If you’ve got a website, you will probably have heard about SEO (search engine optimisation). This means making your site so search engines really like it!
With SEO, as with lots of techy and computer things, comes a lot of terms and jargon which can sound confusing.
Iffy and spammy SEO companies often like to use lots of terms and jargon to make it sound like you really need their help.
I hate lots of jargon, so I thought I’d explain what some common SEO terms, often used by spammers really mean in simple to understand English!
Content & Thin Content
Content means content – what is on the site! A top web saying is ‘Content is King’ and it is. The best thing you can have on your site is good content, that is useful to real people.
Write content that people will want to use. If it’s interesting and easy for people to understand, search engines will also find it easy!
Thin Content is a term used by some SEO companies; it basically means that there’s not a lot of content/words on a page. Sometimes thin content can be bad, but it really depends on the pages you’ve got and what needs to go on them for them to work.
Keywords are the words and terms in your content that people are likely to be searching for.
It’s important to make sure that you get these words into your content and the page titles and descriptions (more on those below).
Again, it’s really best to keep things simple and use them in a useful and natural way.
If your site is about hoodies for penguins (it would be a rather niche site…), make sure that you have relevant keywords in it. Having lots of text (and so keywords) about ‘warm top layers for Antarctic birds’ probably wouldn’t result in many people find the site if they were searching for information about ‘hoodies for penguins’!
However, be careful not to over-do the keywords (like having hoodies and penguins being every other word). This is known as ‘keyword stuffing’ and is a naughty SEO technique to try and trick search engines. They are usually very good at spotting it now – and they don’t like it!
Page Titles & Descriptions
When you do a search, the results you are shown are the Page Title and Page Description. These are also sometimes called Meta Tags.
These items aren’t seen on web pages, they’re special tags (pieces of web code) which search engines can use.
In website Content Management Systems (CMSs) there are often special boxes where you can add these.
These are also a good place to put keywords.
Titles often include the name of the site as well as the page title. Descriptions are like a brief summary of the page.
Page Titles should be about 50-60 characters long (Google normally shows about the first 60 characters). Descriptions should be about 160 characters long.
So for our site/page about hoodies for penguins, we might have:
Title: Hoodies for Penguins – A great way of keeping penguins warm! (60 characters)
Description: We offer a wide range of hoodies for penguins for all types and sizes of penguins, from Humboldts to Emperors and more! Free postage, even to the Antarctic. (156 characters)
There is/used to be a Keywords meta tag as well. But this hasn’t been used by the big search engines for several years, so can be ignored.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is the name of the language/code which makes web pages work. Like most languages, there are rules about how it should be written.
And also like other languages, it’s best to have it written properly, so everyone (web browsers in this case) can understand it!
To check a page’s HTML quality, you can use the HTML Validator.
If you’d like to learn more about HTML, then the Mozilla Developer site is a good place to start.
I. LOVE. HTML. To me properly written HTML is a thing of beauty (yes, I am a little strange…) Search engines also love well written HTML!
Within HTML, content is contained within ‘tags’ which make up HTML (normal users can’t see the tags).
There are some tags called ‘Headings’ which are used to help structure content within a page (search engines also use them to learn about how pages are structured).
Headings go from ‘Heading 1’ through to ‘Heading 6’. Heading 1 should be used for the most important heading/title on the page – normally the page title; with Heading used for sub-headings and Heading 3 for sub-sub-headings, etc.
You don’t need to use all six heading types on a page! Use them as a needed/appropriate but you really need a Heading 1. (On this page, the title is a Heading 1 and the sub headings for each item are Heading 2s.)
A sitemap is something that shows all the items on your site. There are two types of sitemaps.
An HTML Sitemap is a page on the site (viewable to people who visit the site) which then lists and links to all the items (pages/news items, etc.) on the site. An HTML sitemap is nice to have but not vital. They are epically useful or larger sites where not everything can easily be found from the site’s main navigation.
