Search engines 1:01 – what is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

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We get it. Compared to design, videos and social media, a list of web addresses and descriptions may seem pretty boring. Try explaining search engines to the uninitiated. Fingers start drumming on desks and eyes glaze over. But hang in there folks because SEO is by far the most effective online marketing channel. It may not seem sexy, but the ROI is very stimulating. Somehow I’ve managed to explain it in under 1,000 words and without any technical jargon. That’s not easy!

Our Australian and UK clients don’t always have a deep understanding of search engines, but they know this much: if you want to grow your business, you need to rank well on Google.

In Cambodia, most businesses are still struggling to justify investment in high-quality website design, let alone create a budget for SEO. This attitude generally stems from the simple fact that people don’t understand the ROI.

With that in mind, here’s an introduction to SEO. It’s free of technical jargon. Instead it focuses on the things we all get excited about: leads and sales.

What are organic search results?

Type any query into a search engine and you’ll see a few paid ads followed by ‘organic’ results. Search engines (e.g. Google) rank each web page to make sure the most relevant results appear first.

If you’re not on the first page of the search results, you may as well be on the 20th page. Being one of the top three organic results is your goal. If a search is conducted by 10,000 people per month, the top result can expect 2,000+ referrals. That’s a huge advantage in any market, but it can be just the beginning. You could win several of the best searches, which means your 2,000 referrals starts to multiply.

It’s not only the traffic that counts. When you use other marketing avenues like social media or advertising, you’re hunting for consumers. When consumers use Google, they’re hunting for you.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine how engaged those users are when they reach your site. Check traffic reports and you’ll see that people arriving via search engines stay longer, click more and are more likely to take action. These are not casual window shoppers. These people have a purpose and are ripe for conversion.

How SEO works

Search Engine Optimisation is a technique used to increase the relevance and authority of your web pages.

Each web page is married to a search term. By studying the competition, and analysing Google search results, SEO professionals find opportunities for a client’s site to rise to the top. Then a strategy is created and web pages are updated. Google re-evaluates the pages, which begin to climb up the rankings. Changes are monitored and new phases implemented, each time boosting the value of the page until it reaches a position that generates significant referrals.

In a way, you could view it as a snowball effect. The page eventually reaches a point where it gains momentum. The higher it goes, the more traffic it gets. The more traffic it gets, the higher it goes. The only thing that can beat it is a better page, so ultimately the goal is to make a client’s web pages the best in the market.

How do you create the best web pages?

1. Improve user experience

Search engines like Google don’t want to send users to a site that’s broken, dysfunctional or hard to navigate. Google knows when people are dissatisfied because it constantly analyses their behaviour. So step one is to never advertise your weaknesses. Fix your site before you do anything else.

2. Keep it fresh

Google does not look favourably on stagnant sites. It wants you to be a dynamic, growing source of solutions for its customers. Smart brands generate new content frequently and update pages. This attracts more users and builds up a valuable bank of information. More pages means more opportunities to optimise, and more search referrals.

3. Become an authority

Authority among websites is very similar to authority among humans. Sites gain respect by being recognised by peers. Google applies this logic by rewarding you when respected websites link to your pages. The technique used for actively seeking these important referrers is called outreach. Outreach programs are basically ways of building a network of non-competitive peers and allies.

4. Optimise

The method we use to match each page with a specific search term is called optimisation. Google encourages you to optimise elements like page titles and descriptions because these appear on Google search result pages. More subtle elements can be found on your web pages: headers, copy, link text and alt tags on photos. When done well, website visitors don’t notice optimisation.

5. Business listings and maps

Another important tool Google provides is the business listing that appears when you search for a brand name. These listings have expanded over the years to include great features like reviews and posts. As long as you have a verified address, you can also have a pin on a map that often appears above the organic results. It’s a great tool for bricks and mortar businesses.

6. Experiment, measure, repeat

Like everything online, SEO is measurable. The most important measurement is referrals from search engines, but you’ll eventually need a way to monitor your ranking across hundreds of searches. Most SEO agencies use sites like Moz or SEMRush. Those sites also measure every basic SEO technique I’ve introduced above, and Moz is great for SEO news.

Not sure how your site is performing? Paste your URL into this SEMrush search box, hit return, and then select your country to see how your site is doing on local searches.

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Don’t try this at home

In no way can these quick introductions be considered actionable guides. Each step is a can of worms that could kill hundreds of hours of your time. There are also several important techniques I haven’t even mentioned, let alone explained. The important thing is to understand enough to recognise the ROI and not feel that the SEO industry is a secret sect determined to confuse you.

If you believe you don’t need to perform well on search engines, make sure you read my 6 reasons you don’t need an SEO company.

Unfortunately it’s not only a matter of whether you are ready. It’s also a matter of whether your competition is ready. Maybe they’ve already begun.

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