I’ve had a couple of conversations recently where potential clients have had someone do their SEO in the past or they’re talking to other website developers who are emphasising the SEO work they do on websites as part of their website design/build services.
And frankly, I wonder exactly what they’re doing for clients (other than bamboozling them and charging them more). Whilst I’m not suggesting all SEO specialists are charlatans, I do think it is important you understand exactly what they are doing for what you pay them. And whether they are the best people to do everything. Or whether you’re better off doing some (or all) of it yourself or outsourcing different parts to different people.
SEO (that stands for Search Engine Optimisation) is not a dark art. A website designer/developer doesn’t do some magic in the back of your website that suddenly makes you appear at the top of Google. Yes there used to be some shady practices that worked before. But, with each Google algorithm update, these no longer work. And I prefer good practice that works long term rather than trying to keep ahead of an algorithm that gets updated many times every year. It is that good practice that I’m going to talk about in this post.
SEO is basically work you do to improve your position on the search engine results page. Because there are things you can do to do that.
Google (and other search engines) are seeking the best results for every search that you type in. If you’re searching for a website designer in Sevenoaks (hello!) you don’t want someone in Manchester or a social media manager in Sevenoaks. Or anything else. Google wants to give you what you have asked for. And ideally it wants to give you the best options. There are more website designers in Sevenoaks than spaces on page 1 of Google. And there are enough businesses that want to rank for that term, even if they’re not website designers in Sevenoaks, to fill far more spots than that. Google wants to give you the “best” results, so you come back and use Google again.
To me, there are five steps to SEO. You don’t necessarily need to do all five to rank. But, more importantly, by considering them as five discreet action areas, you can consider which ones you might do yourself and which ones you might outsource (now or in the future).
1. Keyword Research
You won’t rank for anything unless you’re writing about it on a page on your website. So if you want to rank for “yoga Tunbridge Wells” you need those words in your copy (and preferably in your page title, url etc) on the page you want to rank for that. You need to use the exact words/phrases as Google doesn’t understand analogies like a reader would (not yet anyway).
Therefore the first thing is to decide what you want to rank for. In doing so you need to take into account how competitive those phrases are. And therefore whether you have a chance of ranking for them. You can outsource that research (there are specialises in this area) or you can do it yourself. Done properly this takes several hours so is not cheap!
If you are using someone to “do” your SEO ask them whether they are doing keyword research. If they are, I’d ask them to share the results – and check that they have a list you agree with!
You can do keyword research yourself. Think about what someone searching for a service you offer would type into Google. Come up with a long list then look at who currently ranks for these. Are you able to compete?
2. Relevant Content
The next task is to write copy and have a page (or blog post – it’s the same thing as far as Google is concerned) written for each phrase you want to rank for. Each phrase you want to rank for should have its own page. If you’re say a wedding photographer wanting to rank for several venues just listing them all on the one page (or more than once on a page) is unlikely to get you ranking highly. You need to write a page for each one. Yes that takes time and effort. I didn’t say this was easy!!
Again this can be outsourced. If you want to outsource this, I’d use a copywriter though as they tend to write better content for humans. This is a vitally important factor. Just check they have basic SEO knowledge. Or, of course, you can write it yourself.
If you’re outsourcing SEO as a whole ask whether they are writing copy. Or refining copy you have written (cos a few tweaks can make a big difference)? Or are they going through and ensuring each page/blog post is optimised for a keyword. I have a checklist you can download if you want to do this yourself – just go to downloads. Tools like Yoast (which is a wordpress plugin) are good for letting you know whether you have hit a checklist like this.
The most important thing with website copy though is to make it readable for your audience and think about what you want them to do next. There is no point getting a lot of website traffic via SEO and either them leaving straight away (because what you’ve written is not great) or them not then taking the action you want them to take. You ultimately want clients, not traffic from SEO…
So your web page needs to work for both SEO and conversion.
3. Get Backlinks
Then you need to get backlinks from other websites (good ones not spammy ones). A backlink is a link to your website from another. Google considers links from other websites to be a vote of how trustworthy/authoritative you are. With equally good content, Google will rank pages which it considers more trustworthy/authoritative higher than ones it considers less. Backlinks aren’t the only factor that go into this score, but they are a key one.
Getting backlinks (eg from professional organisations, guest blogging, etc) is a key part of any SEO strategy. Again this is time consuming and very much a long term game. I know because this is a key part of my SEO strategy!
