SEO is a term for a broad range of on-page and off-page tactics to help a website rank more highly on search engine result pages (SERPs) and, in turn, increase website traffic.
We can break down the basic principles of SEO into five key areas. First, I’ll summarise those principles and then cover them in more detail later if you want to know more.
1. SEO fundamentals
Website construction such as speed, navigation and user experience are the fundamentals of SEO. These are the foundations of a website build and are as important as content creation.
You can think of them like the foundations a building needs to stay standing.
Good SEO website design will establish strong roots so the website can grow.
2. On-page SEO
When talking about SEO, on-page optimisation is what people often think about first.
On-page SEO means the improvements and additions made to website pages to help it rank better, like fixing errors, adding meta-tags and creating internal links.
3. Off-page SEO
Off-page tactics are factors outside the website, like NAP (name, address, phone number) consistency, quality back-links, and social shares.
Often, businesses don’t consider that factors outside of the website itself affect a website’s rank.
4. Content creation
For me, content creation is the fun part once everything else is in place. On a website and blog, content attracts an audience.
A business owner produces articles, videos, graphics and audio to help strengthen the website.
Via a bot, search engines crawl through website code. Through that code, they can understand the business is producing regular, thoughtful content.
Great content encourages the bot to return to the domain and crawl a website more often, ranking great content more highly.
5. Technical SEO
If you are at the beginning of your SEO journey, then the technical side of SEO may not interest you, but we’ll look at this too.
Technical SEO refers to hosting (server-side), XML Sitemaps and the correct code used on the page, such as structured data and canonical links.
We’ve looked at the five basic principles of SEO; let’s dive a bit deeper into each.
Basis SEO principles in detail
Search engines look at a company’s overall online presence, authority, and trustworthiness when they position a page within search results.
Each of these SEO principles has an impact. Doing them all well will undoubtedly produce a successful website that continues to flourish online year after year.
Remember that achieving a good page rank is a journey – there is always something to do.
First, we look at the foundations.
SEO fundamentals of website design
Search engine optimisation is often not taken into account when building a website.
Website designers are not usually SEO professionals and vice versa, plus there is no official standard.
There are recommendations from Google, though – and strong foundations help search engine optimisation.
Build the website with the following in mind:
- Speed – elements must download quickly, even on slow connections. Consider the time it takes for significant components to appear.
- Layout shift – pages must load without elements moving the layout. A change in the page layout can cause users to lose their place on the page or make buttons impossible to click within the first few seconds.
- User-experience – how people move around the website, can they do that quickly and easily.
- Design for mobile-first. A website should be accessible in all screen sizes and on all devices.
- Navigation – the primary navigation system should be straightforward to use. Every page must be easy to access. Consider adding a menu to the footer too.
- Remember visual and cognitive impairments – font size and colours are essential.
- Contact information – provide a business name, address, phone number, email address and prices (NAP).
Start the life of a website with the basic rules in place but don’t stop there.
A website should continuously improve and grow to encourage traffic and custom.
Whilst you’re having a website built, also consider the technical SEO factors included at the end of this article.
On-page search engine optimisation
- Name pages according to the content of the page (URLs).
- Save images using descriptive key phrases and use ALT tags.
- Use the key phrase in the meta-title and description.
- Ensure the key phrases is in the title, paragraphs and other heading tags.
- Write the content well, be to the point and be informative.
- Split paragraphs up, so they are easy to scan.
- Link internally to related content throughout the text to allow people to continue their journey.
- Link externally to helpful, related sites.
On-page optimisation is what comes to mind when most people talk about search engine optimisation.
On-page SEO is when we add keywords to a page and use them to help the search engine understand the page.
But keywords aren’t magic. A lousy article won’t rank just by sprinkling keywords through it.
To rank well, each website page has to be quality – they must provide something for the audience. Read the content creation section to find out more.
With quality content in mind, the first thing to do would be to research key phrases to help our on-page SEO.
We use key phrases instead of single keywords for two reasons:
- It’s difficult for a web page to rank for just one keyword.
- People rarely search for one keyword.
Searches are now pretty precise because we enter whole sentences or use voice search.
Therefore, a key phrase consists of between 5 and 10 words.
Once we’ve found the perfect phrase, build the page around the words. Building around key phrases is the best start for any web page or post.
Name the page according to the key phrase – the page name is sometimes known as slug or permalink.
Even categories should contain a keyword, especially when shown in the page URL.
Add relevant images saved using the key phrase to make the article look inviting. Add ALT tags for each image.
