What is SEO & How It Works: A Beginner’s Guide to SEO 2021

Here’s something to think about. Out of trillions and millions of websites worldwide, you somehow landed on our highly relevant post about search engine optimisation. Perfectly executed SEO plan — great success!

There’s a reason why 57% of B2B marketers state that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative.

Imagine if you could get more people to land on your website every time they searched for your product or service, exactly the same way you found us?

That’s the power of search engine optimisation. And we’re going to tell you exactly how it works, and how to create an SEO plan for your business.

Let’s start with the SEO definition.

What is SEO and how it works

Search Engine Optimisation is a tactic used to improve your website’s rankings and increase visibility to drive more qualified traffic to your website from organic searches.

The best way to put it — the SEO meaning involves making changes on and off the page to improve website performance, increase visibility and make your content more relevant to what users are searching for. 

This is because Search engines, such as Google and Bing, will reward your website with higher rankings based on factors such as website speed, quality and relevance of content, among other factors.

And the higher your website is ranked, the more qualified traffic your pages will receive.

For example, if you think about how you ended up here reading this post right now. You were probably searching for something related to SEO. In order for search engines (generally, Google) to rank our article as a top result on the search engine results page, we made sure to include relevant search phrases and keywords. 

So we would appear as one of the top results whenever people search for the phrases ‘what is SEO or ‘how does SEO work’. 

Sounds simple enough right? If only it was this easy.

The tricky part is understanding what is Google’s algorithm for SEO and what you actually need to do. Google relies on over 200 ranking factors in their algorithm to score and rank your website. If you don’t have an expert SEO agency in your corner, this is like navigating a minefield.

So, it’s not quite as simple as publishing a few blog articles, but it’s not as complicated that you must adhere to all 200 factors. Before we dive into some SEO tips, here’s a quick low down of how SEO works.

How SEO works

Create and publish content

It all begins with creating content and publishing it on your website. Because Google will assess individual web pages and not your entire website a whole, it’s important to optimise individual pages.

An SEO best practice is to make sure your pages are connected to each other with internal linking. This helps Google identify the structure of your site and how your content relates to each other. 

Search engines crawl through your website

Before your website can be ranked by Google, it needs to know what is actually on the page. Search engines will send out robots to assess the content and structure on individual pages, is it mobile-friendly, are there any links that direct people to other pages on and off your website, and more.

It’s important to note these algorithms have trouble understanding images, sound clips and videos. See on-page SEO optimisation for tips on how to optimise your content for crawlability. 

Search algorithms index and classify your content

After Google discovers your website, it now needs to understand what each page is about. Using a complex algorithm, search engines will analyse the significance and relevance of the content on each page, including images and videos, and stores it in the Google Index.

Luckily, you’ve accounted for all videos, images and sounds using alt text as mentioned above. 

Search engines determine your rank

So, your website has been crawled and indexed by Google, when does it rank? Every time a user searches for something, Google will try to find the most relevant answer that will provide the best user experience from its index.

This is where it will use over 200 variables, including user location, mobile-friendliness, language and many, many more! Based on well you’ve optimised your content and pages, you will be given a rank on the search engine results page.

Now that you have a better understanding of how SEO works, it’s time to explore all 200 variables… Just kidding! To save you the time and hassle of reading about each individual factor, we’ve gathered the most relevant ones that are going to help you improve your rankings faster.

Keep reading to find out the tactics you can use in your SEO strategy to help increase your search rankings and as a result more qualified organic traffic.

SEO Tips: What are search engines looking for?

What is Technical SEO and why is it important?

To quickly define what is technical SEO — it is the process of optimizing the architecture and performance of a website, including improving page speed, structuring data for ease of navigation, clear sitemaps, and being mobile-friendly. This helps improve how search engines, like Google, crawl and index your website.

