Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is work done to improve the position of a website in search engines such as Google.
While there is no silver bullet when it comes to SEO, there are many things you can do to improve your position in the search results and drive more visitors to your website. Here we give an overview of what to consider when putting together an SEO strategy.
Google uses hundreds of ranking factors to determine the order of sites in its search results. The actual algorithms are kept secret, and updated all the time, but many factors are well known and can be optimised.
You need to be aware of these different factors and optimise each one to give you the edge over all the other websites vying for the top spot. However, be careful not to over-do it – if you try to optimise your site perfectly in every respect, you could end up looking like a spammer! This may result in your site falling right down the rankings – either now, or in the next algorithm update. Instead, anything you (or your SEO company) do should be for the benefit of your users, and not an attempt to game the system. This is known as white hat SEO – compared to black hat SEO which focuses on short-term gains using underhanded tactics and violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
planning & research
The first step is to plan your SEO strategy – to work out what you are going to optimise for. Questions to ask include:
- What are your goals for the SEO campaign?
- Who is your target audience?
- What are their goals and interests?
- What keywords/phrases might they search for?
Using this research you can select the terms to optimise your website for. 5-10 phrases with a reasonable search volume is a good starting point, giving you some diversity without diluting your focus. Over time you can add more.
Next you need to optimise your content for those phrases. You must do this in a non-spammy way, by creating high quality content that is truly valuable to your visitors. Ensure that your key terms appear in each of these places (but in a natural, relevant way):
- Page title (browser title bar)
- Page heading / subheadings
- Article body
- Meta description
Ensure you keep your content up-to-date and regularly post new content so it stays relevant – out-of-date content won’t rank as well.
Within your website, you need every page to be linked from another page – whether via your main navigation, links within the content, or a complete sitemap. This allows search engines to find all the pages to list.
Getting other websites to link to you – particularly relevant, high quality websites – is even more important. This helps to build up your reputation and increase your ranking.
You can build incoming links by:
- Writing good content that people want to link to
- Asking people to link to you – e.g. submitting press releases, asking influential bloggers to review you
- Listing your website on quality, relevant directory sites
- Swapping links with other relevant websites (though these are low value compared to one-way links)
You need a balance of links containing your keywords, which helps you to rank for those keywords, and non-keyword links, which stop you looking like a spammer who’s buying links.
behind the scenes
In addition to the work that content authors do, there are a number of things that the technical team building your website should do to ensure your site ranks well. These include:
- Redirect whenever a URL is changed
- Ensure the website loads fast
- Secure the website with HTTPS
- XML sitemaps (lists all the pages on your site) – which must be kept up-to-date
- Avoid having duplicate URLs for the same content (use canonical URLs)
- Mobile / responsive design (this improves your ranking in mobile search results)
Talk to your web developers to see what they can do to help you.
what not to do
If you want your website to rank well for the long-term, avoid techniques that don’t benefit the user (black hat SEO). They may seem to work in the short-term, but you could be severely penalised in the long-term.
Examples of techniques that have been used in the past include:
- Filling a page with keywords, with no useful content (e.g. to drive users to click on adverts)
- Copying content from other websites
- Buying incoming links to make it look like your website is more popular
- Hiding text where users can’t see it but search engines can (e.g. white text on a white background)
- Showing one page to search engines and a different one to users (cloaking)
These worked once, but now would now be detected and penalised. This can be quite difficult to recover from. Be careful who you hire to improve your SEO – make sure you know what they’re going to do and are happy with it. Remember, no-one can guarantee you top position in the search results.
Once you have visitors coming to your website, you need to be clear about what you want them to do – then optimise your website to lead visitors towards these goals. For example:
- To sell products online (ecommerce), gently lead them to buy your products and make the process easy for them
- To sell products/services offline, show them the value you offer and make it easy for them to contact you
- To simply build up your brand, make sure your branding is memorable and consistent
In all cases, building an ongoing relationship will help. For example, you can get them to sign up for a monthly newsletter, or offer them a free trial. This allows you to keep in contact with potential customers who are not quite ready to buy yet.
track your progress
How do you know if your SEO campaign is working? You need to track your progress over time in several key areas:
- Visitor engagement – time on site, number of pages visited
- Conversion value – to help calculate your ROI
- Search engine position for your key terms
- Conversion rate – how many people sign up / buy something / etc.
- Incoming traffic sources
- Number of visitors to each page
Each of these tell you whether your efforts so far have worked, and what you should work to optimise next.
While a large batch of work may be needed to optimise your website initially, SEO is not just a one-time thing. It can take several months for any SEO work to have an impact, so you need to regularly check the metrics to see what impact your efforts are having. Did the latest changes work as you planned? How can you improve further?
In addition, the ranking algorithms are changing all the time, and your competition are optimising their websites too – so a good ranking today doesn’t guarantee you a good ranking next month. You need to keep an eye on your SEO performance so you can proactively react to any dips, rather than experiencing an unexpected decline in sales.
expand your marketing efforts
SEO is a long-term investment – it can take several months to see results, particularly if your website is relatively new in a competitive market – so you should consider other online and offline marketing strategies as well. For example:
- Social media marketing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Email marketing (newsletters)
- Content marketing (blogging) – which greatly overlaps with SEO, but is not the same thing
- Pay-per-click (PPC) – paid advertising on search engines or websites
- Offline advertising and promotion
These can also help you to build a following, become a recognised brand, and build relationships with influencers and potential customers. In the long-term, this should also translate to more incoming links, bringing a higher search engine ranking.
Finally, diversifying your marketing makes sure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. If you rely heavily on natural search results for your income, and tomorrow Google changes their algorithm such that you drop off page 1, what would happen to your business?
SEO is a long-term investment, but it can give a good ROI because you get a continuous stream of leads with no ongoing cost per lead. If you choose the right search terms, focusing on customers ready to buy, you can also get a good conversion rate.
However, make sure you get your strategy right – do your research and plan your campaign carefully from the start. Create useful content and optimise your website for both SEO and for conversions. Finally, track your progress and revisit your SEO regularly.
need help with your SEO?
Alberon can assist with a full range of online marketing services including SEO, PPC, content marketing, link building, social media and email campaigns. Get in touch for a no-obligation consultation meeting – use the contact form, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 01865 794009.