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The Ultimate Guide to SEO

What is SEO?

SEO stands for ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ - it refers to the process of ensuring that your website content is created in such a way that it will be recognised, and indexed by, search engines. Good SEO can work wonders for your online presence, helping your website rank higher, increase organic traffic, and improve the reach of your content. 
 
SEO is a marketing strategy that has existed for nearly as long as search engines themselves. You can find examples of the term “SEO” as early as 1997, and throughout this time the methods of optimising your website have changed a great deal. With developments in algorithms, different search engines, and changes in the way that people consume content, it’s vital to ensure that you have a strong and sustainable SEO plan for your website. There are many factors that affect the ranking of your site, and this guide will take you through everything you need to know about what SEO is, what you need to be aware of, and how to optimise your own content successfully. 
 

Search Engines 

Here we’ll cover how search engines view and crawl your website. If you already have an understanding of how they do this, you can skip ahead here to learn more about building your strategy!  
 
Search engines have a specific way of reading your site, which you need to be aware of when building your optimisation plan. You may have heard the term ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’ in reference to the bots that are used to index your site - there is a reason for this! Bots index your site by following the links that they find in it. They move from page to page, based on the links between each, or on a central linking structure, “crawling” and recording information as they go. It’s easy to think of them as spiders in this way - imagine your site as a giant web, and the bots are following the threads to get where they need to be. 
 
spidersImportantly, crawlers do not actually rank your site. When they navigate your content, they take copies to feed back the the central search engine, where your content is indexed and ranked with other similar content. There are many crawlers out there (one or more for each search engine), including Yahoo! Slurp, Bingbot and MSNbot, but the one that most SEO specialists concentrate on is Googlebot. Over 90% of searches take place on Google, and it boasts an incredible 63,000 searches per second a day. For this reason, optimising with Google in mind is absolutely vital. 
 

It’s important to remember that crawlers don’t view your website in the same way that you do. When Google (or any other search engine) receives their ‘copy’ of your site from their crawlers, any images, videos and infographics are gone. They view the content above all, which is why content should be at the very centre of your SEO strategy. 

 

web page with no formattingHere's an example of how crawlers might see your site - not very visually pleasing! 

As the crawlers don’t see your formatting, when it comes to SEO, a flashy website or impressive images will mean little to nothing when it comes to search engine rankings. In many ways, this is a good thing - there’s no need to shell out on an expensive new website just to boost your rankings, but it does also mean that you can’t rely on visuals. There are a great many factors that you need to pay attention to in order to start driving some serious organic traffic, and this guide will take you through each of them. 

 

Building your SEO strategy

Keyword Research 

The first step of optimising your site should always be to narrow down the keywords that you want to target. These can be related to the industry you are in, the products or services that you provide, or even a topic that you would like to become an industry leader in. Your first step should be to collect these keywords, with a view to investigate how competitive (or realistic) they may be. You can find your keywords by asking questions like: 

  • What do you customers usually look for to find your business? 
  • How would you describe your products or services to others?

 

Top Tip! Check what your competitors are ranking for to see if there are any keywords missing from your own strategy. This way, you have an understanding of what the most targeted phrases are in your industry, and can look for gaps in your competitors’ strategy. 

 

Once you have discovered the core keywords you want to target, research keywords that you should be targeting. You can check a variety of sources to find keywords relevant to your chosen topic, industry, or service, and using these can help to make the process easier and faster! Free resources like Answer the Public or Keywords Everywhere can help suggest related terms, and you can also use tools like AHRefs and SEMRush which offer full SEO reporting and keyword analysis for a monthly subscription. 

Keywords can then be prioritised by search volume. This tells you how many times per month a keyword is searched for online. It can be tempting to think ‘the higher the better’, but this isn’t necessarily the case. High volume keywords are likely to be extremely competitive, and harder to rank for in the long run. They also aren’t always accurate, or geared towards lead generation - if someone Googles ‘coffee’, are they searching for a nearby shop? An online retailer? The coffee Wikipedia page? You can check search volume through tools like HubSpot, which offers related keywords, in addition to the monthly searches for various countries. 

