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SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - Do you want to appear on the first page of Google when your customers search for your products or services?

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What is SEO - Search Engine Optimisation?

SEO stands for "Search Engine Optimisation". In simple terms, SEO is the process of improving your website to increase its visibility on Google, Microsoft Bing and other search engines whenever people search for products or services you sell or information on topics in which you have in-depth experience and expertise.

The better the visibility of your pages in search results, the more likely you are to be found and clicked on.

Ultimately, the goal of search engine optimisation is to help attract visitors to your site for free.

SEO, as a way of increasing organic traffic, is a medium to long-term endeavour. However, if done well, it can bring incredible results over several years, bringing qualified visitors with great potential to become customers, or an audience that keeps coming back.

In this article we'll try to help you understand better:

  • How does SEO differ from SEM and PPC?

  • Why is SEO important?

  • What is the SEO success triad?

  • Are there specific areas of SEO?

  • How does SEO work?

  • The 4 essential phases of your SEO plan;

How is SEO different from PPC and SEM?

SEM and PPC are two other common terms in the digital marketing community, and they are important to help you understand what SEO is.

What does PPC mean?

PPC stands for pay-per-click - a type of digital marketing where advertisers are charged every time one of their adverts is clicked on.

Basically, advertisers bid on specific keywords or phrases when they want their adverts to appear in search engine results. When a user searches for one of these keywords or phrases, the advertiser's advert will appear among the top results.

This type of digital marketing has a direct cost, but it is faster, potentially scalable and helps you reach new target audiences.

What does SEM mean?

SEM stands for "Search Engine Marketing" which means search engine marketing - or, as it is commonly known, search marketing.

SEM is a type of digital marketing and is an umbrella term for the combination of SEO and PPC activities aimed at generating traffic through organic and paid search.

Put simply, search marketing is the process of gaining traffic and visibility from search engines through paid and unpaid efforts.

Today, many people use SEM to refer to PPC, this trend seems to underestimate SEO. However, SEO is marketing, just as PPC is marketing.

So how do SEM, PPC and SEO relate to each other?

So if we think of SEM or search marketing as a coin, SEO and PPC are two sides of the same coin - SEO is the unpaid side, PPC is the paid side.

It's very important never to think of it as "SEO vs PPC", because one is not better than the other, they are complementary channels. It's not a question of "either or" - always choose both (as long as your budget allows).

That's why we believe it's not a good idea to confuse the two: SEM encompasses both of these jobs, SEO is about organic search and PPC is about paid search. Each has its own specificities, strengths and weaknesses, but when done well they feed off each other: PPC will make organic search grow and SEO will make PPC more efficient.

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Why SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - is important?

SEO is a critical marketing channel. First and foremost: organic search generates 53% of all website traffic.

That's a big reason why the global SEO industry is expected to reach an impressive $122bn by 2028. SEO generates real business results for brands, companies and organisations of all sizes.

Whenever people want to go somewhere, do something, find information, research or buy a product/service - their journey starts with a search.

But today, search is incredibly fragmented. Users can search on traditional web search engines (e.g. Google, Microsoft Bing), social platforms (e.g. YouTube, TikTok) or retailer sites (e.g. Amazon).

Trillions of searches are carried out every year. Search is often the main source of traffic to websites, which makes it essential to be "search engine optimised" on any platform where people might search for your brand or business.

What all this means is that improving your visibility, and ranking higher in search results than your competition, can have a very positive impact on your bottom line.

SEO is also incredibly important because search engine results pages (or SERPs) are super-competitive - full of search features (and PPC adverts). SERP features include:

  • Knowledge panels.

  • Featured snippets.

  • Maps.

  • Images.

  • Vídeos.

  • Top stories (news).

  • People also ask.

  • Carousels.

Another reason why SEO is critical for brands and companies: unlike other marketing channels, good SEO work is sustainable. When a paid campaign ends, so does the traffic. Social media traffic is unreliable at best - and a fraction of what it once was.

SEO is the foundation of holistic marketing, where everything your company does matters. Once you understand what your users want, you can then implement that knowledge in all your communications:

  • Campaigns (paid and organic).

  • Website content.

  • Or social networks.

SEO is a channel that drives the traffic you need to achieve business goals (e.g. conversions, visits, sales).

And SEO also has a very large intangible benefit, SEO builds trust - a site that ranks well is generally considered authoritative or trustworthy, which are key elements that Google wants to reward with better rankings.

The SEO success triad:

There are 3 essential areas in SEO, all of them important because they can significantly impact your ranking in search engines, and thus the place where your page appears every time a customer searches for it. We call these 3 areas the SEO success triad.

  • Technical SEO: Optimising the technical aspects of a website. Page response times, identifying and correcting broken links or error pages, etc.

  • On-site SEO: Optimising the content of a website for users and search engines. Finding out what content your target audience is looking for and serving it up on a silver platter.

