Does search engine optimisation leave you flummoxed and overwhelmed? For small business owners, SEO can feel like quicksand under your feet – just when you feel you’ve got a handle on what to do, the ground shifts beneath you.
Google’s latest change in algorithm – Penguin 2.0 – was released on 22nd May 2013 and continues Google’s efforts to reduce the reach of spammy, poor content websites.
So, what can you do to improve your SEO while making your website as reader-friendly as possible?
Remember the three pillars of SEO – Content, links and social media
Of course, SEO is a competitive area and small businesses are often forced to play second fiddle to the big players, for whom Google may show more tolerance of suspect SEO tactics, simply because the company has an established reputation.
Pillar 1: Creating search-engine and customer-friendly content
In my view, high quality content adds value to the lives of your customers. It shows that you understand your customers’ pain points, the problems you can solve or the ways you can improve their lives. It also demonstrates your expertise and the reason yours is the ‘go-to’ company in your field.
By having a regularly updated blog or grouping similar content in the same section of your website, you can help customers access the information they need quickly and easily. Quality means structuring, writing and designing every aspect of your website with the customer experience at the forefront of your mind. Your website will only serve you if it serves your customers.
A word about keyword research
I’ve read quite a few online articles recently that make keyword research sound almost underhand or seedy. Certainly, Google’s algorithms are (thankfully) spelling the end of poor quality, keyword heavy sites that show no consideration of the reader’s experience. However, I believe that keyword research is still an essential part of creating a good website.
Why is this? For me, keyword research is all about identifying the words that your customers will use to find you. You might think of yourself as a ‘positivity guru’ or ‘change metamorphosist’ but the chances are that your potential customers will be searching for a ‘life coach’. Keyword research helps you get to grips with the vocabulary that you should use to talk about your business, products and services – the vocabulary that means something to your customers. Remember, your website speak to your readers. If you’re using words they won’t recognise, then you’re just speaking into the void.
In my experience, if you’ve found the right keywords for your business, they will occur naturally in your copy anyway. The search engines don’t just look for the exact words and phrases but vocabulary that is associated with them too. Forget about keyword densities and concentrate on writing relevant content, as well as using keywords intelligently to improve signposting and navigation.
- Is your content written with the customer experience in mind? Does it connect with them emotionally? They probably don’t want to know the details of what you do, just what the outcome is going to be for them.
- When was the last time you updated your blog? Why not brainstorm some ideas for key topics that you can write about with confidence (or task an experienced copywriter to do it for you), then you can plan to update your content regularly?
- Look at your website’s structure – is it easy to navigate or do people have to dig around your site to find what they need?
- Not sure where to start with keyword research? Ask your customers what words they would use to find you online or describe you to a friend. Brainstorm ideas and then use Google AdWord’s free keyword planner tool to look at whether people are searching for those terms.
- Remember to use your keywords in title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags and file photo names.
Pillar 2: The secret of SEO-friendly links
An often under-utilised area of SEO is internal links in your copy. Instead of saying something bland and uninformative, like ‘Click here for further information’, a descriptive link such as ‘Decide which of my affordable business blogging packages is right for you’ can help search engine spiders identify what your web page is about (e.g. business blogging packages) and take visitors straight to related, useful content.
I always recommend using internal links in your blog posts if you’ve written about a related topic in the past. It signposts the way and pulls together content for your customers and search engines.
You’ve probably heard different advice about external back links from other websites to yours. In the past, people used to pay (often vast amounts of money) for a back link service that bought them numerous links from unrelated websites; it was very much a numbers game. People still attempt to create back links by leaving those annoying spammy comments on your blog (make sure you always moderate your comments or use a good spam filter plugin to prevent this).
Since Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, poor quality back links should be avoided like the plague. What Google wants to see is links back to your site from other reputable websites to demonstrate that you are an authority in your field. It wants to know that people are commenting on, sharing and linking back to your content because you have something to say that offers value to readers.
- Check that all the internal links in your website are working and go to the right pages
- Change any boring ‘Click here for further information’ links to descriptive and informative links that include the kinds of words people will be using when they search for information, i.e. ‘Get our complete list of transcriptions services to see which is right for you’
- Is your website easy to navigate? Are you linking as much content as possible to enhance the user experience? Do your page names and menu options reflect the words people will be using to find you?
- Find opportunities to feature as a guest blogger on other websites that share the same target audience as you. There’s no point blogging about children’s nursery decorations on a car website, so nurture connections with businesses in your field. Your guest blog may add extra value to another company’s website and give you a high quality, reputable back link that builds your reputation
- Target high quality directories to list your company
Pillar 3: Social media
Social media gives you an exciting opportunity to engage in conversation with your customers. You can gain such valuable insights into their likes and dislikes, and have a fairly strong barometer of how your brand is perceived.
One of the reasons I always advise clients to identify their ideal customer and their core brand messages is that it’s easier to be consistent across different platforms if you’re clear about what you want to say.
Not every social media platform will be right for your business but it’s a good idea to find out where your ideal customers are hanging out and build a consistent presence on two or three key platforms. Don’t post about your products and services all the time. Social media is not the place for hardcore sales messages. Instead, think about how you can add value and enrich your customers’ lives. Create content that’s easy to share and invites a response.
Approximately 46% of my website traffic comes in through social media and a significant proportion of enquiries begin with the sentence, “I’ve been following you on Facebook for a while and I love your posts…” This is the power of social media. It lets you make contact with potential customers repeatedly, building trust and reassurance which ultimately converts to sales.
- Post a link to your blog on your social media platforms every week – you can even pull out bits of the content to make useful sound bites for Twitter or Facebook, for example.
- Plan ahead – How can you start a conversation with your customers? What do they want to know? You can always use social media to ask them.
- Be consistent and remember that, as with any marketing, social media takes time to grow.
- Can people easily share content they like to popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+? There are lots of plugins that make it easy to do this.
As I mentioned in my recent article about why getting to the top spot of Google shouldn’t be your only focus, attaining high page one rankings is a competitive arena. Concentrate on the customer experience and converting the traffic you have, and you should see an improvement in your rankings. Leave your website to gather dust or stoop to underhand SEO tactics and your rankings will take a hit.
How do you feel about SEO? Are you confident about your SEO strategy or does it leave you confused and befuddled? Have you noticed a drop in traffic since Penguin 2.0 (Google estimate it affected 3.1% of search engine queries in English)?
I’d love to hear from you. If you need help with your SEO strategy for your website, do get in touch and we can discuss it in more detail.