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What Is SEO?

What Is SEO

Date First Published: 15th July 2022

Topic: Web Design & Development

Subtopic: SEO

Computer Terms & Definitions

Difficulty: Medium

Difficulty Level: 4/10

Learn more about what SEO is in this article.

Stands for search engine optimisation. SEO is the practice of improving the position of a website in search engines in order to increase organic website traffic. When a website ranks higher in the search results, it will increase its visibility to people searching for keywords similar to the indexed page.

So many website owners often hope to get their site quite high in the search engines, especially in the top ten. When typing a keyword into a search engine, such as 'what is a website', it is very likely that there will already be thousands of other websites that have a definition of what a website is whose website owners are hoping for the same thing. Making small modifications to the webpages and following SEO guidelines can have a significant impact on SEO.

When search engines crawl lots of similar pages with similar HTML tags, content, and keywords, they rank them based on both on-page and off-page factors. The greatest factor is the number of websites linking to that page. Increasing the popularity of a website to get more backlinks is a very long process, but a website owner's determination to reach a higher search engine position should eventually succeed after years of effort.

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SEO only targets organic traffic, which are visitors that land on a website through search engines, such as Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, and Yandex. The traffic is unpaid as visitors do not land on the website through paid ads, which appear at the top of search engines before the search results.


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Sometimes, the acronym SEO is used to refer to a person that optimises a website for search engine known as a search engine optimiser. (e.g. SEOs optimise their websites).

SEO Tips

These tips below should help you to optimise your website for search engines.

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There is a lot of information below. Use the heading tags to skim through if necessary.

Meta tags

This is the most important tip for SEO. Meta tags tell search engines what the webpage is about and differentiate it from the rest of the search results. Examples of meta tags to include with the dos and don'ts are:

<title>Insert Title Here</title>

This meta tag gives a webpage a title and can be found in the web browser title bar and search engine results page. It is the most important HTML tag for SEO and is used by search engine algorithms to decide the order when listing pages in search results based on whether the user's query matches the title.

The dos:
  • Choose a title that accurately describes the page content.
  • Make sure that the title is unique on every page. Avoid using the same tag on two or more pages.
  • Keep the title tag a sufficient length. Most search engines will display around 50-60 characters of the title, so avoid having a title longer than that. Also, avoid using excessively short titles.
The don'ts:
  • Use more than one tag in a HTML document. HTML documents can only contain one title tag.
  • Use a vague tag, such as 'Page 1', 'Untitled', or 'HTML Page'.
  • Use text in the tag that is unrelated to the webpage.
<meta name="description" content="Example description">

The meta tag above gives search engines a description of the webpage, which will appear on the search engine results page. Even though most search engines automatically choose a relevant section of text from the webpage, it is a good idea to add a meta description tag in case search engines were unable to find a selection of relevant text to use in the search results.

The dos:
  • Write an accurate description of the webpage that informs users of what it is about.
  • Use a unique meta description tag on each webpage.
  • Keep the meta description tag of sufficient length of around 50-160 characters.
The don'ts:
  • Use a vague meta description tag, such as 'This is a webpage', 'This is an article', or 'Page about web development'.
  • Copy and paste the entire content of the webpage into the meta description tag.
  • Fill the meta description tag with only keywords.
<meta name="keywords" content="Keyword 1, Keyword 2">

Keywords related to the webpage are placed inside the meta tag above and separated by commas. The ideal number of keywords to list is 3-20. They are only found in the source code of the HTML page and are hidden from visitors. Even though this meta tag can still be used, search engines, such as Google have not used this meta tag to rank webpages for a long time. They may still be a small factor for search engines, such as Yandex.

Heading tags

Heading tags, such as <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, and <h4> create a hierarchical structure for a webpage, put emphasis on important text, and help users navigate through content.

  The dos:
  • Use the heading tags appropriately. For example, <h1> is the main heading, which should be used for the title of the webpage and <h3> as well as <h4> should be used for less important headings, such as subheadings.
  • Use the headings to show the structure of the webpage as some users skim a webpage by its headings to find what they are looking for.
The don'ts:
  • Use headings to only make text bold or big. Headings should only be used for structural purposes.
  • Use multiple <h1> headings on a page. Multiple <h1> headings create a meaningless and disorganised structure as it suggests that all the headings of the webpage are the main headings.
  • Use overly long headings.

Error Pages

Error pages, such as error 404 and 403, display when an error has occurred that has prevented the visitor from finding what they were looking for. Occasionally, visitors will come across an error page after mistyping a URL, clicking on a broken link, or trying to visit a webpage that they do not have sufficient permissions to access.

  The dos:
  • Provide enough information about the error the visitor has encountered along with a link back to the homepage.
  • Keep the style of the error pages consistent with the rest of the pages of the site.
The don'ts:
  • Allow the error pages to be crawled by search engines.
  • Provide a vague message on the error pages, such as '404 not found', or 'error 404' with no additional information.
  • Use 'dead-end' error pages with no links, forcing users to hit the back button on their browser to return to the previous page.

