If you want more website traffic made up of the right people, more sales, and more profits, website SEO could very well be the solution you’re looking for. This guide describes what website SEO is, how it works and, most importantly, what you need to do to apply SEO principles and techniques to your website. You have the option to either read below or listen to the audio.
What is website SEO?
If you’ve read my beginner’s guide to what SEO is, you’ll know that SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the process of optimising websites and their content so:
- Human visitors get the best experience when consuming the content; and
- Search engines can more easily find and understand the value of those marketing assets.
Many people think of SEO as a single tool for boosting website traffic originating from general internet search engines, and some go so far as to focus exclusively on Google. But the truth is, there are several verticals within the practice that focus on disparate types of content.
For example, each social media platform is its own search engine. Youtube is a search engine. Quora and Reddit are search engines as well. So, if you’re publishing articles via LinkedIn or on Medium, you can be optimising your content so it’s more likely to rank well in internet search engines like Google, but you can also be optimising for the LinkedIn search engine or the Medium search engine.
The main thing to note though, is that in these circumstances, you don’t have any control over the platforms themselves. You can’t optimise the platforms, you can only optimise the content.
But when you have a website and/or blog, you do have control over the platform and so you can do more optimisation. This is where website SEO comes in.
So, as opposed to SEO techniques that focus on optimising content, website SEO uses the full range of SEO techniques. This means you have the most control over your search traffic, but it also means there are a lot more pieces to the puzzle.
What is SEO website content?
Now, you may come across people using the term ‘SEO website content’. That simply means website content, such as homepages, standard web pages, product descriptions, landing pages or blog posts, that’s been optimised to give human visitors a good experience as well as to make it easier for search engines to discover and understand it.
Why your website needs SEO
People need to know about your brand if your organisation is going to achieve its goals. And there are five main ways a person can find out about any given brand:
- Recommendations. A friend, colleague, acquaintance or organisation refers them to the brand or the brand’s content (e.g. in person, via social media, in a forum or via email)
- Ads. They see the brand or the brand’s content in an ad (either a physical or digital ad) or other form of advertising (e.g. the brand might be listed as a sponsor of an event)
- Search. They enter a search query into a search engine, are shown something from the brand in the search results and then click through to view the piece of content (the search query could be a question or statement and the search engine could be Google, Bing, Youtube, Facebook, Reddit or any other kind of search engine)
- References. They find the brand or a piece of the brand’s content referenced somewhere (e.g. in a book, journal article or blog post)
- Samples. They might receive a product or service sample from the brand
Now, according to a 2015 study by Buzzsumo and Moz, around 50% of content on the internet is shared no more than eight times. So, referrals are not always going to be a reliable way to increase brand awareness or drive website traffic.
Advertising is expensive (for example, according to ahrefs data, the average cost-per-click (CPC) for search ads in the legal industry is $6.46 and the most expensive keyword in the industry has a CPC of $1090). And individual ads tend to lose their impact quite quickly. So, while advertising may be an effective way to increase brand awareness, drive website traffic and generate leads and sales, it’s not necessarily a cost-effective method of achieving these goals.
Giving away samples can be an excellent way of increasing brand awareness and driving sales. However, it can be costly and there’s a lot involved in reaching your exact target market, so it can be a particularly inefficient form of marketing.
In comparison, website SEO:
- Works over a long timeframe
- Is more cost-effective than paid search ads when it’s used in content marketing (it generates three times more leads but costs 62% less)
- Is based on robust data that makes it comparatively easy to reach your target audience
- Is also an effective way of increasing digital references (backlinks)
Securing references to your brand can drive incredible amounts of traffic (both foot traffic and web traffic) and substantially increase awareness of your brand if you’re referenced in publications that are popular with your target market. Producing really great content, developing a strong, attractive brand, and diligently optimising marketing assets for search engines encourages others to give references naturally.
Targeted outreach can be resource intensive, but it can increase the frequency of referencing and is especially useful for new brands that are struggling to get enough exposure.
How does website SEO work?
At the simplest level, website SEO works by helping website content, like product descriptions, blog posts and the website homepage, show up higher in search results to improve search rankings.
