What Is SEO? – A Beginners Guide

Three simple words. What is SEO? You’ve asked it before but never got a simple answer. So here’s our best shot:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of improving your websites position in search results through ongoing experimentation and the following of documented best practices from companies such as Google.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do there are search terms that you would love to rank for in Google. These search terms help potential customers discover you and drive sales without having to pay directly for the advertising. Unlike paid advertising SEO doesn’t have an on-off switch that is directly linked to your credit card, a great content marketing strategy will drive traffic and sales for your business for years and provides some level of stability for your business.

So why do you never get a simple answer about SEO?

Well, part of SEO is simple and plain and clear for everyone to see. Google tells you about the importance of page speed and how metadata and schema are used in their search results. However, for everything they tell us there are hundreds of things they don’t. Here are some facts about Google search you probably didn’t know:

    • There are in excess of 200 known ranking factors
    • Google launched 2,453 changes in 2017 to Google search
    • Of the 2,453 changes, they only told us anything about 6 of the updates
    • The frequency at which Google is doing updates is increasing year on yearSEO example Graph

In short, Google keeps changing and they do so at a faster and faster pace each year. So understanding exactly what it takes for a website to rank in Google search is an almost impossible task. Some SEOs (people who do SEO) consider SEO as a science and try their best to run non-commercial closed environment tests to see what will work. Others consider it more as an art form and look at anecdotal evidence of what works and what doesn’t work right now. They make changes one at a time and when things work they do more of it, the things that don’t work they do less of it.

Do either of these groups of SEOs know for sure what they’re doing? No. There isn’t a single person on the planet who knows Google search inside and out and knows exactly what they need to do, there’s a little bit of guesswork and the matter of time. Even running single variable experiments in a highly scientific way won’t tell you what’s more important. Is one link with great anchor text (the text used to link between web pages) more valuable than two links that just say click here. No one knows, SEO is still in it’s infancy in this respect and Google will do everything they can to keep things this way.

Can someone guarantee me #1 rankings?

Sorry, but in my experience, the answer is a rather blunt. No. If someone is guaranteeing #1 rankings then they either:

  1. Expect to fail in a lot of cases and refund customers – If this is the case they will have to charge more than the average service.
  2. Are playing dirty with Google and get short-term results – There are methods of SEO that break Google guidelines. They can help get #1 rankings today but once discovered your website is likely to never rank the same again.

Personally, these points aren’t even my biggest concern when I see an agency guarantee the #1 spot in Google. My biggest concern is that it shows they are stuck in the past. Having a #1 ranking for a specific phrase is great, but there are thousands of ways your potential customers can look for the same thing. These often longer search queries have lower traffic but a lot more variations and account for 70% or more of Google traffic. Being a great SEO is about making content that doesn’t just rank for a single keyword but instead is capable of ranking for hundreds of highly relevant keywords.

Long tail traffic as this is called is much more sustainable in my opinion, if a Google update hits your one big money making search term then you’re in serious trouble. If it hits only 10% of the keywords you rank for then you’re in a much better position with lower risk from updates. The true measures for success in SEO should always be traffic and conversions (either sales or enquiries). Keywords and rankings are really nothing more than vanity, a nice bragging point but if it’s not resulting in high volumes of traffic and conversions what does it even matter? Real SEOs put business objectives first.

How long does SEO take?

SEO time

SEO is rarely an instant win, for a new website I’d expect it to take 6-12 months of hard work and dedication to see business changing results. Remember SEO is competitive too so if you’re in a highly competitive niche then it will take longer to catch up with the competition, or you have to carve out a smaller niche to gain relevant traffic.

If your website is already established and full of great content then you could see improvements in a matter of 2-3 months especially if there are basic problems with your website. We often come across what should be great websites that have simply done something wrong at a technical level that prevent them from ranking. A full website audit is the best way an agency can help here reviewing your website in full and helping you to determine your next steps.

What should I get when I pay for an SEO service?

There are a few basics that you should always receive when paying for an SEO service:

  • A document or report explaining what has been investigated about your website and areas for improvement.
  • Some research into what search phrases would be useful to rank for and how your site could increase traffic.
  • Some physical changes on your website that may be difficult to see but should be summarised for you.
  • If requested you may also see new content start to appear on your website to rank for new keywords.
  • You should also get monthly reporting summarising what was done and the results (preferably traffic and conversion based).
  • You should be able to communicate with the team working on your website, remember even this customer support costs.

When paying for an SEO service at least half of what you’re paying for it a lot of hard work and preparation to research what needs changing in order to make your site rank better in Google. Some agencies don’t tell you much about this research but we believe that you’re paying for it so we summarise it in plain English in your monthly reports. If you’re interested in learning more about our SEO service then contact us today.


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