Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (S.E.O) Frequently Asked Questions
SEO may have been around for a while, but it’s still a new concept to many who are just beginning to dip their toe into digital marketing.
We’ve collated some of the most asked questions about SEO to help answer common search queries.
What does SEO stand for?
The acronym SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.
What is SEO?
Put simply, SEO is a process that forms part of a digital marketing strategy that focuses on optimizing a website to make it more visible in search engine results pages (i.e. in Google search results) with the goal of driving organic traffic and leads to the website. Organic traffic is driven to a website from clicks on these search results.
Why is SEO important?
Organic traffic is natural in the sense that it is earned rather than paid for, but to be successful, you still need to invest a lot of time and resource in SEO. Search engines have got better at identifying the intent of search queries which makes choosing the right keywords to drive traffic even more important. Because organic traffic is not paid for, once an SEO strategy takes effect and visibility increases, a website will see growth in this channel. More visibility = more traffic = more potential customers = more potential revenue.
But it’s not just about getting ANY traffic to a website. If it’s not good quality traffic, there is no value in it. So don’t ever pay anyone who claims that they can deliver thousands of visitors to your website overnight!
Does traffic affect rankings?
The algorithms will determine what has caused a spike in traffic before assessing whether this is a signal that your site has something users are finding to be valuable. Did an authoritative site share a piece of content you created which resulted in a bump in referral traffic? Or was it a load of bots or spammers that have been paid to Google your business over and over and over again and click the result to artificially inflate the traffic to your site?
Exactly how much traffic affects rankings will never really be proven, but there are a few case studies out there that suggest there is perhaps some correlation.
Why does SEO take time before you see the benefits?
SEO takes time because there is no longer an easy way to game the system. Search engine algorithms have become more and more advanced with an emphasis on delivering users the most relevant and highest quality results based on their search query.
Whereas when SEO began all it took was stuffing a webpage with your chosen keyword and pointing as many links as possible to it to see fast results, things have changed – drastically. And deploying tactics like this in 2019 are likely to be doing far more harm than good in the long term.
What are the most important Google ranking factors?
People often ask ‘how do I rank higher on Google?’ or ‘what affects SEO rankings?’
But only Google algorithms know exactly what factors determine how well a page ranks (how visible it is and what determines its position) in search results – in fact, there are reportedly over 200 ranking factors!
Because the way people search has changed, so has SEO. Search results are influenced by things like device, location, and a user’s search history, so what one user sees ranking in position one (the very first search result), another may see in position 5, and another may not see it on the first page at all! While rankings are a good barometer for how well a keyword is performing, it’s important to take these considerations into account.
What are SEO best practices?
In general, there are a few important best practices to follow to be in with a chance of ranking well for your chosen keywords. You might have heard people say ‘content is king’ when they talk about SEO, and in some respects, they are right. Quality content which contains your target keyword (and variations of it) and satisfies user intent is strongly correlated with better rankings.
But content alone won’t cut it. Backlinks (links that point from third-party domains back to your domain) are also an important ranking factor, but it’s the quality and relevancy of the link and the domain it’s linking from that counts, rather than number alone.
For example, if you sell seeds, one link from Homes and Gardens Magazine in an in-depth article about the best tulip seeds would be more valuable than thousands of links published in the comments on low-quality blogs that have nothing to do with gardening.
Another big factor to consider is on-page optimization. This involves making your website search engine friendly by using optimized meta content (title tags, meta descriptions) heading tags, and images.
Then there are technical considerations. Making sure a site has good architecture, through clear navigation and internal linking is important, not just for search engines, but for users, too.
What is on page SEO?
On-page SEO relates to any action taken on the website itself to improve performance. This includes:
- Using optimized content that contains target keywords (including meta, headers, images)
- Making sure that the site is accessible (can be crawled and indexed by search engines) and can be easily navigated by users
- Using internal links (in menus, body copy, and breadcrumbs to aid navigation)
- Ensuring that a website loads quickly
- Keeping crawl errors to a minimum
- Having a site that is optimized for mobile
- Not having duplicate (same content on more than one page), or thin content (low word count), or making sure these pages cannot be accessed and indexed by search engines
- Using clean, descriptive, static URLs with a structure that follows the same structure as the site (for example, if you have an online bookstore, www.bookzaregreat.com/ficton/horror/stephen-king would be a better URL than www.bookzaregreat.com/page21/.html)
Why are keywords important?
