How-to: Understand SEO

Field of Dreams (c) Universal Pictures
Are you getting junk mail daily from a mob of SEO 'experts'? Paranoid that you really really need it but don't understand what it is, how to get it, or whether to pay for it? Well, it's lock down, the time is now, so here is a whole series of posts on SEO, beginning with: How to understand SEO.

What Does SEO Stand For?

Starting from the top. SEO is the abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. It covers a multitude of techniques that aim on to drive more traffic from the major Search Engines to your website, along with pushing it higher in the search engines' results pages - the all-important 'ranking.'

Search Engine Optimization would appear to be the Holy Grail of website management. It has spawned an entire sub-industry within IT, and, as we've written before, it's attracted the carpet-baggers and snake-oil salesmen.

What Is SEO?

SEO is a process, more accurately a whole set of processes, aimed at improving your website so that it ranks higher in search engine results. The primary target is Google, but the likes of Bing/Yahoo and engines in China, Russia and a host of smaller players shouldn't be forgotten - traffic is traffic.

SEO can also be considered a sales and marketing 'discipline', getting more traffic to your site without directly paying for advertising.

Why SEO Matters

Done right, SEO will attract additional traffic to your site for free.

It's a long-understood fact that websites appearing on the first page of Google results receive the highest Click Through Rate. I've proved that to myself several times already just today. People assume that the results shown have either popularity and/or authority at a rate of decreasing importance as you scroll down through the results (ranking). Often, users don't make it to page two of the results, much less page ten.

Getting SEO right will build organic traffic - click-through's from search results - over time. That's a lot more cost effective than continual paid advertising, assuming you have the funds to outbid the big players for ad placements. Paid advertising on third party sites and social media can get traffic to your site quickly, but when you stop paying, the traffic also stops.

It is estimated that search engines drive 85-95% (insert your own wild guess of the week here) of all website traffic. Put another way, the clear majority. If you don't rank well in search, you are unlikely to be found.

Google's search engine technology - both collecting, organising and indexing the content it finds - is in continual development. That's partly because Google's expertise increases with experience and partly because everybody else is trying to game the system in order to get a better ranking.

But as the Internet expands as a content-filled universe, a lot of it junk and noise, it increasingly vital to look at SEO yourself to help the search engines along. Give the search engines the information they need, you  get pushed up the rankings. Or at least, that's the theory.

Why is SEO such a live topic?

SEO is constantly changing. The search engines themselves are continually tuning their search and indexing tools. Back in 2015, Google declared for 'mobile first' in response to the shift to mobile devices. It periodically implements new suites of algorithms (Panda, Penguin, Maverick, Medic, BERT), either to improve the engine or to shutdown abuses by the search bandits trying to game the system.

This means that some SEO practices fall out of favour or stop working, and the search 'arms race' continues.

How hard can it be?

As a source of long term traffic, SEO should not be ignored. There is basic good practice that can be embedded in all content and site markup, and then there is the hard slog of continuous tweaking and tuning. It is up to you how hard and how far you want to pursue your own SEO. All we'll say is, with the state of the Internet as it is, doing nothing is no longer an option. As we said back in the heady days of 1998, 'just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come' (scant apologies to Field of Dreams). Yes, we realised the initial party was over, even then.

SEO is challenging, hard work and may be a long game to play before you see results. Think of it as an investment. RC