Sitemaps

A sitemap.xml file is an XML file that provides search engines with a list of important pages, images, and videos of a website. This ensures that search engines can discover and crawl these webpages more efficiently and is useful for discovering pages that are isolated from the rest of the content of the website. Additional information can be included about each URL, such as the priority and change frequency. Sitemaps can be submitted to SEO tools, such as Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Images

A common saying is that an image is worth 1000 words. Images are an easy way to visually represent stories, ideas, and information. They significantly improve user experience and draw visitor's attention. Instead of reading a large amount of text, readers can quickly look at an image or a photograph which can be very engaging. In addition, some visitors memorise visual information better than text and they are often much easier to share.

The dos:
  • Use the 'alt' attribute to display alternative text if the image cannot load. If the visitor is using screen reading software, the 'alt' attribute will provide information about the picture.
  • Use brief 'alt' text.
  • Use standard image formats, such as JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP, and WebP.
The don'ts:
  • Use vague filenames that do not describe the picture (e.g. 'image1.jpg' 'images.png', or 'pic.gif'.
  • Overload the webpage with images or use images that are too large in size as this can greatly increase the loading time.
  • Use images that you don't have the copyright for.

Markup and Scripting Languages

Before publishing a webpage, always evaluate the markup and scripting languages for any errors. Even small errors can give visitors a bad impression as it will break the functionality of a JavaScript code or a HTML element.

URLs

The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the web address of the webpage (e.g. https://computerhelp4all.com/articles/what-is-seo.html' is the URL of this article. All URLs appear in search engines to display the location of the crawled page.

The dos:
  • Use hyphens to separate words rather than underscores.
  • Hide the 'www' prefix. The 'www' prefix is unnecessary as it is already very obvious that the webpage is a website domain name.
  • Use lowercase letters.
  • Use accurate keywords relevant to the content of the webpage.
  • Use the HTTPS protocol over SSL/TLS.
  • Choose a memorable domain name.
  • Use a trustworthy TLD, such as .com, .org, .net.
The don'ts:
  • Use vague URLs that don't accurately describe the content (e.g. https://example.com/articles/article-1.html' or https://example.com/articles/untitled.html').
  • Use URLs that look spammy or untrustworthy with lots of alphanumeric characters (e.g. https://example.com/ar940te432u90uksjdks-94ijshs.html')
  • Make the URL too long or complex (e.g. https://example.com/page/1/articles/website/content/folder/blog-post-1-07-09-2021).

Add The Date and Time To The Webpage

Adding the date and time to a webpage is helpful as it will inform readers of when the content of the page was first published or last edited. Search engines will recognise a date on a webpage and it will appear next to the description on the search engine results page.

Also, adding the date to a webpage can help visitors to find the most up-to-date information when browsing search results. For example, a webpage about the most recommended laptops that was published 10 years ago would be outdated as technology has changed a lot in the last 10 years. However, the date of a webpage that explains how to work out the percentage of a number will not matter as the method of working out the percentage of a number will not change. When search engines notice fresh content, it will increase the ranking of the webpage. Search engines determine this by the date on the webpage. 'Date first published' can be seen on every article of Computerhelp4all, whih is the date the article was first published. It might have been edited since then.

Avoid Plagiarising Content From Other Websites

Search engines, such as Google penalise plagiarised content. Plagiarised content causes confusion for search engines as to which identical page should appear at the top. Users can request URLs that contain plagiarised content to be removed from the search results if it is their content that has been plagiarised.

Often, search engines are aware of plagiarised content and can recognise it. Search engines have algorithms that can determine the best version of every piece of content. If the content first appeared on a high-ranking website, search engines will crawl the original webpage and ignore the others.

Ensure that your website is fast

Page speed has an effect on how webpages will rank in search engines. It is also a very important factor in user experience. Page speed gives a measure of how long it takes for a page to load. A fast page speed means that pages will load quicker in web browsers, reducing the bounce rate. Page speed can be improved by using a CDN, reducing page elements, enabling browser caching, and using the appropriate web host.

Ensure that your website uses a responsive design

Responsive web design is a technique that automatically adapts webpages to the visitor’s screen size and width without user interaction. Responsive web design ensures that all the content of webpages display properly on any device with a single design, including mobile devices, tablets, and computers. The aim of responsive web design is to ensure that website visitors have the same user experience, regardless of which device they use to browse the website.

With the number of people using mobile devices to browse websites rising, mobile-friendliness is a very important factor of SEO. Google often tests websites for mobile-friendliness and gives webmasters notifications if any webpages do not perform well on mobile devices (e.g. the webpages scrunch up or the text is too small on mobile devices.)