On the flip side of this, you can find what we call long-tail keywords. These are longer phrases that are still searched, but have a slightly lower volume. Customers searching for more specific queries are usually nearer to making a buying decision - if we use the above example, someone searching ‘online coffee retailer next day shipping’ is in desperate need of their caffeine fix, so is much more likely to buy if they land on your page! 

 

Top Tip! Don’t forget about seasonal keywords! If you have a product or service that picks up searches around certain holidays, prepare your strategy and content in advance and be ready to promote it when the time comes. 

 

It can be tricky to narrow down your keywords, and it’s best to focus on a number of long-tail keywords as well as shorter ones to ensure you are covering what your potential customers want to find. The most important thing to remember is that you are matching your keywords to the intent of your potential customers. It’s all very well and good trying to rank for a competitive keyword, but if that keyword isn’t relevant to your business or doesn’t result in leads, it’s ultimately pointless. 

Boost your keyword strategy with our free tool 

 

Topic Clusters 

Brace yourself, we’re about to get inbound-y! Once you have figured out which keywords you want to target, you should start organising these into ‘clusters’. This allows you to group together multiple long tail keywords around a central theme. You can then start planning a long piece of content covering your central keyword, and then ‘cluster content’ that links to this, offering more authority and an easier, more user-friendly read. It sounds complicated, but it’s easier than you think. Imagine it like this: 
 
Cluster%20model

via HubSpot

As you create your cluster content and link it to your pillar content, it helps your site in two ways; firstly, your site visitors are able to navigate your content quickly and easily, with plenty of links to help them gain knowledge on your subject, and secondly, it’s great for your SEO! As Google (or any other search engine) crawls your site, it will find these links and understand your site as a hub of information on your main topic. This improves your chances of ranking well, as your site is deemed more informative. The idea of cluster content is relatively new in the SEO world, but is becoming more and more popular. Many of Google’s recent algorithm updates are focused on connecting the user with the most informative content, and a cluster strategy helps the algorithms to determine this more easily. 

You should use topic clusters to incorporate your original keyword research - if you’ve used a tool like Answer the Public or Keywords Everywhere, you may have found related keywords linked to your main phrases. These keywords are incredibly useful for crafting your cluster content. Let’s go back to our coffee example - if when searching ‘coffee’, you find that people are asking questions like ‘how is coffee made?’, and ‘what coffee machine should I buy?’, these could be excellent choices for cluster content to help boost your central pillar page. You can start planning your cluster content effectively by using a tool to map what you want to write about. HubSpot’s SEO tool offers this, in addition to showing traffic statistics once your content has been posted. You can map out these pages like this: 

Coffee

Top Tip! Chat with others in your business about the main keywords you want to build your pillar content around to ensure that you’re targeting the correct audience. Also, avoid writing them early on a Monday morning, because then they may revolve around how much you would like a cup of coffee, rather than your chosen topics. 

 

Once you’ve plotted the terms you want to target, and how you are going to build your cluster content, you can get started on the more technical aspects of your SEO. If your website is already up and running, you can run an audit in order to find out any issues with content, metadata or links easily with a few tools. One free tool that we love is Nibbler, which suggests improvements you can make, but there are also more in-depth site audit features in AHRefs and SEMRush. Some marketing and SEO agencies also offer an initial audit, but this is sometimes subject to a charge. 

Schedule your free marketing audit!

 

Site & URL Structure 

Rule number one of SEO - make sure people can actually use your site. Seems basic, but this always seems to fall by the wayside when optimising sites, in favour of keywords, linking, and tagging. However, the purpose of your site is not to be read by bots, it’s to be read by people! 
 
Your site should be easy to navigate, and all pages should be accessible. This means no hidden back-end pages, and an easy menu structure should be a priority when building or restructuring your site with SEO in mind. Once upon a time, many believed in the three click rule, but it’s more accurate that site visitors don’t care how many times they click, as long as they can easily reach the content they are looking for! 
 
