With so much information available about search engine optimisation, as well as lots of conflicting advice, it can feel as though SEO is an unfathomable mystery outside of the reach of small businesses. In fact, I think Google’s ongoing efforts to improve the quality of search engine results pages (SERPs) are actually making it easier for small businesses to be seen and rank well.
Ultimately, the websites that focus on providing a high quality customer experience are the ones that will win big in the battle for page one of Google.
Believe it or not, there are some simple changes that you can make to your website today that should have a positive impact on your rankings for your chosen search terms. You may not see results overnight but with a bit of planning, consistency, careful monitoring of Google Analytics and focusing on the customer, I’m confident you will see some improvements with my SEO-boosting steps.
1. Install Google Analytics (if you haven’t already)
Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools both give you lots of information that you can use to boost your SEO efforts. If you’re not using them yet, I really would recommend that you start. You can find out more about setting up Google Analytics here and you may also find this article on Wordtracker about setting up Google Webmaster Tools helpful.
Google Webmaster Tools will give you some really useful information about the traffic coming into your site via search engines. Go to ‘Search traffic>Search queries’ in the left hand menu to see which keywords people are using to find you and where you’re ranking for them on average. You can even click on the keyword to see how often you’ve ranked in various positions to arrive at this average.
Click on the ‘with change’ option to see whether your website has gone up or down in the rankings, as well as to view the performance of your click through rates.
What words are people using to find you? How can you better use these words in your site to provide a more user friendly experience? I’ve put some suggestions below.
2. Decide on a unique keyword or phrase for each page
To rank highly for a specific keyword or phrase, you might feel that the best move is to incorporate it into every page of your website. In fact, this could seriously harm your SEO efforts. If, for example, I optimised every page of my website with the keywords ‘freelance copywriter’, I would present the search engines with quite a conundrum. The search engines are seeking to return high quality, relevant search results but if I use ‘freelance copywriter’ as my focus for every page, how can I expect a search engine to know which page would be the best one to list in their SERPs?
Instead, it’s far better to have a unique focus for each page of your website. This way, you’re saying to the search engines, “Oh, so you’re looking for help with writing an ebook, well, check out this blog here” and leading them straight to the right page.
3. Make sure you’ve completed your meta data
Look at your meta data, particularly your SEO titles and descriptions. Not sure what I mean by SEO titles and meta descriptions? Check out this recent SEO 101 blog post, which should bring you up to speed.
Although meta descriptions are not used as a ranking factor for your website in SERPs, I would recommend viewing them as your call to action. Your SEO titles and meta descriptions are potentially the first thing someone sees or reads about your company, especially if you have turned up in a search result and this is their first contact with your business.
- Are you reflecting what people will actually find on the page?
- Is your description compelling?
- Does your meta description create interest or show how people will benefit by clicking on your link over the others listed in the same results?
- Do your SEO titles and meta descriptions include the unique focus keyword or phrase for each page?
If you don’t fill your meta description in, Google will populate the description by default, probably with the first 156 characters (approximately) of text from the web page in question. This means that potential visitors may not see the message you want to communicate.
Did you know that it’s better to have no meta description and let Google populate this copy in SERPs than to use duplicate meta descriptions for every page? Google views duplicate descriptions as a big no-no.
Ideally, your meta description should be 156 characters or less to ensure that you’re not cut off mid-sentence. The more click throughs links to your website generate, the more the search engines will see your site as relevant and of good quality, which will boost your SEO efforts in the long-term.
Aim for SEO titles of fewer than 65 characters. I would always recommend ensuring that your focus keyword for each page is as near to the beginning of your SEO title as possible to show the relevance of the content. It’s also a good idea to include your company name in your SEO title (probably towards the end unless people are likely to be searching for your brand) or other related keywords. For a really user-friendly and SEO-friendly website, make sure that every page has a unique SEO title with as little duplication as possible.
