New to the world of SEO? You’re in the right place. By the end of this article not only will you have a clearer understanding of basic SEO principals, but you’ll see how optimising your website can find you more customers, increase awareness of your business and most importantly, grow your Startup.
SEO is used by all the major search engines we use on the web. Search Engine Land’s official definition summarises the fundamentals of the process:
“SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It is the process of getting traffic from the ‘free’, ‘organic’, ‘editorial’ or ‘natural’ search results on search engines. All major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads.” – Searchengineland.com
Why is it Important?
It is estimated that 33% of people click the first search result on Google. The top 3 results receive a total of 61% of clicks. That means when people Google “driving instructors near me”, the majority of them will click on the first few results. Imagine how much business you might be losing by not even making it onto the first page of a Google search!
In a recent survey we ran among small business owners, we discovered that working on their online presence was the most popular way to grow their business with 46.2% of entrepreneurs turning their focus digitally. As more and more Start-ups take their businesses online it’s becoming vital to ensure yours can compete.
What Contributes to SEO Rankings?
Google and Bing have developed an algorithm that looks (or “crawls”) over all the websites that span the entire internet. This algorithm determines what a website does and can make recommendations for searchers. The algorithm then decides how to rank your website for a certain search term.
There are over 200 factors which search engines take into account when ranking your website. Search Engine Land splits these into 3 groups which we will explain in more detail throughout this guide: On-Page Factors, Off-Page Factors and Violations.
1. On-Page factors can be controlled entirely by the business owners. These are determined by the content on your website, the site architecture and the HTML of your site.
2. Off-Page factors cannot directly be controlled by you. Search engines realised that business owners could make their website seem more relevant than it actually was. Examples of off-page factors are links back to your website.
3. Violations are tactics which try to “cheat” or manipulate the search engines. When spotted, the search engine will punish the business by handing out a ranking penalty, which will damage your website’s ranking. These often include paying for links back to your site.
We’ll talk you through a few ways you can improve your website’s search engine rankings. Since there are over 200 factors to take into account this is by no means a conclusive list but should give you a good introduction to the basic ways you can optimise your website.
How to Improve Your On-Page Factors
1. Make it Clear What Your Business Does
Google wants to show the customer the most relevant and useful page for their search. If the customer keeps getting irrelevant results that don’t answer their question or serve their needs, it will lead to frustration with Google or Bing and also reflect badly on the search engine itself.
Keywords are triggers that search engines use to help match a searcher with a relevant website. At the most basic level, try to include exactly what your business is or does in your URL, Title and on your homepage, rather than just on your “About Us” section. For example, http://www.rosebakery.co.uk instead of merely “Rose.co.uk” will help Google understand you are a bakery and will be more likely to show your website to people who are looking for bakeries. By naming your business “Rose Bakery”, the term will also be naturally used throughout your site meaning there are consistent signals to Google that you are a bakery.
Be wary that Google has reduced the impact of “exact match” domains in its algorithm to try and stop quick fixes for brands who try to get to the top of rankings fast (Search Engine Watch used http://www.buycheapjeans.com as an example). However, if you’re a “solid, genuine business that just happens to have a brand name [such as Rose Bakery] that also looks like an exact match domain, but is otherwise a bastion of trustworthy internet practices – then you should be fine.”
2. Optimise Your Meta Tags
Try to include your service (plumbing, consultancy, fitness app etc.) not only in your title and descriptions but also in the meta tags and title tags of your website. The meta tags and title tags can be accessed through your settings on your website hosting platform (sometimes simply called “Tagline” or “Title Tagline”), or if you’ve outsourced your website, ask your developer to alter the meta and title tags that sit in the HTML of your website. The title tags and subheadings are found here:
Meta-descriptions will also appear on the Google or Bing search results pages. These descriptions are roughly 155 characters and tell search engine results about each individual page. Moz gives the HTML location of your meta description as:
Not built your website yet? If you’re not HTML literate, we highly recommend using WordPress to host your business’s website. You can easily optimise the meta tags and descriptions through the settings of your website without having to play around with code.
3. Research What Keywords to Include
Your website should include keywords which best describe your offering. “Bakery”, “Celebration Cakes” and “Delivery Service” are good examples of target keywords that should be mentioned on multiple pages on your website. Unsure about what people in your area are searching for? Google has a free keyword tool which can be accessed by anyone who has an Adwords account (which is also free to set up).
The most important thing about keywords for your business? Only incorporate them naturally into sentences. Google’s webmaster guidelines stress that you should always write for users first and search engines second. If your service doesn’t naturally flow into the content on your website, rephrase or put it somewhere else. Google can negatively rank your website if it looks like “spam”.
