3rd March 2020
What is SEO and how do I use it?
SEO seems to have garnered a rather mystical reputation over the years. It’s elusive, nobody really understands how to crack it, but everybody knows that’s it’s crucial to the success of your website online.
Let’s put it simply: SEO, or ‘search engine optimisation’, is what makes your website discoverable in Google.
Every time somebody does a Google search, trillions of tiny ‘spiders’ are sent out to crawl every page in its index. Google sifts through the page results and organises them for you in the order it thinks is most helpful and relevant, against a set of criteria. By optimising your page for search engines, you’re making it easier for Google to read and understand your page. As a result, you stand a better chance of ranking as high as your site deserves when somebody searches for something relevant to you.
Brilliant! Sounds wonderful. So if I make my SEO perfect, I’ll always rank in the top spot, right?
Well, no. Not necessarily. Note I said ‘as high as your page deserves’, not ‘at the top’.
By helping Google understand your website – what it contains, what it’s about, where you’re based, and what you offer – you help it to rank you appropriately. It will compare all that information against the search term used and where the person searching is geographically located. You won’t show up on the first page of results for “financial planners Glasgow” if you’re based in Exeter (unless you’ve really messed up), because that’s not how SEO works. Sorry, but there’s no tricking Google.
SEO is also not a one-time fix. It needs to be maintained lovingly and often to keep it up-to-date and in Google’s good graces.
Many of the things that will influence your SEO score significantly are layered in the code of your site, so we don’t recommend tinkering with these yourself – ask your developer. That said, there are some nice quick wins that you can easily implement without risk of breaking your site which will give you a good immediate boost. I use the term ‘quick’ very loosely – each of these can be quite long and tedious tasks, but I promise the results are worth it.
1. Alt tags on all images
Alt tags are pieces of metadata attached to images that describe what is in the image. They’re easy to add, and they will help boost your page visibility significantly; think of it as additional keywords embedded in your page. The site crawlers that Google sends out are robots – they can’t see what’s in a picture, but they can read it. Get an alt tag on every image on your website to help Google understand your page content in full, not just the copy.
Make sure your alt text is short and descriptive, and forms a full sentence rather than just lining up keywords. This guide shows you how to add alt text in WordPress; this one for Squarespace. If you host on another platform, a quick search will bring up a good guide (if they’re optimised!)
2. Site and page meta descriptions
You’re going to notice a theme here. The meta descriptions for both your site and the individual pages within are an important indexing tool for search engines. As with alt text image tags above, these should be descriptive and should feature relevant keywords. The ideal length is between 70-160 characters, including spaces.
For example, let’s say we’re writing a site meta description for a bakery in Bristol which specialises in pastry:
Welcome to La Patisserie Bleu – pastries crafted with care from our bakery on Corn Street, Bristol, by our world-class bakers.
This is an example of a good site meta description. It’s 126 characters. It contains the bakery’s name, location, and a brief summary of what they do, as well as some additional key words: “world-class bakers”, “bakery Bristol”, etc.
If we were writing a page description for, say, their Contact page, it might look something like this:
Visit La Patisserie Bleu at our Corn Street location to get your sweet fix. Find our bakery address here, or contact us on the details below.
It contains the site title (‘La Patisserie Bleu’), the page title (‘contact us’) and additional relevant keywords (“address”, “corn street”, “visit”, “location”), in readable prose. It’s 141 characters long. Perfect.
A bad example of this same site description might look like this:
Bristol bakery Corn Street pastry croissants petits-fours macarons
This is just lining up a bunch of keywords. It doesn’t make a comprehensive sentence or help Google understand the page content. It’s a nonsense sentence. Many people make the mistake of thinking this ‘keyword stuffing’ will help them, since it’s putting all your desired keywords in one place, but it’s actually doing the opposite. It’s also only 66 characters, which is not long enough for Google to count as meaningful.
3. Check your page titles (including blogs!)
Finally, let’s talk about page titles. Yes, that includes blogs.
There are two main areas which companies regularly trip up on:
- Titles which are too long
- Duplicate titles (in blogs especially)
Let’s start with #1. Your page titles shouldn’t be longer than 70 characters, including spaces. The simple reason is that they get cut off in search results if they’re longer, resulting in some of the context of the page being lost. Simple as that.
#2 is one that many, many are guilty of. It’s unlikely you’ll have site pages with duplicate titles (although worth checking), but it happens in blog posts all the time.
Google does not like duplicates at all. If two pages have almost or totally identical titles, site crawlers interpret them as two versions of the same content. Rather than reading them both to see which version is the definitive one, they will simply discard them both in favour of another result with one version.
Let’s say you have a blog series titled ‘SEO for Dummies’.
If you were to title each of them ‘SEO for Dummies Part 1’, ‘SEO for Dummies Part 2’, and so on, and labelled the URLs /blog/seo-for-dummies-part-1 and /blog/seo-for-dummies-part-2, Google would class them as duplicates. The difference in the title and the URL is not significant enough for them to be detected as separate.
If you titled part one ‘SEO for Dummies Part 1: Check Your Alt Tags’, you’re getting there. But if your series title was longer, you’d risk your title tag being too long (see #1 above).
If you titled part one ‘Check your Alt Tags: SEO for Dummies’, with the URL www.example.com/blog/check-your-alt-tags, you’d be right on the money. You can always contextualise it in the body text – “This is Part 1 of the series ‘SEO for Dummies’. Click here to see the rest of the series.”
Lead with the variable item, and label the URL slug completely uniquely, to avoid duplicate titles.
What have we learned?
And there you have it – three easy fixes that you can foist upon a poor unsuspecting marketing assistant which will boost your SEO score immediately. They are small but mighty. Time consuming and a little tedious, but worth it.
If you want to run a deeper SEO audit that digs into additional, more integral ranking aspects, get in touch with your marketing agency or team. At Uniquity we offer a free, high-level SEO audit and report – to take us up on this, get in touch.