SEO is one of those things we all know is vital, but leaves many of us confused. There are people out there ready to take your money but will it have results?
It is easy to get distracted by lengthy and inaccurate audits, confusing technical terms. I talked to three great experts in this field to bring you the information you really need.
An overview of SEO
Neil Sheth is the founder of Bubbli Digital, which is a specialist SEO agency. He explains SEO as being similar to going to the gym. You start by building your muscles up and getting used to the machines. It is about four to six months till you see a big difference, depending on your starting point.
With SEO, if you are high performing already, you will see results quicker, but SEO requires a long-term approach whatever the starting point. Just as you don’t stop going to the gym when you have got fit, you need to put in the foundations and then maintain them. For the gym, that would have been getting the right clothes, starting to eat the right food, then working out. With SEO, those foundations are about understanding the why and the what of SEO.
Let’s assume your site is beautiful. You need the technical side of SEO done correctly, optimizing it to allow search engines to go into it and find all that beauty inside. Otherwise, it is like building a house without a door. Your pages must have crawlability, and it is easy for you to order an audit to check that has been done, though don’t panic about the volume of minor warnings it may come back with.
The next part is all about content. Your content has to be optimized for search engines to find and match what people are looking for. If someone is searching for “the best red shoes to match a red dress,” writing an article on how black shoes are great will not cut it. Once you have established the question you are answering, you set about producing content that matches the question and is the best possible answer, beautifully written and on point, something Google will be proud to rank on page one.
Neil doesn’t get especially concerned over audience demographics. He focuses on keywords and ensuring they are what people are searching for. Understanding and focusing on this will be crucial to SEO success.
Finally, everyone talks about links. The reason is that links establish brand authority. Google develops trust in your site over time, and the only reason they start to do this is when they see your site connected to websites that already have authority with them. The more of these you get, the more Google trusts you too. However good the rest of your work is, it is this recognition of authority that will move you up the rankings.
One more aspect that gets overlooked when it comes to brand authority for Google is social media. While as an over-busy business owner, you may feel that social media is unnecessary, it is part of your SEO. Different platforms are highly relevant for different sectors, the financial sector on Twitter, for example. Your social media presence in the right place, relating to the right people, also gets noticed by Google.
Neil believes that SEO is simply the best compass you can use to build a brand. Everything that you do for SEO, you should be doing to develop the brand. View the rankings as a bonus. But remember, it takes regular hard work to build the abs.
SEO as part of your Brand
Lee Fitzpatrick is MD at strategic brand builders, Outlaw Creative in Edinburgh. Brand strategy and visual identity are their core product offerings. Brand visuals and strategy are the directions you are steering your brand towards, and SEO is a part of that. Lee advises you to view your website as a brand asset, the tool that connects you to your ideal audience in a way that makes consuming your brand message easy.
Your website needs strong visuals to be working towards your key objectives, aimed at your target audience and part of the culture that runs through your brand’s DNA. Designing, writing, and developing this helps you to form deeper connections with your audience. Every business should truly know what their brand needs to communicate and how this aligns with the audience they are speaking to.
There is a common misconception that the quantity of visitors to your website is critical, but you might be attracting the wrong audience for your brand, which in turn would create ineffective traffic to your page. The quality of your content, created through content marketing, and how you optimize your title and description are hugely important. Your brand identity should infuse all your content and truly reflect what your business stands for, without over-optimizing either. Over-optimizing runs the risk of writing material for search engines rather than human beings. Our main aim when dealing with SEO is to create a perfect balance of quantity and quality, which genuinely reflects brand values.
Lee says that branding weaves through everything a business does and plays a massive part in optimizing SEO. Link-building and technical SEO aim to increase the number and quality of inbound links and ensure that a website meets all modern technical requirements to improve organic rankings, but what really makes a difference is the ability to answer the questions people are searching answers for. The only way to really do that is to have a strategy behind the content you create for your website, ensuring that it is aligned with your brand, meaningful, and optimized to answer the questions people are typing into the search engine.
An SEO Action Plan
We shared advice from the fantastic Jon Berg of Digital Tiger earlier in the series and what follows is his very actionable SEO advice. Jon points out that being visible through search engines can make or break a business. Effective SEO doesn’t have to be complicated, overly technical, or expensive.
