Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), or how to rank high on search engines, might feel like a tedious task at times, but it is worth spending a lot of time on. The success of your website, aka one of your most precious – and expensive – business tools, pretty much depends on whether or not you have your SEO strategy properly figured out.
So! Let’s dig in and make sure your website ticks all the boxes, shall we?
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation refers to the various tactics used to increase the quality (relevance) and quantity of website traffic. It is THE most important, powerful and rewarding internet marketing strategy. Not doing SEO is the one mistake you can make that will ensure you can kiss your return on investment goodbye: your website, without SEO, will almost certainly fail to bring you any new leads at all.
How does it work?
Typically, search engines such as Google or Yahoo are programmed with algorithms that dictate what people will see and in what order. Algorithm is a scary word to us mere mortals, but really it is quite simple. On one side, people search for stuff, click or don’t click, scroll or don’t scroll, buy or don’t buy… On the other side, websites and web pages are competing hard, waiting to be seen, waiting to be loved. It’s the search engine algorithm’s job to use all that data and make both sides meet, when it is more likely to result in something great: a click, a happily ever after…
My product sells itself, do I really need SEO?
I cannot stretch this enough. Yes, yes, a hundred times yes! You can be the Queen of England, if people don’t see you, they won’t care. Your number one priority is to be in the search engines’ good papers, to be certain people WILL, in fact, see you. Keep in mind, 93% of all traffic to websites come from search engines, which is 300% more than traffic driven by social media.
As a business owner, your online goal is rather straightforward: to rank as high as possible in the search engine results page (SERP). Why? 91.5%, that’s why. That’s the average traffic share of the sites listed on the first Google (world’s biggest search engine) results page. What’s more, 75% of people never click past the first results page – and why would they, if they have already found what they want. As per the first link, it gets about 33% of ALL traffic, regardless of which search engine. See where I am going with this?
Statistics have proven it time and time again: successful SEO will increase your website’s visibility online and ensure that you capture your targeted audience, which in turn will boost your business’ profit. The more visitors on your website the more customers for you, even if your conversion rate stays the same. Be aware though, that SEO focuses exclusively on improving unpaid results (also known as “organic” results) and excludes paid placement. Studies have shown that 70 – 80% of all search engines users totally ignore paid advertisements anyway. Just taking the easy way out and spending some money on an ad will never be as efficient as a great SEO setup.
Convinced? Roll up your sleeves and let’s do this, believe me, it will pay off!
Do you have the whole package? Use this checklist to find out.
To achieve a well-rounded SEO strategy, you need to work on three key aspects:
- Technical SEO – Can the search engine easily read, explore and index your website?
- On-site SEO – Is your content credible, relevant and structured?
- Off-site SEO – Does your website have authority on the web?
So many people tend to believe SEO is all about content writing and keywords. It’s not. Technical SEO – which is basically everything BUT content – is crucial on so many levels. Search engines cannot, or will not, index your website if they cannot easily read it, or if they think it is a scam. And a website which isn’t indexed will generate virtually zero organic search results. Besides, many metrics that show user’s engagement have a bigger impact on ranking than content: time the user spends on the site, bounce rate (% of visitors that leave the site after viewing only one page), number of pages the user has explored on the website, etc.
No need to worry. Most of your website’s technical SEO will be taken care of automatically by the Content Management System you use to host your website (i.e. WordPress). Professional web developers – like, say, us – can also handle it for you.
But keep reading! It’s still good for you to know what needs to be done:
Optimise loading speed
Search engines like fast websites better. There are many ways to speed up your website: use fast hosting (with improved server response time), implement a browser cache policy (the browser remembers your website and loads it faster if the user returns to it later), compress your web pages, compress your image files, keep the use of plugins to a minimum, minify your website’s code (use only one Cascade Style Sheets, delete unnecessary line breaks and spaces in your HTML, etc.).
Secure your website
Implement the secure HTTPS protocol by installing a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate – technology that creates an encrypted link between a server and a web browser – on your website. Cybersecurity is a major concern to search engines. Google said it themselves, they want “https everywhere”.
Maximise your website responsiveness
A responsive design adjusts itself so that your website is displayed in its best format on all devices (mobile, tablet and desktop). It’s all about the user experience; a responsive website guarantees an enjoyable navigation to users, hence is strongly prioritised by search engines. Furthermore, around 40% of visitors will skip to a different result if they land on a website which isn’t mobile-friendly. You don’t want that, do you?
Maximise your website functionality and usability
Again, think user experience. You want your website’s visitors to find the information they want effortlessly. If your website is highly functional visitors are more likely to engage, which will make search engines more likely to consider your website a high-quality result. Use “breadcrumbs” and extensive internal linking to ease navigation between pages, avoid broken links as much as possible, increase the website’s interactivity by giving visitors a way to reach out (comments, contact forms, etc.), use a clear and light design (spaced out elements, readable fonts, etc.)…
Submit a sitemap
An XML sitemap is a list of your website’s pages and an absolute must if you want search engines to be able to find and crawl every part of your website. It acts as a snapshot, a roadmap of your site and tremendously assists search engines with navigation and so, by extension, with indexing your website.
Fix duplicate content issues
Duplicate content is very often either confusing or dishonest. Therefore, search engines don’t like it. Use canonical tags (HTML elements) to let the search engine identify which URL is the canonical, or preferred, version of a web page.
