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What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and how does it work?

By Academy Xi

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You can build a beautiful website or write a word-perfect blog, but few people will even see it unless the SEO is tuned-up. Find out what SEO is, how it works, and how you can use SEO to boost your brand’s online visibility. 

What is SEO?

The term SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which refers to the processes followed by anybody wishing to increase the visibility of their website. 

In practical terms, SEO involves optimising the technical configurations of a website, including popular and relevant links, and using written text with commonly searched words and phrases. 

Search engines then analyse your website for the above features, determining how relevant your information is in relation to specific search terms and assigning it a search ranking accordingly. 

As you’ve probably guessed, the better your SEO is, the more likely it is your website will rank highly, which means more eyeballs on your product or service!   

Web traffic that comes from search engine queries is referred to as organic, because it occurs naturally and does not rely on paid marketing. 

Because people are searching the web with a specific purpose, organic traffic is often said to have a higher level of ‘intent’. In marketing, this means organic leads are normally more likely to convert to a sale.  

How does SEO work with digital content?

Search engines use AI to ‘crawl’ content to determine how well it addresses particular search terms. For instance, an AI bot will crawl this article and decide how effectively it covers the topic of ‘What is SEO and how does it work?’. 

AI makes this decision by crawling content in the following order of importance:

  • The title of any piece of content, which is called an H1 tag, and the most important component from an SEO perspective. It should contain crucial keywords and accurately describe what the content will cover. A few simple tips – don’t use keywords more than once, and keep the title short and concise! 
  • A meta description is written in HTML and appears beneath your title in the search engine results, giving more information about the content and helping users decide if it’s relevant. This is the second most important component as far as SEO goes. 
  • H2 tags are the subheadings of your content, such as ‘How does SEO work?’. These are the third most important in terms of SEO. 
  • Finally, the bots will crawl the body text of your writing and search for popular and relevant keywords and phrases. 

Luckily, it’s possible to use SEO platforms and tools to find out what the most popular keywords and phrases are. By incorporating these, you’re likely to boost the ranking of your content. 

It’s also possible to strengthen your SEO by including links to your own articles and webpages, as well as by linking to popular and well-established external websites.  

How does SEO work with websites?  

In much the same way that AI crawls your content, it also analyses each and every page of your website for the use of keywords and phrases. A few simple tips: 

  • It’s important to note the AI favours the appearance of words used at the top of the page, so make sure you front-load your most important SEO terms. 
  • Similarly, labels and headings carry extra SEO weight, so make sure to use your most relevant words with these.

Although certain keywords are bound to feature on your website in various places, it’s wise to avoid duplicating information, since this can lead to your SEO score being reduced. Try to write unique content for all of the following:

  • Home pages
  • Landing pages 
  • Title tags 
  • Product pages
  • Category pages
  • Meta description tags 
  • Image alt text 

Including links to your own content and relevant pages within your website is good practice for SEO, as is making sure your website has a logical structure. If it’s difficult for users to navigate your website, this will detract from your SEO score.   

Finally, the use of images within your website also contributes to your SEO ranking. There are two simple ways to implement solid imaged-based SEO:

  • Include descriptive file titles, which help the AI understand what the image is of and how relevant it is to particular searches. 
  • Include image alt text, offering a short description of the image. Here, be sure to include important SEO keywords and phrases. 

Optimise your website’s loading speed for SEO

If you think this has nothing to do with SEO, think again! Google is very vague about the algorithm rules it uses to test for SEO, but is very specific about the importance of loading speed. If they spell it out that clearly, it’s bound to be a big deal!

For healthy SEO, it’s vital to ensure your pages load as quickly as possible. Your first step is to benchmark your site’s current loading speed, especially on mobile devices (which are more prone to being sluggish). In this situation, it’s handy to use free tools like PageSpeed Insights.

Best of all, PageSpeed Insights will also give you a list of practical ways you can improve your page loading speed. A list of the most common tips includes:

  • Compress Images: Images tend to make up the bulk of a page’s size (in terms of KBs), which is why it’s wise to shrink your image sizes.

  • Use lightweight themes: Bulky WordPress themes can slow your load times down dramatically. If your theme isn’t optimised for speed, consider switching to one that is.
  • Serve images with lazy loading: Lazy loading images appear as your users scroll down the page, which can boost your site’s loading speed by 50% or more. Naturally, this isn’t great for UX, so it’s a tradeoff you’ll need to weigh up.
  • Use CDNs: CDNs serve images and other cached media via servers that are close to your users, improving the quickness of load times.

Top 3 SEO tools and why they’re used

If you’re keen to give SEO a go and boost your website’s visibility, here are a few powerful SEO tools that will give you a competitive edge: 

SEMRush: Semrush is an SEO platform that performs your keyword research, tracks the keyword strategies your competitors are using, runs SEO audits of your blogs, and even identifies missed backlinking opportunities. By far the most popular SEO platform, digital marketers and businesses of all shapes and sizes rely on SEMRush to maximise their SEO. 

AHrefs: Traditionally Ahrefs was known as a backlink checker, offering one of the largest databases of live links. However, its functionality has expanded in recent years. The Ahrefs dashboard helps you keep track of all your URLs, offering live data on URL errors, opportunities for new links, and URL ranking.

Screaming Frog: Screaming Frog’s ‘SEO Spider’ is a website crawler that helps you improve onsite SEO by auditing for common SEO issues. It crawls your website and provides real-time data highlighting anything from broken links to duplicate content. Best of all, the free version of SEO spider allows you to analyse up to 500 URLs a year. Jackpot!

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