Everything you wanted to know about SEO but were too afraid to ask …

What is SEO???

To start off with – let’s make sure we all know what a search engine is … Google is a search engine as is yahoo and bing – there are a few out there but I’m going to focus on Google as it is by far the most popular one out there. All search engines are basically directories of all the content on the internet.

When you do a search on Google for something you get a list of hundreds of websites returned to you in pages of ten at a time. The results on the first ten pages or so are all websites that Google think are the very best results to show you. The information out there on the web is vast … and Google need to have a way of refining it and displaying the best and most relevant results. If they display websites that aren’t very good quality, people will stop using their search engine and go find a better one, so really it’s in your best interests as well as Googles if they show us the things we are trying to look for, rather than something we won’t find very useful.

SO what Google did is they came up with a formula, to ensure they find the very best results from the teraquads of information they have on any given subject. No one really knows exactly what this formula is, because Google keeps it very secret, however they do have webmaster guidelines telling us the sort of thing that they are looking for.

So optimizing your website helps google display it in relevant searches performed on their search engine in a nutshell. If your website is being found on google through relevant searches you get a lot more business knocking on your door …

I attended a workshop in October last year run by one of the SEO team at Google – it was very interesting hearing what they had to say, and what suggestions they made to help give a website more authority in Googles eyes. I’ll be covering much of what they said in this presentation.

Welcome to the court of Google …

Whenever anyone asks me about SEO or the best way to go about it I tell them it’s like a court case … Google needs you to provide evidence that your site has authority and is worthy of appearing for the searches it’s users perform. If Google don’t present the very best quality links to their users then people will go elsewhere because the sites that Google is showing them are wasting their valuable time and energy. Think of it this way – if you’re running a hairdressing business in Nottingham and you don’t mention anywhere on your site that you’re based in Nottingham how will Google know to display your website when someone searches for hairdressers in Nottingham? It’s not psychic – it needs you to be specific. So what you need to do is make sure the content on your site is targeted and well thought out to include the keywords you want your site to show up for in searches.

I’d say the content on your site is probably the most important thing in SEO but there are other pieces of evidence that you can provide Google with some of which I’ll cover later on but they include:

Relevant back-links, Social signals, press releases, blog posts, regular content updates, guest blog posting, articles in the local paper, viral share-worthy content, meta descriptions and titles.

Keyword research

Before you do anything regarding SEO it’s worth taking some time to do the groundwork. Think about who your customers are, what they might search for when looking for your services and what content would be useful to them. Build yourself a list of search phrases, subjects and content ideas for your blog and website. This way when you come to write content for your site you can pick one or two phrases you want to target and you won’t be stuck for ideas. You’ll be creating yourself a mini roadmap.

The best way to find popular search terms is to use the adwords keyword discovery tool. You won’t be placing adverts but using their tool to help you find the information you need to decide which keyword phrases to target. In SEO jargon terms there are two types of keyword phrases, short tail and long tail. Short tail are usually much harder to rank for – these would be phrases like “web design” or “Printers” – searches containing one or two words. Long tail are usually much easier to rank for. These are more like descriptive sentences or phrases containing three or more words – for example “hairdressers in Nottingham” or “Colour and dye hairdresser reviews Nottingham” – If you think about it – the chances are you will gain a more valuable visitor if you choose to target the long tail phrases anyway because they are a lot more specific. When someone searches “web design” They may be looking for a number of things such as web design tutorials, or web design ideas or web design quotes or web design companies. The chances are your site won’t be relevant to them anyway – I call short tail keywords vanity searches because to a general extent they just make for bragging rights rather than valuable customer conversions. You’ll get a lot more out of long tail keywords so it’s really worth the extra effort researching.

Another thing to bear in mind is word families – there is often more than one way to phrase something – for example “web design Nottingham” “web design companies Nottingham” “web designers Nottingham” “great web developers Nottingham” and so on – if you’re using a combination of all the above words in your content then you stand a good chance of ranking for those keyword phrases.

