SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it is an umbrella term that covers everything to do with getting your website to appear high up in the search engine results when people type in a search term related to your business.
So for example, if you are a Dentist from Holborn in London and somebody goes to Google and types in “dentist holborn” you want to make sure that your business website is on the first page of results that come back – as high up on the page as possible, preferably in the number #1 spot.
On-Page and Off-Page SEO
SEO is actually quite a large topic but it can be broken down into two main categories which I’ll briefly explain here and then go into further detail on each one in the rest of the article.
First let me get a couple of things out of the way. I talk about Google, but there are other search engines too such as Bing and Yahoo but they have such a tiny market share compared to Google that it is simply easier to refer to Google alone. Also, you’ll tend to find that as you rank higher in Google, your rankings in other search engines will tend to follow suit.
Search Engine market share as of June 2016
Secondly, I want to briefly explain the concept of a website vs a web page. You have a website for your business, and that website may be just a single page of content, but it more likely has several pages. When a search is done in Google the results bring back a list of web pages, not entire web sites.
Sometimes it looks like it is a whole site that ranks, but that is just when the root domain of a site is what is ranking for that search term – that is also considered a web page.
There are aspects of SEO that need to be applied to a website as a whole, and other aspects that refer only to an individual page, I’ll make clear the difference as I explain each aspect throughout the article. For now, it is just important to realise that you may need to rank several pages of your website, and not just your site as a single entity.
This part of SEO covers everything to do with your website itself – the stuff that is directly in your control. This will include things that refer to your website as a whole and other aspects that apply to individual pages.
So, why would you need to rank multiple pages of your website? There are two main reasons which have to do with your product or services, and your location.
If you sell multiple products or you provide multiple services, it is much better to split out each product or service into a page of its own. In this way you can optimise that page to make it abundantly clear to Google what that page is about. If you just have a single page which simply lists all your services and only has a brief paragraph on each one, that does not give Google enough information to go on and it will not rank as well.
Similarly, but perhaps counter-intuitively, if you have the kind of business which operates in a local area but you serve multiple areas such as several cities or regions, you will again want to have an individual page for each of the major areas that you cover.
The Content of Your Pages
The word content refers to text, images and video that you have on your web pages. Content serves two purposes – firstly it tells your prospective customer about your business and hopefully gives them enough information to make them want to get in touch with you. Secondly, it also tells Google what your page is about. Your content must serve both purposes.
Keep it Natural
Primarily, write your content for your customers. Forget about Google to begin with. These days they are smart enough to be able to understand content without needing special measures such as ‘keyword stuffing’. This is a very outdated technique where people would ‘stuff’ a keyword into the content of a page over and over again hoping that it would make the page rank higher for the content.
Not only is this unnatural and likely to look odd and put off a potential customer, but these days Google can detect such techniques and will likely penalise the page. So the number #1 rule is to be authentic and not try to manipulate your content for Google.
Use Keyword Variations
That said, you do want to give Google ample opportunity to understand what your content is about. You know your business better than anyone else. You know the jargon, the different phrases that are used to describe your services. You want to incorporate these alternatives into your content where possible.
For example, let’s say you run a car valeting service. You may be optimising the page towards the keyword “car valeting” but another way of putting that is “car washing” so you’d want to include that in your content as well. Each additional word or phrase only needs to be mentioned a single time.
Also, when I say ‘keyword’ that actually means a whole phrase and that phrase could have several words in it. For example “mobile car valeting” is a 3 word keyword. It’s a bit confusing but that’s SEO jargon for you!
Be careful of over-using many similar phrases just to cover variations. Look at this list of keywords:
car valeting services
car valeting prices
car valeting equipment
car valeting supplies
I could go on but hopefully you get the picture. Years ago, people would list every one of these exact phrases in their content or even worse, create a separate page of content for each phrase! In 2016 you don’t need to do that. Google is smart enough to to know that “car valet”, “car valeter” and “car valeting” all mean the same thing.
All you would want to do here is pick out the unique words and just include them naturally within the content somewhere. So you’d try to use the words “services”, “prices”, “equipment” and “supplies” and that would cover the whole list above in a way that reads well to both your customers and to Google.
