Ready to show the world your online home?
Kick-start your new website with these SEO tips.
You’ve launched your new website, ready to welcome crowds of new customers. But, if no-one finds your new website, how will they see what you have to offer?
And that’s why search engine optimisation (SEO) – the earning of traffic through search engines – has been such an important topic for site owners for over 20 years. Organic traffic, as it’s known, is the lifeblood of many websites.
The bad news about SEO is that it’s not as simple as flicking a couple of switches. Nor is it a one-time deal; SEO has to be a consistent part of your ongoing marketing. There is also an overwhelming amount of information available online – how do you know where to begin?
That’s why we’ve put together this guide of SEO tips, tricks & tactics. For most websites, the same fundamental pieces of advice apply – and we’ve gathered the best to get you started. We’ve added where you can find more information, plus our favourite tools to get the job done.
The good news is that despite its coverage, most sites owners don’t do SEO – a bit of dedication will put you ahead of a lot of the competition. Even better, these are ideas that don’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of code to try out.
SEO can seem intimidating, but anyone can understand the basic principles. Whatever your skill level, there’s always an opportunity to improve your site. Ready to get started?
How to setup for SEO
The first step to earning traffic? Getting your website setup for SEO. This doesn’t mean changing your website (not yet!) Here, we’re going start with some of the tools available, many of which are free or from the search engines themselves. With these we can look at what’s happening now, and get data on what we can do next.
As a discipline, SEO is flooded with tools, and knowing which to use and in which situation is a minefield even for seasoned professionals. However, the tools below are essentials in any campaign, helpful whether this is your first site, or your 1000th.
1. Know how much traffic you get with Google Analytics:
If you do nothing else, installing analytics software is the one SEO tip you must try. Free, flexible and powerful, Google Analytics lets you track how many people are using your website, and what they do when they are there.
It can track sales, what content interests your audience the most, and how your audience finds you. Getting started with Google Analytics does require a little bit of technical know-how, but if you are using one of the most-popular content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, there are plenty of tools and in-depth advice to make it easy.
2. Use Search Console to see what Google makes of your site:
What if I was to tell you Google has a powerful collection of tools that tell you exactly how often they crawl your site, what they think it’s about, and even suggestions on things they have trouble with? And that you can have it? For free? You’d want it, wouldn’t you?
Well, you can – Google Search Console is a free service to help monitor and optimise your site’s performance in search results. This is essentially free advice from those we’re trying to impress.
Getting started is simple. You verify that you are the owner or admin for a site by adding a meta tag to your homepage’s HTML code, uploading a file to a server or through your Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager setup.
Give it a few days to gather some data, and a host of options are yours. Use Search Console to ensure Google can understand your content, see which queries drive traffic (plus how often people click on you site in the search results), monitor spam issues associated with your site, even who is linking to you plus so much more. Search Console is often overlooked, but using it will make a huge difference.
3. Get more information with Bing Webmaster Tools:
Here in the UK, Google is by far the dominant player in the search engine market. However, there are still millions of searches done using Microsoft’s search engine every day.
Understanding what they think of your site is another way to improve your SEO efforts. Just like Google, they have a great tool, Bing Webmaster Tools, with free information.
As it gives different data to Search Console, you can also get different ideas on how to improve your website. It even comes with SEO reports and an SEO Analyzer to get you started with actionable recommendations. Just like Search Console, there are different ways to verify your site to register and get going.
Want to learn more?
- How to create custom dashboards in Google Analytics (to save you time by putting all your favourite metrics in one place)
- Creating custom dashboards in Google Analytics
- Google Analytics for WordPress
- An instant SEO diagnosis using Google Analytics
- Using Search Console to find improvements you can make in only 3 minutes
- SEO 101 show (a great introduction to some of the SEO’s fundamentals)
How to research keywords
One part of SEO many have heard of is keyword research. After all, every time we use a search engine, we’re using a keyword (the name is a misnomer, most keywords have more than one word in them!)
Many SEO campaigns start with keywords – knowing what the audience within your niche is searching for is a powerful advantage. During this we’re going to use tools to research the real words people type in search engines. Speaking the language of your audience, and not technical jargon, is how you’ll reach them – just as in the offline world.
Once you have a variety of keyword ideas, you can then use them for on-page SEO, improving your content, building helpful pages and finding relevant sites in your niche.
1. Give your website a home for all topics:
Let’s begin with something practical – think of all the important topics our website is about. Don’t try and come up with every keyword variation, but do group your ideas in topic buckets – each bucket covering a page or closely related set of pages.
