Search engine optimisation (SEO), the process of optimising your website to rank more highly in relevant web searches, is a complex marketing strategy. With Google constantly changing the rules and algorithms it uses to rank one website over another, it is important to get the SEO basics right.
SEO incorporates techniques that make your website and content within it more desirable to Google and other search engines – and therefore relevant to the searches that people are performing on a daily basis.
Here are some of the key steps to getting SEO right:
1. Establish your goals
People have a tendency to run into SEO without actually thinking about what they want to achieve. With no goals in place, how will you know what is working?
Some good key performance indicators (KPIs) could be:
• Volume of traffic to the website.
• The number of pages of your website being indexed by Google.
• Position your site appears on the search engine results page.
• Number of enquiries/sales being driven via natural search (ie the main search results, rather than paid-for 'sponsored links', which are displayed along the right hand side and at the top of the search results on Google).
2. Install Google Analytics
No doubt some of the people reading this are thinking “well, obviously…” but for those new to online it’s far from obvious, so this is for those of you who are new:
Google Analytics is a free and very powerful tool to track how people find your website and what they do when they’re there. Without a tool like this you will never understand how your website performs or how to improve it.
There are many other paid-for analytics tools available, each offering similar statistics to the next, however each platform offers varying levels of detail.
Whether it be a paid-for tool or Google’s free analytics tool, this data is priceless for understanding whether your SEO strategy is achieving the desired results.
3. Identify what you want people to do when they arrive at the site and then track it
So now you have analytics on your website, you need to track the actions or events you want to take place when people visit the website. That might be making a purchase, signing up, downloading a brochure or filling in an enquiry form.
Whatever it might be, you need to know when it happens – but more importantly why it happened. If biscuitsrus.com starts receiving orders for handmade chocolate bourbons (stay with me here) then fantastic, but without knowing how those customers found the website or how they interacted with it, how can we make decisions on where to market ourselves? How do we know who our audience is or what they really want?
4. Page titles for search engine optimisation
Every page on your website should have a unique page title – if you don’t tell Google what the page is about it will guess – and that’s rarely good. If your website is about chocolate biscuits, make sure everyone knows with a homepage title like:
“Chocolate Biscuits, Milk Chocolate Biscuits and more from BiscuitsRus.com”
I’m not saying that’s a perfectly optimised title, but it's way more descriptive and useful than “Home” or “Website”, both for Google and for your visitors.
Do you have a section all about chocolate HobNobs? Make sure the page has a title relating to it:
“Chocolate Hobnob news, facts & reviews from BiscutsRus.com”
5. URLs that a human can read
Let’s say our hypothetical website that’s obsessed with biscuits does indeed have a page just for HobNobs – what should the URL be? Let’s take a look:
The above address is the kind of thing you might get when creating a page in an un-configured Content Management System (CRM), such as WordPress or Joomla. As a human, I have no idea what the page might be about just by looking at the URL and neither do search engines.
So what if we use URL Rewrites to turn that into something understandable?
I can probably guess that page is about biscuits, but we can still do better…
In another scenario, if the content of this page is purely about reviews then we might be even more specific: http://www.biscuitsrus.com/chocolate-hobnob-reviews
However, if we’re likely to be publishing many reviews for different types of biscuits then including the word ‘reviews’ in the folder structure would be more logical:
Both search engines and humans are left in little doubt as to what the content of that page is about, and from an SEO point of view we’ll reap the benefits of this with better listings in the search results than we may have otherwise.
6. On page content
The more relevant content you have on your site, the more reason Google has to index your pages for keywords relevant to your business. It is a fine balance between optimising content for Google and optimising for humans. You don’t want to write content based on cramming in keywords (you can actually be penalised for this) and you want to make sure that each page of content is reflective of the page subject.
Think of it as separate landing pages per search someone does on Google. If I search for ‘Chocolate Hobnob’, I want to be taken to a page which includes content on ‘Chocolate Hobnobs’ not a page on general chocolate biscuits. The more specific each page can be to the keyword, the higher the relevance of that page to the keyword.
It isn’t always this simple though, especially if you have thousands of products which would require thousands of new pages.
7. Start link building
A full and in-depth discussion on link building is outside the scope of this article but to put it in a nutshell:
When a website links to another it’s seen as a vote of confidence – that site A believes site B is interesting and a valuable resource. The more ‘votes’ you have the more important the search engines will believe you are. The more respected the site linking to you is, the more valuable their vote.
However be cautious: there are many different ways of running a link building strategy and some can be more damaging than anything else.
White hat – This is a term used for SEO techniques which clearly follow Google’s rules.
Black hat – This refers to techniques which try to bend or break Google’s rules.
There are many black hat link building strategies out there which can initially show results, however in the long term Google will crack down on you and penalise your website for following such strategies. You are therefore advised to adhere to white hat techniques, especially when building links.
[Here's some more information on link building, and what to avoid.]
8. Monitor and continue to optimise
SEO is a long-term strategy and it can take months for Google or any other search engine to recognise the changes. Even once they recognise the changes, the time it takes to have an impact on your ranking or pages which are displayed can be anywhere from a week to six months.
Once this starts to happen and you see results, it is important to monitor and review your analytics data to understand what results you are achieving. From here you can continue to optimise your strategies based on the KPIs set out at the start.
SEO isn’t about one strategy; it takes into account a variety of solutions which are now becoming more closely linked with social media and online PR. With Google moving the goal posts regularly and the complexities of SEO constantly increasing, it is crucial to be up to date on the latest market knowledge. This will help you to compile a successful strategy as well as foresee any impact of the changes in the market.
Tom Collinson is responsible for SEO services at Digital Clarity, a digital marketing agency specialising in search, social and website services to all types of businesses, from start-ups to multinational brands.