Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is often seen as a bit of dark art – in truth it’s a fairly simple mechanism that helps people find your business online. I often ask prospective clients, why invest thousands in a new website if it can’t be found?
Looking at it in a little more detail – SEO is a process by which a website and its content becomes relevant to a particular search query. Every day, there are billions of search queries posted via popular search engines. Thankfully, only a fraction of these are relevant to your business. SEO ensures that within your specialist field, you appear high in a search ranking.
For any startup, particularly one that is looking to sell or market itself online, having a visible, search friendly website is imperative. The challenge facing most startups is money is often tight. The good news is SEO doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, there are many things you can do yourself.
In this guide, we’ll look at the basics of SEO, the simple steps you can take to improve your search ranking from the get go.
1. So what is SEO all about?
We’ve touched on this a little above – SEO, or search engine optimisation, is a way of making your website relevant to a particular search query. Optimisations can be made across a whole spectrum of areas, from the copy and keywords you use, to the architecture, speed and ease of use of your website. Google and other search engines show preference to certain attributes. Tick enough of these boxes and you’re more likely to feature higher on a search ranking. Sounds simple right?
Take a look at our blog here which explains why SEO is so important.
2. How does Google work?
To understand SEO, you need to understand how search engines work. Google, for example, wants to provide the best search results it can so that people choose its platform over others. The likes of Bing and Yahoo are all doing the same. Search engines do this by “monitoring” people’s search behaviour, and looking for particular signals to help determine how to rank webpages.
For example, it will read the words on a webpage, so words are a signal. If some words are in bold, that might be another signal that’s noted. If a page is mobile-friendly, that’s another signal. Google have roughly 200 signals they use to determine where to rank pages, so SEO is about identifying these and including them in your website.
It’s worth noting, these signals are frequently changing as search engines try to out-smart each other, so search ranking is an ever evolving process. Sit still and you will be behind the curve in an instant.
3. When should I start doing SEO?
In short – as soon as possible. SEO can be a long haul, so the sooner you start, the quicker you’ll get results. The good news being a start-up, is it’s easier to imbed SEO into the architecture of the business early on. For example, new websites can be designed with SEO in mind rather than reversed engineered, which can be time-consuming and expensive. You should also think of your competition who will working hard making their businesses search friendly – don’t get caught in their wake!
4. How do I do the basics?
There are a number of signals that are easy and cheap to implement. You can start by writing good quality content. In the old days, it was all about key words – the phrases, questions most asked by people interested in subjects relevant to your business. However, copy full of key words is rarely a good read. Google has cottoned onto this, and these days will show more preference to what is called in the industry, E.A.T – Expertise, Authority and Trust. Content needs to be engaging basically, and relevant to the target audience. Key words still have their place, but they’re not everything. Show that you are an expert in your field, write knowledgeably and you’re half way there.
My professional tip is forget about writing copy to appease a search engine. Just write what you think your customers want to know. Think about these kind of questions:
- What is your business?
- What services do you offer?
- What benefits do they bring to the customer?
- Why should they choose you?
You can go a step further and start a blog. Blogs give you the freedom to discuss a whole range of interesting topics. They also allow you to introduce new information onto the website, another of that Google’s popular signals. Websites should always be an evolving mechanism that introduces fresh ideas and content for its reader. This will make Google happy.
Other simple DIY steps you can do to improve your search ranking include:
- Use high quality images, preferably original – its more expensive but doing your own photography will help you achieve a higher search ranking.
- Complete your Meta Tags – these define the title and description of the pages on your website. Meta Tags consist of a Meta Title and Meta Description, and should be unique for every page – this information is displayed when you search for something online, and help people to decide if they want to click through to your site.
- Find your keywords and include them in page titles, web copy, your URL (web address), Meta and image tags. You can also use tools such as Moz to help you find your keywords. Take a look here for more of our key word tips.
- Generate backlinks – find high authority websites and approach them with relevant, engaging content that includes a link to your website. These links generate traffic and approve search ranking. You can also generate backlinks via popular business directories.