If you have a WordPress site, plugins such as Yoast or All-in-one SEO make adding the meta data to each page incredibly easy (see the screenshot below):
4. Make your headings relevant
I’ve talked about the SEO boosting impact of headings in several of my past blogs (see Essential features every customer-friendly website needs, How to survive the blink test and Are you harnessing the power of your headlines?).
The thing is that the main heading on each web page represents prime real estate when it comes to keeping visitors on your site and telling the search engines what the page is all about. Please don’t waste it by making your main title, ‘Welcome’. Yes, ‘Welcome’ sounds warm and friendly but it doesn’t tell the search engines anything. Even worse, it doesn’t give visitors any clues as to what you’re offering. Most people look straight at the top left hand side of a web page first – they expect you to make their life easy by telling them whether they’ve found what they’re looking for.
Think about how you can best describe your products and services. What words will people be using to find you? It’s these words that should be in your headings and subheadings.
By having a unique focus keyword or phrase for each page, it’s easier to craft your headlines. How can you incorporate the focus keyword or phrase into your main heading so that it feels natural and informative?
Think about your subheadings too. Does at least one use the same keywords?
Going back to the SEO basics, it’s essential that you tag your headings properly. If you have a WordPress site, you can do this easily by choosing the appropriate heading option from the pull down menu shown below:
Header tags are most useful when they reflect the content on the page. For example, the main header should be given an H1 tag. Your most important sub-heading (or possible several sub-headings, if they’re equally as important) should have H2 tags. Your less important sub-headings should have H3 tags and so on.
I often see websites where people have applied a heading tag to whole paragraphs in an attempt to get the search engines to pay attention to all this copy. I wouldn’t recommend this tactic. The idea is to help search engines – and, more importantly, website visitors – decipher the importance and structure of the on-page content, not overwhelm them by giving everything equal prominence.
5. Create unique alt tags for all your images
Are you using alt tags properly behind all your images? If you’re not sure what alt tags are and how to use them, then you might find my SEO 101 article helpful.
Search engines will read your image alt tags and look for the use of keywords, although hiding a list of keywords behind an image is a black hat tactic that could land you with a ranking penalty. Once again, think about how you can use alt tags to enhance a visitor’s experience of your website by using words that reflect the content and function of each image.
Look at the names you’ve given your images too. Could you have used your focus keyword in the file name?
While we’re on the subject of pictures, captions are also a good way of incorporating your focus keyword or phrase naturally into a page. In addition, people tend to look at images before reading some or all of the copy, so think about how you can use your captions to support the main message of your page or article.
6. Review your incoming and outgoing links
There’s no doubt that high quality links from reputable, good authority websites are important for boosting your SEO efforts but I also think we need to keep the right perspective. Links should be on a page to enhance the visitor’s experience. If you can provide them with additional information, such as related articles, or supporting source material, then a link should stay. If it’s there solely for link building purposes, it probably needs to go.
Ask yourself, are your links relevant? Do they make it clear what people are clicking on? Do they enrich the user experience?
7. I’ve saved the most important SEO-boosting step for last – never lose sight of the reader!
It can be hard to see our websites from a visitor’s perspective but it’s definitely worth doing (if you’re struggling, why not try asking a trusted friend for their opinion?). Are there massive blocks of text on the page? Does the copy look overwhelming and off-putting as a result? It isn’t so much that there are too many words, but more how the words are presented. Research would suggest that longer blogs tend to create more engagement. However, it is important to make them easy to read.
- Bring out key points with bullet points
- Use bold font to highlight important words and phrases
- Break up the copy with sub headings that cover the essential points of your article
- Have a clear call to action
- Ask yourself, “So what?” about every element on the page – does it need to be there?
I know I say it constantly (but only because it’s true) – focus on your customers and your SEO will immediately benefit. Also, I think it’s important to remember that SEO is an ongoing process. As Google refines and tweaks its algorithms to provide higher quality SERPs, those of us with websites can continue to refine and improve our content to reflect what our customers want and need.