How To Improve Your SEO: A Step-by-Step Guide For Business Owners
If you’re a business owner like me then you’ll be obsessed with trying to make sure your website is free from errors, optimised for users and is regularly getting indexed by search engines, so that you can attract new leads.
But as a business owner, I also know how busy you are right?
You probably want to find time to work on your company website, but you’re either too busy, or you’re not sure when to start when you finally find a couple of hours in your week. Websites are complicated and time consuming so I know how you feel!
It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and you end up not really knowing where to start with website improvements.
It’s been said (too) many times - “your website is undoubtedly your most important marketing asset”, but it’s true. A great website has the potential to deliver the greatest return of all your marketing investments.
Successful modern B2B websites are designed to operate like marketing engines. They use inbound marketing platforms such as HubSpot to feed omnichannel strategies. Companies use these platforms to capture prospect data, nurture leads and increase sales using personalised email, text messaging, social media and pay per click (PPC) campaigns.
Unsure what Hubspot does? Learn more in our guide: What is HubSpot?
With so much riding on whether visitors actually make it to your website, what can you do to increase your website’s search engine rankings and visibility?
In this guide, I break it down for you. I take a deep dive into the most impactful search engine optimisation (SEO) strategies for improving your website ranking.
The guide is written for ‘hands-on’ beginners, or site owners who have made some effort to improve their SEO in the past but would like to modernise their approach and try to gain inbound traffic.
If anything is unclear or you’d like to know more, please email me directly and I will be happy to help.
The Key to Improving Website Visibility? SEO
When searchers are online looking for solutions to their problems, you want your site to be found. You naturally want your goods, products or services to be shown up near the top of their search results.
The closer you are to the top of page one search results, the better visibility you will have and the more likely you are to attract and convert new customers.
To determine where companies appear in search results, all the major search engines use bots to crawl websites. The bots index (store) the content on every web page that they find so that links to these pages can be more quickly returned as search results.
They use sophisticated algorithms with hundreds of ranking factors to determine which web pages provide the most suitable answers to a given search query while also delivering a positive user experience. The web pages that best align with these ranking factors will land higher in the results.
The strategies for increasing the likelihood that your company’s web content achieves a higher Google ranking is known as Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO for short.
SERP Rankings: Why They Are Important
Optimising web content using the methods that follow will help your web pages to appear higher on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
I read on Search Engine Journal that 55.2% of users click on the first three organic search results links and a full 88% click on only the first 10 links. So, if you’re not showing up on the first page of SERPs, let alone in the top 3 links, chances are you are not getting any click throughs to your website.
The diagram below shows the percentage of clicks per search position 1-10.
Let’s start with keywords.
The cornerstone of SEO strategy is the keyword which is simply any word or phrase entered into a search engine to produce a result.
“SME Accountant,” “How to erect a fence,” and “What is cryptocurrency” are examples of search keywords.
A keyword is usually typed into a web browser or the search field of a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, Baidu).
Voice activated searches are increasingly being used in SEO since an estimated 55% of users now using voice commands to ask questions on their smart phones. Think Alexa and Siri.
Since the web has become saturated with digital content, it’s more challenging than ever to rank for competitive keywords in any given industry.
That’s why it’s so important to understand your user, the type of problems they are searching for and how you can develop content to help solve that problem.
Tools for Doing Keyword Research
If you are not sure where to start, there are plenty of SEO keyword research tools available that will help you generate ideas, ranging from free to freemium pricing.
Here are some of my recommendations that I have been using over the last 15 years.
- Semrush Keyword Magic Tool
- Moz Keyword Explorer
- Google Search Console
- Ahrefs Keyword Generator
Each of these keyword research tools has dozens of helpful features to analyse and improve your SEO, but at their core they can help you identify new keywords based on three pieces of data:
- The keywords consumers are using to search for goods and services like yours
- The search volume for those particular keywords
- The level of difficulty to rank for those keywords (based on how competitive they are)
With this data in-hand, you’ll know which keywords are popular enough to drive a reasonable amount of web traffic without being so popular that you are competing with hundreds of other websites competing for the same high SERP ranking.
Common Keyword Patterns
You’ll probably want to use a combination of keywords related to your products, services, target audience and/or service area. Here are two simple examples of keyword patterns that combine a service and audience:
- Bookkeeping Services for SME’s
- Physiotherapist in London
These top level keywords may be too competitive to rank for immediately. But these set the ‘theme’ for your whole website so I would recommend using these keywords on your homepage. Over time you should find that your ranking increases.
