SEO, or search engine optimisation, is activity which is designed to improve a website’s organic visibility in search engines such as Google. When correctly executed, SEO can be one of the most cost-effective forms of digital marketing – as it’s a long-term strategy and involves no on-going media ad spend.
The objective of SEO is to make a site appear in search engine results pages (SERPs), for the queries being used by your target audience. No one activity achieves this. Instead, SEO combines many disciplines, which together help to improve a site’s ‘authority’ and relevance. This makes search engines more likely to recognize whether a website should appear in top positions (rank) for target search queries.
Why is SEO important?
93% of all online experiences being with a search engine. If you do not appear in search engine results, you are likely missing the opportunity to reach potential customers. Users trust search engines and the sites they show in top positions – as an internet user, you’ll know the majority of consumers are unlikely to even look past page 1 of search results.
SEO is always evolving. Websites cannot stand still in the competitive digital world. If you have not invested in SEO recently, your site is probably not optimized for the latest search engine algorithm changes. Google and other search engines make thousands of changes every year. A website should be continually updated to meet the requirements of search engines and potential customers.
SEO is relatively inexpensive
Compared to other digital marketing activity, SEO is relatively inexpensive. SEO should be thought of as a long-term investment. Actions and activity completed now can impact a business for many years to come.
Usually, SEO strategy development starts with a site audit. This reveals issues which need to be addressed and should be used to develop an activity plan in priority order. After addressing major technical issues and optimising primary ranking factors, SEO activity then becomes a monitoring and maintenance programme.
It improves user experience (UX)
To rank high in search results, you need to provide users with a good experience. Google and other search engines want to show users the most relevant content, and so they use a range of ranking factors to determine if a website is the best result to show. Some ranking factors are technical, such as site map structure, but many are UX orientated, such as page loading time.
If a page loads slowly, Google is unlikely to place it high in search rankings because a slow page provides a poor experience for those who click on the site. SEO activity would look to improve page loading time. This would not only benefit a site’s organic search visibility but would enhance the site for every visitor.
SEO builds credibility
Search engines want to show searchers sites which have a high ‘authority’. Authority means a site is seen as trustworthy and is well regarded. There are many ways a site can prove this to search engines, and the easiest way to do this is by developing high-quality, user-relevant content.
Excellent site content should answer the questions customers search for. SEO keyword research identifies the keywords and search queries target audiences use. This provides data that a site can use to develop content. Search engines can see content and the number of websites which link to this content (backlinks). The quality of content and the number of backlinks determines ‘authority’. The more authority a site and its content has, the more likely it is to rank in top positions.
SEO is not just about increasing organic traffic. It’s about getting the right type of traffic. For example, you may get 30,000 website visitors per month, but if none of them convert, it’s not beneficial to your business. Keyword research and understanding the needs of customers is crucial as it allows businesses to use SEO to target users and funnel them to conversions.
If your competitors rank above you in search results, it’s probably because they've spent longer on their SEO. With the right strategy, you can catch up. A good plan will take into account what your competitors are doing and assess whether you can compete and increase your search visibility percentage.
Ranking above competitors may be a business objective, but a site audit and research will identify if this is the right tactic. Sometimes, competitors may be targeting low volume keywords and, instead of competing directly, you might be better off targeting a different keyword which is more relevant to what your business particular business offers.
How to get started
If you want to start or improve your SEO activity, you first need to assess your site’s current performance. A SEO agency or professional will be able to support you in completing an audit.
Understanding target audiences is vital, and a good SEO strategy will always be focused on the end-user. Whether you decide to hire an in-house SEO expert, or go with an agency, remember that keeping buyer journeys and customer needs at the centre of your decisions will mean you're providing a good user experience, which search engines value highly.
About the Author
Alice Mansley is a SEO and Content Marketing Assistant for The Digital Marketing Partners, a specialist digital marketing agency which blends technical, marketing and commercial insights with an absolute focus on results. The team is made up of 15 specialists, including search engineers, content marketers, software developers, PPC specialists and operations management based in two offices across Derby and London.