Create high-quality content

High-quality content is the key to SEO. If you want your website to appear high on the search engine results page, creating high-quality and eye-catching content is very important. In order to determine whether your content is considered 'high-quality', consider the following:

  • Is the content free from spelling and grammatical errors?
  • Is the content original rather than plagiarised from other websites?
  • Does the content provide enough information for the reader to answer their question?
  • Is your content of sufficient length? The ideal length of content per page is 300-5000 words. Content shorter than 300 words is often considered to be 'short' and won't rank as high in search engines.
  • Does your content have any backlinks? (external sites linking to the webpage)
  • Is your content free from misinformation, excessive ads and popups, and broken links?
  • Does your content attract a lot of unique visitors?
  • Is the content organised into paragraphs with subheadings rather than in one big block of text?
  • Is important information written as text rather than embedded into images and videos. (search engines cannot read and display embedded text in the search results).
  • Is your content free from unnecessary blocks of text that have little value for readers (e.g. repeated blocks of text expressed in different words or excessively long introduction paragraphs that add no extra value to the webpage).
  • Can ads be clearly differentiated from the content of the website?

SEO Tools

  • Google Search Console – Users can measure the traffic of their site, performance, and coverage, and fix indexing issues with their site in Google Search results.
  • Bing Webmaster Tools – Bing's version of Google Search Console. Provides a web-based application for users, allowing them to view the coverage of their site, queries that lead to traffic, performance, and discovery of issues preventing their site from being indexed in Bing Search results.
  • Ahrefs Webmaster Tools - A free SEO tool provided by Ahrefs that allows webmasters to help improve their SEO performance by identifying SEO issues with explanations. Verification of site ownership is required.
  • Yoast SEO - A WordPress SEO plugin that provides tools to help webmasters optimise their content for SEO.
  • Seolyzer - A SEO tool that provides crawler and real-time log analysis for SEO. It helps users understand how Google and other search engines view their website.
  • Seobility - A SEO tool used to scan for errors that have a negative impact on SEO. Provides a check for an entire website. It also provides extra features, such as backlink checking, keyword ranking, and more.
  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider - A downloadable software that runs on Windows and macOS and helps improve SEO by scanning a website for errors, finding broken links, discovering duplicate content and more.
 

White Hat SEO, Black Hat SEO, and Grey Hat SEO

Three techniques exist to promote website traffic that comes from search engines, which include white hat SEO, black hat SEO, and grey hat SEO.

White hat SEO refers to a range of ethical techniques that abide by the search engine guidelines and involve no deception. White hat SEO generally refers to creating content for users rather than solely for search engines. The content is then made easily accessible by spider algorithms rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose. White hat practices include providing high-quality and relevant content, unique and relevant titles and tags and error-free HTML.

On the other hand, blank hat SEO refers to a range of short-term unethical techniques used to improve search engine rankings in a way that violates the search engine guidelines or involves deception. The aim of black hat SEO is to manipulate the search results to get a higher ranking. This may be accomplished by:

  • Creating duplicate content that is very similar to content already published on the World Wide Web.
  • Adding invisible keywords (e.g. making the text the exact same colour as the webpage background so that it is unreadable but readable by search engine bots).
  • Adding doorway pages - Webpages that are loaded with keywords but have bad quality content to trick search engines into believing that there is high-quality content on the webpage. The keyword stuffed page is designed to get higher rankings from search engines and redirect users from the searched page to a different location, hiding the spamdexed page from users. The page a user is redirected to is completely irrelevant to their original search.
  • Keyword stuffing - Placing an unnecessarily large amount of keywords onto a webpage to manipulate the search results.
  • Adding unrelated keywords - Keywords placed on a page that are completely unrelated to the page, designed to pull users from multiple searches onto their page even though the content is completely irrelevant to their search.
  • Page swapping - Completely changing the webpage after it has been ranked by search engines.
  • Link schemes - Artificially increasing the ranking of a webpage through manipulation of the number of external links pointing to that page (e.g. buying and selling backlinks or using automated programs and services to create backlinks).

Grey hat SEO is an SEO practice that goes outside the rules of white hat SEO and is slightly riskier but does not cause a website to be banned from search engines. It is a combination of white and black hat SEO and is somewhere in between.

History

Website owners started to optimise their websites for search engines in the mid-1990s in the early days of the World Wide Web. All that website owners had to do was to submit the URL of a webpage to the different search engines that would send a web crawler to crawl that page, extract links to other pages from it, and return information found on the page to be indexed. At that time, there weren't many websites, so ranking high in the search results was not as difficult as it was now. As of now, there are billions of indexed pages and search engines have faced more and more competition, making it very difficult for new websites to rank.

 

It is believed that the phrase 'search engine optimisation' was first used in 1997. Website owners recognised the value of a high ranking in search engine results, creating a possibility for both white hat, grey hat, and black hat SEO practices.


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