Guide: Search Engine Optimisation
Search engine optimisation (SEO) appears to be the new ‘it’ word in the world of online marketing today. For those who have never heard of the term, SEO is the employment of a range of technical and creative tactics to improve a website’s visibility in search engines.
Logically, the higher a website ranks in a user’s organic search results on engines like Google and Bing, the greater the probability of the person clicking and landing on it. This increased discoverability tends to result in greater traffic (extremely valuable in today’s online world where simply getting noticed and being talked about is king), revenue (if the website is an ecommerce site) and conversions. Hence, having at least an inkling of the workings behind SEO is essential for anyone with an online presence- whether you are the head of an established company, a budding entrepreneur, a blogger or even a university club president hoping to promote your club to more members of the student body. You should know about it.
Eager to find out more about this crucial aspect of Internet marketing, I decided to apply for an internship within the SEO department of ZALORA, Asia’s leading online fashion retailer and parent company of The Iconic Australia. To my delight, my application was successful and I was soon placed under the tutelage of a team of marketing managers and executives with heaps of experience in SEO under their belt.
My first week of delving into the murky waters of SEO was undoubtedly rather intimidating as I struggled with the jargon tossed around the workplace, the immense amount of data to analyse and the number of reports to generate. Fortunately, with the help of my supervisors and weekly team meetings, I grew accustomed to and more comfortable with the various terminologies and complex range of tools by the end of my three-month stint there.
So, if you have no clue what SEO is, here’s a neat little guide that I’ve put together to help you get started with effectively boosting the prominence of your website! Do note that this is by no means an expert guide – it simply introduces the five rules of thumb that I feel (from personal experience during my internship) are essential to know when you’re first beginning to optimise your site.
Image by: Chris Messina
Conduct Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most essential, if not the most essential component of SEO. Having a good understanding of the ways in which online users are seeking your content sets the foundation for how you structure and design your site as well as the type of content you should be publishing. Below is a brief guideline that takes you through the process of deriving the keywords that your site should specifically be targeting:
- Brainstorm and draft out an initial list of keywords that comprise of words you can think up easily off hand. This list usually consists of what your readers/target audience is saying about your brand (e.g. Zalora shoes) and products/services (e.g. high heeled shoes) on offer. For a more comprehensive list, use free analytics tools such as Google Webmaster Tools, to get an idea of the exact search terms that users use before landing on your site.
- Build on this list of keywords using keyword planners like the Google Adwords Keyword Research Tool.
- Refine the list by narrowing it down to keywords that are great for targeting. Ideally, they should have a high search volume, are not being optimised by many of your competitors (use a competitor analysis tool like Moz to gather information on this), but still accurately embody your site’s content offerings.
It is imperative that you mention the various words from your finalised targeted keyword list in the content that you produce. Do not forget to include them in the captions of any images and videos that you include as well. Nonetheless, as I learnt from my time at ZALORA, try not to get too caught up with writing in a formulaic, keyword-rich manner since this can stunt your writing and make it unpalatable and robotic.
Normally, if you just focus on your target audience, stick to a writing style that you are comfortable with and provide something of substance; you should naturally end up incorporating the relevant search terms in your content.
Additionally, be sure to keep your site perennially fresh and brimming with a substantial amount of evergreen, high-quality content. Update it regularly with original and interesting content on the latest topics, preferably viral, hotly discussed ones. If possible, develop a content calendar and assemble a good editorial team or group of writers to keep your content relevant and dynamic at all times. This ensures that people are engaged with your content, are more inclined to share it with their contacts and keep coming back for more.
Image by: Yuri Samollov
HTML and Site Architecture
Here are a few of the technical aspects that are well within your control and when executed correctly, can drastically improve the ranking of your site:
- Make sure that all your HTML title tags, meta description tags, headlines and subheadings contain the most appropriate keywords.
- Keep your URL simple, concise and keyword-rich.
- Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly. Even the slightest configuration error can result in costly amounts of traffic loss from smartphone and tablet users.
- Eradicate anything (e.g. large images, music players) that slow down your site. Page load times can most certainly determine whether people stay on your site or leave.
- Confirm that your site is indexed in search engines. This ensures that search engines are able to crawl your site and that people can actually locate you online.
Link building is possibly one of the most difficult aspects of SEO to master. Basically, the greater the number of links from external sites that direct others to your site and the higher the quality of these external sites that link to you, the higher your site will rank on search engines because this tells them that your site is a trusted authority on a particular topic.
Unfortunately, black hat tactics in the form of paid links (e.g. buying reviews, soliciting bloggers for publicity) and linking to spam accounts will no longer cut it and could possibly result in penalization by Google as well as the closure of your site. Link building is now much more complex and involves a combination of luck, persistence and the implementation of various PR, outreach, branding and advertising campaigns. You truly have to earn your links in today’s context.
Social media marketing and SEO are two closely interwoven strategies. Be sure to set up pages/accounts on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and work towards extending the reach of your content and gaining a strong following on all of them. Social media also feeds into link building. Social sharing in the form of giveaways, interactive polls, etc. vastly increase other’s awareness of your content resulting in lots more Internet users linking to your site. As a result, this passes even more authority to your domain.
Finally, please do not be disheartened if you fail to see immediate benefits following the implementation of your latest SEO strategy! Just remember that SEO is a long-drawn, ongoing process – keep working at it and you will be thankful that you did when the fruits of your labour emerge eventually.