What is SEO?

SEO, or “Search Engine Optimisation”, is a discipline focused on improving the performance of web pages in relation to organic search results. In layman’s terms, SEO aims to improve the visibility of your website when people use search engines, such as Google, to search for relevant queries.

If I search Google for “Painters in Sheffield”, I’m presented with the web pages it has determined will be most suited to your query. Now, good news if you’re featured in the first 3 organic results!

A screenshot of the google search painters in sheffield

There’s a 75% chance that I will visit a painter who has their website featured on page one of search results, and the first search result alone has an average click through rate of nearly 35%.

These are not paid for ads, these are organic results, and that’s why SEO is so powerful. In fact, 86% of searchers will skip past the paid ads completely and rely on purely organic results! 

Organic search is the most vital way for customers, both existing and prospective, to find your online content and for you to drive traffic to your website.

Let’s look at an overview of some distinct elements of SEO to give more context to this definition:

Organic Search Results

“Organic” is the important part of this label. If we return to the search used as an example earlier, “Painters in Sheffield” returns 10+ paid for advertisements (PPC Ads) before I get to any organic results.

A screenshot of the google search painters in sheffield

These organic results are much preferred by search engine users and are displayed because the search engine’s complex algorithm has decided all of these results are highly relevant to my query. To put it simply: they will give me what I want, and Google knows that!

It’s important to note that it is impossible to pay for your page to rank in any given place in organic search results – you can’t pay to come first here.

Quality & Quantity of Organic Traffic

The job of SEO is not to drive traffic to your website, it’s job is to drive targeted traffic to your website. This distinction is what makes SEO so valuable – if Google drives traffic towards your website when it is not relevant, it is likely that a vast majority of these visitors will bounce off your site without completing any conversions whatsoever. This is because this traffic is low quality.

SEO, implemented properly, drives high quality traffic to your website. This means visitors have found you through highly relevant searches, and arrive with genuine interest in your website, content and offering. These visitors are much, much more likely to turn into conversions, and by extension, revenue – nearly 40% of online purchases are influenced by a relevant search.

To maximise exposure to high quality traffic, you want to have your website displaying as a result at the top of the search results page – in a recent study, researchers found that 75% of search engine users will click an organic listing from the first two results.

A photograph of a man at a desk using Google on a MacBook Pro with a coffee cup next to him

What are the main types of SEO?

As a discipline, SEO centres around two main umbrellas of activity. These are called “on-page” and “off-page” SEO and all SEO work falls into these categories. Whilst we will be creating guides for each of these categories in the near future, this blog post aims to provide you with an overview of SEO, so here’s a little more information on both.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO is, at its heart, all about content. The more you look into SEO, the more you will realise that much of its success rests on the shoulders of good quality content. Content that effectively drives targeted traffic should be:

  • Valuable & actionable/useful
  • Genuinely interesting to read
  • Well researched, in-depth and written well
  • Written with a particular audience in mind
  • Easily shareable and referenceable
  • Optimised around keywords

After you’ve finished writing this masterpiece of quality keyword driven content, you need to consider the other elements of on-page SEO too. These include site speed, tags/metadata, the responsiveness of your website and its crawlability, and the list goes on.

All of these factors are important and contribute massively to the success of SEO, but it’s important to remember that even if you get every piece of the puzzle perfected if your content is terrible and doesn’t provide value to a site visitor, none of that will matter.

A photograph of a woman using a MacBook Pro to edit a Squarespace site on a black desk next to a cup of coffee

What is Off-Page SEO?

Off-page optimisation is an umbrella term relating to anything happening beyond your website itself, and is usually used in reference to “backlinks” or “link building”. 

Backlinks are simply links between one website and another. If someone has written a blog post and linked to your website, they’ve given you a backlink, and if you link to them in your blog post, you’ve returned the favour. Blogging, and therefore the quality content mentioned in the “on-page” section, is integral to building backlinks: Companies who engage in blogging receive 97% more backlinks to their site.

So why do backlinks matter? Because these links are essentially treated as votes by Google and other search engines – every time your content or web page is linked to, especially by other websites that Google already see as trustworthy and high ranking, it’s as if each link tells Google that your content is of value to them and they’ve found it useful/trustworthy too.

