SEO efforts – legitimate or otherwise – you’ve made.

When you consider that the majority of online traffic goes through search engines, it’s plain to see how devastating a penalty or ban could be for your online presence. In short, white hat SEO techniques aren’t just important for increasing your online presence, they are the only way to ensure that your online presence won’t be destroyed by search engine penalties and bans.

Should You Implement White Hat SEO Methods?

Considering that the alternative risks getting your site penalised or banned from major search engines, you should definitely choose white hat over black hat SEO techniques. By avoiding tactics that could be considered deceitful or harmful to consumers, you can improve your online presence and avoid losses to penalties and bans with honest techniques like:

Offering Quality Content and Services

Just as businesses with a reputation for high-quality products and/or services will attract more attention online than others, a website with high-quality content will attract more visitors. Researching the most relevant keywords for your site and using them in well-written, interesting content (such as how-to articles) is a powerful SEO technique that offers long-term results.

Using Descriptive, Keyword-Rich Meta Tags

When making meta descriptions for each page on your website, follow SEO industry best practices to make sure that search engines – and users – can easily find your content. Without these meta descriptions and tags, it’s much harder for the search engine algorithms to find and properly categorise your content, so do your part to get spotted.

Making Your Site Easy to Navigate

The user experience plays a massive part in your search rankings, so make sure that your website is easy to navigate, with clear links and a sensible structure. Sites that are easy to navigate tend to retain visitors for longer, improving your bounce rate and helping to bump up your search engine results page rankings.

The main principle of white hat SEO is being honest and working hard to create quality content that is presented honestly and labelled accurately to make it easy and desirable to find. In addition to the techniques discussed above, a huge part of appearing in organic search is the use of relevant keywords on your website and in the meta tags.

How to Choose Keywords for SEO

Picking the right keywords and keyword phrases for your content is one of the most important parts of SEO, as it helps your target audience to find you online. While increasing traffic to your website is a worthwhile goal, attracting the right audience is vital for increasing leads, engagement, and sales.

Choosing the right keywords for your target audience can take quite a bit of time and research, but the results will be well worth it. If you’re unsure of where to start your search for the perfect keywords, here are 5 tips to help you choose the perfect keywords for your business:

1. Think Like a Customer

Identify your target audience, put yourselves in their shoes and ask yourself: “if I wanted to find my products or services, what would I type into the search engine?” Don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends or even existing customers how they would search for your products and/or services to get a selection of keywords that you can target.

2. Study the Competition

Make a list of your biggest competition (if you haven’t already) and visit their sites to see what keywords they are targeting in their content and metatags. Once you’ve identified the keywords your competitors are targeting, you should strategize and either try to beat them at their own game or target different keywords (using a USP or local area, for example) to avoid their efforts.

3. Understand Long Tail Keywords

Long tail keywords are basically key phrases which use three or more words, meaning they are far more specific than individual keywords. While they tend to be searched at much lower volumes than individual keywords, they attract more relevant traffic and are less competitive, meaning they are easier to rank well on and more likely to attract engaged users that are interested in the topic.

4. Use Keyword Research Tools

Research is key for making effective strategies and there are a variety of tools online that can help you research the search volume, trends and competition of potential target keywords. By gathering data on the various factors of keywords before you include them in your SEO techniques, you can make an informed decision on which keywords will give the best results.

5. Analyse the Results

After you’ve chosen your keywords, don’t forget to monitor their usage and analyse the results, including trending keywords and ones used by your competitors. Make sure to use your keywords wherever possible – from blog posts to metatags and everywhere in-between – and analyse the results so you can see what works and phase out what doesn’t.

By now, you’re probably all clued up on how SEO can improve your online presence and itching to try out some new keywords on your site, but it can also be a powerful tool for marketing and sales.

Why SEO is Important for Business

Over 80% of customers and 90% of B2B buyers research online before they buy products or services, so having a strong online presence is vital for reaching potential customers. An effective SEO strategy will give you the visibility you need to attract customers during this increasingly digital era and stay competitive.

By targeting relevant keywords, you can attract the attention of prospective customers and bring them into your sales funnel as they are searching for products or services like yours. Unlike other marketing techniques, SEO has the unique benefit of targeting people that are interested and actively searching for specific terms, products and/or services.

The major search engines work hard to find relevant, high quality results for user searches, prioritising content that provides value for the reader, such as informative guides. When content is ranked highly on SERPs, it has a much greater chance of attracting clicks and attention, with an estimated 30% of clicks going to the number 1 ranked content, while sites ranked ninth and tenth only get about 2% of total clicks.

