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An Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

search engine optimisation
We need to talk about search engine optimisation (aka SEO). If you own a website, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of your time thinking about traffic. Not rush hour traffic with cars and lorries, but the visitors that come to your website… search engine traffic. You know your website needs visitors to make it successful, but how do you go about getting more people to your site? Better still how do you get the right people to visit? And can you really get visitors for free? We all know that with a big bag of cash getting traffic is possible, but most small businesses don’t have a secret stash of cash lying about. So is there a way to get traffic for free? Yes, it’s known as organic traffic and brings us nicely to the subject of SEO.

What is Search Engine Optimisation?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. Putting it as simply as possible SEO is the process of optimising your website (and a few outside factors) for search engines. In turn, those search engines rank will improve your rankings for search terms and send you more traffic. While search engines are incredibly clever, it’s important to know that they don’t understand things in the same way a human being would. This means there are certain elements that you have to set up to ensure your website is understood by search engines; the first step in SEO. It’s incredibly important to note before we go any further that any changes you plan on making for the sake of SEO should never impact the quality of your website for real people. The experience for real human beings looking at your site should always come first. OK, so keeping in mind that user experience will never be compromised. How do we then look at improving our sites for search engines? Well, there are 2 things to consider: We need to know how a search engine sees a website. This could get quite complicated but for this introduction, let’s keep focused on the basics. When viewing our websites search engines can understand the text and the code, they can’t understand the subject of an image or media file without us telling them. We need to remember what search engines do. Search engines aim to give internet users the best results for whatever query they enter into the engine. These search queries are known as keywords or keyword phrases. It’s these searchers that we should keep in mind when we’re thinking about SEO. These internet users are potential traffic for your site.

 Who is SEO For?

Many small businesses I talk to don’t seem to spend much time thinking about SEO and this isn’t surprising. Keywords for the greetings card and giftware industries are highly competitive as a rule so it’s understandable to think you don’t stand a chance without that big pot of cash. There is however I think one very good reason why all card and gift companies, big and small should learn the basics of SEO. Because SEO feeds into the foundations of all your other marketing efforts. Imagine for a minute that you’ve set up a blog and various social media accounts for your business. Putting the content together for these 2 marketing areas alone will have taken you hours if not days. With each element you will be attempting to reach your ideal customers. With the knowledge of a few SEO basics you can ensure that all the content you create uses the correct language to match with your ideal customers and is in a format understood and liked by search engines. It won’t take much longer to produce the content but every time you create a blog post or social media update you’ll also be contributing to your SEO on the side. My advice is for all card and gift companies selling or marketing online to learn the SEO basics (at the very least) first. It will help improve the quality of all your other marketing and selling and give you a great foundation to build on.

Why is SEO Important?

By now you probably know exactly why search engine optimisation is important, but let’s just confirm it. If a search engine understands your website, and believes it’s a high quality website, it will send you traffic. Better than that it will send you the right kind of traffic, for free. This type of traffic is known as organic traffic, and if you have google analytics set up on your website you’ll find that organic traffic is usually your biggest source of visitors. So what does this SEO process all look like for card and gift businesses?  
Example: SEO for a Card Shop
Imagine you sell greetings cards. You will have cards for birthdays, anniversaries and every special occasion. Your ideal customer is someone looking to buy a greetings card. In the online world, that person would go to a search engine like Google and type in what they were looking for. Something like “age 60 birthday cards” Google would search through all the records it has made of every website it’s seen and bring back all the results it had found that best matched the search query “age 60 birthday cards”. The search takes less than a second and brings back over 3 million results. As a card shop that sells 60th birthday cards, you want to be among those results. Ideally, you want to be top of those results because no one is going to look at 3 million results; it doesn’t matter what birthday is coming. To get high in those results your website has to have the relevant content for the search phrase, in a format that a search engine recognises. With over 3 million webpages being returned it may seem that the competition is too high, but there are endless search phrases used every day. Your job is to find the right phrases for the product or service you are selling.  The keyword steps are:
  • Find the right keywords for your business.
  • Set up your website to target the right keywords.
  • Optimise your site so you rank highly for the right keywords.
Which is where knowledge of SEO comes in handy.

Types of Search Engine Optimisation Marketing

Alongside understanding keywords and phrases there are a variety of additional elements that go into SEO marketing. The precise factors that make a website rank well for a keyword phrase seem to be constantly up for debate. In 2016 an article from Backlinko highlighted 200 factors the Google search engine uses to rank a website. When it was updated this year the list had 210 factors. Most card & gift companies won’t want to think about 200+ separate elements so I’m going to simplify things here. Broadly speaking SEO falls into 3 categories: On-Page SEO On-page SEO relates to the content on your website. In marketing terms, this covers keyword research and ensuring those keywords are well placed in your website content. Technical SEO Technical SEO covers all the non-content elements of your website. This includes site speed, architecture, indexing, mobile-friendliness and more. Off-Page SEO In contrast, to both on-page and technical SEO, off-page SEO concerns marketing practices that are outside your own website. Mainly this focuses on high-quality backlinks and social signals.  

What Do You Need?

The most important thing you need for search engine marketing is knowledge. I’m pretty sure there’s no way you can just know this stuff so you’re going to have to spend a little time learning.
Alongside knowledge, you’ll also need time. As discussed above there are lots of different factors that come into play with search engines so there are lots of elements to set up, test and tweak. 
Don’t let these 2 things put you off. If you learn this stuff early it will make the job much easier going forward. 
In future articles and training, we’ll take a closer look at different elements of SEO, these will take into account:
  1. SEO Strategy
  2. Keyword research
  3. Technical SEO factors
  4. Creating Content for SEO
  5. Link building

SEO and the Card and Gift Industry

In my recent industry research I found that although SEO scores ranged from 0/100 to 90/100, the largest majority of the companies, 56% were awarded a score between 60% and 79%. The gives us some positive signs that the card and gift industry is getting things right with search engine optimisation. It also shows however that there is room for improvement. I’ll be publishing more information from my SEO review of the greetings and giftware industry soon so keep your eyes peeled.

My Experience with SEO

In all honesty, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with search engine marketing.  The big mistake I made was that I didn’t learn much about SEO until I’d been blogging for years. This gave me a huge pile of jobs to do once I knew what to do.  SEO jobs on the whole, however, are quite straightforward and I like having a task list to follow.  Search engines are always tweaking their algorithms so it’s important to remember that this marketing form is one that needs to be monitored and updated just like you would with every other tactic.   

Getting Started with Search Engine Optimisation

We’ll be taking a closer look at SEO in future training and resources but if you want an idea of the steps to getting started, it looks something like this:
  • Learn the basics factors that search engines use to rank a website.
  • Register as a website owner with search engines like Google and Bing
  • Upload sitemaps to the search engine’s webmaster portals and check for any issues.
  • Use an SEO tool to run a technical audit of your website and fix any issues found.
  • Decide which pages on your website you want to rank higher.
  • Research and choose a keyword phrase for each of these pages.
  • Update content on your webpages to improve their ranking for the keywords chosen.
  • Develop an outreach plan to build backlinks to your website.

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