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Beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

By Alma Fabiani

Nov 23, 2020

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Why should I learn about SEO?

Let’s say you have a website—any kind of website—where you offer great content, and yet, it never ranks well on Google. That’s frustrating, isn’t it? If you’re stuck in this situation, that’s when you should seriously consider optimising your website with Search Engine Optimization, also called SEO for short.

You might then wonder, why does my website need SEO? There are a lot of benefits that come from SEO but its main benefit is the one you should focus on first: it increases your website’s visibility on search engines, which is what you’re looking for. Whether that is on Google, Yahoo!, Bing or other search engines, all the techniques and tips that we’ll explain in this How to will help you increase your website’s visibility on the search engine of your choice.

Not only do you want your platform to gain more visibility, you also want it to rank on a search engine for the right keywords. For example, if you sell flowers in London, you’ll want your website to rank high for keywords such as ‘best flowers London’ or ‘where to buy flowers in London’. Search engines rank websites on the relevance of the keywords they include and the quality of the content they offer. You want people’s keyword queries to match the content of your website.

Once you start seeing those two benefits from a bit of SEO work, you’ll see a third benefit along the way—you’ll witness a traffic increase to your website. That will only happen if you offer potential users great content. If you don’t, users will just find another website with better content to stay on. After all, search engines have plenty of content for users to pick from. What you need to attain in order to separate yourself from competitors is good content that brings something new to the table. You need to answer a user’s query and provide them with even more information if possible!

Inherently, because of this increase in traffic and your relevance to keywords you cover on your website, people will find it more easily than before. An optimised site helps your target audience find your website therefore increasing brand awareness. People will know more about you and your platform, which can result in a conversion from a local business to a global business. Let’s say you decided to sell flowers all around the world. You would then try to rank for less specific keywords such as ‘best flower delivery service’ or you could target specific new locations. This would mean you’ve expanded your business visibility through SEO.

So, let’s elevate your business!

What is SEO exactly?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the practice of getting ‘free’ traffic from organic search results on any search engine. Depending on the keyword that someone types in, search engines rank websites based on which content they consider most relevant to users. It’s all about relevancy.

If your website ranks on the first page of a specific search engine for relevant keywords, you’ll get more visibility, which means you’ll get more traffic and therefore more conversions. The higher you rank on a search engine, the more traffic and visibility you’ll end up with.

For example, Google has 10 results per page for a search result. If your website ranks in the top 3 of the first page of a specific keyword’s query, you’ll receive a majority of the clicks as people usually never go further than the first page and rarely scroll down after the three first links that appear.

What is keyword research?

Keyword research is one of the most important steps in SEO, so let’s have a look at what it is exactly. Keyword research is the process of identifying popular words and phrases, also called keywords, used on search engines by users who are looking for content. This research should also be based on high search volume, high relevancy and less competition. To put it simply, you’ll want to find the goldmine, instead of competing with unreachable keywords.

You should always want to find relevant keywords that have a high search volume and possibly not too much competition. When you start looking at specific keywords, you’ll see two different types of keywords: short tail keywords and long tail keywords.

What are short tail keywords?

Short tail keywords are more generic, they usually consist of less than 3 words and have high search volume as well as high competition which means less conversion rate. For example, you can imagine that a lot of people type in ‘best flowers’ and that therefore, a lot of your competition wants to also appear in the search results of this short tail keyword. This means that if you do end up on the first page of the search results, you’ll get a lot of traffic. But this also means that getting to that first page is going to be extremely difficult.

Furthermore, ranking for short tail keywords might not result in a high conversion rate because those keywords are broader than long tail keywords, meaning your page might not be the most relevant result. What if someone who just searched ‘best flowers’ didn’t actually want to buy some but wanted to plant them instead? Your website wouldn’t be as relevant and the search engine would probably end up ranking you down for this keyword.

You can go for short tail keywords if you are trying to drive a lot of visitors to your website. However, if you want conversions, you should consider focusing more on long tail keywords.

What are long tail keywords?

