Search engine optimisation (SEO)

What is SEO?

When you search for something in Google or other search engine, you get a list of search results. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a set of processes designed to improve where a website appears in these search results. How near the top of the search results a website appears depends on a number of factors:

  • how well some technical website elements are set up
  • content on the page
  • the number of other relevant sites that link to our pages
  • how well other competitor websites have done their SEO

Why SEO is important

  • Over 60% of web traffic comes via search engines
  • The higher our web pages rank on a Google listing, the more likely a user will click on them. Users trust the first few links more than anything else.
  • Basically, if your page isn’t in the top positions, users won’t get to your web page
  • SEO is both the job a web team and any content editor. SEO helps us to get to the right people at right time.

How do search engines work?

  • Sites like Google crawls the internet for web pages and looking for links
  • When it finds a page, it tries to make sense of it and stores the information about it
  • When someone enters a search term in Google, it aims to offer the best quality, most relevant and most important results for that search term
  • Our aim is to make sure our web pages are ranked highly for the search terms that Google returns
  • Google uses a number of algorithms to decide how they rank web page. Our job is to optimise as many of those variables as possible on our web page, such as:
    • quality of the content we publish
    • sites that link to our pages
    • website programming
    • mobile friendliness
    • quality of the pages that link to our pages

What you can do to improve SEO

Get to know your audience

  • Who are you writing for?
  • What are they looking for? What motivates them? Make use of marketing intelligence
  • Why will people want to read your web page? What will they do when they get there?
  • Do some key word research, there are lots of tools such as Moz, Semrush, Google Keyword Planner
  • Look at competitor web sites and other channels that users use to gain information
  • Make sure your web page has a clear purpose.

Keyword research

Get behind the psychology of the searcher 

You need to make sure you understand which types of searcher you’re writing for and write your content accordingly. One way to do this is to write questions you think someone will use to find information.

Keyword research

Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website. By researching your market's keyword demand, you can not only learn which terms and phrases to target with SEO, you can learn more about your customers as a whole.

It's not always about getting visitors to your site, it's about getting the right kind of visitors.

Keyword research can be done by using a number of different SEO tools such as SEM Rush or Moz. These tools will enable to you to produce a keyword volume report as shown below.

Keyword planning

Write out your keywords and phrases that support those questions.

Some searchers don’t really know what they’re looking for and hope to stumble on it. For example, they may search:

  • How do I work in marketing?
  • What happens if I don’t get the exam results I want?

Some searchers have a good idea what they want and are going to see if they can find it:

  • Universities that offer marketing courses
  • How can I apply through Clearing

Other searchers know what they want and where to find it:

  • University of Essex marketing course
  • Clearing at the University of Essex

Keyword prioritisation

Once keyword research is complete, you should list out the top 10 words in priority order, and then use then in the various locations. For example:

  • You should give priority to any keyword in your list that is already driving traffic to the webpage from organic search results. If the keyword is already reaching top results it should be given a high priority as you optimize so you don’t inadvertently hurt its rankings.
  • Determine the level of competition for each keyword – this will show how hard it will be to rank in the top listing for that keyword.
  • Use priority 1 and 2 keywords in your title tags and meta data in Sitecore as they are most important to SEO. Then the less important keywords you’ve shortlisted should be used in the page content as well as the top priority keywords.

Keyword stuffing

Don't be tempted to stuff as many keywords into the content as possible. Google has caught onto this and penalises websites for doing it. Even if you do beat the search engine algorithm, it’s terrible for user experience and will put people off once they land on your page.

Instead create content with the keyword(s) you want to include but it needs to sound natural, make sure you have the user in mind, not Google.

Engaging, quality content is key

Content quality has become the number one ranking factor in Google and main other search engines. Google determines the relevance of your page by analysing its content based on several factors. 

We know that Google very carefully examines user behaviour in order to determine the quality of a website. Things like bounce rates (number of users who leave a website after only viewing one page) and average time spent on a page etc, indicate how useful a page is, and therefore, how highly Google will rank them. If one webpage has an average visit time of 12 seconds and another 50 seconds, the 50 seconds page will likely rank higher. 

This is why quality content is so important for SEO.

  • Make sure your text rich, engaging, descriptive.
  • Use the words and language your audiences will be using to search for your content.
  • Google can tell if someone quickly exits our web pages if the content isn’t useful, so it’s important to make sure the content is relevant and helpful
  • Use text on a web page, avoid using images with text on them

Find out more about writing good quality content for the web.

Make sure your meta data is great

What is meta data?

Meta data are snippets of text that describe a page’s content. The meta data don’t appear on the page itself, only in the page’s code. There is the meta title, the text you see at the top of your browser. Search engines view this text as the "title" of your page. There is also the meta description, a snippet of up to 160 characters that describes the content of a webpage. The main purpose is to get the visitor to click your link on Google.

Screenshot of a Google search result highlighting the difference between a meta title and a meta description

Why it's important

  • Every day there are searches being done for your service, product or blog topic. How do you stand out from the crowd
  • Your meta description may be one of the best opportunities you have to convert that searcher to a client, reader or supporter.

What to remember

  • Check the meta data in Sitecore – check the details entered into Content Editor for each of your pages. Review and update them if necessary. Ask if you're unsure of anything.
  • Google looks at meta data, so try to make your meta titles and meta descriptions as unique as possible, and make your meta descriptions as accurate and descriptive of the page content as possible
  • It should be actionable – consider the meta description as an invitation to the page.
  • Be specific in what you are offering – help the user imagine what they will see after clicking.
  • It should include a call-to-action - it’s your sales text.
  • It should match the content – you want the meta description to match the content on page.
  • It should contain the focus keyword – If the keyword matches the meta description Google will be more likely to use that and highlight it in the search results.
  • The meta description should be unique, not duplicated – check the text isn’t copied into other page meta descriptions.
  • Talk about them, not about you – no one is curious about how great you think you are, everyone wants to know what’s in it for them.

Structure your content correctly

Make sure your heading tags (heading 1, heading 2, heading 3 etc) are as descriptive as possible so that search engines can make sense of the content. A user should be able to glance at a page and understand what sort of information is on the page just from the headings. 

Header 1 text is the largest text on the page and should serve as the title for that page’s content. It will be picked up your browser and search engines.

Find out more about structuring your web content.

Image SEO and accessibility


Alt text is used to describe images to visitors who are unable to see them, including screen readers and browsers that block images. Find out more about the importance of web accessibility.

Image SEO

While search engine image recognition technology has vastly improved over the years, search crawlers still can't "see" the images on a website page like we can, so it is important to include alt text to describe images being used.

Writing good alt text

Find out how to write good alt text.

Keep re-assessing your content

Keep evaluating the content of your page, is everything still relevant, what can you do to improve it?

Review the content periodically and check for improvements then optimise on a continuous cycle.

SEO process cycle checklist

  • Research - main keywords using various tools, analytics and competitor analysis.
  • Structure - develop a structure for keywords on each page.
  • On-site SEO - optimise each page for main keywords and content quality check.
  • Link building - build links to other pages.
  • Analyse - search engines take time to update links and keywords, so remember to come back and look at rankings and traffic to analyse results.

Find out more

LinkedIn Learning has a number of training videos on SEO.

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