Without the right keywords, you’ll really struggle to drive valuable traffic to a website! However, choosing the right keywords can be difficult, especially if your business operates in a competitive niche. This is why keyword research is so important. Any SEO agency worth its salt will use multiple tools to identify target keywords, assess how competitive they are, and make suggestions of which pages target keywords should appear on.
Not all keywords are created equal. While a high volume, generic term like ‘books’ might seem like a good keyword if you sell books, realistically, it’s going to be very difficult to rank for a keyword like that, especially when you’re up against e-commerce giants like Amazon. ‘Buy books online’ might have lower search volume, but it’s far more relevant to your offering.
Now, ‘buy books online’ would be one of your ‘money’ terms (the search intent of the user is to purchase a book), but consider how many other searches users might make when researching what kind of book they want to buy.
This is where ‘long tail’ keywords come in. Made up of a number of keywords, often in a phrase or question, these keywords can be useful in driving traffic to deeper pages of your site, including FAQ pages, or a blog post. A good example of this would be ‘best selling horror books for 2019’ with all of your recommended books from this genre on a landing page, or a blog post ‘top 10 horror books’.
How do I write SEO friendly copy?
There are a few basic rules that you should follow when writing SEO friendly copy – but optimization should never be done at the expense of user experience.
Selling horror books? Sure, you could write a landing page that says:
If you love the horror genre, boy are you going to love these horror books. You can buy horror books online today and get next day delivery on all the best horror books. Horror fans will love reading these horror novels. We stock a great selection of books from best selling horror writers. Purchase the latest horror books now!
Yes, it does mention what you sell, and yes, it does contain variations of your keyword. But it’s not very good. Is that really how you want visitors to view your brand?
Will it work for search engines? Probably to an extent. But will it work better than copy that is well optimized and well written? Probably not.
Equally, you could write a wonderfully creative landing page about horror books, but if it doesn’t actually mention that you sell them (or worse, it doesn’t actually mention any keywords at all), how are you going to be found?
The rain pounds at the window, and the wind howls through the trees. Draw the curtains, lock the doors, turn down the lights. Now that the mood is set, are you prepared to be transported to a place where your darkest fears become reality? Which fright fest will you choose to envelop yourself in tonight?
See what I mean?
Why is site speed important?
How long would you wait for a website to load? 5 seconds? 3 seconds? Less?
When it comes to expectations for site speed, did you know that?
- 47% of people expect your site to load in less than 2 seconds
- 40% will abandon it entirely if it takes longer than 3 seconds
- Most people have short attention spans when searching online, so it’s important to deliver the information they are looking for quickly. Not only is it important for users, but it’s also important to search engines, because they want to deliver high-quality search results – fast.
- There is no point in ranking a site highly if users are clicking the result, waiting for 5 seconds for the page to load, and when it doesn’t, clicking straight back to search results. Low time on site and high bounce rates (when a user visits a site and leaves without visiting any other pages) sends signals that user experience is poor.
- Plus, if your page load speed is really slow, search engines might not bother crawling and indexing some pages at all.
- According to Google: “Google will reduce the amount of crawlers it sends to your site if your server is slower than two seconds.”
This means that search engines are less likely to discover your latest landing pages, blog posts or other updates. While shaving a few milliseconds off page load time isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference on a site that already loads quickly, doing what you can to make search engines increase crawl activity is always going to be positive.
Why is site structure important?
Websites should be designed in a way that has a clear hierarchy, both across the whole site and on individual landing pages. The most important page (usually the homepage) sits at the very top, followed by sub-pages (usually categories or service pages that can be navigated from the main menu) which may then have further sub-pages sat underneath also (product pages or sub-service pages).
A product page URL on a site with good structure might look like this:
The further away a page is in terms of clicks a user has to make to navigate to it from the homepage, the weaker these pages will be in terms of authority. This is why important pages should sit higher in the hierarchy and be easily navigated to via both the menu and internal linking.
By providing a clear path to navigate through a website, you’ll please both search engines and users.
Landing pages should also follow a structure. The heading structure can be used to highlight the most important keywords on your landing page. These headers should be nested semantically (h1, h2, h3, etc.) with only one h1 on the landing page. Headings should be used for this purpose and not styling fonts on a web page.
What is off page SEO?
Off page SEO primarily focuses on links.
Links are important for SEO, and probably always will be as they act as a signal that people are finding content interesting enough to vouch for by linking to it.
Amplifying content also falls under off page SEO. This means promoting content through other channels to encourage influencers, peers, publishers, or customers to share your content, or write about your content, with a link back to your site.
All links are not created equal. And good links are not easy to come by.
What is linkbuilding?
