"Google it": A 2020 SEO Guide for Beginners

As we enter into a new decade, search engine optimisation (SEO) remains a vital facet of any successful website but to the layman, relatively little is understood about what goes on behind the scenes. This guide serves to pull back the curtain on the basics of SEO and its practices. For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll be looking at Google’s search engine (SE) in particular as it holds over 90% of the SE market. After all, ‘to Google’ something has entered our everyday language as a common-use verb. This is testament to the scope of Google and is why, when it comes to SEO, everything is optimally configured for their search engine.

First and foremost, what does SEO actually do?
The ultimate goal of a website is to attract an audience who are engaged and actively want to view its content. Of course, the sheer volume of websites means it can be difficult to stand out; this is where SEO comes in. The whole raison d'être for SEO is to prove to Google how ‘x’ website is exactly what the user was looking for when they entered their search query. It will offer up the most relevant websites based on a wide range of criteria: content quality, ease of use, site speed and how mobile-friendly the site is to name just a few. These factors and more all go a long way to help Google rate a website and then based on this rating, offer it up in the organic search results.

‘Organic’ simply means the unpaid results; any results you may see at the very top of the page or highlighted with ‘AD’ next to it simply mean that a company has paid to have their website feature at the top of the list. Paid advertising is an important part of SEO but most sites nowadays will focus much more on efforts that will return the best organic results. This is where the focus of this guide will be.

5 Technical Points to Consider:
In order for Google’s search engine to judge a website it must first look at the technical side; the site code and architecture. This includes but is not limited to:
• Indexability: allowing the SE to view and ‘crawl’ the site to ensure it contains relevant and well-organised information. This is done via the html code and other signals that helps SEs to read and categorise a website.
• Site architecture: generally this refers to a well-made website that is navigable by both SE and human. Ease-of-use boils down to a few variables but things like user interface and site speed all affect this criteria. The takeaway point being that an organised and well-presented site that provides a good user experience will be noted by a SE.
• Schema markup: this is code on a website that tells SEs succinct and digestible information about the site. Essentially, by writing this code, any SE will be better able to understand a site and therefore offer it up in the search results page.
• Meta tags: these are placed within the site architecture again to ensure that any SE is able to easily scan and better understand a website’s function. Essentially the tags serve to describe each page's content to a SE.
• Security: according to Google, site security is a signal that is taken into consideration when ranking a website. What this means is that having a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is strongly advisable not just for safety reasons but also to boost SEO. This can also mean having https:// instead of http:// as it offers further website encryption.

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5 Key Elements of Content Creation:
Now that the technical side has been covered, let’s look at site content. This is the stuff both the user and the SE can see and is also rated in terms of relevance and authority. This list compiles the basics of site content but of course other factors do come into play:
• Appeal: does the site look visually stunning? This is the first question that should be asked when building a website. Of course content needs to be informative and relevant to a search query but nobody will want to click through a site if it’s not engaging or attractive to the user. Including eye-catching images, videos and infographics all help to promote the site’s content in its best light.
• Relevance: this is the key word that is always thrown around when talking about SEO and marketing in general. Providing great content is worthless if it’s not relevant which means that a business needs to know their audience. What does the audience want and how can this be provided? Ensuring that content matches the wants and needs of a user is vital to the success of a website.
• Novelty: assuring that a website is regularly maintained and updated is crucial as it shows a SE that the site is providing current and therefore relevant content. Just like any machine, a website needs to be serviced to ensure it functions correctly and also that it doesn’t have any faulty components that could lead to loss of site traffic.
• Link sharing and social media: these two go hand in hand as their joint aim is to spread the word as wide as possible. Linking to authoritative sites (as evidenced here!) shows Google that a site can be trusted as other reputable sources have all offered hyperlinks to the same location. Social media links are also useful, not only in terms of communication and connectivity but also to provide authority to a brand or business identity. On one hand it allows users to share thoughts and opinions, build rapport, brand loyalty etc. and on the other it shows to the SEs that there is positive engagement.

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The Value of Human Interaction
These are the fundamental starting points for SEO but, of course, there are plenty more factors to consider in terms of garnering traffic to a site. The reason that SEs, and Google in particular, focus on human interaction is that previously some websites were cheating the system by tricking the SEs into promoting certain pages over others despite being less relevant or trustworthy. A result of this has led Google to write increasingly sophisticated algorithms to judge sites not only on their code but also to factor in certain human criteria. Rankbrain for example, which is a core component of Google’s algorithm, can understand that if you search for medical advice you’re looking for serious, trustworthy and reliable sources whereas if you search for ‘cute puppy pics’ it will understand that you want adorable results. This is a gross simplification but the core is that Google understands user (human) interaction which translates to SEO focusing on valuable, relevant, informative and human-targeted content that can then be offered up to a corresponding audience.
As Rankbrain is an artificial intelligence, it means that Google is constantly learning about user behaviour and how best to provide for it. Invariably this also means that SEO is in constant catch-up in terms of identifying valuable areas to pursue where optimisation can take place and enact clear benefits. Having said that, good SEO practises like these outlined above remain constant despite the continual changes to Google’s search algorithms.

Optimise A Website for Both Human and Search Engine
Remember that Google and other SEs are analysing and rating a multitude of websites all day every day for millions of users. In order for them to offer up the most relevant and reliable content, they must first ensure the quality of every result. Ensuring that a website is actively and successfully providing to its customers is the benchmark test that every site must prove to Google that it’s accomplishing. Effective SEO means capitalising on many features within the technical side of the website but without forgetting that ultimately the audience are people who simply want the best service to suit their needs.

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