Search Engine Optimisation Basics: What Is SEO?

SEO is an abbreviation for Search Engine Optimisation. A digital marketing strategy that encompasses a host of tactics to make websites appear as close as possible to the number one ranking position, which gains them quality and quantity organic traffic.

There are many ways to optimise for search engines, including off-site SEO and Local SEO, but in this article, I’ll focus on the on-site SEO side of things, and explain some of the key SEO techniques and the fundamentals that go into it.

Keep in mind that SEO has no impact on ads, which are a paid form of advertising – get in touch if you’re looking to set these up.

Google Ranking

First off let’s make sure you’re familiar with the word ‘rank’. This term means the position in which your website will appear for a given keyword on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). For example, if you search for a ‘new coat’ you’ll find a carousel of ads, followed by Newlook in position one, followed by Next in position 2 and Matalan in position 3. 

Search Engine Results for New Coat in the UK

Search rank position 1 gains most clicks.

It’s important to note that Google isn’t the only search engine. Bing and Yahoo! are generally used in the UK too,  but have a far smaller number of users. Luckily most search engines optimise in the same way, so when you’re completing SEO it’s for every search engine, not just Google!

Now we’ve established the meaning of SEO and rankings, we can explore the ways in which websites get the coveted number one rank spot.


If you don’t have content, you don’t have a chance to rank, it’s that simple.
Writing and hosting quality content that ultimately adds value to users is the key to the entire ranking process. By keeping the subjects covered relevant to the keyword that you’re trying to rank for, you’ll provide semantic value to Google and other search engines. This has been notably important since the
Hummingbird update in 2013.

Let’s for a moment think back to the coat search example. If your website only sells coats it wouldn’t make much sense for you to produce lots of content about socks, simply because it interests you. In the same way, it wouldn’t make sense for search engines to rank you highly for new socks if you don’t sell them, unless of course your sock content relates directly back to coats and internally links, for a clear user journey.

Think about your users, the content they would like to see, and the journeys they expect. Put yourself in their shoes, look at your content through their eyes and ask if the content add value. 


Unique Content

Your content should always be unique, create it yourself and don’t copy someone else’s homework. In this case, Google is the teacher and has a far greater, more discerning eye for plagiarism than your local high teacher. I’m the end your website will face the negative consequences. In fact, I’ve heard of websites being completely delisted by Google for such bad practices, so stay original!



Historically search engines would simply rank web pages based on the number of relevant keywords littered throughout the page, which gave rise to many ‘black hat SEO’ tactics. These would see some of the more shady website owners literally hiding keywords in white text in the white space of websites. Thankfully long gone are those days, although shady practices still take place, it’s always best to avoid them and stick to the Google guidelines

Now with almost infinite more wisdom, search engines rank based on content topic and relevancy. In other words, the content you produce needs to be quality, add value to your users and be relevant to what they’re searching for, this is also known as SEO writing.

Keywords do therefore still play a part in rankings, and each bit of content you provide should be built on a solid bedrock of keyword research and an understanding of what users are searching for and why. 


User Signals

A large part of understanding why certain websites or specific pages rank higher than others is simply the behaviour of their users. If you click on a web result for coats, you expect to see coats and not socks. If and when socks appear, you’re more likely to hit the back button straight away. Those kinds of signals are measured by Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others, to establish just how good your page and ultimately website is. If you can successfully rack up enough of the good signals your content will be seen as a user friendly and informative answer to that search result and will be more likely to appear. 

User shown with good and bad SEO signals

User signals are down to the management of your website.

Always remember that search engines want to keep users happy, as should you. The happier they are, the more likely they are to use that engine or website time after time.


Authority and trust

Are you an expert on the content that you’re writing about? Perhaps more importantly, how does Google know that? While it may be hard to prove you’re qualified to recommend specific coats to inquisitive shoppers, it’s arguably easier to attain links to your website. This process, known as link building, provides a flow of trust from one site to another. Thanks to the inception of PageRank at Google, this forms an integral part of the overall ranking. Great, but what does that mean?

All your questions will be answered in the next section. 



As we have already established, trust is an important ranking factor, and link building is the backbone of it, but why? Well, a link from another website to yours is a vote of confidence. That website owner is saying ‘I trust the content from your website enough that I want my users to see it’. Should a website continually link out to poor quality content or irrelevant websites, the users would stop trusting the site that linked them to it and will likely stop visiting that site altogether. So the aim of the game is to accrue as many of these links as possible.

Not all links are created equal

That being said, not every link has the same level of impact, and some can even harm your websites rank. I know, it can sound a little confusing, but I promise it’s not as daunting as it sounds, so bear with me.

visual representation of how backlinks work

Not all backlinks are created equally. 

Imagine for a second that we have three news sites, BBC, a local newspaper and a clickbait news site based in another country. In this instance (and almost always) the BBC has the highest number of users. Not to mention the best level of authority and trust possible, due to its impartial nature, global reach and its established ability to inform users of breaking news almost instantly. A link from this site would be a huge positive vote of confidence, let’s say 5/5.

Next, the local newspaper would have a far lower number of users, but still retains a fairly high level of confidence, with local people using the site as a way to stay informed of local events and current affairs. It likely reacts to breaking news more slowly and may not be so impartial. This link would still be positive, but far less impactful than the BBC, at around 2/5.

Last we have the clickbait news site that tempts people in with compelling headlines, only to be blocked by arduous amounts of pop-ups and copious adverts in languages you don’t speak, flashing in almost every pixel. No doubt the story is broken down over 16 pages and ends up being only a watered-down version of what the title promised. This would be a negative link, telling search engines your site is of equal value, -2/5.
Keep your eyes peeled for a new post where I’ll explain how to find these links and how to remove the bad ones.


On-page Technical SEO

Each of the below attributes has a direct impact on your website and page ranking;

  • Meta Data
  • Alt tags
  • Internal links
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Load speed
  • Structured data

The easiest to get started with is your Metadata (headings and descriptions) which is the text that you see represented on your search results.

Whilst these have no direct impact on your rank position, they do impact your Click Through Rate (the number of actual users who click your result vs the total number who see your result) so can have a positive effect on user signals. Ensure your meta headers and meta descriptions are reflective of your page and are enticing enough for people to want to click them.

For all other aspects of the technical on-page SEO, I’ll cover these in a separate article to provide a valuable amount of details.


How long will it take to get results?

In short, at least three months, and up to six months or even more. SEO is a long term strategy that requires lots of attention and time. Ideally, you can invest energy into quick wins for long term gains or allow time when working with your SEO consultant or SEO freelancer, as results will never materialise overnight. 

Now that we’ve scratched the surface on search engine optimisation, it should be clear that every site operates on the same basis, so whether you’re doing WordPress SEO or a website builder SEO, you’re playing from the same rule book. 

If you need help with your SEO and want to drive better, more qualified traffic to your site, get in touch with me today.

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