What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
If you want to be found when people type relevant keywords into Google or Yahoo-Bing, then you need to start thinking about Search Engine Optimisation and how to leverage it to build your business. SEO focuses on growing visibility in organic or non-paid search engine results.
Although search engines have become increasingly sophisticated, they still can't understand or see a web page the same way we can. SEO helps search engines figure out what each page is about, and how it may be useful for searchers. In this article, we’ll show you the ways you can help search engines determine the value, relevance, and trust of your pages so they can show them in search results.
To increase your chances of being found in search, you need to focus on both technical and creative elements and take advantage of the different ways your business can be listed for searchers. But it doesn’t stop there. The work you do will have an impact on how your site is displayed in search engines and give you control over the title and text that is shown to searchers. Making good decisions about what your search listing should include will influence whether searchers click through to your website (driving search traffic) and their actions within these search pages and on your site will also have an impact on your ranking.
Google’s ranking algorithm is complex, being made up of more than 200 signals. But don’t worry, some are more important than others, so we’ll show you where to focus your efforts for maximum results.
Why do I need SEO and can I do it myself?
Search engine traffic can make or break your success. If you can match user intent (what the user/searcher is trying to find when they type their search query) with quality, well-optimised content, you’ll gain targeted traffic that gives you a great advantage over your competitors.
SEO is a complex subject, but a small amount of knowledge can make a big difference to your business. Reading this guide will get you started, but if you need more help, you can get in touch with our experts or ask the Farmish Collective Community for advice.
Getting Started with SEO
Understanding Search Queries
The search engines’ main purpose is not only to crawl the internet and create a database of information (an index) but to understand the meaning of what the searcher is looking for. Their main challenge is to create a relevant, ordered list of answers to searchers’ queries, and understanding user intent is key to making those listings relevant. Generally, we can split search queries into three types:
Informational Queries: I need information - such as a recipe, the date of an event or how to make something. Examples would be, ‘pastry recipe,’’sources of vitamin D,’ or ‘how to milk a goat.’
Transactional Queries: I want to do something - such as book a hotel, buy a product or listen to a podcast. Examples would be, ‘rural B&B Spain, ‘organic seeds,’ or ‘gardening podcast.’
Navigation Queries: I want to go to a particular place on the Internet - such as Facebook or the homepage of The Farmish Collective.
The most important thing to remember about your search listings is that they must be relevant. When visitors land on your page after a search query, they need to be satisfied by what they find. Ask yourself what your target customers are looking for and make sure your site delivers it to them.
Keywords are the building blocks of search and targeting the right ones will be vital to driving relevant and valuable traffic to your website.
Search engines measure the use of keywords on your pages to determine relevance to search queries. Using appropriate keywords in your content and code will help you drive the right traffic to your website.
Keyword research is one of the most important activities you can undertake to improve your visibility in search engines. You need to know the words and phrases that your ideal audience is searching for, so you can create content that really delivers the information people are looking for.
Researching keywords in your niche gives you the opportunity to understand your customers, what they search for, the terminology they use most frequently and how to target them with basic SEO practices.
The key to good keyword research is focusing on relevance. Pick keywords that define your product or service, so that every person that clicks on your search listing is your ideal customer.
During your research, you are likely to find that broad terms have more people searching for them. Something like ‘gardening’ is searched for more than 670,000 times per month, but if you target this keyword, you’ll be going up against Wikipedia and the likes of some pretty big magazines.
These popular searches make up only about 30% of searches made on the web. The remaining 70% of searches are ‘long tail’ (four to five words in a phrase), they’re more specific, are often questions and help searchers find more relevant results. Go for more specific terms like ‘how to grow a herb garden,’ and the search volume is lower (Google Chrome’s Keywords Everywhere add-on shows 590 monthly searches) but the competition is lower too. You’ll have a much better chance of seeing some good visibility in search using long tail keywords, providing your content is well-optimised, and you undertake at least some promotion.
Competition & Difficulty
Finding keywords that people are searching for is just one part of the puzzle. Before you decide which keywords to target with your content, you need to understand how difficult it will be to rank for them. Using keyword research tools can help you with this, but the most important way to tell is to search for the keyword in Google and take a look at the competition. What are their listings like? How many links point to their domain and the listed page? Are they big brands or portals that may have a bigger budget than you?