Links, in general, are what enable Google and other search engines to determine the value of your content – if there’s no links to your web page, you’ve made it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for Google to do this job. Make no mistake about it, backlinks are vital to successful SEO campaigns, with one recent study proving that the number of domains linking to a page was the factor that had the highest correlation to rankings in Google.

However, off-page SEO extends beyond backlinks and encompasses a whole heap of other important activities that help build relationships, encourage brand searches and improve the following and engagement of your social media.

Two website icons linked together

So How Does SEO Work?

Before we start looking into how SEO works, here’s a brief glossary of terms that might help you understand the mechanics of SEO as you read on:

  • Index – Google, and other search engines, store all web pages that it is aware of in its index. These index entries contain information about the content and URL of any given webpage. 
  • Indexing  – This is when a search engine actually fetches your webpage, reads it, and then adds the entry to its index. 
  • Crawl/Crawling – Crawling refers to the process of seeking out new webpages or updates to already indexed webpages. Google and other search engines mainly discover URLs by following links (think of the backlinks we discussed earlier) and by reading sitemaps, but they can identify new URLs to crawl through other means too. 
  • (a) Crawler – As the name suggests, a crawler is an automated piece of software designed to crawl/fetch web pages and then complete the action of indexing these web pages. Google’s crawler is called “Googlebot” and crawls the web constantly.
An infographic showing Google crawling websites and putting it into Google's database

Now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s a quick explanation of how SEO works:

Google, Bing and other search engines work in the same way – they use crawlers to go from webpage to webpage, website to website, following links and gathering information, indexing their findings as they progress. 

These indexes are not static places – they are always evolving and updating as the bots continue to crawl across the web. 

You may have heard people mention “the algorithm”, especially in reference to Google. These algorithms are responsible for complicated analysis of the indexed web pages – each page is ranked across many, many different factors in order to determine how suitable a web page would be for any given query. 

Whilst Google keeps the exact formula and mix of ranking factors to themselves, studies have shown there are more than 200 ranking factors that the algorithm takes into consideration.

This result not only dictates whether a web page ranks for a search, but also its position in the results page.

By optimising your website and content in line with these ranking factors, you can better your chances of ranking well for related search queries and improve your search engine results page position – this is SEO!

These factors span different categories (like “content”, “website architecture”, “reputation” and “links”) and vary dramatically in weighting/importance, with something like content quality affecting website ranking more than adding alt-text to images.

So when you make a search query in Google, they prioritise presenting results that they have determined to be of high relevance, high quality, and from trusted, non-spammy websites. 

Google has gotten so good at this that the first 5 organic search results now account for nearly 70% of all clicks.

It’s our job as SEO professionals to help your website and content surface as highly as possible for the right search queries. This is achieved by optimising your content and technical elements of your website to provide users with the best possible experience.

An infographic showing various reporting pages for website analytics

What are the Benefits of SEO for Small Businesses?

If I asked you what you did the last time you needed to learn something new or make an online purchase, there’s an 80% chance that you started both interactions with a Google search query. 

Here’s a few ways investing in SEO benefits smaller businesses:

1 – SEO Boosts Customers Through Organic Searches

There are trillions of searches on Google every year. In fact, by the time you finish reading this sentence there will have been around 1.2 million new searches. As a small business owner, you might be interested to know that plenty of these searches have some sort of purchasing intent; in a recent survey, nearly 95% of respondents revealed they searched Google for information about a product/business within a week of purchasing. 

By appearing in the search results of related queries, prospective buyers can discover information about your business, your expertise, products and services. This gives you the chance to outrank your competitors, give yourself greater brand visibility and, ultimately, turn these site visitors into conversions!

This is so powerful that 60% of marketing professionals have revealed their highest quality leads stem from SEO activity; think about it, you’re finding potential customers at a point where they are actively seeking out information – it’s the perfect time to deliver value, create a seamless user experience, and reap the financial reward.

a screenshot of Squarespace website analytics

2 – SEO Benefits Other Marketing & Business Activities

A great SEO campaign rests on digging deep to develop a thorough understanding of what your website visitors will want to see and how they’d want to see it. 

