The Basics of SEO: An Active Guide to the Fundamentals

30 August 2017
Published: By: Alex Stockton



 

“Yeah, I’ll do your SEO. Basically you’ve got to have a really in-depth, technical understanding of how the internet works if you’re going to succeed. It’s all really technical, but really rewarding. Like, the other day I was doing some technical work, looking into the SERPS of this keyword and I was so made up when I saw that my content had ranked at position zero. Did I mention I’m actually really technically-minded?”Anonymous search engine “genius”.

While there are, undoubtedly, significant elements of Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO) that do require technical knowledge, there is also a wide range of “non-technical” SEO methods available for improving our online performance and, ultimately, our rankings. It is, unsurprisingly, better to combine the non-technical side of things with more technical methods; doing so will allow you to cover a lot more ground. For the purposes of this article, though, we’re focusing on the non-technical side of things. Specifically, we’re focusing on writing, social media, and campaigns. We also examine the value of user intent in the world of SEO.

Throughout this piece, we’ll introduce you to some of the fundamental basics of SEO, while also ensuring that we offer some helpful definitions and pearls of wisdom. By the end of it, you’ll be so well-versed in this “technical” world that you’ll be able to speak to our anonymous genius on a level playing field, if you feel the need.

We’ll also continue to update this post, adding a new fundamental every so often.

Where it all began

We’ll start with a bit of a history lesson (partly because it’s a good place to start, and partly because I’m a history graduate). The first recognisable search engine, as we understand them today, went live in 1990. “Archie”, ostensibly short for archives, was designed to help collect and order data from all over the internet. By matching up users’ queries with the files at its disposal, Archie was able to send people to the relevant pages of information without them having to trawl through hundreds of pages themselves.

Many more search engines followed, each of them aiming to best suit the needs of their users. While Yahoo, Bing, and Ask Jeeves were all introduced throughout the 1990s, the arrival that continues to dominate the search engine landscape was that of Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s creation has become the most used search engine worldwide, and was even added into the dictionary as a verb a few years ago. It’s so significant, in fact, that the vast majority of today’s SEO work is focused almost exclusively on Google. These days, something as seemingly insignificant as Google changing its font can lead to mass panics throughout the community.

With the rise of search engines came the rise of SEO. As more and more companies and businesses began to develop an online presence, the need for optimisation continued to rise. Effectively, the larger anything gets, the more helpful some kind of administration becomes. For example, the world’s smallest library could be operated perfectly effectively with one person working behind the counter. Let’s assume, however, that the library continued to grow … and grow, and grow. Eventually, more librarians will be required, and they’re going to need help; these assistants provide the librarians with the books’ blurbs, its genre, and its target audience, and that effectively represents SEO. Hopefully that’s an analogy that most of us can relate to, as well as being one that makes sense! It’s the job of an SEO company to point Google in the right direction when it’s looking for services. Go to an SEO agency, and they’ll point Google to your company!

What is SEO?

The idea of SEO is very simple, really, despite the amount of jargon often thrown around. Essentially, search engine optimisation is generally self-explanatory. The main objective of SEO is to ensure that the right people find your website, by getting it to the top of search engines. It’s all about making online content accessible to a target audience. There are a number of ways in which this objective can be achieved, and we’ll discuss them in more detail shortly.

By this above logic, an SEO company focuses on optimising websites so they’ll “perform better” on search engines. They do this in a number of ways, including on-site optimisation, social media work, and campaigning. Campaigning, in particular, has become far more relevant in recent years, with the need for genuine, organic website traffic dramatically increased. While there are many more basics of SEO to consider than the three we’ve mentioned, these fundamentals are a great way to introduce someone to the essential concepts.

Why does it matter?

So, an SEO company does some “technical” stuff and your company’s at the top of Google, featuring in the local carousel, and is perfectly responsive across mobiles and tablets. So what? Why does that actually matter? Well, we can assure you it does.

With so many companies now online, and the majority of people throughout the Western world connected in some way to the worldwide web, mastering the basics of SEO is absolutely crucial to the success of a business. You want to be able to communicate with as many people as possible, telling them what sets your company apart. It’s not enough to simply own a website; you have to own a responsive, optimised website across a number of platforms, that sits pretty on page one of Google. Furthermore, if you’re ticking all of the SEO boxes, you’re probably ticking all of the user experience ones, too. Now that user experience is so intrinsically linked with the practice, it essentially acts as a quality checker. Ensure you’re following the basics of SEO, and the chances are you’ve written a high quality web page, or ran an effective campaign.

Writing for SEO

A picture of a pencil and paper, used for writing for SEO
 
Now, for the specifics. One of the fundamental basics of SEO is very simple: writing. Whether you’re uploading a fresh blog post, optimising existing content or writing new pages, producing high quality written work is extremely important. Firstly, uploading content with frequency and regularity to a site is a straightforward way to tell Google that a website is active and fully-functioning. As a result, it’s more likely that the site will be trusted and, therefore, ranked.

More specifically, there are a number of points to consider before any SEO writing can be carried out. Chief among those is the target keyword, or keywords. A keyword is effectively a word or phrase that you’d like to target; it’s a search term that you’d like people to find your website with. For example, an SEO agency might target keywords such as “SEO agency” and “SEO Marketing”. When people search “SEO agency” into Google, they’ll find the said company, provided they’ve carried out an effective campaign. Unfortunately, it gets pretty complicated trying to make sure you’re choosing a good target keyword. Extensive keyword research is required before a term is decided upon. Ensuring that enough people are searching for that term, and carrying out seasonal trend analysis for it, will help you get as much out of your efforts as possible. There would be little point in targeting a keyword that no-one’s going to search for, after all.

