Why is SEO important?
People are searching for all sorts of things everyday. There are over 99,000 searches every second, more than 8.5 billions searches a day via Google Search alone (Oberlo). Competition is fierce to be shown at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
SEO is crucial to gaining a slice of the most relevant searches being performed daily by increasing your website's visibility in search results. Organic search results remain the dominant way to gain visitors to websites, with over 53% of all website traffic coming from this source (BrightEdge).
SEO is therefore a smart marketing choice to increase the amount and quality of traffic your website receives. This helps you to increase the number of customers you have and the amount of sales you make.
Investing in SEO also helps to improve the overall reputation of your brand. Showing up in search results reinforces brand awareness and can reinforce other marketing channels, such as paid advertisements.
This SEO guide outlines the information you need to gain these benefits for your business.
How is SEO different from SEM and PPC?
Search engine marketing (SEM) refers to all marketing activities related to search engines. This includes SEO, which focuses on how to capture organic search traffic.
SEM also includes using paid advertisements at the top of search engine results to direct traffic to your website. Google Ads is Google's pay-per-click (PPC) advertising solution. Microsoft Advertising offers a similar solution for the Bing search engine.
PPC means you only pay when someone has clicked on your advertisement. The amount to be paid is dependent on the value of the bids for the keywords used in the advertisement. The more popular the keyword, the higher its cost to the advertiser.
To sum up, SEM includes both SEO and search-engine PPC. Using SEO and search PCC in tandem is a very effective SEM strategy.
Note that PPC is also used on other platforms, not just search engines. You've likely seen advertisements on your social media feeds, banners on websites, or even in your emails. These are other forms of PPC.
How does Google’s search engine work?
Google has outlined the three stages of how Google Search works (Google Search Central).
They use software known as web crawlers to search for pages on the web. The subject of the page and other signals are assessed to help it be indexed. When someone enters a search term into Google, a result from its index is shown based on information such as the searcher's location and language, the type of media commonly associated with the search query, the security of the website, and the quality and relevance of the page content.
These rankings are volatile amid the constantly changing environment of the internet. A website may gain higher search visibility by having multiple pages rank higher for relevant searches. The fewer search terms the website ranks for, the lower their visibility in search results.
Google’s EEAT guidelines
Google advises content should be created for people first, not search engines. Their algorithm is trained on a mix of factors to identify which content displays aspects of experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. These requirements are referred to in Google's EEAT guidelines.
How to meet the EEAT guidelines
Approximately 16,000 external Search Quality Raters are provided with guidelines to help them provide a Search Quality Ranking based on the quality of the page and the needs of the search being met.
This includes how to determine which content meets EEAT guidelines as listed below.
- First-hand experience and expertise of the content creator.
- Authoritativeness of the creator, the main content itself and the website.
- Perception of trust based on the page's accuracy, honesty, safety, and reliability.
The main content is reviewed to assess its originality, effort, talent, and skill involved in its creation. Needless to say, content needs to be of high quality to rank high on Google search results!
They also research information available about the creator and the website. Your website should have an about page with an overview of the people and/or organisation behind the website. For individual pages such as blog posts, including an author byline with a summary of their experience and expertise is recommended.
Once the author of the content and the owner of the website are confirmed, their reputation is researched along with the website itself. Ensuring the about page and author biographies are up-to-date and relevant provides a good start. But other online sources such as social media profiles, Google Business Profile, user reviews, press mentions, and research papers provide additional details and support the authority of the website and the content author.
Be aware of 'YMYL' content requirements
Websites covering topics under the 'your money or your life' (YMYL) umbrella require a higher level of EEAT. These topics could impact a person's health, safety or financial situation, and the well-being of society generally. Essentially they cover websites with medical advice, health and safety information, financial guidance, news and current affairs, and government and law information.
Because of the risks involved if the incorrect information is visible, Google seeks additional assurance it's accurate and trustworthy. For example, someone publishing tax, legal or medical advice must be an expert and appropriately qualified. But someone comparing accounting software doesn't necessarily have to be a qualified accountant if the information provided is accurate and demonstrates their experience.
On-page SEO refers to the activities undertaken with the content and pages on a website to improve search engine rankings. It requires working on what is published on the website and formatting some of the underlying code used by search engines when they crawl its pages.
We've outlined some of the common actions that need to be taken to optimise on-page SEO in the sections below.
