Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is widely misunderstood, which is a shame because most of the time it is just good common sense.
Sure, there are some arcane technical aspects, but most sites are pretty simple really and the basics of good website layout and construction should come naturally to any decent web developer. What follows is a list of the essential elements of basic search engine optimisation. You can use this as a launching pad to learn more (see links below) or as a checklist to use in discussion with your web site developer.
Keywords are at the core of all search marketing, whether you are buying paid search ads (Adwords) or doing SEO. Keyword queries signal the intent of the searcher, so before you do anything else you need to know what are the most relevant keywords to your business. What searches drive the most relevant and qualified search traffic? You can use the free Google Keyword Tool to search for keywords related to your business. Here’s some tips for using this tool…
What you get out of the keyword tool is only as good as what you put in. Experiment with lots of different seed keywords and use the list of suggested terms to build out your seed list. Add in the singular and plural versions of terms. Try using a variety of likely keyword qualifiers before or after your primary product terms, e.g. “cheap”, “reviews” and “buy”. If you run a local business try variations with your location before or after to your main product keyword, eg. “tauranga plumber”. Recursively drill into suggested terms to see what other suggestions come up and add the most relevant terms to your list.
Understand the difference between match types, ie. Broad, Phrase and Exact match demand. This is important because it is easy to think that there is a lot of demand for a broad match term, but that doesn’t help when you can’t possibly rank for every possible variant on that term. I prefer to focus on phrase and exact match for my own research.
- Broad match means the monthly volume of searches for that particular keyword, plus all other terms which include that keyword, eg. broad match demand for “hotel room” could include the demand for “auckland hotel room” and “hotel accommodation room”.
- Phrase match means the monthly volume of searches for that particular phrase in that order, prepended or appended by other terms, eg. phrase match demand for “hotel room” could include demand for “auckland hotel room” but not “hotel accommodation room”
- Exact match demand is just what is sounds like. The exact monthly demand for a particular term or phrase.
Information architecture (IA)
IA is just a fancy way of describing how a website is organized. Long story short, you can only rank for a given term if you have a page which is especially relevant for that term, so think carefully about how your organize the content on your site. What categories or sections do you have on the site? How do these intersect with known search demand? How do you organize your product pages? In any given industry there is a longer or shorter tail of keywords, which is to say that the most generic keywords get lots of searches, then there are some more targeted terms which get quite a few searches and then there are lots of very specific searches which are very targeted, don’t get many searches individually but in aggregate represent lots of demand. Think about how your site is organized to capitalize on this.
This is where you need to start reflecting the keyword research. For each page on your site you should have a unique Meta Title and Meta Description. The Meta Title is the label that appears at the top of the browser window and all other things being equal it is what will be used by Google as the blue link on the results page. Each Meta Title should reflect the target keywords for the page in question, but importantly it should be written in a way as to be compelling to people reading it. Resist the temptation to use the “keyword wishlist” approach and instead write specific targeted titles which will capture peoples attention. Similarly the Meta Description. This won’t impact your rankings, but it is usually what Google uses as the description under the blue link on the results page. Write this with some kind of call to action. Think about the title and description on the results page as an advertisement…what would compel someone to choose your link over another.
On page content
To rank well in Google you need to have content that is relevant for a given keyword search term. You do not need to worry about keyword density on the page, but you must reflect the terms people are using in your copy. I suggest also trying to use other synonyms which are relevant, but again only where this genuinely makes sense. If you find yourself trying to figure out how to squeeze in another keyword you are going too far. Write for people not search engines. But write you must.
Often I have clients wondering why a particular page doesn’t rank for a given term, and often it is in large part because they don’t have any real content on the page which is relevant for that term. And a final word on content…it isn’t just text. Think about other forms of content, especially images and video.
Other “on page” considerations:
- Don’t use Flash to build your site. Ever.
- Make proper use of headline tags, ie. each page should use a single H1 headline tag for the main headline and then H2 and H3s for subheadings as appropriate. Your logo isn’t a headline so shouldn’t be wrapped in an H1.
- Make use of semantic coding standards where ever it makes sense. This is a big subject. You can learn more here.
Think about mobile
Mobile device use for web search and browsing is exploding. Particularly if you are a local business you MUST ensure that your site is mobile friendly. The vast majority of all searches on mobile devices are local in nature, eg. “wellington city plumber”, so if you site doesn’t work well on a mobile device you stand a good chance of being ignored. There are a variety of ways to serve a mobile friendly version of your site, and they all have pros and cons. My recommendation is to go with a responsive design that adapts to the browser size and looks good on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone. This seems to be Google’s preference too.
Implement Analytics. This is so obvious I almost forgot to include it, but it does happen that people don’t get around to implementing some analytics on their site before it goes live. Google Anlaytics is free and very good. You should also use the same Google account to set up a Webmaster Tools account for your site. Once you have verified ownership of your site Google will provide all sorts of great data on how they view your site, including how often they crawl it, what keywords they see on your site and where you are ranking…all free. Do this now.
Think about local
Building on the last point you also need to think about your presence in local search results, particularly if you are a local business serving local customers. Make sure you are listed in Yellow and Finda, and be sure to claim your Google Local listing. Key points to remember when completing directory listings:
- Make sure you are consistent with your address and contact details across all your listings. Google looks for business citations when ranking local search results and uses the address details to identify your business.
- Be thorough with your listing…add a good description, add photos and videos if you have them, but do not try and stuff your listing with keywords or anything that wouldn’t make for a good user experience.
- Get happy customers to review your business. Reviews are also part of Google’s algorithm for determining which local businesses to rank.
Build your profile
In the last step we talked about citations being important. Links from other websites to your own site are also important and so when I say build your profile I mean the following:
- Find relevant local directories and the authoritative web directories to list your business
- Use YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as much as it makes sense. This might not beget direct links, but the extent to which you can develop a following around your business you have a way to promote content on your site that might attract links.
- Blog. I’m a big advocate for blogging, which is really about making sure your site is constantly updated with interesting and relevant content. I have never seen a business that wouldn’t benefit from having more frequent content on their site. The challenge is usually convincing people it is worth the time particular when starting out and you have no audience. There is no simple answer to this…all I can say is that you will get out of it what you put in.
- Engage. There is a very good chance that there are existing bloggers covering your industry. Seek these sites out and engage with them, comment on their posts and have something to say. If you do a good job of this then you will attract inbound referral traffic and probably get some links too. If there isn’t a good blog covering your industry then you know what to do!
So, there you have it. My 8 essential steps to Search Engine Optimisation. The first 5 are things you will need to talk to your developer about. Depending on the service they provide you will need to do more or less of the keyword research and copy writing, but ultimately you want to make sure your site is well organized and is full of great content targeting all the most important terms driving qualified traffic in your industry.
If you want to learn more about SEO I suggest the following resources.