4 Big Positives of the Lockdown (and beyond) – part 2/2
SEO for Dummies (no offence, I am one of them) !
As promised in the first part of this post at the beginning of the week I decided to use some of my free time to share with you some basic information about my SEO journey in case it could be useful to those who are running a small business and are struggling. Before you ask, SEO in this context does NOT stand for Self Egotistic Ovation, the kind of self-promoting stuff we are stumbling upon every single day on Social Medias, but for Search Engine Optimisation. Said more simply, the ability for one’s website pages to rank on the first page of Google for a particular keyword or set of keywords. Well at least this is the goal…
There is a joke in the SEO community that says that if you want to hide something for no one to find it, just ensure it stays on the 2nd page of google search results. If you are one of those who take the time to go past the 1st page you are quite remarkable so please make yourself known in the comments section below – who knows you may attract the attention of recruiters that are looking for an extremely rare gem :-).
If you are unfamiliar with SEO to give you an idea of what it does, do a search for both keywords ‘LVAP training’ and ‘LVAP course’ in Google this week and you may notice, depending on your location and other personalisation constraints, that our 3ECO company website’s ranking fluctuates between the 5th and 9th position therefore on the first page of the search results. There is still a long way to go and a couple of keywords working well is more about vanity than any demonstration whatsoever of a healthy and effective strategy but, hey, it is a start and in the current climate any positive is worth taking !
But more importantly if I can do it, every small business owner can do it and should do it. So here is what I did in 11 steps by following the advice given by a number of SEO experts, one of them being Brian Dean, that you should be able to replicate without the need to ask for professional help, at least at this very early stage:-
PRODUCE ACTIONABLE CONTENT
Taking the risk of stating the obvious you need to produce good and unique, relevant content. Specifically you need to produce content that focuses on helping our target customers with addressing their most pressing issues quickly and effectively. It could be about saving time or money for instance, and attracting attention right from the title header so that your potential customers get tempted to click and read your page further. As a good example of what not to do, the four paragraphs introduction I started my post with is a killer in that respect. Just don’t do that, get to the point right from the start.
FOCUS ON OBP
OBP stands for Outcome, Benefit and Preview. Each content you produce should clearly focus on outcome first, benefit second and to give a preview of the solution third. An easy to digest snapshot that will tell the viewers they are in the right place and may find the information they are so desperately looking for.
It is important because we all know people’s attention online is extremely short span. So stick to this OBP principle in order to attract and retain the customers’ attention for as long as reasonably possible. By starting with the outcome you are confirming immediately to the target customers that you are addressing a particular concern they may have. By outlining the benefit you are indicating that the content may be worth their time. With the preview you are giving them a keyhole view of what’s to come. Basic common sense applied digitally.
Apparently, according to SEO experts anyway, external links are a very important metric for determining the popularity of a given web page and affects positively its ranking. If you are a ‘nobody’ getting other websites with a ‘higher than yours’ authority to link back to your website (e.g. backlinks) is easier said than done. You may convince some popular influencers for your industry to recommend an article or a page you have put together if they really liked it but this requires you to be smart and subtle in your approach.
In plain English, don’t be a pushy jerk !!!
You would want the person to want to share your content naturally. For that it has to be really, really good and helpful. No decent professional would recommend something they believe is average, assuming they don’t get paid to promote your stuff.
Talking about paying don’t fall for the tempting cheap trap of buying your backlinks from so-called specialised websites. This is ideal if you want Google to find out and get penalised or expelled from search results for breaching their policy. If you don’t know what you are doing in that respect, just don’t waste your money and toe the line.
If you are just starting with SEO it is recommended nevertheless to link your own pages to pages with higher authority on the web as long as it helps your customers. However use common sense. If you are a mini Amazon trying to make it through the world selling some products online don’t link your website to the real Amazon with the same product as there is a risk your potential clients will just evaporate and never return. However if you have a business colleague who sells printers and you sell ink cartridges for instance there is some commercial sense in externally linking with each other as you are not direct competitors and you complement each other business markets. If this is something you would want more information about do a search for ‘Backlinks’ on Google and you will be overwhelmed with free advice.
As opposed to external links the use of internal links is far easier as you are in full control. You would usually link to another page on your own website where your target customer would find more information about a particular point. Keeping that much detail in your original post may make your page too cluttered and visitors would bounce back. Instead get to the point in the original page and point to another page containing more detailed information only for those that are interested in finding out more.