Long tail keywords are way more specific than short tail keywords. They’re usually made of more than three words, have less competition because of how precise they are and a smaller search volume. This gives them the advantage of resulting in a higher conversion rate. For example, if you sold flowers locally on your website, in London more specifically, you would first want to rank for ‘flowers delivery London’. Now, what about reducing this to a specific type of flower? What if you sell an amazing bouquet of preserved flowers? You would then try to rank for the long tail keyword ‘preserved flowers delivery London’. You could even go as far as trying to rank for a specific borough in London. So, if you’re interested in conversions, long tail keywords might be better for you as visitors who land on your website from a long tail keyword are usually ready to make a purchase.

All in all, long tail keywords are great for targeted pages such as articles and product pages. Now that you’ve familiarised yourself with SEO and keyword research, let’s have a look at your biggest friend and your biggest enemy: search engines.

How does a search engine work?

Before ranking your website, search engines crawl it, they follow links and create a map of your site. Once that is done, search engines will take this information back to their servers and index it. Then, when someone searches for a specific keyword, search engines are able to quickly give them the most relevant content they’re looking for.

Types of SEO

Your SEO strategy should be based on two main things: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO is the work you’ll do on your website, whereas off-page SEO is the second part of the strategy which focuses on the work you’ll do off your website to be relevant for search queries, also called link building. Both steps are very important but let’s focus on on-page SEO first.

1. On-page SEO

By doing on-page SEO, you’re optimising elements of your web page, which is typically used to gain more relevant traffic. On your website, you’ll have a number of different elements that you can look to improve. Here are seven of the most important things you should start improving on your website.

Schema markup

First, you should start with schema markup, which is code, or a micro description that you can add to your website in order to give users a good description for it on a search engine’s result page.

Basically, users need to understand more about the content of your website even before clicking on one of your links, and this description, if written well, gives you the opportunity to convince people you’re the right link to click on.

This schema markup also gives search engines more information about your website, which then allows them to understand your platform better and associate it with relevant keywords. Included in a schema markup can be reviews, an image thumbnail, other site links, and even product availability.

Title tag

The next tool you should consider using is the title tag, which is the tag of a web page that appears on a search engine’s result page. This tag needs to summarise your website’s content by describing what your content is about. Having a good title tag will increase your click-through rate (CTR). If someone is searching on Google ‘best preserved flowers’ then you should include these in your page’s title tag.

When improving your title tags, keep in mind that Google has a character limit of 65 characters, so optimise it by following this format:

Primary keyword – secondary keyword | website/brand name

Meta description

Then, you have the meta description, which is a short description that summarises the content of your website. It is important that you insert a unique description for each page of your website. As you can see below, Screen Shot has different meta descriptions for different pages. Our ‘About’ page showcases a preview on Google about our company, whereas our category pages have meta descriptions about the type of content users will find on those specific pages.

Beginner’s guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

A website’s meta description will always be under the site’s title tag and its URL. When optimised, the meta description of your page will help you become more relevant for certain search queries. The optimal length for a meta description is between 50 and 300 characters.

Header tag

Once you’ve gone through these steps, you’ll want to focus on header tags. These are used on a web page to identify the headings and subheadings of your website. You’re going to optimise the header tags of both your headings and subheadings, which are part of a header tag hierarchy that goes from H1 to H6. H1 is at the top, which means that if you decide to use a H1 on your page, you’re telling the search engine that whichever information is displayed in H1 is the main point of that specific page.

For example, if you go on an article on Screen Shot, the page’s H1 will be the title of the article. In your H1, you’ll want to include your most important keywords so that search engines can notice straight away which keywords you’re emphasising and going after.

H1 is the main heading of a web page, whereas H2 to H6 are optional subheadings. On Screen Shot, we’ll only use H2 in addition to our initial H1 in some articles that need to be broken up into different sections. In our H2, we always add more keywords, ones that are less important than the keywords included in the H1.

A code sample for your H1 will be:

<h1> main heading </h1>

For your H2 it will be:

<h2> optional heading </h2>

And so forth. Not only will this help you organise the content of your website but it will also help search engines find what queries your page is relevant to.

URL structure

A URL is like an address in real life, but on the internet—it specifies the location of your website on the internet. As mentioned before, your URL also shows up in search engines. Your URL’s structure is also important for SEO, which is why you’ll need to make yours SEO-friendly.

