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What Is SEO?

How to use SEO to improve your website’s visibility.

SEO analytic data

Intro

Search Engine Optimisation is the process of making your website easy for people and search engines to find and navigate. And, if you manage or own a website, getting up to speed with basic SEO is one of the most impactful ways to help get it in front of your target audience.

But, while search engine optimisation used to be a tickbox exercise, it’s evolved to be much more complex in recent years. It’s no longer just about stuffing your site with keywords! Today, SEO is a sophisticated practice that involves optimising content, using the right keywords, and ensuring your website is technically sound.

If it’s starting to sound like a lot of work – you’re not wrong! But while a talented SEO professional is worth their weight in gold, even beginners can begin to make positive changes to their SEO. In this article, I’ll share some tips and best practices to help you improve the visibility of your website. And if you still have questions by the end, don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Author

About the author: Andrew Newby

I’m Andrew Newby, the Owner and Design Lead at Sheffield SEO & Marketing Collaborative Edge Studio. I began my career working in busy Sheffield agencies, honing my skills in creating visually stunning and user-friendly websites. Driven by a passion to make a more substantial difference to my clients, I transitioned into freelancing, which allowed me the freedom to take on diverse projects.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m now at the helm of a small, talented team of specialists here at Edge Studio. With a thorough understanding of both SEO and reader-focused content creation, we help businesses find, attract and convert their target audience.

Search Engines

Understanding Search Engines

If you want to harness the power of SEO, you’ll first need to understand how search engines work. At their core, search engines are like digital libraries. They log billions of web pages into a central database, ready to pull them out on demand to share with the right person.

When you type a query into a search engine, it sifts through its database to find the results it thinks will be most helpful. To decide which websites to present, it uses a complex algorithm that considers hundreds of factors, known as ranking signals, to decide the order of search results.

Search engine algorithms are kept under lock and key, ensuring that people don’t try to cheat the system to fast-track their website up the rankings. But while search engines like Google don’t reveal the exact details, SEO experts have identified many major factors through research and experimentation. These include the relevance of the content, quality of information, user engagement, and the site’s technical health.

Major Search Engine Algorithms

  • Google is the most popular search engine worldwide and constantly updates its algorithms with users in mind. Various updates have been released to help reduce low-quality content (the Panda update) or sites with dodgy links (the Penguin update).
  • Bing, another major player, also uses sophisticated algorithms. While similar to Google’s, Bing emphasises social signals and multimedia content more.
  • Other search engines, from DuckDuckGo to Yandex, have their unique approach. For instance, DuckDuckGo prioritises user privacy, which affects how it processes search queries.

As you can see, the goalposts are constantly changing in the online world. This is one of the reasons that quick fixes or ‘black-hat’ SEO isn’t an effective long-term approach. If you try to exploit a loophole, an update will appear out of nowhere like a nightclub bouncer, throwing you onto the curb before you know what’s hit you.

Remember, search engines want to put valuable, helpful content in front of users. If you focus on those goals for your own website, you’ll stay on the right side of the algorithms.

Research

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the foundation of any successful SEO strategy. With research, you can identify the words your potential customers use when searching for your product or service online. You can then target these keywords through your content, increasing your likelihood of being displayed in the search results.

Identifying High-Intent Keywords

High-intent keywords indicate a strong likelihood of the searcher taking action, such as making a purchase or requesting more information. These keywords attract visitors who are more likely to convert into customers. To identify them, consider the problems or needs your product or service solves. What would someone type into a search engine when looking for solutions like yours?

Types of Keywords

Keywords can be broadly categorised into three types:

  • Short-tail keywords – Broad, general terms that generate a high volume of search traffic but are highly competitive and less targeted (e.g., “shoes”).
  • Long-tail keywords – More specific phrases with lower search volumes but higher conversion rates and less competition (e.g., “women’s running shoes for flat feet”).
  • Local keywords – These include a specific geographic location and are essential for businesses serving a local area (e.g., “shoe shop in Sheffield”).