Start with audience and content research
To attract visitors to your website, you need to know who you're trying to attract. Who is your ideal audience that your business wishes to communicate with? Who will benefit the most from your products and services? What problems will you solve for them?
A common way to understand your audience is to create a buyer persona. This is an imaginary character that represents a sample person from your target audience with their basic demographics, employment details, values, goals, fears, challenges, and preferred modes of communication written out in a profile.
If you're targeting other businesses, it's beneficial to create an ideal customer profile (ICP). Similar to a buyer persona, it's the ideal company that will benefit most from your products or services. Understanding their industry, finances, location, employees, technical stack, and business goals can help you form a clearer picture of who your content is targeting.
Once you understand your audience, look at the type of content they are already searching for and consuming. This can be achieved via several methods:
- Internal knowledge: people within your own organisation are the best sources of what your ideal audience look like and need. Gather insights from your sales and customer service teams on a regular basis to understand what content they are seeking.
- Keyword research: there are various free tools that allow you to research words and phrases people are searching for the most. These tools usually give an approximate search volume and sometimes an indication of the difficulty to rank for the keywords. It requires careful analysis to identify the right keywords for your business.
- Common questions: although they may come up when undertaking keyword research, make sure this research included forums like Quora, Reddit, and Facebook Groups where your audience are visible and asking questions you can answer with your content.
- Competitor analysis: investigate what content your key competitors have been publishing on their websites and social media platforms. Use free or paid tools to see what they're currently ranking for in search engines and where there are opportunities to outrank or fill in gaps.
- Search intent research: review the top search results for the keywords and questions you've identified from your research to understand what kind of content is being given priority by the search engines based on why someone is searching for that content. Are the search results navigational (e.g., Gmail login), informational (e.g., how to...), commercial (e.g., best of...) or transactional (e.g., buy...) in nature?
Plan topic clusters with pillar pages
After completing all your content research, you should be able to identify related topics to be grouped together into 'clusters'. This enables you to cover a subject in detail with high-quality content.
These subjects should be related to your business, products and services. They should be what you want to build your reputation and authority on to help you achieve your marketing and business goals.
Once you've formed a topic cluster, identify a suitable pillar page to act as the home page for all of the other topic pages. Think of the pillar page as the hub in a hub-and-spoke model, with all the topic pages being linked to it. You should also link relevant topic pages to each other where it makes sense to do so.
Your pillar page should be the most comprehensive in terms of covering the topic yet broad enough to allow linking to all the topic pages. The topic pages then cover each topic in more depth.
You may already have some topic pages you can link to, or they will be created in the future. Every time a new topic page is created, you should review the pillar page to update it and include a contextually relevant link to the new topic page.
The pillar page is often in the form of a comprehensive guide, 'how to', or directory. It tends to be the biggest page for that subject on your website. You may consider keeping it highlighted permanently on your home page so it can be reached in one click. This highlights its importance to search engines and makes it easier to navigate to for your audience.
Using topic clusters with pillar pages brings a number of benefits to your SEO efforts. From a user perspective, it makes it easier and more logical to navigate between the desired content of one subject. It also signals that you're an authority on the subject and have the required expertise to help.
In a similar manner, it makes it easier for search engines to crawl your website and better rank your content. As a bonus, any authority that your pillar pages are receiving will be passed onto your topic pages. This will help you rank better overall for that topic cluster.
Create high-quality content
With so much information available literally at the touch of our fingertips, what does it mean exactly to provide high-quality content? How is it different to average or low quality content?!
First of all, your website content should always be created with your audience in mind. It should meet an objective to inform them, educate them, entertain them, or a mix of some of these aims. It should be comprehensive, up-to-date and accurate to ensure it's seen as trustworthy.
It should also be easy to read and engaging for your audience to consume. Include images, infographics and videos to break up the text and provide additional value to the reader.
More than ever, people seek out personal thoughts, knowledge and experience. Data that only your organisation has access to, or publicly accessible data that can be interpreted in new ways, are also great ways to provide highly valuable content.
Even when it ticks all these boxes, it must meet the search intent of people who come to your website. They must consider the content helpful for what they're trying to achieve. Otherwise they won't stick around and will leave unsatisfied.
In addition to search intent, the content must align with your marketing and business goals. To help with this aim, the content on your website should be part of a broader content marketing strategy and holistic inbound marketing strategy. This ensures you're maximising the outcomes and benefits of the content you're creating and publishing on your website.