Write Meta description for all your pages
The Meta description is a HTML tag that sums up, in usually no more than 160 characters, a web page’s content. It is displayed in search results mostly when the searched-for keywords are within the description, so it really deserves that you give it some thought and attention. Meta descriptions are very useful to increase your click-through-rate – that is, the proportion of people landing on the results page who will click on the link to your website.
Deploy your website with Analytics and Webmaster tools
SEO starts and ends with knowledge. We must look at it, and prepare for it, as a marathon, not a sprint. You need to continuously monitor how your website is performing to update it and/ or fix it accordingly. Yup, you’re in it for the long run my friend. Google Analytics is the data tracking tool that we all cherish which, integrated with your website, will tell you more than any magical sphere or tarot cards ever could.
Still with me? Great! Let’s move on to the fun bit.
On-site SEO (also known as on-page SEO)
You will like this one, it’s about content. If content isn’t everything in SEO, it is nonetheless a key factor. Because I like numbers, let me throw another one on here: improved content has been known to lead to a rise of blog traffic of as much as 2000% (whuuut!!!). Good news, on-site SEO is not rocket surgery (or is it brain science?) and you can be a superstar at it with little to no technical skills whatsoever.
How? I am so glad you asked…
Create a hierarchy to structure your content
A good website – and a good brand – tells a story and guides the reader from chapter to chapter. Picture this: an IKEA shop where you can’t just go wherever you want, you have to follow a pre-set path, a path which isn’t random, a path meant to seduce you (Charlotte, darling, look at this gorgeous kitchen) and then trigger impulsive purchase (Oh my gosh Steven, isn’t that the exact same salad bowl from the kitchen earlier? It’s so cheap, let’s get it!). Well, your website? Same thing. Seduce away, create a page per topic or per service or per product, and take your user exactly where you want them to go, all the way to the “checkout counter”.
Write simple, descriptive and impactful page titles and URLs
Whether we like it or not, keywords are an essential part of SEO. Your website is more likely to rank high (about 1.5 spots higher actually) if you already feature strong keywords in your titles, company name and domain name. Page titles are also meant to help users quickly relate a page to a solution to their problem, which will optimise their satisfaction.
Google makes available to the public wonderful data analysis tools (AdWords and Analytics): use them! Based on the data from your old website, make a list of the best performing keywords – the ones that your targeted audience search for and click on the most. I also recommend having a look at the websites of your competitors/ peers who rank higher than you on search engines (the first 3 or 4 links will do) to identify industry-specific keywords they recurrently use. In your website’s copy, you’ll want to use both short-tail keywords (i.e. “mother-in-law”) and long-tail keywords (i.e. “how to get rid of my mother-in-law legally and without violence”). 50% of search queries are four words or longer so don’t neglect long-tail keywords.
Little warning: keywords are great and all, but it’s also important that your text stays informative and nice to read for the users, so don’t overdo it!
Want to gain some valuable time during the keyword analysis phase? Use the free 4BIS Word Counter tool we developed in-house to identify which words are on a specific web page and how many times they appear. Click here to get started.
Do not underestimate the power of visuals
Visual content definitely has its role to play in boosting your search engine ranking. A good quality video is for example 52 times more likely to be pushed to the first page of Google than a text article. Make sure you use originals, though. Stock photos and stock images don’t do much for your SEO, it’s a ‘when everybody has it nobody wants it’ kind of deal…
Tailor for local search, if applicable
Do you have a physical location/ store and do you target local clientele? Well then, you’re going to want to have a sparkling and detailed Google Maps profile, with photos, good reviews (encourage your past clients to write them), and tutti quanti. Just look at the facts: 4 in 5 customers use search engines to find local information; 80-90% of shoppers read online reviews before buying a product; 75%+ of people who search on their smartphones for something nearby visit a local business within one day. Need I go on?
Off-site SEO (also known as off-page SEO)
Alright. Now that you have a freaking fantastic and awesomely cool website… it’s time to make friends! Come on, don’t be shy.
Off-site SEO refers to the actions you are taking to create a community around your website, build your website’s popularity and establish its reputation as a trustworthy and qualitative source. It can be divided into two main categories: your link-building plan and your non-link-related marketing.
Search engines consider websites that are often linked back to, to be an authority on the web. Said websites will often rank better than equally good websites with fewer backlinks. To create backlinks, you have several options. 1/ Making sure you offer rock-solid value-adding resources (i.e. blog, documentation…) that might influence your visitors to “talk” (share links) about you to others; 2/ Manually building backlinks by asking customers/partners/suppliers to link to you; 3/ Linking back to yourself when you post press releases, comments on forums, etc.
Tread carefully with the latter… the dark side of the force, commonly called negative SEO (when search engines decide you are not one of the cool kids), is not very far away. It will hurt your credibility to be back-linked via dodgy sites and to be regarded as a scamming villain posting links all over the place.
This isn’t the best name I could come up with, since essentially non-link-related marketing still aims at somehow getting, well, links and references to your website. But you get the idea: be active on social media (hashtag love it), attend networking events, build customer loyalty…
BAM. That will be it for today. If you read all this, congratulations, have yourself a cookie! I hope you enjoyed the article and wish you the best of luck in your SEO journey.
Online Marketing specialist for the 4BIS team.