February 14, 2017
We’ve all been there – everyone in the room is talking about something technical, throwing out the acronyms and jargon and all you can muster is a few nervous nods of the head and non-committal ‘uh-uhs’ as you to try to follow the conversation as best you can.
The trouble with SEO, and the world of online marketing in general, is that things can often move very fast. Which means new ideas, tactics and terminology are coming at you from all directions, and without a good grounding in the basics you can find yourself in a bit of a mess.
That’s why we’ve put together this very handy resource to help you out with the basics of SEO. We’ll be adding more and more explanations to this guide on an ongoing basis, so if there’s any particular basic SEO question you want us to answer just add it in the comments at the bottom or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
General SEO basics
What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimisation, which is the process of improving (or ‘optimising’) a particular website or web page to perform better and rank higher in search engines such as Google and Bing.
What is a search engine?
A technical definition would be something like: a program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond with given search terms. We know search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, but there are lots of other search engines such as DuckDuckGo, not to mention search engines built into other websites such as YouTube and Amazon.
How does Google work?
This is such a complex area that Google has built an entire web app to help you understand the process: How Search Works. In a nutshell though, the process can be broken down like this: Google ‘crawls’ the entire internet and stores it all in it’s huge database or ‘index’. When a searcher enters a keyword into the Google search bar, its algorithms go to work on the index to surface the most relevant pages to display to the user in the search results.
What is a homepage?
In more traditional terms, a ‘homepage’ is the first page a user encounters when opening their web browser of choice. The term homepage has changed slightly over the years though, and is now mostly used to describe the ‘start’ page or first page of a website i.e. the page on the root domain (e.g. www.domain.com).
What does ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO mean?
These are terms taken from old school Western films, where the heroes traditionally wore white hats and the baddies wore black hats. In the world of SEO, ‘white hat’ refers to doing things in line with the stated guidelines of the search engines and not trying to ‘game the system’. ‘Black hat’ refers to attempting to trick and cheat the system in order to rank higher in search engines.
Google’s guidelines: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769?hl=en
Bing’s guidelines: https://www.bing.com/webmaster/help/webmaster-guidelines-30fba23a
Technical SEO basics
What is a URL?
URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, which probably doesn’t really help you in understanding what it is. Basically, a URL is the ‘address’ of a property on the World Wide Web. Usually this means a webpage, such as this URL for our SEO services page: http://www.upliftdigital.co.uk/seo-services/, but other properties such as images have a URL address.
What is a domain name?
Everything on the internet has an IP address (Internet Protocol), which is usually an unwieldy set of letters and numbers which is not particularly memorable. The computer you use to access the internet has an IP address, as does the server that hosts this website and the website itself. The domain name is simply a memorable name assigned to the IP address of webpages and servers. In the case of this website, the domain name is upliftdigital.co.uk.
What is a sub-domain?
In simple terms, this is a ‘sub-division’ of a domain which stands alone as a separate entity but is still strongly associated with the primary domain e.g. west.example.com and east.example.com are both sub-domains of the example.com domain.
What is http?
http stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol and is the foundation of data communication for the World Wide Web. You will notice that all URLs begin with http:// as this designates the rules for the data transfer between servers when a URL is requested.
What is https?
https is simply the more ‘secure’ version of http, and is used on websites to encrypt data as it gets transferred. This is particularly important for websites that handle personal data, process payments and store passwords. Back in 2014 Google launched a campaign for webmasters to adopt https, and made it a ranking factor.
What is Schema?
In SEO terms, Schema.org mark-up is a specific vocabulary of code that is used to better describe certain elements and entities on a webpage. This ‘structured data’ gives search engines a better understanding of the content on a page, as well as making it quicker and easier to crawl and index the information. Visit Schema.org for more information.
You will probably be most familiar with pagination on large ecommerce websites that have a lot of products in a particular category. Rather than list all the products on one page, the page can be divided into different pages on the same URL but with the pagination parameter added e.g. www.shop.com/products/3 for the third page of products.
What is robots.txt?
The Robots.txt file sits on your server and contains instructions for search engines and other crawling robots or ‘bots’. These instructions are usually focused on telling search engines which pages they should and shouldn’t crawl/index, and also blocking certain bots from crawling any of the website.
What are breadcrumbs?
In terms of websites, ‘breadcrumbs’ are a form of internal linking which provide a clear path for the user telling them whereabouts they are within the overall site structure. Usually breadcrumbs are positioned towards the top of the page and are a text-based navigational aid and will look something like this: Home >> Internal Page >> Internal Page 2 >> This page
What is a canonical tag?
