Keywords crammed into pages and links from any site that would have them. It took quite a bit of work and know-how and got some pretty amazing results, but it wasn’t exactly quality marketing. Things have changed. If you are looking to get onto the first page of Google today you need to do things much differently.
There is a lot to SEO, here's the simple summary: A good quality well organised site with good quality relevant online promotion.
Hopefully that is pretty simple. The word that stands out is quality. If you remember that simple sentence and follow its advice, you’ll be on the right path in the new world of SEO. Don’t believe the emails that you receive on a daily basis guaranteeing first page results for a pittance. It is not worth risking low quality activity in the pursuit of search engine traffic.
Here’s what you need to do to get great results from SEO:
Be clear on what you are trying to achieve
Is it inquiries or sales? Is it a specific revenue goal or perhaps supporting another initiative with awareness and relevant traffic? Whatever the goal the more specific you can be the better. We recommend setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. This makes it much easier to plan and then measure whether you are on track or not.
Understand your customers
A lot of businesses fall into the trap of wanting to get onto the first page of Google for the key phrases that they think are important. The reason that this is a trap, is because you’re coming at it from your perspective not your customers.
It’s much better if you stand in your customers’ shoes. Look at what their questions are and how they are asking them. What are the words and terminology that they are using for the product or solution you provide?
It’s important to remember that they often won’t start their journey knowing the actual name of the product or solution that they are actually searching for. And when they do know it, the chances are that different people may call it different things.
The more specific you are about the customers that you are trying to attract, the easier it will be to target them with the right key phrases and messages.
Map out a common journey that they’ll go on
It’s unlikely that many customers’ journeys will exactly match the journey you map out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
Mapping out the journey will help you to get a much better understanding of how the customer is likely to find you and the experience they will have when they do.
Going through this process will help you understand the competitors that they’ll be coming across. You’ll also see how your message compares with the competing messages that they will be seeing. When you’re researching make notes of whether they are likely to be reading reviews and which other sites they will be referencing when making their decision.
All of this will help you to plan your SEO strategy much more accurately. You might find that they will looking on YouTube for video information. Or that review sites are prominent on the search phrases that you’ve identified as important. Knowing this will help you to make sure that you have these included in your SEO plan.
You have clear targets, you’ve described your customer and have planned the journey they are likely to go on… What’s next?
Identify and prioritize your keywords
A popular tool for identifying keywords is Google Adwords keyword planner. You can enter a few keywords and it will suggest others. It will even organize them by groups and will give you estimated monthly search volumes and an indication of how competitive they are. While this information is for Google Adwords specifically, it is one of the most accurate ways of estimating search volumes.
You can also enter competitors’ websites into the web page field and it will give you suggestions based on their websites as well. This is one way to get a good idea of the keywords that they are targeting.
If you have competitors that are appearing regularly when you are doing your research, have a look around their site. What keywords are they referencing? While this won’t necessarily give you the information you need – it is always good to have an idea of what they are up to.
You can also use Google Trends to compare search for different keywords over time. If you are interested in this have a read of our post, The 3 rules of SEO keyword research.
When you have an initial key phrase list test these searches on Google. Often the auto prompt will give you ideas of other related search phrases. When you’ve run the search you’ll also find a list of related searches shown down at the bottom of the page that can give you other ideas too.
We usually recommend prioritising keywords taking into account:
- Your objectives
- When the keyword is likely to be used in the customer’s journey
- How many searches is estimated to generate
- How competitive it is.
There are tools that you can use to estimate the competitiveness of key phrases, but this is relatively advanced SEO. A rule of thumb is to look at whether direct competitors of yours are achieving first page rankings, if they are you probably can too. However, if the first page is all national newspapers, review sites and other big sites you might find it an unrealistic goal to directly rank for these key phrases. If that is the case you can opt for getting mentions on these sites and looking at whether optimising videos on youtube would be a viable option to get rankings and traffic for the competitive phrases. You can then work on getting your own site’s page ranking well for more achievable keywords.
Map your keywords to pages on your site and identify gaps in your content
Work through your prioritised keywords and identify the best pages on the site that should ideally appear on the first page of Google.
It is best if each page is as relevant to the keyword as possible and ideally you want to be assigning as few keywords to a page as possible. The more keywords you have assigned to a page the more difficult it will be to optimise the page for all of them. Sometimes you just have to compromise.
It is important to keep in mind what the customer is actually looking for when they are searching on that keyword or question. Do they want to be taken to a product page or the homepage of a site, or would they prefer to be reading a more detailed guide on the subject that answers the question they have.
In the old world of SEO these types of questions often weren’t taken into account, but it is really important that you do now.
When you map your keywords you are likely to identify pages that don’t already exist. You’ll find a key phrase that really needs a more detailed ‘how to’ page for example. That is a great opportunity to make your website richer, giving a better experience for your potential customers and attracting more search engine traffic. Plan in who needs to create the page and when it needs to be done by.
