What is SEO?
Most of you will have a rough idea of what SEO is, but if you’re not sure here’s a simple explanation. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is all the activities carried out to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through ‘organic’ search engines results. Organic traffic is when someone arrives on your website after looking for your product or service on a search engine.
To do SEO well you need to understand how search engines judge a website in order to decide when to list it in search results, and how far up in the listings a website will be shown (known as its ranking). Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing use computer algorithms to check each website against their current criteria. If you understand what they are looking for, you can optimise your website to make it as appealing as possible to the search engines, so that they will want to list it high up in the search results when someone searches for related products or services.
Google is the main search engine with over 90% of the market share, so it makes sense to mainly focus on Google’s requirements. Here are the main things to look at on your website, some are obvious like the design and content, and some are less so like load speed and security.
Organic vs Paid
It’s important to understand the difference between organic and paid-for search results. Whenever you search on Google you will be shown a mix of paid-for ads and organic listings. The paid ads are shown at the very top and bottom of the page and are created to draw customers in. If you run a Google Ads campaign you pay per click, so whenever someone clicks on your ad it costs you money.
Organic results are earned through hard work and effort, implementing an SEO strategy to improve your rankings naturally. It takes time and months of work to see a rise in rankings, nothing with Google is quick, so the more you do the faster the results.
What is SEO all about in 2021?
SEO practices have changed dramatically in recent years – it used to be all about having as many iterations of your keywords as possible and adding loads of links etc, but Google realised that these practices weren’t giving a good experience for people visiting websites. If you’ve ever read text from an old website that was stuffed with keywords, you’ll know what we mean! Over the years Google changed its approach and began to focus more and more on how informative, engaging, and enjoyable it is for someone to spend time on a website, rather than things like how many times a keyword was used.
Nowadays Google’s main driving factor is the ‘end-user experience’, and they have worked hard to develop their algorithms to ensure that people searching on the internet are matched to the best, most suitable, most engaging websites for their needs. Ultimately this is the reason that Google now have the biggest market share among the search engine providers because people get good results from using their service to search on the internet, and so they keep using it.
Black Hat SEO vs White Hat SEO
It’s important to understand the difference between black hat and white hat SEO so that you can spot dodgy practices that are offered by some so-called experts.
Black hat is bad SEO and is only interested in optimising your content for search engines. These practices include buying links to irrelevant websites, keyword stuffing, place name stuffing, duplicate content (either from your own website or other people’s) and hidden content. All of these will lead to having your website blacklisted, which is very difficult to recover from.
There are companies out there who will claim to get you on the first page of Google within weeks or months. The only way they can do this is by either using strategies that are unethical, or you’ll be found for your company name which is no good to you as most people will be looking for your products rather than your name.
White hat SEO is primarily focused on your human audience to give them the best content possible, which is Google’s priority nowadays.
Why SEO is important for your business
If you want your website to be found online, SEO is essential. It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is or how well-known you are. It’s not enough to just have a website and hope that people will find it, you need to put some time and effort into keeping it regularly updated in line with Google’s current requirements. And by regular, we mean weekly or fortnightly, or monthly at a push.
Big, established businesses can sometimes become complacent, either believing that their status will automatically impress Google, or that once they’ve achieved good Google rankings they don’t have to think about it anymore. This is absolutely not the case; Google is not impressed by your turnover, and your website will be judged in the same way as any other.
If you are a small business it can be really hard to find time to focus on something like SEO when you have to do everything yourself from marketing and creating your products to packaging and delivering. However, putting some time aside to work on your business, or investing in a bit of help from an SEO expert will be time and money very well spent, and you will undoubtedly see business growth as a result.
In the early days of websites, things were quite different, there wasn’t much competition so having a website was all you needed to do to promote your business. As the online world has grown it’s become more and more of a challenge to dominate the search rankings. The competition is huge unless your business is very niche, so it’s especially important to spend time and effort making your website as google-friendly as possible, whatever your circumstances.