A note on user intent: When choosing which keywords you’ll focus on, consider the intent of the user. Are they looking to buy (“buy running shoes online”), to learn (“how to choose running shoes”), or to navigate to a specific website (“Nike running shoes”)? Aligning your content with user intent increases the likelihood of attracting the right audience.

Tools for Keyword Research

Several tools can help with keyword research, ranging from free to premium options. These tools provide insights into keyword search volume, competition, and related phrases.

  • Google Keyword Planner – A part of Google Ads, this tool is great for getting search volume data and finding new keywords.
  • Semrush or Ahrefs – These comprehensive SEO platforms offer detailed keyword analysis, including search volume, keyword difficulty, and competitor keyword strategies.
  • People Also Ask – When you input a search query on Google, the results page displays a “People also ask” section of similar questions. This is a great place to get inspiration on what people are searching.

Incorporating Keywords

Once you have your list of keywords, the next step is to incorporate them into your website. This doesn’t mean stuffing your content with as many keywords as possible; that tactic can harm your SEO. Instead, use them strategically in your content, titles, meta descriptions, and URLs. Remember, the goal is to create valuable, informative content that naturally includes these keywords.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is the practice of optimising individual web pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. It includes both the visible content and the HTML source code of a page.

While on-page SEO is predominantly focused on writing for search engines, the quality and readability of your content matters too. Your content should be informative, engaging, and relevant to your target audience. Use your keywords naturally and maintain a balance between readability and SEO.

Optimising Meta Tags

Meta tags provide search engines with information about your webpage. Here are a few of the main tags you can optimise easily:

  • Title Tag – This is the title of your webpage. It should be concise, include your primary keyword, and be no more than 60 characters to ensure it displays fully in search results.
  • Meta Description – This brief description appears under your title in search results. It should be compelling, include key phrases, and be around 155-160 characters to avoid being cut off in search results.

Optimising Headings

Headings are important for both SEO and user experience. They make your content easier to read and help search engines understand the structure of your page.

  • H1 Tag – Use only one H1 tag per page, include your target keyword, and succinctly describe the page’s content.
  • H2-H6 Tags – Use these for subheadings to structure your content effectively. Include secondary and long-tail keywords where appropriate.

URL Structure

A well-structured URL plays a role in both user experience and search engine crawling. Keep your URLS simple and descriptive; they should be easy to read and understand. In terms of the words you use, try to include keywords if possible, but avoid numbers and symbols (3, &, !) You can also use hyphens to separate words, making them easier to read.

In summary, on-page SEO involves careful content optimisation, strategic use of meta tags, structured headings, and a clean URL structure. By following these guidelines, you can significantly improve the visibility and ranking of your web pages in search engine results.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is the actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs). It focuses on building your site’s reputation and authority, which are ranking factors search engines consider in their page selection process. You can improve your off-page SEO in multiple ways, but link building is one of the most impactful.

Link Building Strategies

Backlinks are links to your website from external sites. If an authoritative website links to your website, search engines take that as a sign that you’ve been vouched for and consider you more credible. Here are some great ideas to get you started:

  • Guest Blogging – Writing articles for other websites is a great way to get backlinks. Reach out to reputable related businesses to discuss contributing to their sites.
  • Broken Link Building – This involves finding broken links on other websites and suggesting your own relevant content as a replacement.
  • Influencer Outreach – Collaborating with influencers in your industry can help you gain backlinks and increase your website’s visibility.
  • Content Marketing – Creating valuable, shareable content encourages other sites to link to yours.

Remember, when it comes to backlinks, it’s about quality over quantity. It’s essential to get links from reputable and relevant websites. Google’s algorithms recognise and reward quality, so a few high-quality links are far more valuable than many low-quality ones.

Social Signals & Their Impact

While social signals (likes, shares, and social media visibility) are not direct ranking factors, they indirectly impact your SEO efforts. Social media can increase the reach of your on-page content, leading to more traffic (and potentially more backlinks).

