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What is SEO and why should you be doing it?

SEO targetSearch engine optimisation (SEO) is about being visible online and delivering relevant content. James Gurd reveals how to achieve both to ensure your company climbs the search rankings

Search engine optimisation (SEO), also referred to as organic or natural search, is the technical and marketing optimisation of your website to deliver search engine visibility and relevant customer content. Both of these elements are important — if you work on one without the other, you’ll only achieve partial optimisation.

Technical requirements for effective SEO

If you aren’t visible to search engine spiders and bots, you just aren’t visible full stop. To achieve the first part of SEO you need a site architecture that caters for the core indexing requirements of the search engines. Here’s a handy list to work from:

  1. your site should be coded to W3C standards
  2. your site should be accessible to cater for people with visual and physical impairments. Not sure what this means? Read more on the W3C guidelines
  3. you should have a content management system (CMS) that enables you to add/edit essential meta content. Note that Google keeps changing the value it places on meta data, and keywords are effectively dead following a recent announcement.
  4. all images should have alt tags
  5. your site should be readable when images are turned off
  6. your URLs should be search engine friendly
  7. you should have a robots.txt file
  8. you should have a dynamic XML sitemap
  9. don’t have multiple URLs for the same page
  10. create redirects for old pages that have new URLs.

Catering for customer demand

If you have ticked off the technical list, congratulations - you’ve achieved stage one of having a site that search engines can crawl and index. The next step is making your site relevant to customers to support them through their journey and buying cycle.

What use is a technically optimised site if customers can’t find what they want? A few pointers:

  1. Your web copy should be tailored to your audience. Don’t keyword spam to tempt search engines; your customers will turn off.
  2. Your primary heading (H1) and secondary heading (H2) tags should be aligned with the latest customer search patterns across the major search engines.
  3. Include your brand name where relevant in meta titles and descriptions. “Store Locator — BrandX” is better than just “Store Locator”.
  4. Maximise internal linking to facilitate customer journeys.
  5. Build relationships with influencers to increase positive PR.
  6. Provide a user friendly 404 error page.

The changing face of SEO

To read an expert view of the dual requirements of SEO, take a peek at Rand’s blog on SEOMoz. I like his visualisation of how SEO has changed over the years and the valuable role the human side of SEO plays in site optimisation.  A good point he makes is: “Websites are made for people, and users should absolutely be the focus of your efforts”.

The discussion thread this post kicked off is also worth a read.

Your commercial benefits of SEO

  • Increased relevant traffic.
  • Increased natural search revenue participation.
  • Increased orders and revenue.
  • Reduction in your dependency on pay-per-click advertising (PPC).

Playing the long game with SEO

Just because you can tick off these lists, it doesn’t necessarily mean job done, sit back and relax. SEO is an on-going process.

Search engine algorithms are prone to change, especially Google. Google lives and dies by search relevance and user experience — as long as people find the most relevant and helpful content via Google, Google keeps its market share.

Google is responding to new players in the market such as real time search via social media tools like Twitter. This has increased the importance of rich snippets such as customer reviews and store information. Social media optimisation is also taking the main stage and companies with an effective customer engagement strategy via social media are reaping SEO benefits.

Nothing stays the same forever. Your competition and new websites will be upping their game to compete with your natural search rankings. You need to continuously evolve your SEO strategy to effectively manage your visibility.

Written by James Gurd.

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