Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

What is SEO, and why should I care?

SEO is an acronym for “Search Engine optimisation.” It refers to the procedures, efforts and thought processes behind improving a site’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

A relatively young idea, optimising websites for better visibility in the search engines began to gain momentum in the mid-90s. As it became clear that sites higher-up in the SERPs reached larger audiences, received more traffic and ultimately made more money, the interest in this new idea was spreading quickly. By the time Google arrived in 1998, SEO was becoming commonplace in online marketing and continued growing at an amazing rate, year-over-year.

Today, SEO is a multi-billion dollar industry that grows substantially every year. It is also now acknowledged as a necessity for businesses wanting to achieve or build greater online success.

The Basics of SEO

The basic ideas behind SEO center on keywords.

  1. Visitors go to search engines, and type in queries that use specific keywords.
  2. The search engines’ algorithms make connections between this search query and websites they have indexed, displaying the most relevant pages in the SERPs.
  3. SEO techniques are used by site owners to make stronger connections between their site and its relevant keywords. When successful, the site will appear higher in the SERPs for these specific search queries.

While it might seem like the best idea would be to simply pile as many keywords into a site as possible, the search engines are smarter than that. In addition, keywords used on-site are only one part of the complex equation used to determine site relevance. Without the balance of other important parts of SEO (like links, traffic, and usability), a site will not find much benefit from simply adding more keywords.

Hyper-focusing on only one aspect of SEO (like on-page keywords) can actually hurt your efforts more than help them.

There are many different “signals” the algorithms take into effect to determine site relevance. Generally, these can be divided into on-site and off-site indicators of site strength and popularity. The weight each signal carries is never exactly clear and evolves over time as well, so the basics of SEO involve an understanding of the many signals the search engines are using, and building the assumed strength for each of them as they pertain to your site.

SEO is much more than simply dumping more keywords into a page. It is an art, blending marketing, analysis, understanding trends and behaviors, and an ability to take measured risk.

And the potential rewards can stagger the imagination.

If you are asking yourself, “Why should I care about SEO?” you could consider it more like: “Is it important to me and my site to potentially reach thousands, or even millions more visitors?” When you answer “Yes” to this question, you should definitely care about SEO and what it could do for you.

Can I Ignore SEO?

There are some sites that probably never have to worry about SEO, and others that might be able to ignore it and still find success through sheer word-of-mouth popularity.

If you have a personal site, like a blog full of your poems and thoughts, a hobby site, or a site to share photos and stories with friends and family, you probably don’t have to concern yourself with SEO. A password-protected, members-only site could certainly ignore SEO.

If your site is not really going to benefit from being found by new visitors performing “organic” searches, SEO is not much of a concern to you.

This means that conversely, most businesses with websites should be aware of SEO and optimising their sites – because today, the web plays a much larger role in the daily business routines of most industries.

As more and more people turn to the Internet to search for products and services, even local businesses can’t rely on walk-in traffic they way they used to. Ignoring SEO could prove to be a fatal mistake for a local business today.

Another thing to consider is the idea of a missed opportunity. While it is true you can’t guarantee more people will find your site even with SEO attention, it is almost a certainty that a strong presence on the Internet is what most customers expect today. Ignoring the power and economic potential offered by the Internet is not typically a shrewd business move.

By improving the SEO, a site dramatically increases the chances of reaching new audiences. New audiences bring new money and new possibilities to the site owner. But if new audiences never find the site because the site owner ignores SEO, there is a real possibility of stagnation.

Do also be aware that if you choose to ignore SEO, there is likely a competitor out there who isn’t. Are you ready to give this competitor a big chunk of your site traffic, new audiences, and increased online opportunities?

Do I need to Hire a Pro?

The question of whether or not you need to hire a professional to help with your site’s SEO varies from situation to situation, but more often than not, the answer is “Yes.” SEO is a complex balance of many strategies, and professionals offer the insight to make it all work.

Businesses with a strong online component would definitely be well-served with professional SEO guidance. Smaller businesses or sole proprietorships are often able to effectively manage their own SEO efforts, but a pro’s help might bring focus that saves lots of time, money and effort. The level of competition found in the targeted niche is also an important consideration – more competition would definitely suggest the clear benefits of hiring a pro.

