Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, you can’t have failed to catch wind of this mystical thing they call search engine optimisation, or SEO for short. You will, most likely, know that search engine optimisation, in simple terms, translates as ‘getting noticed by the search engines’. You should also know that your business needs it. In fact, SEO is central to the success of businesses today, and without it you may as well shut up shop and head to the Jobcentre now.

Every SEO is painfully familiar with the client who demands ‘SEO’, as if it’s a one-off service they purchase which will instantly get them to the top of Google’s results. This client often overlaps with the one who can’t understand why, within a month, they’re not number one on Google. The first thing we should mention, and heed these words well, is that you should be exceptionally wary of any business or individual who claims to have the recipe to get you to the Google number one spot in a short period of time. You should also be suspicious of anyone who offers to do ‘SEO’ on your website in one fell swoop. This is absolutely, categorically not how it works.

A good SEO strategy is not limited to making your website itself agreeable to search engines, although this should be central to any business’s SEO efforts. Once you have optimised your on-site copy and layout for keywords and metadata, with good, wholesome original content, you’ve done good work, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

SEO is a fine art, and is comprised of various strands of activity that make up the optimisation process. You can pick and choose which ones you do, sure, but unless you are prepared to cover all bases, you risk missing the crucial ‘optimisation’ part of SEO, optimisation meaning ‘to carry out with maximum efficiency’.

Social media is an integral, if much-maligned, and actually rather hotly debated (in SEO circles), part of your business’s SEO strategy. When done right, it has the potential to make your business. It also has the potential to be a damp squib, when handled sloppily. All businesses should hold the Holy Trinity of social media accounts: a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a Google Plus account. From there, it is beneficial, if you have the time/resources, and depending on the nature of your business, to be present on Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. Whilst these secondary sites are excellent news for certain demographics (each has its own key user types), Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus are intrinsically tied to search engine rankings. These should all be well-maintained on a regular basis with interesting, engaging content that has ‘sharability’ (i.e. it has qualities that makes users want to share/retweet/+1 it).

In addition to social media, which comes under the subheading of ‘off-site SEO’, your business website should have its own on-site blog. This needs to be regularly updated with, again, interesting, relevant and sharable content. Your blog should drive people to your site, not necessarily to buy your product or service straightaway, but to build brand exposure and, vitally, to pull in traffic. Good levels of traffic generated by an interesting blog will alert search engines to your site’s usefulness to users, particularly in regard to certain keywords, which should appear naturally within the content of your blog posts. If people are visiting your blog, staying there, making repeat visits, the result is that the search engines see it as useful, and hike you up on the SERPs (search engine results pages). How do you get them there in the first place? Well, that is a mixture of effective use of social media, and influencer outreach.

Influencer outreach is about making intelligent, useful and – most of all – friendly connections with influential people within your industry. It involves being an active voice on platforms like Twitter, getting your hands dirty and contributing to relevant conversations, as well as knowing who’s who and what’s what. It’s networking and PR for the digital age. It’s time-consuming, it’s not directly measurable in terms of ROI, and it’s very, very important.

The social media, blogging and influencer outreach parts of your SEO strategy take care of the outward face of off-site SEO. Behind the scenes, your SEO task force should be tinkering with all the technical aspects of what makes your site work efficiently, including things such as your backlink profile, as well as on-site loading speeds, redirects, et cetera, which are all critical to your site’s performance. A good SEO professional will also be regularly analysing, measuring and reporting on your website’s SEO performance, and making suggestions and adjustments to your strategy in order to further optimise your brand for SEO.

None of these things is done overnight. SEO is an ongoing, arduous and, if we’re honest, sometimes infuriating discipline. However, if you want your site to rank well, there are no shortcuts, and a good SEO strategist will be committed to making your business fly. Us SEO’ers have all complained, at some point or another, about the algorithms and strategies that search engines have implemented that make SEO a harder job than it has been in the past. What sets a good SEO’er apart, however, is knowing the reason that search engines are making SEO tougher on us. And that reason is that they are trying to make the internet a cleaner, smoother, more interesting and vibrant place for the user. Making sure your business is on the right side of these developments, and investing in a future-proof SEO strategy for your business today, is paramount to how your business will perform tomorrow.