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Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

Since the dawn of the internet, we have used search to get to meaningful information from across the web. In fact, it’s been over 25 years since the first search engines appeared. These pioneering tools were relatively simple, only able to search filenames, but modern search engines move faster and better than ever before. Currently, there are over 5.6 billion searches on Google every day and we rely on search engines to find anything and everything we might need or want – from shoes to theatre showings, from academic information to a piece of trivia to settle a debate in the pub.

How do modern search engines work?

There are a number of different search engines – Yahoo, Bing, Ecosia and of course, Google – but they all work in the same way. They send out crawlers (sometimes known as spiders) to read as many pages as possible from across the web every day. Initially, these were very limited and could only read certain parts of a web page. Now, search engines can use over 200 different factors to understand and analyse your website, it’s content and how trustworthy it is.

When a user performs a search, the search engine will look through its index for relevant pages and then rank and display them to the user. Each search engine has its own way of ranking results, usually based on relevance and trustworthiness.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s the name given to the process of reviewing and editing your website to make it rank higher in search engines.

It’s a long-term project which affects your entire site: everything from fonts and wording right through to the code the site is built on. However, there are some fundamentals which need to be in place before any advanced techniques are used. To make things easier, you can split SEO into two main sections: on-page and off-page. Let’s take a quick look:

On-Page SEO

A key element of SEO is writing great and relevant content, which is something to which all website owners should be aspiring. You should be writing for your readers, not for a search engine, so your content should always be meaningful, insightful and relevant.

On-page SEO is important for helping search engines understand what your pages are about, as well as what the users experience looks like. For example, it’s important to check your website’s code is well written and simple. Search engines don’t see websites in the same way we do – they see the bare code that makes up your pages.

Basically, on-page SEO makes sure your page is easy to read and relevant for search engines.

Image of a 'rising sun' art installation on sea front

Off-Page SEO

You may be wondering how Google and other search engines understand which pages are trustworthy and which pages aren’t. After all, there are some incredibly well-written pieces of content available on the internet which are false and untrustworthy. This is where off-page SEO comes in.

A major part of off-site SEO is called link-building. The goal here is to build a link to your website from other authoritative sources. You can think about it this way: search engines will use those links like a ‘vote’ for your page, the idea being that a site won’t link to you unless you are trustworthy and valuable.

Historically, the SEO industry has taken a varied approach to this, with some taking what’s known as a ‘black hat’ approach by building a massive amount of false links from fake websites. This was extremely effective in the early days of SEO and drove sites to the top of rankings. However, in recent times, it has become increasingly risky, with some big brands being hit with massive penalties, like being removed from search results.

On the other hand, many modern SEO experts follow the principles of ‘white hat’ SEO. This approach is slower but results in longevity and real links from reputable websites and content creators. This is where you will look at your content strategy and build relationships with external bodies and people who will support your work.

What next?

This article has introduced the concept of SEO and how your organisation can plan its approach to implementing it. To learn more, you can read one of the articles linked below.

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up to our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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