Part 4: Helping Searchers Find Your Site with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
People are looking for you. Every day, they go to a search engine (like Google, Yahoo or Ask) and type in the words that reflect their query. The search engine scans the internet, and offers a list of results that match their query.
If your website appears high up the list, the searcher may click on your site. If your site is the 120th result in the search results, you will probably not receive a visit from that searcher.
An overwhelming majority of people never make it to the second page of search results. This means that if you’re not on the first page, less than 20% of people will even see your website, and even fewer will actually click through to your site.
Clearly, it’s crucial to appear as high as possible in the search results whenever people are searching for an organisation like yours.
Getting Started with SEO
A good place to start is keywords. Keywords are the words that people use when searching. Your keywords may be your:
- Brand names
- Key people
- Common questions that people ask
Pretend that you are a potential customer. You are looking for yourself. Now think: what keywords would I use when searching for the things I provide? Make a list of all the words that you would use.
Think laterally, and remember that not everyone uses the same words to describe a thing. Consider every synonym and possible way of approaching a query.
Now, go to the Google Keyword Tool, and type in your list of keywords. Google will provide you with an extended list, including every similar term that it thinks is relevant. Bear in mind that Google is just a computer, so it may produce a few bad results.
Google’s Keyword Tool is useful for two reasons. Firstly, it helps you consider all relevant keywords, and may suggest a few that you hadn’t thought of.
Secondly, it shows the monthly volume of searches for each term. This means you can see exactly how many people are searching for each keyword – which means you can decide which keywords are worth aiming for.
A Note on Selecting Keywords
Because ranking highly in search results requires a concerted effort, you should prioritise the search terms that will bring you people who want to buy something.
So if you’re a hairdresser, there is little value in attracting a million people who are searching for hairdressing advice. Those people are not likely to be buying anything. A more profitable search term is hairdresser Brighton, as this suggests the searcher is looking for someone to cut their hair.
Pursue the keywords that will bring in relevant traffic. If a hairdresser appears #1 in search results for hair loss, there is no real benefit. The hairdresser would get lots of visits, but the visitors would not be looking for hairdressing services – making the visit pointless and without value.
Using Keywords in Your Website
Google ‘reads’ the pages of your website. If you use words like hairdresser, hair, products, beauty, conditioner, shampoo and styling, then Google will know to offer your website when people search for a hairdresser.
There are a few important places that keywords should be used:
- Meta keyword
- Meta description
- Page title
- Body copy
Meta data is information contained within the code of a website. It’s invisible to human visitors, but readable by search engines. Think of meta data as a signal to the search engines.
Every single page on your website should have a page title, meta keywords and a meta description. These are all opportunities to tell search engines what that page is about. Don’t be tempted to stuff keywords into these areas – just be honest and use keywords that relate to the content on that page.
Headings and sub-headings are deemed to be important carriers of information by the search engines.
How does a search engine know what text is a heading? Because web developers put headings inside heading tags. The main heading is encased thusly:
The second heading uses <h2> and so on.
It’s important that, wherever possible, your headings include relevant keywords for that page. Using keywords in this way does not have to mean artificially stuffing keywords into every space available. It’s often perfectly logical to include keywords in relevant pages, because they help your human visitors to scan a page quickly, and know that it contains relevant information.
Once you have written headings and sub-headings that contain keywords, ask your web developer to make sure they are contained in heading tags.
The text beneath your headings is known as body copy. It’s important that this copy also contains your keywords. Don’t worry about how often your keywords are used.
Providing that your copy is clearly about the subject you are hoping to appear in search results for, and you use the language that other people use when thinking about that subject, Google will be able to interpret your website correctly.
Links and Anchor Text
It’s important to understand how search engines interpret links in your website’s pages. The important thing about every link on your website is your choice of anchor text.
Anchor text is the text that makes up a link. In this link: Jam Jars, the anchor text is Jam Jars.
When search engines ‘read’ your web pages, they read and follow links. Because my link to the website of Freeman & Harding has the anchor text Jam Jar, search engines assume that Freeman & Harding has some relation to Jam Jars.
This is a crucial point. It is very important that you understand how search engines interpret links. Every link on your website has multiple benefits. Links not only help your visitors to navigate your site, but they help search engines understand where your links are pointing.
If you use anchor text without keywords, you lose an opportunity to guide the search engines’ interpretation of your website.
Link Anchor Text Example
A hairdresser might have a link on their Home page, leading visitors to their Products page.