Questions you want to ask yourself when making this decision would include:

  • How much of my time can be spent on SEO?
  • How much of a budget can I apply to SEO?
  • What kind of return on investment (ROI) do I expect from SEO?
  • How much do I understand about SEO?

The nature of SEO, with its many moving parts and constantly changing landscape, means that if you are not spending the necessary time to stay on top of it, you may be missing something. There is also an abundance of SEO misinformation out there, so a pro will have valuable experience to help steer clear of the falsehoods and outdated or excessively risky tactics.

In addition, the search engines are all different. What works best in Google does not necessarily work the same way in Bing. A professional will know how to balance the efforts to increase your maximum gains across all the major engines.

Many businesses have in-house staff dedicated to SEO so they can manage costs and increase the levels of engagement. Even with dedicated employees working on the daily efforts, professional guidance for “big picture” planning can help. The outside SEO is able to look at the site and the current strategies more holistically, bringing a wider range of experiences to the table.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to hire an SEO usually comes down to available budget. Many smaller businesses become do-it-yourself SEOs because they understand the need, but lack the resources to bring in professionals.

Lets break it down

Let's break SEO down into its most rudimentary form. Imagine a visitor to your website is blind, they can't see a thing. In some ways, this is what the spiders that crawl your website are like. They are blind and they can't see a thing. They do not care that it has a nice pink background with a picture of your kitty cat tiled across it. A website's look & feel MEANS NOTHING to spiders.

So how do you "show" a blind person what your website is about ? You have to describe it to them. You start to describe what is on the homepage, you tell them what the company is called, what the company does, and what the pictures on your homepage are about.

See for yourself

Open up your website... on your browser you will see a title bar {probably above the address bar}, that displays the tag of your website. SEO 101 : make sure your title tells search engines & people what your website / company is about.</p> <p>I'll bet yours says something like "Welcome to the So and So Company" - This kind of a title does you absolutely no favours, it only tells people what your name is. What does So and So Company do ? A more appropriate title would be, "Linux Web Hosting, Web Hosting, Linux Hosting South Africa, Perl, cPanel, fantastico, Free Templates, php, html, mySQL, Web Hosting South Africa" - Now that tells both the search engines & visitors about your website. You might be wondering, "Where do I see this title tag in action?". Well, the next time you perform a search on Google, have a look at the main heading for each search result. This will in most cases display what the <title> tag says for each different website. The next question is, why was this not done in the beginning if it is so important ? Good question, that is exactly our point, people only view the outward appearance of their website as important. Please don't get us wrong, design is important, but like we have said before, it is only the start. There are many "on-site" updates that can be done to your website to improve its SEO score & searchabililty. You will be surprised at how getting the basics right can dramatically improve your SEO.</p> <p>Content Matters</p> <p>People often just slap content onto their website with very little regards as to what it actually says about their company. The way you use your content on your website can be of MASSIVE benefit, not only to your visitors but also to the search engines.</p> <h2>Google Loves Good Unique Content</h2> <p>Google is in the business of giving their "customers" the most relevant content for their searches - MAKE SURE YOUR CONTENT IS RELEVANT & full of keywords which relate to your industry. When you venture out into the World Wide Web, make sure you have a complete website strategy that includes SEO.</p></td> </tr> </table> <!-- displays the fotter section of the website --> </td> </tr> <tr> <td id="footer"> <table width="953" border="0" align="center" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"> <tr> <td id="navigation_box" width="190" valign="top"><h3>Client Services </h3> <p><a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/index.php" class="bottom_link">Client Portal </a><br /> <a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/cpanel_login.php" class="bottom_link">cPanel Login </a><br /> <a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/webmail_login.php" class="bottom_link">Webmail Login </a><br /> <a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/adsl_login.php" class="bottom_link">ADSL Login </a><br /> <a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/register.php" class="bottom_link">Account Sign-up </a><br /> <a href="http://www.gemconnect.co.za/secure/pwreset.php" class="bottom_link">Password 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