Titles & Headings
Each page has just 1 single title but can have multiple headings and sub headings within the content. The only really important factor these days is the title. It is what will show up in the Google search results. It should include your primary keyword but – and very importantly – it must compel the searcher to click on it.
There’s no point ranking high in the search results and then to lose your potential customers to your competition because your title is not compelling enough.
In May of 2016, Google extended the length of the title that it displays in its search results to 70 characters; it used to only display 60. By all means use this space!
Use headings purely for your reader to organise your content for them. Don’t try and stuff keywords into your headings.
The Page URL
If you use a content management system for your website such as WordPress, then you may find that by default, the URL of a page you are creating will be based on the title. So continuing with the car valeting example, let’s say you decide on a title that reads “Best Car Valeter in Holborn | Jim’s Automotive”. You might find that the URL looks something like this:
That is not terrible, but Google prefers short URLs and they are also easier to read for visitors and more likely to get a click. A better url would simply be:
Elsewhere in the site you’d have a page about the location, which I will discuss shortly.
Your NAP – Name, Address, Phone Number
For a local business, your NAP is extremely important because it tells Google where you are. You will not rank in searches that are location based unless you are well optimised for your NAP. So it refers to your name – that means your business name, your address and your phone number.
Note that if you have a business that operates in multiple locations and you actually have different branches or offices, you will have a different NAP for each location. The business name should always be the same, but the address will be different and most likely the phone number too.
Your NAP should be displayed on every page of your website and the easiest way to accomplish this is by placing it into a footer area which is the same for all pages. The exception are location pages.
Remember I said earlier that you should have a separate page on your website for each major location you serve? This is why – you have to make it crystal clear to Google that you operate in multiple locations and the best way of doing that is by having one page per location. On these pages, if you are at a different address, make sure the NAP for that page has the correct address for that location.
Taking the NAP concept one step further, to remove any ambiguity, there is now a web technology called Schema Markup which is an extension to HTML that allows you to label certain pieces of content in a certain way so that Google knows precisely what they mean. So for example you can markup the address so that Google knows that is exactly what it is.
I don’t want to get too technical in this article, but you can learn about all the different kinds of markup that are particular good for local businesses at Schema.org.
I have mentioned a couple of times that you should have a separate page on your site for each location, so you may be wondering what content should go on it? There are a couple of ways that you can approach this.
The best way is to craft a completely unique page for each location. You’ll still want that page to read well for your customer so that you can sell from it, but include content specific for that location. So again with the valeting example, here you might have a few images of valeting jobs you did at that particular location. This would make each page unique.
Another approach is to make a replica of your home page for your location page. You’ve probably heard the term ‘duplicate content’, and heard that it is a bad thing and for the most part, that is correct. But currently, Google does not apply any kind of penalty to a local site that has duplicate content across its location based pages.
This may of course change in the future. However if it does, I’ll update this article accordingly. If you want an example, look at my own site here, if you go to my “Suffolk SEO” page you’ll see that it looks the same as the home page apart from a small section at the end where I mention Suffolk specifically.
What I have covered above is the basics of On-Page optimisation: the content, titles, URL & your NAP. Get all these things right and you’ll be ahead of a lot of your competitors.
There are a couple of other points I want to cover that apply to your site as a whole:
Being Mobile Friendly
These days almost 70% of all Google searches are performed on a mobile device such as a smartphone or a tablet! That is HUGE and the trend is only increasing. Websites were originally designed to fit on a large, wide desktop screen and not on tiny displays. So in order to give a good user experience to somebody visiting your site via a mobile device, the site should be optimised specifically for those devices.
There are various techniques employed to do this and when used together the site is deemed to be “mobile friendly”. This is a term coined by Google and they have developed their own mobile friendly test which you should go and plug your site into to make sure that it passes the test.
An example of a website that fails the mobile friendly test
What happens if your site fails the test? Two things… firstly by delivering a bad user experience to the person visiting the site they are likely to get frustrated and just tap the back button. But that’s assuming they find your site in the first place. As of June 2016, Google is now penalising all sites that do not pass the mobile friendly test so they will rank much lower in the mobile results; in other words, your site is very unlikely to be found in the first place.
Having a mobile-friendly site is no longer just a “nice to have”! It’s essential to getting traffic from Google!
Page Load Speed
This is something else which both affects the user experience you provide to your visitors and your rankings. Google will now penalise websites that load slowly and rank them much lower than their fast loading counterparts.