Google’s current checklist
Google doesn’t actually publish its complete checklist – they do give out quite a lot of information about their expectations (the exact details of which change on a frequent basis), but unfortunately, there is no Google SEO instruction book. Effective SEO campaigns are a combination of the information that is available from Google together with recent experience, background knowledge, and best-practice research. It’s not an exact science, but the basics are as follows:
- On-page SEO – everything that is customer-facing such as text, images, videos, design, layout, and navigation
- Technical SEO – the stuff that goes on behind the scenes – meta details, alt tags, links, load speeds, security, and all the technical details
- Off-page SEO – everything else that doesn’t involve making changes to your website
On-Page, Technical and Off-Page SEO work together to increase traffic to your website. If you drive traffic to your website but have neglected to create a customer-friendly experience, your website visitors won’t stay long and you won’t get many sales or enquiries. This is an extremely important part of Google’s judging criteria – the algorithms can identify specific elements of your website and can read text, but they can’t judge the whole user experience in the way that a human would, so they will use data on how long your website visitors stay, how many pages they visit, and whether they come back to decide whether your website offers a good user experience.
Likewise, you might have a great website but if you haven’t done anything to help Google understand it so that they are happy to include it in the search listings, you won’t get many visitors. So working on all aspects of SEO is the only way to improve your rankings and grow your business.
Before we dive into the detail of which things you should consider for your website, the first thing you need to do is understand your target audiences. You need to know who you are trying to sell to so that you can make sure that your website really appeals to them in terms of its design, the style of language you use, key messages, calls-to-action, buying cues, images, and video. This should be the foundation of every marketing practice.
Think about what is important to your customer. According to the latest figures around 80% of shoppers are more likely to purchase if they are offered free delivery, while 64% are more likely to purchase if they get free returns. It might be a case of increasing the price of your products to be able to offer these services, but again this ties in to understanding your customers.
People are increasingly aware of issues such as their carbon footprint, food traceability, and sustainability, and they are keen to support local independent businesses rather than big multinationals. Think about these factors when you are working on your website.
Once you have an understanding of your customers you can look at keywords and phrases. You’ll need to identify the terms that people will use to look for your business and products. Search habits have changed over the last few years and people are more likely to type key phrases rather than one or two keywords. For example, if someone is looking to buy ice cream from a local supplier they will maybe type in ‘where can I buy locally produced ice cream’ so one of your key phrases should be ‘locally produced ice cream’. The IP address of the searcher will tell Google where they are local to, but it won’t hurt to include your location in your content.
Keyword research takes time, it’s not enough to put a list of words together. Especially if you are in a popular sector. There are ways to look deeper into keywords to see how many searches are carried out in a day and how high the competition is. You should make sure your keywords are relevant to your business and products otherwise you may get lots of traffic to your site but not many sales. If someone wants to buy organic, homemade jam that is what they will search for, so make these keywords part of your SEO.
So, what is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is anything that your customer sees when they visit your website. Don’t forget that this is a very important part of SEO because Google will not only judge your website by reading the text and looking for things like images and videos, but also by looking at the data on how long your website visitors stay etc. The more you can do to improve the things that your website visitors see, the better from an SEO point of view. This includes:
- The design and layout
- The content (text and images)
- Overall user experience
Design and layout
A good website designer will understand how a website should look and function, will keep up to date on current design trends and will get to know your business so that your website offers a good experience for the user. Current best practice is for clean, simple designs with a mix of well-written text, high-quality images and graphics. Anything that makes your website stand out and is interactive is good, there are plenty of boring websites around so try and do something different.