You should also consider your URLs in terms of usability and SEO. When possible, you should use your main keyword in your URL. You should also make sure that it isn’t too long - ideally, it should be easy to read and tell you something about the page. For example:
 
 

It can be tempting to optimise every category page and every sub-page for your chosen keyword. However, this can do more harm than good. No one wants to read this URL: 

www.example.com/coffee/colombian-coffee/roasted-colombian-coffee/roasted-colombian-coffee-history

Too many keywords can kill your user experience, and also doesn’t look good to Google. Try to format your pages so that they helpfully lead to your content, not so they have as many keywords as humanly possible. 

 

Top Tip! Sit down with your marketing team to plan out your page hierarchy. You should be able to narrow down topics and sub-topics, and map out your URLs following this structure. Any new pages should follow this same structure. 

 

Page Speed 

Have you ever waited for a page to load and then given up? Nearly half of site visitors jump ship if a page takes longer than three seconds to load, which is a staggering number when the average page load time worldwide is 8.66 seconds. 

Speed has a huge impact on how Google views your site. Latest algorithm changes have been consistently shifting to providing a better user experience, and if your site loads faster than another, you have the advantage. Google specifically says that their goal is to “connect you with useful information as quickly as possible, making page speed an absolute priority in your SEO strategy. As of November 2019, Google also rolled out a speed test functionality in Search Console, making it easy to check which pages are slow, moderate or fast on your site. 

You should also tailor your SEO in relation to the rising popularity of voice search. Comscore speculated that 50% of searches will be voice search by 2020, so it’s essential that your site is optimised for this, and speed is a huge factor. Voice assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa tend to choose results that load 52% faster than the average page.  

For more information on preparing for voice search, you can check out our blog here. 

There are a range of ways to improve the page speed of your site. These include resolving page level issues, as well as server level problems that are a little more complicated. At page level, you can ensure that your images are the correct size, and are compressed to a format that reduces strain on the server. You can compress images using your image editing tool, or if you are working with WordPress, you can use plugins like Smush to compress and optimise all images on your site. Alternatively, you can find a site builder that compresses images automatically to save time. 

 

Top Tip! To improve site speed, you can also choose to lazy load your images, which means that they don’t appear until the site visitor scrolls down. This reduces demand on the server and ensures that images are only loaded when they’re actually needed. Your site visitors won’t notice - promise! 

 

An easy way to test the load speed of your site is to run it through GTMetrix. This shows you a grade based on a series of factors that affect your page speed. One issue that often crops up though is redirects! Having redirects in place is helpful for your SEO (you can find out more about that here), but having too many slows down your site. Ensure that your redirects are only in place when necessary, and that your pages aren’t having to work overtime skipping from page to page to page.  

Another way to get faster loading speed is to ensure that you have a cache in place. This means that people who have previously visited your site will see a snapshot of the site as they last saw it, allowing it to load instantly. Caching is a great way to speed up your site, but can be tricky to implement. Many site builders use plugins that offer caching, such as Hummingbird for WordPress, but be wary when installing these - if there is a plugin conflict, these can take down your site instantly. If they’re compatible with your site, then go ahead! You can find out more about caching here

Responsiveness 

A main element of your SEO strategy should be to make sure that your site is responsive. This means that no matter what device, browser, or screen size your visitors are using, they should be able to clearly access your content, and it should fit the screen. This has become even more important in recent years - Google’s crawlers use mobile-first indexing for all new sites as of July 1st, 2019. This means that no matter how good your site looks on your desktop computer, it means nothing for your SEO if it can’t be read on mobile. A good way to check this is on Google’s own tool, Mobile-Friendly Test

 

Top Tip! Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test is useful, but not always accurate! Always check your site on your own device and on a friend’s to ensure that your content and design can adapt to different screen sizes or operating systems. 

 

Most site builders now offer responsive templates, like WordPress, HubSpot, and SquareSpace. However, you should beware - mobile-friendly is not necessarily the same thing as responsive design, and you may find that some site builders are not as good for this as they seem on the surface. The easiest way to check responsiveness is to just resize your browser window, or zoom in. Does your menu move so that it fits the screen? Does your text rearrange itself? If so, great! You have a responsive website. This makes it easier for Google to crawl your content, and also easier for people to access your site. 

Still not quite sure why your site should be responsive? We’ve written up 6 key benefits of responsive site design here.