Always include an h1 heading tag – these are imperative to help the search engine understand what’s on the page. I’ve seen people hide the h1 heading because it ruins the design.
Split up the content so that it is easily scannable and use the h2 and h3 heading tags. Make it easy for people to find what they are looking for in an instant.
Use links throughout the article, helping the visitor on their journey to discover. These text links should include key phrases that relate to the next piece of content.
Of course, use the key phrase within the meta-title and meta-description. Google can choose to use the title and description to display in search results, so keep it short.
One of the worst things you could do for SEO is use clickbait or capital letters. Make sure titles and descriptions are fair and honest – simply describing what is on the page. You could use a reasonably enticing word to strike some emotion but keep them minimal.
These basic on-page SEO principles should be complete for every page and post on the domain. Don’t leave any page out, even if you deem it unimportant.
Off-page search engine optimisation
Once the on-page SEO is underway, start to look at off-page optimisation.
Off-page SEO is all about relationships with other websites and platforms.
I find off-page SEO an easy but time-consuming part of search engine optimisation. It’s a more manageable task if the website itself is up to scratch.
Across the internet, every mention of a brand must be consistent. If minor details differ on website listings, the search engine can assume the business is different.
Links to a website must go to precisely the correct place. If the website address is incorrect, the user goes through a series of redirections to find the right website, taking seconds.
Or worse, they may not end up there at all.
There are differences between www.website.com, website.com, https:// and http://.
Anything that refers to the business must state the correct business details – name, address, phone number and email address (NAP consistency).
We should also be sure that we’ve got correct opening times, prices and descriptions across the whole of the internet.
Update all business websites, web directories and social media platforms.
Consistency helps search engines understand we’ve taken care of our listings and are keeping users informed.
Reviews significantly benefit a brand online, especially on well-known social sites such as Google My Business, Facebook and directories like TripAdvisor.
There’s so much clout in reviews because the reviews are trusted users of the platform. There’s historical information about them logged, which makes them real people with honest opinions.
Social shares and engagement are also said to impact the brand’s disposition. Search engines will start to build a sort of character. Social media is part of building online trust.
A demonstrative factor of search engine optimisation, link building or backlinking is part of off-page SEO. It’s so meaningful because backlinks prove the content is worthy of the rank – backlinks are like endorsements.
However, link building needs to be done well, in an amiable, handshaking sort of manner. It’s a tough job.
We encourage links from other quality websites to our own during the process, avoiding links from black hat websites.
Backlinks tend to build naturally when a website is of excellent value.
How do we create value? We create content that rocks! And this is where content creation comes in. Build your content before trying to increase backlinks.
Content creation for search engine marketing
Content is the part of search engine optimisation where the business owner and employees can make a difference.
Creating content is about caring for and providing for customers – precisely what search engines require.
Only quality content will rank well – and what is the definition of quality content?
Quality content is well thought out, well-structured and well-scripted. It provides answers or entertainment. It will take the visitor on a journey of discovery.
Written articles, videos, images and even podcasts can all be considered content. An audience consumes it in many different ways, and each piece will support the other.
Show that you’re dedicated, knowledgeable and trustworthy.
This content can be shared across your social media platforms, improving the business’ online status.
Once picked up by search engines and other websites in the industry, you’ll encourage those all-important backlinks.
Technical search engine optimisation
- Use an SSL certificate to keep visitors’ information safe.
- A fast server that is local to your client base.
- XML Sitemaps.
- Canonical URLs.
- Schema markup.
We could get into the technical side of SEO, but I’d like to keep this article about SEO principles.
However, two of the most important technical factors are the host and the SSL certificate.
A good ISP will host your website well by updating software, ensure the website is up 99.9% of the time and putting speed first.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Certificate
There’s no excuse not to have an SSL in place these days. With the right host, an SSL certificate can be free and easy to install.
An SSL certificate encrypts information passed between the user’s computer and the browser, keeping their data safer. Google will rank secure websites higher.
Another reasonably simple job is to submit a Sitemap to the Google Search Console. For WordPress users, the Yoast SEO plugin produces Sitemaps, and links are in the settings.
SEO principles – the process
- Build a website on SEO solid foundations.
- Write well for humans first, then optimise for search engines.
- Ensure off-page mentions align with the brand.
- Create awesome content that will help your audience.
- Build online relationships and earn great backlinks.
Embrace the basic SEO principles; it’s not a dark art; it is ultimately about doing right by the visitors.