Keep your URLs short and relevant
Search engines prefer brevity when crawling your website page addresses, or URLs ('uniform resource locators'). It's therefore good practice to keep your URLs short. For example, 'chocolate-bunny', not 'please-buy-this-chocolate-bunny'.
It's also beneficial to use the main keyword that you're optimizing the page to rank for in search engines. In the above example, the phrase 'chocolate bunny' is the main search term that the page is opimitized for. It makes sense to just use that term in the URL without any additional words. If you have multiple pages on the same topic, use an appropriate modifier for each one such as 'gold-chocolate-bunny' or 'large-chocolate-bunny'.
Optimize your html tags, meta data and images
HTML tags are pieces of code used within a web page to convey technical information and/or change how something looks to viewers of the page. From an SEO perspective, let's start with heading tags: H1, H2, H3, H4. They are used to break up text into logical sections.
Each web page should have one H1 heading. Each section on the page should start with a H2 heading and reflect a main point you're making. Any points coming under the main point use a H3 heading, and then a H4 heading if this point needs to be broken down into further points.
Using headings this way ensures the article is logical and easier for the reader to follow, making it more likely they will stay on the page. While that's good in itself, as a bonus it acts as a ranking signal to the search engines and makes it easier for them to crawl and rank the page.
The image below shows how the first part of this article has been planned and formatted with H1-H4 headings.
Two other important HTML tags are meta tags. They are the title tag and meta description tag found in the head section of the web page. These are used to provide information to search engines and aren't displayed to readers.
The text within the meta title tag is used as a ranking factor by search engines. It's displayed in the search results and should be concise (50-60 characters) to avoid it being truncated or rewritten. It should contain the main keyword for the page in a natural way to assist with its ranking and be compelling to encourage searchers to click on it.
The text within the meta description tag is not a ranking factor, but should still be optimised as it's also displayed as descriptive text in the search results under the text used in the title tag. It therefore can also be used to confirm what the web page is about and compel searchers to visit the page. Use engaging copy and keep it between 120-160 characters to avoid it being truncated or rewritten by the search engines.
The image below is a great example of how Google has used the meta tags to provide clear and compelling details on their page with an SEO starter guide. Note when the query entered into the search is present in the meta description, the text is bolded. This catches the eye and helps to drive clicks to the page.
The final HTML tag to consider here is the image tag, or more precisely the 'alt' attribute within this tag, used to provide a textual description of the image. This most importantly helps visually-impaired website visitors to understand what is being displayed in the image.
It also helps search engines to understand the overall content of the page and potentially help it to rank better. The image itself may also be shown in image search results.
The text used for the description should be concise (under 125 characters to avoid truncation), relevant to the image, and include relevant keywords.
Create internal links and clear navigation
Relevant content should always be linked to each other within your website pages. As explained above, implementing pillar and content pages will help you with this.
You need to consider the user experience of people who have come to your website. Ensuring they can navigate to the information they need will increase the chances of them staying on the website and being satisfied.
The length of time visitors spend on your web pages act as a ranking signal to the search engines. The longer they spend, the more likely you'll receive a higher ranking. In addition to content that's easy to read and answers their search intent, good navigation plays an important role in making sure they don't leave your website prematurely.
The search engines themselves also benefit by being able to crawl your website easily. Your site structure plays a big role in how well the search engine spiders can index your pages and rank them appropriately.
Off-page SEO refers to all activities you undertake outside your website to improve its search rankings. It requires persistence, patience and commitment to reap the benefits of these activities.
Earn backlinks (external links) to your website
Link building remains an important but difficult part of an effective SEO strategy. Links from websites signal to search engines that they find the content on your website useful. When the links are from established websites with high volumes of traffic, even greater weight and authority is given.
There are two type of links commonly received:
- A niche edit, adding a line or two of text to an existing page on a website to link to your website.
- A guest post, creating a new blog post on a website which includes a link to your own website.
Many people turn to paying for links to website owners because it's easier. But this is against search engine guidelines and can result in the links being ignored or even worse, receiving a penalty against your website ranking.
The better way to build links is to create content that people find useful and want to link to naturally. It's also beneficial to let people know that the content exists. This requires researching relevant websites and approaching them to place a link via a niche edit or guest article on their blog.