Essential technical SEO tools and tests for optimising your website

1. Verify your site using Google Search Console

The first and primary tool of any SEO strategy should be Google Search Console. It has a number of features that will help you monitor and optimise your website, with no coding required, including:

  • What keywords are currently ranking each on web page
  • Any errors on your website preventing it from being crawled
  • The mobile-friendliness of your website
  • What pages are/aren’t indexed by Google
  • Website related metrics important to any business, including number of clicks, impressions, average click-through-rate, average ranking, and more.

2. Track and measure results in Google Analytics 

The success of any digital marketing strategy is always built on the foundation of cold hard metrics — ahh how we love a good monthly report. Google Analytics will help you figure out if there are any issues with traffic, penalties, where to make improvements, among other things. Important metrics to keep track of include:

  • Total clicks — how many people click on your website on Google’s search results page
  • Bounce rate — % of visitors that leave a page without taking an action
  • Time on page/ dwell time — how long users spend on the page before going back to search results page
  • Organic traffic — various measurements of traffic received from all search engines, including Bing
  • Referring domains — the number of different sites linking back to you
  • Core Web Vitals: closely linked to user experience (link to other article?)

You can pretty much manage your website’s entire SEO information when paired with Google Search Console, as everything can be accessed and compiled from one centralised location. Google analytics provides business owners with clarity on their investment, what’s performing well and what needs optimising. Here’s how you can use it to improve your SEO:

  • Compare organic traffic and paid results side-by-side to get a better understanding of your investment and provide clarity on what is and isn’t working
  • Identify which pages generate the most traffic and what pages need optimising 
  • Remove spam traffic
  • Generate site content reports to see engagement metrics on each web page, including bounce rates, page exits, acquisitions, and conversions. 
  • Attribute which SEO optimised pages are leading to the most sales and conversion and what is the value of those sales to your business
  • Understand what kind of content generates more traffic to drive your content production strategy planning
  • Understand which pages need to be optimised based on user behaviour (time on page, bounce rate and exit percentage)

3. Measure and optimise for page speed with Google Pagespeed Insights

Website speed is one of Google’s most important ranking factors. Slow to load websites will be penalised as it affects the user experience. Speaking of user experience, it has fast become a focal point affecting your site’s ranking since the introduction of Google’s Core Web Vitals.

Using three metrics — LCP, FID, and CLS —  Google will evaluate your website’s overall user experience based largely on page speed and performance. 

Core Web Vitals in more detail

Largest contentful paint (LCP) 

The amount of time it takes to render the largest piece of content on the page from when the user clicks on your site link from the search engine results page. This is important because it informs the user that the website is actually loading.

First input delay (FID)

This measures the time it takes from when the user first interacts with the pape, such as clicking a link or button, to the time when the browser responds to that action. This is important because the user has interacted with the page and is waiting for it to respond.

Cumulative layout shift (CLS)

This measures how much the page layout moves around during the loading phase and is given a score from 0 to 1, zero means no movement and one means the most. This is important because having parts of your page move around when someone is trying to interact with it is a bad user experience. 

Pay extra attention to the Core Web Vitals report when analysing your Google Analytics. Google also has a page speed testing tool that reports on both mobile and desktop devices, giving you a speed rating of 0-100 and a list of suggestions on how you can improve page speed.

4. Optimise for mobile with Google Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool

How mobile-friendly your website is will affect where your website is ranking on the search engine results page. Simply paste your URL into Google’s mobile-friendly testing tool and see how your page scores.

5. Use Google’s Schema.org Structured Data Testing Tool to structure data

Ever wondered how some search results include review stars and ratings? That’s the efforts of Schema markup and can be used to improve your organic click-through-rate.  

Other types of tags (or microdata) can be added to your HTML to improve how search engines read and represent your page on the search engine results page. Schema.org structured data testing tool allows you to identify any issues with your schema coding before it is implemented.  

What is On-Page SEO and why is it important?

Involves strategies in optimising visible content and HTML code on individual web pages to help search engines understand the context of the content and its relevance to types of user searched queries. Improving on-page SEO can help boost your businesses rankings on search engine results pages.

