If you’re scratching your head and asking yourself “What on earth is SEO?” then don’t worry – it will all become clear. What I will say before I explain everything, is that if you want to grow your customer base, then you really do need SEO.
So what is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. This basically means that when somebody searches for something in Google (or Yahoo, Bing etc.) the list of websites that they get in their results depends on how well each website is optimised for the terms that person is searching for. Your site needs to be written so that it makes sense to a human audience, but it also needs to be easy for the search engines to understand and index.
So what does SEO do?
- SEO increases your site’s ranking
When people search for something online, they expect that the first few results they get will be from the leading, most trustworthy brands. If your business doesn’t appear on the first couple of pages of the search engine it may never be found, because people rarely search beyond the second or third page of results.
Although you don’t know exactly what people are looking for, if your site has lots of interesting content then you are providing more for the search engines to look at when they decide if you website matches the search.
Compare these search terms:
These Google searches are relying on what is known as long-tail keywords and the more keywords that your site is optimised for, the more likely you are to appear for these long-tail searches. If your site content is only optimised for the word ‘builders’ you will be competing with millions of results, but the more localised and specialised your website content is, the more likely it is to perform well in the search results.
The best thing to do is to write down your business’s main function, its location(s) and any specialisms. Using these keywords as a starting point, you can find out other relevant keywords that people are searching for with less competition using Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Then make sure that these words appear within your site content.
- SEO increases your site’s traffic
Of course even if your website does appear on the first couple of pages, this doesn’t guarantee that people will click through to your website. This is why it’s essential to add in a page title and description to each webpage so that people get a brief snippet of what they’ll see when they click through to your site.
Examples of titles and descriptions in the search engine results:
The first example result is for a homepage that is trying to be descriptive; the second one is a product page focusing on simple, relevant keywords to encourage prospective customers to click through. Personally I would click on the second one, as it seems more trustworthy and down to earth… and actually talks about building!
- SEO increases your site’s conversions
Once people have arrived on your website, you want them to request a quote, give you a ring or ask for more information. This is known as a call to action and is the next logical step if someone is interested in your business. You need to examine how people search for this information and how easy it is for them to find it. If people come to your site because they want to do business with you, but they can’t find your contact information, then they’re just going to look elsewhere.
Your website doesn’t have to be all singing, all dancing to make an impact – as long as it has the basics (homepage, contact page, a few product pages detailing your specialisms and maybe a testimonials / reviews page), then people will have all of the information they need.
So what are search engines looking for?
- Unique, high-quality content
Content must be relevant to the site and to the specific page it appears on, including page titles, descriptions and any tags or keywords. It should also be original and not feature anywhere else on the website (or indeed the internet). Content should also be updated frequently to show the search engines that the site is still active. If you have a blog on your site then this is a great way to add new content on a regular basis.
- Fast site performance
Most people will leave a website if it doesn’t load within 5 seconds so your website should be fully functional, load quickly and have no broken links. Make sure your images are optimised and are not too big, as this can slow down the site load time. It’s also worth asking someone to check that the site’s code is straightforward and not unnecessarily complicated.
- Trust and authority
If other websites link to your site, it makes it seem more trustworthy to the search engines. Do you have partners that reference you on their site, or do you feature in directories or on review sites that recommend you? Your social media sites should also link to your main website to help the search engines collate all relevant information about your business.
- Excellent user experience
Your site needs to provide a good experience for the user, so that they stay on your site and can find everything they need as quickly as possible. It should be visually appealing with tagged images, easy to read content that provides users with all of the information they need and clear calls to action (e.g. what you want visitors to do next, like request a quote).
And what must you never ever do?
- Stuff your site with keywords
Although your site does need to have keywords in it to help with the SEO, never use too many. Remember the site needs to make sense to a human, so writing “If you’re looking for builders in West Hampstead then we are the West Hampstead builders for you…” is not going to please the search engines. You should always write for your audience first, the search engines second. If you’re writing interesting content on a regular basis then you don’t need to try too hard to impress the search engines.
- Use dodgy or bought inbound links
Yes having other sites link to your site will help to improve your ranking, but they need to be trustworthy, relevant sites. There’s no point paying out money for a site to link to you because the search engines know it’s not an earned link and will penalise you for it. By building up an online reputation, other sites will start to link to you.
You can of course advertise your site in a directory and include a link to your site here or from social media. Take note if you have a blog – you must keep an eye on the comments, as many of these are from spam sites that are trying to link back to their site. Delete and block any obvious spam comments as soon as you can.
Don’t forget – SEO isn’t a quick win solution
Improving your search engine ranking does take time and even if you start writing a weekly blog post and enhancing your existing content, it can take up to six months before you will see any improvement. However, it’s worth persevering because one slightly unethical ‘quick win’ or ‘below the belt’ move can see your site removed or penalised by the search engines.
Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare? The story actually has a point – follow the rules of the search engines and your website will gradually move up the search engine rankings; try to race ahead using unconventional SEO tactics and, ultimately, you’ll lose.