Good: Now view our professional range of hairdressing products
Bad: Click to view our hairdressing products
The good example contains relevant keywords, and gives search engines some context. The bad example is a wasted opportunity, unless you are hoping to rank highly for something as generic as products (which would be folly).
Links to Your Website (Backlinks)
Search engines use complicated mathematical models to calculate the relevance of websites to a searcher’s query. One piece of the equation is the number of links to your website from other sites.
These links are also known as backlinks. Search engines consider every link to your site to be an indicator of quality, on the assumption that nobody would link to your website if you had nothing good to offer. The more links your site has pointing to it, the better the search engines’ perception of your site.
This is why many website owners will beg, steal and borrow in order to gain good links to their website. Good links are valuable, and can have a significant influence on your site’s performance in search results.
Good Links, Bad Links
Not every link is good. A link to your website from a ‘bad neighbourhood’ – a part of the web populated by spammers – is not worth much, and could even lower your site’s reputation.
Links are good when they are placed in good, reputable websites. Good links are also those that use keyword-rich anchor text.
If somebody wants to link to your website, ask them to use anchor text that reflects the keywords people use when looking for you.
Developing Good Links
It’s not easy to gain links. The best approach is to offer things that other people want. Then people will want to link to your website. Without some kind of useful content, it’s hard to justify links to your site.
Guides, tutorials, resources, interviews, articles and blogs and are all good, honest ways of providing useful material that people will want to link to.
One effective strategy is to write articles for other websites. Many blogs request contributions from outsiders – and these normally offer authors a by-line (a one-line bio that says who you are and what you do) and a link or two to your website.
Writing one-off articles for good, well-established blogs takes time, but you will gain good links from a quality website. The alternative is…
An article marketing industry exists which purports to help people gain links by offering their articles for free to any website owners who want them. It’s a nice idea, but the reality is that the only site owners who want these generic – often poorly written – articles are spammers or people with low-grade blogs. So you might get a few links, but they will be from such poor sites that they provide absolutely no SEO value. Good links come from good sites with at least some PageRank.
Many people believe that submitting their site to hundreds or thousands of directories is the easy way to gain links. While you will gain plenty of links, those links will be buried in the depths of dusty directories, far from the eyes of man and a long way from anywhere valuable.
DMOZ is the most important directory, closely followed by Yahoo (which you will have to pay for). Join a few other directories, but don’t invest a huge amount of time in this. Very few people use directories to search for businesses.
Further reading: Bad SEO: Polluting the Web
There are many ways to advertise on the web. Advertising can be costly, but it can also be very effective. A well-judged ad in a well-chosen space can drive significant numbers of qualified visitors to your website.
If you decide to run a Google Adwords campaign, one of the most important things to do is to run two different adverts for the same product or service. Monitor which ad is more successful, then replace the less successful ad with something better. Running a split campaign allows you to constantly refine your ads.
Because Google Ads are very small, the copy must be used with care. Every word counts!
London Cocktail Bar
Covent Garden Cocktail Bar WC2
No Hire Fee for Private Parties
A note of caution
It’s easy to spend lots of money with Google Adwords. They can be very successful, but make sure that the return warrants the investment.
Writing for Your Customers – Your Web Copy
The words on your website’s pages are what do the work of selling, persuading, inspiring or communicating. Graphic design, imagery and clever web technologies like Flash help to create an impression, but it’s the copy that talks to your visitors*.
(* Unless you’re offering complex or novel software or web applications, in which case a professional screencast may be the best way to demonstrate your offering. Not sure what a screencast is? Ask me – I can recommend a professional screencaster.)
At the start of this guide I asked you to think about your customers. When you come to write copy, draw on your findings. Your copy must appeal to your visitors. It should start by telling them quickly and clearly what’s on offer. Then it should explain why that offer should interest them.
Make sure your copy details the features of your products and services. Then, explain how those features provide benefits to the user.
Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It
10 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Marketing Copy
How do Your Customers Think About Your Products?
What language do they use? Make sure you use this language in your copy. Your internal corporate language may be jargon-rich, and intimidating or nonsensical to outsiders. Don’t try to sound clever or ‘professional’ by littering your copy with fancy words that only industry-insiders will understand.
Good copy is conversational and uses words that everyone understands.
Bad copy is cold, formal, and distancing.
Good copy brings people into your world.
Bad copy creates a barrier.
Short sentences are good. Contractions (can’t, don’t) are good.
