SEO 101: Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is a set of techniques and methods aimed at improving and optimising the ranking of a website for particular search terms in natural search engine results.

Having a well designed functional website is great, however it will do you little good if nobody can find it.
Regardless of what you are trying to achieve with your website you will always need traffic; and the largest source of website traffic will almost always come from search engines. In order to increase the amount of traffic your website receives from search engines your site needs to rank well for relevant search terms across multiple search engines.

The higher a Web site ranks in the search results of a particular search term, the greater the chance that the site will be visited by a user. Few Internet users click through beyond the first or second result pages of search results, so where a site ranks in a search is vital for directing more search engine traffic toward the website.

The 3 core aspects of Search Engine Optimisation

SEO can roughly be divided into the following three categories or aspects.

  • On-Page Optimisation

  • On-Site Optimisation

  • Off-Site Optimisation

In addition there are two “schools of SEO”

  • White hat SEO

    White hat SEO refers to the ethical practice of SEO. White hat SEO relies on original and quality content whilst adhering to guidelines provided by search engines and targeting keywords and phrases that are relevant to the content on the website.

  • Black hat SEO

    Black hat SEO refers to unethical use of SEO, employing questionable or prohibited techniques such as various spamming techniques. This type of SEO may provide short term benefits but tend not to work long term and if caught may incur penalties and even being completely delisted by search engines.

You could of course argue that there is also a third grey area, which is true, but I prefer to look at it more as a white hat approach that is utilising a few questionable tactics that may not be explicitly banned by search engines (yet).

Consider your goals carefully before turning to the dark side

Delving into grey or darker areas is not just a matter of personal choice and risk management. Whilst utilising some of these tactics may reap some temporary short term gains they will most likely come back to haunt you and cost you in the long run. If you site is getting lots of traffic but most of it are for non-relevant terms then very few of your visitors will convert to users or customers.If your content is relevant to the terms visitors used to find your site you’ll find that your bounce rate won’t be through the roof and you’ll convert more visitors to users, members or customers.

If you’re considering outsourcing your SEO then make sure you’re comfortable with the tactics and strategies they’ll be emplyoing on your behalf. The end result could not only be loss in search engine rankings but also damage to your brand. Back in 2006 Google banned the corporate BMW website in Germany for spamming search engines. BMWs website was nowhere to be found in Google for quite some time resulting in traffic dropping off to a trickle and causing great embarrassment for the company. The poor choice by BMW’s marketing department when selecting an external SEO agency still serves as a cautionary tale years later.

Google’s advice on the matter:

  • "A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you."
  • Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?""
  • See Google’s webmaster guidelines for further reading.

On-page SEO methods

On-page SEO involves, among other things, using keywords and key phrases to optimise the following:

  • Page titles (i.e. the title tag)
  • File names (i.e. the name of each html page)
  • Alt text (i.e. the alt attribute on images)
  • Anchor text (i.e. the text used in your links)
  • Meta tags (in particular meta description but also in a lesser extent meta keywords)
  • Site structure & Navigation
  • On-page text (text placement, use of keywords, keyword density and proximity)
  • Heading tags (use of h1, h2 etc.)
  • Semantic HTML ( use tags for the specific meaning attached to them, e.g. h1, h2 for headers, ul & li for lists etc.)

On-Site SEO methods

On-site SEO involves the structure and navigation of the site itself and deals among other things with the optimisation of:

  • Site structure and information architecture
  • Site layout (placement in the code in the of a site can have an impact on the amount of search engine benefit contributed. E.g. elements such as on-page text higher up in the code of a page is given more weighting than elements far down in the code)
  • Site navigation (text links, logical structure, navigational scent paths)
  • Site map (accessible site map that will assist search engines to find and index all the pages of your site)

Off-Site SEO methods

Off-Site SEO refers to techniques, strategies and factors that do not actually occur on the pages of the site being optimised. Search engines rate the importance of your site by looking at other sites that link to your site. Getting a link from another site that has similar or relevant content and is well ranked is viewed by the search engines to be an endorsement of your site.

Inbound links

The amount of other sites that are linking to your site, the benefit from a link will greatly differ depending on the site linking to you.

  • Sites with similar or relvant content have a higher impact
  • Sites with a high ranking or authority will have a higher impact
  • Sites with little or no ranking and no relevancy will have little or no impact

Link building strategies

  • Reciprocal linking (asking for links from on-topic sites in return for linking back to them)
  • Directory listings (getting listed in various online directories in on-topic categories)
  • Writing content for online publications (this will usually allow you to link back to your site)
  • Syndicating content (using RSS or similar technology to syndicate your content across multiple other sites to receiving inbound links as well as additional traffic)

Getting indexed

In order for your site to be ranked at all it first needs to be indexed by a search engine. To get indexed a site first needs to be visisted a search engine spider (aka. search engine crawler). Proper use of SEO methods make your website more search engine friendly by assisting search engine spiders to find and index all the pages of your site and to identify what each page is about. However making the site spider friendly should not be done at the expense your human visitors, it is vital that your site is user friendly as well as spider friendly. It won’t help you much if you can get a lot of traffic to your site if none of them are able to use the site correctly or find what they are looking for.

  1. Human friendly (good legibility, quality unique content, ease of use etc.)
  2. Spider friendly (alt text, meta tags, header and anchor tags, semantic markup etc.)


The most important thing you will need for your website is content. Without quality unique content your site will offer little of value to neither users nor spiders. Humans are quite happy with content such as video or images however search engine spiders are more particular about the type of content and prefer text above anything else. The majority of your SEO efforts should go towards quality content that is structured well and can be easily accessed and read by your users as well as your friendly neighbourhood search engine spider. Taking a bit of time to properly format and structure your written content will pay off in the long run. If you have something unique and interesting the quality of your content will help you when trying to get inbound links. You might even start getting a few links without asking for them.

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