(This article is an 11.5 minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU'LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1. Five simple steps to optimise your website for search engines
2. Advice on why you should ignore those "I'll fix your SEO" emails
3. Solid advice for how to let both people and search engines find you
At least twice a day, I get an email from an SEO marketing expert saying they’ve looked over my site and realised (gasp!) that it isn’t optimised for Google! And not only can they fix that, but they can guarantee that they will get me on the first page of a Google search.
These emails are a scam. They are designed to ensnare people who don’t know about digital marketing, or are intimidated by its technicalities.
For the record, don’t believe that they will get you on the first page for Google – for starters, what Google search would it be? For your company name? There’s a good chance you are already on page one for that Google search. But how would this ‘SEO expert’ know the audience you are looking for if your site isn’t optimised already? Can they read your mind?
These emails also imply that you can trick Google into making your site seem more popular than it actually is. And you never want to trick Google, because if you do and they find out, they can penalise your site by not including it in search results.
Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take with your website to help it get found by search engines easily.
Keywords are the starting point when it comes to getting your site discovered by both people and search engines. Think of keywords as the words or phrases someone would type into Google when they’re looking for your website. Of course, your company name or the name of your practice would be one of your keywords.
When Google’s software searches around the web, it categorises web pages based on information on the page and sorts them into its own index. It’s not the only way that Google will organise information. But keywords are like the first step in matching your web page to people’s search requests.
If someone doesn’t know your company name, how would they find you?
Well, there are other keywords you can think of that your customers might use to look for someone like you. For example, in winter people will Google “flu vaccination” and maybe the name of the suburb they live in. If you’re a doctor, you would like them to find your website when they do that. So “flu vaccination” might be a keyword you should target.
If you’re a dentist, some keywords you might want to target are “emergency dentist”, “toothache” or “jaw pain”. If you’re a vet, you might want to target “sick dog” or “hairball” or “cure for fleas”.
Make a list of the keywords and key phrases that you think people would type which would logically lead to them finding your site. Those keywords will inform the next step of the process, which is …
Google and other search engines assume that if your website is updated regularly, the information on it will be more useful to searchers. If you haven’t updated your site for a few years, Google might assume it has been abandoned – so won’t list it as high up in search results as other, regularly-updated sites.
This is why people start blogs on their company websites. It is the easiest way to regularly update the site.
Some pages of your site you can’t update. Your contact details will always stay the same. Your ‘About us’ page probably will. But a blog feed on your home page, along with a regularly updated blog page, will give the search engines something new to discover.
We recommend to people that they update their blog at least once a month. You can either do it yourself, or use an agency like us to do it. It’s not important that the posts are great literature. But it is important that they are unique to you (Google’s computers are clever enough to work out if it is plagiarised).
What should you blog about? Use your list of keywords as a starting point. Choose a keyword or phrase and ask yourself, “What do I want to say about this, and who do I want to say it to?” Is it a particular customer or group of customers? What do they look like? What do they need to know?
Don’t stuff the article full of keywords. Just using them once or twice will be enough for both readers and search engine computers to know if your blog post is relevant.
For a few tips on how to get started with blogging, check out this article. It is addressed to vets, but the ideas and principles can be applied to anyone.
Once you start writing, you’ll naturally come to the next step, which is…
You will find so much information out there on the web about writing the perfect headline, and a lot of it is very misguided. Many of the articles are backed up by data which recorded how many clicks an article got, but then made no record of what the subject matter was.
The truth is, no-one knows the perfect formula for writing the perfect headline. If you did find it, you could quite your day-job immediately. If you sell the formula to every magazine and newspaper in the world and become a multi-gazillionairre.
In the meantime, all you need to know is your article will have two headings which may or may not be the same. One is the name of the page it is on—this appears in small writing directly beneath the URL bar. It’s circled in the picture below:
The other is the heading of your article, often called the H1 heading. It’s circled below:
Whether you make these different or keep them the same, make sure that both of them have your keywords in them. The first one, the Page Title, is what the search engines will display. The second one, the H1 heading, is what readers will read.
Sometimes, when you see the results of your Google search, you’ll see a few sentences about the page underneath the page title. This is called the meta description. You can either write an original meta description, or you can let the search engine draw it from the first few sentences on your page.
Either way, the meta description should also contain your keywords, or variations on them. Also, if you have any images with your blog post, you should tag them with keywords. Google's computers can’t read pictures, so they will ignore them unless you give the picture a tag that the Google computers can read.
Make sure your page title, headline and descriptions all have the keywords you are targeting. That means both humans and computers can recognise what your page is about, which makes it easier to find and read.
So you’ve planned and written your first blog posts, and made sure your titles, headings and tags are all sporting your keywords. Now your next step is…
It’s great if people want to stay on your website and read the whole blog post you put up. It’s even better if they want to read another post, and another.
And the nice thing is, Google agrees. In fact, Google’s computers are clever enough to figure out if people are clicking on a link to your site then staying there, reading stuff, and generally finding answers to their questions.
The number of people leaving your site after finding it on a Google search is called your bounce rate. Google takes a note of how low your bounce rate is, and how long people hang around on your site, and reflects that in your ranking.
So make sure that every page on your site gives people a reason to move naturally to another page on your site (rather than going off elsewhere on the web). That other page might be selling products, or it might be another, related article. Or it may be a sign-up page for your newsletter.
Whatever it is, give people a reason to keep hanging around or they will wander off somewhere else.
If they do find somewhere else to browse on the web, wouldn’t it be nice if they found a blog post, article or interview with you there—along with a link back to your website? This is the next step, which is…
If lots of popular sites think your website is worth linking to, then Google will think so too. The trick is getting your articles, or articles about you, published somewhere with a big audience. Of course, the bigger the audience, the harder it will be to get noticed.
And you can’t do it just by publishing on your own website. It means being available—maybe putting yourself forward as an expert on something to your local paper or a trade magazine, or building your own profile on social media.
We could write another 2000 words on that topic alone, so will leave it for a future post.
Taking these simple steps is the basis for getting discovered by search engines. Of course, results won’t happen overnight. But if you have these basics set up, you are in a good position to start using your website to grow an audience for your expertise. From there, you can cultivate that audience into clients.
So next time you get one of those spammy emails promising to get you on the first page of a Google search, you can confidently bin it.