The massive disparity in engagement between the top and bottom ranked sites on SERPs means that if you want attention from potential customers, you need to work for high rankings. As an increasing number of consumers buy online (especially in recent months as many were unable to visit brick-and-mortar stores), you need to be seen online to stay competitive.

When it comes to marketing and sales, your online presence has never been more important, and SEO is one of the best ways to improve your presence and reach a wider audience for all kinds of business. Given how important SEO is these days, are you doing the best you can? In order to determine what kind of results your SEO strategy is getting; you need to perform and SEO audit.

How to do an SEO Audit

Due to the wide variety of SEO tools and techniques, it can be difficult to know where to begin and what to analyse to effectively audit your SEO strategy. To help you cut through the noise and find areas for improvement, we’ve listed 10 key parts of an SEO audit below. By following these steps, you can set your site on the path to search engine superiority:

1. Identify Link Building Opportunities

Building links is a vital aspect of building respect for your website and as such, you should look for opportunities to build internal and external links in your SEO audit. By using the link-building tips discussed earlier in this article and thinking about how you can improve the user experience of your site by linking to product descriptions or older blogs, for example, you can make the most of both internal and external link building opportunities.

2. Identify Site Architecture Improvements

By optimising the Information Architecture (loosely defined as ‘the way that information is ordered or structured’) on your website, you can improve the user experience and page authority. Small changes, like listing more blogs per page or better organising the ‘related posts’ and ‘older posts’ links will help to increase page equity and the user experience, when done right.

3. Identify Thin Content

Speaking of content, pages that have ‘thin content’ (i.e. content that does not meet the needs of your users) won’t earn you the high SERP rankings you want. Make sure that all the content on your site is well-written and big enough to meet the needs of visitors, whether that’s descriptive product listings or extensive blog posts and you’ll be well on your way to moving up the search engine ranks.

4. Identify Duplicate Content

While you’re scanning your site for thin content, make sure to remove or edit any duplicate content, especially copies of pages, as they can incur search engine penalties. While most search engines can differentiate between accidental repetition or maliciously duplicating content on your site to try and game the algorithm, vetting the content on your site for thin or duplicate content should always be a priority.

5. Optimise your Keywords

Much like with written content, it’s not always sensible to squeeze as many keywords as possible into every page of your site, but you should do your best to improve the keyword density on relevant pages, especially if they get high levels of traffic. Make sure that your site has plenty of relevant key words on each page (emphasising content-rich pages) and you’ll be well on your way to optimising your SEO strategy.

6. Optimise your Meta Tags

Meta tags consist of a title and description and help search engines to determine the content of the page they are crawling, making them a big factor in SERP rankings. Make sure they are descriptive, contain relevant keywords, and short (as Google only displays the first 50-60 characters) for the best results.

7. Update your Pages

Regularly updating your website is more than just good practice, as it will make your pages seem new and relevant to the algorithms that repeatedly crawl them. By focussing on the pages that draw the most traffic to your site and ones that you want to promote you’ll see the greatest improvements from your updates, if they are successful.

8. Make your Pages Load Faster

When it comes to your website, speed is key – the longer a page takes to load, the higher the chances that users will give up and try elsewhere, harming your bounce rates and rankings. There are plenty of ways to improve the load speed of your site, from eliminating CSS to compressing images on your site, so get to work if your website is slow enough to scare off impatient visitors.

9. Scan for Site Errors

It should go without saying, but a broken site is not a popular site, so make sure that all the links and images on your website are working as they should be. While 404, or ‘page not found’ errors are common and generally don’t result in site penalties, they can damage user experience and your internal linking structure, so do your best to fix or remove these errors.

10. Switch from HTTP to HTTPS

Sites running on HTTPS are typically faster, more secure, and higher ranked on search engines than their HTTP counterparts, so make the switch today. If you’re unsure of whether your site is running on HTTP, just enter the non-HTTPS iterations of your URL – like www.example.co.uk, site.co.uk, http://www.example.co.uk – and make sure they all redirect to the HTTPS version.

SEO audits are rarely an exact science, because a technique that works well for one website might not help another and Google is constantly changing their algorithms to prioritise different things. However, the ten tips listed above are a sure-fire way to identify problem areas and aspects to improve on your website.

Summary

In short, SEO is easy to learn and hard to master. While many SEO techniques are really obvious or just good practice, learning more advanced ways of getting your site seen online can be extremely effective, assuming you’re able to use them correctly.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of SEO, why not browse the blog section of our website – we currently have a multi-part series on search engine penalties and how to beat them.

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