Skip main navigation

SEO guide 2021: Everything you need to know

In this article, we provide you with an overview of SEO, how it works, and how you can implement it in your own digital marketing strategy.

Fl593 Blog Seo Copy

You may have heard of SEO before, but you might not understand the purpose of it or how it works. If you’re interested in digital marketing, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is essential to know about. In this article, we provide an overview of SEO, including what it is, why it’s important, the different types and how to learn it or implement it in your career.

If you want to delve deeper into SEO, we have a fantastic range of  SEO courses and ExpertTracks that will help you gain insight and expertise into this segment of digital marketing.

What is SEO and how does it work?

SEO is a digital marketing channel focused on increasing traffic to your website through organic search results. Ninety-three percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, so it’s definitely worth paying attention to SEO insights when trying to create a successful website. SEO is a great topic to study online as it requires you to become familiar with search engines and work on your digital skills.

There are countless factors that help determine search engine results, and some of these are still unknown. This is because search engines use continually changing algorithms to determine how relevant results are, plus, they never disclose their algorithms. However, there are some elements that we know have an impact on website ranking, including the page content, meta tags, internal linking and backlinks.

Why is SEO important in digital marketing?

There are several reasons why SEO is so important, but ultimately, it’ll make your website more popular and lead to more business success. Below, we go into more detail about why SEO is a must-have for any business with an online presence, having gathered information from top SEO blogs such as Search Engine Journal, Crazy Egg and Ahrefs, as well as using our own insights. 

To learn more about the world of digital marketing and gain a head start in this competitive industry, you can try our ExpertTrack, The Ultimate Digital Marketing Training: SEO, Google Ads and Cold Email, where you can learn everything you need to know. 

You get more traffic if your site is SEO optimised

This point may sound obvious, but optimising your website using SEO will lead to more organic traffic to your site. Organic traffic refers to any visitors that come onto your website from unpaid search results rather than paid advertisements or links on other websites. This is because SEO improves your website’s ranking on search engines like Google, which is important because 90.88% of pages are invisible in Google. Visibility is the key to more traffic.

It doesn’t have high upfront costs

SEO is a relatively inexpensive means by which a small business can help bring customers to their website since it doesn’t rely on paid advertisements. As such, you can make a huge difference to your website’s success without having to spend much, which is great for when you’re starting out.

SEO improves user experience

We’ll go into more detail about how SEO can improve technical aspects of your website later on, but one of the main benefits of this is that it can vastly improve user experience. This aspect is really important, as users won’t support your business if your website is difficult to navigate, even if you offer a great product or service.

It’s easier to target your intended audience

SEO can help you reach potential customers who you did not previously target by ensuring that certain search queries show your business ranking high in the search results. If you just invest a bit more time into doing keyword research and optimising your site, your target audience is more likely to find you and become customers. Optimising for search allows you to address their needs at specific points in their buying journey.

SEO is ten times more effective than social media marketing

You may think of social media first when we discuss the world of digital marketing, but the assumption that social media marketing is the best way to achieve success would be wrong. In reality, SEO generates 40% of revenue and is actually responsible for a whopping 51% of website traffic.

You can easily measure your success

There are many different tools you can use to measure the success of your website and optimisation efforts. As a result,  it’s easy to quantify how effective SEO has been for business. Google Analytics is the most obvious tool people use to check their success, but there are plenty of other SEO tools out there as well.

You have the upper hand with your competitors

Through SEO, you’re able to keep tabs on your competitors and see how they’re achieving success. For example, you might spend time checking which keywords work well for them. You can also use SEO tools to check out where they get their backlinks from, as often, those websites might be happy to link to you too.

There are always new ways to succeed

As SEO is continually changing to meet the demands of ever-fluctuating search engine results and their updates, you’ll always be able to find new ways to optimise your website and improve traffic. This is an exciting prospect because it means your website will never be static, and SEO is an ongoing process.

What are the main types of SEO?