Linkbuilding is the process of actively seeking opportunities where a link back to your website could be placed. This could be:
- A directory website (yellowpages.com, for example)
- Local business directories (if you have a physical location)
- An association you or your staff are members of (CIMA, if you are an accountant, for example)
- Companies that you partner with (as a supplier or reseller, for example)
- A blog post or guest article on a site in your niche
- Press coverage on an industry news site
- Coverage of research that your business has conducted on publisher sites in your niche
- Local press coverage
- Forums and Q&A sites
- Blog comments
Linkbuilding used to be about quantity over quality – now the opposite is true. Linkbuilding takes a lot of time and planning to be done properly, and has become PR focused as more emphasis is now placed on creating high-quality content and sharing it with those who will find it interesting or noteworthy enough to link to.
Why are backlinks important?
Backlinks effectively pass authority from one website to another.
Page rank is a long-dead metric that used to indicate how ‘powerful’ a page or domain was, and therefore, how valuable a link would be. Since that’s been scrapped, many people now use Domain Authority as a guide. Domain Authority is a ‘search engine ranking score’ which is a ‘best guess’ number out of 100 calculated by Moz and is used to determine the quality of a website based on a huge number of signals including the number of links, and the quality of links that point to the domain.
The CNN News website is very authoritative. It is part of a well-known brand, uses trusted sources, is updated frequently, and has lots of visitors who engage with, and share their content on a daily basis.
With all of this in mind, a link back from the CNN or MSNBC News website would be considered a fantastic link. However, the chance of getting a link from the CNN website is pretty slim!
The good news is it’s not just about the authority of the sites linking to you. Relevancy is also an incredibly important factor.
Using our totally made up online bookstore, www.bookzaregreat.com as an example, let’s imagine that they create a really good piece of content that helps people find out which Hairy Plopper squad they belong to. This ties in with the release of the complete box set.
This content could appeal to:
- Media and entertainment publishers
- Sites that review books
- Sites that cover fantasy fiction
- Hairy Plopper fan sites
- Blogs about books
Websites within these niches will vary in terms of authority – but they are all relevant.
These sites will be more likely to cover the content www.bookzaregreat.com has created as it will appeal to their audience – they are not interested in the fact that your site will be stocking the box set (so will thousands of others). As your content is covered and then shared, it starts being picked up by people you haven’t even contacted generating natural links back to your site.
While all of this might sound easy, it isn’t. These types of links require a huge amount of effort to acquire – which is why good backlinks are so valuable – and so important.
What is a technical audit?
A technical SEO audit identifies issues with a website from a search engine perspective and provides recommendations on how to implement fixes that improve performance. The audit will look for any issues with the website itself (both on page and in regards to external factors, such as hosting), and also assess whether links could be the reason that a site’s performance is being hindered (off page).
There are many, many elements to check when conducting a technical review of a site, as data is compiled from multiple sources, including paid SEO tools, to ensure that nothing is missed.
Will Google Ads (PPC) help my SEO?
Directly – no. Sadly, paying money to Google doesn’t do you any favors in terms of getting in their good books, or access to any of their secrets.
However, one thing that PPC can be handy for is finding new keywords, and testing out which keywords work best in terms of driving traffic and conversions.
Which is better, SEO or PPC?
PPC is a great way of delivering traffic to a website instantly, and it can be turned on and off. The downside is that it costs money. Sometimes lots of money, making it difficult for smaller businesses to compete. That being said, as long as the ad spend is still generating a return on investment (ROI), it can work well as a stop gap while waiting for longer-term marketing strategies take effect.
On the other hand, SEO takes a long time, but the rewards are greater as the more visible a website becomes organically, the less they may have to spend on paid search activity.
Does Social Media affect SEO?
There is some debate about how much social signals influence search results. But even if social media doesn’t directly affect rankings, this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be considered an important part of an SEO strategy.
Social media can be an effective way of promoting content, engaging with your audience and customers, strengthening your brand, while also providing users with more channels to find you online.
Think about social media platforms suggesting ‘people you may know’ or ‘pages you might like’. Then think about how you could steal customers from one of your competitors by popping up as a suggested account to follow in a user’s feed.
Does duplicate content affect SEO?
It certainly can. Not only on page, but off page, too.
There are a number of scenarios where duplicate content issues can damage your SEO.
