Introduction to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

Search engine optimisation (commonly called SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google.

There are hundreds of factors which can help or hurt a page’s chances of ranking well on search engines. The good news? You don’t have to be an expert to do the basics and get more relevant traffic to your content.

This guide is a beginner’s introduction to SEO: basic rules, helpful tips, and links to some free tools and resources.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimisation (commonly called SEO) is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google.

SEO applies to all search engines (such as Bing, YouTube, and more), but Google is the most popular search engine. What works on Google works on other search engines, too.

Organic search traffic, which does not include users who visited a page by clicking a pay-per-click (PPC) ad, is the largest source of traffic for many websites. In 2020, about half of all traffic to Renfrewshire Council’s site was from search engines (46%, nearly 800,000 users). This makes search engines our single largest source of traffic.

It’s not always enough to rank on page 1 of Google, however. The top three results alone receive about two thirds of all clicks, making those positions very competitive. For that reason, it’s important to consider SEO when writing and publishing your content.


A keyword, or search term, is whatever a user types into the search bar on Google or another search engine. It can include a single word or a phrase. Search engines then present a list of web pages which best match that specific keyword.

It’s important for every page you create to have a target keyword, which is your page’s primary topic, as well as some secondary keywords. If multiple pages on the same website target the same keywords, then those pages will compete against each other in the search results.

To determine your page’s target keyword, think about what your page is about. For example, the target keyword for this page could be ‘introduction to SEO’.

If you’re not sure which keywords your page should include, get in touch with the digital experience team. We can do keyword research, which will reveal the best keywords for your topic based on relevance and the number of users searching for them.

Page titles

The page title, sometimes called the meta title, is a page’s name. It is the large blue or purple text which users can see and click in the search results. It is not the header at the top of the page.

An example of a page title in Google’s search results, using the Renfrewshire Council homepage.

Once users click a search result and arrive on a page, they will also be able to see the page title in the page’s tab at the top of their browser.

A page’s title is one of the most important ranking factors, so it’s important to get it right.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when writing your page’s title:

  • Include your page’s most important keyword (what the page is about) in the title, ideally at the beginning
  • Use no more than 60 characters in your title—otherwise, it won’t appear properly in search results or in users’ browser tabs
  • When in doubt, use this template to structure your titles: Target Keyword | Secondary Keyword | Renfrewshire Council
  • Note: we’re currently unable to edit page titles in GOSS, so your page’s main heading will automatically become your page title.

Meta descriptions

The meta description is the line or two of copy which appears below the page title in search results. This is the only place users will see a page’s description. It isn’t visible on the page itself.

An example of a meta description in Google’s search results, using the Renfrewshire Council homepage.

Unlike titles, descriptions are not a direct ranking factor, so a great description won’t improve your page’s ranking. They are one of the first things users see when deciding whether to click a page in the search results, so it’s important to write an accurate and compelling description.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when writing your page’s meta description:

  • Use no more than 160 characters in your description—otherwise, it won’t appear properly in search results
  • Ensure your description is accurate and relevant to your page’s content—otherwise, Google may automatically generate an alternative description for your page, which usually isn’t very helpful for users
  • Include a call to action (CTA) in your description to encourage users to click through to the page, such as ‘learn more’ or ‘find out more’
  • In the GOSS CMS, you can add a meta description under Summary > Summary text in the editing mode of a page.


Headers are the big, bold text which begin different sections of a page’s content (such as the word ‘Headers’ above). Headers are important ranking factors, especially the main header at the top of the page, so it’s important to include relevant keywords in them.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when writing your page’s headers:

  • The Header 1 (or H1) should be at the top of the page and include your page’s target keyword—for example, the H1 for this page is ‘Introduction to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)’
  • There should be only one H1 per page, since multiple H1s may make your page’s topic unclear to search engines
  • You can use as many H2s, H3s, etc., as needed
  • Include your target keyword and secondary keywords in sub-headers, but only when relevant.

Body copy

Body copy refers to the sentences or paragraphs which make up the main content of a page. You’re reading body copy right now.

When users click a search result, Google wants them to arrive on a page that meets their expectations and gives them the information they need. If your page’s body copy doesn’t match up with the topics mentioned in your page title and headers, your page won’t rank well in the search results.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when writing your page’s body copy:

  • Include your target and secondary keywords in the body copy, but only when relevant—you shouldn’t need to think about this too much, since it should happen naturally if your content is relevant and informative
  • Write content that is useful and will sound natural to your readers
  • Avoid industry jargon, which isn’t helpful to users or search engines.