Once you’ve worked out whether you have a chance of appearing in search results for a keyword you should assign it to a page and get optimising.
Keyword Research Resources
Here are our favourite keyword research tools to help you on your way to understanding what your customers are searching for on the web:
How to Optimise a Page - On-Page Optimisation
Once you’ve researched and chosen keywords for important pages on your website, you’ll want to optimise those pages. This means adding keywords to your content, but also to hidden parts of your pages that search engines can use to understand your content and decide how to display your page in search results.
Metadata is one important ‘hidden’ element that you should be optimising with your keywords. Metadata literally means data about data, and in the case of websites, the data is descriptive; we’re describing the page content. In your metadata, you’ll need to add an appropriate title and description of your content that sums up what your page is about and encourages people to click through to your content from search results pages. Search engines may use your meta title and description in their results pages after someone makes a search but sometimes they pull a snippet of your content instead. Most popular website content management systems like WordPress, SquareSpace or Blogger allow you to add metadata to your posts and pages, either through SEO settings, plugins, or page settings.
How long should your meta title and description be?
Late in 2017 Google made an update that increased meta description lengths to 300+ characters, giving savvy companies the opportunity to gain a bigger appearance in search results pages. Well, just six, short months later they've rolled back this update. Things in digital marketing change fast! We'll do our best to keep you updated. Currently, the recommended length of your title is 65 characters, your description should be 160 characters for desktop and 130 characters for mobile so keep this in mind when using meta tags.
You can also add tags to your images so that search engines can understand what they are about. You do this by adding an ‘alt attribute’ to each image, either in the code or if you are using a content management system like WordPress, you’ll see a box to write this text when you add media to your posts.
Placing keywords within your content in a natural way is important. Make sure to include a keyword in your headings and towards the beginning of the first paragraph, as well as throughout your page. Use synonyms or close variants of your keywords. Most of all keep it natural and make sure your content delivers on your keyword choice. Think about what people will expect from your page after they have searched for the keyword and make sure you are delivering the best content possible for that search.
Follow these steps to create well-optimised pages on your site:
Choose a keyword to target for a specific page
Create a list or group of keywords that have a similar meaning or user intent as your chosen keyword, for example, ‘farming with kids,’ ‘farming with young children’
Include your keyword:
in the meta title tag at least once. Keeping the keyword as close to the beginning of the tag as possible is best practice.
prominently near the top of the page.
at least two or three times, including variations, in the rest of the text on the page. Perhaps a few more times if there's a lot of text content.
in the image alt attribute.
in the URL.
in the meta description tag.
Include the keyword close variants and synonyms in your content.
Keep it natural, remember to create pages that your users love.
WordPress tip: if you’re looking for an easy way to add metadata like title and description tags to your posts and pages, use the Yoast plugin.
Crafting Great Content
Every search performed in a search engine has a clear purpose—to find, learn, solve, buy, fix, understand or connect. Create great content that is useful, thorough, and entertaining, and you will improve your chance of earning good rankings.
How Search Engines Decide if Your Content is Good
Search engines observe user activity from search results to understand the relevance and usefulness of our pages. This includes how many people that see the results actually go on to click on them. What visitors do once on your site is also important. If a user clicks your link, then immediately heads back to the search results, this indicates that they didn’t find what they were looking for or disliked the way your site looks or functions. Too many bounces off a page can negatively affect the ranking, so make sure your page is relevant and delivering what you’ve promised in the search engine listing (your meta title and description).
When people link to content from their website, it is a sign of quality for search engines. Thinking of links as votes is a great way to understand the importance of linking patterns; higher quality websites, articles, and media naturally earn more links than low quality, thin or duplicate content. If you can produce content that people link to and share, it will generate better search visibility.
How long should your content be? It’s a much-debated question, but it’s clear that long-form content can perform better in search results in many cases. Articles of more than 500 words tend to perform better in search engines, but don’t be afraid to go much, much longer. Articles of 1000 or more words can attract significantly more links and shares.
The perfect length for your content depends on your readers, your niche, and your subject. A good way to understand how long your content should be is to take a look at other articles that rank well for your target audience.
Golden Rules for Crafting Great Content
Write for humans, optimise for search: Don’t try to fool the search engines, create great content for your users and optimise it well so that search engines can understand what it’s about.
Make it useful and informative: Include contact information, opening hours and articles that address customers’ questions.
