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Demystifying the basics of Search Engine Optimisation


Demystifying the basics of Search Engine Optimisation

June 18, 2021

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Words Nicola Phillips

5 min read

I recently asked a large group of small business owners their biggest challenge when it comes to their existing website and 65% said SEO. When I drilled down into the heart of the issue, it was very clear that there was a lack of clarity on what SEO actually meant.

Therefore, we’ve created this article to help demystify SEO and provide some clarity to help identify which areas may require further attention.

Let’s start with the basics so we are all on starting from the same point:

  1. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.
  2. Without some form of SEO, you may as well pop your website under your mattress as it’s going to make it hard for your site to be found. However, a weird fact I recently discovered, one of Google’s rating factors is the age of your URL; so if you have had an active site for 10 years it will be rated higher than a URL created yesterday!
  3. Ok, brace yourself for this one. There is no magic pill to improve your SEO. It’s a bit like dieting or keeping healthy, you just have to keep working at it, making it part of your everyday life. So, if you want a ‘fighting fit’ website, you’re going to need to put the work in.

Ok, don’t cry, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Bite-size chunks are much more digestible and easier to action. So I’m going to discuss SEO for these three key areas:

1. On-site SEO

2. Technical SEO

3. Off-site SEO

But first, let’s start with the ‘why’. Why should you invest your time, energy and focus on SEO?

SEO can help you:

  • Build better relationships with your audience
  • Improve the customer experience
  • Increase your authority
  • Drive more people to your site
  • Give you an edge over the competition
  • Increase conversions
  • Increase sales
  • Improve customer loyalty
  • Grow your business

Some great wins, I’m sure you will agree. I will endeavour to demystify the three key areas of SEO below, but I just wanted to say don’t be too hard on yourself to get this 100% right. SEO is big business. In fact, you could exit this article right now, Google ‘the best SEO companies’ and employ them to look after this for you. On average you would need to pay between £400 – £5,000 a month for this service. But what it does show, is the weighting companies give SEO and why it’s important for all companies to have an SEO strategy.

Before you dash off to employ an SEO expert, start to address the following three areas and see if you can create an SEO strategy for your future growth.

1. On-Site SEO

What does this mean? On-Site SEO relates to the content on your site.

Search engines need to find you in a sea of information. Make sure you use words that clearly represent your business allowing you to be easily connected to your customers. These words need to be consistent across your site. You need to have the right quantity and quality to be valued by search engines. In short, your words matter in the world of SEO.


  • Identify your business keywords
  • What keywords are your customers using to find your service or product?
  • Do some competitor research. What keywords are they using?
  • Try Google Keyword Research or Google Trends or to start your free research
  • The words will be rated High, Medium, or Low. The high words will be picked up by the top companies in your industry, so aim for the medium and low words for a competitive edge.
  • Paid word search tools are available to help you deep-dive into this topic

Content creation

  • Good quality content across your site is key
  • You need to be able to tell your story in a concise and organised manner that takes your visitor on a journey to find what they need
  • If you find this a challenge, many of us do, there is an industry full of talented copywriters out there that can deliver your message in your voice. You will typically be looking at paying £150 – £500 a page with package prices for multiple pages.
  • Pages should have no less than 150 – 600 words to rank well

Meta Tag information

  • Although part of the ‘Technical SEO’ it is important to raise here as the content used in the Meta Tag info needs to align with the keywords and descriptions you are using in the body of your content
  • In short, you carefully craft content for your readers, you must also carefully craft content for the search engines so you can be found. A Meta Tag is a snippet of code that describes a page’s content so make sure you describe it well.

2. Technical SEO

What does this mean? Technical SEO relates to the elements on your website (except content).

The best way to understand the technical side of SEO was to first learn the terms and then what they do. So this is how I’m going to explain it to you. I visualise the Technical SEO as an orchestra. They all have their own role to play but all are needed to make the music! OK, there are a couple of key players in the mix, but I guarantee you if you aim to address all of the below it will make a difference.

