Search engine optimisation or SEO is the process of undertaking a series of tactics that encourage a search engine to rank your website higher than other websites for certain keywords or phrases.
Over the years, SEO has become a complicated field, made more complicated by the fact that the algorithm upon which a website is known is not really understood.
The ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ types of tactics to adopt are up for debate, but there is a universally agreed list of activities that are regarded as best practice – or ‘white hat’ as the industry describes them to be.
In essence, the backbone of SEO has always been to create keyword rich content, which is uploaded into a site that has an SEO-friendly site architecture. That way the search engine ‘bots’ are able to read your site more effectively, make a judgment on where the page or site should ‘live’ in the SEO ecosystem and then rank it in the listings accordingly.
When talking about SEO, it’s important to state the importance of understanding ‘user intent’, which is now a central factor in content and search engine optimisation.
Understanding ‘user intent’ is essential to a successful strategy. It’s about understanding what an internet user is looking for when they turn to the search engines - Google for instance – and using this knowledge to meet their need with the type of website content you publish, be that a web page, social media content, a product page or a directory listing.
Today, Google and other search engines crawl a broader number of web page elements to better establish the context of the page’s content as a way of providing more helpful and accurate results for the user.
Understand what the user wants and create content that meets that need and you’ll be on the way to getting your content noticed by the search engines, which will then reward your efforts for being both relevant and useful.
Creating a user persona is a great way of organising your thoughts when it comes to establishing user intent. Marketers create personas so that they can ‘bring a prospect to life’ and understand them better. This includes building up a picture about how they use the internet, the type of questions they use when browsing and – importantly – the keywords and phrases they will use when looking for the type of products and services you sell.
Here are some other tips:
- Maximise UX.
Pay particular attention to the user experience – or UX as it’s often known. Create a logical site navigation map with internal links between pages and clear call to actions that help users move around the site.
Make the content interesting and engaging. Give users what they want fast so avoid lengthy intros or overly technical language that will make them work hard to understand what you mean.
- Reputation matters
Google considers your businesses’ Expertise-Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT) when ranking your site – as well as that of the individuals who contribute and publish to it.
Using several interlinked factors, Google attributes a score according to the credentials of the web page content creator. It also looks at patterns to try and ascertain if something is true as part of the trust criteria – if the same statement appears on other authoritative sites for instance.
Google will look for reviews, testimonials and endorsements to gauge the authority of the website. You can help Google verify your website by associating with influential and recognised individuals as a way of bolstering its gravitas. This may involve developing a network of experts with proven credibility and expertise in related fields and ask them to contribute to your site in some way: A guest poster, commentator, associate or other.
Be candid and open about your achievements as an individual and business.
Create a detailed ‘About Us’ page or resume page for your site that outlines who you are and who the people who you work with are. Don’t forget to complete your social media profiles also and include links to educational and professional institutions as this will help Google judge your collective authority.
Finally, put your biographies and links to social media accounts on every article you publish.
- Combine offline and online.
From supply chain excellence to the deliverance of innovative, quality products and services that are sold at the right price; your conduct and offline existence matters - even in the realm of the digital world.
Reviews are a big indicator for Google. Poor service whether experienced on or offline can easily result in Google demoting your site from the SERPs. Customers will often turn to their social media accounts to vent their frustration and leave scathing feedback. You will want to do everything you can to impress and meet expectations at every turn from now and into the future.
Generating good reviews means stepping out of the online world and looking at how your business can up its game across the entire marketing mix with a particular emphasis on meeting expectations, providing value and delivering a gold-standard service.
Seek to delight your customer at every opportunity. Recognise the fact that online and offline worlds are two sides of the same coin rather than mutually exclusive from one another. It’s not possible to grow a viable business by succeeding in one and failing in the other.
5. Apply digital PR to earn links
Link building has always been an important part of SEO and this will not change any time soon.
What is changing, however, is that the context of the web page that the link appears. The future of link building will be even more akin to PR rather than to the tactical SEO methods as used in the early 2010s. Google aims to give higher rankings to websites that provide genuine interest and value rather than rewarding low-grade content and practices.
Link swapping, paid links and links in social media accounts are likely to do little - if nothing - for your ranking and any grey/black hat activities could even jeopardise your site.
More than ever, Google will favour websites that follow a logical, contextual link strategy. Methodical, organised linking between web pages within a website will help Google understand the structural and topical nature of your site.
Following rather than flouting the search engine guidelines means shifting focus away from the tactics of old and instead towards building long-term strategies that focus on earning links as a result of placing high-quality content on relevant third-party sites.
When planning out a link building strategy, use these handy tips:
- Avoid cloaking, buying or hiding links or placing links on low-quality or irrelevant third party sites at all costs.
- Adopt a PR mindset rather than an SEO mindset when it comes to link building is by far the preferred approach. You can do this by following editorial calendars; sending out timely, newsworthy stories and contributing to online features and relevant, third party blogs. The links you get are then symptomatic of good practice.
- Look for link opportunities in historical content: Conduct a name search and approach any website owners that have referred to your brand in their content but who have not linked to your site. Ask them to link to a relevant page on your site as a way of providing more information for the user. They can only say no!
- Cover the tried and tested technical basics
Ongoing, technical SEO maintenance and best practice should be carried out with vengeance if you are to beat your competition in the SERPs.
Whereas the shift towards a more humanistic approach to SEO is gaining ground, creating a structured and well-organised site that helps Google crawl your site to ascertain its context is vital for online exposure.
Fast, mobile-friendly and secure sites will continue to be vital for optimised sites in 2020 – and it’s important to cover these basics before drilling down into more advanced activities.
Avoid overstuffing your content with keywords but use meaningful topical keywords in URLs, title tags, meta tags and image alt tags. This will help Google identify and understand the content of your pages and rank your site accordingly.
Google Search Console is a sophisticated and free SEO tool that will help you get your site shipshape. Set up an account and submit your sitemap to make sure it is crawled regularly. It’ll help you spot broken links, check your site’s loading time and identify crawl errors.
As well as building backlinks to your site on third party webpages, it’s important to also link out to high authority sites at the same time. Make sure the sites you link to are trustworthy (remember EAT) and also internally link within your site using keyword-rich anchor text.
For more information on keywords, hop over to our blog ‘Keywords are the competitive tool in the search marketing toolbox’.