For freelancers, small and local service businesses, ranking within the top three of Google’s local map listings, plus ranking highly for well-researched long-tail keywords, is key to success, especially when working on a tight marketing budget. Here’s a quick plan of action to start ranking quickly:
• Use Google’s keyword explorer or a plugin such as ‘Keywords Everywhere’ to collate a list of phrases that have relatively high search volume and low difficulty.
• Include these keywords into your homepage or create a key content piece/sales page that you want to be ranked.
• Find relevant, high-powered links to send to your key content piece.
• Create supporting articles based on a keyword phrase from your research, then create a link from this article to your key ranking page. This ‘interlinking’ is a crucial element to better rankings.
• To boost your local map rankings, search for online directory listings to add your business. Make sure the name, address, and phone number are identical on your website, listings, and Google maps. Reviews help, but they are not as large of a ranking factor as you may believe.
Jon also agrees that guest posts are a great way to get links to your website. This is where you write high-quality articles for other sites in exchange for a link to yours. These links will help both in terms of rankings for your site, plus you will see a rise in ‘referral traffic,’ as a proportion of their readership visits your website.
Search for this phrase – your industry and “guest post.” For example, web design, ”guest post,” or graphic design, “guest post.” This search will show guest post opportunities in your industry. Also, try “write for us” and “sponsored post” instead of a guest post to widen your results. You will typically find a page where the website will outline all of the requirements for your article and author profile.
For links generated to your site, the anchor text chosen must look natural to Google. Use synonyms of your keyword, ‘click here or other generic versions to keep your site safe. Many penalizations occur when a high rate of links are generated to the same website, each targeting the exact same keyword phrase.
Jon explains that with recent Google updates, any links pointed to your site which are high-spam, are automatically discarded. This is in response to the previous trend of ‘negative SEO’ attacks. These were attempts to ruin the rankings of competitors’ sites by sending many toxic links to them.
If you suspect that you have “bad” links that may be affecting your site, Jon advises that you log in to your Google search console and download a complete list of links pointing at your website. You can manually remove these from the file, then re-upload the list to ‘disavow’ them from Google.
Black and white hat ranking methods
You may have heard these phrases when it comes to SEO but be unsure of their meaning. Jon is here to explain.
Thankfully, he says, the most known underhand ranking methods have been identified and accounted for by the many Google updates. However, there are still many sellers offering ‘super quick rankings’ for sites. Avoid these like the plague! Sellers will often try and use these old underhand methods (which no longer work) along with other unsafe links generation, which will likely penalize your website.
The best way to generate strong website links is to reach out to other websites and contributors with a range of solid ideas to write about. Sites like Forbes and HuffPost are always looking for new stories, inspiration, and angles to talk about. Perfect your pitch, and the high-quality links will come.
You may come across private blog networks (PBNs). Although they still work well to improve your website’s rankings artificially, those very PBN sites are being looked at more closely, even monitoring the traffic to those sites to identify and stop this method. It will get harder and harder for this to work effectively with each update, so Jon advises sticking to the outreach methods.
Jon says that he has met many businesses during his career who have fallen foul to bogus, so-called experts, as SEO is seen as a mysterious black art of sorts and wants to offer a quick word on SEO “experts” and site audits.
Most site audits are used as nothing more than a way to overwhelm you and don’t matter as much as you think. Ensure that your site loads quickly, isn’t showing any errors in the search console and that all the links work correctly. The data you already have access to in Google analytics is all you need to craft an excellent SEO strategy moving forward.
Many ‘experts’ will also attempt to target short, very high volume search terms and don’t research much else. Large directory listings, review sites, and established authorities already occupy these keywords, so competing with them is a very costly and long-winded experience. For what it would cost to rank these highly competitive keywords, the budget is often better spent on Google advertising, bringing much quicker results.
SEO is undoubtedly an ever-changing field, with regular updates from all search engines to ensure that the sites with the best visitor experience and information are promoted above all others. Jon says to forget attempting to manipulate their algorithms and concentrate on creating amazing content that people want to read and share.
You might like to start reading this series from the start with how to re-think your digital marketing.