I know what you’re thinking – “a simplified approach to understanding SEO” sounds like an oxymoron. SEO is, by definition, one of the most complex and specialist areas of digital marketing.
SEO is a constantly evolving beast that involves thousands of different factors, all of which affect the mythical “algorithm”. It is a concept that digital marketers and data analysts alike spend their whole careers trying to understand.
So how on earth can it be “simplified”?
As part of my role at BeKonstructive Marketing, I regularly find myself trying to explain SEO to both junior staff as well as business owners interested in our Brisbane SEO services. Many come with a very basic understanding of what SEO is – the process of optimising a website so that it performs better in Google, ultimately leading to more website traffic. But pushed to offer a deeper explanation, few can provide many details.
As BeKonstructive Marketing started to grow and we were onboarding new clients and new staff weekly, I found I needed a way to explain SEO that was simple and easy to digest. I’ve previously written about SEO Red Flags, and the importance of business owners having a working knowledge of SEO. So many business owners I work with have been burnt by dodgy SEO companies, because they don’t understand SEO and what they’re actually paying for. They don’t know how to value SEO as a service, or how much SEO *should* be costing them each month. If you don’t understand what you’re paying for, how can you understand if you’re being ripped off?
I also penned a piece years ago (circa 2017) where I divided the concept of SEO into two areas: offensive and defensive. Defensive was focused on the key factors that you need to look at to meet Google’s minimum requirements to be listed in its search engine, and also ‘maintenance SEO’, to maintain your existing rankings. Defensive on the other hand, looks at the factors or activities to do regularly to improve your rankings and target new keywords / phrases.
The way that I’m going to explain SEO in this article – targeted at helping business owners understand how it functions at a high-level – builds off of the offensive/defensive framework I started laying out 5 years ago. It breaks SEO into three key areas / functions – a strong SEO campaign should cover all 3 bases, and understanding the purpose of each area of SEO will help you as a business owner grasp whether the activities that your SEO provider is doing each month are enough to get the results you want.
What do we know about SEO?
Before we launch into the three areas of SEO that every business owner needs to understand, I want to cover off what we know about SEO.
We know that SEO – or Search Engine Optimisation – is the process of optimising (tweaking, enhancing, upgrading, improving) your website so that it performs better in Google search engine results pages (SERPs).
SEO campaigns target specific keywords or phrases, and the process of SEO looks at getting your website to rank for those terms. For example, BeKonstructive Marketing’s SEO campaign targets search phrases like ‘Brisbane copywriting services’ and ‘Brisbane content marketing’, because those are the search terms that we want to rank on page 1 of Google for. Depending on the scope (read: monthly spend) of your SEO campaign, you might be targeting anywhere from 4 to 100 different keywords or phrases.
We also know that Google operates off of an ‘algorithm’. This algorithm looks a lots (and lots and lots) of different factors, and uses this information to ‘calculate’ where in Google your website will rank. We know that there are legitimate ways of doing this (white hat) and illegitimate ways of doing this (black hat) and that if you try to trick or fool Google into incorrectly ranking you higher by using black hat tactics, you run the risk of being blacklisted (removed from Google entirely).
We also know that there are a lot of dodgy SEO players out there that use the black hat tactics to get sites to rank quickly, lock the business owner into an iron-clad 12+ month contract and sit back relax while they get paid each month despite the client’s website slowly going backwards month-on-month.
I think it is fair to say that most people who “kinda understand SEO” have a general grasp on the above, but they start to get lost when their SEO specialist starts to talk about some of the specific criteria or factors that affect Google’s algorithm.
My simple explanation of SEO divides the *literal* thousands of factors into three key areas and tells you why those areas are important, rather than focusing on the specifications of each individual factor.
Simplified Explanation of SEO:
Ok, so keeping the above in mind, I’m now going to break those thousands of criteria down into three key areas: website health, website content, and external presence.
Website health includes all the criteria that relate to how your website performs on a functional level.
Some of the key factors Google looks at in this area include:
- Website speed
- Website security (SSL certificate, updated plugins/widgets/software etc.)
- Performance on different devices
- Navigation / usability
- Broken links, orphan pages
- Clean code
The website health category is all about making sure that you have a structurally sound website that provides an enjoyable browsing experience for the end user.
When Google ranks your website on page 1 of its search pages, it is essentially recommending your website to the person searching. The person searching has put their trust in Google to provide them with a good recommendation, and Google is putting its trust in your website that it will be able to help the user find the answers or information that they’re searching for.
Google does not want to send its user to a website that isn’t secure, that takes ages to load, that is filled with broken links or is difficult to navigate. The more user-friendly your website is, the higher in Google you will appear.
Website Health Tips:
- Invest in a premium website hosting provider – a premium service like Nathaniel from Sacko or WP Sparks is only going to cost you $20-30/month more than a cheap service, and they are going to tick a lot of those criterial relating to website security and site speed.
- Don’t try to be “creative” with your website navigation; there is a reason that navigation menus follow a particular format on most websites and the more you stray from it, the harder your users will find your site to navigate.
Website content refers to all the text, images, videos, blogs, whitepapers and resources that are hosted on your website.
If you think of your website as being a house, then your content is your furniture.
