SEO can be a confusing topic, there are so many articles out there, all with conflicting advice on how or even whether you should conduct search engine optimization for your website, that it’s very hard to know what to do, especially if your new to websites and online marketing. So we are going to run through the whole topic in our beginners guide to SEO.
What is SEO & why do I need it?
SEO stands for Search engine optimization, and put simply, it’s the process of optimizing your website so that it appears higher up in the rankings of the search engine, preferably on page 1, when someone searches for a particular phase or word. The reason why most website owner pay for SEO is because they think that there are tricks out there that can be played on Google, and by paying someone in a dark room a few hundred dollars, they can magically get your website to the top of the first page in Google. The problem with this is that while there are SEO companies out there, normally ones that are offering a pay on results model that can get up to page 1 very quickly, but, and it’s a big but, in fact it’s a massive but, if Google spots this type of black hat approach then they will penalise your website which can lead to you being removed from Google altogether. That’s right, NO traffic at all from Google. The truth is that this type of Black hat SEO is not really SEO its search engine manipulation and these days Google is very good at spotting it.
Google is by far the most used search engine and being on the first page can drive masses of traffic to your website, not just masses, but masses of targeted traffic from searchers that are actively looking for products and services that you sell. Being ranked on the first page for a popular search term can sky rocket your business, getting you tons of FREE customers and making your business an internet success. This, as you can imagine would be very valuable and certainly more valuable than a few hundred dollars. Google understands this and in fact makes billions of dollars a year by selling the paid for positions in the results via its PPC (Pay Per Click) system Adwords. So, if you want to rank on the first page very quickly, then this could be the fastest way of doing so.
If you are not looking to pay for every click / visitor and you are prepared to wait a few months while your rankings move up to the first page, then SEO is defiantly the marketing solution for you and your website.
How to rank your website on Page 1
Right, Ok then, let talk SEO. Google is a search engine, and its job is to find the most relevant and trust worthy website and web pages for any given search query. They have spent billions on developing the most sophisticated algorithm to deliver the best results for searchers, and this is why it’s the number one and most used search engine in the world. Now to stop spammers, black hat SEO or whatever you want to call them for gaming the system they don’t let anyone know exactly how it works or how they rank websites, but they do issue guidelines on what they are looking for, and this is the best way to build a successful website. So let look at the ways in which you can optimize your website.
If you are new to the world ofSEO the first place to start is with Google webmaster tools. Webmaster tools will allow you to monitor the performance of your SEO campaign and help you see your improvements. To set up webmaster tools you will need a Google account, so if don’t have one already now’s the time to set one up. You will need it to access not just webmaster tools but other products and services that Google offer, such as analytics, adwords, Google plus and Google place for business. Once you have activated webmaster tools for your website, you will be able to see how many search terms your website appears in Google for, how many people click through to your website from Google. Webmaster tools is also the place where Google will let you know if your website has any problems or manual penalties, it’s worth signing up to Webmaster tools just of that.
This is another great Free tool from Google, analytics gives you tons of data on how visitors interact with your website. While it’s not as valuable as it used to be, thanks to Google restricting the Keyword search data for organics traffic, it is still a very good source of data and can show up quick fixes like high percentage of visitors all leaving from the same exit page. Analytics is also the tool that will allow you to set goals and call to actions to be monitored. It’s amazing how some website pages convert visitors in to customers at a higher rate than others. From this data you can decide if pages need changes made to them or even if particular topics are more valuable to your business.
Local or National searches
For some searches, Google will show local search results on the first page as well as a reduced number of organic results. These local results will listed with map pins and will look different to the organic results. These two types of search results not only look different but there rankings algorithms are looking for different things as well, this means that your SEO campaign will need to be targeted differently if you are a local business and want to appear in both.
If you are a local business and are there for only really looking to attract customers within your service area (after all there is no point in being number one for “Taxi companies” across the UK, if your Taxi company only covers Cardiff) Google local listings are going to be more important to you than the regular organics listings.
For local listings Google focuses on evidence that your business is local and that you are located and serve the area you are trying to target. Your NAP or Name Address Phone number is what Google is looking for proof that you are a local business and in addition to verifying by post that you are at the address you claim on your Google plus page, they also look for your address to appear on other trusted websites covering your targeted area. So the more locally focused websites that your NAP appear on the more confident that you are local business Google can be and the higher up the local listing you will ranks.
For most businesses, organic searches are the ones they are looking to appear on the first page for, and as more than 40% of all clicks are gained are from the top 3 positions on page 1 being high up on that first page can really drive a large amount of traffic to your website. Even on searches that have local results the top organic results are still showing above the local listing making them incredibly valuable to businesses.