On-page SEO tools best practices for optimising your website

1. Conduct keyword research using AHREFs

The first step to creating relevant content is to understand what keywords and content Google is ranking. Ahrefs is one of the most advanced SEO tools online that allows you to examine anything from keywords and phrases to internal links, profile rankings and performance of individual pages. Various functions of Ahrefs include:

  • Keyword Explorer allows you to search for keywords, showing the monthly search volume, number of clicks, keyword difficulty score, among other metrics.
  • Site Explorer allows you to view the performance of specific pages on your website, your competitor’s websites, including organic traffic, what organic keywords are being ranked, the number of links to your site (backlinks), and so much more.
  • Content Explorer allows you to search up keywords and phrases, generating a list of high-performing web pages under that keyword or topic
  • Site Audit helps you track the health of your website, revealing technical issues with pages and giving you a percentage health score. 

Want a free SEO tool?

Ubersuggest is a free online SEO tool that gives you everything you need to know about what SEO strategies are working for others in your industry, and how you can adopt and improve on them to get an edge over the competition. 

  • Suggestions on keywords and phrases that are working for your competitors and what people are searching for in Google
  • Save yourself time on writing content people don’t want to read and find out what top pages your competitors are ranking for organic keywords and phrases

2. How to plan and create SEO content for content marketing

These days, it’s not enough to just be adding keywords to your content. You need to consider how your target audience consumes content, including the type and format. Creating a customer persona will help you get a better understanding of what kind of content your target audience consumes and their preferred format.

This will allow you to create content that is highly relevant to them and in a format that is most suited to their search intent

  • Different content types including product pages, category pages, landing pages, videos, and blog posts.
  • Types of content formats can include listicles, how-to guides, reviews, news articles or opinion pieces.
  • Consider adding videos, sound clips and images to increase engagement on the page
  • Including a FAQ section that answers common questions will help increase time on the page and establish authority
  • Creating and publishing optimised SEO content consistently will help increase qualified traffic, build awareness and establish authority
  • The angle of your content will essentially be the selling point. Is it easy? Is it quick? Is it the ultimate? The perfect? What does your target audience want?

3. What is on-page SEO optimisation and tips on how to write SEO content

Once you’ve created all your content, it’s time to double down on the ‘technical’ on-page SEO elements, such as meta titles and meta descriptions, and relevant keywords and phrases based on the user’s search intent. On-page SEO optimisation is what will help Google determine what is the best and most relevant content to show to a user’s search query. This is why it’s important to make sure each page has a clear focus on keywords and phrases based on search intent.  

This is what’s going to help separate you from the rest of the results and ensure Google and searchers view your page as the best. 

  • This may sound obvious, but always include your keyword focus in the title
  • Make sure your title tag is clear, short and concise (use your title for reference)
  • Use concise and compelling meta descriptions that match search intent (can expand on title tag)
  • Make sure URLs are short and descriptive
  • Make sure images have descriptive names. I.e. Rather than IMG_92201.jpg > super-cute-ginger-cat.jpg.
  • Optimise images using descriptive alt text, and compress images file
  • Internally linking not only helps Google crawl your website easier, but it also increases users time on your website by providing them with links to relevant information to answer their questions
  • External links are another way of providing value to your users, increasing trust and credibility

What is Off-Page SEO and why is it important?

Off-page SEO can be best described as a trust-building exercise that is done outside of your website to improve rankings and credibility. Think of Google as an academy. If your work is cited by relevant researchers you become more trustworthy and your work will be noticed by others.

The more your website is mentioned on other sites, the more search engines and users will trust you as a credible and authoritative source, resulting in better rankings.

Off-page SEO techniques and best practices

1. Link building 

Link building, also known as outreach, is getting other websites to mention your website and link back to you. This is called a backlink and is one of the most popular techniques of off-page SEO. Not to be confused with internal linking, which involves creating hyperlinks to connect users to other parts of your website that may assist with their query. 

