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Nic Cohen talks about the basics of SEO, how to use it, and why it can benefit your business

Clear Books spoke to Nic Cohen, founder of U-First (an online and digital strategy consultancy). In this podcast, Nic talks about the fundamentals of SEO, and how incorporating it into your online strategy will benefit your business. We also learn Nic’s thoughts on whether businesses who are new to SEO can go it alone, and his recommendations for monitoring and reporting tools to analyse the success of your SEO efforts.

What is Search Engine Optimisation or 'SEO' as it’s commonly known as?

Search Engine Optimisation is basically the means of improving a website’s visibility in the search engine’s natural results listing. The process itself is broken into two categories which are known as onsite or onpage optimisation, and the other being off site optimisation.

Onsite optimisation encompasses everything we can do to a website to improve it’s performance and visibility, and is the foundation of the whole process ( it makes about 15-20% of the SEO process). Offsite optimisation is basically everything we can do to enhance a site’s visibility through other external websites such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and the suchlike.

How do the search engines know what to display from a searchers enquiry?

Every 4 to 6 weeks approximately search engines carry something out which is known as a spider search. What they do is they crawl the entire internet and look at the 60 trillion pages that make up the internet and they follow the pages through links, page by page.

This information is organised by category and other factors, which is the stored within the search engines index. The index pages are then scrutinised by many different algorithms that check for pages quality of content (looking at things such as semantics, spelling errors, if it’s unique). It also looks at things such as coding on the page (meta data, bits of information, if there is any blocking script etc). It will also look at links on the page — if they are broken or if they are working, as well as reviews and many other things.

From all this information it’s then able to grade and organise the page by grade. Inevitably when we type something into the results search page it gives us the best answers to our query.

How will SEO go about helping a business?

If you think of it like this, if you were to search for a product, service or any information on the likes of Google/ Yahoo/ Bing, you’ll inevitably not go beyond the first page. Nine times out of ten we generally find what we are looking for in the first 6-8 results (the first 3 being the paid for search results) and just below that in the natural first 5 results. Usually it’s the first 5 results because displays and monitors show that many, usually the top 8, before we have to scroll down the page. Generally speaking it’s within those first 6- 8 results we find the answer to our enquiry.

The higher up the search results page our website sits the more visitors the website will receive.

So it’s about being visible for businesses on the search results page?

Absolutely. Using Search Engine Optimisation as part of your online and digital marketing strategy will only massively increase footfall to your website.

Should people consider using SEO instead of Pay Per Click (PPC)?

That depends on your advertising budget but it would be advantageous to combine the two.

Search Engine Optimisation is bar far more cost effective and on average it receives 15-20% higher conversion rates than PPC ads - but it does take approximately 3-6 months to start paying off, or even longer in some instances, it depends on your competition and what keywords you’re targeting.

Where as a PPC advertising campaign can be up and running within minutes.

Though they are both very different in many ways they lead to the same end result which is sales. If you embark on a PPC campaign by itself you’ll still need optimise your website, or at least the landing pages that the advert is to display. The reason for that is the likes of Google Adwords use a quality score system and the better the quality score of that page (meaning it’s been optimised properly, will help your adverts appear more frequently, but will also potentially reduce the cost per click by having a better/ higher quality score. It’s imperative that even if you want to embark on an SEO campaign you still utilise the optimised method, the first part of it, the onsite or on page optimisation part of the process, to enhance your performance of your adverts.

If you do decide to combine SEo and PPC together, it will only benefit you by doubling up your websites visibility, it will help enhance the brand and product awareness, as well as being able to discover more about your customers and potential customers.

On top of that you can also discover keyword terms you may not have thought of targeting before and see how effective they are. So there’s a lot that can be achieved by using both.

Do you need to be a technical person to implement SEO?

No not at all...

It does inevitably seem a little daunting because there are so many different layers. Just in the ranking factors alone there’s just over 2 different ranking factors within those there are probably about a thousand odd different areas to cover.