  • Off-site SEO: Creating brand assets (social media, links to other sites, people, brands, values, vision, slogans, catchphrases, colours) and doing things that will ultimately increase brand recognition and awareness (i.e. demonstrate and grow your expertise, authority and trustworthiness) and create demand.

Technical SEO - What is technical optimisation anyway?

Optimising the technical elements of a website is crucial and fundamental to SEO success.

It all starts with architecture - creating a site that can be crawled and indexed by search engines. The aim is to make it easy for search engines to discover and access all the content on your pages (i.e. text, images, videos). Which technical elements matter here: URL structure, navigation, internal linking, and more.

Experience is also a critical element of technical optimisation. Search engines emphasise the importance of pages that load quickly and provide a good user experience. Elements such as Core Web Vitals, mobile-friendliness and usability, HTTPS and avoiding intrusive pop-ups all matter in technical SEO.

In addition, hosting services, CMS (content management system) and site security all play a role in SEO.

ON-Page SEO - Content Optimisation

To attract the right audience to your site, your content needs to be optimised for two main audiences: people and search engines. What this means is that you optimise the content that your target audience will see (what's actually on the page) as well as what the search engines will see (the code).

Don't misunderstand what we said in the previous paragraph, never write text for search engines. The aim is always to publish high-quality, useful content that is relevant to your target audience.

However, there are specific things, which often fall by the wayside, that have been done to help search engines understand your website and rank and index your pages better.

You can do this through a combination of understanding the wants and needs of your audience, data and guidance provided by Google.

When optimising content for people, you must ensure that:

  • Cover relevant topics with which you have experience or expertise.

  • Includes keywords that people would use to find the content.

  • Is unique or original.

  • It is well-written and free of grammatical and spelling errors.

  • It is up-to-date, containing accurate information.

  • It includes multimedia (e.g. images, videos).

  • It's better than its SERP competitors.

  • It's readable - structured to make it easy to understand the information you're sharing (think: sub-headings, paragraph length, use of bold/italics, ordered/unordered lists, reading level, etc.).

For search engines, some key content elements to optimise are:

  • Titles.

  • Meta description.

  • Header tags (H1-H6).

  • Alternative text for images.

  • Open Graph metadata and Cards.

  • Off-site optimisation.

Off-Page SEO - Off-site optimisation

There are several activities that may not be "SEO" in the strictest sense, but can still align with and indirectly help SEO success.

Link building (the process of acquiring links to a site) is the activity most associated with off-site SEO. There are great benefits to obtaining a diverse number of links pointing to your site from relevant, authoritative and trustworthy websites. Link quality trumps quantity - and a large number of quality links is the goal.

And how do you get these links? There are various methods of website promotion that create synergies with SEO efforts. These include:

  • Public Relations: Public relations techniques designed to obtain editorially granted links.

  • Content marketing: Some popular forms include creating videos, e-books, research studies, podcasts (or being a guest on other podcasts) and guest posting (or guest blogging).

  • Social media marketing and optimisation: Claim your brand identity on all relevant platforms, fully optimise it and share relevant content.

  • Listing management: Claim, verify and optimise information on all platforms where information about your company or website can be listed and found by searchers (e.g. directories, review sites, wikis).

  • Grades and evaluations: Getting them, monitoring them and responding to all of them.

We manage to maintain 100% control over the site's content and technical optimisations, but this isn't always true with off-site SEO. However, these activities are still a key part of this triad of SEO success.

Everything your brand does matters, the important thing is that it is found wherever people might search for it. So some people are starting to try to change the name from "search engine optimisation" to "search experience optimisation" or "search anywhere optimisation".

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Specific niche areas of SEO:

Search engine optimisation also has a number of sub-genres. Each of these speciality areas is different from "regular SEO" in its own way, often requiring additional tactics and presenting different challenges.

Five of these SEO specialities include:

  • SEO for E-commerce: Additional SEO elements include optimising category pages, product pages, faceted navigation, internal link structures, product images, product reviews, structured data and more.

  • Enterprise SEO: This is SEO on a large scale. It usually means dealing with a site (or several sites/brands) with 1 million or more pages. It usually involves multiple stakeholders, and is very specific to implement.

  • International SEO: This is global SEO for international companies - for multiregion or multilingual sites - and optimising for international search engines such as Baidu or Naver depending on the target market.

  • Local SEO: Here, the aim is to optimise websites for visibility in local search engines' organic results, managing and obtaining company ratings and listings, among other things.

  • News SEO: To ensure that you get into Google's index as quickly as possible and appear in places like Google Discover, Google Top Stories and Google News, requires understanding best practices for paywalls, section pages, news-specific structured data and more.

How SEO works?

If you found this page through a Google search, you probably searched for "what is seo" or "seo".