If you are blogging, then you’ll have a bucket for each of the major themes you cover, such as cake recipes or restaurants in Birmingham. If you have a business site, you’ll need a bucket for each product or service you offer.
Now expand these topics into a list of keywords. Taking each topic in turn, think of all the different ways someone might search for them. What would you like our site to rank for? Put yourself in the shoes of your audience – what words would they search with to find your content?
If nothing else, making sure you have a suitable home for your major topics means you are thinking about how visitors will find your product, service or content.
2. See what keywords your site is visible for:
Before finding fresh keywords, a smart way to get ideas is to see what you already rank for. These are the topics Google or Bing already think you are a relevant resource on – this can either highlight that they haven’t found you yet, some topics you’ll be surprised by, or where your site has already managed to make progress.
Using third-party tools, such as SEMrush or Serpstat (both of which let you run a number of free reports), you can get a snapshot of the keywords your site is visible for. You might not be high enough to earn traffic with these rankings yet, but you have to start somewhere!
3. See which keywords send traffic to your site:
If you’ve set yourself up with Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools, you can now get some free keyword ideas.
Both tools show exactly the search terms they have shown your site for, and how many people have clicked on your result.
For example, Search Analytics data details the queries you’ve appeared for, the average ranking position of your page and how many folks have chosen to click on your result.
4. Expand your keyword targets with related searches:
A fantastic and free way to get new ideas for keywords in your niche is by using the data Google gives for each search. After you do any search in Google, you’ll find Searches related to it at the bottom. Can you use any to improve your content?
Similarly, we can get lots of ideas using Google’s Suggest functionality (the list of ideas Google shows when you start typing in the search bar). These terms appear as Google is frequently seeing them used.
Even better, some of these tools let you do the same thing for YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia and more to get other search types such as video or retail terms.
5. Check out your competitors:
Another quick, and valuable SEO tactic – see what your competitors are ranking for. Go to one of the tools used to check out our own rankings, but put in a competitor domain. You’ll quickly see what terms they are getting traffic from, and can take the best for yourself!
If you don’t know who your competition is, search for some of your most important keyword targets – sites that consistently rank well are the ones to take a look at.
Don’t put in a huge website that sells many items such as Amazon (unless you like digging through mountains of data!) Pick someone big enough to have a lot of keywords, but niche enough to specialise.
Now, just because a competitor is ranking well for a keyword, doesn’t mean you should try and target it. It has to be highly relevant to your site and audience. But, this is a quick and effective way to use others folks’ hard work to uncover audience interests.
6. Choose suitable keyword targets:
At some stage you are going to have a large list of potential keywords. We need to find a way of picking the best ones to concentrate on. Within this we want a mix of head and long-tail terms.
Head terms are searched more frequently, have less words (3 or less in most cases) and are often much more generic and competitive as a result. Long-tail terms are longer phrases (commonly over 3 words) and more specific. While long-tail keywords are usually less popular, we can usually tell exactly what the searcher is after. Think of shoes vs. men’s brown chelsea boots.
There are a number of tools we can use to find keyword volume data, including Google’s Keyword Planner (which requires an active AdWords account to make full use of), SEMrush (paid and free options) and WordStream (paid and free options).
Use these to remove keyword ideas that have too little, or even too much, volume, generate a healthy mix of head and long-tail targets, check out the competition and even find new ideas.
Want to learn more?
- An introduction to keyword research
- Keyword research lessons to get you started
- Keyword research: a real world guide (requires sign-up, but is free!)
- How to do keyword research for SEO
- Keyword research for e-commerce websites
- Google Trends – a tool to show keyword popularity over time
- Introducing SEMrush’s keyword magic tool
- 40 ways to use SEMrush for SEO data
On-page SEO principles
Of all the SEO improvements you can make, one of the ones you have most control over is on-page optimisation.
The tactic of improving your pages to earn more traffic through being more relevant to search queries, on-page SEO is something everyone can do. Our goal is to craft a page that helps the searcher achieve their goal, answering the intent of their search. Your efforts should focus on being as relevant and helpful as possible.
Websites come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter the subject matter or page layout, the set of on-page principles detailed below apply.
1. Create better title tags:
One of the first things any searcher sees of your site isn’t visible on the page itself. The title tag displays as the blue link in the search results, and as the main heading when a page is shared on social media. This lets us optimise it in two ways.
