This blog post is a companion piece to a presentation I gave on driving traffic to your website at the annual ISCF conference in November 2016. The presentation was a quick overview of SEO for small websites,
particularly those offering self catering accommodation, but you may still find it useful even you’re not in that industry! Also I don’t talk much about social media below as there was another presentation on the day relating to that topic.
I’ve broken it down into three sections:
1. Your Content
This is all the stuff that’s on your web pages, also called on-page SEO. If you’re able to edit the content of pages on your site but don’t have the access or knowhow to edit more complicated sections and functionality, optimising the content is the easiest way to have an impact on your organic search traffic.
What’s in your titles, headings, URL, body text, images?
When Googlebot (sometimes called a spider or crawler) scans each individual page of your website, these are the areas it’s really interested in. It’s looking for keywords, and paying particular attention to your page titles (the names which appear in the tab of your browser), your main headings (which appear in H1 & H2 tags in your html code), your URL (everything that comes after http://www…. in the address bar), the main body text of the page — especially the first and last paragraph — and the tags and names of your images.
Also just a suggestion, but Google has a preference for longer form content — top ranking pages often contain more than 2000 words!
So I mentioned keywords above — here’s the deal. When someone types a search into Google, their search terms are compared to the content of millions of websites, and Google returns a list of website in order of authority.
Keywords are the overlapping words and terms between their search and your content. In the old days you could spam pages full of keywords and they’d perform well. That’s not the case anymore. Now you need to write using natural user friendly language — while also paying attention to the keywords you use.
How to decide on what keywords to use
For a start, make a list of terms you think your customers are going to be searching for. Now think of terms related to them. The broader the term, the more competition there’s going to be for it in Google rankings, so try and find specific niches.
Are there any local activities, or attractions that potential customers might be searching for? Are there any particular services of features of your business that are unique to you? If you’re offering accommodation, is it pet friendly or wheelchair accessible? These are niches that it may be worth focusing on.
When creating a page, think of a small number of keywords, and make sure that they feature in the areas mentioned above — this gives your page authority on the topic.
Don’t worry if your struggling or it feels like a stab in the dark, there are a range of tools online to help you discover keywords:
semrush.com — review the keywords that you and your competitors are getting traffic from. There’s a paid version, but the free report is pretty great.
Google Keyword Planner — You need to sign up for a Google Adwords account to access it, but it’s a free service. It allows you to enter keywords and see other keywords related to them (based on past Google searches).
Google Trends — see how search terms have risen and fallen in popularity over time.
There’s plenty of confusing metadata that you can add to your pages (these options are usually easy to edit on site builders like Squarespace or CMS systems like WordPress) but the one I’d choose to focus on is the meta description. This is the block of text that appears beneath every link on a Google search results page.
Each page should have a unique and snappy meta description — no, Google won’t boost your site because of it, but it’s how you let a user know that your link is relevant to their needs.
2. Your site
Similar to content, these are elements of your own website than can be optimised for greater SEO. I’ve separated them out as they’re a little more complicated than the elements above, and relate more to the architecture of your website.
How fast does your website load? A slow site doesn’t just put off users, it’ll affect your search engine ranking. Google hates slow sites and is more than happy to penalise them.
So how can you improve your site speed? One easy thing to do is make sure your images are all compressed. A lot of large images can really slow pages down. Other issues can be too many scripts or plugins running on a page, running your site on an outdated or inefficient platform or hosting your website on a slow/congested server. These issues are a little trickier to amend, but worth bringing up with your web developer if your site is performing poorly in speed tests.
TinyPng.com — my favourite image shrinker, works particularly well on PNGs!
Google PageSpeed Insights– This is google site speed tester. It gives you results for both desktop and mobile, and provides suggestions. There’s a variety of other speed testers online, It’s worth putting your site through a few different ones, like GTMetrix and Pingdom. Also bear in mind most speed tests are only measuring individual pages, not entire websites.
How does your site look on mobile? Much like the speed of your website, a failure here doesn’t just put off visitors to your website, search engines will penalise you for it.