If you’re outsourcing your SEO are they getting backlinks? If so, how?
4. Tech Refinements
Finally some tech “refinements” on your website will help. Of course this is the area where a professional website designer/developer can make a difference. But much of this you can do yourself.
Websites which are not secure (ie do not have an SSL certificate) or are not mobile responsive will perform badly. Secure websites have a little padlock sign before your website url in the address window. This shows there is an SSL certificate in place. We include SSL certificates in all our website hosting and maintenance plans (and we install it for you). If you don’t have an SSL certificate then I suggest seeing if your website host provides one. Some charge extra for this which is a bit cheeky in my view, but it is the easiest option. Otherwise you can get them online. Let’s Encrypt is a good, free, reputable option.
Any website built now (either by a professional or yourself) should be mobile responsive (unless you’re handcoding it or using a builder which doesn’t build in a mobile responsive way). If your website is more than about 3 years old it may not be. You can check whether it is mobile friendly at search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly. If it isn’t it is worth considering getting a new one built. It goes without saying the websites we build are all mobile responsive.
Website speed is another factor. I wrote a blog post 3 ways to speed up your website which tells you how you can do this yourself.
Large image files are the biggest cause of slow websites (and the easiest to fix). There are two factors to image file size. The pixel size and the other is the quality of images. You do not need high res images on a website.
Hosting is the next speed factor. Not all website hosting is equal. Cheaper hosting is often slow. The hosting I use and recommend (Siteground) is fast for the cost.
Then there is some fine tuning that can be done to speed your website up further. This does require technical knowledge so I suggest you do outsource this bit unless you understand caching etc.
But, as I hope you have realised, this is only one of a number of factors in SEO. There are lots of other things you can do first. I have not fully optimised my website from a tech point of view (just like a cobbler has the worst shoes, website designer websites often fall to the bottom of their to do list). Yet I still rank highly on several search terms – in fact I’d say I punch above my weight due to making sure I do the other things in this blog post.
Finally on tech issues, an “out of the box” wordpress website is technically better than the likes of Wix for SEO (although Wix has improved a lot in this respect in the past few years).
5. Design and Write for Humans
There’s a danger in designing and building a website purely for SEO, which is that it doesn’t work for human visitors.
Human visitors need websites which are engaging, show them how you help them and take them through your website giving them the information they need to know to make the decision to take the “next logical step” in working with you.
One designed purely for SEO wouldn’t have any images (they slow down websites). And it would be written in a way to emphasise the keywords you want to get found for. The issue with this is that visitors won’t stay on your website for long, they may not necessarily get the information they need and are therefore less likely to take the action you want them to take.
From an SEO point of view, the time that visitors spend on your website is an important factor. Google tracks how long people spend on a website. If visitors are clicking off quickly, Google realises it is not a “good result” and therefore, over time, it will demote it, promoting another result which visitors do seem to like – because they stay there longer.
In any event, it is not a good strategy to build purely for SEO. You want to use SEO to get visitors, but it is vitally important that, once they get to your website, it is optimised for conversions.
I hope you’ve realised that there are a lot of parts to SEO. And you don’t need to do everything to rank (although for the more competitive terms you’ll need to do more than the less competitive terms).
Even if you’re interested in outsourcing SEO I, suggest you think about which elements are your priority and who is best placed to help with each of these. You may conclude it’s better to do some of these yourself.
And if you’re talking to someone about SEO services ask which of these they will be doing for you. Many just focus on the tech aspects which is useless if your content doesn’t contain the keywords you want to rank for. And if they’re writing or amending your content just check their writing skills. It’s easy to shoehorn keywords into a page, but not so easy to do so in a way that makes sense for a reader…
The most important factor is writing about what you want to be found for. But in a way that works for humans too! Then make sure your website has an SSL certificate and is mobile responsive. Another easy “win” from an SEO point of view is to resize any large images. This is good for your visitors anyway as it makes your website load faster. Then I’d focus on getting some backlinks, before even thinking about some of the more difficult technical adjustments to your website.
If you think this is all too much there are, of course, other ways to get visitors to your website. Check out my blog post 9 ways to get more visitors to your website without SEO for further ideas. Your website can then focus on the job it should do best – getting visitors to take the action you want them to take (be that “buy now”, “schedule an appointment”, “book a call” or whatever it might be).