SEO 101: What the layman needs to know

In the SEO industry, we take it for granted that everyone understands how the search engines present information – and that some ads are sponsored. But what about people who aren’t “in the know” and don’t understand?

SEO 101: Here’s a great guide to things the layman needs to know about SEO, getting start optimizing their site and possible effect search engine marketing can have.

Sponsored ads

Sponsored ads usually appear at the top of your search results, and should be highlighted by being in a coloured box, inside a border or with a clear text label that they are ‘paid’ or ‘sponsored’ links. You may also see them on websites that are members of the Google AdSense program.

Unlike ‘natural’ search results, which cost websites nothing, each time you click on a sponsored ad, the relevant website is charged a small fee. This is all part of their web marketing budget, so don’t feel bad about clicking, particularly if you’re genuinely interested in what they have to offer.


The term ‘linkbait’ refers to website content designed to attract inward links from other sites – this can be humorous, or helpful, but usually solves some problem or other for visitors to the site.

Having lots of inbound links helps the search engines to view a site as being well respected and valued by other web users, which in turn helps to raise its ranking in the search results. However, the practice of paying other webmasters to link to your site is now frowned upon, and Google sometimes punishes website owners by lowering their ranking, if it realises that this is what they have done.

If a website is really keen to post an article on your blog, the chances are that they’ll be benefitting by adding a link. You should be aware that this is commercial so make sure it adds something to your blog too – perhaps ask the company to tweet a link.

Sorting the SERPs

SEO Definition – SERP’s:  ‘SERPs’ are ‘search engine results pages’ – the page of links you see when you run a normal web search.

However, just because a site ranks top for ‘cheapest car insurance’, it doesn’t mean that it sells the cheapest car insurance. Rankings are based on algorithms that look for phrases used in the website’s text, in links pointing to each page from other sites, and in certain other places (such as image captions and sub-headings).

Some providers wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘cheap’, so might not use that word at all. Luckily, the search engines are getting better at showing results for related words too, so you may find results containing ‘value for money’ alongside those described as ‘cheap’, giving you a better view of the whole market.

Big fish, small pond

In the world of SERPs, having a big, frequently updated website helps. That’s why big brands often make it to the top of the results.

The top results for most broad search terms are sites with tens of thousands of pages at least. If you want to support more independent or start-up companies in your area, add place names to your search and scroll down a little – the smaller firms can often be found as early as positions 6-10 on the first page of results.


Putting it together for SEO 101

Once you know what to look for, SERPs can make a lot more sense – there are times, if you’re searching for a commercial product or service, when the sponsored ads can be a good place to find a legitimate and reliable provider. Other times, you might want to focus purely on the natural results.

Likewise, visit a website that’s been ‘optimised’ and you will likely spot a few certain phrases repeated a number of times in the text. It’s a subtle effect, but once you know what to look for, you see it on lots and lots of pages.

SEO isn’t witchcraft, but nor is it trickery – it is simply a way for web marketers to help sites rank highly for relevant subjects. In practice, it often means your search results will be more relevant to your needs, so embrace optimisation and you will soon be an even savvier searcher than you were before.


AUthor: Kevin Gibbons is Director of Search at UK SEO Agency SEOptimise. A highly profiled blogger on search engine optimsation and social media marketing. Kevin writes frequently for SEOptimise and Econsultancy and can often be found actively contributing on Twitter.  Follow him on @kevgibbo