All the content that this page has, such as the text, the multimedia elements, the external links that direct to this page, etc. have helped this article gain a good reputation in the search engines, which has helped this article appear on your search results page when you search. It has accumulated signals that show it is authoritative and trustworthy - and therefore deserves to rank when someone searches for SEO.

Many other factors influence how SEO works. The following is a high-level overview of the most important knowledge and process elements.

How do search engines work?

If you want people to find your business through search - on any platform - you need to understand the technical processes behind search engines - and then ensure that you're providing all the right signals to influence that visibility.

When we talk about traditional web search engines like Google, there are four separate stages of search:

  • Crawling: Search engines use crawlers to discover web pages by following links and using sitemaps. There are currently several crawlers such as Googlebot, Applebot and many others.

  • Rendering: Search engines generate how the page will look using information from HTML, JavaScript and CSS..

  • Indexing: Search engines analyse the content and metadata of the pages they discover and add them to a database..

  • Ranking: Complex algorithms look at a variety of signals to determine whether a page is relevant and of high enough quality to show when searchers type in a query.

Please note that optimising for Google search is different from optimising for search on other platforms such as YouTube or Facebook.

On Facebook, for example, factors such as interaction (Likes, comments, shares, etc.) and who people are connected to are important. On Twitter, signals such as the topicality of the post for the topic, interactions or the author's credibility are important.

And, complicating matters further, search engines have added AI elements to analyse content - making it even harder to say that "this" or "that" resulted in better or worse performance.

The 4 essential phases in implementing your SEO plan

1- Research

Research is a key part of SEO. It is perhaps the most critical phase because it will enable you to understand who your target audience is, what content, products, services and features your customers are looking for, which competitors are providing them, on what terms, etc. And thus find ways to position yourself successfully in the market.

Some forms of research that improve SEO performance include:

  • Audience research: It's important to understand your target audience or market. Who are they (i.e. their demographics and psychographics)? What are their pain points? What questions do they have that you can answer?

  • Keyword research: This process helps you identify and incorporate relevant and valuable search terms that people use on your pages - and understand the demand and competition to rank for those keywords.

  • Competitor research: Who are your main competitors and what are they doing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What kind of content they are publishing?

  • Brand/business/customer research: What are your goals - and how can SEO help you achieve them?

  • Site research: A variety of SEO audits can uncover opportunities and problems on a site that are preventing success in organic search. Some audits to consider: technical SEO, content, link profile and E-E-A-T.

  • SERP analysis: This will help you understand the search intent for a given query (e.g. is it commercial, transactional, informational or navigational) and create content that is more likely to gain rankings or visibility.

2 - SEO - Search engine optimisation planning

In an SEO strategy, your action plan must be long-term. You need to define objectives - and a plan for how you're going to achieve them.

Think of your SEO strategy as a map. The path you take will probably change and evolve over time - but the destination must remain clear and unchanged.

Your SEO plan can include things like:

  • Define objectives (e.g. OKRs, SMART) and expectations (i.e. timelines/milestones).

  • Define and align meaningful KPIs and metrics.

  • Decide how projects will be created and implemented (internal, external or a mix).

  • Coordinating and communicating with internal and external stakeholders.

  • Choosing and implementing tools/technology.

  • Hiring, training and structuring a team.

  • Define a budget.

  • Measuring and reporting on results.

  • Document the strategy and process.

3 - Create and implement

Once all the research has been completed, it's time to turn ideas into action. This means:

  • Structure your website: Depending on the strategy it may or may not be necessary to change its structure in order to benefit your SEO strategy.

  • Creating content: Advising your content team on what needs to be created, when and for where.

  • Recommend or implement changes or improvements to existing pages: This may include updating and improving content, adding internal links, incorporating keywords/topics/entities, or identifying other ways to optimise further.

  • Remove old, outdated or low-quality content: The types of content that aren't ranking well, driving conversion traffic or helping you achieve your SEO goals..

4 – Analyse, evaluate and maintain.

What you don't measure you can't improve. To make data-based decisions about SEO, you'll need to use:

  • Website analytics: Set up and use tools (at least free tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools) to collect performance data.

  • Tools and platforms: There are many platforms that offer various tools, but you can also choose to use only selected SEO tools to track performance on specific tasks. Or, if you have the resources and none of the tools on the market do exactly what you want, you can create your own tools.

Once you've collected the data, you'll need to report on progress. You can create reports using software or manually.

Performance reporting should tell a story and be done at meaningful time intervals, typically comparing with previous reporting periods (e.g. year on year). This will depend on the type of site (typically this will be monthly, quarterly or some other interval).

SEO is continuous

SEO never ends. Search engines, user behaviour and your competitors are always changing. Websites change and move (and break) over time. Content becomes outdated. Your processes must improve and become more efficient.

Bottom line: There's always something you can be monitoring, testing or improving. Or, as Bruce Clay put it: SEO will only be finished when Google stops changing things and all your competitors are dead.

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