4. Build a Clear Website Structure
If your website is easy to navigate, both customers and search engines will love it more. A clear navigation bar on your page that directs people exactly where they want to go will influence how Google ranks your website. Kissmetrics recommend using a simple structure that logically follows where people would want to go when they visit your site.
The best way to build your website architecture is to think about how you would shop in a supermarket. All your veg is in one aisle, and all the toiletries in another. Group your pages together in a way that makes sense. You wouldn’t want your toothpaste next to the carrots!
5. Put More Content on Your Website
Google loves informative content that provides value to customers.
One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content. – Google Webmaster – guidelines or blog?
The more keywords related to your product, service or brand you can include on your website, the more search engines have to understand what you’re about! Here are some easy ways you can bulk up your website with rich copy that helps users and search engines find you:
- Thorough Product Descriptions: Give each of your products at least a sentence or two describing what it is, how it is made and what benefits it gives the buyer. Applying this to all of your products can be time-consuming, but either writing it yourself or hiring a copywriter to do it for you will soon see your word count soar. Freelancer.com and Copyfy.com offer copywriting services on an ad-hoc basis.
- Start a Blog: Blogging is an SEO tool used by the largest of businesses to assist in their rankings. Posting regular articles on a section of your website that are related to your business will show Google that you are an expert in your field and can provide users with a wealth of information that will help them.
- Include Case Studies and Reviews: Interview customers who love your product and showcase how your business helped them on your website. The content will be completely original as it is directly related to you and is highly relevant as your talking about your business.
- Don’t Overkill on Keywords: You can’t trick Google by “stuffing” as many keywords as you can fit onto one page. Google stresses that it wants to see authentic, natural content that adds value to the user, so go easy on the keywords and let them flow naturally.
How to Improve Your Off-Page Factors
1. Get Links Back to Your Page
Google prefers websites it can trust. If your website is good enough for other people to link back to, search engines will take this as a sign of trust. SEO professional Brian Dean recently ran a test of over 1 million websites to analyse the importance of links to SEO performance. The results? The more websites linking to your business, the higher your position on Google.
So how do you get people to link back to your page?
Get in the Press: Generate awareness by hosting an exciting event, launch a new product or engage in any community projects that the newspaper might cover. If your business does something newsworthy, they might write a feature on you and link to your website.
Partner with other businesses around a competition, offer or service and make sure you link to each other on your websites. You could host a joint event or team up to make a joint product and advertise it on your sites. However, duplicate linking for the sake of linking won’t sit well with Google either. Their guidelines warn against “link to me and I’ll link to you” schemes purely for SEO. If you have a genuine partnership offering something to your audience there shouldn’t be a problem.
2. Check the Domain Authority of These Links
Google sees each link to your website as a “vote” for your website. If another website thinks the information on your website is useful enough to link to, they are “voting” for your website. However, Google thinks that some votes are more important than others. A “vote” from a website which has a high credibility rating from Google will mean more than one that isn’t.
In Google’s own words: “Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.” Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages’ relative importance.”
A link back to your website, say, from a national newspaper or established corporation will help your authority in the eyes of search engines more than a small website with not much content.
Still unsure whether a link will help your Google rankings? Check out Open Site Explorer by Moz. Moz calculates how trustworthy a link is by working out its “Domain Authority”. The higher a website’s DA, the more trustworthy (and therefore looked upon favourably by Google) it is. For example, the BBC has a 100 out of 100 score, meaning Google deems it as incredibly trustworthy.
How to Avoid Penalties
1. Watch out for Bad Links
There are such things as good links and bad links. Any links which you think could be damaging your ranking can be disavowed through Google Webmaster Tools. A website which seems dodgy (e.g. Porn, Gambling sites) in any way that links back to you can negatively affect your SEO efforts rather than help them. News websites, blogs which publish content regularly and other businesses are usually a safe bet.
2. Don’t Pay for SEO links
SEO is focussed on organic, natural coverage of your website. The links back to you should be earned purely through the quality of your service and content. If a website asks you for money in return for a link this should raise red flags. If you have paid for links as part of an advertising campaign, don’t worry. Just implement a no follow tag in the HTML of the link. This will tell Google the link isn’t to be followed for SEO and won’t negatively affect your ranking.
3. Don’t Keyword Stuff
This is the most common offender to search engine rankings. Only include the keywords you are targeting in sentences that flow naturally. Google is well trained in keyword stuffing and stresses you should write for users first, search engines second.
Hopefully, you’ve now been introduced to the world of SEO and have taken away some practical tips to implement on your own website. SEO is constantly changing and professionals can spend years trying to work out Google’s algorithm. Although this may never happen, search engines are clear that as long as your website is informative, trustworthy and easy to use, you will be looked upon favourably in the rankings.