Alternatively you can also link a page on your website with a high authority towards a page that needs to gain more authority from a SEO view point. Diverting some of the traffic in this way will help the page requiring more authority to rank higher in search results in time.
Needless to say that a post that is written in plain text with no illustrations to support it is likely to fail even before you publish it. Apparently there exist people out there who are paid a small fortune to analyse our behaviours and they are telling us to get the right amount of pictures, videos, infographics and the like on our pages. Not too little and not too much either. It need to feel balanced not crowded and serve a real purpose.
Remember though that one of the criteria for ranking high is an extremely fast loading website. If you use pictures make sure you optimise their size first so that they do not impact the loading speed of your pages. There are free and paid options available out there to optimise your images. If you need help with this leave me a comment and I will get back to you.
CTR for ‘Click-Through-Rate’ represents the percentage of clicks vs the number of times your webpages appear on the search results, also called ‘impressions’. Said simplistically, if you rank for a keyword that 100 people search for every month and 10 people click on your page your CTR would be 10%. And tracking your CTR over time is important as it will give you some indication that people are searching for something you can provide, are finding your pages on the search results and are clicking on it…or not !
If you manage to appear consistently on the first page of Google for a certain keyword and your CTR remains extremely low, this is a reasonably clear indication that whatever appears on the search results does not entice people to click further at all as they are ignoring your result to the benefit of your competitors’. It may also be proof that you are targeting the wrong market segment with keywords that may mean something different to them.
There are a number of tips to make your content more optimised for CTR. The purpose is to make it stand out. You don’t have the luxury of snatching a large piece of real estate on the search results page, you are only allowed a snippet, a small piece of brief extract, to make your case.
Like when pitching your product or services you only have a very small opportunity to hook your prospects. As with pitching there are a few techniques that can be employed to make this snippet look better.
First of all make sure you are in control of what the snippet is showing. As the webmaster of your own pages you are directly responsible for what it will show in results. The use of figures and apparently odd figures seems to attract more clicks. Using brackets in your title is also recommended. And if you use brackets and odd figures together the sky is the limit…Maybe.
Another tip is to make your URLs clean, short and as simple as you possibly can. If they look like spam it won’t help you. For instance our URL for our training services is 3eco.uk/training . It could not be simpler. It is short and to the point. Try to do just that for all your pages you want to rank for.
And as far as the meta-description is concerned, the brief text below the title, you only have less than about 170 characters to make a first good impression. Even if you rank on the first page of Google you still have to compete with 9 other search results. So make sure yours is conveying the right level of emotional attractiveness so people will want to click on it.
Keywords you want to rank for are important but stuffing your content with keywords all over the place does not work anymore (it used to). Google is getting really smarter and with Artificial Intelligence already around the corner it can only get a lot smarter in the future.
So make sure your content contains your important keywords but be subtle and employ a terminology that will make the algorithm understand what you are trying to tell like a human being not a machine. For instance by using related phrases. If you are running out of ideas try to use Google suggest, the technique that, when you start typing something in Google, suggests a number of options you could choose from. That would give you new ways of saying the same thing without sounding spammy. Have also a look at what Google is suggesting at the bottom of the first page of the search results. It is a kind of “what people also searched for is…” insight. Use it extensively, it is free.
Ah comments ! Now make space for the Holy Grail of the bad SEO type. Not the Search Engine Optimisation one but the Self Egotistic Ovation one: getting comments, shares, likes! And lots of them of course. If you have teenagers at home you understand exactly what I mean. Commiseration to you too…Thanks.
You will likely not want to allow comments to clutter your precious website pages you worked so hard to make interesting to your market segment but you will want people to comment on your blog posts. There are not a fine piece of literature to keep in your personal library, they exist to help your communities by allowing people to exchange ideas and useful information.
So if you still don’t have a blog as an aside to your small business website I suggest you think about getting one. For sure it requires a lot of work with an uncertain outcome but I believe it is worth your time and effort.
That is an arena where you have to have thick skin though. Because it won’t be an easy journey. It will mostly be lonely, long, arduous, painful, frustrating and if you ever get an irritating comment or two you may be tempted to reply in the heat of the moment with something you may regret. Just don’t. Do take your time and endeavour to reply to every single comment no matter what. This is not a strategy, it is simply a matter of courtesy.
Yeah, fine but how do you get people to leave a comment in the first place? You can always ask your mother to break the ice to start with but it is likely people will uncover your strategy in a heartbeat. Joking aside, it is often the case that close friends and colleagues will be the first to leave a comment. They know you, your business and what you are trying to achieve and they would want to help, and that is ok.