This is important because 31.7% of search traffic goes to the first piece of content that shows up in the non-paid search results, and searchers are 10 times more likely to click on that first search result than the 10th search result. Once you go beyond the first 10 search results, less than 1% of searchers will click through to view your content.
If you do a good job with your website SEO and your content shows up earlier in relevant search results, the flow-on effects include:
- More of your ideal customers visiting your website
- More of those ideal customers seeing your marketing messages
- More of those visitors buying at least one of your products or services (or clicking on at least one of your affiliate links or sponsored ads, or signing your petition etc.)
- You having the opportunity to to encourage repeat purchases
- More revenue and potentially lower marketing costs
If you’d like to learn more about how website SEO works to deliver these kinds of benefits, check out our article about how SEO drives traffic and profits
How to make your website SEO friendly
So, now you know how beneficial SEO is, you’re naturally wondering how to make your website SEO friendly. There are several key ways to optimise your website, but they all contribute to one or more of these objectives:
- Make it easy for human visitors to find and use the resources they’re looking for
- Make it easy for search engines to figure out what your website content is about and how each piece of content is related
- Ensure your website loads quickly
- Ensure your website is easily useable on any device, but especially on mobile devices
To achieve those objectives, there are two branches of website SEO, on-page and off-page.
Off-page SEO includes:
- Laying out and linking pages in a logical way so humans and search engines can find your website content and recognise how it’s related
- Optimising code and image sizes so your website loads as fast as possible
- Developing a responsive website design so your website looks great and works well on desktop and mobile devices
- Encouraging backlinks to your website so search engines recognise your authority and you get more website traffic from relevant sources
On-page SEO includes:
- Choosing appropriate SEO keywords that relate to relevant and useful search queries
- Strategically placing SEO keywords so humans and search engines can see how your website content relates to the visitor’s search query
- Optimising the text that appears in search listings so search engines and humans know the primary focus of your website content
- Optimising the text associated with non-text media (e.g. videos, images and audio) so search engines and humans using screen readers understand the value of those items
Now, there’s a lot of work involved in optimising your website and content to cover all those factors. But you don’t have to do it all at once. You can start with the most important aspects that deliver the biggest benefits and then gradually optimism more bits and pieces.
Which website builder has the best SEO?
A lot of people ask me which website builder is best for SEO. The thing is, most website builders these days will enable you to do all the necessary on-page SEO activities, and off-page SEO activities are largely a matter of web design and development. But there are some important differences to keep in mind:
- Website builders based on templates, like Wix, make it very easy to develop a visually pleasing website, but they’ll prevent you from doing any customisation that will enable you to deliver an experience that exactly matches the needs of your target audience
- Ecommerce website builders, like Shopify and BigCommerce, tend to have SEO capabilities built in and offer more customisation than template builders, however, they make it difficult to provide an excellent user experience for website content that’s not related to an online shop (like blog posts)
- Open source content management systems like Drupal and Joomla are excellent for all aspects of SEO, however, you need a lot of technical expertise to make these work for you
- WordPress doesn’t offer on-page SEO out of the box, but there are great free plugins, like RankMath, that enable you to do everything you need in that respect, and there are some decent free and excellent paid themes that will enable you to sort out all the off-page SEO details
If you’ve got plenty of technical expertise, you might prefer something like Drupal or Joomla. If you’re building your website yourself and don’t have any technical or design expertise, you might be attracted to something like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace. My strong recommendation, however, is that you go with WordPress.
WordPress is suitable, even if you don’t have any technical expertise. If you’re not confident that you can come up with a great-looking design, you might want to get someone to do the design for you, but plenty of themes offer templates that may suit your needs.
You will need to install several plugins to get all the website functionality you need and this can slow down your site, but if you choose a lean theme and use a content delivery network and other relevant tools, you’ll be able to develop a fast, responsive website that’s entirely customised to the needs of your unique target audience regardless of the kind of site you need to develop, is completely aligned with your branding strategy, and ticks all the on-page SEO boxes.
