Over the last months SEO has changed significantly, yet the basic objectives have remained the same. The job of SEO is to increase visibility and bring more qualified traffic to websites. A common misconception is that conversion is also part of SEO and clients sometimes feel disappointed that although the visibility and the traffic have risen, the conversions have not increased at the same pace. Saying that, there are aspects of the on-site optimisation that would help increase the chance of conversion; aspects, that I will talk about more a bit later in this post.
Let’s start with the primary SEO objectives though – to increase online presence and the traffic of a website.
Visibility – what happens before the click
A few months ago, before Google announced that due to privacy settings most of the keywords reported in Google Analytics will be shown as (not provided), many SEOers were measuring results purely based on the traffic reported in GA. Nowadays there is another stage of the search, that often used to be overlooked – the pre-click data. It could give you a very good indication as to what areas of the website are working well and which ones might benefit from some attention.
One of the things you can do to increase your website’s online presence is to mark up your images in a way that is easy for the search engines to understand. Ensure the images on your website work for you, not against you. Before you even upload them, check that the files are optimised for web and their appearance won’t slow your website down. In addition to that, make sure the name of the actual file suggests what the content of the image would be. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about keyword stuffing and trying to manipulate the system, I’m only suggesting that if you have an image of “blue shoes”, don’t upload the file as “image1”, but as “blue-shoes”. Once the image is on the website, the next thing you should do is to add alt text to the image, again describing the content, but not making it too spammy.
Not only you can use images to gain visibility, but creating YouTube videos and optimising them is a great idea too. You wouldn’t believe how many people create videos and upload them to YouTube, but don’t optimise them. They don’t put a link to their own website (this is only to be done when you are the legal owner of the video) which makes it harder for Google to attribute the credit when it’s due. The best practices say that a link to the website should be the very first thing in the description for each video. In addition to that, captions should be added to enable easier crawling of the video content.
Rich snippets are yet another way of getting more visibility in search results. It is the output of a structured data input. As Google is trying to provide searchers with the most relevant data, its algorithms try to determine what kind of data the user is after. In order to implement structured data you can either use schema.org to get the actual code in place, or if you don’t have the technical knowledge and/or resources, you can always use Google’s own Data Highlighter. When using the latter, you don’t have all the schemas available, but you definitely can mark up your pages with the most popular ones such as events, local businesses and products. There are a few rich snippets I would like to put your attention on, as those are more “generic” whereas the others are more specific to particular types of businesses and activities, such as showing football results, marking up for attorneys, etc.
- Local business – don’t miss out on your local market; you can’t rely on the fact that people would have seen your store just because they live right next to it. Nowadays people are very busy, and if they remember everything they see, they will be overwhelmed. That’s why human brain has a selective remembrance for things. And that is why you should make sure you are as visible as possible.
- Reviews and ratings – those are the stars that will help you stand out from the crowd;
- People – in every company there are people working (even if it’s a one-man band), so if you have an “about us” page with some info about the staff members, you might benefit from marking those pages up
- Products mark-up is especially useful for eCommerce websites – using the Data Highlighter you can easily tell Google what your products are called and how much they cost, have an image for them and show their availability.
- Authorship – it makes your face appear to articles you’ve written, which add authority to the article itself.
There are a few simple steps to get that set up Authorship:
- Get a Google+ account with your name
- Get the link for it (the one that’s in the address bar) and add ?rel=author at the end of it. So for my profile the final URL looks like this https://plus.google.com/110358934043731716829?rel=author once you have the URL that needs to be used, include it on the page which you’re marking up.
- Then go to your G+ profile and click on About; then under the “Contributing to” add www.yourwebsite.co.uk and click “save” and you’re done
In order to check whether you’ve implemented the structured data properly, you can use the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.
If you have a news section on your website it is definitely worth to try and get into Google News. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy job, but once you’re in, it does pay off. There are millions of people every day checking Google News, so it would be great if you could get a piece of that pie. There are technical and quality requirements in order to get even considered for inclusion, so you need to make sure your website fulfils all of them before you apply.
How to measure success: the easiest and most sensible way to monitor the visibility of a website, as previously mentioned, is in Google Webmaster Tools. The data there shows how many impressions your website has for a particular keyword as well as how many impressions the different pages get. The key when working with impressions data is not to focus on specific keyword results, but on keyword groups. For example, if your website is selling shoes, you would like the number of impressions generated from search queries containing “shoes” to increase.
Don’t forget that there are two days delay in the data GWT shows, so be patient before you judge about the effectiveness of the changes you’ve made.
Traffic, or what makes people click on a link they see in the search results
Let’s say now that you’ve done all you can to do get maximum exposure in the search results and you’ve caught user’s attention. Then what you need to do is to ensure you get the so desired click. There are a few ways to do that depending on the type of search results the user has performed.
- If it’s an image search, you have to make sure the images on your website are high quality.
