Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in 2016

Search results you see today could be completely different tomorrow.

This is because the search landscape is constantly changing. To maintain the quality of the search results and account for emerging technologies, Google frequently updates its ranking algorithm. Practices that were once effective in previous years could actually be harmful to your site.

We have seen firsthand many of the significant changes that Google has implemented from the Panda update that penalised sites deemed as low quality to the most recent mobile update that puts more emphasis on mobile-friendliness. Businesses that fail to adapt to these changes lose significant competitive advantages online.

So if you have been relying on the same strategies, it may be time to revisit and update them. This guide covers the basics of SEO that are still relevant today including:

  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimisation
  • Site-wide factors
  • Link building

Let’s get started.

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is at the foundation of any SEO campaign.

Target the right keywords and you can effortlessly drive targeted traffic to your pages. But target the wrong ones and you would be wasting your time or barely see any results. The basics of SEO largely remain the same. Here is how to identify highly profitable phrases that your target market is searching for:

  • Keyword tools: Tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest are incredibly useful to find popular keywords that are not too competitive. Simply enter the phrase that best describes your products or services.
  • Website analytics: Google Analytics and Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools) let you see the keywords that are generating traffic and sales. Use this data to find additional keywords for your SEO campaign.
  • Competition analysis: Your competitors are another great source of information. Type in your main keywords, take note of those on the front page, and enter in those URLs directly into Google’s Keyword Planner tool. This will reveal even more keywords you can use.

One mistake that many business owners make is focusing on keywords that are too broad. A better approach is to target long tail keywords which actually make up a majority of online searches.

search-demand-curve

Long tail keywords are much more targeted and less competitive. Remember to always target keywords that are relevant to your business.

2. On-Page SEO

People use search engines to find information.

So it makes sense for Google to put more of a priority on content than other factors. On-page SEO refers to optimising certain aspects of your content to rank better. Following are key findings from the 2015 Ranking Factors report from Searchmetrics:

  • Content length: One of the findings from the study is that longer articles tend to rank much better than shorter ones. The average word count of pages in the top results was between 1,140 to 1,285 words. So aim to deliver comprehensive coverage rather than pumping out short articles.
  • Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI): Google carefully analyses the content of every single page. One thing the crawling bots look for is the presence of other keywords. A page about computers might have keywords such as “MacBook”, “RAM”, “hard drive”, “processor”, etc. Be sure to include terms that are relevant to the topic at hand.
  • Meta tags: Include your primary keywords in the title tags, meta descriptions, and headers. Doing so further increases the relevance of your pages. But be careful not to over optimise your content either as doing so could actually result in a ranking penalty.

Content that reads like it’s been written by a robot will likely result in low engagement and high bounce rates. So make it a priority to provide value to your visitors, then optimise your pages to increase their visibility in the search results.

3. Site-Wide Factors

Optimising each piece of content is key to ranking. But it won’t do your business any good if certain site-wide elements are not in place. Here we look at what your site must have to rank well in organic search and reduce bounce rates:

  • Mobile friendly design: More consumers than ever are using mobile devices to search and access information online. Google has even made mobile-friendliness a ranking factor. If your site is not optimised for mobile devices, your site will likely rank lower. The best approach is with a responsive design as it automatically changes to fit any screen resolution.
  • Fast loading times: Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a page to load. Visitors expect sites to quickly load or they will not hesitate to hit the back button. The PageSpeed Insights tool provides valuable insight and suggestions to improve your site speed.
  • User friendly structure: Visitors to your site should be able to find exactly what they are looking for. Use categories and subcategories to organise your content, and include links so visitors can easily navigate through your pages. A proper site structure is key to conversions as a poor design leads to higher bounce rates.

The importance of a quality design cannot be stressed enough.

If visitors are not able to easily browse your site or even access it on mobile, they are much more likely to leave to a competing page. Invest in a quality design for your site that is user friendly.

4. Link Building

Links continue to carry a great deal of weight in the search results.

All other factors being equal, a site with more links will outrank a site without any. But the old strategies of exchanging links with webmasters and submitting to article directories are largely ineffective. In fact, engaging in questionable tactics such as spamming links to your pages can even result in a ranking penalty.

What Google is looking for then is quality and relevance.

  • Quality: A link from a major news publication will carry far more weight than a link from a forum or directory. Business owners can attract these kinds of links by publishing high quality content and being active on social media.
  • Relevance: Another important factor is the relevance of a link. If you are in the tech industry, then you should be aiming for links that are from other tech sites. These are exactly the kind of links that will boost your rankings even higher.

Despite the never ending algorithm updates, links continue to be a major ranking factor.

So how do you attract quality links to your pages?

Here are some strategies you can implement for your business:

  • Blogging: Companies that blog on a regular basis are more likely to report a positive ROI. The content types that attract the most links are long form content, list posts, tutorials, and research backed articles. Create an editorial calendar to keep track of your effort.
  • Guest blogging: Guest blogging involves posting content on other authoritative sites in your industry. It is an excellent strategy for building quality links and also reaching a new audience.
  • Social media: Leverage social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to build a following and increase your reach. Social signals (likes, shares, and retweets) can even help your pages rank higher in the search results.

There are different tactics for building quality links but these are the most popular.

If you run a local business then you will want to focus more on local citations. These are any references to your business, name, and address. Google uses this information to validate the legitimacy of your business. Start by creating a profile first on Google My Business to increase your reach on Search, Maps, and Google+.

Conclusion

SEO continues to be an effective strategy to generate targeted traffic and increase online sales.

But the industry continues to constantly evolve so business owners must stay up to date on the latest changes. Otherwise they risk losing a competitive advantage. Be sure to follow this beginner’s guide when developing and implementing your own SEO strategy.