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An In-Depth Explanation of SEO

Our guide to the ins and outs of SEO and how to rank with Google
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1. Introduction

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process and practice of ensuring a website can be found in an organic search engine result, for relevant keywords and phrases.

Search engines use different ranking factors to determine how high up the search engine results your website will show. Understanding how search engines work is the first step to learning about SEO.

2. How do search engines work?

When you perform a search on a search engine, it will scan all of the web pages and website it has indexed, and offer the best results based on your search terms. 

For example, if you search for “what is SEO”, you’d expect to find results about SEO, as opposed to restaurants in your local area. 

Different search engines use different algorithms to calculate this process. However, search engines like Google like to keep their cards very close to their chest. 

There are some clues and hints which we can use to better optimize a website for SEO. For example, Google releases guides on its Developers website to ensure website designs follow best practices.

3. Why you should optimize for Google

As of May 2020, Google held a 92.06% search engine market share worldwide. This is why it’s important to sink most of your SEO efforts into optimizing for Google, over other search engines. 

It is unknown how many ranking factors Google uses; rumours suggest there may be over 10,000! There isn’t anyone that knows all of Google’s ranking factors, but we do know a few of them.

If you’ve done any kind of SEO work on your website, or have a small amount of experience, you may know that Google ranks individual web pages, not websites as a whole. 

Therefore if you search the term “gluten-free cupcake”, a cake shop’s entire website won’t necessarily be dedicated to this search term, rather an individual page will be, and that’s what Google’s search results will spit out.

4. Crawlability

In order for Google to rank your content, you’ll need to make them aware it exists. Google does this by crawling your website. You can do this in a couple of ways:

URL Inspection Tool: You can use Google’s URL inspection tool to crawl several URLs on your website. It’s really simple to use.

Submit a sitemap: A sitemap is basically a tour of your website. If you’ve already submitted a sitemap to Google, you won’t need to resubmit it unless anything on your sitemap has changed. 

If you’re not sure how to create a sitemap, you can use Google’s method here.

In some cases, Google won’t be able to crawl your website. There are certain factors which block Google’s crawlers, including:

  • Poor linking: If your website doesn’t have, or offers poor internal linking, Google will not be able to crawl all the pages on your website. It’s important to include all of them so that Google sees them.
  • Nofollow: Nofollow links will not be crawled by google.
  • Noindex: Noindexed pages can be excluded using meta tags or HTTP headers. 

5. Mobile friendly & mobile responsive

63% of Google searches from the U.S. originate from mobile devices. This figure should be enough to tell you that your website must be mobile-friendly in order to have high ranking SEO.

In 2018, Google announced they were making the move to mobile-first indexing. Prior to this, people were getting confused, thinking there was indexing for desktop and separate indexing for mobile.
Websites that don’t look good on mobile, or display the desktop version of a website on mobile, simply won’t grab a users attention. You can test whether your website is mobile-friendly by using Google’s test.

If your website or web pages are not mobile-friendly, you should make this a priority to fix or hire a developer to fix the issues for you.

6. Page Speed

Page speed refers to how quickly your web pages load. If you thought a couple of seconds didn’t matter, think again, as page speed is a ranking factor on desktop and mobile.

Here are a few statistics about page speed that may help in realising why it’s so important to consider for SEO:

  • 46% of people say waiting for pages to load whilst browsing the web on their mobile is the thing they dislike most about it (Google Blog)
  • It takes 15.3 seconds on average to load a mobile landing page (Think with Google)
  • Websites that load in 5 seconds, compared to 19 seconds, will see 70% longer average sessions (Think with Google)
  • A 100-millisecond delay in page load time can cause a drop in conversion rates by 7% (Akamai)
  • 79% of shoppers who have trouble with website performance online will not return to the site to purchase again (Neil Patel)

You can check your page speed by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool for free.

The tool will show you the speed in which your website loads on mobile and desktop. 

8. Content

Web page content quality is ranked using E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). Google ranks content that is reliable, unique and useful. 

Your content should be of high quality if you want it to rank well. If your content speaks the language of your website visitors and satisfied them in terms of accessibility, your content should rank higher.

Another key factor regarding content is how recent it is. You may have created an awesome blog post in 2018 that was ranked highly, but since then, someone else’s blog post has climbed the search results ladder because their content is more recent.

A search for “best smart watches” returns results within the last couple of days and weeks. Technology is fast-moving, so I wouldn’t expect to see results regarding the best smart watches from years ago.

However, this somewhat depends on what your website is about. If you created a blog post about something which hasn’t changed in years, freshness is less of a concern.

If I search for “how to tie your shoes”, the search results are from January 2019 and July 2017 – unless there’s a new shoe tieing technique I’m unaware of, not much has changed.

9. Search intent

Using a keyword tool like Google’s Keyword Planner, you can find keywords that you want to rank for. However, before we begin, it’s important to learn about search intent.

Search intent is used to describe the reason for an online search. Let’s put it this way – if I were to use Google to search for “comfortable running shoes”, it because I intend to see results for what I’ve searched for. I didn’t search with the intent to see something else.

The first result that showed when typing in “comfortable running shoes” into Google returned what you can see in the image above. If I change that search by removing the word “comfortable”, this is what I get.

The results for the query “running shoes” turns up completely different search results, with different web pages. Although the keywords are very similar, the results are entirely different because the search intent is different.

Google uses keywords to interpret why and what people want to see when performing a search query. This is search intent at its finest! 

This is why it’s really important to put yourself in your website visitors’ shoes once you’ve decided on your keywords. Take a look at the top-ranking pages for those keywords and consider the type of content that’s being returned, what information is contained within the pages, and how the content is set out.

What I mean by this is, is there something that another website is doing, with similar keywords, that’s achieving great results? Perhaps a competitor has earned its way into Google’s featured snippets.

I searched for “best memory foam mattress” into Google. The top result returned a featured snippet from T3.com listing the best memory foam mattresses. This was my search intent, and the results delivered what I wanted to see.

This indicates that people who search for a specific query (in this case “best memory foam mattress”) want information about it. They don’t want to search through hundreds of web pages all claiming they offer the best mattress. 

10. Conclusion

If you want to create content that ranks well, you’ll need to understand how search engines work, and what they’re looking for (to the best that you can).

Search engine algorithms, like Google, change very regularly. They too are doing their research and amend their ranking factors based on the latest technologies or trends in society. 

The best thing you can do is to remain consistent. Continue to deliver high-quality content, create backlinks to high-authority websites, or internal links to relevant content. These factors tend to be the same year-on-year, so you can lay some good groundwork for your website’s SEO.

Laura Hemmington

Laura Hemmington

Laura is an enthusiastic technology researcher, writer, and reviewer. She takes pride in her precision and dedication to the hosting market, and is somewhat of a seasoned pro in these realms.

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