There is no doubt that we are living in uncertain times. Our daily lives have been disrupted beyond belief and many people are finding themselves with more time on their hands. Every cloud has a silver lining (let’s be positive!) and there is no better time to roll the digital sleeves up and engage with some spring cleaning of your website. Everyone is online and search engine optimization (SEO) is as important as ever to ensure that your website is found by those looking for your products / services.
But where should you start? What are the most important aspects to focus on if you want to improve your visibility across the major search engines?
In this post, I will share some quick wins that you can do right now to polish your website and make the most of any free time that you have gained during the pandemic. Search engine marketing can be a little daunting, but I want to demystify SEO and give you the confidence to achieve success and make the most of your online presence.
Before looking as specifics, you need to review your objectives. What do you want to achieve via SEO?
If your answer is ‘improve my search engine rankings’, then you will not be alone. I would politely suggest, however, that this isn’t good enough. You need to know what you want to be found for.
Most online journeys start with a search query (whether by tying it into a box or through voice search), so you need to develop a keyword strategy. You need to analyse what people are looking for online and consider the actual intent of each search term. You then need to ensure that you have published content that addresses these interests.
Keyword research is the analysis of search behaviour and allows you to see monthly search volumes for individual search terms. If you have a Google Ads account, the easiest way to do this is to use the Google Keyword Planner. It is relatively straightforward to use, but there is a great guide at https://ahrefs.com/blog/google-keyword-planner/ if you run into any problems.
If you don’t like Google’s tool (it is not as good as it once was), there are other options available to you, such as https://www.wordtracker.com (one of the original keyword data tools) and https://keywordtool.io which are very good but commercial options so you need to pay for the improved data.
All these tools will show a list of keywords associated with the keyword that you choose to analyse. The range of terminology is interesting in itself, and can often be a great way to identify new content opportunities, but you will also see search volumes for each keyword.
The temptation will be to select the terms with the highest monthly search volumes but these are almost always incredibly competitive and very hard to rank well for.
I would encourage you to focus on the most relevant keywords. By focusing on relevancy, you should enjoy much higher conversion rates on your website as users will be highly targeted.
You need to go through the keyword data and identify the best keywords to target on key pages on your website. You need to be optimising pages rather than websites, so use the exercise as an opportunity to think about which pages are the most appropriate for specific phrases across your entire site.
So, now that you are armed with a list of keywords that you have targeted for individual pages, you need to ensure that you are using those keywords in the right places.
On-page optimization is the term used for tweaking a web page to improve its visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs). These tweaks are aimed to help the search engines ‘understand’ your page. There is no dark art involved, just a focus on using your keywords in particular places to help demonstrate their importance to the search engine spiders.
Websites can be built in many different ways, but most sites now use a content management system (CMS) that give non-technical users the ability to edit the site. Each CSM is different and you may need to ask how you edit particular attributes of a page, but the following elements are the most important for SEO:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
You need to be using your target keywords across these attributes if you want to rank well for those terms. You will also need to use variations of the target keywords throughout the body content of the page, but additional weighting is given to keywords used in the page titles and headings, so it can help improve your rankings directly.
Meta descriptions are not actually a direct ranking factor but they are usually shown on the SERPs as the text snippet, so they can have a significant impact on the click through rate and help to drive more traffic to your site even if rankings do not improve.
You can read more about on-page SEO and see specific examples at https://browsermedia.agency/blog/on-page-seo-guide/.
Whereas on-page optimization focuses on the pages on your website, off-page optimization / link building / online PR is all about the number and quality of websites that link to your website.
Links are extremely important for SEO as the search engines analyse link profiles and consider a link to your site as a ‘vote’. The logic is that a site would only link to another one if they thought it was valuable to their own users. It is an endorsement and an indication of quality.
Not all links are equal though and all the search engines work hard to identify and devalue low quality link building. The quality of your links is ultimately more important than the quantity.
A good exercise to undertake now is therefore to look at your external link profile and identify any potentially damaging links. You can get a list of links to your domain from Google Search Console or there are commercial tools such as https://www.linkresearchtools.com and https://ahrefs.com. Most link analysis platforms offer some degree of automated analysis of link quality, but there is no substitute for a manual review.
Wherever you find links from suspicious sites, you should try to get those links removed. A friendly email / phone call can work but I am afraid that most low quality websites will not reply to you or perhaps demand a fee to remove the links. If you are unable to remove such links, you can use Google’s disavow process to disassociate your site with those links. You can read more about disavowing links at https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en.
As well as removing bad quality links, you should always be trying to build / attract links from high quality sites. This is much more difficult than on-page SEO as you do not have any direct control over the external sites.
You should aim to earn links rather than build them. This is why good content is so important – engaging content that meets the needs / interests of users will attract links with no effort on your part beyond creating the content in the first place. The best approach to link building is to adopt a PR mindset and build relationships with relevant websites and publications.
Yoast has a good overview of how to think about link building at https://yoast.com/successful-linkbuilding-strategy/.
I hope that you will now have an understanding of some key SEO processes and have the confidence to optimise your site. As with any marketing initiative, you will want to analyse the impact of your efforts.
The most obvious measure for success of SEO is by checking search rankings. This may be misleading though as the SERPs are heavily personalised and you may well see results that are not widespread. Google is likely to show your site to you as it knows that you like the site. You may therefore be lulled into a false sense of security.
Google Search Console offers the ‘average ranking report’ which is a very good barometer for analysing movements in search rankings following optimization work.
The ultimate measure, however, should be your web analytics package (e.g. https://analytics.google.com) as this will show you the actual quantity and quality of traffic that search engines send to your site.
You should look for spikes in traffic to the pages that you have optimised as this is very likely to reflect improved visibility across the search engines and a job well done!