The URL is the address for a page or other online resource, such as a PDF document. It’s important that humans and search engines can understand a page’s URL.

When adding a page to the council’s website, you won’t be able to edit all parts of the URL, but you’ll get to decide the part of the address which describes your page’s topic.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when writing your page’s URL:

  • Use relevant, simple words in the correct order—notice how the unique part of this page’s URL is simply /seo
  • Don’t include irrelevant words
  • Don’t use symbols, such as ampersands (&) or exclamation points (!)


Links (short for hyperlinks) are how users navigate between different websites or pages within a website. They’re also how search engines ‘crawl’ a website (assess and index pages for ranking).

There are two types of links: internal and external. Both are among the most important SEO ranking factors.

Internal links

Internal links connect pages within a website. They help users discover related content. They include links that appear across multiple pages, such as links in the navigation menu or footer, but they also include any links you include in your body copy or within images.

It’s important for every page to receive links from other pages on the website. If a page receives no links from anywhere on the site, that page is ‘orphaned’, making it difficult for users and search engines to find.

When a word or phrase links to another page, the clickable text is called ‘anchor text’. For example, if you need the digital experience team’s help, you can make a request on The Thread. In this example, the anchor text is ‘make a request’.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when setting up internal links:

  • Ensure every page receives at least one link from another page—otherwise, that page is ‘orphaned’, and users and search engines will struggle to find it
  • When writing anchor text, try to use the destination page’s target keywords, since this will improve that page’s rankings on search engines
  • Avoid generic anchor text such as ‘click here’—it’s not good SEO, it’s unclear, and it’s inaccessible for people using screen readers
  • Link only to relevant pages
  • Feel free to link to other websites where appropriate.

External links (backlinks)

External links, also known as backlinks, are links from one website to another. External links are probably the most important ranking factor. They are also the most difficult ranking factor to control. Search engines view them as votes of confidence from other websites.

The quality and quantity of external links a page or website receives is called a ‘backlink profile’.

In the early days of SEO, some webmasters would buy links from other websites, known as link farms, to artificially improve their pages’ rankings. This is now considered bad practice and will result in serious penalties from Google and other search engines.

Instead, you should promote your content via social media, journalist outreach, and PR. Even if your content is better optimised than your competitors, your page is unlikely to outrank your competitors if they have stronger backlink profiles.

Here are some key things to keep in mind when trying to improve your backlink profile:

  • Promote your content via social media, journalist outreach, and PR
  • Include one or two links to relevant pages on the Renfrewshire Council website in any press releases or digital articles you distribute
  • Create content that is more engaging and helpful than your competitors’ content
  • Links from high-authority websites (well-known news sources, .edu sites, and .gov sites) are more valuable than links from low-authority sites.


Sometimes it’s appropriate to redirect one page to another page, usually if the content on the original page is out of date.

There are two main types of redirects: 301 redirects (permanent) and 302 redirects (temporary). Users see no difference, but the two types have very different SEO impacts.

301 redirects (permanent)

You should only use a 301 redirect when you want to permanently redirect one page to another. Do not use this type of redirect if you think you might reverse it later.

Google will transfer most of the SEO value from the original page to the new page. However, a small amount of authority is lost in the process. For this reason, avoid ‘redirect chains’, or redirecting to a page that already has one or more redirects in place. If this happens, you should first remove the redundant redirects.

302 redirects (temporary)

Use a 302 redirect when you want to temporarily redirect one page to another. It’s okay to reverse this later. If you leave it for too long (several months or more), however, Google may start to treat it as a 301 redirect.

In this case, Google won’t pass on any of the SEO value from the original page to the new page. This is because you’ve signalled to search engines that you plan to reverse the redirect soon.

Page speed

Page speed is how quickly a page and its content loads for users. Studies into mobile page speed show that even a difference of just a few milliseconds can massively affect user engagement.

Anyone can quickly assess a page’s speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

A quick, seamless load time provides a positive experience for users, who want to view content without having to wait. It’s also an important ranking factor, since Google wants to rank pages which provide a good user experience.

Mobile page speed is especially important for search performance. Google usually determines desktop and mobile rankings by assessing the mobile versions of pages, so it’s not enough to have a good desktop experience only.

Here are some easy ways to improve a page’s speed:

  • Compress images, since large file sizes will increase load time
  • Fix redirect chains by removing unnecessary redirects (see section on redirects)
  • Optimise your page’s code by removing unnecessary html and JavaScript.