Sitemap 

Let’s clear one thing up right now - your sitemap is not the be-all and end-all of getting indexed by Google. Search engine spiders will decide which pages to crawl based on the links within your site, not the pages that you list in an xml file. However, this doesn’t mean that having one is pointless. 

You should view your sitemap as a way to show Google (or any other search engine) the pages that you deem to be high quality. You can then submit this through tools such as Search Console to ensure that it’s read and compared against your crawled pages. Sitemaps are really useful for large sites, as you can tell search engines which pages they should be paying attention to. You can also identify when pages were last modified - a helpful feature to let Google know that something has changed, and the page should be re-crawled. You can see our sitemap here for an example.  

Your sitemap doesn’t just have to be your pages either! You can also submit image and video sitemaps to ensure that your content is being discovered. Google has some information on these here. 

Robots.txt 

Your robots.txt file is vital for your SEO efforts. This file enables you to exclude pages that you don’t want to be read by Google, and set rules for various bots. An average robots file looks like this: 

 

User-agent: *

Disallow:

Sitemap:

 

Under disallow, you can list any pages that you don’t want Google to crawl. These can be pages with little to no content, pages like your privacy policy or terms and conditions, or any pages that aren’t necessarily useful for your SEO. It’s also a good idea to point to your sitemap in your robots.txt file, to gently push crawlers in the right direction. 

You can also use an ‘Allow’ directive in your robots.txt file. This means that if you have a parent page that is disallowed, you can still ask Google to crawl one of the subpages by submitting it under ‘Allow’. For a full breakdown of robots.txt file directives, check here

 

Top Tip! Does your robots.txt file have a ‘noindex’ directive in it? Google has never officially supported this, and as of September 1st, 2019, having this on your main robots.txt file will make no difference to your pages at all. If you want to exclude a page from crawling, add it to your ‘Disallow’ list, or risk it being indexed! 

 

Redirects 

We mentioned briefly the dangers of too many redirects and the repercussions this can have on page speed, but they are still important to consider in your SEO strategy. If you are creating new pages, or amending URLs, it’s essential that you redirect these properly so that: 

  1. Your previous indexed page is updated, rather than just lost.
  2. Any links that you had are not also lost. 

Implementing a 301, or a ‘permanent’ redirect as it is sometimes known, tells Google that your page has moved, and to crawl the new page. This needs to be implemented on URL changes also, even if you have only removed a letter or two, as they will be viewed as new pages. There are many types of redirect, but for SEO purposes, we’ll focus on the 301. 

You need a 301 redirect for pages that have moved, but you may also have to implement redirects to ensure that your site is visible on one domain only. Take a look at the below domains: 

 

http://www.axongarside.com

http://axongarside.com

https://www.axongarside.com

https://axongarside.com

 

Although each of these URLs look like they should go to the same page, if there is no redirect in place, they won’t. This means that Google will view them as four separate sites, and will crawl each accordingly. Aside from throwing up some duplicate content issues, this can also mess with your traffic reporting, as visitors to each domain will be counted separately. 

(Side note: the above domains are an example, and you will find that they all go to the same URL. Apologies to anyone who was disappointed.

It’s important to stay on top of your redirects, to avoid redirect chains that slow down speed. Rather than linking page A to page B to page C, you should update your redirect when page C is created so that page A goes to page C. This removes any unnecessary steps and eliminates any page speed issues. 

Redirects

This type of redirect, from A to B to C, is likely to slow down your site and provide a poor user experience!

If you’re developing a whole new site, or changing your domain, it’s best to map out your redirects before going live, so that you can retain your rankings and your links for the old pages. Make sure that you redirect your pages like-for-like; if you redirect a website design page to a page about content marketing, no one is going to be happy - least of all Google! 