If you want to find out how competitive it will be to rank for a keyword phrase then if you Google it in quote marks, Google will display the number of exact results using that phrase … if this is in the millions then you might be better of choosing another phrase to go for, if it’s under a million then you might as well have a go at it – obviously the lower the number the better! It’s worth taking a look at your competitors and what they are doing with their sites too for ideas. They are obviously doing something right to rank well in searches!

On-site & Off-site SEO

There are two types of SEO that I want to tell you about – on-site and off-site SEO. On-site SEO is all about fine tuning all the content on your site. One of the factors of on-site SEO is a thing called meta tags – these are snippets of code at the top of your site written especially for search engines. Here you can write a meta title tag highlighting the overall content of the page – meta titles should be no more than 65 characters long. Generally speaking this is the snippet that will be used to link to your website in a Google search – so whilst it’s important to include your top keyword phrase – it’s also important to make sure you write something compelling to encourage people to click it. The second meta tag a search engine will look for is called a meta description – this needs to be kept to 155 characters or less – again this is the sentence Google will use to display under the clickable link on the results page – it’s really good to make sure you include your keyword phrase here too but also a call to action such as “click here to find out more!” – Think about what makes you click on certain search results rather than others and try to write something that alludes to more information and makes the searcher want to find out more by clicking on your entry.

Offsite SEO is all about getting relevant back-links to your website from other sites – this can include social signals as well which I’ll cover in more detail later – but generally the best sites to get back links from are other blog sites that share your topic – you could do a guest blog post for example, or other sites like industry newspapers, directories and so on. The better a site ranks the better the quality of the link will be – you’ll be transferring something commonly called “link juice” which is essentially some of the good reputation the other site carries over to yours.

With all the recent algorithm changes Google have put a lot more emphasis on the content on a site. So whilst some juicy high quality back links to your site can certainly help there is no beating decent content on your website itself. It’s really worth being thorough with your content and making sure you’ve gone through everything to make sure that you’re not missing anything important – the easier it is for Google to trawl your site for the relevant information it needs to rank you the better.

White hat, grey hat and black hat ….

I’m not talking about a fashion statement here – I’m talking about different methods that SEO companies use to perform SEO on your website. White hat employs ethical Google recommended methods, these usually take more time and effort but pay the biggest rewards – they are basically all the things I’ve talked about so far previously. Grey hat is that grey area in between the white and black … employing a company to make 100 directory entries or getting a few poor quality backlinks from sites that aren’t particularly relevant to your website, or perhaps utilising some sort of loophole that Google hasn’t uncovered yet. Black hat usually involves software that goes out onto the internet and spams blogs with thousands of meaningless comments including back-links to your website, or making thousands of blog posts on poor quality sites which are written in very poor English. There is always going to be a loophole here or there that may get your site ranked temporarily, but in the long run Google will always fix these holes and drop your site back into obscurity – or worse black list it and not rank it at all. It’s always tempting to go for a quick fix but in the long run employing white hat methods will always win hands down.

What should you look for in an SEO company?

In my opinion there is no one better placed to do SEO on your business than yourself – you are the expert on the things you want to promote for yourself – you wouldn’t consider asking someone to write an essay on your child who they barely know. You’re the one who knows them best after all! You may need help and consultancy popping meta tags into your code, or help and advice crafting your meta tags – but really you should be writing away on your blog and interacting on social media yourself. It is definitely worth getting expert advice on keyword research so you have your ideas collection on what words and topics to use when writing your content. You may want to use an SEO company to help you set up your webmaster tools and analytics accounts. An SEO expert is definitely worth chatting with to create a plan of action too.

SEO basics:

There are certain basic things you can do to make sure your site is presenting the information on it as well as it can to both search engines and humans – after all it’s no good if the site is great for search engines and not compelling reading … as mentioned before the meta title and description are important factors, that being said if you leave them out google will just make something up based on your content, however if you take the time to write something well crafted, you’ll get a good shot at attracting people in the search results.

Content is king as I mentioned before – but make sure you put the most important information at the top of the page, as the content gets to the bottom of the page it holds less weight. Calls to action or forms seem to hold more importance the bigger they are too – so it’ worth making them nice and large!

Heading h1 and h2 tags are used to emphasise important phrases, and linking phrases within your pages to other pages in your site can reinforce the importance too – try not to over-do this though. Any images on your site should have alt descriptions describing what they are.