It is not uncommon for websites to have pages on them that are very similar. A lot of ecommerce sites, for instance, may have individual pages for products that are very similar e.g. different colour. This is a form of duplicate content, which can lead to penalisation from Google as it is a sign of a poor user experience. The rel=canonical tag can be used to mark-up duplicate pages without redirecting them, so Google considers just one of the pages as the ‘canonical’ version and disregards the others when it comes to indexing.
On-page SEO basics
What is a meta tag?
Meta tags are ‘snippets’ of text and information that describe the content on a page. Meta tags don’t show up on the actual page content, but appear in the HTML code of the page. Common meta tags include the meta description and meta keywords tags…
What is a meta description?
The meta description tag is the snippet of text describing a page that you typically see in Google search results. Webmasters can specify what they want this paragraph of text to say by adding it to the meta description tag, which provides bots and search engines with a summary of the page content i.e. what the page is broadly about.
What are meta keywords?
The meta keywords tag allows webmasters to input a series of keywords that a page is relevant for. For instance, for this page we might include: seo, seo guide, seo basics, seo tips, seo advice, seo faqs etc… As you can see, the meta keywords tag is open to abuse, as webmasters can fill it up with as many keywords as possible. As such, most search engines don’t look at the meta keywords tag at all anymore.
What is a title tag?
The title tag of a page is the part that shows up as the ‘headline’ when the page is shown in search results. You can also see the title tag in the tab on your browser when you are on the page (look above the URL bar above). Typically the title tag should be a succinct and clear description of what is on the page, and include the main keyword the page is relevant for.
What are keywords?
In a general sense, when we use the term ‘keywords’ we typically mean a word or string of words that are searched for in search engines. These are also often referred to as ‘search terms’.
How to do keyword research
The aim of keyword research is to identify what the main target keywords are that you want to try and rank for in search engines. The two main factors to be looking at are: the search volume (i.e. how often the keyword is searched for), and the difficulty (how hard will it be to rank for that keyword). There are many different tools and methods you can use to find out that information, which you then need to analyse. To get you started read our guide to the most searched for local businesses in Leicester
What are long-tail keywords?
The phrase ‘long-tail’ is slightly misleading, as some understandably think it just means ‘long’ keywords i.e. those with a lot of different words in them. However, it actually refers to the huge number of keywords that are used in search engines that have small search volume. When combined, the traffic from these long-tail keywords can far outweigh the traffic from the most popular keywords in your industry.
Link building basics
What is link building?
Link building is the process of attracting links to your website from other external ‘third party’ websites. As the term link ‘building’ suggests a certain level of input and manipulation from webmasters (which is frowned upon by search engines), other terms such as link ‘earning’ and link ‘development’ are now also used to describe this process.
What is a link?
A link is generally any part of a web page you can click on that will take you to a new page – whether that’s another page on your website or a page on a different website altogether. Links from other websites to your website help your website rank in search engines as these are seen as independent ‘votes of confidence’. If another site is happy to send its visitors to your site via a link, then search engines see that as a sign of trust and will reward you with higher ranking positions.
What is anchor text?
The anchor text of a link is simply the actual text content that makes up the link. For example, in this link the anchor text is ‘Uplift Digital’: This post was written for the Uplift Digital blog. Anchor text can be important as it can be another signal to search engines about what the page is about and what keywords it should rank for.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is not just limited to being a link building tactic, but it is mostly used as part of SEO campaigns to attract links. Content marketing is the process of promoting content online that is not explicitly promotional in order to promote a brand. For example, ‘viral’ videos, quizzes, online tools, white papers, research projects and social media posts can all form part of a content marking campaign.
Local SEO basics
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO is a more specialised form of SEO for local businesses – typically a ‘bricks and mortar’ business that targets an audience in a very defined geographical area e.g. Leicester or the East Midlands. Google and Bing both show ‘local listings’ and a map when someone searches for local keywords e.g. hairdresser in leicester, so a big part of local SEO is featuring in those results.
What are citations?
Citations are ‘mentions’ of your business name, address and phone number (known as NAP information) across the internet – usually on directory and business listing sites.. The more citations you have, the more likely it is that Google will see you as an active and important local business.
Google Algorithm updates basics
What is Google Panda?
The Panda update was released by Google in February 2011 and targeted sites with thin content and other quality issues. After the Panda update, webmasters were encouraged to add a lot more useful and engaging content to their websites.
What is Google Penguin?
The Penguin algorithm update was rolled out in April 2012 and was labelled the ‘Webspam update’ at the time. The aim of Penguin is to devalue websites that show signs of ‘spam’, particularly link spam. Google Penguin looks to penalise websites that have unnatural (spammy) links, so the onus is on ‘earning’ high quality, natural links.