SSL 

A big question in SEO, and in internet browsing in general, is security. More and more sites are finding themselves open to hackers, and there is an attack on a site somewhere every 39 seconds. One way to combat this is using SSL. SSL, which stands for ‘Secure Sockets Layer’, is a technology that keeps data shared on your site secure. This includes passwords, usernames, card information and more. The “correct” term is now in fact TLS (Transport Layer Security), but most SEO specialists stick to the previous name still. 

website-hacker

Since July 2018, Google Chrome has been showing site visitors in lovely glowing red that a site is ‘not secure’ if they don’t have an SSL installed. Further to this, Google announced SSL as a ranking factor as far back as 2014, so it’s a surprise to see that so many sites are still overlooking this crucial element! Having a secure connection doesn’t just affect your rankings, either - an error message stating that your site isn’t secure can cause a higher bounce rate, as visitors may believe that your site has been hacked, or that their data is compromised. 

Content Creation

As we mentioned previously, the main focus of your SEO should always be content. Creating high quality, readable, and informative content not only encourages site visits and helps to provide a good user experience, but it’s also the main ranking factor that Google uses to index your site. 

To produce SEO-approved content, you need to consider your audience, your keywords, your brand, and the way that your site will be seen by the search engines. There is a fine line between content that is good for SEO and content that is bad for SEO, and we’ve outlined some of the factors to consider when optimising your website here.  

Using your Keywords

When crafting content, make sure to use the keywords you identified earlier to signal that the page is about your chosen keyword, phrase or subject. However, it’s very easy to go overboard! In the early days of SEO, using as many keywords as possible on a single page helped to gain rankings quickly and easily, but after the Panda update of 2011, those tactics just won’t fly anymore. Panda signalled a huge shift in how people thought about SEO, and cracked down on some serious content issues across the web. 

Your keywords are there to inform your content and to signal what it’s about, but they shouldn’t be used as a crutch, or as a way to ‘cheat’ your way to the top in Google. Sure, you can include your chosen keyword in every sentence, but this isn’t written with your readership in mind. More helpful is to think about your keyword density. This allows you to measure the percentage of keywords in comparison to the amount of text on the page, showing you whether you have used enough keywords to inform the text without screaming “SPAM” at the search engines. Lots of SEO specialists recommend 1-3% density, but it’s important to stress that density should not be your focus. Your content should be readable and natural, and keyword density should be something that you use to check whether you have gone too far. If you’ve written a great piece, check it over and find it has a density of 25%, unfortunately, it’s not as great as you may think! 

Top Tip! Never underestimate the power of a good synonym. Google’s advances in machine learning have made it possible for keyword variations, synonyms and related terms to be picked up in addition to your main term. Trying to rank for ‘Student Accommodation Manchester’? You can use phrases like ‘University Housing Manchester’ and they’ll still contribute to your main keyword. Try Googling it - see the results for yourself! 

Interested in learning more? Check out our blog about the ways bad content can impact your business! 

Duplicate Content 

Some estimates claim that 29% of content online is duplicated, a surprising figure that needs to be massively reduced. This is referring to stolen content, where sites have copied and pasted from another. Tweaking the content slightly doesn’t get you out of trouble either - Google’s algorithms are smarter than you think, and will pick up that small changes have been made to copied text! Your website content should be optimised, natural and original. Duplicated content from another website can cause you issues in the search engines, issues with your customer base, and even legal issues, so steer clear. 

Duplicate content issues don’t just revolve around swathes of stolen content - they can happen accidentally on your website too. Your CMS can throw up multiple versions of the same page, or incorrect redirects can show two varieties of each page also. These issues can seem tricky to resolve, particularly if URLs on your site are different according to session ID, search, or other parameters. Ensure that all of your redirects are correctly in place, and when possible add a canonical tag to ensure that duplicate pages are not being crawled. A canonical tag looks like this: 

 

<link rel=”canonical”” href=”https://www.example.com” />

 

These tags show Google the main version of the page, and instruct it to be prioritised above the others. It doesn’t mean that the pages will not be crawled, but it does mean that they will be seen as inadvertent duplicates of the original. 

Will I be penalised? 

Google does not penalise duplicate content. At least, not in the way that other SEO blunders are penalised. However, Google does have to decide which piece of content is the original, or most important, and you may face a slide in rankings due to this. When faced with two pages that are exactly the same, Google will inevitably rank one above the other. This means that while Google won’t penalise the content, you will not rank as highly as you would with original content, and rather than your content working with your overall strategy, it’s working against it. 