- Duplicating an entire domain
- This happens with http and https or www and non-www versions of a site
- Duplicating entire pages
- This is often done by accident when pages can be accessed via different URL paths
- Filters can also cause this issue
- Copying content across multiple pages of a website and only changing the keyword
- Location pages are often found to have this issue (http://www.teffont.co.uk/Essex/printer-repair-Essex.htm and http://www.teffont.co.uk/suffolk/printer-repair-suffolk.htm are good examples of this)
- Having ‘templated’ content appear on every page
- This could be having the category content appear below the product on every single product page
- Copying content from other websites and publishing it on your own
- Publishing the same content that appears on your website on multiple websites
- Not to be confused with content syndication – which is fine if done properly
- This shouldn’t be done even if you own all of the domains
Fortunately, duplicate content can be managed through:
- Collating content onto a single URL, with any duplicate pages redirecting to the new page
- Adding no index tags to all duplicate versions of a page
- Adding canonical tags to duplicate versions of a page that point back to the original source of the content
What is a crawl error?
To understand crawl errors, you first need to understand response codes (AKA HTTP status codes). These status codes are issued by a server in response to a request made to the server.
- 1xx (Informational): The request was received, continuing process
- 2xx (Successful): The request was successfully received, understood, and accepted
- 3xx (Redirection): Further action needs to be taken in order to complete the request
- 4xx (Client Error): The request contains bad syntax or cannot be fulfilled
- 5xx (Server Error): The server failed to fulfill an apparently valid request
If you click on a search result and it takes you to the same URL you clicked on and the page has the content you were expecting, chances are the page will return the status 200 – OK. This is the standard response code that is returned when everything is hunky dory.
Common crawl errors you might have come across are 404s, which is the response code when a page cannot be found – more often than not, a page has been removed and not redirected. Another is a 503, which indicates a server is unavailable. This could be because the server is overloaded, or the site has been taken down for maintenance.
Crawl errors occur when a search engine spider (i.e. Googlebot and Bingbot) is crawling a site, and it hits a page that returns a response code 4XX or a 5XX. To check your site for crawl errors that have been detected by search engines, you will need to link your website to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Here, you can view crawl error reports to find out which pages have errors and prioritise which pages to fix.
Do 404 errors hurt SEO?
404 errors won’t affect your rankings, but they do affect user experience, and they do waste crawl budget. If links point to the page that 404s, or if there is a new version of the page, the old page should redirect to it via a 301 redirect. If it’s a page that is never, ever coming back, give it the status 410 – Gone.
Do redirects affect SEO?
When implemented correctly, redirects are good for SEO. They tell search engines that as page A no longer exists, go to page B instead. If you have a lot of good links to a URL and then you remove it without putting a redirect in place, you’ll lose all of the authority being passed to your domain via those links!
That being said, there are times when redirects can go wrong. Redirect chains occur when there is more than one redirect between the original URL and the destination URL.
http://bookzaregreat.com.html > 301 redirect > http://www.bookzaregreat.com.html > 301 redirect > http://www.bookzaregreat.com > 301 redirect > https://www.bookzaregreat.com
A redirect loop occurs when URL A points to URL B, and URL B points back to URL A. This means that the page will never be able to load as it is stuck in a continuous cycle of trying to load two pages that redirect to each other.
Is HTTPS good for SEO?
HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP – the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
Google announced that HTTPS was going to be included as a ranking factor as it wants to ‘reward’ sites that take user data seriously but how heavily weighted this is as a signal as part of the wider algorithm is unknown.
Providing the migration from HTTP to HTTPS is done correctly, it certainly won’t hinder your SEO efforts.
Why isn’t my site being indexed?
There are a number of reasons a website might not be indexed.
- The entire site has been blocked via the robots.txt file – this is a file that sits on your server where webmasters can create rules that instruct search engines on how to crawl and index a website.
This means that web crawlers are not allowed to access the site to crawl and index it. If the pages can’t be crawled and indexed, they won’t show up in search results.
- No index tag has been applied to specific URLs – this tells search engines not to index a page
- Crawlers are blocked via the .htacessfile
- Your website has been penalized and fully or partially removed from search results as a result of unnatural link building
- Search engine crawlers haven’t yet found your site/URL and so it has not been indexed
- You have Malware on your site, or other security issues that have resulted in your site being removed from search results
What is a Google Penalty?
Google will penalize sites for violating its Webmaster Guidelines. This basically means purposefully engaging in tactics to manipulate search engines into ranking sites high in search results.
These techniques are often referred to as ‘black hat SEO’.
This can include:
- Spammy link building tactics
- Keyword stuffing
- Exact match domains (i.e. www.buydoctormartenbootsonline.com)
Once a site is penalized, it can be difficult to recover. Backlink analysis and clean up (AKA link detox) can take hours to complete, and even then, if a penalty is removed it can take some time to bounce back.