Using Long-tail Keywords
Use long-tail keyword phrases. These are keywords framed as conversational questions or problem statements. Long-tail keywords usually include a main, or “head” keyword, surrounded by other words. They receive less search queries overall, but still generate a fair volume of searches making them easier to rank for.
What bookkeeping services for SME’s in Manchester also handle payroll?
What Physiotherapist in London can fix my torn hamstring?
Hopefully you get the idea.
Added Product Detail
Since keywords for general product categories are highly competitive, add product or service details to your keywords for better conversions.
This is another example of a long-tail keyword phrase. Again, the search volume will be lower, but there will also be less competition. In fact, the Search Engine Journal found that long-tail keywords like these had less competition and resulted in higher conversions, in part because consumers tended to get more specific in their queries the further down the buying process they were.
Use Localised Keywords and Use Google My Business to help Local SEO
According to HubSpot, 46% of all Google searches are looking for local information. If your business has a local service area, it’s imperative that you’re optimising your site for local keyword searches.
That means adding location-specific content to your website. It also includes pairing your primary keywords with the name of your geographic service area.
Another top tip I have for localised SEO is to register your company with Google My Business.
Creating a Google Business profile will boost your SEO efforts by making your business appear in relevant geographic search results within a matter of weeks. It’s only available to businesses with a physical location that customers can visit or if staff members visit customers near where they are located.
Be sure to keep your Google Business profile up to date because customers are now more likely to see it before they see your website since the listing will show up prominently as a part of most local searches. If phone numbers or business hours are outdated, it will reflect poorly on you.
Focus on Tangential Keywords & Content
As we’ve already discussed, most popular keywords in your industry are highly competitive and will be expensive if you were to bid on them for paid search ads.
What is tangential content?
Tangential content is content that is not directly related to your core service or product, but is still relevant and interesting to your audience.
For this reason, content strategists who are focussed on inbound SEO suggest creating keywords around tangential content, sometimes referred to as “adjacent” or “shoulder niche” content, to attract people to your website.
This strategy can be particularly useful for industries that don’t have a particularly interesting or “sexy” product or service to promote.
Don’t Forget to Create a Conversion Path for Inbound Visitors
The key to leveraging tangential keywords is to provide a pathway that takes new visitors from that initial content, introduces them to your brand through a nurturing campaign, and ultimately converts them into paying customers.
That’s where CRM platforms like HubSpot come into play.
They capture information about the visitors drawn to your website by keywords like “dog” or “fleas” in the initial blog post. Once there, they incorporate other automated tools, such as Calls-to-Actions, downloadable white papers, email campaigns and other digital content that leads visitors through a journey, gently educating them about your brand along the way and (if all goes as planned) ending up in a sale.
This type of approach is inline with modern buyer behaviour and is a great opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their experience and knowledge to prospective customers.
Where & How to Use Keywords on Your Website
How you implement keywords on your website is arguably as important, if not more so, than the keywords themselves.
In the following section, I'll try to guide you through the most impactful strategies for optimising your website for search, with special attention devoted specifically to blogs. It’s worth mentioning that these same principals hold true for many of your other social and digital channels, such as Pinterest or YouTube.
Leverage Your Blog
Blogs perform extremely well – especially for incorporating - and tangential keywords. That’s why 89% of content marketers used blogs in their content strategy in 2020.
A well written blog can boost SEO in several ways:
- by positioning your website as a place to answer customers’ questions;
- by physically expanding the number of your web pages that are indexed on search engines, and;
- by increasing your number of searchable keywords.
But the landscape is shifting. During the pandemic – perhaps due to fact that brick and mortar businesses had to shift to online strategies to stay viable – digital marketing became saturated with content. Entrepreneur Neil Patel estimates there are 1 billion blogs and 1.8 billion websites now in existence.
How to Differentiate Your Blog
With so many websites competing for your customers’ attention, writing regular, 500-word blog posts about general industry topics no longer has the impact it once did. There’s simply too much content out there vying for attention.
Now, to rank high in SERPs, your blog posts not only need to be formatted properly for SEO (which we’ll cover in the next section), they need to stand out above the rest in some way. Here are methods for differentiating your blog in today’s competitive environment:
Article Length: It used to be that a post of 1,000 or more words was sufficient to improve site optimisation. Now, articles of 3,000 to 6,000 words are the norm. SEMrush data from 2019 found that articles greater than 3000 words got 3x more traffic, 4x more shares and 3.5x more backlinks than shorter articles and that the top-performing articles were over 5,700 words in length.
Quality Content. Multiple studies have affirmed readers want quality, authoritative content. For example, Webbiquity posted its 10 most-read posts of 2018 and the one thing they had in common was tangible content that could immediately be put into action.
