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What is SEO? A beginner’s guide

What is SEO - A beginners guide

Published by Michael Gregory,
Director at Freshfield

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an online marketing discipline that focuses on increasing the non-paid search engine results for your website. SEO comprises the technical and creative functions needed to ensure your website ranks highly on search engine results helping to increase web traffic.

There are many aspects to SEO and don’t be fooled into thinking it is just based on the words, images or videos on your website. These are undoubtedly a critical part of SEO, but your website also needs to be built and structured correctly so that it is easy for search engines to understand. Your website also needs to offer a good experience for your target audiences too and this is becoming an integral aspect of SEO.

Why does my website need SEO?

The majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines, Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. Although social media and display advertising play a part in pointing visitors to your website, search engines are the primary tool that internet users use to get to your site.

This means when someone searches for something on a search engine, they will provide the most relevant result based on what has been searched for. Therefore if your site is not optimised correctly, your business could well be missing out on potential enquiries.

How can I use SEO to make my website visible to search engines?

Here are a few tips to help make your site appear higher in search engine result pages.

On-page SEO

This relates to the activities you need to do on your website to make it search friendly. Here are some basic examples:


We’re great advocates of regular quality content as it is the most influential tool for all search engine algorithms.  You’ve also got to make sure your content is easy to digest and share as this is an important way of generating traffic. Ideally, blogs should be around 700 – 1500 words.

Internal linking

Most search engines send out ‘spiders’ to retrieve information on regularly updated webpages or sites. Linking content on one web page to another within your site is basic activity but one that helps the spiders search your site. Another benefit of internal links is that it can help to rank your site highly for words that are relevant to your target audience’s search query. However, like everything with SEO, it’s all about the correct balance. If you populate your articles with a lot of internal links, search engines will make the assumption you are trying to trick them and then ‘downgrade’ your site.


This is a document that lists all the pages on your website. It’s a system to inform search engines that new pages have been added, updated or even removed. Websites built on the content management system WordPress don’t need a sitemap as the website does this automatically.


Make it easy for users to find exactly what they need. It’s good practice not to use images or animation to navigate to other pages as search engines prefer text links.


People who manage websites often forget about correctly labelling images. Search engines can’t see images but are able to read ‘Alt’ text so if an image title is related to the content, this will help SEO rankings.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO can be used to influence the search engine ranking of your website:

Building links

Google treats a link from another website to your site as a vote of confidence, so will rank you higher based on that vote – the more links the better.

These links should be relevant and organic though, not paid-for or gained through artificial means.

Social media

For many companies, businesses and publishers social media is one of the key drivers of traffic to their sites so it’s vital that any content you create is pushed out through your social media channels.

It’s therefore crucial that your social channels are optimised to include relevant keywords, contact information and a clear description of what you do.

In turn, all of your social channels should be clearly accessible from your website along with the ability to share your content through share buttons.

Why can’t search engines find my site without SEO?

Search engines are very clever but they still need help. The major search engines are always developing their technology to crawl the web deeper and return better results. However, there is a limit to how search engines can operate. Whereas the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and increased attention, the wrong move can hide or bury your site deep in the search results where visibility is minimal.

In addition to making content available to search engines, SEO also helps boost rankings so that content will be placed where searchers will more readily find it. The internet is becoming increasingly competitive and those brands who perform well in the SEO stakes will have an advantage in attracting visitors to their website.

Can I do SEO for myself?

The world of SEO is complex with the main search engines always changing ranking goalposts so it is crucial that you seek specialist advice to ensure your website is visible in search engine results.

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