Your content dictates what search terms you are eligible to rank in Google for. If you want to rank for a term like ‘Brisbane social media services’, then you need to have content on your website relating to that topic.
It might sound obvious, but a lot of people miss this step. They have a website that lists their Brisbane address in the footer, and their website is all about the different flowers and bouquets that they sell. So they are obviously a Brisbane florist, right?
Google is a piece of software. It cannot read between the lines like a human can. If you do not state “I am a Brisbane florist”, then Google will just think you are a website about flowers. You’ll likely rank for some search terms relating to flowers, but you won’t rank the most important and high-value search terms like ‘Brisbane florist’, which have more purchasing intent behind them than ‘Australian native flowers’.
Some of the key factors that Google looks at in the Website Content area include:
- Quantity and quality of content
- Content relating to your target keywords / phrases
- Content variety (text, images, videos etc.)
- Content formatting (short sentences and paragraphs are easier to read than big blocks of text)
- Image formatting
- Readability score (learn more about that here, but basically you don’t want someone to have a degree to be able to read and understand your content. The simpler your wording is, the better you will perform in Google)
- Age of content (Google favours sites that keep their content up-to-date and add new information on a regular basis)
It can be tricky to get the balance right – you want pages that have a decent amount of text / information on them, but you don’t want to fill them up with jargon and technical information or your readability score will be low. You also don’t want to waffle on, talking about nothing, because that will affect your readability score.
It’s why professional copywriters are recommended for website copy and SEO campaigns.
Website Content Tips:
- Every page on your website should have a minimum of 350 words to make sure you have enough content to be considered by Google.
- 350 words is the minimum – Google the search term you want to rank for and have a look at how many words on average are on the pages currently ranking on Google for that term. If they are averaging 800 words, your 350 word page is NOT going to outrank them.
- Get into the habit of regular blogging – it adds new, fresh content to your site which Google loves. It also gives you more opportunities to rank for a wider range of search terms. And you can also repurpose the content for your social media and email marketing activities. One stone, like, 5 birds.
External presence refers to everything that is said about your brand or website on the wider internet. I mentioned in the Website Health section that Google is putting their trust in you to provide their audience with a good browsing experience. But here’s the thing – Google doesn’t entirely trust you. So, they keep an eye on a lot of external factors that you largely have no control over.
If you’ve ever heard the term ‘backlinking’, this is the area of SEO that link building activities falls into. Link building or backlinking campaigns are a popular area of SEO because of all the external factors that contribute to your ranking, it is the one that is easiest to engineer or falsify. So it is also the area of SEO that is most prone to scams or black hat tactics.
Some of the key external factors that Google is looking at include:
- Backlinking / link building (links on external websites to your website)
- Social shares (please sharing links to your website or content on social platforms)
- Brand mentions (people mentioning your brand in forums like Trip Advisor or Whirlpool)
- Bookmarking – when someone bookmarks your website in their browser
- Domain authority
- Reviews – especially Google reviews
- On-page factors that are largely out of your control, such as how long someone spends on your website, your bounce rate, and how previous users have engaged with your content
External Presence Tips:
- Find a reputable – ideally Australian based – company to do your backlinking activities for you. There are so many dodgy providers who use link farms and black hat link building tactics to get you to the top of Google quickly. Be suspicious of any SEO campaign that guarantees page-1 rankings. Be suspicious of any SEO campaign that promises fast / immediate results. And be super suspicious of any SEO campaign that heavily discounts the cost in the first couple of months, but then locks you into an ongoing contract for 12 or more months. SEO, when done legitimately, should start slow and build momentum month-on-month; not the other way around. SEO is like compound interest – you invest in it month-on-month and rewards build from the hard work done the previous month. If you go position 99 to position 1 in less than 3 months, then you’ve probably found yourself a good ol’ scam.
- You can do some basic (and legitimate) link building activities yourself through having active social media accounts that regularly share links to your blogs and website pages, as well as building out listings on online directories.
Bringing it All Together:
A website needs all three areas of SEO to maximise its performance in Google. You could have amazing content – but if your site is hard to navigate or unsecure, you won’t rank. Alternatively, you could have a really healthy site, but if you don’t have content relevant to your target keywords / phrases, then you won’t qualify to rank for those terms. And you could spend hours and hours building out links to your website, but if all of those links lead back to a website filled with broken links and poorly written content, then you’ve just wasted all of those hours and hours.
A good SEO campaign should include all three areas:
- It should include a site health audit on your website each month, fix any broken links, tidy up the code, and ensure that your site is secure.
- It should be building out your content through new blog pages and increasing the content / words on existing pages.
- It should then be looking at building out links on reputable external websites, looking at quality over quantity (ie. 1 link from a reputable source is more valuable than 20 links from link farms).
If you are on a low-level SEO campaign (read: cheap), then you might be expected to do the blog writing / content building elements yourself, but if you are paying more than $500AUD / month for your SEO service, then I would expect to see a mixture of activities from all three areas in your campaign.
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BeKonstructive Marketing does good SEO. We are transparent, we provide clear monthly reporting, we focus heavily on content, and our team are all based in Australia. A lot of the SEO clients that we work with have been burnt or scammed by their previous provider and need someone they can trust. For those reasons, we do not have lock-in contracts, and we are also more than happy to put you in touch with some of our current SEO clients so that you can fact check our service.