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What is SEO and How Can It Help Your Business?

Since the lockdown, there has been a record drop in retail sales. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses that rely on customers visiting them have also suffered enormously. 

There has simultaneously been a rise in many online trends. 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ wealth grew reportedly grew by 65% between March and September alone in 2020, Netflix enjoyed a record growth of over 25 million subscribers in the first 6 months of 2020, and ecommerce sales in the UK have grown by 18% in the past two years alone (they now make up 28% of the UK’s retail sales). 

Whether these trends have been caused by the lockdown or merely sped up by it is another question. Either way, it’s clear that doing business online is more important than ever.

What is SEO and why is it important?
No matter what your business is, if you want your website to bring you business, you need to think about SEO. 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation

There are many different search engines out there: Google, Yahoo, Bing, even YouTube (which is technically the second largest search engine). However, the most important search engine as far as nearly all businesses are concerned is Google, which handles over 91.45% of all online searches. 

Optimising for search engines essentially means making your website (and blog posts) suitable for users and the search engines themselves. 

Search engines operate on algorithms designed to help the searcher find exactly what they are looking for. Google updates its algorithm between 500 – 600 times a year to help move it closer towards achieving this. 

Unfortunately, Google doesn’t print out a checklist of the factors of its algorithm. However, we can understand their requirements better by a) looking closely at what websites rank high on Google and b) by Google’s own statements.

There are many different ways to optimise a website. And different SEO experts will favour different techniques. But one thing in common all SEO experts should have is a good understanding of the main factors involved in ranking a website. 

But before we look at these, let’s take a quick look at the difference between traditional SEO and local SEO

Traditional SEO and Local SEO
When people refer to SEO they are usually talking about traditional SEO. When the field of SEO first appeared, before Google was as sophisticated as it is today, SEO was the blanket term ranking websites high in its results. 

Nowadays, many of the techniques used back then are obsolete – in fact, some would not only not work, they would cause Google to penalise your website. 

Another difference is that Google now clearly recognises the difference between general search enquiries and search enquiries with local intent. 

Think about when you’re making a search on Google. Perhaps you make searches like the following: ‘adidas Stan Smith trainers how much?’, ‘best Spanish omelette recipe’, or ‘name of actor in Dunkirk movie’. The results come up in the usual way: rows of website headings and descriptions (perhaps with ads above them). All of these searches (and the ability to rank for them) are covered by traditional SEO

Other times – in fact 46% of the time – you are probably making searches like this: ‘coffee shop near me’, ‘best restaurants in Cambridge’ or ‘where can I repair laptop Wilmington’. For this type of search, Google presents a map with a ‘3-pack’ of results above a list of websites presented in the usual way. Ranking for these types of searches is achieved by focusing on local SEO

For most businesses (with some exceptions), determining whether you should focus on traditional or local SEO depends on who your client base is. 

Are you mainly trying to sell your products or services nationally or internationally? If so, traditional SEO should be your priority. 

Are you trying to sell your products or services to people in the local area? Then local SEO is should be your focus. 

Now, let’s look briefly at the first two steps involved in local SEO. 

Step one for local SEO: open a Google My Business account
Google My Business is Google’s own free platform for business listings. You may have noticed that when you make a local search Google presents you a map and a ‘3-pack’ of results. 

If you click on this section of results you can see more listings. However, as you have probably guessed: being listed in the top 3 will bring you many more customers than being lower down on the list. 

Google says that there are three factors that determine how they rank Google My Business accounts: relevance, proximity and prominence. 

In short, they don’t just want to give people searching for something the nearest result, they also want to give them the best result. 

In practical terms, this means that after you have opened a Google My Business account you need to make sure you set it up well and keep it updated. You should also be responsive to reviews (good or bad!) and include as much useful information in your profile as possible. 

Step two: create a website
Despite the importance of Google’s ‘3-pack’, it is still important to note that 40% of search results still go to the results listed below it. This means having a website is important so that you can capture some of that portion of traffic. 

Just having a website is not enough though. More than 71% of clicks go to the top three results listed on Google, and less than a percent go to websites listed on the second page of results. 

Getting your website onto the first page and then into the top 3 results, is exactly what SEO is all about. 

Step three: SEO
As mentioned, there are many different ways to rank your website. However, all methods should involve the following aspects: technical SEO, keyword research & implementation, backlinks. 

Let’s briefly outline what each aspect involves.

Technical SEO relates to anything that slows down (or speeds up) your website. You need to make sure that there aren’t any serious errors or flaws with your website design, such as slow loading pages or broken links, etc. 

This is usually a task an SEO expert will deal with periodically, i.e., at the beginning of their work and then every month or quarterly period thereafter. If you know something about building a website, you might even be able to do this yourself: after all, the answers to how to fix most problems are clearly available on Google. 

It helps to regularly check your website to spot errors on it. However, it is important to regularly run crawls of your website with online tools. This will help you spot errors you would not likely have spotted otherwise.

Keyword research 
involves using free and paid tools to work out the exact words and phrases users are searching for particular products or services. Once you understand this, you can make sure these words or phrases appear on your website. 

Understanding the keywords relevant to your business will also help you plan a content (blog or video posting) strategy that will improve your rankings.

Backlinks are simply links from other websites to yours. They not only bring in a certain amount of website traffic themselves, but are also an important way Google calculates how trustworthy a website is. 

Finding backlinks is a time-consuming task that many busy businesses would probably be better outsourcing. But be careful if you do decide to go down this path: low-quality backlinks might cause Google to penalise you, and not all SEO agencies or freelancers are honest about the quality of backlinks they will find. 

Putting time into SEO is a good way to invest in a sustainable future for your business. As we have seen during the recent lockdown, more and more consumers are migrating to online channels. 

Once lockdown is over, physical retail and the hospitality industry will hopefully bounce back better than ever. 

However, this won’t mean the online trends we have seen will reverse; they may slow down but if we look back before the lockdown we can see that they having been growing rapidly for the past couple of decades. 

Now is as good a time as ever to start looking at how you can get your business listed high in Google’s search results.

Next time, I will go into more depth about the above-mentioned different aspects of SEO and give you some practical advice on how to implement each of them. 

Kain is an SEO freelance consultant and copywriter based in London. His business is called Barbell SEO (https://barbellseo.co.uk)