  • Regularly post on social media and engage with your audience to increase your content’s visibility.
  • Create valuable content your audience will want to share on their social channels.
  • Collaborate with influencers whose audience has a crossover with your own to help drive more traffic to your site.

The authority and reputation you build online not only establish trust with your audience but also help your SEO efforts. With consistency and quality content, you’ll have a winning long-term strategy that results in steadily growing, high-intent traffic.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO relates to the technical aspects of optimising your website. It helps search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website without any problems, removing any roadblocks that could make them rank a competitor’s website over yours in search results.

Technical SEO is a relatively large field, so let’s explore two of the most important areas to look at – responsiveness and user experience.

Response Times

The speed it takes for your site to load has a huge impact on how likely users are to stick around. In fact, studies have shown that while 30% of people will ‘bounce’ from your site if they have to wait 1-3 seconds for it to load, that figure jumps up to 90% at 4 seconds. With this in mind, let’s look at how to optimise your site speed.

  • Site Overhaul – You can increase site speed by optimising images, leveraging browser caching, and minimising the use of heavy scripts and plugins.
  • Use CDNs – Content Delivery Networks distribute your content across multiple servers worldwide, reducing the distance between your website and its visitors to speed up loading times.
  • Optimise Code – Minifying CSS, JavaScript, and HTML (removing unnecessary characters from code) can significantly improve loading times.

On-Page User Experience

Good user experience (UX) isn’t just about looks; it’s about how easily users can navigate and interact with your site.

  • Mobile-Friendly DesignWith 95% of people using mobile devices to access the internet, having a mobile-responsive website is essential. Google uses mobile-first indexing, which means it predominantly uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking.
  • Simple Navigation – Clear calls to action and a clean design can significantly improve the user experience.
  • Structured Data – Schema markup (a form of microdata) helps search engines understand your website’s content and provide users with more informative results.
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) – SSL certificates establish an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. Websites with SSL are marked as secure, demonstrating another layer of trust to search engines.

Technical SEO ensures that your website is well-structured, loads quickly, and provides a great user experience, which are all factors search engines consider when ranking sites. By regularly auditing and optimising the technical aspects of your site, you can take a positive step toward improving your site’s performance in search results.

Local SEO

Local SEO is a game-changer for small businesses and is particularly relevant for those with a physical location. With local SEO, companies can target potential customers in their region through tailored geographic campaigns, dramatically increasing their visibility when people search for services or products “near me.” This draws more customers and gives small businesses a significant competitive advantage.

Many local competitors might not be leveraging the full potential of local SEO, so by focusing on this area, a small business can stand out in its local market, attracting more attention and customers.

How To Optimise Your Business for Local Searches

A high proportion of traffic to this site comes from our Google business listing. We’ve spend a significant amount of time testing and trying out different optimisations to rank as high as possible. We created a full guide on how we achieved 1st position for all our local searches. Here’s a summary of the key things to ensure you’re doing.

  • Google Business Profile – Formerly Google My Business, this free listing allows you to appear in local search results and Google Maps. Ensure your profile is complete and accurate, including your business name, address, phone number, and hours of operation.
  • Local Keywords – Use keywords that reflect your local area in your website’s content, meta descriptions, and titles.
  • Citations – Ensure your business is listed accurately in online directories like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and local business associations.
  • Reviews – Encourage customers to leave reviews on your GMB profile. Particularly local users from your service area. Respond to reviews to show that you value customer feedback.
  • Local Content – Create content that’s relevant to your local community, such as blogs about local events or news related to your industry.
  • Mobile Optimisation – Ensure your website is mobile-friendly, as many local searches are done on mobile devices.
  • Structured Data Markup – Schema markup can provide search engines with information such as your address, phone number, and business hours.

Local SEO is a must for small businesses aiming to attract local customers. By working your way through the suggestions listed, you can increase your visibility in local search results, attract more foot traffic, and outshine your local competition.

Measuring SEO

Measuring SEO Success

Measuring the success of your SEO efforts helps you understand how effective your strategies are and provides the impetus to pivot as needed. By focusing on the right key performance indicators (KPIs) and utilising the tools available, you can gain valuable insights into your site’s performance.

