A beginner’s guide to SEO

It takes a long time, lots of original content and continuous search engine optimisation before your site will rank on Google.

Sometimes, business owners don’t understand that, to get such a high ranking requires time and patience, and that spending even a modest budget might be required. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the term given to a set of practices that help your website achieve good organic search engine results. It’s the practice that takes time, patience and some knowledge of how search engines work. 

The term SEO is often used interchangeably with Search Engine Marketing (SEM). However, SEM is a different type of service involving an advertising budget which is normally spent on pay per click (PPC), and may also include some more sophisticated SEO activities. 

How SEO works

The relevance of the content on the page to what is being searched is very important for SEO. So if your business is promoting football jerseys, for example, it needs not only to reference that, but also the type e.g. Kerry GAA football jerseys. Remember not to irritate readers with excessive repitition, however.

Search engine ‘spiders’ will identify what is being searched, along with a number of other features including what is termed ‘metadata’. The two most important pieces of metadata are:

  • Page title: The first line you see on a search engine results page. This is picked up by the search engine from a line in the website’s code.
  • Description: The line below the title on a search engine results page. This is also found in the website’s code.

Websites are regularly launched with poor titles and descriptions, or even none at all. Some website developers do not have the knowledge or experience to create quality metadata or to advise about the content on the page, so don’t assume your developer is an SEO expert.

There are a range of other factors that search engines will use to prioritise the results that they deliver to users who put a phrase into a search engine. They include:

  • Having an automatically generated and machine-readable sitemap in a format compatible with major search engines.
  • Using human-readable URLs.
  • Using SEO-friendly URLs that can be edited to maximise their SEO effectiveness.

Also, the key metadata of pages (for example, the HTML title, description and keywords) must be editable independently of each other, and of all other page elements (for example, the headline and navigation label). Webmaster tools, such as Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo! Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools, must be configured for the site.

How do you get started?

There are a number of factors to consider to improve your website’s SEO:

  • Keyword research and analysis: Identify up to five primary keywords your website could use, taking your top-ranking competitors’ websites as inspiration. Use Google Keyword Planner to help identify these keywords.
  • On-page optimisation: This concerns HTML, the standard mark-up language that lets you create Web pages. The construction of your page will determine the page’s ranking e.g. URL construction should match primary keywords, H1 tags should use top three keywords, you should use internal links and ALT tags, etc.
  • Technical configuration: This involves ensuring your server is based in the right area (e.g. Irish businesses targeting Irish customers using Irish servers), your website’s load time, among other factors.
  • Off-page optimisation: Generating high-quality, inbound links to your website is key here. This is done through blog and PR activities, as well as targeted social media activity. The key is to get people to link to your website.

There are a number of online resources you can use to access practical information about this discipline, and chief among them is this specialised site directed at SEO professionals.

SEO opportunities and challenges


  • SEO can deliver a highly targeted audience. Research consistently shows that customers trust organic search results over paid search results.
  • Natural search results are generally considered to be far more reliable than paid search results.
  • Your business will not have to pay a search engine for being visible.
  • Long-term positioning and faster loading times. 


  • SEO is not a quick-fix solution, and results will take time to be seen. You must be prepared to put a lot of work into your website’s SEO.
  • Ensuring visibility is a huge challenge, due to the enormous amount of Web pages indexed.
  • Algorithms are regularly changing, so SEO requires constant monitoring. As such, it’s difficult to predict click volumes from SEO.
  • It can be difficult to estimate returns from SEO, as opposed to paid search, which can be monitored easily.
  • SEO can be very time-consuming, and it’s not easy to identify a return on investment.
  • Ethically murky SEO techniques may be used by competitors to your detriment. Whatever you do, stay away from these practices.

If used correctly, SEO will be used across all of your business’s marketing activities, and provide a solid search platform to build an extensive customer base. If you are too busy to research the world of SEO, there are a number of good third party providers out there.

4 Action Points

  • Analyse your website. Look at your primary and secondary keywords, as well as your HTML code and technical configuration.
  • SEO should form part of a wider marketing strategy. This means it cannot be viewed in isolation to your blog (if you have one), email, social media, video content and PR.
  • Decide whether you will hire a third party or do it yourself. There are excellent SEO providers out there, but there are many who claim to be experts that aren’t. It is possible to do the job yourself if you feel it’s worth it.
  • Ensure you stay away from ethically murky practices. The risks to your business are just not worth it.