Firstly, we can put our main keyword subject target(s) in it to show search engines what this page is about, preferably towards the beginning.
Secondly, we can build highly interesting titles that grab attention. Standing out in the search results this way can help earn us extra clicks. Of course, what will achieve this depends on your audience, and the type of page in question. A product description page and a blog post will have very different title tags.
Go through all your pages and look at your titles. Are you making the most of your keywords? And are they as interesting as possible (and suitable)? Each page needs a unique title tag, and tags should be 65 characters or less in length.
2. Use more interesting meta descriptions:
Similar to your title tags, meta descriptions are a simple, but highly effective way to improve your SEO. Meta descriptions are used to generate the small paragraph of text that appears below a page’s title in the search results.
They are designed to be a concise description of what you’ll find on the page. Although they do not count as a ranking factor, they DO influence click-through rate – a great meta description helps make a result stand out amongst its peers!
As a result, taking the time to review your meta descriptions and write the best ones possible is a key optimisation – these are essentially an advert for your page, so make them as compelling as possible!
To get started, look in Search Console for descriptions Google think could do with improvements. Then, using a piece of software called a crawler, we can see the entire website and look for pages with missing/ugly meta descriptions.
3. Don’t worry about the meta keyword tag:
A piece of advice that refuses to go away – despite what some guides will say, don’t worry about using the meta keywords tag, it doesn’t help for SEO.
4. Have sensible URLs:
A more technical topic, most sites can review and optimise their URLs, especially when creating new pages. Making URLs short, readable and keyword-subject-rich is a simple way to make the most of them.
There are a few guiding principles, such as using hyphens instead of underscores and adding your primary keyword target – especially in the first few words. If possible, keeping them short and simple while reflecting site hierarchy is best.
One common mistake is using auto-generated URLs in many CMSs – these can use codes to describe a product where we want to have descriptive text. For example, www.retailer.com/product/gb/&categoryid=18&productid=567824 will work perfectly fine technically, but we’d prefer something more descriptive such as www.retailer.com/tvs/samsung-48inch-hd34589. Just like a title tag, we’d like the reader to be able to guess what’s on the page from the URL.
5. Make the most of your images:
No doubt your new site has many beautiful images. But are you using them to their full potential?
Make sure you have made them as svelte as possible by reducing their size (both in data and physical size) so they are fast to load. Then, use a descriptive filename, and make use of alt tags to provide descriptive text so search engines can understand what the image is of.
6. Have clear headings:
The main heading of your page tells visitors, including search engines, what the page is about. Heading tags let us mark up what is a heading or sub-heading on the page, and we can use the h1 tag to show the primary header. Most CMSs do this automatically.
Review your h1 tags across your site, using a crawler to find them all if required. Do they all describe the page accurately? Do they use the keyword target? And do they match the title tag in what they say the page is about?
A great way to put people off your page is to tell them one thing with the title tag, and then not match their expectation with your main heading. Don’t keep repeating keywords through your sub-headings – use variations and natural language to describe your content.
7. Improve your content:
A big topic to finish, and the broadest. Look at the content you have for your page. Does it fully cover the topic in question? Does it address all the relevant keyword variations you can find? Does it address common audience questions? Is it written as well as possible to improve engagement?
Search engines love quality content, so you need to be making your page as good as possible each time. Look at who is ranking well for your keyword targets. How can you create a resource that is clearly much better? How can you solve problems?
Want to learn more?
- Google’s guide to a Google-friendly website
- Learn all the various on-page ranking factors
- On Page SEO Checklist for the Optimized Page
- A tool that previews your search result snippet based on your title tag and meta description
- The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress which helps you optimise many on-page SEO elements
- 8 principles of modern on-page SEO (more advanced!)
- A guide to on-page SEO
- The perfectly optimised page
- Advanced guide to better URLs
Technical SEO is work improving the non-content parts of your website. These tend to be the elements behind the scenes that visitors don’t see (but often affect their experience of the website!)
Principally, technical SEO is concerned with how a website works, and how search engines are able to crawl and index our pages. Think of technical SEO as the foundations of your site – without it, whatever beautiful building you create won’t be as sturdy as you’d like.
Technical SEO can seem daunting. However, understanding the principles is important. There may be parts you can try, or work on with your developer.
1. Do a monthly SEO health check:
Even without signing up for a third-party tool, you can still do a basic SEO check with Search Console.
Using it you can check for large issues such as a drop in traffic or to see if your site has been penalised by Google in some way. Search Console will email you with major issues, but proactive checks will keep you ahead.
