A guide to SEO for SMEs
Is top ranking with the search engines for your website the 'holy grail' for your business? Do you believe that SEO (search engine optimisation) is imperative but you don't know how to achieve it? Find out how you can punch above your weight in the fight to top the search engine results pages (SERPs) with our top 20 tips for SEO.
OK, so you realise how important it is to achieve this goal but faced with the day to day challenges of running a SME this may sometimes feel like an impossible task. The degree of difficulty is further increased by online competition from larger organisations with greater resource. But fear not, SERPs top ranking is achievable if you just invest a little time and follow a little guidance.
1. Content is king
You may have heard this phrase in relation to web design, but do we really understand what this means? Gone are the days of keyword-saturated' short bites of copy which said very little but were able to seduce the search engines by the incredibly high density of keywords. Search engine algorithms (computer programmes that react to an internet search to give the relevant results) are now so sophisticated that they respond to the quality and relevance of the content and the excellence of the website's user journey as we will discuss.
Of course your page and blog copy needs to be relevant to your business but it also needs to educate and/or entertain the visitor while proving it is authoritative, original and well informed. Such compelling copy will play to your SEO goals and to your human visitor, who we want to keep on site and to ultimately take one of your calls to action. Your content needs to be useful to them and you have to prove this to the search engines too by the length of time visitors remain on your site. This 'dwell time' is especially important in ranking terms as the Google and Bing 2016 algorithms recognise websites whose visitors leave quickly or 'bounce' off the site, penalising them for not offering satisfying content.
In addition, when visitors bookmark your pages on Chrome, for example, this will boost your Google ranking. They will only do so if your content is useful to them.
3. Duplicate and out-of-date copy
Given the importance of the user experience (often abbreviated to UX), duplicate and out-of-date copy across your site is not an option. The search engines will ultimately find you out and punish you in ranking terms. It is therefore good practice to undertake regular website ‘housekeeping', removing any copy that is no longer relevant or a duplicate of existing content.
Although Google now uses some 200 ranking criteria when assessing a site, you still need to make judicious use of those relevant key words and phrases that potential clients might use to find your website. Keywords, therefore, are still important for organic SEO in 2016. You would be wise to feature them in your page and blog titles, introductory text, headers (if appropriate) and conclusion therefore, but beware of over-populating your content with keywords.
Ways in which you might research the most appropriate keywords for your website pages include:
- A 'back to basics' look at your business priorities and strategy.
- Keyword research tools e.g. Google Keyword Planner, Searchmetrics Keyword Analysis.
- Looking at the keywords your high performing competitors use on their websites.
- Client research - from your very first contact with a new or potential client, it is important to understand the search terms they have used to find your website. Simply asking what they 'Googled' to find you is a simple, yet effective approach in 2016.
5. Long-tail keywords
Long-tail keywords continue to increase in significance for internet searches; these are more specific search phrases allowing for a more targeted internet enquiry. The modern internet user will often type as they speak and you need to be ready to harness such searches. The rise and rise of voice searches will further increase the importance of long-tail keywords, as we discuss in our next tip. It is important, however, to appreciate the difference between how a desktop user and a mobile user might make an internet enquiry - long-tail keywords for mobile searches, for example, are typically shorter.
6. Voice search
As we have already established mobile device searches are on the increase and the use of voice search, using such services as Siri and Cortana, are set to increase alongside this trend . As the ability of the search engines to reference the spoken word improves it will be important to keep up to speed with website design and content best practice in this respect. Writing copy now that takes into account searches in natural language will help, together with greater use of long-tail keywords and writing content around frequently asked questions.
7. Variety of content
Videos, images, infographics, graphs, slide shows all help to improve the user journey and keep the visitor on site. Don't forget to use relevant descriptions and tags to flag up such content. It has been proven that websites using video can achieve a 4.8% higher conversion rate compared to the 2.9% average for websites which do not use video (source: Aberdeen Video ROI report1). Indeed, the use of video on websites looks set to increase at pace as Google, Bing, Yahoo and others become more sophisticated in referencing the spoken word.
8. Word Count
Recent evidence from Searchmetrics (source: Searchmetrics 2015 Ranking Report2) indicates that Google prefers more detailed content. Searchmetrics suggests that the average word count for top ranking content should be between 1140 and 1285 words, although there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that this should be in excess of 1800 words(source: SERP IQ3). As we have discovered, the search engines are looking for substance, so if you want your key content to rank highly in 2016 it is important to research and create content that delves into your subject matter in depth. Blogs and news updates are a great way of achieving this.
9. Local searches
If you are a small or medium sized business targeting primarily local business, then there is a great deal you can do to enhance your website's local traffic in 2016. Last year Moz4, the marketing software provider, published the results of their survey on the relative importance of different ranking factors for local search campaigns. Although search algorithms continue to evolve, tailoring your website for local searches remains vital. We will go into the science of local SEO in a future blog, but suffice to say the following actions are important as a minimum:
- Set up your Google My Business page.
- Ensure your local contact information or NAP (name, address, phone number) is present across all areas of your website.
