101 – Optimising your existing website
For those businesses with an existing, but underperforming website, the opportunity presented by the current situation (if there are any bright sides to look on) is for you to optimise. As an SEO agency with almost 20 years experience, we can offer a little advice here…
Know your audience
One of the most important things you need to do to increase the SEO performance of your website is to make sure that it’s brimming with great content.
The first step in writing great content for the web is learning about your audience. You aren’t writing web content simply because you enjoy writing and you (hopefully) aren’t writing just to make the search engines happy. That means that you should be writing (mostly) for humans not robots, making the content something that users will genuinely want to read, engage with and share on their social channels. This will, in turn, make for good SEO and help to pull users through the buying process, helping to increase conversions.
In the early years of the web, overly optimised meta tags and pages of content that were stuffed with certain keywords and phrases were able to rank highly in search engines. Although it was often unreadable, site owners didn’t really care as long as it was picked up and ranked well by search engines. They were writing for the search engines and not humans, so, although they may have been getting traffic to their site, their conversion rate would have remained fairly static as the content they produced did not encourage visitors to make a purchase or trigger them into repeat business.
Now, however, Google penalises sites that produce this type of content. This is why there has been an even greater focus, in recent times, on content. If you produce content that is informative, entertaining, solves problems and provides readers with something worthwhile, this will generate traffic, will be more shareable on social media sites and will better place your brand as a good source of knowledge about your industry. This is what will get you good results in the search engines.
You should have a specific purpose in mind for the content and a specific type of reader to write for. If you’re new to writing for the web, or are trying to reach a new audience, it’s worth going through a formal process to define your buyer personas. This is a series of fictional, character representations of those individuals that define your brand’s audience, helping you to better understand their needs and write content specifically for them.
Understand why people may search for your content
Great, so you’ve identified your audience. Now you need to make sure that the content you produce connects with them. If it addresses the needs of your persona(s), it will be read more and shared more, helping it to rank better in search engines. People search for a variety of reasons. Common reasons in the B2B sector include searching to:
- Understand a product category
- Learn about a product or solution
- Solve a specific business problem
- Be informed about new approaches
Common reasons in the B2C sector include searching to:
- Find the best deal
- Find the closest location
- Locate a product or service that’s advertised
As above, a basic buyer’s journey includes the following stages:
Awareness > Interest > Consideration > Purchase > Post Purchase > Re-Purchase
You can think about this before beginning a piece of content. Is your persona:
- Looking for a general category of information? (Awareness)
- Looking for a solution to a specific problem? (Interest)
- Looking for an enterprise solution? (Awareness-Interest)
- Identifying and comparing specific products or vendors? (Consideration-Purchase)
- Looking for help with one of your products they already own? (Post-Purchase)
- Looking to replace or upgrade a product, and planning to remain loyal to you? (Re-Purchase)
Optimising your content
Keyword research is a vital part of any organic search campaign, whether it is used to mould onpage copy or to develop brand or product positioning – it is imperative that it is not only done, but done thoroughly and well.
As search engines have improved their ability to ‘understand’ natural language (from the advent of the Hummingbird update in 2013, to the new levels of query relevancy offered by RankBrain and the introduction of BERT), a lot of brands and agencies have begun to place less importance on the role of keywords in content.
The worrying possibility this raises, however, is that, though it frees our writers to express themselves with fluency and style without having to rely on keyword anchoring, the reduced importance of keywords in on-page copy can sometimes carry over into keyword targeting. Keywords should not and must not be overlooked, and their importance in attracting a potential consumer can be underrated.
Take, for example, someone looking to make a purchase for a new hobby. They are interested in the hobby, but lack a degree of knowledge when it comes to hobby specific key terms; in this case, they are going to be searching for more general keywords and are going to rely on brands using search marketing strategies that account for this.
The best keyword research will identify themes – around price size, colour, etc. as well as gaps in the market with low competition from competitors. By grouping such terms into ‘themes’ (groups of keywords), they can be converted into pages of content which will represent a thorough match to a number of targeted searches, increasing relevancy and usefulness for consumers – again heightening UX at the same time as improving chances of conversion.
This is a good time to refer back to your buyer personas, what are they looking for, what will they want to know and at what stage in the buying cycle will they want to know it? Think about how you search on a phone as opposed to on a laptop. Are there differences in your own search methods from one device to another? What are your intentions across devices?
Think about the levels of interest and expertise possessed by your buyer personas – are consumers looking for brand specific items, using specific industry jargon more or less likely to want to buy or to need information than those searching for generic, non-specific terms? How can your keyword targeting nurture the buyer journey by delivering the right content at the right time? If you have run PPC campaigns for your goods or services in the past, there may be a wealth of useful information available to you in your Search Query reports.
Once you have assembled lists of key terms and questions, use online tools (such as Google’s Keyword Planner) to quantify search density and, therefore, which of these keywords, terms and themes should be the focus of your efforts.
Ideally you’re looking for the golden ration of low competition and high volume. Also, use Analytics to monitor in-site searches – those terms which consumers are searching for while on your page – as well as popular landing pages and seek to consolidate these terms externally.
The role of keywords in modern search marketing is in flux at the moment – and there are some which, with good reason, have suggested that the industry should be looking to move away from using specific keyword rankings as a success metric – especially as trophy keywords are likely to diminish in importance (as the way we search shifts and queries continue to trend longer).
However, regardless of the relative importance for monitoring progress, keyword research will retain its importance when determining positioning and importance as well as when considering audience targeting.
Four simple steps
- Think like a consumer – pick short and long tail keywords likely to be searched by your buyer personas. Ranking for many, low volume, but relevant keywords will serve you better than vanity terms.
- Look for gaps – in a crowded marketplace it can be difficult to compete against established companies. So don’t compete, find where they aren’t present.