The Best Website KPIs To Measure

  • Organic Traffic – The number of visitors coming to your site through search engines. An increase in organic traffic is a strong indicator of successful SEO.
  • Search Engine Rankings – The position of your website’s pages on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for specific keywords. Higher rankings usually lead to more visibility and traffic.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) – The percentage of users who click on your website’s link after seeing it in the search results. A higher CTR indicates that your title tags and meta descriptions are appealing and relevant.
  • Bounce Rate – The percentage of visitors who leave your site after viewing only one page. A high bounce rate could indicate your content isn’t meeting user expectations.
  • Conversion Rate – The percentage of visitors who take a desired action, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or filling out a contact form.
  • Page Loading Speed – As discussed earlier, faster loading speeds improve user experience and can positively impact rankings.

Tools for Measuring SEO Success

There are a range of free and paid tools that make monitoring and measuring your site’s performance easy. Here are the tools I can recommend from experience:

  • Google Analytics – This free tool provides comprehensive data on website traffic, user behaviour, and conversion metrics. It’s essential for tracking organic traffic and user engagement.
  • Google Search Console – This tool helps you understand how Google views your site. It provides data on search queries, click-through rates, and technical issues affecting your site’s visibility.
  • Semrush or Ahrefs – These all-in-one platforms offer advanced features for tracking rankings, backlinks, and competitor analysis. They are helpful for in-depth keyword performance tracking and site audits.
  • PageSpeed Insights – A tool by Google that analyses the content of a web page and then generates suggestions to make that page faster.

SEO Mistakes

Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid

As a Sheffield SEO service provider, I’ll be the first to say that SEO is as much an art as a science, and often, there’s trial and error involved. By learning from the mistakes of those who came before you, you can save a lot of time and avoid falling into the same traps. Here are five of the most common SEO mistakes I come across as an SEO professional.

  • Overlooking the Power of Internal Linking – Internal links aren’t just for navigation; they help spread page authority throughout your site and can boost the ranking of other pages. Ensure that your content includes relevant internal links that guide users and search engines through your site.
  • Inconsistent NAP Information – For local SEO, it’s important to keep consistency in your Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP). Inconsistencies in your business’s NAP details across various directories and platforms can confuse search engines and diminish your local search ranking.
  • Keyword Stuffing – This outdated technique involves cramming a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking. Not only does this provide a poor user experience, but search engines now penalise this practice. Focus on integrating keywords naturally within high-quality, relevant content.
  • Ignoring Image Optimisation – Images can significantly enhance user experience, but they can also slow down your site if not properly optimised. Large, unoptimised images can lead to longer loading times, negatively impacting user experience and SEO. Always optimise image size and use descriptive, keyword-rich file names and alt tags.
  • Not Using Analytics to Track Performance – There’s no point trying to improve your website if you’re not monitoring your efforts. Tools like Google Analytics 4 provide valuable insights into your website’s performance, including traffic sources, user behaviour, and conversion rates. Regularly reviewing this data helps you understand what’s working and what needs improvement.

Summary

As we’ve highlighted in this guide, SEO is a multi-faceted and fast-changing field. While you can’t expect to become an expert overnight, by having a good understanding of various aspects of SEO – from keyword research and content optimisation to technical improvements – you can significantly improve your site’s ranking and online presence.

Remember, effective SEO isn’t a one-and-done task. Stay curious, stay informed, and keep optimising to achieve and maintain your SEO goals.

For one-off or ongoing support with SEO, digital marketing or website content, get in contact with the Edge Studio team today.

To stay updated with the latest SEO trends and best practices, here are some resources you may want to explore:

  • Google Search Essentials – Formerly Webmaster Guidelines, this is essential reading for understanding what Google values in a website.
  • Moz Blog – Offers insightful articles and guides on all things SEO.
  • Search Engine Journal – A reliable source for the latest news and trends in SEO.
  • SEO podcasts and webinars – Great for learning from industry experts on the go.

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