Simple, plain English is good. Clarity is good.
When writing copy, aim to deliver a message. As soon as the message is delivered you can (and should) stop writing.
Ask a friend or colleague to review your copy. The best reviewer is someone who is unfamiliar with your products, services and industry.
Ask them if, after reading your copy, they understand your offer enough to consider buying something from you.
Provide Detailed Information (for Those Who Want It)
While it’s important to deliver information carefully, in a controlled manner, don’t forget that visitors to your site may have many questions. You need to answer their questions.
Ensure that detailed information about your products, services, working methods, company structure, key personnel, qualifications, contact details, clients, experiences, attitudes, world-views and waist measurements is available to those who want it.
Obviously, the key thing is to make this information available, but not unavoidable. Don’t litter the path of the fleet-footed – the nimble visitor who wants a modicum of information before they decide whether or not to contact you.
Calls to Action
Your website exists to achieve something. Whatever that may be, it probably requires your visitors to take some kind of action. Now, if you want somebody to vote, or buy, or register, then you must ask them to do so.
The simple of act of asking a visitor to take a course of action is called a Call to Action. It’s as easy as writing:
- Order now
- Subscribe here
- Register today
This may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked. The Call to Action is an essential ingredient in successful websites.
Social Proof – Evidence of Previous Interactions
Because the web is fertile ground for spammers, con-artists and thieves, web users are naturally cautious and suspicious. If you want to sell on the web, you’ll need to address this issue. How can you build trust with just your website?
One very simple and honest tactic is to harness the power of social proof. Social proof can be provided in the form of testimonials, client logos, a portfolio of past work – anything that proves that your organisation has done real work with real people.
It’s good to get into the habit of requesting testimonials from clients. If you’re shy, try LinkedIn’s interface for requesting recommendations. This way you don’t have to put anyone on the spot.
If possible, display testimonials with links back to the person or company who provided it. This gives your social proof depth and authenticity.
Giving It All Away
Offering a sample or some kind of free trial is a good way to begin a business relationship with your new customers. Free samples are another way to overcome the problem of trust: by sampling your goods or services for free, people can evaluate your offering without any risk.
Improving Your Search Engine Performance by Providing Useful Content
A popular strategy for getting more visitors is content. If you are an accountant, your website may not be very interesting. You can reasonably expect people to visit your site when they want an accountant. Everybody else is going to ignore you.
Clearly, if you’re an accountant and would like a more lively website, you’re going to have to add something more interesting. If you provide useful or informative information – in the form of guides, articles, calculators, widgets, links, tools or advice – then people will visit your site. People will also link to your website, which will help your search engine performance.
A great example of providing useful content to customers and website visitors is http://www.yorkshireaccountancy.co.uk/
Creating a Journey through Your Website
Every page of your website should have pathways. Always give your visitors places to go. Each page should lead logically to the next. Gradually lead each visitor through your website – enticing them with your product’s benefits, explaining your product’s features, answering all of their questions about the ordering process, reassuring any concerns they might have, and finally asking them to place an order.
Make it easy for people to contact you. Don’t hide email addresses – you may be worried about spam but a good spam filter will prevent 99% of junk getting through. Have a contact form, but also provide an address, a phone number and all relevant email addresses. Websites that only offer a contact form appear to be distancing themselves from their audience, or just plain hiding.
‘Social Media’ means blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, forums – any media that involves or allows social interaction. Social media allows a website to exist in other spaces. Social media allows you to appear before new eyes – finding a new audience and expanding your reach.
Social media is difficult for businesses to use well, because these are largely social spaces, not commercial. The people who inhabit social spaces often resent organisations that burst in with a marketing agenda.
If you want to explore social media, and how it might help your organisation, step in cautiously – listen, look, and contribute gently. Represent you first and your company second.
Why Twitter? – Method in the Mayhem
One of the most crucial aspects of a successful website is clarity. From any page, at any point in your website, it should be immediately obvious where you are, and what is being offered.
A strapline, tagline or slogan is the short sentence that accompanies an organisation’s logo at the top of their website.
The strapline is a good opportunity to increase clarity, and explain exactly what you do.
Good straplines are descriptive and short. Bad straplines are witty, clever or vague, such as: Creative solutions for business.
That’s it for now. I’ll compile all of this guide into a PDF for you to download. As I probably said at the start, I wanted to put down a few ideas for selling on the web – a few basics that website owners should know.
Let me know if I’ve missed anything significant!