Research who is ranking for the key phrases and plan other work you need to do on the site
When you are mapping your keywords to your site, take this as an opportunity to research which sites and pages are ranking well for the phrases. It is often best to do this while logged out of your browser – otherwise you may be seeing results that are tailored to your search preferences. To do this open an Incognito window in Google Chrome or a private window in Internet Explorer or Safari.
When you are researching who is ranking for which keywords, you are looking for the type of pages that are ranking. Are they information pages, product pages or homepages? Are they review sites or are they other businesses selling the product or service. This will give you a good idea of the type of page you will need to compete.
We recommend that a good rule is to work out how you can create the best page on the internet for a potential customer searching on that search term. If you can deliver that you’ll have a great chance of ranking well for the phrase.
Also don’t forget to check Bing. It doesn’t have the same search volumes as Google, but there are still plenty of opportunities to rank well and get valuable traffic, enquiries and sales on the right keywords. It can be a lot less competitive too.
Create the best page for the potential customer – and for the search engines
In the new world of SEO, you really want to come at things from a user first perspective.
Covering the basics goes without saying. These include making sure that the title and heading of your page are very relevant to the keyword you are optimizng it for. Remember to include relevant images too, naming them with the keyword and including it in the alt attribute for the image will both help. When you’ve researched all of the other pages that are ranking well – make sure you are presenting more detailed information and useful resources than the pages which are ranking well.
It’s really important that the page is well designed and well laid out. If the aim of the page is to sell something or to encourage the user to make an inquiry, make sure the page is optimized for that objective. Clear calls to action, like obvious well worded buttons really help with this.
It is important that your pages load as quickly as possible. Fast load times provide a much better experience for the user and the search engines love it too.
More users are searching on mobiles now than ever before and that trend is only set to continue. So it’s crucial that your pages are mobile friendly. Google presents different results on mobile searches compared to desktop and tablet searches. Which means you will need to keep this in mind as well.
Avoid duplicate content
The search engines don’t like duplicate content. This can be difficult for sites that need to have the same products available in different sections of the site, or if you are selling the same product as other sites and need to present the same information.
If the issue of the same pages available from different sections of the site is familiar to you; there are technical solutions that will help with this. The main thing is that you are aware of it and get the technical help you need to make sure that it doesn’t create problems for you. If you are technical you will probably want to use canonical tags – it is easiest to google it as there is lots of information online about it.
If you need to present very similar information as other sites, try to write as much of the information in your own words. Also present other unique information; your own review of the product often works well in this situation.
Promote your pages on social media and other websites
Good quality links into your website are like a vote of confidence for your website from that site. Links from high traffic sites should also send good quality traffic into your site. You can build the best web page ever but if no one knows about it – it’s unlikely to do much for you. Promoting it will help more people know about it and will improve your search rankings as well.
Quality is key here too. Google has clamped down on low quality links and buying links is also a dangerous tactic. Read our 3 minute guide to link building for more information.
Social media marketing has a good relationship with SEO. Google will find new content through Twitter, while it won’t directly benefit your rankings it will encourage Google to crawl the page. Sharing good quality content regularly and building a network of followers will encourage people to share your content and link to it as well. This will all help your SEO.
YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, so building video marketing into your plan is often a good idea.
Keep on top of technical issues
The best tool for this is webmaster tools. This will tell you of any issues that Google has found with your site when it has crawled it. Keeping on top of fixing these issues shows Google that your site is well looked after. You will be rewarded with better rankings than sites that aren’t keeping on top of issues.
Google webmaster tools also give you insights into the number of searches that your site has been shown in. This really helps you get a good understanding of which keywords are performing and which aren’t. You can also connect it with Google Analytics to get your information in one place.
Produce and promote regular relevant content
From blog posts and videos to online and offline events, content marketing comes in a variety of forms. The most important thing is that it is regular and relevant. Creating good quality content on a regular basis gives your potential customers and the search engine crawlers more reasons to return to your site. It also gives you more to promote and opportunities for other sites to link back to you. All of this will help your SEO and will generate results in its own right.
The more your content follows a theme and supports your priority keywords the more it will support your rankings. You’ll increase your public authority on that theme. It is this authority that Google and the other search engines measure, to decide which sites should rank at the top of the results.
Steps for success
SEO is a deep subject – there are books, websites and loads of information out there on it. If you are doing it yourself you’ll need to go deeper into each of the areas I’ve outlined above. If you are using an SEO agency or inbound marketing agency to work on your SEO for you, you’ll want to make sure that all of these areas are covered. As a marketing manager or business director it is important that you understand how SEO works. It is technical and takes time, but it is also very important and should be integrated into as much of your wider marketing as possible. If you understand it well, you’ll be able to spot more opportunities to make the most of it in your wider work.