Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Understanding basic SEO and how to improve your organic ranking odds

Investing in an engaging, strategically developed website that reflects your core brand ethos, your "why", products, services and point of difference is imperative but ENSURING YOUR WEBSITE IS SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISED (SEO) TO GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE OF BEING FOUND ORGANICALLY BY POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS (without paid advertising), IS THE ESSENTIAL GOAL.

Firstly, don't be fooled by those who offer cheap website development; I've been undercut on quotes many times and when this happens the client virtually always comes back to me for advice, after the site has been developed, as to why they don't appear organically on google searches.  Anyone can call themselves a web developer, purchase a template, throw in custom text and imagery, and sure, it looks pretty good, but do they have your big picture in mind, is it strategically aligned with your brand standards and therefore rest of your marketing? The back end of the website is of key importance if you actually want new potential customers to find you organically, so how do you know if the developer has actually implemented SEO features on your site? Do they really know what they are doing and do they have your best interest at heart? This blog post is to help you get a basic understanding so you can make informed decisions. 
SEO is ever evolving, Google are King and they move the pieces of the chess game frequently - but their goal seems to be that of creating an improved user experience, authenticity, integrity and interaction. Don't be sucked in by the endless emails, calls and text messages of those claiming to be "SEO Experts" who frequently use fear, and throw your ignorance in your face, to sign you up to paid campaigns. In my humble opinion, it is such an evolving area that few can truly claim to be an expert, and even if, to a degree, we are all sheep, even the data analyst experts are struggling to prove what formula can be used to make a social media post go viral driving visitors to your website, or guarantee you to be at number 1 position, on page 1 of a google search without your name in the search phrase, without paid advertising. With my SEO checklist, I get good organic results in most sectors (harder to achieve with highly competitive industries such as finance), until the Google goal posts shift again.
SEO is time consuming, it is staying up-to-date with the evolution, monitoring Google Analytics regularly to tweak your SEO, checking what key phrases are being used to bring visitors to which pages of your website, who is being drawn to the site - are they the demographic you were actually targeting,  how long are they staying, what are they looking at before they leave, where are incoming links coming from (great for checking if paid listings are actually worth the investment), etc.  Also, checking Google Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to ensure your website is being indexed fully by Google, if there are any page load or link errors, uploading a sitemap when pages are added or removed, looking at page load speeds (to avoid Google penalising your ranking potential). Running a few paid adwords campaigns to test keyword phrases in your industry, even looking at the backend code of successful peer's websites to see how they are using key phrases, which ones bring the right demographic to your website, then building those key phrases into your website in the key areas that the google robots search - and so much more; it all forms part of the ongoing site 'optimisation'. 
It takes a lot of time, knowledge, experience and a willingness to learn, adapt and evolve. If you have someone on your team who has the ability, fantastic, otherwise, you really do need to appoint someone, but understanding the following basics will help you to select the right person for the job with a little more insight, and not let them use your lack of knowledge as a way to charge excessive fees whilst offering no measures or ROI.
TIP: If you are enticed by an "expert" to run a paid google adwords campaign, make sure you ask for access to the campaign account, so you can see exactly how much of your money they are actually spending and where, what keywords/phrases they are using, the demographics they are targeting, the text content (make sure it aligns with your brand) and monitor the results. You can use all this information to tweak your website for better organic results. Remember, even if they understand the ins and outs of adwords, that does not mean they are an expert in YOUR industry, nor does it mean they understand your customers or will respect your brand standards.
Basic SEO is built in to every website I develop at McCoy Design and  I openly share my knowledge as I work with my clients to set up their social media platforms, digital directory listings, etc. to the degree they require. The ongoing tweaking, analytics review, maintenance and social media strategy and roll-out are, understandably, an additional service that I offer on a retainer basis.