Thin Content 

Thin content can cause your site to slip in the rankings easily, and contributes to your overall site quality. If you have pages with little-to-no content, or pages targeting different variations of the same keyword, this can be considered ‘thin’. If you have multiple pages with thin content it will lower the quality of the entire website. 

Search Console and various SEO plugins such as Yoast offer suggestions, and will let you know when a page has thin content. However, these suggestions are not always accurate and are often decided by an algorithm, so they shouldn’t always be trusted! Thin content examples can include gallery pages and content pages, which may not offer a lot of value to Google, but are valuable to site visitors. 

To prevent thin content, you can ensure that all main pages of your site contain high quality, original content that is optimised for search engines. Make sure that there aren’t pages targeting the same, or a slight variation on keywords, and you can potentially place a noindex on necessary pages with little to no content so that they aren’t indexed by Google. This means that your site visitors will still be able to access them, but you don’t have to worry about it affecting your ranking. However, just because a page doesn’t have a lot of text, doesn’t mean it can’t help you rank at all. You can utilise your images for SEO purposes with alt tags. 

 

Alt Tags 

An alt tag, or alt attribute, is a piece of HTML code that applies descriptive text to your images. These tags are important, and not just for SEO purposes. Alt tags enable you to describe exactly what is in the image you are presenting, which makes it more accessible for screen readers and browsers that struggle with images. This means that even without the image itself, readers can still get a clear impression of what is being presented. In SEO terms, this is a great opportunity to show search engines that you are providing relevant content by tagging appropriately. 

It can be tempting to tag our images with lots of keywords, but this still counts as keyword stuffing, and is not recommended for your SEO strategy. When adding alt tags, you should ensure that your tags are helpful, relevant, and not overly descriptive, so that they are easy to access and read. Here's an example of how to tag, and how not to tag! 

SEO PP images (2)

You can add alt tags to any image that you place on your site, including logos, infographics, animations and captchas. However, it may not be worth adding alt tags to every image, as decorative images do not add any ranking clout, nor do they add anything to the site visitor’s experience. If you have a banner image that is purely for design and doesn’t show a product, service, or your team, there’s not much point in tagging it

 

Top Tip! If you already have a caption under your images, you can use the tag ‘alt=”” (null)’, to avoid repetition. The caption will already describe what is in the image, so there’s no need to add a tag to explain again. 

 

Metadata 

Your metadata signposts your page to the search engines, adding information to tell them exactly what it’s about. The meta title is vital for your website’s first impression, as it appears in the search results, and when your page is linked somewhere else as a preview. It also appears in the tab on most browsers, so it’s essential to make sure that this describes the page effectively. 

 

When you’re crafting title tags, consider: 

  • What your keywords are for the page. These should be included at the beginning of the title tag, so that they are prioritised by the search engines. 
  • What the page is about. Your title should describe what the visitor is going to see when they click on your page, so that no one is surprised when they land on your content. 
  • The length of your title tag. You can run it through this checker to make sure that your title and description are visible in search results. 
  • Your brand. You should try to include your company name so that your pages are recognisable, and follow guidelines for naming pages. 

 

Your metadata also includes your meta description. This is a short piece of content that appears in search engines, describing the content that is on the page. In the search results, it looks like this: 

image of SERPs

The meta description is a good opportunity to summarise your content, include your keyword, and attract readers to your content. It should be under 155 characters, punchy, and entice searchers to click your link, instead of someone else’s. 

There are also keyword meta tags, which once upon a time were used to tag as many keywords as possible to boost SEO. They’re now used less and less, and no good SEO specialist is going to recommend wasting time on these. If they’re already on your site, they won’t hurt, but don’t bother adding them where they aren’t needed. 

Local SEO

It’s helpful for some businesses to target the local area with their SEO. Picking up local searches can mean it’s more likely for searchers to visit your site and ultimately convert, and also helps to build your brand within the local community. 

It can be tricky to rank in your local area, particularly as organic search doesn’t offer the same geo-targeting that Google or Facebook Ads can offer. However, there are ways to ensure that you are targeting your SEO specifically for your location in a number of ways. 

