Okay, so what is SEO?
You might have heard the term before, put simply it’s short for ‘Search Engine Optimization’ and in this article, we’re going go over what the heck that is exactly.
Whenever you go to Google to look something up, Google tries to present you with the most helpful and relevant results.
Now, given there are so many possible results, you’ll often see at the bottom of those search results on page one there are anywhere between 2 to 10, or 100, or a thousand, or many hundreds of thousands of other pages.
What Google does is work out of all the possible results which to show as the most helpful and relevant on page one, followed by the runner ups on page two, and so on and so on.
So, back up a second. How does it know about all these sites? I mean, there must be millions upon millions of websites out there. Well, good question.
Google, and other search engines like it, use these things called spiders. They’re like these bots that basically crawl the internet and all the websites they come across to catalog and index them. Think of them as librarians. They’re trying to work out what your site is all about, and where to best put you in search results.
Search Engine Optimization is all about implementing specific things to make your own site as helpful and as relevant and as search engine friendly as possible. That way, when spiders crawl the site, they can index it much easier, understand what your site is about and with any luck, people find you in google.
So what are these specific things you can do to optimize your site for search engines?
Well, there are a few things you can do, and while this list isn’t extensive, we’ll include a few basic things you can look at now.
Make sure your website is fast
Google doesn’t just want to show users websites that are relevant, they want the best experience possible, so websites that load fast on a page are favored more than those that don’t. If you are using WordPress for example, a common trap people run into is installing too many plugins.
The more plugins a WordPress site has, the slower and more time it takes for the browser to load the page. The same can be said for images. You want to load images that are an appropriate size.
If the original image is too big, that can take time to load as well. Sure you might be looking at a couple of extra milliseconds, but it all counts. You may also want to look at who you are hosting your website with. If the server doesn’t have a lot of processing power, or the server shares space with many other websites all competing for the same processing power, this too can impact speed.
Create engaging and useful content
It’s all about what you can give rather than take. Websites that provide lots of useful, easy to understand information with images and video are favorable by Google as they provide better value for the user.
Especially if you do a remarkable job in being as helpful and as informative as you can be. A cake recipe website with very brief text with no images or video would do less well than that same recipe on another website that takes time and care to put in a descriptive page with images and videos to accompany it.
Now, that doesn’t mean to say you have to have both images and video on every single page of your site, the point here is to be a great experience for the visitor to your website as possible.
Think of it like a magazine. What kind of magazines really caught your eye? Did they have plenty of info that really delved into the topic at hand, were the pages well placed with illustrations or photos? How much did you get out of that magazine?
The same principle applies here. You want the user to enjoy the site and get a lot out of it. If you are genuinely taking the time to put thought and work into that kind of content, you have a much better chance of fairing well with Google.
Make the site secure with HTTPS
Have you ever noticed in the address bar of your web browser a padlock showing up when you visit certain sites? Well, that site is more secure because it uses HTTPS instead of HTTP.
Hang on, what the heck is HTTP and HTTPS and what does this have to do with good SEO practices?
I’m glad you asked.
Without getting too technical, it encrypts the connection between you and that website. Look at it this way, imagine I’m a messenger and you want to buy something from a store. You enter your payment details on the website and I, the messenger, am tasked with carrying that information over to the website’s server.
If my connection isn’t secure, it means nefarious third parties could try to intercept your payment information from me before it gets to the server.
So this is what HTTPS does. It prevents data being sent and received between you and the website server from being changed, corrupted or stolen. Essentially, I, the messenger, am now free to deliver the information safely and without risk of being intercepted by anyone else not invited.
And now we come to Google.
Google had announced some time ago that websites that used a secure HTTPS connection would be favored over websites that did not have a secure connection over plain old HTTP.
You don’t need to remember the HTTP and HTTPS thing, but one thing you can do when you buy a domain or speak with your website host provider or web developer ensures your site has this security implemented.
Clear titles and navigation
Also on the reoccurring theme of making things a good experience for the user, Google tends to favor sites that have clear navigation and titles explaining what each page is.
The key thing here - Not so it’s easier for Google’s spider bots to navigate the site, but for the users to navigate. Yes, it can help bots crawling a site, but I would encourage you to focus your site’s titles and navigation to be clear and easy for humans. So what do I mean by titles and navigation?
Well, let’s start with titles. You notice the words that appear inside the tab for each webpage you have open? That’s a title. It’s there to show the user in a summed up way what the page represents.
You may have seen some common titles before like ‘Home’ or ‘Contact’ for example. Home, in this case, would be the primary home page of the site, the place where generally you are expected to start at with a site. Contact could very well represent a page with information on how to contact you, for example, your address, phone number, email and so on.
Navigation, on the other hand, are all the links that take you to different pages of the site when you click on them (or if you’re on a tablet or smartphone, press tap them). Websites typically have a navigation bar or an area to the top or to the side somewhere that keeps a collection of easy to read, easy to understand links.
What you want to do is keep these links clean and orderly. And label them as something that suggests what the page is when the user navigates to that page. If you have quite a few links, you can usually create a kind of hierarchy with sub links that have some relevance to its parent.
Sub links sometimes show up as drop-down menus on some websites, or they might appear in some other fashion in a way that’s easy to understand it’s hierarchy without confusing the user.
Lastly, your web developer can help you with a site-map. A site map is something a search engine can crawl to help it find what is where. Hence the term site map. It’s literally like showing a visitor who never been to your house a diagram of your house and showing where all the rooms are in relation to each other and what each room is called (not that you would do that normally for a person visiting your house, but you get the idea).
For smaller sites with less content, it’s not hugely critical, and they are capable of figuring out a great deal on their own, but it can and will be used as an assistive tool if it’s there for Google to use.
There are many more useful ways to improve your SEO and it’s a topic unto its own with many ways to optimize your site’s searchability on search engines and we will cover off on more of these in another blog post soon.
It can take time
Lastly, it’s important to understand that sometimes good SEO takes time. There’s no instant hey-presto fix that can magically improve your website’s search results showing up closer to page one overnight. It can sometimes take Google days even weeks to crawl and catalog a site. Or to recognize changes to site that’s been updated in some way.
But don’t let that deter you from building the best SEO site you can.