There’s a wide range of improvements that you can make to your SEO using Search Console information. From checking your robots.txt files and XML sitemaps to monitoring for new broken links, a weekly check (as little as 5 minutes) can help keep your site in tip-top shape.
2. Is your site mobile friendly?
Today, smartphone usage is so huge that more searches are done on smartphones than on computers. Making sure your website is mobile friendly is massively important.
Google is looking to reward sites that offer a great experience on a phone. They even now have separate search results for phone users. How do we know if we are mobile friendly? There’s a handy tool to check. Test your site, and work with your designer to make the improvements needed to succeed in the mobile-first world of search.
3. Have a really fast site:
Audit your site using tools such as Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Pingdom’s speed test to quickly compile a list of options to help give your site a little more zip. You may even need to review your hosting service if it’s holding you back…
4. See how your site looks to Google:
What better way to check that Google can crawl our content than by looking through their eyes?
We’ve got two ways to do this. Firstly, use BROWSEO and put in your page. This tool acts as a very basic browser, and shows all the tags and content for the site with all the design elements stripped out. If some of your content is missing, it could be that search engines can’t read it – something to investigate further.
Our other option is (once again) Search Console. The Fetch and Render tool lets us put in our URL, select if we want to check the desktop or mobile version, and bring back how Google interprets the page. This helps us spot any differences between how Google sees the page, how they think a human sees it, and how we know a browser displays it.
5. Fix broken links:
During the life of any website pages come and go. It’s perfectly normal to remove a page, but what can frustrate visitors is finding their journey blocked by a dead page. Worse, a page that is removed loses any importance a search engine has given it.
So, regularly check your website for broken pages and links. You can do this in Search Console to see errors Google has found, or use a crawler to hunt them down yourself. Once you’ve found them, edit any internal links so they point to the right page, then consider what to do with the old URL. If it was a valuable page or has a direct replacement, redirect the old URL to it’s successor using a 301 redirect. This sounds complicated, but is simple in most CMSs!
6. Upload a XML Sitemap:
Wouldn’t it be great to give Google & Bing a list of all the pages we want them to notice? With XML sitemaps you can do just that. This is a file you add to your website (normally at yourdomain.uk/sitemap.xml) that lists the URLs for a site. Most CMSs can create one automatically for you, and let you choose to remove certain pages.
Once live, you can upload to Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools. Regularly check how many of your submitted pages are shown as indexed to spot problems with your pages.
7. Fix any duplicate content issues:
One common SEO issue that can be tackled is duplicate content. This is when there is more than one way to reach the same content on your site.
Some CMSs allow you to access the same content via multiple URLs if you don’t set them up correctly. This causes issues when search engines don’t know which is the best version to choose. Fortunately, unless you are being spammy, most duplicate content issues don’t cause a site to be penalised.
However, if other websites link to both versions of the page, the potential authority will be diluted. There are many causes of duplicate content, but also some excellent fixes. Check your indexed pages (using a site: search) & crawl your site to find duplicate content issues. Often a tidy of your settings or use of what are called *canonical* tags can help remedy the situation.
8. Check your robots.txt file:
All sites need a robots.txt file. This small but handy file lives in the root of your server (yourdomain.uk/robots.txt) and is used to instruct robots crawling your site where they are allowed to go.
Have a look at yours – are you blocking any pages you want search engines to see? Are there sections of the site you need to block access to? Search Console has a handy tool to test your robots.txt file and see if its working as you expect.
Want To Learn More?
- Learn more about Page speed and SEO
- The official home of the XML sitemap protocol
- Robots.txt tutorial
- A guide to HTTP status codes (server responses)
- Using Screaming Frog for simple SEO checks
Steps to earning links
After the work to check the technical and on-page elements of a site, earning attention, and the links they bring, is a key part of most SEO campaigns.
Why are links so important? Firstly, links are the connecting paths of the internet, the primary way to move from one site to another. Secondly, a link from one site to another acts as a citation – evidence that the target site is useful or interesting in some way. Search engines view these citations as a sign of authority.
There are as many ways to build links as there are types of website. Thanks to Google’s crack-down on creating spam links, many old tactics no longer work. Now much of link-building is good old-fashioned marketing – promotion and PR. Here are some first steps to try.
1. Find out who is linking to your site:
To start, you should know what your current link profile looks like. If your site is on a brand new domain, chances are you may not have many links yet.