Google My Business 

Google Business Listing

Having an up to date business listing on Google is essential. You can set up a page in minutes, with details such as your address, services and opening times, so that potential customers can find information about your company with ease. You will have spotted business listings yourself when you search - they appear on the right hand side of the search results and offer a snapshot of a business that fits your search.

Your business listing will increase the chances of you showing up in local searches, and also helps to connect your business to your location. Customers will also be able to find your business quickly and easily, and your listing can offer call functionality, messaging, and the option to leave reviews! 

 

Top Tip! Make sure you add images to your business listing that are representative of your brand. Bold, eye-catching professional images can be the difference between a customer choosing you or another business!

 

Targeting Areas

You can also target areas more directly in your content creation. If someone is looking for a business in their area, they are likely to type the area, city, or town within the search phrase. For this reason, it’s a good idea to mention the area within the content a few times, in the same way that you would mention a keyword. Don’t go too crazy with this, as readers like to see excessive repetition of locations even less than they like to see keyword stuffing, but 1-3 mentions help to target your chosen area a little more specifically. 

 

Top Tip! Include your company address in your website footer too to signpost where your office/s are located. This helps further situate your business in your local area!

 

Building Local Links  

Another way to boost your local SEO is to focus your link building on your local area. You can do this through directory submissions in the area publications, and you can also take on guest blogging for local businesses, as well as introducing partner links. If you work closely with other businesses in the area, why not add a partner badge to your site and theirs? This way, you can signify that you work closely with other trusted businesses, and potentially boost traffic for both sites. Be careful with this - signifying that you have a partnership with another, similar business is a good idea for your SEO, but excessive link exchanges for the purposes of better rankings will be detrimental. 

Black Hat SEO (and why not to use it)

We’ve all heard the horror stories and been told to avoid dodgy optimisation tactics, but what counts as “black hat” SEO? 

Hidden Text 

You wouldn’t think it happens, but it does. If you have the brilliant idea of typing up a lot of keywords, placing the content on a page, and then matching it to the background of the page so that there’s content without sacrificing the aesthetic of your design, congratulations! You’ve discovered the oldest and worst way to get keyword spam onto your website. 

Google is not stupid. It knows when there is invisible text on your site, and it knows when you have tried to cut corners in your SEO strategy. The same applies for hiding content within the code of your website, so don’t be tempted by this method either. 

Hidden text doesn’t appeal to your site visitors either, as they can highlight and see that there is more content on the page. Hiding anything, but particularly content, doesn’t make your site or your business look particularly trustworthy, and can therefore damage a lot more than your rankings in the long run. 

Paid Backlinks & Link Exchanges 

As previously mentioned, link exchanges can get you into trouble with Google. It’s okay to link to sites that you have a partnership with, are an affiliate of, or if you just find their content interesting in your industry, but if you receive an email that says “you link me and I’ll link to you”, delete it! This type of link exchanging creates a host of problems, including irrelevant, low quality links that can (and will) be classed as spam. 

The other issue is paid backlinks. Some sites offer schemes where you can pay a large amount of money to get hundreds of backlinks from “good authority” sites. This is extremely damaging to your SEO. The quality of your backlinks should always be at the forefront of your mind, and if you are getting backlinks from untrustworthy sources, that are not relevant to your business, they will ultimately harm your rankings. Websites that are found to have been either selling or purchasing links can face a hefty ranking penalty if caught, so don’t risk it! 

 

Top Tip! Exchanging services or products for links also counts as purchasing links! Don’t damage your SEO - obtain your links organically for the best possible result. 

 

Irrelevant Content 

Your site should consist of relevant, useful content that is based on your industry and your products or services. There is no point posting content solely to rank, if the rankings do not help you. This also applies for redirects from high ranking pages to your own. If a searcher clicks a link expecting to read about one topic that is unrelated to your site, they do not want to be redirected to your own. Even if a keyword has a lot of searches, if it isn’t related to your business, don’t try to rank for it. 

 

You can read a further breakdown of the many black or grey hat SEO techniques here. The general rule of thumb when deciding what you can and can’t do in your SEO strategy should be this: if it feels like it’s shady, don’t do it! 