- Include clear, easy to find contact details.
- Include links to your social media profiles.
5. What do I need to watch out for?
Keep expectations in check
Managing your own expectations is an important first step to successful SEO. Many startups believe SEO is a silver bullet that can deliver high search ranking overnight. If this doesn’t happen, which it never does, businesses give up before it has had a chance to take effect. It can take up to a year before you see the full benefits of SEO, so my advice is to keep at it, even if at first it doesn’t appear to be working.
Never buy links
Having a link to your website from another high authority website is a great way to generate traffic and improve search ranking. However, backlinks should always be earned and never bought. Google has a spam algorithm which understands what these are and will punish your site.
Use keywords sparingly
Don’t stuff your copy with keywords. Google is more sophisticated these days and can recognise key word spamming. Use keywords sparingly and in the right places. See how Google’s new rankbrain algorithm works here.
6. Top five free SEO tools
There are quite literally 100’s of free, easy to use SEO tools on the market. For the uninitiated, I would recommend five tools to get you started:
- Moz – great tool that helps you find relevant keywords, audit links and find errors – they have a free 30 day trial.
- AHREFS – a useful tool that covers backlink checking, competitor analysis, keyword research and more. They also have a free trial.
- Screaming Frog – An industry favourite. Screaming Frog acts as a dummy search engine to check the SEO performance of a website.
- Google Page Speed – Google PageSpeed is a family of tools by Google Inc, designed to help a website’s performance optimizations.
- Google search console – Search Console tools and reports help you measure your site’s Search traffic and performance and fixes any issues.
7. How much does SEO cost?
If you’re doing it yourself, the cost is really time – to undertake an SEO strategy yourself, you’d need to put aside at least 2 hours a week for a year to see results. Beyond that, it’s about maintenance to make sure you retain your Google ranking. Remember, Google and other search engines are constantly changing their search preferences, meaning you can never sit still. There is always work to do to.
Other than that, you may want to invest in some pay ware SEO tools which may set you back £100-£500 depending in what you invest in.
If you decide to choose an SEO agency, costs will depend on the size of agency and the depth of work you want them to undertake. Typically prices will vary between £300 and £1000 a month.
8. How should I go about choosing an SEO agency?
The business has grown, and you’re struggling to find the time to dedicate to SEO. Its time to get the experts in. However, choosing an SEO agency can be a daunting prospect. Here are some important questions/considerations to ask before you take the plunge:
- Get at least three quotes and see what they offer.
- What is their reporting process? They should provide a report at least once per month.
- How do they measure success and how often? You need to be sure the hours they put in is delivering tangible results for your business.
- Who will you be working with? Having a good rapport with your account manager is important.
- Is the SEO company successful themselves? Are they ranking? If they can’t do it themselves, how can you expect them to perform for you?
9. Should I keep tabs on my SEO agency?
Generally, if you have a good relationship with the agency, keeping tabs should not be necessary. Also, any decent agency should be proactive in providing information about what they are up to. For example, via regular reports and updates. If they don’t, then alarm bells should be ringing.
10. Taking the plunge
For startups, SEO combined with search marketing techniques such as Google Ad Words and Pay-Per-Click, is the most cost effective way of getting your new business noticed online. If you have an eCommerce platform and your website is your primary revenue generator, achieving a high search ranking is a business critical objective.
When you start your business, remember to keep things simple – just focus on the basics to get your site optimised, then once you’ve ticked all the boxes and there is budget available, choose the right SEO professional to take your business to the next level. Good luck!
By Caroline Phillips, Managing Director of Alba SEO
Founded by Caroline Phillips in 2013, Alba SEO is one of Scotland’s most well respected SEO agencies with offices in Edinburghs and Glasgow. The company offers a range of digital marketing services from SEO, to web-design and social media management. The company work with SME’s and large organisations across the UK, helping them grow through effective search marketing. For a free SEO audit please visit us here.