Search engines touch every aspect of our lives. From helping us find great local restaurants to showing today’s weather forecast, it’s hard to imagine a world without them.
With its influence, imagine how search engines can boost your website traffic — and send customers your way.
That’s where your SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) strategies steps in. But where do you even begin?
We’ll talk about all that in this lesson — and more.
Why do you need SEO?
Think about the last time you needed answers. Did you flip through Yellow Pages, or turn to Google?
If you want people to find your business online, you’d want to appear on top of search engine results pages, or SERPs. This includes being featured in rich snippets.
Because 75% of users are more likely to click on a result on the first SERP, you instantly lose most people if you appear after that.
As such, the goal of SEO is to get your website — and website pages — on that coveted first page.
How does SEO work?
Search engines work through three important functions: crawl, index, and rank.
Every search engine has bots (a.k.a. spiders) that “crawl” the web for new and updated content. These spiders catalogue web pages, along with key information, into an index.
When someone searches for something, the search engine displays the most relevant results from its index.
But, how do search engines choose which results to show first?
Search engines use a complex algorithm that ranks each web page based on hundreds of varying factors.
No one is completely sure what these factors are.
But through trial and error, search engine experts have found that these three factors lead to higher search rankings:
- Keywords that match a person’s search intent
- High-quality page content that is relevant and comprehensive
- Backlinks from relevant authoritative websites
So, to get your website to the top, your website has to:
- Get indexed accurately; and
- Excel on key ranking factors.
- Introducing white hat, black hat, and grey hat SEO
Introducing white hat, black hat, and grey hat SEO
SEO involves taking specific actions to improve your search traffic. These actions can be ethical or unethical — thus the labels white hat, black hat, and grey hat.
What’s white hat, black hat, and grey hat SEO?
White hat SEO
White hat SEO tactics adhere to a search engine’s guidelines and do not try to exploit weaknesses (or bugs) in its algorithm.
Here are some white hat practices:
- Quality content. Create content that resolves your audiences’ pain points.
- Right keywords. Choose keywords that are relevant to your page content and your audience’s search intent.
- Internal linking. Link readers to your other pages for higher visibility.
- Catchy headlines. Craft headlines that entice users to read your content.
- Good user experience. Make your website easier to navigate, follow design principles, and optimise your pages for speed.
Black hat SEO
At the opposite end of the spectrum is black hat SEO. These are practices that exploit search engine weaknesses to display results that do not answer a user’s search query.
Here are some black hat tactics:
- Keyword stuffing. Repeating keywords excessively and adding irrelevant ones on web pages.
- Cloaking. Serving different content to search engines and visitors.
- Comment spam. Spamming blog comments with links.
- Link farms. Building a bulk of backlinks from a network of low-quality websites that contain duplicate and poor content.
- Private blog networks. Building backlinks from expired domains that used to be reputable websites. To conceal manipulation, people create relevant content to make the websites seem authentic and build complex link structures.
Grey hat SEO
Grey hat SEO practices are not clearly defined within search engine guidelines. SEO experts can’t agree with each other if they’re ethical or not.
These tactics can be effective — but come with risks.
- Clickbait. “Baiting” your audience to read your content with a headline that’s hard to miss. (e.g. Lose 10 pounds in two days! Find out how by clicking here!)
- Poorly-crafted content. Creating content that doesn’t serve any value to users, such as copying content from other websites through bots or in person.
- Creating dummy social media accounts. Search engines look into a website’s social media presence, too. Having several social media accounts to engage with your content drives your presence higher.
Which of them do you use?
Avoid black hat tactics to avoid getting penalised — or banned — from major search engines. Any gains will be short-lived.
Meanwhile, grey hat practices hang in the balance. Unless you’re an SEO expert, don’t put your website under the risk of penalty.
For long-term results, white hat SEO is the way to go. When you play alongside search engine rules, you don’t have to worry about algorithm updates that are meant to catch and penalise black hat SEO tactics.
7 Key Areas of SEO
Now you have a basic understanding of how search engines work, what’s next?
SEO can be a minefield, so we’ve broken it down into seven key areas:
To move your website up the ranks, answer search users’ queries as completely as possible. Give people the solution in your website’s content, which should be relevant and of high quality.
This includes web pages and blogs. If you don’t have a blog, start one. A blog keeps your content fresh and helps you target long-tail keywords (search queries that are longer and more specific).
To create content that ranks higher, follow these tips:
Know your target visitors
Keep your target visitors in mind. Create content that helps solve their problems.
Keep inbound marketing in mind
Inbound marketing draws prospects into your brand by being a trusted source of knowledge and advice. Craft content that provides value.
Focus on evergreen content
Evergreen (or “linkable”) content stays relevant for a long time. They get traffic all year round, too.
Some examples include:
- How-to posts and tutorials
- Informational posts and guides
- Industry FAQs
- Feature stories
Non-evergreen content usually tackles seasonal topics. It’s best to write them only when relevant to your business or audience. Some examples include:
- Holiday-themed content
- Trends for the present year
- Current news and events
Localise your content
If you’re targeting a specific country/region, localise your content.
Think about these:
Use the local language and dialect. Make sure to consider nuances in spelling, idioms, and expressions. For example, use British English for a UK audience and consider using informal terms that are specific to the country.
Pick images that are relatable (and inoffensive) to your ideal visitors. For example, use photos of Asian models if your target region is Asia.
Design and layout
Be careful in choosing colours. For example, red can mean danger and action for the West, but it signifies prosperity and good fortune in the Far East.