A URL consists of a protocol, a domain and subdirectories. To put it simply, if you look at this Screen Shot URL:

https://screenshot-media.com/topics/visual-cultures/

‘Https’ is what we call a protocol, which can also be ‘http’ when the website is not secure. ‘Screenshot-media.com’ is the domain, and ‘topics’ as well as ‘visual-cultures’ are subdirectories.

A well-structured URL provides both users and search engines clear information of what the website is about. URLs need to be shorter than 2,083 characters but the most important thing you should remember is that your website’s URL should always be clear and make sense. Keep it short and understandable. Keeping the number of subdirectories you include in your URL low will also make your URL clearer.

Internal links

An internal link is a type of hyperlink that goes from one page of the domain to another page on the same website. They allow search engines to follow the pages of your website, which helps them index your pages easily. Internal links also help spread what we call ‘link juice’, which means that a specific page is important because it includes other links to more pages of that same website. It gives your page more authority. For example, search engines know that Screen Shot’s main page is the most important one because of how many internal links it contains (internal links that mostly point to other Screen Shot articles).

Page speed

Your website’s page speed, which is the speed at which your website’s pages load, is very important for SEO. Search engines such as Google for example, have many users searching for many different things, as you can imagine. Because of that, and because of the competition, Google wants its users to have the best experience they can. That’s why, on top of ranking websites depending on their relevance, Google will also rank them on their page load time. If a website loads too slowly, it would then be detrimental to Google to rank that page too high.

If a page loads too slowly, it may lead to a high bounce rate and low average time spent on the website. Fast site speed will help you rank higher on a search engine. If you look at Google Analytics for example, you can look at the statistics for your page over the last 30 days and see your average page load time.

Ideally, your page speed should be no more than 3 to 4 seconds maximum. Depending on the browser that users use, your website’s page speed might be higher or lower. Same can be said about the type of device users are accessing your website on—that could be a desktop, a phone, a tablet. Countries play a role in it too, depending on networks. In Google Analytics, you can also look at one exact page of your website and the speed it loads at.

To improve your website’s page speed, Google Analytics actually has a ‘Speed Suggestions’ tab where it will give you some feedback on what to do in order to speed up your page load time. In order to increase your page speed you should use a simple website design, optimise your code and your images, and improve your server response time.

2. Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO are actions you take that are not directly done on your website, which is basically the technique of promoting your website using link building.

Link building

By establishing links to your platform on other websites, you’ll be able to improve your website’s credibility, increase your domain’s authority, increase your referral traffic and improve your page rank. Keep in mind that it’s about quality, not quantity.

For example, a link to Screen Shot’s website coming from a well-known website is called a backlink, and this will be worth much more than a link coming from a small blog. Link building is the most effective method of off-page SEO. Link building is one of Google’s top 3 search ranking factors, along with other on-page SEO methods.

Some of the most popular ways of link building are guest blogging, listing your website in trustworthy directories such as Wikipedia, through testimonial link building or even social media content.

Now, although we’ve mentioned previously that other search engines exist, Google remains the number one search engine used worldwide, which means it should be the one you know the most about for SEO.

Google algorithms

Google’s algorithms use advanced concepts to retrieve data from its index and deliver web pages based on specific search queries within milliseconds. To do so, it uses a combination of algorithms (Google Panda, Google Penguin, Google RankBrain…). While it is useful to get familiar with some of Google’s algorithms, it should also be noted that the company constantly updates its algorithms, which can lead to major changes announced a few times a year.

Make sure you check these changes often so you can keep up with your SEO work. Google Panda focuses on delivering high-quality content. It removes online pages that have low-quality or duplicate content from Google’s index.

Google Penguin combats low-quality links by focusing on two things: link schemes and keyword stuffing, which is when people include links or keywords that are not relevant to their content just to try and raise their traffic and visibility.

Google RankBrain uses machine learning to interpret search queries that users type on Google. Basically, it makes any type of search logical so that the search engine can give the user the right type of content they may be looking for.

How can I measure my SEO performance?

Once you’ve gone through the basics of SEO and you’ve looked at on and off-page SEO, surely you’ll want to see whether your hard work paid off. If you’ve followed the previous steps, you should see an improvement in your website’s organic traffic, as well as its mobile traffic, its keyword ranking, its amount of backlinks and its engagement metrics.