Since 2014 more than half of web traffic comes from mobile. If your site isn’t responsive, or you don’t offer a mobile site, you’re potentially cutting off half of your potential customers. And they’re just the ones who even find your website!
Though sitemaps (specifically the xml variety) are far from redundant, a sensible link and menu structure is the new standard in showing both users and Google the layout and hierarchy of pages and content on your website.
For instance, if you have a website renting out holiday homes, and you have a page highlighting your available wheelchair accessible holiday homes, that page should contain a link to any properties on your website that fall under that category. If one of those properties also is near a local tourist attraction and you have a page about that, well it follows that a link should be in place here too.
As opposed to a traditional sitemap which is essentially just a list of pages for humans, this is essentially just a list of pages for search bots! Though not as important as they used to be (as I’d mentioned above) they can be particularly useful if your site has a large number of pages or dynamically generates content.
You’re going to see more and more sites being secured with an SSL certificate, identified by the https (as opposed to plain http) before their URL, from 2016 onwards. Not because they’re overly concerned about user privacy or security on their website, but because Google just announced they’re giving a boost to these sites!
Remember meta descriptions above? Schema are like meta descriptions on steroids. Imagine videos, contact details, reviewed and more appearing next to your listings on Google’s results page. They’re a little complicated to implement, but like the meta description can be very enticing to users, especially if they see a 4 or 5 star review next to your page on Google.
How to use Schema Markup
3. Your network
Let’s talk about factors that you can harness to improve your web traffic that aren’t actually a part of your website.
Google Local Business listing / Google+ pages
Google is absolutely in love with itself. This is why getting involved with other Google services can be a big boost to your website.
Creating a Google Local Business listing is like submitting your business to Google’s version of the yellow pages. It means your business can appear in Google maps and gives your page a boost for searches from or relating to your local area. It also enables you to create a Google+ page which helps get your website on Google knowledge graph, which is the little info block that often appears on the right hand side of google search.
Once you have a Google business page you can accept reviews, and it’s worth encouraging users to submit them. These star ratings appear on your Google local business listing, or on your website listing if using schema, and typically listing with a star rating have a 20% higher click through.
How to get reviews through Google
Links to your website from another website (backlinks) used to be the bees knees when it comes to SEO. However now they’re really only as good as the site they’re coming from, both in terms of the importance Google places on them and the kind of users who’ll follow them.
As such you only really want backlinks from reputable websites. Try submitting your site to local council websites that index and profile local businesses. Or write guest blog posts for other sites discussing issues or features of your local area or that relate to your business.
Sadly links from social media don’t currently count as backlinks, though Google is starting to give these a little more weight.
Monitorbacklinks.com — This is a nifty service that allows you to see where your competitors are getting their backlinks from. They offer a 30 day free trial which may be enough to give you some pretty good insights!
Email is newest old technology in digital marketing, and it’s absolutely worth engaging with. Try to collect the email addresses of your customers, and encourage visitors to you website and social media accounts to sign up for your email updates too. Just make sure you’re complying with data protection laws and they’ve agreed to receive email updates!
Even a quarterly update will remind customers about your business and past customers who may not need your services again could be reminded to recommend a friend or family member.
Mailchimp is my preferred (pretty much free) client for managing subscribers and creating and sending emails
I’m not going to get too into the weeds on this, but the main advantage of online advertising is how specific you can get with targeting, especially through Facebook. There’s also vouchers available if you’re interested in giving Google advertising a try!
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but Google Analytics is an SEO super tool. if you want to track almost any metric of your website’s traffic, it’s essential.
Google Search Console
Previously called Webmaster Tools, this is a fgreat companion to Analytics. It’s basically a website health monitor, and helps identify any technical issues that might impact your site’s visibility.
Free MarketGoo Report
Generate a quick, simple and free report on your site’s search engine optimisation. It’s a little over simplified, but it has quite a lot of useful information like pages missing meta descriptions, broken URLs etc.