As you’d expect, this thorough understanding can greatly benefit your other marketing efforts, and as so much of SEO rests on creating a wonderful user experience online, any advertising efforts directing traffic to your website will inadvertently benefit from this optimisation.

With a treasure trove of data and real world usage reports, SEO can even demonstrate what trends may emerge in your competitive landscape as well as provide you with interesting insights into popular services/products, where your competitors are outranking you and more.

As well as this, SEO is a digital discipline, meaning that by exposing yourself to SEO as an industry, investing in SEO yourself, and keeping up to date with the ever evolving landscape, your understanding of digital experiences, websites, consumer trends and competitors will be much, much deeper.

A photograph of six people around a wooden desk listening to a presentation at work

3 – SEO Forces You To Provide A Great User Experience

In case we hadn’t mentioned it enough, user experience is a fundamental element of any SEO strategy. Since 2021, Google has revealed that UX is a priority ranking factor and it’s not going to become anything but more necessary and relevant as time goes on. 

This means that SEO will force you to really get to know your target audience. You will need to be aware of exactly what they’re looking for, how they want to consume content, what they want to do after engaging with your initial webpage, and what value you can provide them.

Aside from content, your website will need to perform well enough to meet, or even exceed, expectations – this means loading speeds, responsiveness, design/aesthetics, and just about every other element you can think of needs to be considered, optimised, and continually refined.

If it sounds like hard work, that’s because it is! But remember that by prioritising your site visitor’s needs, you’re providing an incredible user experience that will not only improve their impression of your business, product or service, but will also be instrumental in ranking better, generating more leads, and improving your site authority.

A photograph of an app designer planning out user experience on a whiteboard

4 – SEO Builds Trust and Brand Awareness

Customers trust brands that appear on the front page of search results. They also like websites that perform well, are responsive and secure, and maintained regularly. The good news is that search engines love the very same things, so by optimising your website for Google, you’re building an online presence that generates trust in your brand and gives authority to your voice.

Another benefit of SEO is the effect it can have on your brand awareness. By featuring on the front page for related queries, you’ll be exposing your brand to so many more people than if you were to be stuck behind the invisible wall of pages 2 and beyond.

The great thing about this is that you don’t even need to get clicks through to your webpage in order for your brand awareness to improve – you can do this just by occupying a front page space and commanding that authority. Search users will start to associate your brand with that query. 

A good strategy to build brand awareness and increase traffic to your site is to optimise content for more specific and longer tail keywords – rather than something like “pet supplies online”, think more like “best online pet supplies for labradors in south yorkshire”. These will have lower search volume, but they will be much easier for you to start ranking for in the short term and will likely be much less competitive than shorter, broader keywords. All your efforts here will make it much easier to rank for less specific keywords too!

A cartoon showing 5 star reviews and an iPhone

5 – SEO Campaigns Are Long Lasting and Budget Friendly

As far as marketing is concerned, SEO is a relatively low cost investment that will outlast, and potentially outperform, other activities like pay-per-click advertising or social media advertising.

This is because investment in SEO is longstanding and aims to deliver organic results. To put it simply, when you stop paying for pay-per-click channels Google Ads, the benefits stop. There’s no residual traffic from these ads when your budget runs try or you pause a campaign – this is the opposite of SEO.

SEO is a long term strategy and aims to deliver return on investment far, far beyond the scope of the initial work completed. To put this into perspective, here are two facts:

The first is that industry leaders Ahrefs found that nearly 60% of pages ranking in the top 10 for Google search results are 3 or more years old.

The second is that 50% of marketeers stand by SEO as having the best ROI of any marketing channel. 

With SEO, it’s imperative to think big picture and long-term. Whilst rankings and site traffic may improve in a matter of weeks and months, optimised SEO content is there to perform for years!

Whilst SEO is an ever evolving practice, the core fundamentals of quality content, site health and user experience are timeless and, with minor tweaks, should stand the test of time for years to come. That’s what makes SEO such a powerful investment for small businesses seeking future growth.

a photograph of a man counting pennies on a table

6 – SEO Is Trackable

Whilst we concede that paid ads or shopping campaigns are more obvious choices for trackable data, SEO is still very much an easily trackable marketing investment. 