More valuable and useful than other sites: Make sure your articles provide more value or a different perspective than any other articles on the web on the same topic.
Be credible: Use original research, citations, links, reviews, and testimonials.
Engaging: Add images, videos, social media integrations, quizzes and opportunities to connect.
Natural use of keywords: Don’t be spammy, your content should be about your chosen keywords not stuffed with them.
Grammar and spelling: Readers will trust your content if you provide error-free copy. Use Grammarly to check your content for errors and proofread several times before publishing.
Content length: Add at least 500 words to your pages or articles, once you’re an expert on something you’ll find it hard to write shorter content. Be an expert.
Want more information? Take a look at Google’s quality guidelines.
Links are still the most valuable way to improve your search ranking. From the beginning, search engines have seen links as a way to determine quality and relevant content. But not all links are created equal, so it’s important to understand what makes a good link and how to spot links that are not so useful or could damage your reputation, resulting in penalties from search engines.
Links from very popular and trusted sites are much more valuable and will earn your own site trust and authority. For example, a site like Mother Earth News with thousands of sites linking to it is a popular and important site.
Links from sites within your niche matter more than links from general or off-topic sites. Keep it relevant at all times.
Anchor text refers to the words that link to your page, it may be just your URL like www.farmishcollective.com, or you can include keywords relevant to the link, like this; ‘courses for rural entrepreneurs.’ If many links point to a page with the right keywords in the anchor text, that page is likely to rank well for the targeted phrase. It is important to note that anchor text should be diverse, use synonyms and different phrases to link to your pages, a natural link profile will contain plenty of ‘visit the community’ or ‘click here’ links.
The internet is full of irrelevant content, or spam and search engines are becoming very good at filtering it out by measuring trust. Earning links from trusted and popular domains will help you. Choose the sites you link to carefully and contact sites about earning links only if they are of high enough quality and relevance.
Sites that were once popular can become out-of-date, and those sites will fail to earn new links. Search engines want to display the most relevant, up-to-date information to searchers, so link freshness matters. Keep building links to your content.
Content sharing through social media has exploded in the last decade. Although search engines treat social sharing differently to other types of links, they do carry some influence. Social sharing is also a great way to get your content seen by engaged web users in your niche.
Links on pages with too many links
On any given page, search engines will only crawl so many links; the number will depend on the authority of your page. If the content is good and your site is building trust, then search engines want to know what other sites you’re endorsing. Google has recommended no more than 100 links to a page. If your page is sufficiently authoritative Google is going to be interested in the pages you link to and may follow more links.
Links can have lots of attributes (tags that are added to the code used to display them), but most are ignored by search engines. The important exception is the rel="nofollow" attribute that instructs search engines to not follow a link (although some do).
While nofollow links do not pass as much value, they are a part of a diverse and natural link profile, the kind of profile search engines like and expect websites to gain.
Link Building Basics
Link building is the most challenging part of SEO but is also where you’ll see the greatest return on your investment of time or money. Getting other sites to link to you is like getting them to vote for the quality of your website and your content.
There are several types of links you can acquire:
These links are given naturally by other websites. Create great content, get it noticed, and other sites will link to it.
Outreach Link Building
Contacting sites that might want to link to you in relevant content, publishing your unique content or adding your website to a relevant directory are great ways to build your link profile.
The opportunities to create links through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles are ubiquitous. While these links offer the lowest value, they can have an effect for some sites. Pursue these links with caution, don’t create spam and always be relevant.
Build as vast and varied a link profile as you can. If your links appear unnatural or manipulative, your site could experience a drop in visibility or even be removed from the index. If you are relevant, honest and offer what your website visitors want, you should not need to worry about penalties from search engines.
Find pages that contain fewer links, as the value that a link passes can be diluted by the presence of other links on a page. Gaining links that can send you referral traffic is a great way to get more visitors to your site, and these links tend to improve rankings too.
How to Find Valuable Websites to Link to you:
Search for your keyword in Google; getting links that point to your website from sites that already appear in search results for these keywords will help your site.
Use opensiteexplorer to discover your competitors’ links, or sites that rank well for your chosen keywords. By examining the links pointing to a website that already ranks well for your targeted keyword phrase, you gain valuable information about the links that help them achieve this ranking.
Use MozRank to determine the popularity of a page on the web.