General Technical SEO

  • Responsive site – means your website can ‘respond’ to any device size that it is viewed on. Having a mobile optimised site can improve your ranking; it gives you more opportunities to be found. In fact, Google started ranking all websites based on their mobile versions as of March 2021.
  • Page size – Aim for 1mb to help the mobile-first index Google is now using
  • Load time – Less than 3 seconds – the quicker the better, but any more than 3 seconds and you will have a high bounce rate. Video-heavy content, for example, will slow your load time, so just be mindful of this as video is brilliant for engaging with your audience.
  • Site Map – This helps search engines prioritise your pages, making it easier to find what your site offers

Google’s 1,2,3 search priority.

This is the order in which Google will search your page for information. These three items need to be undertaken for every page on your website, not just the home page.

  1. Page title – Be clear, be concise. 65 Characters only. Name each page differently.
  2. Heading tag (H1) – The first main heading you use on a page. Each page will have an H1, be clear, be concise.
  3. Meta Tags – as previously mentioned this is the snippet of code that describes the content of your pages. It’s not ‘visible’ on your page but it is the information the search engines read. You will see it on a Google search page, so keep this to 155 characters as this is the maximum amount shown.

Other Technical SEO

Technical elements that can affect the user experience but are also items Google use as part of its algorithm to rate your site:

  • Alt Tags – they describe an image when it can’t be displayed, search engines prefer them and it also helps the visually impaired
  • Height and width attributes – all images need these otherwise the browser won’t know the size of the image before it loads, making an unpleasant user experience
  • Internal Link structure – it’s really important to ensure your user can easily find information on your site (shortcuts to another page on the same site). Keep it simple, don’t add too many, search engines hate this.
  • External links – these are links to another domain name. This is a really strong way to increase your ranking. Don’t just link to your friends, it has to be relative to your business, niche or trend otherwise it will be detrimental to your ranking.
  • SSL certificate – Google likes a secure site. If you have an SSL certificate it can help increase your ranking. If you don’t, you are increasing your chance of your site being hacked and turned into another business, it’s not much fun trying to unpick this.

3. Offsite SEO

What does this mean? Off-site SEO is all about the activity you can do to increase conversations and traffic to your Website. Your aim is to strengthen the relationship that your website has with other sites.

Word of warning here – only connect with another website that is part of your community, has relevance to your offering, or is connected to your niche or trend. Google likes to be able to see good strong connections that fit together, so don’t have a scattergun approach to these connections; make sure they have a purpose.

Off-site SEO will take time to build up and nurture, but there are great wins to be had once you get going. Here are the basics to consider:

Backlinks – these are any inbound links to your website. Links to your website can drive traffic, build credibility and help your brand rank higher on search engines. As mentioned they need to be relevant to your business but importantly try and connect to as many sites with authority. An authority website is a site that is trusted. It’s trusted by its users, trusted by industry experts, trusted by other websites, and trusted by search engines.

Social Media – links & conversations. Use social media platforms that work for your business, make sure you understand your audience on each platform, and share relevant content. Create the links to your site, this will boost your brand’s SEO.

Social bookmarking – sharing website links on social media drives traffic back to your site (it’s a backlink). Also join Social bookmarking sites - Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr, Digg to increase traffic to your site. Be active on these sites, make comments, share information and be present and you will increase your following.

Blogs – Fresh new content on your website is of interest to Google and helps with your ranking. It’s a great way to drive traffic to your site and bring back previous visitors.

Events & Newsletter promotion – a great way to create really natural SEO that Google views highly.

Look, I did say you could just hire someone to do this for you!

It’s all doable, just make a plan for each section and chip away at it. You might find you have one area completely nailed and need some professional help on the other two. Either way, we agreed in the introduction that you needed to address SEO, so I hope this has helped demystify the world of SEO for you.

Here at Canvass, we ensure that the Technical SEO is looked after for our client’s websites and advise on the other two areas. Please drop us a line if you would like to connect with companies that can help you with your general SEO, content writing, or photography and we can happily point you in the right direction.

Good luck with your SEO journey.

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