What is linkbuilding

Getting reputable sites with high domain authority to link back to you will drive more traffic to your website and increase your rankings and authority. Creating hyperlinks internally will also help direct users to other parts of your website that may assist with their query

 Tips to get more links:

  • Run outreach campaigns regularly
  • Create a strategy based on segments, verticals, topics or themes
  • Create a list with relevant websites under the strategy that you are executing
  • Write a template with a tailored message based on your strategy
  • Reach out to other websites and bloggers to ask them if they are able to link back to something you have written or created. Also known as outreach.
  • Create high-quality content to attract links to your website naturally using infographics, videos, and in-depth blog topics.
  • Suggest relevant and contextual anchor text for your outreach campaign
  • Update your social media with your latest content releases to help gain traction and build awareness.

2. Content marketing

Creating highly relevant and quality content is a great place to start generating linkable content for your business. Continue to share your content on all social media platforms where your target audience can like, comment and share your content. The more engagement your content has, the more likely you’ll become a trusted and recognised source of information in your industry. 

3. Social media marketing

While not directly related to your website ranking, social media is still an excellent place to promote your business and generate awareness for your brand. A reputable person or business sharing your content to millions of social media users shows they trust your brand, so they should too. It also gives a chance for your audience to interact with your brand on platforms that are easy to communicate.

4. Local citations

Local citations are generally found on local business directories, websites, apps and on social media platforms. They include core business information, such as company name, address, phone number and link to the website. 

They help your target audience find you better online and can impact how Google ranks your website. For example, having the right basic information can help you rank better on Google Maps. Other elements to consider adding include:

  • Opening and closing times
  • Days open
  • Business description
  • Images
  • Reviews
  • Links to social media
  • News
  • Contact numbers, fax number

Why is SEO important and how does it benefit your business?

If you’ve read this entire post, congratulations! We’re almost there. 

For those who simply skipped to this section to see how SEO can benefit your business, you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. 

You may or may not have invested in SEO in the past, and it may or may not have been successful. But for whatever the reason, you’re here now.

SEO is one of the most effective methods of digital marketing business owners can use to boost website rankings, generate more qualified traffic and ultimately increase conversion rates.

One of the biggest benefits of SEO is that it is highly measurable, with plenty of tools and metrics to help you track and measure performance. 

SEO works around the clock 24/7, driving offline sales, building trust, increasing brand awareness and credibility.  

But if you’re still not convinced SEO is right for your business or wondering if SEO is still relevant in 2021, you’ll want to peep these SEO statistics.

Why? Because 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, predominantly on Google.

With Google currently holding 90.1% of the total search engine market share. 

Okay, fair enough. Heaps of people search for things online, how does that help your business?

Remember all that content we told you to write? Well, it’s about to pay off, with 81% of people researching online before making any large purchases.

With another 61% of internet users researching a product online before making a purchase. 

Honestly speaking, just think about how you purchase something online. 

Do you read or watch 3 to 5 pieces of content created by a business before making a purchase?

Because almost half of users will do exactly that before contacting a salesman from that company.

There’s a reason why 57% of B2B marketers state that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative.

It’s not only because 86% of consumers look up the location of a business on… 

Or, that 18% of location-based mobile searches result in a sale within a day.

Although, these are both strong enough reasons to do SEO…

But, if you’re not on the first page of Google search results, are you even RELEVANT? 

Because the scariest part is that 75% of users never even scroll past the first page.

Now look, that doesn’t mean you should just give up on SEO all together.

There are hundreds of SEO tactics that business owners can leverage to increase their rankings.

Just take a look at how we’ve helped many of our Perth clients generate more qualified traffic and leads using SEO.

Are you ready to take your SEO to another level?

Get started with a free, no-obligation SEO audit and we’ll show you how to increase your leads using SEO.

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