McCoy Design SEO Checklist:

  1. Switch to a secure HTTPS server (using HTML5 for cleaner markup, simplified coding, fast page load speeds, cross browser consistency and more) - adding a SSL 2048-bit key certificate on your site will give you a minor ranking boost. Moreover, from October 2017, Google Chrome browser will show a "Not Secure" warning to the viewer when entering a non secure HTTP website - that won't look good! Get ahead of your competition and switch to a secure server pronto!
    [ADDENDUM FROM MY HOSTING PROVIDER, THINKING CAP STUDIOS: When switching to HTTPS, check if the hosting company supports HTTP/2 then you will also get a speed boost. Most sites still run HTTP/1.1. READ MORE]
  2. Ensure your website is responsive for mobile devices. Google Test.
  3. Even the page URL matters! e.g. Changing my "logos.html" page to improved my ranking for those searching for logo design.
  4. Make each page title (meta title) relevant to the content of that specific page. This is the heading that appears at the top of the browser window but is also listed by Google in search results. This gives you a better chance of Google giving you a nicely formatted (stands out against competition) index of pages in organic searches. I start each page title the same (e.g. "Switch Finance Gold Coast") and add a separator (• or | or -) followed by the page relevant title (Switch Finance Gold Coast | About Us).

  5. Make the 'meta description' succinct and relevant to each specific page content (not the same for every page of your site). This is the text that appears on the google search engine wall, under your page title heading, under the URL. This is the text that people read first before choosing to go on to your site, so it is really important!
  6. CONTENT IS TRULY KING! Make all content highly relevant and customer focussed - it's about why you do what you do, how that sets you apart - allowing the right type of people to find and resonate with your message, and potentially turn into a customer. Thoughtfully include the relevant key phrases (that potential customers may use to search online) throughout, but without repeating the same information (or Google may ignore it), making each page content subject specific.
  7. Include your most important and relevant key phrases in your  <h1> and <h2> header tags (the larger headings above paragraph text). Think about how you can incorporate important phrases, the way people search, differently on each page. 
  8. Don't use jpgs/png images for text headings or slide show images. Use css formatted text that can be contextually searched, indexed and referenced by Google. With the introduction of web fonts there is no need to create jpgs to retain brand integrity. You can use the fonts of your choice directly in your web design.
  9. Embed meta data (hidden information) into all photos and graphics, including heading, description, URL, email, keywords and copyright information. This enables your images to be searchable too, and they will appear in the Google "images" tab and will link back through to your website.
  10. Optimise your image sizes. Images have a huge impact on the overall size of your website, and affect page load speeds, which in turn can affect how google rank you. Carefully balance responsive image size and compression so the file size is as small as it can be whilst still looking great, without pixelation. I used to rely on Adobe Photoshop compression, but the gurus at Thinking Cap Studios showed me how much better the compression is on other apps such as ImageOptim or online via - but make sure you add your meta data after compression or it will all be lost. Also, name the file carefully, descriptively. You must use the "ALT" tag (alternative name for the image if it doesn't load or for accessibility). Add a title, caption or adjacent contextual text. Google Image Guidelines.
  11. Google loves YouTube - it owns it!  Video content can help in terms of user engagement (time on site, pages visited, etc.), which is a factor in how you rank. Also, video can increase the perceived value of a page and prompt more links to it - great for SEO. Embed quality video content on your website via YouTube. First create your own, consistently branded YouTube channel where you upload the videos - link it (in and out) with your website. A concise, professional quality introductory video on your home page and interesting, relevant, informative and/or educational (consider fun - life is too serious, make people laugh) video snippets elsewhere on your website. Whilst professionally produced videos would be ideal, these snippets can be done in-house, but invest in some decent diffused lighting, a tripod, and a quality video recorder. Consider where you are recording, what is in the background? Maybe create a little studio area specifically for this with your logo and web URL strategically placed in the background. If you are producing a matching series of video snippets mark where you positioned the lighting and video recorder for the sake of consistency.