It should be obvious as soon as someone lands on your website who you are, what you do, and what makes you different. Give your visitors plenty of reasons to explore the site, and lots of ways to get to the different sections. A link to the shop is essential, as well as information about your business/products. You may have a recipe section, or how your products are made page. People buy from people, especially from local producers, so make sure you show the personal side of your business. Explain what makes you unique and why they should buy from you. Are your products organic, vegan, suitable for different dietary requirements? Do you use locally sourced produce? Are they grown on your own farm? The more information you can include the better.
The content is as important as the design so take some time to write your text and get some professional photography done. We are all different and respond to different stimuli, some people will read the text, some will skim the headlines, others will look at images and graphics, so having a mix will appeal to everyone who lands on your site.
A good starting point for text on your homepage is around 400-500 words. This might sound like a lot but if you break it down into sections it’s not so daunting. Make sure you include your keywords 2-3 times, it’s ok to use synonyms and plurals too. Using headers to separate sections not only looks better on-screen but also helps Google to understand your content.
Using a spelling and grammar checker will save you time and avoid mistakes, although you must proofread anything before you press publish. If words aren’t your forte then using a copywriter is money well spent. They will have the skills to turn your notes into beautifully written prose that perfectly reflects your business.
Although smartphones are able to take great quality images it’s worth investing in some professional photography for your homepage. It’s often the little details that make a great photo such as composition or depth of field, and using a professional photographer will make your website look stunning. Elsewhere on your site, it’s acceptable to use other images but try and get some training or look online for tutorials. Try and keep your images the same size, and make sure you optimise them for the web, or you’ll slow your site down.
Overall User Experience
A website that is easy to use is the 3rd component of on-page SEO.
Make sure your contact details are easy to find, don’t make visitors go hunting for them.
Straightforward navigation will improve the user experience and increase the likelihood that visitors will explore your website further than the home page.
Some people will want to go straight to the shop, some will want to find out about the business and who runs it, others may want to find out how you make your products, so make sure whatever the customers intent they can get there with as few steps as possible.
Internal linking is an important aspect of SEO, not only does it help visitors navigate your site easily but it helps Google understand your site structure and how pages are linked.
What is technical SEO?
Anything that is done in the back end of the website is classed as technical SEO. This includes
- Meta details and page structure – title tags, descriptions and heading tags.
- Load speed
- Sitemap – this tells Google how to crawl your site
- Robots.txt file – this tells Google which pages don’t need indexing
On a Google search, you can see the meta title at the top. This should have your business name and an overview of your business, it tells Google exactly what your business does so should include your main keyword/phrase. Make sure every page has its own unique title that includes relevant keywords.
Next is the meta description. This doesn’t directly affect your SEO and has no relevance to Google, but it does help to drive traffic to your website which does affect SEO, so make it descriptive and enticing to visitors.
Snippets are little bits of information shown under your listing, usually the most popular pages on your site. You can’t change what pages are shown, it’s something that Google selects, so it’s important to make sure each of your pages is optimised. Again, make each description unique to the page. Having a robots.txt file will stop Google from showing irrelevant pages such as the shopping basket here. If you don’t have a meta description Google will select some text from the page, which isn’t great as they could show something completely irrelevant.
When it comes to images, Google can’t tell what they are, so you need to manually put in an alt tag. Include keywords for maximum SEO effectiveness.
What is off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO is any activity carried out away from your own website. Link building is often considered to be the main off-page tactic, but this also includes –
- Content marketing
- Social media
- External reviews such as GMB
- Building local citations (NAP)
Content marketing is any content that you create and publish anywhere on the web, it could be a guest post on someone else’s website or an article in the local press.
Your social media activity contributes to your business’s reputation, so be consistent. You don’t have to post every day but try to post at least a couple of times a week. Engage with your audience, share a mixture of posts, and always remember to link back to your website. Share product updates, good news, personal snippets, events you’re attending, collaborations with other businesses… anything that gets you mentioned online is good publicity and is good for brand recognition.
Podcasts and webinars are great ways to reach out to your audience. You can offer help and advice, share important information or talk about how you make your products or how to use them.
