What is SEO?

6 min read
Claudia Bouma

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, can be a confusing term for small business owners. A quick search on Google can raise more questions than it answers, so let’s start with the basics: What is SEO?

For any business that relies on its website, SEO is essentially a free lead-generation tactic.

Put simply, Search Engine Optimisation is the process of making small changes to your website to get the best possible results in the search engine listings. The goal? Ensuring your website is listed on page one of search results when people are searching for products or services like yours.

The difference between SEO and SEM

This is not to be confused with SEM, or search engine marketing — SEO and SEM are two related, but different, things. SEM is a digital strategy involving various types of paid advertising. Unless you hire a professional to do SEO for you, it’s free.

3 things your website must have to rank well on Google

The truth is, few people will ever see your website if search engines don’t “read” it first. Here are the three basics search engines look for:

  1. A technically sound site.
  2. Engaging, relevant content.
  3. Authoritative links to your website.

It’s always helpful to start at the beginning — particularly with technical topics. Let’s explain what search engine optimisation can do for you.

Why is SEO important?

The ultimate goal of SEO is to rank high on Google, the world’s most popular search engine. And when we say high, we mean near the top of page one.

70-80% of all clicks go to the top three organic (unpaid) listings on any search results page.

What is SEO People Looking at Their Phones

There are other search engines, such as Bing and Yahoo!, but Google is by far the most used search engine.

The majority of people jump online to research a product or service before buying, so effective SEO is crucial for the success of your business.

Well-executed SEO will help you:

  • Attract high-quality leads
  • Convert more browsers to buyers
  • Increase awareness of your business
  • Bring more traffic to your site (and therefore, your business)

Best of all, with a little research you can do it all yourself.

Getting the basics right

The world of SEO can seem overwhelming or intimidating, with conflicting information abounding on the internet. Some SEO experts harp on about keyword density, encouraging site owners to stuff their web pages with certain words to improve their Google rankings. The next SEO professional is convinced that keyword density is a thing of the past. Who do you believe?

The secret life of Google

Before answering this question, let’s look at how search engines work. Search engines use a crawler, also called a spider or a bot, to travel around the internet 24/7 “reading” and saving each website to an index or list.

Each search engine uses a specific algorithm — a complex piece of code — to decide which web pages are the best match for a specific search. Google’s algorithm consists of around 200 factors that determine which sites should rank high and the order of priority.

Google’s algorithm is a secret and it changes continually.

Some of the factors can be influenced with a well-balanced SEO approach. Below are three must-have elements.

1: A technically sound site

What is SEO Man with Tablet

As mentioned before, search engines use crawlers to go through the content of each website to determine what it’s all about. It is therefore important to have a site that enables the crawler to ‘understand’ it.

Having the best, most informative content on your website isn’t going to produce the SEO results you want, if the search engine cannot access it. So if you use a do-it-yourself sitebuilder, make sure it:

  • Is mobile-friendly
  • Has an SSL certificate
  • Automatically creates a sitemap for you

If you have someone build your website for you, make sure they’re a professional.

2: Engaging, relevant content

Content — or the words, images and videos on your site — play a major role in your search rankings. However, you can’t just throw a bunch of stuff up and call it done.

Your content must be engaging, informative and speak to your target audience.

Simply writing a lot of pages interlaced with a couple of keywords isn’t going to have the desired effect. Also, everything on your website MUST be original — in other words, things you create yourself. Google will actually drop your website down in rankings if you copy and paste someone else’s content.

You might consider engaging the services of a writer who understands the ins and outs of SEO, and also possesses the skills to create customer-focused, click-worthy copy for this.

Search engines are always looking for websites that appear trustworthy and have a good reputation (aka domain authority). How does this work?

Search engines determine domain authority by working out the number of websites pointing back to yours. Backlinks tell Google that your website is worth visiting — they give it in essence a stamp of approval.

Bear in mind that it isn’t just about the number of backlinks, but the quality of the links. Ideally you want websites with a high domain authority and strong online reputation to link to your website.

What about keywords?

What is SEO Cursor Pointing on a Screen

To get back to keyword density, keywords definitely have their place in SEO, but copy that’s hard to read and obviously written for the search engines rather than humans does not fare well. Keyword research is an important part of SEO but the placing of these carefully chosen keywords is equally important.

A good rule is to use the keyword you’ve selected for each page once for every 100 words.

For a start-to-finish guide to all things keywords, bookmark this terrific post.

What is SEO, asked and answered

It’s easy to drown in SEO terminology and draw the conclusion that search engine optimisation is too hard. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ensuring your site is technically sound, writing interesting, relevant web content and increasing the number of links pointing back to your website are three things you can take control of.

Finally, never lose sight of the main reason your business exists: your customers. Keep your clients at the centre of what you do and build a website focused on their needs and desires.

Happy SEO-ing!

Editor’s note: No time or interest in doing search engine optimization yourself? Trust the experts at GoDaddy to do it for you.