Quality means different things to different people. For some, it might mean the article’s ideas are backed by data, science or reputable citations. For others, it means the blog post covers the topic in-depth or explores perspectives not typically covered in more cursory articles.
Another example of quality content may include illustrations, video clips or step-by-step how-tos so the reader can walk away with a solution to a specific problem.
Dwell Time: If you’ve nailed the two points above (length and quality content), then chances are you optimised your content for “dwell time,” which is a factor Google looks at to determine how well visitors appear to respond to a specific piece of content. The longer they stay on a page they’ve clicked through to the higher the likelihood that the site is a strong match for a specific keyword.
Periodically Update Your Blog Posts
If you have blog posts that have performed well in the past but are slowly losing traffic, take the time to update them. Add in new keywords, refresh outdated examples or dates, and check to see that links are still relevant and working.
You don’t have to rewrite the blog entirely but do change up a paragraph or two with new information. And, most importantly, enter a new publication date and submit the URL to be reindexed via Google Search Console when you are done.
Do not, however, simply copy the blog and give it a new URL because if Google finds you have two blogs with essentially the same content, your SEO could be negatively impacted.
Formatting Your Web Pages & Blog Posts
Use Clean URLs
The importance and impact of keywords in URLs (i.e., web addresses) has continuously evolved over the last 10 years, so there are no longer any hard and fast rules about their use. There are, however, basic recommendations about how to format URLs, whether or not they contain keywords.
- Use short, easy-to-read URLs that contain your primary keywords
- Break up keywords with hyphens (not underscores) to make them obvious to Google and users (i.e., www.yoursite.com/red-door , rather than www.yoursite.com/reddoor)
- Keep them in all lowercase
- Keep them “evergreen” by avoiding dates in the URL
Optimise Title Tags and H1 Tags
Of course, you will also use your curated list of keywords in the body copy of most of your web pages (e.g., Services, About, FAQs, Shop) and blog posts as it makes sense. As importantly, you will include your keywords in page and blog titles.
Make sure you understand the difference between H1 Tags and Title Tags and how to use them to leverage SEO.
An H1 Tag is the main title users see when they get to the actual content on your website. It is generally in large text and acts as a title for a blog post or a main headline or title on a web page. The specific wording does not appear in search engines, though the words are used for indexing your content.
The Title Tag are the words that appears when users do a search engine query. It’s the hyperlink users click on. It also shows up in the browser but does not appear on the web page itself. Of the two types of tags, this one is the most important because it’s the one that will a) show up as a possible result of a search, and b) prompt a user to click through to your site.
As a general rule, your main keywords should be place near the beginning of the title if possible.
Include your keywords in header tags (e.g., H1, H2, H3). An H1 tag, as noted above, serves as the main title or headline on a page. H2 tags represent the sub headers, or main points, on your web pages, H3 tags further define sub points, and so on.
These tags organise information and tell search engines what content your website or blogs contain so that when users search for that type of content, you are included among the search results.
Use meta descriptions (i.e., the short descriptions that appear in SERPs and summarize what your page or blog post is about) to motivate action. Though Google doesn’t officially use meta descriptions as a ranking factor, they do reward pages that receive high click through rates with better search placement, so meta descriptions do have some influence.
For this reason, meta descriptions should use persuasive language that encourages reader to click or take action. E.g., Read our blog to find out how you can lose 5 kg in one month without dieting.
Image Alt Tags
Alt tags are more accurately referred to as “alternative text” or “alt attribute” or “alt descriptor” tags and are applied to images to promote web accessibility, for example for people with visual impairments. They can be an effective means for adding keywords and enhancing SEO, but they should be kept short and descriptive.
Other Strategies for Improving SEO
Expand Your SERP Footprint
Showing up in the top few organic spots of a search listing is one way to improve your website visibility, but there are other ways to take advantage of the SERP “real estate” at the top of the page.
Increasingly, Google and Bing are placing search items such “people also ask” and “snippets” near the top of the SERPs. These present opportunities for creating succinct questions and answers on your web pages that get indexed by search engines and are featured in those sections. Videos, images, paid ads, local business listings and news stories also have the potential of landing your website in this prime real estate location.
Make sure you are always focussing on website usability
In addition to keyword utilisation, your website’s usability affects how it ranks in search engines. Here are factors that impact usability.
In 2019, 59 percent of searches were conducted via mobile devices. That means six out of 10 people are seeing your website through the small lens of their smart phone.
If it takes a long time for your site to load or it isn’t designed to work well on mobile, you can bet pretty much guarantee that users are going to go elsewhere.