Again, Google has provided their own tool called Page Speed Insights that you can use to test your site and they will also tell you how to improve every aspect.
Ideally your speed should be in the green for both desktop and mobile, though it is common for mobile scores to be a little slower than desktop.
So now that I have covered all the essentials of the work you need to do on your own website, now its time to look at other aspects of SEO which help your site to rank well, but are not done on the website itself. Anything which you do for SEO purposes which is not on your actual website is covered under the term “off-page”.
Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram & Snapchat are ubiquitous now and many businesses are actually attracting and engaging a lot of customers by using these platforms.
However, I’m not going to tell you that you need to hire a social media manager and start creating content for all these sites. Regardless of whether or not social media is a good fit for your business, what is important is at least claiming your brand name on the important sites even if you do nothing else but setup the page.
Why would you want to setup a page and do nothing with it? Two reasons: firstly it gets your brand name out there and helps Google understand that your business name is a brand. Try googling “Velium SEO” and as well as this website you’ll probably find my Facebook page, LinkedIn, YouTube and several more of my social properties ranking in the first few pages of the search results.
Secondly, each one of these sites gives you the opportunity to link back to your website. All of these social sites are incredibly powerful and highly trusted in Google so every one of these backlinks is a high quality, trusted link. Also, by linking back to your site with your business name or URL, you are helping your site to rank for your brand name; this is very important.
Every business should go and get at least 100+ of these links. What? 100?! But I only know of 5! I know most people balk when I say 100 (and that is a minimum!) but don’t worry, this is much easier than it sounds. Go and visit http://knowem.com/ and plug in your business name. It will give you listings of over 500 social sites broken down into various categories and tell you which properties have your name available.
You can actually pay them to go and build out profiles for you but it is actually a very expensive service. In most cases it would be much cheaper to hire an seo agency to do a full SEO service for you and have them built as part of the service. Needless to say, this is something that Velium SEO will build for you as part of our service.
Earlier on I talked about your NAP – Name, Address & Phone Number. A listing of that NAP anywhere on the web, but especially in places where it is marked up with the correct schema markup, is called a citation.
You’ve probably heard of sites such as Yell, Yelp, Manta, Foursquare etc? These are all very large, powerful and trusted business directories in which you can list your business and get a citation, and in some cases a backlink also.
There are many places where you can get citations and these become especially important when you want to rank in a particular location. Remember how I said above that you would want to have a separate page on your website for each location in which you want to rank? Here is where that becomes super important – you will want to build out a separate set of citations for every distinct location in which your business operates.
These citations are especially good for helping your site show up in the map listings that are on some local searches.
So how many should you build? Well, much like the social profiles, a good quality citation from a trusted directory is a high quality indicator for Google. I’d recommend at least 50 for each location. You can simply go Google a list of citation sources or there are many services out there that can build them for you for a fee.
Be careful though; one of the easiest ways to HURT your rankings is to have inaccurate citations built. The NAP must be listed in the exact same way on every citation. If you have the address “21 Main Road” in your address, don’t put “21 Main Rd” in some of them and the full spelling of “Road” in others. Be consistent – this is crucial.
Citations are another big part of the SEO service we provide for our clients.
Industry Relevant Links
Many industries have specialist trade organisations that a reputable business would want to be a member of. For example, a plumber would likely be Gas Safe and Corgi registered. British Associations is a website that lists many organisations for different kinds of businesses in the UK.
When you become a member of a relevant organisation for your industry you are first of all showing your potential customers that you operate under a certain standard, but also, many of them will link back to the websites of their members. These are very powerful links which are highly trusted and highly relevant. Do not under-estimate the benefit of these kinds of links. Aim to get at least a couple for your business.
If you were to implement all of the suggestions listed in this article you would be way ahead of a large chunk of your competition. You may find that just these techniques alone could get your site ranking on the first or second page of Google without doing anything else!
That will depend largely on your competition though. If you are in a competitive industry then it is likely that even after implementing these basic measures you would then need more power to propel you further up in the rankings above your competitors. That is where a proper SEO service such as ours can help you.
We do all of this work for you and more, to ensure that your business shows up on the first page in Google for the keywords that are most relevant. Have a look at our home page to learn more about our services.