If you have a website, chances are you’ve heard the phrase ‘search engine optimisation’. SEO is important for making your web presence effective. It is the missing link between your website, and people using Google to search for what you have to offer.

But what exactly is involved?

Programmers, technicians and marketing gurus have written volumes upon volumes on SEO. You could study it full time and still not be able to cover all the theory and strategies out there.

That said, here are a few basic to get you started:

What does ‘search engine optimisation’ mean?

Search engine optimisation means optimising (designing, updating, perfecting) your website so that search engines (like Google) can read, understand, categorise and rank it accurately.

The end goal is to make your website appear as high up as possible in the ‘organic’ (non-paid/AdWords) results when users search for your product or service. For example, if you run a financial advice firm in Yourtown, you’ll want your website to be the top result when locals search for ‘financial planning Yourtown’.

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The higher up your website appears, the more likely it is that people will see it and click through to it. In other words, the higher you are in the listings, the more traffic your website is likely to get. And in the end, more traffic means more clients.

In addition, some empirical studies have shown that people subconsciously attribute extra authority, credibility and value to sites that appear higher up in search results. In other words, they trust that there must be a reason that Google has suggested certain websites above others.

In Google’s own starter publication, they define SEO as being “about making small modifications to parts of your website…when combined with other [small modifications] they could have a noticeable impact on your performance in organic search results.”

How do these small modifications change the search results? Well, search engines send out little bits of software called bots (or spiders, or crawlers) to look at websites and return certain information to the engine.

When you’re optimising your page, you’re trying to make it look good to the bots. The bots have been created to check for certain things.

What are search engines looking for?

Search engines are constantly changing the way they assess websites. The tricky part is that they don’t publish those changes. Website administrators often have to work out the latest standards by a process of trial and error.

The good news is that there are a few basic standards that tend to stay the same. These are easy things for you or your webmaster to work on. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Tidy and logical site structure.Ideally, the bots should be able to find everything on your website quickly and easily. The bots are checking that it wouldn’t take a person too many clicks to get from the home page to     specific page they’re looking for.

site map
To tidy up your site, you first need to review all the pages you’ve currently got. Delete any that are out of date or no longer relevant. Then, sketch out a quick map of your site like the image above. Ask yourself, are there lots of complicated layers? Is it easy to get to each inner page from the home page? How can I reduce the number of clicks from the home page to each inner page?

  • A useful experience for the user.When it comes to organic results, search engines are on the users’ side. They don’t want to just serve up ads and business listings. They want to give users useful resources, news, services, and other handy content. The more unique, interesting and relevant content you have on your site, the better.Wondering what this means for your business? A good starting point is a blog. With a blog, you can show off your expertise, keep users informed, and get clients thinking about the financial services you offer. You can control what you publish, how often you publish, and what level of interaction you enable (such as commenting). This allows you to keep your resources (time and budget) manageable.
  • Good quality content.Search engine bots are sophisticated enough to tell whether written content is of good quality or not. It can tell when a page is full of bad grammar, poor spelling, and nonsense sentences. It’s a bit like Spell Checker in Word.

But search engines go further than Spell Checker. They look for main keywords that indicate what the page is about. They also look for certain secondary keywords that they expect to see in content about the main keyword.

For example, on a page about AFL football, they might expect to see other words like ‘footy’, ‘goals’, ‘points’, ‘umpire’, ‘mark’, ‘centre bounce’, ‘ruck’ and so on. (Still following?) This is known as latent semantic indexing. As the word ‘semantic’ suggests, the bots are trying to put the keyword in context and make sure the content is not just keyword-filled nonsense.

When reviewing your content, try to look at it from the point of view of your average client. Someone who is smart and educated, but may not be familiar with certain concepts or bits of jargon. Make sure your writing is clear and concise, yet thorough and informative. Basically, you want to give the reader enough information to make them confident and motivated enough to take that next step, such as contacting you.

If in doubt while editing, get a second opinion from someone you trust. You may also wish to use a web-based editing tool such as Hemingway Editor. Once you’re finished, you may be able to use plug-in tools within your website publishing platform to double-check how SEO friendly your content is. For example, there are several SEO apps for WordPress.

Wondering what else you can do to improve your SEO? Check out Google’s official starter guide here, and stay tuned for the next Advant blog on SEO strategies specifically for financial services providers.