Search engine optimisation is the act of designing a website to meet basic parameters that search engines use to track and measure the relevancy of a website’s content, in relation to what users are searching for. This way, search engines can deliver intentional, relevant results on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) in response to a user’s search query.

First things first: while there are lots of different search engines beyond Google (YouTube, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.) in 2020, 90% of internet searches worldwide took place on Google or Google Images. The only exception to this is in China, where Google is banned. Instead, Chinese users mostly use Baidu. While there are lots of overarching SEO best practices that are relevant across different search engines, for simplicities sake we’re going to focus on Google in this article.

Google wants to display the most relevant search results for each search query.

This is because search engines exist to serve users.

To do this, Google needs to understand the contents of every website. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process that marketers and web developers follow to help Google understand their website’s contents more easily. The better Google understands your website, the more accurately it can show your website in response to relevant search results, which (hopefully) means more people clicking through to your website from SERPs.

This type of website traffic is called “organic search traffic”. Organic search traffic is the most valuable kind of website traffic, because it represents a cohort of users who are actively searching for your products or services before arriving at your website. This demonstrates both consideration and intent on behalf of the user: which represent two crucial parts of the customer buying cycle. From there, your website acts as a sales tool to convert this website traffic into tangible actions (ex. subscribe, register, buy, etc.) based on your specific business goals.

Now that we understand the why of search engine optimisation, it’s important to understand how to do it effectively to optimise your website for results. The three biggest signals Google looks for when it comes to evaluating a website’s health (sometimes called “domain authority”) are: site speed, keywords, and backlinks. There are many other technical and on page elements that contribute to SEO, however, we’re going to focus on these three primary areas.

Site Speed: Get your website to run as fast as possible.

This sounds easy, but it isn’t. Engaging and interactive website content (think: photos, videos, and animations) often requires longer to load. Ultimately, Google wants to deliver a great user experience (with minimal load time!). Plus, Google’s own research shows that the longer a web page takes to load, the more likely traffic is to bounce. For example, if a webpage takes 5 seconds to load, the probability of a bounce rises by 90%. To address this, Google has indicated that site speed is a key factor it considers when delivering web results.

Before addressing any site speed changes, it’s important that you measure how long it takes your website to load. There are lots of free tools you can use online to do this, including Google’s own PageSpeed Insights. As a rule, you should aim to get your website loading in under 3 seconds.

If your website is loading slowly, here are some steps you can take to improve load time:

  • Invest in a performance hosting solution (cheap hosting often means poor performance)
  • Optimise your images by reducing their file size and enable lazy loading, which defers the loading of images until a user scroll to the image
  • Minimise redirects to decrease the number of requests your website must make

Keywords: Create a ton of good content.

Google uses a tool to crawl each website and understand the content topics that are present based on keyword analysis. To appear and rank in search engine results, your website needs to have relevant high-quality content. It’s important that this content is written with keywords in mind, so that Google can easily understand your content.

However, when writing for SEO some people can be tempted to stuff as many keywords into their content as possible. We hate to break it to you, but this isn’t going to fly. Google will flag and penalise websites that utilise keyword stuffing techniques. Instead, remember that quality, engaging content that is useful and relevant for your users is always your priority. Identify keywords that you want to incorporate, but only do this in a way that the content you’re creating serves a purpose. To increase your rankings in SERPs, increase the volume of keywords you’re ranking for, by creating more content. A blog is a good way to do this.

Backlinks are a huge credibility indicator for Google. As the saying goes, “Google doesn’t love you until everyone else loves you first.” Google measures the trust and authority of your website based on the volume and quality of backlinks that are linking to your website. Remember, the days of spammy backlinks are well behind us. Black hat SEO techniques that rely on link farming are not accepted and will be penalised by Google.

Our advice is to work through a long-term link building strategy. Make a list of partners that you can approach about guest blogging opportunities, and identify relevant, quality websites in your business sector that you can work with to execute a collaborative content strategy.

Another tactic that can be expensive, but that is extremely effective when it comes to link building is PR. Working with a PR company to share news about your business is a valuable and effective strategy to generate brand awareness, while also earning high quality backlinks from news sources (which Google values highly).

Ultimately, this guide is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can be done to optimise your website for search. However, a long-term strategy that incorporates these tactics is essential for future business growth online.

Kim Whitelaw's avatar
by Kim Whitelaw
Digital Director