This group of dedicated followers apart you have to tempt people to want to leave a comment. Sometimes being highly controversial helps massively but your post can go viral for all the wrong reasons and backfire. If this is not your cup of tea I would recommend you don’t go down that path.
Instead try to make an open conclusion at the end of your post that calls for answers. Ask for your audience to contribute to an open question. Make sure it is not either trivial, boring, in your face or irrelevant but engaging instead. Easier said than done but you will get better at it over time. For example of what I am suggesting read till the end if you are still around by the time you get there 🙂
Use the power of the Social Medias to your advantage. Embed ‘click to tweet’ buttons or something similar from your preferred network in your posts to make it easier for your audience to share your content or some extracts with their social followers. Position those buttons where it makes sense, in context with the rest of the text, where you want your audience to emphasise your messaging.
This can be rather powerful on your quest for your website to gain more authority whether you like Social Medias or hate them. Choose carefully though, don’t engage with social networks that are not a good fit to your brand and your business.
This one is the painful one. This one cost tangible money at a time where money is tight and we are all trying to save as much of what is left as possible. Unfortunately you often get what you pay for in this world. Not promoting your content is like throwing a bottle out in the ocean and hope that someone will find it. Worse than that, it would need to be someone who cares and who would do something beneficial with the message it contains. What are the odds of this happening in your lifetime?
As a simple still depressing enough illustration this should convince you that you shall always promote stuff that are truly relevant to you getting more business. Otherwise you take the risk that, among the many millions of posts published on the internet every day, yours get completely lost however interesting and powerful it may be.
If you don’t have any money and given the situation this is timely, as mentioned previously you could try to put your hard work in front of influential people for your domain or industry. If they are impressed they may share it for free with thousands of their own followers. Find the people that have the power to share your work with the right audience for you and, again, don’t be a pushy jerk. Be polite, be nice, be subtle and produce something unique they will be so excited about they will naturally share it without the need for you to ask. Tip in case I wasn’t clear enough: don’t ask !
Of course don’t waste your money or anybody’s time promoting anything if you haven’t got a clue who your customer personas and market segmentation are in the first place. Here I had to assume rightly or wrongly that you have done your hard and really boring homework first.
This last tip is easy to understand. If you read this post now and for you it is 2031 it is likely that you will not even bother getting that far. The date at the top of the post will tell your readers when your content was last updated. That is also why if you do not have a Blog make sure you show the current annual year in the footer of your website to tell your audience you are still alive and well – one simple example of good housekeeping can be found here at the very bottom of the front page.
As with a physical store that looks outdated and out of place, people will avoid your website like the plague (or the coronavirus for that matter). They would not want to catch some virus for lack of maintaining your pages to a high and relevant security standard. Buyers looking for your products or services may even believe you ran out of business a decade ago and strike you off their listing in a heartbeat. Not a good place to be.
It is ok to update the same post after a couple of years, it may still be relevant with some small technical changes here and there for instance. If will still show when it was first published but your audience will also see when it was last updated and that is reassuring to many. Basically it is time consuming but easy enough to do (like a spring clean once a year), so just put a note in your diary to do it.
That’s it. If you are as ignorant as I was at the start of my journey a couple of years ago, that should get you started with SEO in a few simple steps. If by chance you use WordPress for your website as we do there is an ever increasing number of plugins that can help you stay on course with basic SEO. Do a ‘SEO’ search in your WordPress plugins section to find out.
These plugins make your life easier as most will remind you to stick to the 11 criteria mentioned previously and offer some free tips about how to do just that but they certainly cannot do the difficult creative work of producing remarkable and unique content for you.
Bear in mind that an SEO strategy is a good thing but it is no replacement to putting together a solid Online Marketing Strategy first. My sister Geraldine keeps reminding me of this annoying fact she is encountering regularly in her line of work. I have to admit she knows what she is talking about more than I care to acknowledge and as a professional Sales & Marketing Strategist for LinkedIn I guess she may have a point !
As she keeps telling her clients, the SEO element is only the technical side of your marketing approach but won’t help you identify your market segment, your brand mission and vision statements and what messaging your potential clients would likely be excited about.
No doubt some of you running a small business website have already implemented the basic SEO actions that I have described above. If you have been doing it for some time do you do it yourself ?
Do you use the services of a professional ? If so I am sure he or she would really welcome your positive feedback as COVID-19 really made an impact to these freelance professionals.
And those of you that have achieved anything with your SEO journey would you mind sharing what worked for you vs what did not?
Thanks for sharing your experiences !