Promote your content on social media and other online channels
Social media platforms allow you to share your best and most relevant content where your target audience is active. They may consume what they need on that platform, or they may be enticed to come to your website to learn more. Their interactions with your website helps to improve your search engine rankings.
Even if they don't come to your website straight away, a strong social media strategy will raise your brand awareness and allow you to develop a relationship with them. It can build your trustworthiness and make it more likely that they will visit your website when they decide to make a purchase.
Social media platforms themselves are turning to optimizing their users' search experience more. For example, using keywords in social media posts now has a bigger impact on their performance. This provides an opportunity to replicate and learn from social media search performance for your website's SEO.
Encourage user reviews and ratings
As mentioned previously, search engines look at authority and trustworthiness as key ranking factors.
One way to gain these is by receiving user reviews and ratings. Search engines are able to pick up your customers' experiences with your company on sites like Trustpilot, Yelp, and on Google itself (managed via your Google Business Profile).
This kind of content is also a great source of longer phrase keywords (or 'long-tail keywords') for additional sources of traffic to your website. People expressing their own opinions helps the search engines to form a better picture of your company, its relevancy to the search term and ultimately its overall ranking.
Update Google Business Profile, Apple Business Connect and NAP citations
Additional SEO activities are important for local business. Commonly called local SEO, they are a great way to boost the amount of traffic and leads that smaller businesses receive.
Claiming your Google Business Profile and Apple Business Connect profiles allows you to update your company details listed on Google Maps and Apple Maps respectively. Optimising your profile will help it be more visible when people are searching for local businesses. You can add your website and encourage more visitors.
You can run promotions and use call-to-actions to promote desired actions. Google Business Profile also allows you to manage and respond to customer reviews. This plays an important part in your website's authority and trustworthiness as mentioned in the previous section.
You should ensure your business details are up-to-date and visible across the web. We've already mentioned review sites, Google Maps and Apple Maps. There are also directory sites, apps and other websites that can list your business details.
Your name, address and phone number in online listings are called 'NAP citations'. Ensuring these are comprehensive and consistent will help search engines to rank you better for local search results.
Use public relations to build your reputation
Another way to improve the visibility, authority and trustworthiness of your business is by employing common public relation tactics.
This includes assisting journalists by providing them with information they need for news stories. Their publications will often include a link back to your website, which can be a highly-valued backlink that will drive traffic and enhance your site's authority with search engines. Popular platforms that connect journalists and businesses are HARO (help a reporter out), Terkel and Qwoted.
You may also share press releases with reputable organisations in the hope that they will provide coverage of your business. Public relations firms offer services to make this process easier.
There are technical factors for a website that search engines take into account when determining their index rankings. We've listed the most important ones in the sections below.
Note that the platform you use for your website can make meeting these technical requirements easier. There are many reasons why we create Webflow websites for our clients, including the many technical SEO benefits of the platform.
Use SSL certificates
SSL stands for secure sockets layer. It's essentially a security protocol that allows a secure connection between a web server and a browser attempting to access it. A padlock symbol displayed next to a URL in the web browser indicates that particular website is being hosted on a web server with a SSL certificate in place.
SSL certificates are important because they act as a signal to search engines that the website is secure and provides a safe browsing experience for its visitors. They have become a de facto standard for modern websites and should be offered by your website hosting company, preferably at no additional charge.
Make your site mobile-friendly and responsive
Your website must be easily viewable on any mobile device. Whether a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop, your website must present the same information and provide a good user experience for your audience.
The easiest way to achieve this is by using a responsive design framework. This essentially uses the one page (with the one URL) to display its content based on the type of device the user is loading the page with.
It's worth noting Google actually uses a smartphone spider to crawl and index new websites, in what they call mobile-first indexing. They also specifically recommend the responsive framework be used to create mobile-friendly websites. See their documentation on this for further details.
Submit your sitemap to Google and use schema markup
Search engines appreciate having some guidance when indexing websites. This is exactly what a sitemap does for them. It signals that your website is ready to be crawled and indexed, and provides the information they need to do this efficiently.
A sitemap is a special file that can be automatically generated by most leading website builders, such as Wordpress and Webflow. They are automatically found by search engine crawlers which allow them to identify and index new and updated pages on your website more easily and quickly.
