SEO Basics (Part 1): What is SEO? Can I do my own SEO?

You might’ve heard of search engine optimisation (“SEO” for short)—but what is it? SEO is about getting more people to your website by being able to find you easily in search engines like Google, Yahoo or Bing. The aim of the game is to optimise your site so that it ranks well—ideally high up on page one—for relevant search results, so that ultimately people click through to your website.  This is part one of a three-part series of blog posts introducing the idea of SEO and explaining what steps you need to take to make sure your website ranks well in search engines.

SEO isn’t rocket science but if you want to get results, you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work at it. And it doesn’t happen magically overnight. Google checks a lot of stuff—over 200 factors!—to determine the ranking of your website (in this series of posts we’ll refer mostly just to Google, but most of what we say about Google applies to other search engines too). The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to do all of these things to rank well in Google. On the other hand, the more of them you do, the better chance you’ll have of ranking well. Think of it like earning brownie points with Google so they bump you to the front of the queue. There are 200+ ways to earn brownie points—the more of them you do, the better you’ll rank. Some of these things include:

  • Freshly updated content

  • Fast loading website

  • Good headings and body content

If you have a Rocketspark website, a lot of the 200 things are sorted for you automatically (see SEO basics Part 2 - How Rocketspark helps you rank higher), but many of them require some ol’ fashioned elbow grease to get the best results (see SEO Basics Part 3: How to do SEO to get higher search rankings?).

Understanding the impact of competition

Some businesses do a poor job of their SEO but still rank at the top of page one, while other companies might be earning more brownie points with Google and be nowhere near page one. Why? Because, in such cases, the market is bigger and so there are a lot of businesses are competing for that coveted page one ranking. This means that a business targeting the phrase “[large town] builder” has a much tougher job than the person targeting “[small town] builder”. In order to rank well, they’ll need to do more of the 200 things Google likes.

Ranking for your company name is usually quite easy and this is what people search for if they’re a referral checking you out or if they’re a repeat customer. For many businesses, their name is quite unique to them and so there’s not a lot of competition for that search. Sometimes when people start a business they think that having keywords relevant to their industry as part of their company name and website domain name will help with their Google ranking. But, believe it or not, it can actually do the opposite, because then they’re having to compete with hundreds of other results relevant to that generic search term.  See our blog post on choosing a domain name.

The real potential for more traffic is ranking well for generic keyword search terms. Let’s imagine someone who’s never heard of your business and searches, say, “bed & breakfast” or “accountant” in their area. This is where competition really has an effect. How many other businesses do what you do in the geographical region you’re wanting to cover? Are there a lot of other businesses or only a few? If competition is low, you could do your own SEO using the Rocketspark SEO guide but if competition is high, there are experts at getting traffic to your website even in the face of high competition. The SEO services offered by a specialist SEO agency certainly costs money, but if there’s a strong return on investment then it can pay for itself.

Diagnosing your competition

The geographical size of the region you’re wanting to service has the greatest impact on how competitive it’ll be for you in Google. If you’re targeting a small town, large town, city, region, country or globally, the competition increases significantly the wider your reach goes.

The other thing that affects competition is how common your industry is. Common industries are things like builders, accountants, mortgage brokers and accommodation. If your industry is quite specialised and you’re the sole business or one of just a few doing what you do in your city or even country, it might be possible to rank on page one without involving a specialist SEO agency.

What are the options?

If your competition is high, we recommend involving a specialist SEO company. If your competition is relatively low, we'd recommend you try and do your own SEO. Even where competition is high, we'd recommend doing as much of your own SEO as you can (as this is a good groundwork to build on) but when competition’s high it does pay to bring in the specialist SEO companies.

Here are some example scenarios that we recommend for SEO:

  • Common industry, small town — DIY or Rocketspark SEO

  • Common industry, city — specialist SEO agency

  • Specialist industry, town/city — DIY or Rocketspark SEO

  • Specialist industry, nationwide, international — specialist SEO agency

So that’s what SEO is, in a nutshell. Search engines are a competitive place. If you want to get results it won’t happen by itself; it takes work. So how do you do it? Read on in this series of blog posts to find out.