- Actively seek local reviews and references from local customers and contacts e.gvia Yell.com or your Google My Business page.
- Use local information and keywords throughout your website content, especially on landing pages, in blogs and as part of some page headers.
- Build quality inbound links from authoritative local sites.
10. Internal website links
The importance of internal links within your website has increased steadily, however it does not appear necessary to permeate your content with excessive amounts of internal links. Rather the relevancy of those links to the overall user journey is what is important.
11. Meta & header tags
For the search engines to reference a website page it is vital that your header (or H1) tags accurately reflect the content on each page and, of course, are relevant to the visitors you want to attract to your site. A meta description will signpost the relevancy of your content for SEO. Using headers throughout each of your website pages will also help to separate your content into more easily absorbed segments. Nobody wants to read great swathes of text, no matter how beautifully written.
Given the importance of the user experience to the search engines, the way in which your site content is structured takes on even greater significance in 2016. In addition, having worked hard to attract a visitor to your site, you do not want them to leave it any time soon. A logical site architecture, which is easy to navigate is vital in this respect. Ensuring that content is organised simply and logically will not only make sure that your website can be found but also that your visitor wants to remain and take those 'calls to action'. So break up your site with menus and arrange your content in easy to digest chunks. For mobile users this often means bulleted lists and slightly larger font sizes.
A shallow site structure, with less levels to delve down into, will also prove easier for both your visitor and the search engine to reference and navigate (source: Search Engine Journal5). You should guard against burying your key content too far down your website hierarchy, making it frustrating for a visitor to find.
13. Mobile responsiveness
According to Ofcom's 2015 Communications Market Report, Smartphones in 2015 overtook laptops as internet users’ device of choice and this trend shows no sign of abating. It is no surprise therefore that mobile responsiveness has become a 'must have' for website design. Google has stated publicly that responsive design is their preferred mobile configuration, so we disregard this at our peril. AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are a more recent approach to website design for mobile devices and these too may grow in prominence as cost comes down and accessibility improves.
14. The need for speed
How often have you 'clicked off' a site because it took a long time to load? We have already established that high bounce rates are bad for SEO. Your search engines will similarly take a dim view of slow load speeds. Mobile pages need to load more quickly (smaller file sizes will help here) so the optimisation of images, for example, will help reduce file size and increase load rate.
Advertising on-site has its place, but beware of overuse for mobile responsive sites particularly. Advertisements adversely affect loading times which will have a negative impact on your site's user responsiveness.
Link building has become quite a science in recent years and this is a subject we will cover in greater detail in our June update. The bottom line is that building quality backlinks should be a major part of your online website strategy in 2016. We have summarised some of the optimum content for achieving backlinks:
- High quality educational or entertaining research based content
- Current affairs commentary
- Long form content over 1000 words
- List blogs
- Guest blogs and reciprocal guest blogging
- Blogs answering a question
- Social media backlinks (on page social media plug-ins can help here)
You may have heard the term black hat SEO, which refers to the use of shady strategies to gain a high ranking on a SERP. The purchase of multiple, poor quality backlinks became a key technique in black hat SEO. In 2016 Google, Bing, Yahoo and the other engines are able to distinguish between quality and black hat links and the penalties in terms of site reputation and organic search position are severe.
16. Broken links
Poor quality backlinks should be avoided at all costs - multiple irrelevant or broken backlinks (and links generally) will be penalised. You will need to regularly check the links across your website but tools such as Screaming Frog and Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) can assist you with this.
17. Social media
Social media is an invaluable tool in the kit of any online marketing strategy. Social shares, likes, comments and interactions with your web pages and blogs show the search engines that the content you have on your website is educational, entertaining, useful, authoritative, relevant and worth referencing.
18. Domain authority
A high domain authority is generally awarded to those websites who consistently demonstrate their usefulness and significance to their visitors. So a number of quality backlinks from authoritative sites is key to proving this. Backlinks from sites with a higher domain authority should therefore be your goal here.
19. Site code validation
You need to check that your site's code has been validated so we would recommend that you speak to your website provider to confirm this has been done. Although valid HTML and CSS code are not necessarily the key to top page ranking, valid code shows a well managed website and will be easier for the engines to crawl.
20. Calls to action
OK, so we realise that this is not directly part of your SEO strategy, but let's face it you have worked hard to attract visitors to your site and keep them on site, so now make it easy for them to buy a product or service or interact with you. Calls to action should be strategically placed across your website and at the very minimum you should be looking to capture a visitor's details to start relationship building. In addition, your Contact Us page needs to be meticulously planned and carry a variety of simple, user-friendly ways to get in touch.
Search engine optimisation is evolving and the sophistication of Google, Bing, Yahoo and others is increasing at a startling rate. Staying ahead of the game online means investing ongoing time and effort in your website. Our top 20 SEO tips will help but it will also be necessary for you to keep up to speed with the fast paced , dynamic world of search and website design. You may like to do this by following our regular website and SEO blogs, please subscribe below and we'll send them direct to your inbox.
Natalie Holloway, Content Strategist & Copywriter