Make sure you have links to your social media accounts – this will show Google that you are connected and help the social signals associated with your website.

Blog regularly – this will notify Google that your content is being added to, reviewed and refreshed regularly. Also the more content that is on your website the better ultimately. If you write one blog post a week, over the months you’ll soon be building up a nice large bank of content for Google to trawl through. You’ll also be providing your visitors with exciting new content to read over their morning coffee!

Mobiles and devices

Recently Google announced that from the 21st of April 2015 websites that are not responsive or mobile ready may not perform so well in searches. Something staggering like 80% of searches are made on mobiles or devices these days. It’s another way of Google ensuring their users get a good search experience when using their service. What this means is your website should have a hamburger navigation (this three little lines in the top corner that expands into a menu when you press it) and the content should scale to fit your device or phone without having to zoom in to read it. Your tap targets should be well defined and large enough for fingers to click on and so on. Flash animations will not work on a phone so you may need to rethink that content if you have it.

Social signals

Other factors can help with search rankings, if Google sees that your site gets a lot of traffic, or if people are sharing links to your site, or tweeting about you – this can all provide a social signal and be a tick in your favour in the Google books.

Include like and share buttons in your content pages to make it easy for people to share your stuff. Ask people to share at the end of your blog post, or on your Facebook or twitter account.

Videos

Videos can be a really great way of coming up for searches on any subject – for some reason Google is really quick to rate them well. If you set yourself up with a YouTube channel and make simple short videos on your phone, you can upload them and use your keyword phrases in the titles and descriptions, you can also include a good quality link back to your website from within the description. Videos don’t need to be fancy or long winded, in fact the shorter the better really, people are busy and have very short attention spans, so I would suggest somewhere around the 30 second mark – or three minutes at the very most – but if you do make a three minute video just make sure it’s compelling enough to keep someone’s attention for the duration. If you think your video is going to be popular you may want to choose to monetise it and get a little commission from the adverts displayed before and during the video. Some people earn enough money from their videos to make their entire living, by making them useful, entertaining and shareable.

Google Analytics

It’s well worth setting up your website with Googles free analytics tool. It’s a simple thing to set up – you simply add a tiny snippet of code to your site and Google will keep track of some very nifty information for you.

Firstly you’ll be able to see how many visitors you get a month, or a day – or even in real time via the real time button. Secondly you’ll get access to a whole heap of other information, like where your visitors are living, or what time of day they generally visit, or how they came to find your website, how long they stayed, which pages they visited, which landing pages the entered the site on and which pages they exited the site from.

You’ll be able to study this information and use it to your advantage, for example if you have an article go out in the local newspaper, you’ll be able to see it there is a spike of traffic around the time the article went out, and if visitors found you through the newspaper website. You’ll be able to tell which of your marketing efforts are having the best effect. Knowledge is power – once you’ve got this information you can do more of the things that work and improve your marketing strategy.

Webmaster tools

Another fine free tool from Google – this one tells you if Google has any issues with your website, allows you to submit a site map so Google knows where the content of your site is and that it should go and crawl that content, and it also lets you know how Google sees your website and what the keywords and phrases it see as being important according to its analysis. This means you can see if your onsite SEO work paid off and Google got the message!

Google insights:

This is a really handy tool to use to analyse your website – you can check how it scores on the mobile friendly front, or how well it performs on desktops. It will give you tips and suggestions on how to improve your website to perform better. Good for both your visitor and your search engine rankings!

After thoughts …

Aside from SEO being a great device for getting your business and website found – remember that if you create useful, insightful and relevant content the people visiting your website will want to share it. People love giving advice or recommendations – like who their great mechanic is, or look at this great infograph I found, or where they bought their bargain pair of shoes … so creating viral and shareworthy content is another valuable route to market that may really help your online visibility. Your website is primarily for people after all and not search engines!

Useful tools and websites:

Google insights

Google analytics

Google Webmaster tools

Google adwords keyword discovery tool

PR Web

Any questions?

Pop your questions to me on Facebook or below and I’ll happily answer them …