Utilising analytics software like Google Analytics, you can establish different trackable events/conversions that can paint a quantifiable picture of how your SEO efforts are performing and how they could be further optimised and improved.

This data allows you to establish key equations, like Return on Investment (ROI). This can be figured out with the following equation:

Keyword Search Volume X Click Through Rate (CTR) X Conversion Rate X Conversaion Value = Return on Investment.

Another piece of Google software, Search Console, enables you to dig out more data on visitor acquisition, what keywords you’re currently ranking for and what your competitive position is, as well as offering a suite of tools to further audit how healthy your website is and where improvements can be made.

A photograph of a MacBook Air screen showing google analytics with a woman typing on it

How Can Wilkes Wood Help With SEO?

We know how overwhelming the world of SEO can seem from an outside perspective and we’re here to help decipher the process and work with you to boost traffic to your website and improve your rankings.

We have in-house specialists ready to partner with you on sustainable, ethical SEO strategies. Everything we do is driven by cutting edge tools, in-depth research and compelling, keyword driven content that is designed to appeal specifically to your target audience.

We have packages for SEO site maintenance and content creation suitable for businesses of all shapes and sizes. If you want to optimise your website and content and reap the benefits of SEO, check out our SEO services page or get in touch today for a chat with one of our team.

SEO FAQs

What about PPC and Social Media Advertising?

Social media advertising and PPC can be fantastic avenues to utilise as part of your marketing strategy, yet we always recommend starting with SEO before diversifying. The reason for this is that the results of successful SEO should provide you with long-lasting and consistent visibility, with advertising that “extends beyond spend.” By contrast, if you run a successful PPC campaign through Google Ads, as soon as you stop spending, the benefits cease.

 

Can you get me to rank #1 on Google?

Any agency or freelancer promising to get you to #1 is at best misunderstanding how SEO works, and at worst trying to rip you off. We will always consult with you prior to taking on SEO work to understand your objectives and conduct a thorough audit of your current position. We can then present you with areas to improve upon and talk to you about where we might have the most successful impact on the rankings of your site, as well as what results we can realistically expect to achieve for the budget and time-frame.

 

How long does SEO take to see results?

SEO is not a quick fix, it is an investment designed to produce long-lasting results. Whilst some changes and optimisation may take days or weeks to update, serious SEO campaigns can take anywhere from 2 to 12 months to start to see measurable increases in traffic and, by extension, associated leads and conversions. This can depend on many factors, such as how competitive the targeted keywords are and how much content you are generating. 

 

How do I know what keywords to target?

Identifying the best keywords for your website is essential to ranking in Google for searches relevant to your business and industry. Our advanced SEO research tools means we can efficiently identify and target dozens of underused yet high traffic terms. It is also important to analyse competitor rankings and identify areas where they are securing top page positions for competitive keywords despite having lacklustre on-page content.

 

What are backlinks and why do they matter?

Backlinks (sometimes referred to as ‘inbound links’) are hyperlinks from one website to another. They are the foundation of ‘off-page SEO’ and demonstrate to Google the trustworthiness of your website. A website which receives a large volume of backlinks from authoritative websites (such as news organisations) has higher ‘domain authority’ – this makes it easier to rank for competitive and broad search terms. Backlinks are also a valuable source of traffic.

 

What is local SEO?

Local SEO refers to those strategies that are designed to increase visibility in search results aimed at locality, such as “Physiotherapists in Sheffield” or “Hairdressers Ecclesall Road”. Any business that has a brick and mortar store or a physical location, or a business that serves a particular and defined geographic area can reap the benefits of local SEO.

 

Does Social Media help SEO?

Whilst social media isn’t a ranking factor and won’t help your search position directly, social media can be used to bolster your content strategy. Featuring your content on social media may lead to new backlinks, improved social profile search results and increased social traffic.

Does SEO change over time?

The short answer is yes. SEO is a constantly evolving practice and relies on reacting to changes and developments introduced by the world’s largest search engines, like Google. As these companies are continually trying to improve the quality of their service, they are always tweaking their algorithms to try and optimise the search experience, and thus these changes have an impact on SEO practitioners. We are always following industry trends and ensuring that our SEO work is in line with the most recent best practices, and are committed to evolving our service to ensure we can consistently deliver results.

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