What is SEO?
SEO & Search Best Practices Guide
Asking people what they think “SEO” (or, “Search Engine Optimisation”) might mean reveals a full spectrum of perceptions of our discipline. Some might respond with “manipulating search engine results” while others claim it to be a “dark art”.
Please, ignore anyone who tells you that SEO is a dark art, because the reality is rather simple. SEO is accessible, easy to learn, fun to execute and far from a mystery. We’re marketing, to people online. It’s a balance of technical and marketing discipline that, when working well together can be an extremely powerful and cost efficient promotion.
In this document we’ll explore precisely what “SEO” means, what’s important to an SEO practitioner, and what you should or could be doing to improve your own search engine visibility.
SEO – A balance of technical and marketing discipline
Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re planning your first enterprise class SEO campaign. You have a team of 5 people available, ready to train and get to work, and you can assign them any job title you’d like. All you need to do is understand exactly what’s important to execute. You may have heard phrases like “link building”, so you may consider hiring for a Link Builder position. Social Media is important too, so you’ll need a team member to look after your social campaigns.
Search engines by their very nature need to crawl and discover your content, so there’s a technical interaction between your site and a search engine crawler that a technical SEO manager must be needed to care for. That’s three roles filled, and conversion, analytics, content production and keyword research considerations are yet to be met.
The wonderful thing about SEO is that the roles within the field are wide ranging enough to justify a multi-disciplinary approach. You need the ability to research, learn and understand how your target audience are using search engines.
You need the ability to interpret the data from your research and derive meaningful site architecture, able to meet the needs of your users while providing relevant content to search engines.
You need to be able to convert a plan for an optimised site architecture into a technical scope, and at the same time be able to address deep technical issues (such as duplicate content, server errors – more on this later). You’re also going to need to be able to produce content that appeals to the very same people that you learned about during your keyword research activities and understand where to promote that content. With some luck all this work will result in a well linked to site with growing social popularity and a growing community of loyal subscribers, brand advocates and fans. You’ll have connected with a potential customer during their consideration process, solved a problem for them, satisfied a need and made a sale.
SEO is a balance of technical and marketing discipline. To be truly effective, you’ll need a holistic approach to the promotion of your website. Where there are gaps in your own capabilities, hire an agency who will bring the creative, or the technical experience, or both to you.
How Do Users Find Your Websites with Search Engines?
Most every day users of search engines tend to head straight to Google, and while it’s important to stay abreast of search industry development (Bing, Facebook’s Open Graph Search), we’ll focus our efforts on understanding the common search features offered inside Google organic search.
Google Instant is a feature that delivers search results “as you type”. The feature is available on all web devices and as a beta feature on Android 2.2+ and iOS4+. Instant allows users to see popular options to complete their search queries.
What’s interesting for SEO practitioners is the possibility that Google Instant search could shape the way our users complete search queries. As auto-complete suggestions drop down, a searcher may simply choose a suggested key word rather than finishing a unique, self-typed search. Some brands should monitor Google Suggest results to make sure negative search terms are not present (for example: “scam”, “complaints” etc.).
For more information, head to Google’s Inside Search section: http://www.google.com/instant/
Google Organic Search is the staple marketing channel of SEO practitioners all over the globe. The story began in 1996 when Larry Page and Sergey Brin began collaborating on a search engine called BackRub. Out growing Stanford University’s servers rather quickly, the pair decided to move and rename the search engine and thus began the Google story.
Google’s very purpose is to organise the world’s information online, a lofty goal indeed. In the early days, Google’s PageRank algorithm was responsible for “groundbreakingly relevant results”. PC Magazine reported that Google “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results” and recognised Page and Brin’s Google as the search engine of choice in the Top 100 Web Sites for 1998.
SEO practitioners can learn a great deal simply by researching the history of the search engine. The PageRank algorithm derives the authority of webpages based on the citations a page receives (links). The algorithm computes measures of trust (for instance, a link from an authority such as Nasa.gov might be considered significantly more authoritative than a simple web directory or recently launched website with no links), using the outcome to determine the order in which results might be presented to a user.
In modern SEO, a basic understanding of the principles of link quality, authority and trust (covered later) go a long way towards being able to understand what factors affect rankings in search. For the time being, it’s worth simply noting that the “10 blue links” found in search results pages represent the work of some of the brightest minds on the planet.
Local “One Box”
When a search query displays “local intent”, for example, “florists in London” (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=florists+in+london), a local listings section appears in the search results pages. This is usually visible below 2nd or 3rd position amongst the organic listings. You’ll see approximately 7 results, with links to Google Places reviews, the location address and phone number, a company name a Google Maps link.
Unlike classic organic search, local result rankings are determined by factors such as “citation count”, where the frequency and authority o mentions of the company name, address and phone number in well-known business listing directories are considered contributors to overall local search rankings.
On occasion you’ll see a “blended local search result”, a mixture of organic listing and local search result. Often these types of result are triggered when the query intent is less local (the phrase may not contain a location term) but a relevant organic listing has a local listing associated with it:
Local search is an incredibly broad topic, and for a highly expert view, we recommend David Mihm’s “Local Search Ranking Factors” as a starting point.
Google Image Search delivers relevant image search results for any text based query, much like classic organic search. Occasionally, image search results appear in Google’s organic listings:
When images appear in organic search, Google search has likely determined that an image is relevant to the query. The signals that determine this will be discussed later in the document.
Video search results are another huge topic. Typically, large video sites (Youtube. Wistia, Vimeo) tend to appear for a search query with a thumbnail image of the video itself:
SEO practitioners can take advantage of the same thumbnail image format in their own website’s organic search results by using embedded video in their webpages, and a video XML sitemap. We’ll cover that in a little more detail later in our guide.
“Knowledge Graph” represents the culmination of Google’s desire to organise the world’s information and a spate of acquisitions (such as Metaweb, Inc. in 2010) to enable technologies to help their algorithms understand the semantic meaning of search terms.
The outcome for a typical user is a new section of Google’s search results where lots of related information is presented on a topic:
Knowledge graph represents an important strategic development for Google. They consider “entity search” (people, places, things) to be an important step towards “organising the world’s information”.
That’s all you need to know about the features most users see in search. For further reading, take a look at these articles:
Mega-SERP: A Visual Guide to Google – Moz.com
How to improve your organic SEO and beat the paid search results – Creative Bloq