As a local business, you’ve rightly decided that being online is a great place to be. You have a great website, and naturally you want your audience to see it.
But the world of search engines is a competitive place, and getting your site to rank is a complex and arduous task, especially if you’re new to SEO. But worry not, as we’ve brought together our top 10 tasks to help you get your site moving up the rankings today:
1. Optimise for mobile
2. Connect with Google Search Console
3. Secure your site with HTTPS
4. Submit an XML sitemap
5. Fix speed and crawl errors
6. Build links
7. Optimise images
8. Focus on great content
9. Write meta description and title tags
10. Set up Google My Business
1. Optimise your website for mobile
What do we mean by “mobile optimised”? Now that web searches via mobile have officially overtaken those via desktop, it’s imperative that websites are designed to fit neatly on a small screen. This is such an important issue for your web visitors, and to search engines, that Google will penalise your rankings if your site isn’t mobile optimised.
One of the first things you should do before even embarking on your website build is to ensure it will be mobile optimised. However, if you already have a site and it’s not optimised, it’s never too late to address this.
If you’re about to embark on a website build: ensure that you and/or your designer are building it mobile-first. That is, ensure it’s designed to be mobile optimised, and then by default it will work on desktop too.
If you already have a website: you can check its mobile-friendliness on Google’s “Mobile Friendly Test”.
If your website fails the test, there are things you can do to optimise your site:
- Add some code to instruct browsers to display your content to a smaller screen (your web designer/developer can help you with this)
- Avoid using Flash or pop-ups, which might hinder mobile users from seeing your content
2. Connect your site to Google Search Console
When you set up your website, one of the first things you should do is to connect it to Google Search Console.
This is where you will find all the information about how your website is doing in search results. It’s also where you can fix any crawl or speed issues, and ensure your site is getting the best chance at ranking well in search.
- Sign into Google
- Go to Google Search Console and begin set-up by typing in your domain name (www.yoursite.uk)
- You’re then asked to verify your domain. You can do this in a number of ways, which you will find in the “Alternative methods” tab. Your choices are Google Analytics, HTML tag, domain name provider, or Google Tag Manager.
3. Secure your site with HTTPS
Both your site visitors and Google will thank you for making sure your website is secure. Your website users will appreciate their details being kept safe from hackers, and Google too takes security into account in its ranking matrix.
While most websites are on HTTP, hackers can potentially access sensitive data such as payment details, names, addresses and logins.
HTTPS, on the other hand, is an encrypted connection between a browser and your website, which blocks hackers from being able to access sensitive information.
To switch to HTTPS you’ll need an SSL Certificate, which you can purchase from your hosting company. They will then send this to your email address, and you can get your host to install it for you. Ensure you back up your website first, so you don’t lose any files in the process.
For more about switching your site to HTTPS, check out Pickaweb’s post.
4. Submit an XML sitemap
An XML sitemap is a useful tool for your visitors to find what they’re looking for. Google also values them highly in their ranking matrix, so it’s important you create and submit one to Google Search Console.
5. Fix speed issues and crawl errors
Slow speed is one of the biggest reasons why websites are penalised by Google. Slow website speeds are not only extremely frustrating for your visitors, but Google measures “time to first byte” (TTFB) to help assess how you are ranked in search results. Read more about why page speed matters here.
Crawl errors are the problems found in your site that stop Google and other search engines from reaching your pages. They could be broken links within your site, pages that return a 404 error message, or a URL that’s no longer available.
Google penalises your site for both slow speeds and crawl errors, but simply by keeping on top of Google Search Console, you can help your website rank better.
For crawl errors:
- Go to Google Search Console → Crawl errors tab
- There you will see your errors divided into “URL Errors” and “Site Errors”:
Site Errors: high-level issues such as DNS errors, server errors or robot failure
URL Errors: errors on specific pages on your site, including 404s, Access Denied, and Not Followed.
- Follow instructions to fix your site errors.
For page speed errors: Go to Google Pagespeed Insights Tool and look at your score (ideally your score should be over 80%).
If your score is below 80%, start fixing items as per Google’s advice. This might include:
- Reducing the size of images on your website
- Using content delivery networks, which closes the geographical gap between the information on your website and your web visitors.
- Enabling HTTP compression
6. Build some links
The volume of links you have pointing to your site is a good signal to Google that you’re a website worth referring to. The more links there are directing to your site, the more Google will give credit to you in its ranking algorithm. Google also looks at links leaving your site and those within your site.
