Getting your search engine optimisation campaign right can be the difference between success and failure. Research shows that the top listing on Google receives 55 percent of the traffic for the term that was applied, and other sites in the top ten receive the next 40%. This shows that SEO can be a cost effective way to achieve long term success for your business. Getting it right though is less simple and there is no universal formula that can be applied to make it right, every business needs a bespoke analysis of their products, services, competitors and primary objectives so that an SEO plan can be formed to achieve those objectives.
The way people use the web is changing fast, and the changing landscape means that performing well in search engine rankings is becoming more of a challenge. Its a cat and mouse game with high rewards for the top performers meaning that big business will risk all to get there.
How can small businesses compete?
The good news is that search engines do not charge for organic listing results. Big business cannot influence the SERPS of any major search engine and so the playing field is level for businesses of all sizes. This means that your business is very much still in the game. Armed with a few insider techniques, you can significantly reduce the cost of employing an SEO specialist by carrying out a lot of research for yourself. Bigger businesses employ specialists to do this for them, but this puts them at a significant disadvantage. In almost all cases, the specialist will not be an expert in your particular field of business, and so optimising for "long tail" industry specific phrases will be difficult for them at best, if not impossible.
Before embarking on any SEO campaign, job number 1 is to ensure your sites "user experience" is not confusing, difficult or unpleasant. Define clear goals and calls to action so that your users can instantly get what they want, and that you want them to get. Website users are impatient, they have arrived at your site for some specific purpose. Maybe they want to enquire about your services, or buy a product, or download a technical manual. If they have to navigate through a dozen pages of waffle to find it, they will simply click the back button and go to the next company - your competitor. This is known as "website friction".
In one instance, a customer asked us why their search engine strategy was failing. Upon first look at their website, we told them to cancel their Google Pay-per-click (PPC) campaign, a saving of over £2000 per month. The result? Nothing. No decrease in sales, no decrease in enquiries. The "bounce rate" of the site was 89% (the highest weve seen), meaning that 89% of visitors were navigating away from their site within 30 seconds of arriving. Now we could begin the process of streamlining their site and embarking on a properly designed organic campaign, and they were £2000 per month richer.
Apart from your website navigation (see boxout), one of the first tasks is to identify your keywords by thinking about your users and what they might be expected to enter as a search term to find you. At each stage of the buying cycle, users will enter different phrases, and these can be categorised as follows:
- Navigational SearchQueries that include your brand or company name
- Informational searchHighly generic phrases such as "motorbike shops near me"
- Transactional SearchUsually three, four or more word phrases, highly specific that identify exactly what a user wants eg: "GC-3111 Crankcase Heater Control"
Each type of search relates to the stage the user is at, from research, shopping around or ready to purchase, and you must ensure that your site contains keywords that are relevant for each stage. SEO specialists often fail at transactional searches since they are highly specific, and so often concentrate on generic keywords to drive traffic to your site. This is no bad thing since users may return once theyve reached the buying stage, but this could be at the expense of potential customers that are ready to buy now. It is critical to get these keywords right.
Start by building an initial list of most obvious keywords for your industry. Take a look at your competitors sites and list a dozen or so two and three word phrases that users might search for. Take a look at your products and build a list of words that describe them both generally and specifically. Its not a good idea to focus on expressions that describe products you cannot supply, but it is a good idea to focus on products or services that have a higher profit margin, even if it is searched for less. Finally, what expressions and words are unique to your business or product? Try to categorise the expressions you have identified into Navigational, Informational and Transactional. Try to include in your list three word expressions (not including two and three letter words eg: the of, and, for etc.). Search engine users use three and four word phrases more than any other when carrying out an informational search.
Now that you have an initial list, you can use a keyword discovery tool to develop these further and identify new ones you may not have thought of, or discard ones that receive no traffic. Google have a keyword discovery tool at http://www.google.com/sktool/
The list you have generated will form not only the basis of your SEO campaign, but any PPC campaigns you may embark on where Googles Quality Score (QS) can determine the difference between hundreds of pounds and thousands of pounds in PPC monthly spend.
You need to understand where a user arrives on your site and follow their journey through the site to the point of sale, or reach one of the goals you identified earlier. The key to SEO success is ensuring that you have visibility at each point of the journey, by using appropriate keywords for that point. Print out each page as you navigate through your site to the goal, and align the most appropriate keywords from your list with each page. Just because users who buy from you do a navigational search right before they buy, doesnt mean you should undervalue the influence of informational keywords. Their search may have begun weeks earlier with an informational search that led them to your site in the first place.
