Have no clue about SEO and want to know more about the basics? Read on as we explore what needs to be monitored / adjusted as part of a basic SEO strategy.
Audience: This article is intended for beginners.
Reading Time: 15-20 minutes
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of structuring your site and online activities related to your site to affect the way that it is presented in the unpaid results of search engines like Google and Bing ( Yahoo use Bing’s results, so we don’t really count them). This includes the textual, image, local and video (where applicable) results.
This post will primarily focus on Google, however the concepts carry over to Bing.
The goal of the major search engines is to figure out what the intent is of the users query and return the most relevant results for the query in the quickest way possible. This goal has never changed since the inception of search engines.
However, overtime they have been refining the details of how they return relevant results and in an effort to reduce nefarious operators who try to game the system, either on purpose (commonly known as ‘black-hats’) or through ignorance.
To see the changes to Google’s algorithm overtime, take a look at the following Moz page:
Every change to the algorithm brings a slew of posts online from people wondering how their site will fair, or why they are no longer ranking as well as they were before the update. The reason for the loudest complaints, is generally when individuals or businesses have used less than optimal techniques to gain places on their ranking.
Early on in the Googles history, in late 90s and early 2000s the primary method to determine a sites ranking was via the number of inbound links, in addition to the relevance of the keyword in relation to what was being searched.
As word was passed on through forums (phpBB anyone?), training courses etc, SEO’s started taking maximum advantage of the ranking algorithm by using link farms (off page strategy) and keyword stuffing (on-page strategy).
By the mid-2000’s Google was starting to target low quality links and link farms, penalising sites that met their criteria for participating in what Google saw as devaluing the search experience for the user.
During the last ten years we’ve seen Google refine their algorithm through a number of minor updates and 4 major updates (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon), sending sites that were ranking highly through questionable tactics down the SERPs (search engine result pages), or at worst, being blacklisted.
Over that time, we’ve seen SEO tactics such as guest blogging, using primary keywords in the domain, URL keyword stuffing, thin-content sites / PBNs (which you can read more on https://blocksandpixels.com.au/blog/private-blog-networks-pbns-and-you/, invisible text, meta keyword stuffing etc mostly fall by the way side.
In 2016, Google is still staying true to their original aim more than ever, using not only the keywords entered into the search box, but the users previous search history, location and huge amounts of data to try and determine what your intent is with the keywords you have entered to return the most relevant and useful results to you, the user.
It’s amazing how good they are with returning relevant results in the “instant” dropdown before you have even finished your query.
Today, there are two areas that one must focus on to improve their sites SEO. They are:
– On-page factors, made up of
- HTML Structure
– Off-page factors, made up of
- Social indicators
We will explain what both of these mean below.
On-page factors include everything that is contained on a page within a site and can, in most instances be easily updated by you or your web developer. They include the following:
- Lack of duplicate content, both across the site and found elsewhere across the internet
- Site is mobile friendly and works well across multiple devices
- Optimised for fast loading
- Uses the secure https protocol
- Sensible, human friendly URLs i.e https://example.com/blog/all-about-seo vs https://example.com?postID=12345&type=blog
- Correctly uses sitemaps and robots.txt files
- The site is easy to navigate
- Can search engines crawl the site
- Quality content that provides value to the user
- The content uses words, phrases and synonyms in which you would like to be found for
- Does the content contain images, video, location data which could be found for the keyword using one of Googles other vertical search types
- Page titles are descriptive and contain the primary keyword(s) that you would like to be found for
- The meta tags contain the correct description and keywords (not the meta keywords tag is no longer used by Google as a ranking factor, but other search engines still use it so it doesn’t hurt to have it)
- The heading structure is correct and contains useful text with relevant keywords
- The HTML mark-up uses structured data correctly
- The HTML mark-up is correct and isn’t missing end tags or using deprecated tags
- Images use alt and title attributes and are sized sensibly
Off-page factors include:
- Shares, comments, tweets
- Have any well known, authoritative / respected people shared your content
- Low Bounce rate and high time on site
- How long has the site been around?
- Are you showing a lot of ads or have you hosted any pirated or illegal content previously
- Are there sites that link to you that are well known, respected websites
- Do sites that link with you use relevant keywords and phrases in the link text (known as anchor text)
- Are the links authentic, or are they spammy and self promotional in nature?
- Does your site help the user with their query because your site is local to them i.e they are searching for “Bondi Plumbers” and you are a plumber located in or near Bondi who correctly targets “Bondi” as one of your keywords, has a Google Business profile and is consistent in the use your name, address and phone number (NAP) across the internet?
- Has the user visited your site before
- Has the user or one of their friends shared your content socially?
Essentially, on-page SEO can be seen as mostly being something you can improve over the short-term whereas off-page SEO is something that you continually work on over the long term by generating quality content and building both online and offline relationships. Both are essential for long term success.
How Long & How Much?
SEO is definitely a long term strategy that requires constant effort to push it towards the end goal, the 1st page in Google. You can think of it like a garden, sure you get a landscaper to come in and make the garden look nice and manicured, but if you don’t keep working on the garden, soon it will be full of weeds and overgrown.
If, every week you go outside and pull out some weeds, mow the lawn, trim branches the garden will continue to look good, week after week, year after year. SEO is similar, it needs constant care and maintenance to keep things ticking over nicely, particularly because unlike your garden, the search engines are always tweaking their algorithms, and there is new competition coming in daily, so the target keeps moving.
An average time span of 3-6 months should be sufficient to see positive results from a solid SEO strategy. However this, like everything in the digital marketing space, depends on how competitive the keywords are that you are targeting. For keywords with low competition i.e frisbees Canberra, positive ranking changes can be seen in less than a month, whereas keywords with high competition i.e golf shoes, soccer shirts, make-up, New York real estate agents, may take years ,
In terms of how much you should pay for SEO services, it really does depend on how big your business is and how much work is in improving your ranking. It can be anywhere from $500 a month and up into 7 figures. The most important thing is to be realistic with what you are trying to achieve with the budget you have.
For example, say you had an e-commerce site selling golf clubs and wanted to hire someone to work on your sites SEO awesome new strategy. You figure you have a budget of $1500 a month for 3 months to get to the 1st page of Google otherwise you’ll move on to trying something else. It would be nearly impossible to rank will in that time-frame with that budget when you are competing against companies spending millions of dollars a year on their SEO strategy.
However, if you are a plumber in say, Canberra and had a budget of $1500 per month, it is likely that positive results could be achieved. Note that these dollar values do not represent how much it costs to put together and execute a solid SEO strategy, they are merely illustrative.
One thing to keep in mind is that the less you pay (especially with some overseas based SEOs) the more likely you will:
- be promised the sky but receive little
- end up paying to rank for completely unrelated, mis-spelled or obscure keywords with super low search volumes
- start ranking well initially, however due to questionable tactics over time you will either be pushed far down or blacklisted from the SERPs completely
- potentially be the target of negative SEO so agency or person who did the original work can be ‘rehired’ to fix the problem
- expend a lot of energy with stress and worry if the agency or person disappears
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.