Google My Business is a great free resource for promoting your business. Not only can you tell people where you are, what you sell and when you’re open, you can also post updates, add products and images, and get reviews. All for free. Any time you post on social media add it to your GMB profile. Any images will show up on Google searches, and you’ll have a little red marker on Google maps.
Local citations are any mention of your business online that typically references not just your business name but also your address, and phone number. Yell, Yelp and Cylex are just a few, and lots of them include local newspaper websites too so they have quite a large reach. Make sure they are consistent and correct, it’s especially important if you move premises. There are tools to help you check your listings, Yell has a good free one.
Events are starting to make a comeback now, so as you venture out into the world again make sure your message is clear. Packaging, displays, brochures, anything you use to promote your business, should all be designed using your brand guidelines and should be instantly recognisable as yours. Make sure everything has your contact details on to encourage people to continue shopping with you.
Basically, anywhere you appear that isn’t your website is off-page SEO. You might get approached by a magazine or website that wants to feature your business or one of your products, a restaurant might use one of your products in a recipe, or you could contribute to a feature in your local newspaper. These all help with brand recognition and should drive traffic to your website.
We use a range of tools to help us understand how a website is performing, where the traffic comes from, and to help identify any problems.
Google Search Console is where you submit your website to Google to allow it to be indexed ready for showing in searches. It has lots of useful information on how often your listing is shown, how often it gets clicked on, and what keyword or phrase was used by the searcher. It can also show any errors such as your site not being mobile-friendly. Google uses the mobile version of your site as a ranking factor so if it’s not mobile-friendly it won’t be shown as often. This is where you add your sitemap and robots.txt file. It will also show if you’ve incurred any penalties, so it’s a really useful resource.
Bing Webmaster Tools – Bing is nowhere near as big as Google, but it’s worth keeping an eye on how your website is performing according to their preferences.
It’s important to keep an eye on your analytics to see how your site is performing and where your traffic comes from. We use Google Analytics on our websites although if you have a site you’ve built on Shopify or Squarespace or any other website builder, they should have their own analytics installed. They’re usually not as comprehensive but will give you the basic information.
GA can tell you who’s visited your site, how long they stayed, how many pages they viewed, what your bounce rate is (the number of people who visit your website but leave without looking at any other pages). A high bounce rate usually indicates a problem with the homepage or with your meta details and keywords so your listing is being shown to people who aren’t looking for what you offer.
You can see where your visitors come from; organic searches, social media, Google My Business, direct traffic, or anywhere your site is listed online. This is useful information as it helps you see how your marketing across the web is working. It shows whether people are using desktops, tablets or mobiles, whether you get more male or female visitors, whether they are new or returning visitors, and you can link your eCommerce to see how your sales are performing over time
Social media platforms have their own analytics that allows you to monitor how well your posts are performing, how your followers are growing and how many mentions you get. This can help you improve your strategy and work out what types of posts work better for your audience.
We also use a variety of other tools to monitor rankings, run technical audits and check load speed and other issues. These are readily available online, they might be a bit confusing for non-techy people so if you need any help or have any questions then give us a shout.
If you’ve made it this far, well done. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what SEO is and what you need to do to improve your rankings. To sum it up –
- Write for humans, not search engines
- Know your audience – before starting any work you need to understand who you’re targeting
- Make each web page unique if you don’t want to get penalized by Google
- Keep your website up to date with new content, blogs, news stories, images, videos etc
- Don’t forget the technical side of your website, this is just as important as the content
- Make sure your name, address and phone number are correct wherever they appear
- Link to other relevant websites and ask for links to yours
- Keep up with your social media, and don’t just post but interact with others. Comment and share their posts, share anything you think will be helpful to your followers. Showing your authority will help grow your audience and reach new customers.
If you have any questions please contact us directly. If you’re interested in working with us we’d love to have a chat.
Get in touch on 01964 542916 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-obligation chat.