Search engines are machines, they are incapable of thought. They follow a set of rules from an algorithm. Humans may be able to read your content, but that doesnt mean that search engines can, and creating pages that ticks all the boxes for the engine, might result in good rankings at the expense of a terrible user experience. The number one rule here is: Dont try to fool the engines. Modern search engines are extremely sophisticated and have already thought of all the ways site owners can trick them into ranking their site higher. Its hard enough to optimise website content as it is without running the risk of being de-listed. A good rule of thumb is to always put humans first, and the engines second, after all, receiving loads of traffic from high ranking keywords to an awful site equals disaster. Our goal is to drive qualified traffic to our site at all stages of the user journey.
Read through your content, how many words did you use? 100-400 words is a good amount, but now think about how you can rewrite the content to accommodate keywords from your list. If you can repeat the keywords, even in a different order without making it unreadable to human beings, all the better. A good rule of thumb here is to optimise each page with one main keyphrase. It could be a generic phrase like "Web Design", but you can expand on this with some longtail keywords such as "best value web design".
Word proximity calculations score the words "web", "design", "best" and "value" not only as individual words, but how close they are to other words in the content. After a few repeats "Web" and "Design" become synonymous with "Web Design". To a human, this seems obvious, but as mentioned previously, engines are not human and have to try and work out what words are related to form phrases. Searches for "best value web design" will result in your site being ranked higher because the words match the search term, but the search engines are clever enough to know that "our web design services offer the best value" is a derivative of your primary keyphrase because again, "best value" is in close proximity to "web design". Suppose someone searches for "which web designer is the best value", rather than "best value web design", you have captured this too.
We are aiming for a 2%-5% keyword saturation or keyword density for your keywords within the content of the web page, if you are using the Lynk CMS, there is a built-in content analysis tool that identifies amongst other things, the position and density of the most common words and prominence on the page. Unless theres a specific reason for a high keyword density score, if your percentage is any higher than this the content may become unnatural for humans to read and you run the risk of being accused of keyword spamming. Any lower and search engines may not relate your web page to the keyword you are trying to promote. Its a fine balance, but then search engine optimisation is not supposed to be easy.
Words, or more precisely keywords are measured by search engines not only by how many times they appear on a page, but how prominent they are within the page. For example a keyword placed inside a heading will be considered to have more importance than a keyword that appears within a sentence. There are more: words that appear in bold, in links or link titles, even in lists have a slightly different score to standard paragraph words. In some cases the difference is negligible, such as list items, but combined with others these can be powerful indicators to a search engine about what the page is describing. When rewriting your content, you should consider how you will fit keywords within these elements.
The single most important keyword placement is in the meta title. This is the title that appears in the users browser when they navigate to the page. More importantly in terms of searching, this is what will appear in the Google listings. You have about 60 characters in which to say to the buying public what is on the page, so its absolutely imperative that this title describes the page very concisely, but also contains your number one keyword for that page.
There is another technical consideration when devising meta titles. Its vital that your titles reflect natural navigation through your site, rather than act as a keyword vehicle. In fact, in 60 characters you need to sell your services to the public, indicate to the search engines what is on the page AND offer structural indications to the engines. The latter of these is influential in Google identifying your site as a candidate for its much revered Sitelinks technology. You may have seen this on some older or larger sites whereby links to internal pages are displayed immediately underneath the home page link:
Meta descriptions allow you to appeal to the public via Google search listings. This forms the two lines of text that appear underneath your link. Unlike the title, the description is less important in determining site structure but should always concisely describe what is on the page it relates to. In addition, it should be an excerpt from the page itself and should closely match a key sentence from the page and should of course contain your primary keywords or phrase for that page. If your meta description is missing, Google will select a sentence at random, usually from the top, which may not be appropriate or contain your keywords.
In order to appeal to search engines and humans, your on-page links should contain a title that concisely but accurately describes the page it points to. This is not only an opportunity to get more keyword exposure, by carefully crafting titles you can help users navigate your site and allow search engines to build confidence that the page title is relevant to its content.
This is also true for images on your website. Search engines cannot read or see images, so its important to give each image a title that describes what the image is. Appropriately titled images feature in Googles image search quite prominently and give the rest of your site more credibility for your chosen keywords.
Consider partially sighted visitors to your site. Users that use screen readers must be able to navigate your site and screen readers do a good job (by way of appropriate titles) of informing them where links go, or what images contain. Search engines (for the purposes of SEO) can be considered "partially sighted", so by doing this, you are also writing good index-able content.
Now we can begin!
Now that you have insider knowledge as to how to format your content and keywords appropriately for both human visitors and search engine spiders, the process of getting your site recognised properly by Google and the others can begin. From here on it gets technical, so contact us about notifying Google that your site has some new and exciting changes that it ought to be aware of.