There’s a lot to learn, a fair bit to be involved with but it’s pretty straight forward. Some people will find some parts easier than others. If you break it down into it’s finest forms there are three areas to cover which are analytical, technical and creative.

It’s like anything, if you have an artist who is trying to work out a mathematical equation and they’re not good at maths, they can still figure it out with a bit of help, and each time they do this it will become easier.

It’s the same with SEO, anyone is capable of doing it, it is pretty straightforward, there’s a lot of information on the internet if you do get stuck, there are a lot of people like myself who can help train.

It’s very simple, very straightforward and it will help your website and your online strategy to implement (SEO).

I've heard the phrase before 'content is king', which was first quoted by Bill Gates in 1996 when the internet was in it’s infancy, Bill said "Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet..." and since then many online marketers still believe this to be the case today, what is your take on this?

It is by far one of the most important parts of the whole process. The content should be unique, it should be helpful, engaging and useful in one way or another.

What many people tend to forget is that content comes in many different forms from articles and infographics to videos and podcasts. Without content we wouldn’t actually know if we should take out a particular service or make a particular purchase. So yes content is certainly king, you’ve just got make sure it’s optimised and done in accordance to policies and the ranking factors.

I gather there are different forms of SEO some that have a positive effect and others that have a negative effect on a website, what should people be looking out for to prevent any negative effects on their search rankings?

It’s quite straightforward, the good SEO is is known as ‘white-hat seo’, or techniques. These techniques follow the search engine’s guidelines and ranking factors. The idea is you’re creating content for the user as opposed to the search engine. So it’s useful, it leads to the right pages if there’s a link on the page, and it’s simple to read.

Bad SEO or ‘black-hat seo’ disregards the search engine’s guidelines and ranking factors, it looks to trick and manipulate the search engines results. There are such methods as purchasing backlinks, filling a page full of keywords, hiding text on a page ... basically anything that looks unnatural to the human eye is a bad technique.

For example if you were searching for web designers, you went to a page and at the very top it says ‘London web designers’ and the content then starts reading, ‘ We are London based web designers who offer a fantastic web designing service in London,’ you know that this is full of keyword spam. If you use these techniques which you can see are pretty straight forward, you will get your website penalised or de-indexed. The idea is that you’ve got to earn links through an organic natural strategy through people sharing your content and liking / discussing it and such and there’s no way or means of actually purchasing this.

Would you recommend that small businesses use SEO monitoring and reporting tools?

Yes, they aren’t all necessarily just for SEO, they can be for PPC, they can be used for monitoring your social activities, your YouTube likes, your email campaigns — a multitude of different things. It’s vital, regardless, that any business (no matter who they are/ how big they are) they have a website that they incorporate at least, by minimum standard, Google’s free analytics. This is where they will be able to monitor the interactions to, and across, their website. They’ll be able to find information out about the age demographics about their audience, the geolocation and much more about their visitors.

The other things they can actually add, which is also free, is Google’s search console which will enable them to monitor and improve their website’s performance as well as help them to discover more about keywords their website is being found for, as well as looking at things like the structure of their site, the backlinks that are pointing to their website, and so much more.

When it comes to other monitoring and reporting tools there are such things as MOZ, which is renowned in the industry, there’s majestic SEO, another very good name, and another one which I sometimes use called Raven Tool. These can help you monitor a multitude of different areas of your social interactions with your website, it can also help audit certain aspects, including a website of your online and digital marketing interactions. It will always depend on what sort of things you’re incorporating , what areas of the internet marketing activities you’re incorporating, to know which tool would help you and your business. Either way it is vital to have at least one (being Google analytics) setup and running.

What would be your top SEO tip?

Make sure your content gets seen. It’s one thing having a wonderful user friendly and extremely well optimised website full of great content and information, but the search engines use metrics such as likes, shares, comments, discussions etc, in order to try and organise your website. So you must get your content seen!

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