You can also submit new and updated sitemaps to the search engines at any time instead of waiting for their crawlers to do it. You can submit it via the 'Sitemaps' option after logging into Google Search Console. You can also submit it for Bing via their 'Sitemaps' tab after logging into Bing Webmaster Tools.
Optimize for page speed and core web vitals
Page speed refers to how long it takes for a web page to load and be shown in a web browser. Google uses page speed as ranking factor. This is essentially because they know from studies that it's a critical factor for website visitors to get the answer they're looking for as quickly as possible.
There are actually various ways to measure page speed. Google has very helpfully created a tool to help you analyse the performance of your website based on these metrics. The PageSpeed Insights tool can provide a score for both mobile and desktop based on these metrics.
Some of these metrics are very technical to understand. When there is enough data, the tool also provides real-world results based on visitors to your website.
There are some basic actions that you should take when creating your website to improve page speed.
The first is to optimise all images by resizing them to the size being displayed and compressing them to lower the file size. Using more modern file formats like WebP can provide superior quality and compression.
Another way to improve page speed is to utilise a content delivery network (CDN). Leading website hosting companies provide this feature, which essentially ensures a web server close to the website visitor is used to serve the web pages to them.
The software you use to create your website may also provide the option to minify (or minimise) the code used to create the website. This can dramatically shorten the time it takes to load the web pages and reduce bandwidth usage.
Fix broken links, missing pages, and duplicate content
It's important that when a visitor or web crawler visits your website, there aren't any issues with navigating to its various pages. Having such issues can cause a poor user experience and result in penalties from search engines as it makes your website look less trustworthy.
A link may be 'broken' when the URL has been entered incorrectly or is for a page that no longer exists. Pages may also be 'missing' due to a migration of the website or an updated URL when the content was refreshed.
You can fix these issues several ways. It may be as simple as correcting a mistake in the link's URL. You may also use something called a '301 redirect' in the code of the web page to redirect the original link to a new page's URL. This technique is useful because it can retain most of the authority the original page had gained from search engines.
Duplicate content can also cause issues for your visitors and search engines. While some duplicate content makes sense (e.g., contact information or names of products), it's best not to have your topic content duplicated across too many pages.
Review your topics to create pillar pages and topic clusters, removing or combining pages where it makes sense to do so. This makes it easier for your audience to find relevant content and help search engines to better understand the value of the content you have on your website.
Create an SEO strategy
An SEO strategy ties everything together to ensure you're taking the correct actions consistently. It's a long-term roadmap that seeks to achieve your SEO goals. These goals must be aligned with your marketing and business goals.
A good SEO strategy takes into account on-page, off-page and technical SEO activities. These activities are assigned to internal or external resources for their implementation. A budget is also needed to ensure the activities can be implemented as planned.
The person ultimately responsible for the SEO strategy should set up metrics to track and assess performance against the goals. These results should be communicated to senior stakeholders in the organisation.
Review your SEO performance and adjust where necessary
Google Search Console is a free tool that provides valuable data on your search performance. It includes basic metrics like indexed pages, number of visitors, traffic sources, and links from other websites. There are many paid alternatives such as Ahrefs that provide in-depth data on your and competitor websites.
Google Analytics or alternatives such as privacy-friendly Fathom Analytics can also be used to monitor additional metrics related to your audience and their behaviour on your website. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) tactics can then be used on your website to improve outcomes.
Regardless of the tools used, the metrics you set up as part of your SEO strategy should be monitored and analysed. Compare these to your SEO, marketing and business goals to see if you're on track or actions are required.
Implementing SEO doesn't rely on one method to improve the ranking of a website. As we've outlined in this article, you need to use a blend of different tactics in a holistic manner to achieve your goals. This should be reflected in the SEO strategy you create, aligned to the business outcomes you're trying to achieve with your marketing efforts.
It begins with understanding your audience, creating high-quality content, and ensuring the content on your website is optimised for search engines. You then need to promote your content via other online channels, build your authority across the web, and capture local searches relevant to your business. Your website must also be technically optimised to ensure it is user friendly, and can be searched and indexed correctly.
Track and measure the performance of your website in search results over time and look how to improve the results. Understanding the actions your visitors are taking when they reach your website can help you identify ways to improve your search traffic and conversions.
While there's a lot to take into account with SEO, the good news is that there are proven systems, processes, and tools to help make its implementation easier. SEO brings long-term benefits to your organisation that make it well worth this investment.