Your visibility on the first page of Google’s search results will create a steady flow of natural traffic that will sustain your business. Search engine optimisation is therefore indispensable if you want to attract visitors to your site in the long term.
Here, we’ll examine eight steps you’ll want to take to ensure your site measures up. You don’t need to be an SEO expert to implement them, and they’ll allow you to keep pace with your competitors.
- Review your content
On any website, there will be pages that perform better than others. And there is likely to be some that don’t attract any traffic at all. If you want to improve this, cutting out low-performing content should be considered a priority.
You might do this by killing the offending pages entirely, or by consolidating them with pages that perform a similar function. By trimming the fat in this way you’ll end up with a website that performs better with Google.
- Analyse your competitors
In order to compete on particular search terms, you need to outperform your competitors. This means keeping an eye on what they’re doing, and emulating where appropriate. For example, a starting point for your link-building strategy can come from compiling a list of websites that link to your biggest competitors.
After all, if they’re getting links from a given site, you might be able to as well – given that you’re selling similar products or services. There are several applications that can help you do this, the most noteworthy being Moz’s Link Explorer. Alternatively, a good link-building agency will do this for you, and develop a network of links that will compete.
- Get local
If your business lacks a profile on social media and search engines, you’re at a disadvantage. This especially applies to smaller firms who rely on local custom – word of mouth can only get you so far. Locals might know about you, but passing customers might miss your business if you aren’t visible on their smartphones.
For this reason, we would suggest building business profiles online, for example, Google My Business. Not only does it appear in a preview section on Google’s search page and Google+, it appears on Google Maps – perfect for catching would-be customers who are searching locally. Pack them with as much accurate information as possible, including address, images, opening times, reviews, contact details and more.
- Answer questions
When users turn to Google, it’s usually because they want a specific question answering. Whether they’re after the age of a given celebrity or the difference between plaster and joint compound, they’ll form the search as a question – particularly so if they’re using voice search. Your task is to determine which frequently-asked questions are relevant to your business, and put together content that answers them.
You might already have an idea of the questions your customers are asking – they might have posed them to you directly. But if you’re stuck for inspiration, you could do far worse than pay a visit to Quora, where users answer questions with varying degrees of success.
There are also tools available like Answer the Public that generate a list of questions based on a single keyword. Given the power of question-answering, it’s difficult not to recommend an FAQ page. They make a straightforward, natural way to have lots of questions answered on a single page, and they’re useful for your visitors, too.
- Use great tags
Accompanying your content should be informative and enticing title and meta tags. The former is the title of your page on the search-engine results page; the latter is the little snippet of information underneath the title tag which summarises the content on that web page.
Meta tags were once a ranking factor for search engines, but are now better thought of as a conversion factor. You need to ensure that your meta description is unique to the page it’s attached to – it accurately reflects the content on the page and it entices users to click through to your site.
Length is another concern – if a meta description is too long, Google simply cuts off the end and you’ll be left with an incomplete fragment. A good rule of thumb is a maximum of 160 characters (including spaces) for meta tags.
There’s nothing, of course, to imply that Google won’t change its mind and allow longer snippets again in the future, but for now it’s best to keep them snappy. Where titles are concerned, aim for between 55-60 characters. For best results, title and meta tags should incorporate the target keywords for that page, ideally from the first word.
- Write how people speak
With voice assistants growing more prevalent, search terms are becoming more conversational, which is good news, as natural search queries are becoming more widely used.
Or, to put it another way, voice-assistant users are less likely, while reclining in their living rooms, to bellow ‘Alexa, galvanised nails hammer drywall technique!’ Instead, they’ll say: ‘Alexa, how do I hammer nails into my wall?’
Your writing needs to reflect this, so writing how people speak will increase your content’s readability and therefore encourage users to stay on the page. Furthermore, your content will more closely match the terms being searched for – meaning it will be more relevant to the chosen search query.
This doesn’t mean you should neglect keyword research, it just means that your keywords will be longer. This leads on to another outdated SEO practice: keyword stuffing. Cramming keywords into your content is a tactic that is likely to backfire. Google will recognise it, and your ranking will fall off a cliff.
- Close-caption your video content
If you’re putting a lot of videos on your site, then you could have content that’s not being picked up by search engines – they aren’t quite there with speech recognition (although we’re probably not as far off as you might think).
By providing a transcript underneath the video, you’ll not only make things easier for search-engine algorithms, but you’ll also improve the user experience for visitors. Accurate transcripts including plenty of links and clarifications are an asset. Remember that a large portion of your audience won’t have audio available when they’re watching – they might be sitting on a busy train where they can’t hear what’s being said, for instance.
Closed captions help to keep a greater proportion of your viewers watching. Given that bounce rate plays such a significant role in determining rankings on YouTube, you can be reasonably sure that this will help to maintain a steady flow of traffic to your site.
When Facebook began to introduce automated caption for video ads, it reported that average viewing times increased by around 12%. While you might treat this figure with a little bit of scepticism, given the company’s more recent exploits, it’s fair to say that closed captions are a worthwhile step.
Subtitles are also useful if the appeal of your business crosses language barriers. If you’re looking to rent out chalets in the French Alps, for example, then putting transcripts of the same content up in different languages might yield a considerable return on the investment – particularly if none of your rivals have.
- Get mobile
Mobile platforms are now a leading driver of search traffic. Google began steadily moving over to mobile-first indexing in 2016, and you should ensure your website is geared to mobile users. Web content that isn’t optimised for a range of devices is going to miss out on valuable traffic.
There are several straightforward steps you can take to make your site mobile-friendly. Firstly, you should lose any Flash-powered plug-ins. They often don’t display properly on mobile, and they also look rather amateurish and slow sites down.
The same goes for links that automatically open in a new window. Closing these down is annoying enough on a desktop – on a mobile device it’s infuriating, and gives your users the perfect excuse to leave and never return.
Finally, you should make touchscreen navigation as easy as possible. No-one will navigate your site with a stylus, so make buttons appropriately chunky. On the top page of Google’s search results, the difference in ranking is often determined by how users respond to the content – high bounce rates will see your site suffer. We’d suggest testing every change, and on several different devices.
These eight tips above are a great starting point for growing your visitor numbers with minimal effort. And once done, you’ll be able to see the results: more visitors, better engagement and a stronger online presence.