SEO

Chapter 1: SEO Basics

November 2, 2023

New to search engine optimisation? No problem. Your journey begins here and it'll be an exciting start to begin building your organic reach!

SEO Fundamentals For South African Businesses

SEO stands for "search engine optimisation". It is the practice of growing both website traffic quality and quantity. As well as access to your brand through non-paid (also referred to as "organic") search engine results.

Besides the acronym, SEO is about people as much as it is about the search engines. It's about discovering what people search for, the responses they're looking for, the words they're using, and the kind of content they want to consume. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you to connect with people who are looking for the solutions you are providing.

If knowing your audience’s intent is one side of the SEO coin, delivering it in a way search engine crawlers can find and understand is the other. In this guide, expect to learn how to do both.

Search Engine Basics

Search engines are answer machines. They scour billions of pieces of content and evaluate thousands of factors to determine which content is most likely to answer your query.

All of this is accomplished by search engines through finding and cataloging all of the content available on the Web (web pages, PDFs, images, videos, etc.) through a process known as "crawling and indexing," and then ordering it by how well it fits the query in a process we refer to as "ranking." This is covered more extensively later on.

What does 'organic' mean?

Organic search results are the ones that are earned through effective SEO, traffic that you don't need to pay for (i.e. it's FREE). These used to be easy to spot - the ads were clearly labeled as such and the remaining results typically took the form of "10 blue links" listed below them. But with the way search has changed, how can we spot organic results today?

Today, search engine results pages — often referred to as “SERPs” — are filled with both more advertising and more dynamic organic results formats (called “SERP features”) than we've ever seen before. Some examples of SERP features are featured snippets (or answer boxes), People Also Ask boxes, image carousels, etc. New SERP features continue to emerge, driven largely by what people are seeking.

For example, if you search for "Cape Town weather," you’ll see a weather forecast for the city of Cape Town directly in the SERP instead of a link to a site that might have that forecast. And, if you search for “pizza CPT,” you’ll see a “local pack” result made up of CPT pizza places (within SERPs), to keep searchers coming back, and to keep them on the SERPs longer.  Some SERP features on Google are organic and can be influenced by SEO. These include featured snippets (a promoted organic result that displays an answer inside a box) and related questions (a.k.a. "People Also Ask" boxes).  It's worth noting that there are many other search features that, even though they aren't paid advertising, can't typically be influenced by SEO. These features often have data acquired from proprietary data sources, such as Wikipedia, WebMD, and IMDb.

So Why TF is SEO important?

SEO is also one of the only online marketing channels that, when set up correctly, can continue to pay dividends over time. If you provide a solid piece of content that deserves to rank for the right keywords, your traffic can snowball over time, whereas advertising needs continuous funding to send traffic to your site.

SEO has roughly 20X more traffic opportunities than PPC on both mobile and desktop

SEO has roughly 20x more traffic opportunities than PPC (Pay-per-Click) advertising on both mobile and desktop.

While paid advertising, social media, and other online platforms can generate traffic to websites, the majority of online traffic is driven by search engines. Organic search results cover more digital real estate, appear more credible to savvy searchers, and receive way more clicks than paid advertisements.

Feed the engine: Optimizing your site will help deliver better information to search engines so that your content can be properly indexed and displayed within search results. Search engines are getting smarter, but they still need our help.

Guidelines for representing your local business on Google

If the business for which you perform SEO work operates locally, either out of a storefront or drives to customers’ locations to perform service, it qualifies for a Google My Business listing. For local businesses like these, Google has guidelines that govern what you should and shouldn’t do in creating and managing these listings.

Fundamentals:
  • Be sure you’re eligible for inclusion in the Google My Business index; you must have a physical address, even if it’s your home address, and you must serve customers face-to-face, either at your location (like a retail store) or at theirs (like a plumber)
  • Honestly and accurately represent all aspects of your local business data, including its name, address, phone number, website address, business categories, hours of operation, and other features.
Avoid:
  • Creation of Google My Business listings for entities that aren’t eligible,
  • Misrepresentation of any of your core business information, including “stuffing” your business name with geographic or service keywords, or creating listings for fake addresses Use of PO boxes or virtual offices instead of authentic street addresses,
  • Abuse of the review portion of the Google My Business listing, via fake positive reviews of your business or fake negative ones of your competitors,
  • Costly, novice mistakes stemming from failure to read the fine details of Google’s guidelines

Fulfilling User Intent

Instead of violating these guidelines in an attempt to trick search engines into ranking you higher, focus on understanding and fulfilling user intent. When a person searches for something, they have a desired outcome or search result in mind. Whether it’s an answer, concert tickets, or a cat photo, that desired content is their “user intent.”  

If a person performs a search for “bands," is their intent to find musical bands, wedding bands, band saws, or something else?  Your job as an SEO engineer is to quickly provide users with the content they desire in the format in which they desire it.  

Common user intent types:  

Informational: Searching for information. Example: “What is the best type of laptop for photography?”

Navigational: Searching for a specific website. Example: “Apple”

Transactional: Searching to buy something. Example: “good deals on MacBook Pros”

You can get a glimpse of user intent by Googling your desired keyword(s) and evaluating the current SERP. For example, if there's a photo carousel, it’s very likely that people searching for that keyword search for photos.  Also evaluate what content your top-ranking competitors are providing that you currently aren’t. How can you provide 10X the value on your website?  Providing relevant, high-quality content on your website will help you rank higher in search results, and more importantly, it will establish credibility and trust with your online audience.  

Before you do any of that, you have to first understand your website’s goals to execute a strategic SEO plan.

Know Your Website’s Goals

Every website is different, so take the time to really understand a specific site’s business goals. This will not only help you determine which areas of SEO you should focus on, where to track conversions, and how to set benchmarks, but it will also help you create talking points for negotiating SEO projects with clients, bosses, etc.  

What will your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) be to measure the return on SEO investment? More simply, what is your barometer to measure the success of your organic search efforts?

You'll want to have it documented, even if it's this simple:  

For the website ____________, my primary SEO KPI is ____________.

Here are a few common KPIs to get you started:  

  1. Sales Downloads
  2. Email signups
  3. Contact form submissions
  4. Phone calls

And if your business has a local component, you’ll want to define KPIs for your Google My Business listings, as well. These might include:  

  1. Clicks-to-call
  2. Clicks-to-website
  3. Clicks-for-driving-directions

You may have noticed that things like “ranking” and “traffic” weren’t on the KPIs list, and that’s intentional.  SEO can help your website rank higher in search results and consequently drive more traffic to your website, it’s just that ranking and traffic are a means to an end. There’s little use in ranking if no one is clicking through to your site, and there’s little use in increasing your traffic if that traffic isn’t accomplishing a larger business objective.  

For example, if you run a lead generation site, would you rather have:  1,000 monthly visitors and 3 people fill out a contact form? Or... 300 monthly visitors and 40 people fill out a contact form?

Before embarking on SEO, make sure you’ve laid out your business goals, then use SEO to help you accomplish them — not the other way around.  

SEO accomplishes so much more than vanity metrics. When done well, it helps real businesses achieve real goals for their success.

Google Webmaster Guidelines

Fundamentals:  

  • Make pages primarily for users, not search engines.
  • Don't deceive your users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings.  A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a website to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
  • Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging.  

Things to avoid:  

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content (i.e. copied from somewhere else)
  • Cloaking — the practice of showing search engine crawlers different content than visitors.
  • Hidden text and links
  • Doorway pages — pages created to rank well for specific searches to funnel traffic to your website.

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