Search engines use backlinks as a major factor when determining ranking position in the results and while updates like Penguin have changed the way SEO deals with backlinks they are still one of the most important factors that SEO has to address. A few years back before the Penguin update it was as simple as building as many backlinks as possible, the more you had the higher you ranked. This is certainly not true now, Google is looking for a natural link profile and a few high value links can now be more important than lots of low quality links. Google wants to see relevance when it comes to links, so links that come from website and pages that are on the same subject are a lot more valuable than random likes from any old page. To make it even more interesting, low quality links can actually lower your ranking position. So make sure they are relevant and from sites that would be expected to link to you by Google. If your website is about cars, then getting back links from sites that are about home improvements or losing weight are not going to help you and could just send up a red flag to Google.
Google and the other search engines are looking to offer up the best and most relevant web pages to peoples search requests, and now more than ever, high quality content that engages the reader is what they are really looking for. You may well have hard the phase “Content is King” and it’s true. Even with very high quality links, the days of ranking a small piece of drab content is at an end. You need to think about your content and make sure it is valuable to searchers.
As we have just mentioned your website needs not just good but great content to rank at the top of page 1, but even the very best content is no use if people cannot read it easily or it does not load correctly on their device. More and more searches are taking place on mobile devices, so if your website is not mobile friendly you are going to miss out on a lot of new customers. Google now looks closely at how well your website works on mobile & tablet devices and priorities website that work best across multiple devices.
Page titles, descriptions and headers are still very important and can be used to give Google lots of information about your webpage. Optimising these meta data sources is one of the first tasks that should be completed.
Possibly the most important factor of any web page, the page title not only tells Google what your web page is about but can form the basis for the title shown in the search results. Attractive and engaging page titles and have a dramatic effect on click through rates, which in turn boosts your website traffic in two ways. Firstly by getting more clicks for a given position, if the average click through percentage for position 5 in the rankings is let’s say 4 to 6% and position 10 is 3 to 4%. This means that the best pages titles could be delivering website traffic to the same level of ranking 5 places above them. Secondly Google takes the click trough rate in to account when calculating rankings so by outperforming the other results on the page you will see your rankings improve as a result.
This is less important than it used to be, Google and the other search engines are now much better at determining what a web page is about so are much less reliant on the description you give your webpage. This being said they are still read by the search engines and can make up the description shown under the results. Well written description can be used to improve click through rates as well as helping Google fully understand your page.
Headers if used correctly can be very powerful but are one of the most mis-used parts of on-page SEO. This is down to the fact the headers 1 to 6 have different styling and are commonly chosen on how they look rather than how they can be used effectively. The H1 header is the most important and should be used of the main topic of the webpage. It should also be used only once and should not be a direct copy of the page title. The other 5 H tags can be used multiple times and should be used to divide the information into sections with higher number being used to show relevant section and lower number to show sub categories. If your webpage was about the UK then the following header format would be appropriate:
Header 1 = UK
Header 2 = England
Header 3 = London
Header 2 = Scotland
Header 3 = Edinburgh
Header 2 = Wales
Header 3 = Cardiff
Header 2 = Northern Ireland
Header 3 = Belfast
Images are great, after all who doesn’t like a good picture, but while search engines are getting better at reading web pages they still are unable to see and understand pictures. So, unless you want them to just see it as just an empty space on your web page you will need to tell them what your image is about. Here again, the secret is to produce engaging well written and full descriptions. Just putting “house” is not going to tell Google much, were as “4 bedroom detached house in south west London” give Google much more information and can help to show how the image is relevant to the webpage.
How much does SEO cost
Well this is the million dollar question if hopefully not a million dollar answer. As with all marketing the answer is really “as much as you can afford”. If your SEO is effective then your website traffic will increase along with your sales. This means that the more you spend on SEO the more money you will make back in sales.
R O I
ROI – return on investment is key to any SEO campaign, if you are making back the money you spend on SEO in extra sales then it really does not matter how much your SEO campaign costs. With this in mind we recommend setting an initial budget for around 6 months and then continuing at around 50 – 66% of your increased profits. This will give you up to a ROI of 100% or £2 for every £1 spent on SEO services.
Manage your expectations, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are sustainable page 1 results. Too much, too soon, and you could easily risk getting penalised by Google. Plan your SEO service over 6 months to begin with, at that point you will be able to fully judge the effectiveness of the campaign and the benefits it is delivering. When it comes to SEO, slow and steady will win the race every time.