SEO can seem like a complicated topic for online businesses, and with much misinformation around it, it’s an understandable view.
However, it’s important to see the potential of SEO to improve your site’s traffic and business performance in general.
This is because search engines can deliver targeted traffic to your website – people who are looking for the products or services you offer – if you can make it as easy as possible to find it. It’s a powerful marketing channel.
SEO is essentially about making it easy for your site to be indexed by search engines, and by extension your potential customers, by providing the content and pages they are likely to be looking for.
Sure, if you have the budgets to hire the best SEO professionals, you can make huge differences to your search rankings, but this isn’t necessary. A relatively small amount of knowledge and a willingness to learn doesn’t need to cost much, isn’t hard to implement, and can really make a difference.
With this in mind, here are some tips to improve SEO strategy that are easy to put into practice.
1. Start out by learning the basics
You don’t have to get to grips with every twist and turn of the search engines’ ranking algorithms, or to follow every search blog, but an understanding of the basics of how search engines work will certainly help.
Essentially search engines are there to provide answers to user queries and they index sites in order to find the ‘best’ answer’. To do this, Google et al need to decide which sites to rank, and in which order. This where ranking factors come in.
There are lots of potential ranking factors, and constant speculation on which are important. Google is unlikely to reveal the real answers anytime soon, but the following are considered to be among the most significant factors:
- Links: the number of other pages and domains linking to your site still has a massive impact on your potential to rank highly.
- Quality of links: it’s easy to gain links from irrelevant sites, so quality is a key factor. Bad links can harm your rankings.
- Relevance of content: if your content is relevant to the search term, you’re more likely to rank for searches around that topic.
- Mobile-friendliness: Google will rank mobile-optimised sites more highly for mobile searches.
There’s a lot around SEO you can learn for yourself once you understand the basics – you can see the differences your changes make, and gain an understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
This won’t make you an expert overnight by any means, but there’s a lot you can improve by following some basic principles.
It’s also a good idea to keep up with industry news around search. Things change relatively quickly in search and, while it’s not necessary to keep up with every little thing, it’s important to be aware of changes that might affect your business.
2. Understand how users search
An understanding of your target customer and how they search can be valuable in focusing your SEO efforts.
You can learn from your own data – by experimenting with content or tracking the most popular pages on your site.
In addition, data from site search can reveal a lot about the way your customers search and the language they use. For example, the words that people use to search within your site are very likely to be the same ones they type into Google.
3. Use Google My Business
With Google My Business, Google is essentially inviting businesses to make themselves more visible online. It’s free to set up and well worth doing.
On searches for brand name, GMB results will show prominently on the right hand side of the search results page along with images, contact details and other key information.
For searches with local intent, relevant results with GMB listings are given extra prominence, and dominate mobile search results, ideal for businesses with a local as well as online presence.
It’s easy to set up, but also important that you make the effort to add appealing imagery, keep details up to date and accurate, and also to ask for reviews from customers, as these reviews not only create a good impression with potential customers, but also help your listing to rank higher.
4. Use Search Console
Search Console provides an overview of search performance for your site, and can provide some valuable insights to help with your SEO efforts.
For example, in the search analytics report you can view the search queries which bring traffic to your site, their average ranking, click-through rate and more.
If you see queries with a high number of impressions but low click through rates, this may indicate that your content pages need to work harder to attract clicks. If keywords you want to rank for don’t appear here, then perhaps you need more content to rank for these searches.
In addition, Search Console will allow you to track search performance over time, see how you perform for different devices and locations, and alert you to any issues Google has crawling your site.
5. Look at how the search engines display results in your industry
There’s a lot you can learn from competitors here, and looking to see how they perform for the same keywords and topics your business is targeting can help.
For example, if results are dominated by certain content types in your niche, like video or imagery, then you may need to follow suit. Learn from the pages they create and think about how you can compete with and beat this.
6. Site speed
Speed matters, to your visitors and the search engines. For potential customers, slow loading sites are an annoyance which can stop them buying. According to stats, 40% of customers will leave a site that takes more than three seconds to load.
It also affects search. Page speed is a ranking factor for Google, and it has introduced a tool to help businesses measure their pages’ performance.
There are some simple ways to reduce page speed, such as compressing images and reducing the number of plugins used. It’s also a good idea to check your site on Google’s page speed tool, as this will provide some insight into what may be slowing your pages down.
7. Write content for users, but with search in mind
Content will help your site to rank, but it’s important to write content that will be useful to your visitors first and foremost, not written just for SEO purposes. You also don’t need to post every day (unless you want to) – a regular flow of interesting content will help a lot.
A blog is the obvious outlet for content, but it could be visual content, video, or other formats. Work out what suits you and your business, and experiment to see what resonates with your visitors.
In addition, evergreen content should be the main focus. This means content with a longer shelf life, which retains its relevance over time. For example, a fashion retailer might produce size guides which are useful to customers and don’t date too quickly.
Evergreen content could be in various formats, but the key is that it works on a long term basis, remaining in search results and sending traffic to your site over time. This works better from an SEO perspective, while there’s the added bonus that such content is more likely to attract links over time.
8. Think about content beyond blogs
Every piece of content on your site is important, and can help with search alongside its more immediate uses.
For example, the copy you use to describe your products is there to persuade people to make a purchase by outlining the benefits and uses of the products, explaining key features, and answering possible questions customers may have.
This content also helps those pages to rank for your target terms, so copy needs to be written with search in mind. For example, if you sell a product that other sites are, your copy can help it stand out. Many sites lazily use manufacturer’s product descriptions, which means unique copy can give your site the edge.
9. Use internal linking wisely
Internal linking refers to the links between the pages on your site. This may be through navigational links, or text links on pages. Essentially good internal linking helps you to link topics and themes together in a way that helps readers and search engines.
For example, if you want one of your product pages to rank for a particular keyword, linking back to that page from other areas of the site using that as anchor text not only sends users to that page, but also sends a signal to Google that the product page should be indexed when people search for that term.
10. ALT text, title tags and meta descriptions
These are all details which improve your chances of ranking well, or increasing the number of click throughs to your pages.
Adding ALT text (alternative text) to images (product name for instance) describes them to search engines and makes it more likely that the page, or the image alone, will rank for that keyword.
Here’s the title tag for the suit size guide I referred to earlier:
Title tags are a ranking factor, and they should include the keywords that you want the page to rank for. They are also the big blue links shown in search results and will affect a searcher’s decision whether or not to click on your site. This means they need to be descriptive and appealing to searchers, not just search engines.
Meta descriptions are the pieces of text that appear under the page title and URL in search results. They should summarize the content of the page and can be set in the section of your site’s HTML – on many platforms, such as WordPress, this is very easy to do.
As you can see from the example above, the meta-description has been taken randomly from the page, and has not been written with search in mind.
Compare this to the example below from House of Fraser, which has been written with search results in mind.
11. Don’t go for quick fixes
SEO can take time, so you need to be patient and wait for the things you do to take effect. This can take time, and not everything you try will work straight away.
For example, while a Google My Business listing will immediately improve your search presence for brand searches, a great piece of content can take time to find an audience and attract links.
Therefore, it’s important not be disheartened and look for shortcuts, as this can be a dangerous strategy.
I’m referring to tactics like buying links, which can be used to boost your link profile in the short term. Even if this delivers results, it’s a high risk strategy as Google and other search engines can penalise your site (i.e. demote it in search rankings) for such tactics.
A long-term strategy which looks to improve search rankings by providing relevant and useful content for searchers is the best way forward.