In Moz’s 2017 Local Ranking Factors study, links are still the second most important factor after on-page signals. Having said that, the process of link-building has not got any easier, and requires a bit of perseverance and on-going effort.
- Create great content: a video tutorial, a helpful blog post or a downloadable toolkit are all things that businesses might want to link to.
- Reach out personally: let your industry influencers know about your great content and encourage them to link to it. In exchange, you can offer to link back to their website.
- Guest blogging: identify the key blogs and bloggers in your industry and offer to write for them free of charge in exchange for a link to your site.
- Create external and internal links: simply creating links to external websites can increase the chance of those sites linking back to your site, but it also in itself demonstrates authority to Google. In the same way, creating internal links within your site helps to distribute your ranking authority around your website.
7. Optimise images
There are a number of reasons why paying attention to your images can influence your search ranking. Firstly, as we’ve already seen, if your images are too large, they will slow down your page speed, which will adversely affect your rankings. Secondly, using keywords to name and describe your images will help them show up in search results when people are entering those keywords.
- Image size: make sure your images are no larger than 70kb, and compress them if they’re larger. Tools such as Photoshop or Pixlr can help you with this.
- Add <alt> text to your images: alt text gives your image a description to help visually impaired visitors access your images and to let Google know what your image is about.
- Name your image files: when you save your image, be sure to give it an appropriate name, including keywords for which your audience might be searching.
8. Focus on quality content
Google is increasingly paying a lot of attention to content in its ranking criteria. In fact, without quality, relevant content, your site simply can’t rank at #1 in search listings. After all, it is content that helps to match your website against the keywords and phrases for which your audience is searching.
The key here is to understand your customers and what kinds of search enquiries they will be making. It is then your job to produce the type of content that engages these people directly, and answers their questions.
Workshop your audience: think about what their wants and needs are, and how your content can help answer those challenges.
Do some keyword research: this process can be as simple or as complicated as you want, but The UK Domain can help you make a start. Use these keywords in all your content, making sure your copy still reads naturally.
Use your on-page content to answer questions: if you start from the premise that each page of your site is answering a question or questions your audience is asking, then you’ll be doing a good job at being relevant.
Write a blog: a website with a blog that’s updated at least twice a month demonstrates to Google that you are keeping your content fresh, new and regular – all point-scorers when it comes to ranking.
Don’t duplicate content: an absolute no-no for search engines. Make sure you avoid replicating any passages and phrases across your website, or Google will penalise you.
9. Write meta descriptions and title tags
A quick way to improve your search rankings is by making sure your pages are named and described in a way that pleases search engines (and users!).
A title tag is the heading you give each page so that search engines can find them. They appear in the search results in blue text, as well as the tab in your browser at the top of the page. They should be no longer than 60 characters long, and include your keywords.
A meta description is a keyword-rich synopsis (no more than 160 characters) you give to each page so that search engines can find it. It appears below the title tag in search results and, if done correctly, should entice web users to click through to your site.
- Most content management systems include plugins that allow you to write your own title tags and meta descriptions. Yoast for WordPress is a good example.
- Make sure your meta descriptions are no longer than 160 characters, and your title tags no more than 55 characters.
- Ensure you are using your keywords intelligently in your meta descriptions and title tags.
10. Set up Google My Business
Focusing on local SEO is a crucial way to get your business ranking in search results. And, since around 1 in 3 mobile searches are local, and 18% of local searches made on smartphones lead to a purchase within 24 hours, focusing on local SEO is a must.
Google My Business is a great place to start. Not only does having a My Business account put you on Google Maps, but it helps you to appear in local search results.
- Sign up to Google My Business here and create a new listing.
- Request a verification code. This will be sent to your business address.
- Make sure your name, address and telephone number (NAP) are correct, and consistent with what’s on your website.
- Pick your category: what type of business are you?
- Add some images.
- Write an enticing introduction: explain what you do, and use keywords for what people will be searching.
- Add your website link and business hours.
When it comes to getting your website ranking well in search results, there’s no end to the time and energy you can put into it. Your work is never really done, as it’s a continual process of tweaking and adjusting to keep yourself on top.
But while the murky world of SEO may seem daunting, these basic tips will stand you in good stead for getting your site up the league table, and for making sure you’re seen by your audience in those all-important search results.