Monitoring your SEO

Once you’ve optimised your website, and created high quality, useful content for your readers, it’s important to understand that your SEO strategy doesn’t end there. Keeping on top of your optimisation efforts is important, as Google rolls out between 500-600 algorithm changes per year. You need to be able to stay up to date with these changes, and understand how to tweak your SEO to follow any updated guidelines or best practices. There are a few ways you can do this - you can hire an agency to monitor results for you, or you can go it alone. With the correct tools, you can keep track of your efforts over time. 

Keyword Ranking

The first and most obvious method to keep track of your progress is to check your keywords. If you have optimised your site correctly, then the keywords that you selected at the beginning of your strategy should begin to improve, and you can check this through tools such as AHRefs and SEMRush. Be wary when checking for yourself - Google takes into account your previous searches, as well as your location and any additional information it can get from your Google account. To combat this, you can search for your chosen keyword in an incognito browser - be sure that you have logged out of your Google account and that you have cleared your history and cache. These results will still be biased to your location, so take them with a pinch of salt! 

 

Top Tip! You can check search results accurately through sites such as SERP Robot, which can search for up to 10 keywords at a time. Make sure that you are checking results for the country that is relevant to you, too - many SEO tools are set to the US by default!

 

Organic Traffic

If your SEO is beginning to take effect, you should see an improvement in traffic. Monitor your Search Console account to see whether your organic impressions and clicks have risen, and this is a good indicator that you are being found online. Search Console also offers the opportunity to check for errors on your site, monitor links, and see what search phrases your website is being found for. It should be one of the most important tools in your arsenal for monitoring your optimisation. You can also monitor traffic using a tool like HubSpot, which also lets you know the key phrases your content is ranking for, per page.  

Bounce Rate 

Are people staying on your website when they find you organically? Bounce rates track how many people go on to browse your other pages once they have viewed one, and can sometimes be quite high. You should always consider your bounce rate in relation to the time that people spend on the page. If your page has a high bounce rate, but people are spending 5 minutes on the page, then they are clearly reading your content, but just not browsing the rest of the site. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Someone could ‘bounce’ from your page, but call you, visit your business, or even have you in mind for a later purchase. It’s a good metric to keep track of to see how engaging your content really is.

Reporting

It’s a good idea to set up some kind of reporting to keep track of your SEO efforts. You can do this within Search Console or Analytics, by setting up a weekly or monthly report to your email address (there’s more about reports here), or you can utilise a software to streamline the reporting for you. We use HubSpot, but there are a variety of other tools that you can use to get reports based on traffic, keyword rankings, and more. 

Algorithm Updates 

Finally, remember to keep an eye out for Google algorithm updates! There are frequent algorithm updates that can have a huge impact on your SEO, and when an update hits, it’s best to act fast. You can follow blogs like Moz, SEMRush, Search Engine Journal, Yoast, and of course us to stay up to date with news in the world of SEO, and we’d recommend that you check often for any noticeable changes in position. 

Finally…

Getting started with SEO can be a daunting task, but hopefully we’ve provided you with some of the tools to start understanding what needs to be done to boost your organic rankings. It’s an involved, complex strategy that requires a lot of effort, but will ultimately pay off in organic traffic, increased impressions, and hopefully conversions! Many businesses turn towards an agency to provide expert SEO services and detailed reporting. If this is something you are considering, check out our blog, ‘What should I expect from my SEO agency?’ to know exactly what should be provided in a B2B SEO service. 

If you do decide to go it alone, keep some things in mind. Firstly, SEO is a slow process. It will take time to see results, and you will only start to see small improvements 4-6 months into your strategy. Even when it seems like it isn’t having an effect, don’t give up! The second thing that you should consider is that your SEO efforts need to be a consistent and involved process. Keep track of Google updates, add content, tweak old content, check your reports… you need to be in control of your optimisation, and aware of how your site is performing, in order to play the game. Every website on the internet covets that number one spot, and the only way to get there is to know your industry, your customers, and Google’s guidelines, inside and out. Good luck! 

Still not sure about how SEO can help your business? Book a free 30 minute marketing consultation with one of our experts below! 

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