An XML Sitemap is a special file (not visible to people who visit the site) and is used by search engines to find out all the items which are on a site. Most CMSs will have a way you can automatically generate an XML sitemap (and if anything new is added on the site, like a news/blog post, then it will automatically get added to the sitemap). This file normally lives at yoursite.com/sitemap.xml You can tell search engines about it using the Google and Bing Search Consoles.
SSL/HTTPS (Having a Padlock!)
SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer and having and SSL Certificate is the way you get a padlock next to the site up in the ‘www bar’! (The certificate is an electronic one, sadly you don’t get a fancy bit of paper…)
When visiting a site that’s using SSL, and has the padlock, the start of the web address will be https:// rather than http://
Having the padlock means the site is more secure as traffic to and from it is encrypted. Search engines prefers sites to have the padlock as it normally makes them safer for people visiting them.
A few years ago setting up SSL/HTTPS was a bit of a pain and normally costed extra money. But now there are several free (and simple) ways of getting a site to use SSL/HTTPS!
Many web hosts now offer SSL Certificates for free (often through a service called Let’s Encrypt). However, some host still charge for SSL, as they have historically made lots of money selling the certificates and don’t want to lose that… (If your host still charges for SSLs, you might want to think about moving your hosting! I recommend Kualo, who this site is hosted with – that’s an affiliate link.)
Broken Links really are what the sound like. Links, either within your site or linking to other sites, which don’t work.
Search engines like good quality links that work. Having broken links can be taken as a sign that a site might not be of the best quality.
You can check to see if a site has broken links on this site https://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/
Back Links / Link Building
These are links which link to your site. Search engines like good and proper links to a site, as it’s a sign that it’s a good site and one worth linking to a visiting!
So if you’ve got any social media accounts or listings or business (or other related) directories, etc., it’s a really good idea to have a link to your site on them.
However, avoid people offering to link to your for a fee (purely to get you some links) or ‘three way linking’ (where you link to someone, they link to a third party and the third party links back to you) as search engines really DO NOT like these kinds of links.
Site/Page Loading Speed
This is simply how fast your site loads. Search engines really like fast loading sites as it means people can get to what they want faster!
There are quite a few factors as to how fast a site will load including: the hosting the site lives on, the quality of the code used on the site, the size of the resources on the site (things like images and scripts).
How to optimize/get a page/site loading quickly would need at least a post in it’s own right!
To get an idea of how speedy (or not!) a page is, a tool like PageSpeed Insights from Google is a good starting place. (With PageSpeed you can only test one page at a time. There’s a nifty tool at https://www.experte.com/pagespeed where you can test multiple pages at once. It uses the normal PageSpeed testing features.)
Organic Rankings/Listings are ‘normal’ listings or search engines (i.e. listings that aren’t from ads). So everything in the post so far has been about being listed organically.
Using ads for getting listed on search engines is a very different matter to organic results; and it’s something that is really a specialist area (and not mine!).
Another way of helping out listings for business/organisations/places with a physical location or who service a specific area, for free, is getting listed on local listings.
Sometimes on searches you will see businesses/places as pins on a map – they come from local search listings.
Being listed on local listings can really help with new sites, which don’t yet have a good organic listing, as you can often be seen on the map before your site gets shown high up on normal search results! Being listed can also help your site get a better organic rank as if you have a local listing, it helps to show that your site belongs to a ‘real’ place.
SEO can sound very completed. I hope that this post will help to dispel some of the scariness!
There are some very good guides with much more information about how SEO works. Here’s some further reading about SEO:
A Final Word
No one can guarantee a #1, or first page, ranking on Google.
Google even say:
Beware of SEO companies that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.from Google’s “Do you need an SEO?”
If a company has to email (spam) you about how great they are, in my experience, they’re probably not actually that great. Good SEO companies don’t need to spam role to get business…
If you’ve got any questions about SEO, or would like some SEO help with your site, please leave a comment or get in contact with me.