So where do you go and which tools can you use? The first and simplest tool you should always check is Google Analytics. On top of that, use Google Search Console. To check your keywords or your page’s ranking, you can use different websites such as ahrefs.com (our favourite), moz.com or SEMrush.com.

Boris Johnson is talking nonsense to influence your Google search results

By Bianca Borissova

Oct 17, 2019

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Rumour has it, Boris Johnson is trying to manipulate our Google search results by using similar keywords or phrases of already-circulating negative media coverage to create new trending stories. Basically, BoJo will say or do something random to distract us from his dubious track record, and the news will pick it up.

In June, during an interview with Ross Kempsell, Boris Johnson shared that he likes to make and paint models of buses in his downtime. Naturally, the next day, the focus of the media was on this peculiar, and frankly random hobby. Of course, that is not to judge his hobbies, but for a man who has previously shared his love for painting cheese boxes and claims to have written an entire script for a potential blockbuster film set in war-torn Syria and Iraq, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. But what if all of Johnson’s random little remarks weren’t so random after all, and are all but a ploy to take our attention away from current affairs, ones that actually matter?

According to a theory identified and published by Parallax, this whole bus fiasco may have been an attempt to rearrange our search results when we type in ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘bus’ on Google and other search engines. The reason for this would be to try and hide evidence of that time when Johnson created the infamous ‘Brexit’ buses, branded with false claims that the UK sends £350 million a week to Europe, right before the Brexit vote. The thing is, once Johnson’s hobby was revealed, not only did it get immense media coverage, but it also completely rearranged search results. According to the data conducted by Parallax, the CTR (click-through rate) has “fallen to a sub 2 per cent,” and “mentions from so many high tier publications with hefty domain authority pushing down ‘Routemaster bus’ related articles and replacing them with articles about Boris making model buses.”

And if the fact that all of this happening mid-campaign may still seem like a coincidence or conspiracy, there are more cases like this. For instance, earlier in September, Johnson gave a speech (the appropriate term to use would be rambled) in front of the police. At the same time, reports were circulating about how the police were called to the flat he shared with his partner Carrie Symonds, due to an alleged domestic dispute. This way, when ‘Boris Johnson and police’ were googled, his incomprehensible speech would show up instead. Similarly, Johnson saying that he was the “model of restraint,” could have been an attempt at shifting the attention from his alleged affair with ex-model Jennifer Arcuri, meaning that now, when you google “model” next to his name, of course, the model of restraint comes up.

It is unlikely that Boris Johnson is secretly an SEO strategy genius, but what about his PR team? “I doubt that manipulating the SERPs (search engine results pages) was exactly the plan, I don’t want to give them that much credit,” Jess Melia, who wrote the article detailing this exact theory for Parallax, tells Screen Shot.

I think I’d hesitate to point to BoJo himself as the mastermind behind any online strategy,” says Ruth Attwood, Founder and SEO consultant at Puglet Digital. Adding that it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume someone working in PR would have a good understanding of SEO or have knowledge of using “search influenced channels to get out whatever message or change in perception they’re aiming for. It’s their job, after all.”

“There’s a lot more at play in terms of PR, coverage and social platforms in today’s digital ecosystem,” Attwood explains. When someone of a high influence (brand, media outlet or individual) starts driving a conversation into a particular direction, this almost always influences Google search results. “Of course, what someone sees and what they think are two very different things, but I think it would be remarkably short-sighted to think that search engine results don’t have any influence on the public consciousness.” Of course, Boris Johnson’s remarks have clearly changed the results of our search engines—but the thing is, the news media outlets that are publishing these conversations are the ones dominating the digital news domain.

So what does this teach us about our search engine usage and results? Of course, these can be influenced ‘for us’, which then also dictates the news and media we consume. For those of us who aren’t SEO specialists (and I am certainly not), it is hard to crack theories such as these. So perhaps next time, if you hear Boris Johnson doing something odd and ridiculous, take it with a grain of salt and perhaps refrain from tweeting about it.

Boris Johnson is talking nonsense to influence your Google search results


By Bianca Borissova

Oct 17, 2019

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