Great Link Building Strategies for your Website
Write a blog
A blog is a valuable resource for your clients and contributes fresh content to your site. Make it informative and entertaining and tell the world about it by contacting relevant sites in your niche, get it shared by influencers and other relevant websites and social channels. Get people talking about your content, make it easy to share and become an authority.
Write for authority sites that are relevant for your business
Getting an article published in a niche magazine like Mother Earth News or Country Living (or another leading resource in your niche) provides exposure for your business and builds authority for you as an expert in your field. It’s also an opportunity to gain links from popular domains that can dramatically increase your rankings and provide traffic when readers click on those links.
Earn the attention of the press and relevant bloggers by releasing a new product, talking about controversial topics or creating value like a giveaway or resource.
Usability and User Experience
Usability and user experience provide indirect yet measurable indicators of your site’s quality. A site that is easy to use and encourages readers to stay on the website longer will also be favoured in search listings. Websites that have a great user experience have intuitive navigation that allows people to find the content they want and a design that makes reading the content easy. Sites like this will encourage social sharing, gain returning visitors and make people want to link to the content.
Websites that perform well in search listings tend to have these things in common:
Easy to use, navigate, and understand.
Navigation: Include important pages in your menu and link to them within your content where appropriate.
Readability: Use appropriate fonts and text sizes, as well as short paragraphs and headings to make your pages more readable.
White space: Cramming the content into a small space will have a negative impact on usability; spread it out. Use white space to make your pages a great place to consume your content.
Bullets or numbered lists: Lists can help people understand the key takeaways, facts or steps involved in learning or completing a task.
Provide direct, actionable information that is relevant to the search query
Professionally designed and accessible to modern browsers
Deliver high-quality content
Ensuring your content is accessible, well organised and works the way it should is essential for both site visitors and search engines. Technical SEO focuses on how your site functions, how fast it loads, how it’s displayed on different screen sizes and additional information you can provide to search engines that help them understand your website.
The top two factors you must pay attention to are page speed and mobile-friendliness. Google has confirmed that both of these play a part in how well your site will rank in search. With search engines tracking user behaviour and users getting more impatient for content to load and work well on all devices, these two aspects of your SEO efforts are fundamental for success.
‘The average time it takes to fully load a mobile landing page is 22 seconds, according to a new analysis. Yet 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s a big problem.’ Google
The most common causes of slow loading pages are uncompressed images, scripts, and CSS files. There are some basic things you can do to improve your page speed, and Google gives you lots of handy information in their Page Speed Insights tool. Take a look at how your website performs.
Creating a great user experience on mobiles has never been more important. If you haven’t optimised your mobile experience, your pages are unlikely to appear in mobile search, even if they rank well for desktop searches. With mobile search queries accounting for more than 50% of searches overall, you could be missing out on a great deal of potential traffic. Google has promised to move to a mobile-first index, where mobile versions of a website are used to index its content. This change makes this a priority task for anyone without mobile-friendly pages. Check your site’s score here.
Just as links from other websites (external links) help search engines understand what is relevant and popular content, links to other pages within your website (internal links) send signals to search engines about how your content is connected, what’s most important and what’s most relevant.
Links included in your navigation, footer or other static areas of your site all give clues to search engines about your most important pages. You should also be including plenty of internal links within your content that guide users (and search engines) to relevant information throughout your website.
Creating silos for your blog content allows search engines to crawl your pages and is part of how they assign relevance to pages and websites. Siloing involves breaking content into different categories so that category pages can link to all relevant posts with related content. This means that any post is no more than a few links away. Setting up this architecture is relatively simple on platforms like WordPress, and it’s well worth taking the time to create categories and ensure all content is assigned to the most relevant one.
A sitemap is a list of files that give search engines hints as to how they can crawl your website. They help search engines find and classify content on your site that they may not have found on their own.
Crawlable Link Structures
Search engines need to see links in order to find content. A crawlable link structure that allows search engines to browse the pathways of a website is vital to them finding all the pages you have crafted. If you don’t provide links to all your content, the search engines may never know it exists.
Are you guilty of spending hours on great content, marketing, and optimisation without linking to your new page or post? Here’s how it can happen:
Anything that prevents search engines from identifying or crawling your website will negatively impact your optimisation efforts.
