Digital Marketing for Beginners - Part One: Search Engine Optimisation
By Marion Hirtzig - Head of Digital Marketing.
Digital Marketing is a vast domain, and should be used in conjunction with non-digital or regular marketing, and PR; true, you want to be seen and found online, but you also need to be seen in the 'real' world if you want to reach as many people/potential clients as possible. There is a lot to say about Digital Marketing, so in this first instalment we will focus on Search Engine Optimisation, and give you some guidelines so that you can have a go on your own and understand the basic principles behind it. Things evolve all the time, so it’s important to never rest on your laurels, but if you start on a good basis you’ll be able to adapt in the longer term.
Digital Marketing: a brief overview
When we say “Digital Marketing”, we are referring to everything that allows a business (or company, charity, association, or even individuals) to gain online visibility. Nowadays, everyone has a website, but making sure this website reaches the right target audience can be tricky, and it requires a fair amount of work. There are various ways to be seen and found online: through your website itself and its content (Content Marketing), through search engines (Search Engine Optimisation), through social media (Social Marketing), or through paid advertising (Pay Per Click, also referred to as PPC), all of which will be covered in future instalments of our Digital Marketing for beginners guide.
In big companies, different teams specialise in the various components of Digital Marketing, whereas in smaller companies like us at Orantec, everyone does a bit of everything. Whether you are a small business wishing to do your own Digital Marketing with one employee, or a big company which can afford to have dedicated teams for each of the major areas of Digital Marketing, what matters is to make sure that the various people that work on your Digital Marketing campaign collaborate and communicate in order to combine everyone’s efforts towards common goals.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation is the art of making your website visible on search engines, mainly Google, but also Bing, Yahoo!, Duck Duck Go, etc. Google’s near monopoly on online search and their quest for the perfect answer - their ultimate goal is to give people answers before they even ask a question - means that if you want to rank high on Google you have to follow their rules. Digital marketers could spend days talking about the various algorithms that Google unleashes on a regular basis (Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, etc.), but the idea behind every update of Google’s search algorithm is to answer people’s questions as accurately as possible, with quality results. One can expect a good, accurate answer to come from a trustworthy source, which means that you need to show that you are trustworthy and have real expert knowledge in your domain. Before all that though, you need to let Google and other search engines know that your website exists and what it is about, and this is where SEO comes into play.
Google & Bing Webmaster Tools
If you want your website to appear on search engines, the first step is to make sure it is indexed, which means that search engines are aware of your website’s existence. The best way to ensure this is to register your website with Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. These tools will also let you know when errors are found on your website – 404 errors (pages not found), problems with mobile-friendliness, etc. You can feed Google and Bing a sitemap of your website so they can easily index your website, and if you add new pages to your website, you can either wait for search engines robots to crawl it (they will, eventually) or you can submit the new URLs yourself.
Meta descriptions and Meta titles
Meta titles and Meta descriptions go together. Each and every page of your website should have a unique Meta description and a unique Meta title to let people and search engines know what they are about. The description and the title are what you see in search results, and to avoid them being truncated you should make sure to respect character limits – around 155 characters for the Meta description and around 60 for the Meta title (the limits are actually in number of pixels so it’s easier to give estimates in number of characters, but these may vary slightly). Since actual users will see your description and title, you should write your descriptions with the aim to make people you want to target click on them. As I said earlier, Google evolves all the time, so nowadays they sometimes replace the Meta description you wrote with a sentence taken from the page itself if they think it better answers the user’s query.
Text is important, but so are images. Since you can specifically search for an image on Google, you should let search engines know what the images you have on your website represent. For instance, if you have a property website, having an image of a house on a page reinforces the fact that your domain of expertise is property-related. An Alt tag is an HTML tag that tells search engines but also e-readers (for visually-impaired users) what an image is about. If you sell a product, you absolutely want people to be able to find your product online, and there is a fair chance they will find the product image first and from there reach your website, so Alt tags should not be overlooked.
The Internet is vast, and it’s easy to be lost amongst the thousands of websites out there that probably do basically the same thing you do. This is why making connections is vital. Connections in digital marketing generally take the shape of links, also known as hyperlinks. You have 2 types of hyperlinks: internal ones, which are links inside your website, and external ones, which are either links from your website to another website, or from another website to yours; the latter are called backlinks.
Internal links have two benefits: firstly, they help your visitors navigate your website easily; if you mention your products on the home page, or tell people to contact you, it makes sense to link to the products mentioned and to the contact page. The second benefit of internal links is to allow search engines to understand the way your website is organised, and which pages are more important and should be shown first; you will naturally have more links pointing to the home page and to the main sections of your website (for instance your shop, as compared to a specific product).
Quality backlinks are pretty hard to obtain as you shouldn’t buy them, and link exchanges, which are a bit better than paid ones, are looked down on. This means that you have to earn those links through the quality of your work. There was a time when you could buy links without repercussions and any links would improve your position on Google’s search results, but those days are long gone, and now these practices are a sure way of getting a penalty from Google, leading your website’s rankings to plummet, or disappear altogether in worst case scenarios. Backlinks must now come from trustworthy websites (these can be small websites but have to be ‘legit’ ones; a small Cardiff shop or a personal blog are likely to have a limited online presence, but that doesn’t mean they are not trustworthy), and websites that have something in common with yours, i.e. ideally websites from the same sector. Obviously a link from a news outlet is great no matter the sector you work in, but for instance a link from a fishing website if you’re a dentist is not relevant and will look strange and unnatural.
As I said in the beginning of this blog, these are the basic principles behind Search Engine Optimisation; if you had to remember just one key concept when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation and Digital Marketing, it should be quality. If you have a quality website with quality content, you definitely are on the right track to rank on search engines.
Should you need assistance with your Digital Marketing efforts, we are happy to help you with a service tailored to your needs; we offer both ‘one-shot’ Search Engine Optimisation to get your website started on a good basis, and a monthly digital marketing service to make sure you get the online visibility you deserve. Contact us today to see what we can do for you, and stay tuned for further instalments, on Content Marketing, Social Marketing and PPC!