  12. Ensure your video can be found organically! When creating video's:
    • include hidden meta data (copyright information, web url, contact details, key phrases, description, etc.) I use Adobe Bridge for this but there are other tools available.
    • make the file name protocol relevant (ie. Name_Where_WhatItIs.mp4", such as "McCoyDesign_GoldCoast_BrandDeveloper.mp4") and ensure there are NO SPACES in the file name (use underscore or dash to avoid spaces).
    • when uploading, give consideration to the (searchable) wording you use in your video title and description. Take the time to write about the video, incorporating relevant key phrases that people may use to search.
    • use YouTube's tag section to include appropriate, industry specific key phrases and words.
    • once you have completed the above, use YouTube's embed code to add the video/s to your website.
    FACEBOOK: You can also share your YouTube video on Facebook but Facebook has a new strategy for video and gives incentives and search preferences to videos uploaded directly to Facebook rather than via YouTube. Find out more here.
  13. Integrate Google Analytics with your website so you can track incoming and outgoing links, see the customer demographics, which pages they are, or are not, viewing. Review your analytics data frequently to check/improve your site's keywords and content. As the business leader, you need to understand this data and use it to your advantage. Ensure you have full access to your analytics with your own Google login and add key team members (with appropriate access level). This data provides valuable insights which you can utilise in your marketing strategy.
  14. Integrate Google Console (Webmaster) Tools.
  15. Create your fully branded Google Business Listing (formerly Google Places and Google Maps), BUT FIRST check to see if one already exists (anyone can create one), and if it does, claim ownership (FIND OUT MORE).  Include your logo, some great images, key phrases/keywords in the tags section, include your website URL. MAKE SURE YOU VERIFY OWNERSHIP (usually Google will send a pin code by snail mail to the address on the listing, takes 2-3 weeks and a team member of just about every client I have organised this for, has thrown this away the first time thinking it is junk mail, so warn the team to look out for it). Occasionally Google offer to provide the pin via an automated phone call (which does not work with PABX/automated answering systems). When verified and set up correctly, your Google Business listing will give you a better chance of Google actually showing your map/street location adjacent to your organic Google listing, like this one for my fabulous client, Andrew Baildon's Superfish Swim Schools:

  16. You have created your YouTube Channel and Google Business Listing, so you will already have a 'Google Brand' Account - you use the same login for all. Now you can create your branded Google+ (Plus) pageSign in to Google+ as the owner (or manager) of the Brand Account, click your profile image in the top right corner to bring up a menu from where you select your brand account. From there you can "Enable Google+" - INSTRUCTIONS. Link your Google+ page to your website and vice versa. If you have this set up in accordance with Google's requirements and have verified your account, you can create a custom URL (well, to some extent, the URL options are a little restrictive - BUT WE LOVE ALL THINGS GOOGLE DON'T WE?!).
  17. GOOGLE LOVES NETWORKING! Google robots rely on the interaction between sites to gather and make sense of information, so link to reputable, relevant websites and online directories, and have them link to you. NEVER PAY SOMEONE TO LINK YOU TO HUNDREDS OF IRRELEVANT SITES, Google are smarter than that and can actually drop your ranking, plus you end up spending countless hours fixing up incorrect information, if you are lucky enough to have obtained the login details for the listings.  Promote your website on quality, high traffic websites that are relevant to your brand/industry/products/service and assess/review incoming links via your analytics (i.e. paid advertising such as facebook ads, paid or free advertising on business directories), exchange links with your suppliers, customers, associates, etc.  Only list your website on relevant sites such as industry associations, your clients, suppliers, products/services you recommend etc., and with any paid links, keep a spreadsheet detailing your log in details, who, where, when, cost, renewal date, successful clicks/links, etc. Ensure they stay up-to-date, especially any offers you have included.
  18. Add social share icons that give you analytics so viewers can easily share your page on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. - and you can view the data. It is about interaction, bringing people together - google will reward you. 
  19. Integrate your site with social media, such as incorporating a facebook like box, facebook, twitter and instagram live feeds (posts from your facebook wall/tweets appear on your website), etc. Ensure all your social media pages link to your website. Here's a fantastic example of interacting with customers: share their customer's instagram posts on their website, linking back to the customer - awesome 👏🏼.
  20. Optimise your site, delete duplicate pages, check all links, fix link errors and use the W3C validation tool.
  21. Submit an xml sitemap to the main search engines, especially Google (via Google Console). Re-submit when major changes are made, such as when pages are added or removed. Prevent indexation of pages with no SEO value, such as a Privacy Policy, because Google only crawl/index a certain number of pages in a given period.
  22. Google take up to 6 weeks to index a website unless you use Google Console (Webmaster) Tools, such as "Fetch as Google". From experience, you can also speed the process up with a quick, cheap Google AdWords campaign. - Be Outstanding!

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