WordPress is not going to be your cheapest option, but I believe it will give the best results for most people regardless of skill or business type.
How to check your website SEO
If you’ve already got a website, it’s a good idea to check your current website SEO before you make any changes to try to improve it. If you don’t, you won’t be able to measure the impact of your efforts.
There are a whole host of free SEO checkers that will help you measure key aspects of your website’s SEO. If you want personalised recommendations that will help you achieve your unique goals within your budget, you’ll need an SEO expert to conduct an SEO audit.
What is a website SEO audit?
An SEO audit is a review that looks at the on-page and off-page aspects of your website SEO.
Most audit reports will list what a website is doing well and what needs to be improved in terms of SEO. (But be careful because many free audit reports only look at the homepage.)
If you find a good service provider, they’ll include plain-language explanations that describe how to fix any identified issues. And if you find a premium service provider, they’ll also make recommendations about what to prioritise based on what you want to achieve and the resources you have available to devote to improving your website.
How to improve your website’s SEO
Improve your website user experience (UX)
It doesn’t matter how good your content is, if it’s hard to consume, people will choose competitor content and your search visibility will suffer as a result. So, if your website is slow to load, doesn’t work well on mobile devices or provides a bad user experience in any other way, fix those issues first. Here’s some great information on user experience (UX) to help you with that task.
Ensure your website is fully accessible by search engines
Next, make sure search engines can find and index your website. For example, if you’ve implemented a form of website navigation that search engines can’t interpret, there’s a good chance search engines won’t crawl everything on your site.
Upgrade your content so it’s more engaging and persuasive
Once you’ve got the basics sorted, go through your website content and make sure it’s all engaging and persuasive for your target audience. Every piece of content on your website should either resolve a search query that your target audience will enter into a search engine, or move your audience through the buyer’s journey. In many cases, your content should do both those things.
Redo your on-page SEO
Once you know your content is optimised for the needs of your human audience, you can resolve any on-page SEO issues. Typically at this stage, that usually means rewording headings and SEO particulars. If more extensive changes are needed, you may need to revisit step 3.
Promote your website and content
Once your content is top notch, you can work on promoting it more effectively. That might mean, for example, reaching out to relevant publications to see if they might provide a backlink. Or it might mean developing a more effective social media strategy. Whatever promotional strategies you use, they need to fit with your goals, available resources and target audience.
Add relevant schema markup
If everything else is in order, you can start adding little bits of code, called schema markup, to your content so that search engines can start showing rich search listings for some pieces of content. For example, if you sell books, you could add schema markup that enables Google to show the average star rating for each book in its search results. If you publish recipes, schema markup could enable search engines to display the time it takes to follow the recipe. These sorts of extras can generate great results if all the other SEO facets have been taken care of.
If you want to go through each of these steps in detail, check out this guide to each SEO step.
TLDR — SEO for websites in 2023
Website SEO is the process of optimising a website and its content so human visitors get the best experience on the site and search engines can understand the value of and easily find the website and all its content. Website SEO is by no means the only way to build a successful site that contributes to achieving your organisation’s goals, but it is an effective way of increasing brand awareness in and generating traffic from your target market. It also works over a long timeframe and is more cost effective than running paid advertisements.
Website SEO works by ensuring search engines have all the information they need to rank your website content for relevant keywords and that search engines receive positive ranking signals that encourage them to display your content more prominently in search results for relevant search queries. This means more of your target market will visit your website where they can see your marketing messages and therefore take the actions you ideally want them to take.
If you want to improve your website SEO, you first need to know how good your current website SEO is. An SEO audit will tell you that, and if you buy a premium SEO audit, you’ll get a series of recommendations about how to improve your website SEO to achieve your unique goals within your allocated budget.
Once you know where you’re at in terms of website SEO, focus on the following tasks:
- Improving the experience your visitors get when they visit your website
- Ensuring search engines can crawl your website
- Providing the most engaging and persuasive content possible
- Optimising your on-page SEO
- Promoting your content
- Adding appropriate schema markup to content where relevant
Once you’ve done all of that, your website SEO will be in tip top shape and your search results will be the best they’ve ever been.