In fact, studies show that 29% of smartphone users will immediately switch to another site if they’re not satisfied with how your site performs. As such, Google has placed an emphasis on rewarding sites that load quickly on mobile devices.
Page Load Speed
Page load speed is as important for searches from desktops and tablets as it is from mobile devices. Forty percent of users will abandon a webpage if it takes more than three seconds to load. Large image files, poor Internet connection and inadequate web hosting can all affect page load speeds.
What you should know about Google and Core Web Vitals
Create a Google Search Console Account
I definitely recommend that you create an account with Google Search Console.
Google Search Console is an excellent resource for continuously fine-tuning your keyword strategy. It provides an abundance of data and functions, including:
- which of your web pages get the most traffic
- the keyword queries visitors enter to get to your site
- what organisations are linking to your website
- core web vitals and performance issues you may be experiencing
- the ability to re-index an updated piece of content so that it appears in search more quickly
- and more
Once you’ve verified your website, the first thing you’ll want to do is submit the sitemap of your website so that Google can index all of your URLs in its search repository.
Claim Social Properties, Directories and Local Listings
Even if you don’t plan to actively use them, be sure to claim all of the major social channels, business listings and industry association directories available to your business. At a minimum, include your company name, a brief description that includes your keywords, your URL, a photo and contact information.
Having completed profiles for some of the major social platforms (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube) lets you cross-promote content, foster content sharing among users, and definitely your SEO.
The verification badges associated with these properties validates to users that your business is legitimate. Just be sure to use consistent branding and naming conventions across social media platforms.
Online listings are another terrific place to bolster the visibility of your website, helping more prospects find you.
I’ve already mentioned Google My Business, but you should also look into Bing Places for Business and the directories associated with other search engines, as well as review sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and even Amazon.
Roughly 86 percent of consumers read reviews for local businesses and another 89 percent of them read businesses’ responses to reviews.
Backlinks are hyperlinks from other websites that point back to your website. They are one of the most critical elements of successful website SEO.
The fact that organisations are linking to pages on your website is generally a sign that the content itself has value. Therefore, the more backlinks you have coming to your site, the better Google will rank you
But not all backlinks are created equal. The more links you have from websites with a high domain authority (e.g., the BBC, Wikipedia, government entities), the higher your search visibility and ranking will be.
Building backlinks is a long-term strategy, so aim for adding a few each month. Here are several approaches to consider.
- Vendor & Influencer Relationships. Many businesses list their clients on their websites. Ask vendors or other partners to publish your business logo and link it back to your site. Or, offer to provide them a testimonial and have them post it on their website with a link to yours. Offer to do the same for them.
- Guest Posts. Offer to share content that you’ve created, such as a blog, with others in your industry. Include one or two links back to your site in the blog. They get the benefit of free content, and you get the added backlinks.
- Notify People You Mention. If you write a blog or mention someone in a LinkedIn post, let them know. Chances are they’ll want to repost the article and, in doing so, will be sharing your link.
- Create Highly Shareable Content. Create content so compelling (think: original research, infographics, industry reports) that others want to link to it. Post that content on your website and require that users include an attribution if they publish the study that links to your site. Include the actual attribution language and URL adjacent to the content.
- Add Internal Crosslinks. Creating crosslinks between your blogs and select web pages not only fosters better engagement and visitors on your site longer, it has a modest positive impact on SEO.
- Use Google Search Console to review links. Scroll down the menu on the left and find the tab called ‘Links’ to learn who is linking to your content, what they are linking to, and what internal links you are using on your own site. Use this data to generate more backlinks (e.g., if blogs are popular, consider creating more blogs).
As you may have gathered by now, optimising your website to improve your Google ranking and search visibility is an entire science unto itself. SEO is a complex, multifaceted strategy, and the factors that impact it are constantly evolving.
In this guide, I’ve tried to boil down the most complicated strategies into understandable steps that you can implement yourself. There’s a lot to digest, but here’s a summary of the key takeaways:
- 8 in 10 people do an online search before buying
- 55.2% of users click on the first three organic results and 88% click on the first 10
- Landing high in SERPs is critical, and there are multiple methods available
- Keyword research tools can help identify “sweet spot” keywords in a saturated market
- 46% of all Google searches are for local information
- 55% of users now using voice commands to ask questions on their smart phones.
- Tangential content is important in attracting leads; CRMs are important in converting them
- Other factors also impact SEO: mobile site performance, page load speeds, blogs, backlinks
If you’d like optimising your website, please reach out to me anytime. I’d love to hear more about your goals and challenges.