- Rank for priority – it is counterproductive to spread yourself too thin, so choose your targets wisely and look for the golden ration of high volume, low competition.
- Consolidate gains – if you begin to rank for certain terms, don’t rest on your laurels but continue to target these keywords as you expand your target list.
How to optimise a page
It is a fact that organic search has evolved significantly since its early beginnings. Producing content that meets the needs of your audience and customers is now at the core of effective SEO.
However, there are still a few things that are important that you must remember to consider in order to give those search engine robots just that little bit extra help.
Meta title tag
Though it is ultimately limited by pixel length, your meta title tag should be as accurate, concise and precise a description of your content as is possible in 56 characters. It is one of the most important sources of information for Google’s algorithm when it comes to deciding relevance (and therefore affects SERPs position) as well as aiding in the ease of browsing for the consumer – it should always contain key terms relating to the page.
The best explanation of the ‘meta description’ tag is as a short summary of the page – a clear and concise 155 character description of the on page content (with a minimum of 90 characters recommended). However, as this is the text visible in SERPs, it should also serve to draw consumers to the page – featuring, wherever possible, some form of enticement or call to action. A good ‘meta description’ can drastically improve your click through rate.
<meta name=“description” content= ”This is a concise web-page description”>
Though a brand may publish a novelty blog titled ‘10 uses for unwanted Christmas knitwear’, in order to ensure the bounce rate is kept low and your potential readership is given a full and attractive account of on-page copy (deterring the searchers that may be looking for recycling or upcycling advice), you may wish to describe it as: “A Humorous List Of Unexpected Uses For An Unpopular Christmas Gift”.
* Note: if you don’t include a meta description, or if Google believes it to be incorrect, then the search engine will create its own description based on what it thinks the user should see.
Like most of the other suggestions in this eBook, breadcrumbs are a useful tactic to help both your site visitors and the search engines crawling your site. Breadcrumbs take their name from the Hansel and Gretel story and are useful for helping your visitors find their way. They differ in a significant way; they are not a literal representation of the path your visitor took to get to the page they are on. Breadcrumbs are instead a representation of where the current page lives in the site hierarchy.
Breadcrumbs typically live in the upper left corner of a page (below the primary navigation) and are an easy way to both set the context of where the content lives in your site and to help your visitors navigate to higher level content. Since these are standard links, search engines will follow them, so breadcrumbs increase the odds that a search engine will discover your content.
Google believes breadcrumbs are important in helping visitors to understand the structure of the site and how the specific page fits into the site hierarchy. It will include breadcrumb navigation in search results when it can.
Headers summarise the pages you create for both consumers and search engines – and should be easily read by both. They are also important stylistically.
Though wit and humour are desirable for a page title, it is more important in the digital age for it to convey the information you wish to rank for. While ‘Book lack in Ongar’ is a great headline (one of my favourites), Google’s search algorithm is looking for ‘Funding cuts for Essex libraries result in severe book shortages’ for search queries regarding library funding. Though there is no definitive limit, best practice dictates that you should attempt to keep your titles unique, between 60 and 80 characters, and featuring keywords near the beginning.
This is a more appropriate place to flex your creative muscle and generally serves as a sub-title. The tags are also good for use as stand-alone subheadings when seeking to break up content for ease and speed of understanding. Again, it is still recommended that keywords feature somewhere in the subheading – as each header is important to framing the relevance of page to search queries.
This is a tertiary emphasis tag – or your ‘sub-sub heading’, formatting of which should adhere to its role as a paragraph leader, or stand-out line. As above, ensure this header is relevant to the text it precedes or is linked to – using keywords from the text to add relevance to the passage to promote ease of reader and search engine understanding.
Alternative text is used with images (and other non-text content) to describe what the image shows. The words used within an image’s alt attribute should be its text equivalent and convey the same information or serve the same purpose that the image would. This helps the visually impaired understand what an image is about using screen reading software, and it also helps those people that use browsers unable to download images. It’s also another chance to tell search engines what the image and your page is about.
When writing the alt text for an image, ask yourself: if you were to replace the image with the text, would most users receive the same basic information? Every image on a page should have alt text.
What makes good alt text?
- Shorter than 65 characters (including spaces)
- The alt text should be a short ‘stand-in’ in the event that the image itself is not available.
- The alt text should accurately represent the image
- Structured data
- While structured data (referred to as schema from here on) involves a little more code awareness, the likelihood that schema will play a big role in the future of search makes it worth a mention.
In addition to the prospective importance of schema, there are free plug-ins for many CMSs (such as Yoast) which can make implementation much easier. However, whether you’re using a plug-in or not, it’s worthwhile ensuring that you run your site through Google’s free checker once in a while in order to make sure everything is working as it should.
What is schema markup?
The result of collaboration between Yahoo, Bing and Google back in 2011, there came into being a site called schema.org, this site seeks to unify the language used by webmasters to provide metadata on pages which can be easily read by search engine spiders and parsers. Schema markup is how we refer to the microdata code that provides this metadata.
If structured data is, to extend the metaphor, the scaffolding that allows for better understanding of information, then markup is the individual scaffolding poles. With hundreds of varieties of possible markup types, the aim is to create a machine readable internet – or in the words of the creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, a semantic web:
“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analysing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A “Semantic Web”, which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The “intelligent agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize.”
While there is a lot to cover with regards to schema, it would not make sense to cover too much of it here – instead, you can download a designated guide to schema from our website which will give you everything you need to get started.
Specific schema introduced following Covid-19 outbreak
In addition to the standard schema types, there has also been a series of new schema types added since the pandemic was announced. This includes markup to indicate test centres, to make emergency announcements and for various event issues. You can find a list of those, as they develop, here.
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- Category: SEO