In Search Console, there’s a report called Links to your site which can show you the domains linking to you. Take a look at them – if you are happy with what you see, all is good. If you’re shocked by what you find, you will need to take further action.
2. Look at your competitors’ backlinks:
To understand the challenge you face to rank well in your niche, or to steal ideas on how to get started, turn to your competitors. By taking a deep look at the links they’ve earned, and how they got them, you’ll uncover tactics you can replicate, plus get inspiration for your own fresh ideas.
You can also build a reasonable idea of how many links you need, and how authoritative, in order to compete. To check out your competitors’ links, you can search for their most popular URLs with the link: command in Google. If you want to go further, use one of the many backlink tools to search for the most influential links – a good starting point is Open Link Profiler which gives you a lot of data for free.
3. Compile your assets (or design some):
One of the best ways to start earning links is by creating something of use or interest to your audience. We’ve all seen them – the pieces of content that educate or entertain us, without being the core product of a website.
There’s a good chance you have some fantastic resources your audience would love. If you don’t, get thinking. What can you build that would really interest your market? That others would share with their readers? Making use of the assets your business has will be a hook for getting attention – building links is much easier when you have content worth linking to.
4. Design a link-earning strategy:
You’ve seen what links you and your competitors have. Now it is time to start building up your profile. As with any strategy, you need to set goals, and make sure it aligns with your overall marketing focus.
You should also spend some time finding where your audience hangs out online, so you can create content to appeal to them in a format they enjoy. Building links doesn’t happen overnight, and the results are NOT instantaneous. To get you started, we recommend checking out some of these fantastic resources:
- The beginner’s guide to link building
- Link building – the definitive guide
- Link building strategy (a curated list of articles, start with this one)
- Growing popularity & links
- Acquiring future-proof links
Want to learn more?
How to optimise for local SEO
Many UK websites are built to support an offline business. If that’s you, you’re going to want to spend a large portion of your initial SEO effort on local SEO.
Local SEO is all about promoting your site at the exact moment potential customers are looking for your type of product, and in your area. It’s about appearing in the main search results or within the map listings when your audience uses a local search term, such as plumber in Manchester, or when a search engine can tell their location.
Local SEO has its own tactics and rules, but many of the key principles of SEO are still hugely beneficial.
1. Get Your NAP Accurate & Consistent:
For your local SEO to be effective, you need to make sure you have a consistent NAP – name, address and phone number.
All your citations (an online reference to your business including your NAP) need to be consistent, so as you start building them (see below), make sure that firstly, your NAP is correct, and the same (so Google & Bing can see the connection).
The first place to start? Have your Nap set up in your footer or in your contact page.
2. Claim your spot on Google My Business:
If you are just starting with local SEO, you need to claim your listing with Google. Those business listings that appear when you do a search and get a Google Maps in your results? That’s what we’re going to grab through Google My Business.
In it we can add photos, make sure our NAP is up-to-date, add opening times, start collecting reviews and put our business in the right category. There is a verification process, normally done through the post, so this will take several days.
3. Build citations:
At the heart of your local SEO campaign will be building the number of listings you have. In other words, the amount of places you can add your business, and get a citation. Often it is assumed that only business directories count, but actually there are number of ways to expand your portfolio.
It’s also worth doing some competitor analysis, searching for their name and their postcode to find other places they have grabbed a listing.
For example, to see all the places Nominet have a local citation, we’d do a search for “Nominet AND OX4 4DQ -site:http://www.nominet.uk/. With this we’ll see all the places both appear while removing results from Nominet’s website itself.
4. Encourage your customers to leave reviews:
It might be scary, but reviews are one of the most important factors in improving your local SEO. Google consistently favours sites with more reviews in its local packs.
Encourage or incentivise, adding more reviews in places such as Google Maps, Yelp and more. Beware though, fake reviews are obviously a no-no but other places also have strict rules on what is acceptable.
5. Target the community with content to earn local links:
Once you’ve started your local SEO effort, the next stage is more aligned with the rest of SEO – creating content for your audience. In this case, we’re looking to create content of interest to a local reader.
Even in local SEO, a lot of ranking weight is influenced by your backlink profile. Create local content that targets your community, and can even earn local press attention. Neighbourhood guides, local events, sponsorships – there’s a range of options to try!
Want To Learn More?
- The Yoast local SEO plugin for WordPress sites
- Review handout generator
- Ultimate local SEO audit
- Small business guide to Google My Business
- Using social media for local SEO
- Moz Local – a tool for managing local listings
- How to promote your local business online
- Link building for local businesses on a budget