SEO is a broad and complex channel of digital marketing, and so it can actually be divided into three parts. These parts consist of on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO, although there’s significant overlap between them all. Below, we go into more detail.

On-page SEO

This aspect is essentially anything that affects your website content, and most of it is visible to users. In one of our open steps from our Digital Transformation of Businesses course, experts explain that the content of a website is crucial because that’s what Google and other search engines read and index. When internet users carry out a search and view a results page, website content is the first thing that they see, so it’s important to focus on content quality.

So how do you ensure that you create good quality content that is SEO optimised? We can break this down into several steps, and with practice, all these things will begin to come naturally to you.

Understand the purpose of your content

It’s so important to think about your intentions when you’re creating content. What is this for and who do you want to target? Are you trying to sell something or tell a story? What is the user intent when they search for a particular term?

Keyword research: fat head vs long tail

This is an essential part of on-page SEO. Using an online keyword research tool and Google search, you should check which keywords related to your chosen topic are popular. It’s essential to use a mixture of fat head keywords and long-tail keywords. 

Fat head keywords are the most popular keywords with high volumes, whereas long-tail keywords are longer and more specific. For example, if one of your keywords is ‘sustainable fashion’, a long-tail keyword might be ‘where to buy affordable, sustainable fashion’.

Use H1 and H2 tags for headings

Using heading tags helps to create structure in your website content, making it easier for users to navigate through your website.

Write clear, relevant content

It may sound simple, but if your content isn’t well-written, clear, or relevant, it won’t do well. Search engines favour content that meets the demand of user searches, which is why it’s so crucial to think about user intent and the purpose of your content. If you want to learn more about creating great online content, you can try our course.

Add a meta-description

When people make searches, they see meta-titles and meta-descriptions on the search results page. This means that the meta-description is your chance to pull users in and attract them to your website. Although it’s not directly a ranking factor, they can encourage users to click through to your content. 

Add images and videos

Website content that only consists of text isn’t usually very appealing to users. Adding images, videos, graphs, and anything else that catches the user’s eye will make them more likely to stay on the page.

Optimise everything

There’s no point in doing the keyword research if you don’t then use it to optimise your content. This means including relevant keywords throughout your content and especially in your headings. However, you don’t want to keyword stuff, as this can put off users and search engines alike.

Off-page SEO

Contrary to on-page optimisation, off-page SEO is all about attracting backlinks or getting links to your site in other ways. This can include getting links to your website from other websites, social media, blogs or forums. As experts on one of our open steps say, backlinks are like a popularity vote measured by Google. 

So how do you increase your website’s popularity with other sites? There are a few key methods to consider here, which we’ll go into more detail about below.

Create share-worthy content

Ultimately if you create share-worthy content, people will be more likely to link to it on their websites. Good examples of share-worthy content include popular news stories, lists of resources, and original data or research.

Link building

This is the process of acquiring hyperlinks to your website from other sites. Link building is a vital part of SEO, and it should be a continual process. While some links are acquired naturally, a common link building tactic is outreach, where you contact other sites to try and get them to place a link to you on their page. 

There are countless link building techniques, so if you want to learn how to master this skill, you can enrol on our Complete Guide To Link Building course by ClickSlice.

Social media marketing

Most people will be familiar with social media marketing, as nearly every business, large and small, has some sort of social media presence. This is because it’s a pretty easy way to advertise to customers and gain a fanbase, particularly when targeting millennials and gen-z audiences. 

Under this social media umbrella, you also have influencer marketing. Working with influencers is a great way to gather more interest in your business. If you want to learn more about How to Create a Social Media Strategy, you can try our ExpertTrack.

Technical SEO

Finally, technical SEO is all about ensuring your website meets the technical requirements that search engines set. It also improves the user experience by making the overall website smoother, faster and easier to navigate.

In our open step from Getting Started with Digital Marketing, experts encourage you to ask “Does your website work? Does it load? Are there speed issues? Are there mobile issues?” Load speeds are important because if your site takes ages to load, users may click away from it before they’ve even viewed the content. This delay will increase your bounce rate, which can hurt your chances of ranking on search engines.