When it comes to writing for a keyword, there are also a number of potential challenges. For example, working your target phrase into the content without it sounding forced requires a high level of writing ability. Creating something that is relevant is also incredibly important. Keeping your content highly relevant to both the targeted keyword and, most importantly, the searcher’s intent, will go a long way in terms of rankings. Further checks to carry out include content quality, the piece’s semantics, and the call to action (CTA). For companies wishing to target specific areas, adding in the relevant area as another keyword is an excellent place to start.

Social Media

A picture of a number of social media icons
 
In addition to bolstering your position on search engines through optimised writing, the power of social media should never be underestimated; it’s second on our list of basics of SEO. In some ways, social media has begun to replace conventional search engines. Rather than type “Facebook” into Google, a staggering amount of people now simply select the Facebook, Twitter or Instagram tile on their smartphone, and spend hours upon hours scrolling through their newsfeeds.

With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to have a prominent social media presence. Where billboards and posters served their purpose in the past, Facebook ads or viral tweets are now far more likely to leave an impression than many other forms of marketing. According to statista.com, 62.1% of North America’s population were on Facebook as of June 2016. That figure remains incredibly high for Europe, too, with 39.5% using the social media site. What other means of marketing has the ability to reach almost 40% of the population? Regardless of the answer, social media is clearly one of the most prominent marketing platforms out there.

Where blog posts and new pages offer keyword targeting opportunities, social media allows you to become involved in a personalised community. There is much more scope provided by social media than other forms of SEO, and that is why it’s such an important aspect of the overall picture. Facebook, in particular, allows you to target specific demographics these days, and also gives people the opportunity to “boost” posts. If we view social media as a self-contained search engine, then it’s obvious how crucial it is to those working in SEO. It is also worth noting that social media is an excellent way of leading people to your website. An increase in website traffic generally means you’ll rank better on Google, as the search engine assumes that websites with the most visitors must be of the best quality, or have the best user experience. The more website traffic you can have, the better you’ll rank; an effective way of getting that traffic is by using social media.

Campaigns

Digital marketing campaigning
 
Our third fundamental “pillar” of SEO is represented by campaigns. With SEO closely aligned with online marketing as a whole, marketing campaigns are, in certain situations, incredibly effective. We’ve already spoken at length about the powers of social media, and campaigning is tied in almost intrinsically. That isn’t to say that the power of the campaign is limited to social media – far from it. One of the primary advantages of campaigns is that they can work on a variety of platforms. Rather than simply post regular updates on a Facebook page, campaigns more often consist of competitions, focusing highly on engaging potential audiences. Certainly, they can run through social media channels, but also work effectively on the company’s own website and through email.

A successful campaign should, in many ways, represent a culmination of everything we’ve talked about so far, combining all of the basics of SEO into one. Provided it considers seasonal trends and relevant keywords, and harnesses the power of social media, a campaign has a great chance of succeeding. By succeeding, we generally mean increasing brand awareness and encouraging more online engagement. SEO companies do not, as a rule, exercise mind control, so can’t force people to buy their clients’ products. They can, however, encourage more people to see your website and, thus, your products. In many cases, the latter is followed by an increase in purchases.

User intent

While more of an overarching theme than a specific element of SEO, user intent effectively dictates everything someone working in SEO does. Or, at least, it should. Consider the reason you own a website; it’s probably got something to do with advertising, selling, or making people aware of your services, right? Now consider what your website would be without its users, or visitors: pointless. If the goal were simply to get your website to the top of Google, then SEO would help absolutely no-one. A website made up entirely of made-up words might be at the top of Google, but it wouldn’t bring that site owner any profits … not that such a site could realistically hit page one, the modern day search engine is much cleverer than that!

With this point in mind, the most important consideration for anyone in SEO is the user and their intent. Google works tirelessly to try and rank the most useful websites at the top; it judges that by trying to work out which sites are likely to help their users the most. If you’re going to succeed in SEO, you have to try and think like Google (within reason, we realise you’re not a search engine). The logical place to start is, therefore, to make sure your website satisfies user intent. Your important pages should be easily accessible, and your content should be relevant, clear, and accurate. Effectively, if you can run the perfect website from your users’ perspective, you’ll find that your rankings look after themselves.

Coping

Picture of a stressed person
 
Sometimes, as someone who works in SEO myself, I wonder how we cope. The highs and lows of ranking fluctuations are such an emotional rollercoaster. Google decides to shift a couple of your keywords onto page two and that’s it, day ruined. Upon looking later, however, and discovering that you’ve hit position one for another client, the picture looks ten times better. It’s incredibly easy to allow your mood and stress levels to reflect the most up to date rankings, but it’s important to try to steer clear of this.

One of the most crucial things to bear in mind when going through the stress and emotional upheaval of ranking fluctuations is that they … well, fluctuate. Frankly, there are situations where seemingly nothing has affected a keyword, but it’s still managed to drop four places since last month. In these situations, it’s important to stay rational and calm. The last thing you want is for a random chance fluctuation to affect your judgement; rather than react every time anything changes, look at the bigger picture and check for patterns. If everything seems to be in order and things still refuse to look up, then maybe something a bit different is required. More often than not, though, observing and following the above points will set a great foundation for your content to rank.

Active Internet Marketing (UK)

Here at Active Internet Marketing (UK), our knowledge extends far beyond the basics of SEO. While they are, undoubtedly, incredibly important, we’re always coming up with new strategies and different approaches, to ensure that all of our clients fulfill their potential in terms of online presence. We stay ahead in the industry and ensure that our work reflects that.

For more information about how we could help bolster your business’ performance in SEO, get in touch with a member of our team today. You can fill out one of our online contact forms, or give us a call on 0800 772 0650. We look forward to hearing from you soon!




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