[Updated 17 January, 2020]
What is SEO, anyway?
From the user’s viewpoint
From the site owner’s viewpoint
A marathon, not a sprint
Toward organic search success
The ‘best’ SEO formula
Why do you need SEO? Well, you’re damned if you don’t!
The simplest answer is that without SEO (search engine optimisation), you’re unlikely to be found by people browsing and researching online and entering queries into search engines. Search engines such as Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc, have highly complex algorithms geared toward matching queries with the best solutions. They then present these solutions in ranked order on search results pages.
Search engines make their money through selling search ads, mainly, and these are identifiable as ads in the search results. This is a very important factor. All are committed (for now) to including a proportion of organic (i.e. unpaid) results on their pages. There are other search engines within platforms, such as YouTube (itself a Google product) and Amazon.
SEO is a big part of any website. There are technical, on-page, and off-page aspects to SEO that all need to work together to achieve the end goal – attracting and retaining customers, and selling the products and services you have on offer.
The essence of SEO is to authentically convince users and search engines that your solutions are more relevant and valuable for people than your competitors’ solutions.
Problem children and quality king
We often get asked to sort out a website because it’s not getting sufficient traffic, or the wrong kind. We’re told, “Our customers can’t find us,” or “We’re getting complaints about our website”.
Identifying what’s wrong and then trying to resurrect a low-quality site can be tricky. From our perspective it’s easier (and in the long run, cheaper for the client) to start from scratch than try to fix everything in situ.
We specialise in the “organic” rather than the “paid” approach. Implementing an effective SEO strategy means you pay nothing when someone clicks through to your site. If your website is of inferior quality, when your Google Ads campaign finishes, what then? You’re going to stay as invisible as ever in search results until the next expensive campaign kicks off. This seems akin to an addiction!
There’s no doubt that paid search can be highly effective under the right circumstances, but advertising cannot compensate for a bad website. In fact, successful search ad campaigns rely upon top-quality landing page content. Quality is king, and so is the customer.
Organic search is responsible for about 64% of all site traffic, while paid search generates only 6%.”
– Search Engine Journal, 2018
We often encounter websites where:
- there is virtually no text content;
- or what there is is of low quality, and is duplicated across numerous pages;
- or there are dozens of 300-word blog articles on virtually the same topic;
- or the business is not listed on Google Maps.
What is SEO, anyway?
SEO is the practice of optimising a website so it performs well on organic search. Ranking highly in search results for a keyphrase or query increases the visibility of the web page optimised for that enquiry, and leads to more traffic to the website.
Once on your website, the design, architecture, internal linking, and above all, quality of the content take over and help convert your visitor into a customer.
What is best for the user is best for SEO.”
– Rebecca Gill, Web Savvy Marketing
SEO from the user’s point of view
There’s a mass of information online about SEO – pages and pages of results. Here’s an annotated screenshot of page one of a Google search result from 2019 for “why do I need SEO”:
The element on this representation that is of the most interest is the featured snippet. Google is telling me this is currently the number one ranked organic resource out of 30,300,000 results for my search query.
If we look at what Google writes about their featured snippets, we gain a bit of insight into their search philosophy. As Google is the dominant search engine, it’s good practice to learn to think like them for SEO purposes. Google writes that featured snippets are selected entirely by Google on behalf of users:
“We display featured snippets when our systems determine this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description about the page and when they click on the link to read the page itself. They’re especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”
Google has also started displaying what it sees as the most helpful answers to certain searchers’ questions at the top of the search page, like a mini-Wikipedia entry. This has infuriated some webmasters who believe that Google’s function is to direct people to websites, not to act like an online encyclopaedia and take clicks away from websites!
SEO from the website owner’s viewpoint
Q: What’s the big deal about being on page one of Google, and how do I get my website there?
Firstly, sites listed on the first Google search results page generate more than 90% of all traffic from an average search, so it is a big deal to be on page one, and even more so if you’re “awarded” a rich snippet.
The image at right is a screen grab of a featured snippet we achieved for our client, West Coast Whitebaiters Association. Note that their recipes category also appears below the featured snippet. (Optimising categories can be really effective for SEO, depending of course on whether it’s helpful for users.)
SEO is a collaborative, long-run approach
Secondly, getting there requires a long-term investment. SEO success is a marathon, not a sprint. The challenge is not made any easier by the sheer quantity of websites. In 1994, there were around 3000 websites online. In 2014 – a mere 10 years later – this number crossed the 1 billion mark. Yes, that’s right, a billion websites. And the number continues to grow.
Toward success in organic search
A successful on-page SEO strategy will mean investigating and researching appropriate keyphrases based on factors such as traffic volume, competitiveness, and the likelihood for conversions. We like to focus on keyphrases that people actually use to search for solutions. In Google data, these are called “search queries”. Marketers more commonly use the term “keywords”. It’s a small difference in wording, but possibly a significant difference in approach. Researching search queries involves understanding the personas of a client’s customers, and especially their buyer intent and journeys. Good conversions take time; prospects need to be nurtured toward a purchase.
Proving that you have expertise, authority, and trustworthiness in your area is highly relevant for SEO. Here’s an article on this from Marie Haynes, one of our favourite SEO experts.
In terms of the technical aspects of optimisation, it’s hard to go past Google’s own advice on the matter. The overall design, architecture, and functionality of your website are huge SEO factors, including implementing structured data.
Follow the SEO formula that works the best
The answer is to follow best-practice SEO to the letter. Here’s the guts of it:
- Ensure your website can be viewed and navigated effectively on all devices, especially smartphones.
- Ensure the pages load quickly.
- Have a proper semantic structure and clear hierarchy for your site that makes it easy for people to use, and for searchbots to understand.
- Confirm what queries your customers use to search for your products or services.
- Implement these queries as keyphrases into each of your web pages, with one distinct topic or content “pillar” per page.
- Having only useful, relevant content on your website is vital.
- Pay close attention to internal links including calls to action – these are good for users.
- Don’t cut and paste content across pages and use closely similar keyphrases willy-nilly, and avoid creating lots of posts on the same topic. In SEO, less can be more!
- Set up title tags and meta-descriptions that incorporate keyphrases you want to rank for. These elements provide the vital, clickable first point of contact in search result snippets when people are looking for solutions.
- If your business relies on local customers, there are SEO tactics you can employ to help your visibility online. See our article on NZ local search optimisation.
- Review and improve your SEO strategy using free tools such as Google Analytics and Search Console. Adding meaningful conversion goals and events in Google Analytics helps you collect data on how visitors are engaging with your website, and also work as goals in Google Ads. Google Tag Manager is a handy container for managing tracking codes and tags. For a really good introduction to these areas, check out YT videos such as this one on defining goals in GA, from MeasureSchool.
- Blogging, content marketing and social media engagement help to increase organic search traffic and leads when the content is of high quality. Always put your customers first.
- Some SEO companies we know rely heavily on implementing numerous backlinks that point to your website from various sources. They say the more of these you have the better your rankings will be. We’re not so sure. We think that quality is always better than quantity. We’d rather you list your website on a well-known online directory like Yelp than acquire hundreds of links from dubious sources.
A few stats on ROI
- 92% of search traffic comes from page one of Google search results.
- Leads generated from SEO close at an average of 15%. This is 12% higher than the conversion rate for outbound leads. (Outbound marketing involves pushing the message out far and wide and hoping it hits the mark with an audience. It is declining in effectiveness.)
- 91% of businesses using inbound marketing with SEO see a positive ROI.
Obviously this article is only a summary – there are many moving parts to effective SEO! Drop us a line if you’d like some help with your SEO strategy and implementation.