It’s also really important to make sure your website is mobile-friendly, as in 2019, Google announced that it would take a mobile-first approach to indexing websites. This means they look at smartphone versions of websites first when considering ranking. So if your website is good on a PC but has problems on a mobile device, it probably won’t rank well.

Other things to consider when looking at technical SEO include:

  • Crawlability. This is a search engine’s ability to crawl and search your site.
  • Site architecture. This is the structure of your website, including the hierarchy of pages.
  • Security. Having a lack of effective security measures can negatively impact SEO.
  • Structured data. This is a way of marking up data about your site, e.g. the number of reviews.

Can I learn SEO online?

Learning SEO online is probably the most effective method, since everything SEO-related exists and happens online. There are so many great resources online to help you learn. Trying an online course is an ideal way to get started and learn the basics, but after that, there are plenty of well-established SEO blogs where you can read about the latest updates and news related to search engines.

What SEO careers are available?

If you’re considering a career in SEO, you’re in luck. In 2018, SEO jobs grew six times as fast as the U.S. job market, so you won’t have to worry too much about job shortages in this field. There’s a variety of interesting careers within SEO, and it also helps to have knowledge of SEO if you work in digital marketing more generally. 

Some examples of careers include:

  • SEO specialist. In this role, you’ll be an SEO allrounder helping to increase website traffic.
  • SEO copywriter. You’ll be responsible for writing optimised copy and content.
  • SEO manager. As a manager, you’ll be leading a team responsible for SEO.
  • Technical SEO. Here, you’ll focus on the technical aspects of optimising a website, working closely with developer teams.

It is quite common for people working in SEO to be freelancers, so if you like the idea of working at home, dipping your toes into different projects, and having more independence, this is something you might be interested in. Once you’ve mastered everything, you might even want to consider setting up your own SEO agency, which you can learn about in our ExpertTrack from ClickSlice.

SEO is an exciting field to work in as there are many paths into the industry, and you’ll find yourself working with people with all different backgrounds. It’s an innovative and ever-evolving industry where you’ll stay ahead of the curve and keep up to date with the latest SEO developments. The US industry alone is worth 80 billion dollars, compared to 65 billion in 2016, showing the tremendous growth potential of SEO.

Keep in mind that if you don’t want to do SEO yourself, you can still hire someone else to help you optimise your website. Even if you’re not interested in learning SEO techniques, your business can still definitely benefit from SEO practices.

Skills you need for a career in SEO

This is by no means an exhaustive list of skills you might need to work in SEO successfully, but it’s a great starting point if you’re considering a career in SEO or digital marketing more generally.

Analytical skills

SEO involves looking at and evaluating data such as rankings, keywords and organic traffic, so those working in the industry need to be able to understand and explain the data involved. They must also be comfortable managing large quantities of information at once. 

Great communication

Collaboration is key, as SEO is only a piece of the digital marketing puzzle. SEO experts will often work with other members of the marketing team or they might even have to communicate ideas directly to clients if they’re freelancers. Therefore, having strong communication skills will help SEO experts be able to put across their ideas both verbally and in writing.

Technical skills

As we previously explored, SEO has many technical elements. This includes understanding Google algorithms and search engines, carrying out detailed keyword research and editing HTML. Knowledge of other programming languages such as Javascript and Python can be useful but aren’t always essential.

Writing ability

Not all SEO experts work on content, but it’s still important for them to understand how good writing can help to optimise content. If you work in all areas of SEO or are an SEO copywriter, it will be essential to write SEO copy and articles.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this has been a useful glimpse into the world of SEO. Since it’s such a wide-ranging topic, there’s a lot more that could be said about it, but we encourage you to try one of our fantastic SEO courses if you want to find out more. As the industry continues to grow and change, we look forward to seeing how SEO continues to be a force within the digital marketing industry.

Related stories on FutureLearn

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now