Consider also the reading practice of different regions. Western cultures read from left to right, while Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures read from right to left or top to bottom.
Use a content calendar
Keep a regular schedule in publishing content. Consistency is key!
2. Keyword research
RECOMMENDED: The Beginner’s Guide to SEO Keywords
Keyword research is an essential part of SEO.
After all, these are the words and phrases people use on search engines. So look for keywords that your ideal customers/clients would use to find your website.
To better understand what your audience searches for, use any keyword research tool below:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Keyword Tool
These tools reveal a keyword’s monthly search volume, cost per click, competition, and other data. However, all free versions have limited stats.
So what makes good keywords?
Relevant to your business
What are the general keywords people would use to search for a business like yours? Run them through Google and any keyword tool for more ideas.
Let’s say you’re a bakery in Sydney selling custom cakes. Your seed keyword might be “custom cakes in Sydney”.
Come up with similar and relevant keywords from your seed keyword afterwards.
Relevant to search intent
Think about the intention behind your ideal customer’s specific search term. This helps you come up with related keywords to use in your content.
Consider the Sydney bakery example.
Someone looking for custom-made cakes may have these intentions:
- To compare the prices of custom cakes in Sydney
- To check out the designs of previously made custom cakes
- To find out if the custom cakes are vegan-friendly
- Where the bakery is located
Each of those search intents would have a different set of keywords.
If your website is new, avoid using highly-competitive keywords.
Instead, opt for keywords with lower search volume. This way, you have less competition and more chances of ranking well.
Using the same example, general terms like “custom cakes” are competitive. Be more specific and use long-tail keywords.
Localising is one way to do it, like “custom cakes in Western Sydney”.
3. On-page SEO
RECOMMENDED: 7 Tried-and-True On-Page SEO Tips Your Website Needs
On-page SEO involves making changes to your web pages to get indexed by search engines correctly and rank higher.
Remember these elements when doing on-page SEO:
- Page URLs. Keep them short and descriptive, and insert your web page’s target keyword.
- Meta titles and descriptions. Make sure each web page’s meta title and description is unique. Like page URLs, keep them short, and add targeted keywords. They appear as the title and description on the SERPs.
- Page titles. Wrap your every page’s title using an H1 tag. Don’t forget to add target keywords.
- Images and videos. Add alt-text to help search engines understand what each image and video is about. Then, compress and optimise your file size.
- Keywords. Use highly relevant keywords a few times within your content on each page. Do not be excessive, and write naturally. Remember Google penalises keyword stuffing.
4. Technical SEO
Search engines favour error-free and secure web pages that load quickly. After all, users tend to exit sites that takes too long to load — or have security warnings.
As a result, websites with poor technical SEO end up lower on search engines.
To improve your website’s technical SEO, consider these factors:
- How fast does your website load?
- Do you have the right URL structure?
- How secure is your website? Does it use SSL?
- Is your website user-friendly?
- Does your website’s design adapt to different devices (mobile, tablets, etc.)?
- Do you have a sitemap and Robots.txt file to tell search engines the pages to crawl?
If you’re struggling with these questions, consider working with an SEO specialist.
5. Link building
RECOMMENDED: A Crazy Domains Guide to Building Backlinks
Links from authoritative websites of a similar topic (or industry) are a strong signal of trust, quality, and relevance. Having them can bump your search result to page one.
However, you have to earn those backlinks. Don’t buy them to manipulate search algorithms. Irrelevant spam backlinks will get your site penalised or banned on major search engines like Google.
For this reason, ensure your link building efforts adhere to Google’s and Bing’s guidelines. Focus on building high-quality links from authoritative websites.
Here are some ways to build backlinks:
- Guest posting. Reach out to reputable and relevant websites and blogs to write a guest article.
- Promote your content on social media. 3.48 billion people use social media — take advantage of this huge opportunity.
- Add your business to online directories, like Google My Business, Yelp, and Bing Places.
- Partner with businesses and organisations. Partnerships get you featured on other websites.
- Participate in online forums and community boards in your niche. Establish your thought leadership and reliability.
6. Website authority
Authority is a metric developed by Moz to measure how likely you’ll rank on the SERPs. It’s categorised into:
- Domain authority. A search engine ranking score that predicts how high a whole website will rank in SERPs.
- Page authority. Another search engine ranking score that predicts how high a specific web page will rank in SERPs.
Both DA and PA have no impact on your rankings. But, Moz recommends that you use them as comparative metrics.
Check out your competitors’ websites and their authority scores. Figure out how you can beat their score.
The best — and easiest — way to do this is to create valuable content that people feel compelled to read. Prove that you know what you’re talking about. Show people you’re a trusted source. And you’ll get links from trusted websites in the industry.
The authority will follow.
7. SEO analysis and reporting
Finally, track your website’s SERP ranking over time for each keyword you’ve chosen.
Whether you’re outsourcing SEO or doing it inhouse, analysing your SEO progress help you improve tactics that work — and drop the ones that don’t.
Use these analytics tools:
- Google Search Console. Measure your search traffic and performance. This helps you identify search keywords your website ranks for, and what technical issues need fixing.
- Bing Webmaster Tools. This is Bing’s equivalent of Google Search Console.
- Google Analytics. Access the reporting tool to get a 360 view of your website performance, including traffic, audience demographics, time spent on each web page, and more.
SEO is essential for your business to succeed online. By making you visible on the first page of the SERPs, it gives you greater chances of earning traffic, conversion, and sales.
To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled all the valuable information from this lesson into a handy SEO checklist. Use this checklist and get started with your winning SEO strategy today. Click Download to get your FREE access!