- If you’ve appeared in Google’s local listings, then the way to stand out would be to have a complete listing. Spend some time on adding your opening hours, full address, images, information about the services and/or products you provide; also don’t forget that Google’s local listings also have a section for reviews, so encourage your clients to give feedback on Google+. Oh, and don’t forget to verify your listing. Google gets funny sometimes and it wouldn’t display your listing if it’s not verified; yet other times it will, so you might as well be on the safe side. In addition to that it’s good to mention that people would be more likely to trust you if they see you have a verified listing. To summarise, the more information you provide the Almighty User with, the better the chance they will choose to come to you.
- If you were found via a “normal” web search, you should be mostly relying on title tags and meta descriptions. Although one might argue that rich snippets are also a priority focus, I rest my case that to start with, you should put more attention on titles and metas. This is purely because those are the two things that will definitely appear in the search results. Rich snippets often appear when Google “feels” like showing them, so don’t take chances with this and invest time into what you have full control over. I think that now is the time, when I should remind you of a few things:
- Title tag should be 466px to 469px, so that it always shows in the search results. If it’s longer you risk of it either being truncated, or for Google to replace it with something else (the big G often takes H1s if they are within the max length)
- Nothing much has changed for the meta descriptions – they should be roughly 155 characters
Keep the aforementioned unique and as specific as possible for each page of your website so that both users and search engines know what the page is all about.
How to measure success: It is more than clear that the number of visitors reported in Google Analytics will give you a good indication of whether or not your SEO approach is working. To ensure that the visitors you’ve brought to the website are highly targeted you need to drill down a bit in the data provided. For example, a client might argue that you’re not bringing them qualified traffic, so you, as an SEOer, should be able to prove that you actually are. So, if the targeted market is in London, when you go into Google Analytics, you should be able to show that indeed a reasonable amount of the traffic is coming from London. Depending on your (your client’s goals) you should be checking various bits of data to judge about the performance of the website.
Optimise for mobile
These days, more and more people use mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to browse the web. And one way to do so is to use voice search or its enhanced version – Google Now. If you want to appear there, you still need to do everything we just spoke about, but the key here is to focus on long-tail keywords. When working with voice search, people tend to use longer queries that
Oh, and by the way, even though this is not an SEO thing as such, I won’t forgive myself if I don’t mention it: have a mobile version of your website. If you keep bringing people to a website that is hard to navigate on a mobile device, it only means that your SEO efforts are lost, as people will just bounce off.
A quick tip: go and check your Google Analytics and find out how many visitors a month you have from mobile devices, if they are only 5, then there’s nothing to worry about. If they account for 50% of your traffic though, you might really need to consider a mobile version of the site, or at least some responsive one.
Safe link building
Amongst all of the things that have changed recently in the SEO industry, the way link building is done stands out in particular. The old exact match anchor texts for inbound links can only do one thing for you, and this is to get you a penalty. “And now what?” you’re asking. Now, you should be only having links on third party websites if they are for marketing purposes, not for the benefit of search engines alone.
Also, use social media websites to share your links, as the social signals (especially coming from Google+) play an important role in search. The more active you are on social media, the bigger authority and trust you’ll have in Google’s eyes.
Furthermore, local citations are something that should be considered, as they are the so called “safe directories”
As I said, conversions are not an actual responsibility of SEO, but there are a few on-site optimisation techniques that could be applied in order to improve the customer’s experience on your website.
- Make sure the time it takes for your website to load is not dreadful;
- Use proper headings (H1, H2, etc) – they should be clear enough for both users, and robots;
- High quality content written from humans and for humans;
- Check your website regularly for broken links and fix them. Also don’t forget to put a custom 404 page in place
- Make all your external links to open in a new window – a big mistake would be to let users leave your website
- The rest is in your hands
As Google Adwords are now made more integrated within the search results, you have to make sure that when you appear in the organic results, you stand out from the crowd regardless of the search terms and devices used. Be where your audience might be; be everywhere.
Stop worrying about the numbers* and focus on the quality of the products and services you offer online, as well as offline, then the numbers will follow shortly after.
* If you have done everything we’ve just talked about and the numbers are still not coming in, then there might be a reason to worry. Before you start panicking though, here’s a quick list of things you might want to check.
- Ensure your tracking is set up properly – after launching a new website or migrating a website to a new domain, the tracking might break along the way
- Make sure (for example, by checking in Google Trends) that there’s demand for your product/services. People often forget that SEO doesn’t create demand. So, if you’ve done everything right and you only got 100 impressions a month, then check whether those 100 impressions are not the whole search demand there is. If they are, that means that you are getting maximum exposure, so you have nothing to worry about.
- Check for penalties – Google can and does penalise websites not only based on current activities, but also based on retrospective manipulative actions.
And if you have checked all of those and still feel that you’re “entitled” to more traffic, give us a shout, we’re always up for a good challenge.