You can find crawl errors in Google Search Console. You’ll be able to correct some of these yourself with a small amount of technical knowledge. URL errors, for example, may be caused by moving or deleting a piece of content; you’ll only need to find the link and update the URL. Similarly, 404 errors could mean that an external source is linking to a page that no longer exists or has been moved, you can contact the linking site to ask them to update their link to you.
Have you seen star ratings of products or services in a search result? If you have, it is likely that the search engine has pulled these from structured data embedded on the page. If you want to enhance your search listings with extra information you can add some additional tags to your content. Schema.org provides some examples of what you can add, including people, products, reviews, businesses, recipes, and events.
A robots.txt file gives instructions to search engine web crawlers visiting your site to indicate which parts of the site should not be crawled, as well as information about the location of a sitemap and other parameters.
The Canonical Tag
Search engines hate duplicate content. But it isn’t just about copying and publishing articles more than once; it can happen very easily without you knowing. For example, the following URLs can all refer to a single homepage:
To search engines, these appear as five different pages, which can lead to devaluing the content and page rankings. This can be easily solved with the use of what’s known as the canonical tag (Rel="canonical") that tells search robots which single page should count in web results.
SEO Practices to Avoid (Black Hat SEO)
As you’ll understand by now, search engines want to provide the most relevant results for users. Part of that goal involves identifying and removing pages that don’t deliver what they promise, use practices that attempt to manipulate search results and offer low value to searchers.
These are the top practices to avoid when conducting SEO. Although many of them were commonplace before the search algorithms became more complex, these days they could get your website removed from the index.
Littering content with keywords is a long-dead SEO practice and can get your content devalued in rankings. Keep it natural.
Attempts to improve visibility by the creation of links are becoming easier for search engines to spot. Earn your links by using the tips we’ve talked about in this guide and avoid the following:
Reciprocal link exchange programs: link pages that point back and forth to one another in an attempt to inflate link popularity.
Link schemes: including ‘link farms’ and ‘link networks,’ where low-value websites are built solely to provide links to other websites.
Paid links: harder for search engines to spot, but definitely a bad idea. It’s better to earn links through content or networking.
Low-quality directory links: only place your business in high quality, relevant directories where the purpose is to promote your business to your audience, not to provide links for your website.
Cloaking & Content Cloaking
Search engines want to ensure that you show the same content to site visitors as to their crawlers. Delivering different pages to search engines and to users is called cloaking and is a sure way to get penalties for your site in search engines. Content cloaking involves hiding text on your pages using CSS or the same coloured text and background.
All search engines go some way to determining if pages provide unique content that delivers value to searchers. Duplicate content, thin content (pages with very little text content) or pages that are dynamically-generated and provide very little unique text or value are unlikely to appear in search results.
Measuring SEO Progress
If you can measure it, you can improve it and luckily for us, tracking data on rankings, traffic, links and user behaviour is all within reach.
Important metrics to track to assess your SEO progress:
Traffic Sources - where do your site visitors come from:
Direct: People who type in your website address, click on bookmarks in their browser or email links without tracking codes.
Referral: People who clicked links on web pages or in trackable email, promotional or advertising campaign links.
Search: People who find your site in search engines.
Keyword Tracking - what keywords do you appear in search for:
Keywords that send traffic to your website are what all your hard work has been for. You’ll want to keep track of your ranking for important keywords and make sure that terms bringing extra traffic are sending visitors to pages that encourage them to buy, contact you or engage with your content.
Conversion Rate - which pages lead to site visitors taking action:
This is the most important metric to track for any business. Understanding which pages people land on first, which features on your site they engage with and at what point they either leave, opt-in, contact you or purchase will help you make the most of your traffic.
How Long Will it Take to see Results?
Like any relationship, it takes time for search engines to get to know you and build trust. Once you have optimised your site, crafted and publish great content, worked to get that content seen by an engaged audience who want to share and link to it, you’re going to need a little bit of patience!
For newer sites and content that has fierce competition, improvements in keyword ranking will take time. Publishing content and earning lots of relevant, quality links is not a sure recipe for instant or even slow results. Search engines have to crawl all that content as well as any content that links to it. For most keywords, you’ll be up against sites that have been working on their SEO for a while and have built up a significant number of links to their site.
In general, achieving good visibility for 10 to 20 carefully chosen keywords should be possible within three to nine months of optimising and promoting your website, but the timing really depends on your niche, the competition and the amount of work you put in.
Are you ready to optimise your website and gain targeted traffic from search engines?