SEO is the practice of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your site by making it appear nearer the top of the page in non-paid (or “organic”) search engine results for relevant queries. In this blog, we’ll cover some SEO basics to point you in the right direction.
Whether you are running an online shop for plumbing parts or a blog about origami creations, your efforts will only be worthwhile if people can actually find your site. The simplest and most effective way to do this is by ensuring your site is the first result when people type in a relevant term in Google. Seems simple, but of course no matter how niche your focus there will always be someone else out there competing with you.
So, how can you give your site the best chance to outstrip the challengers and gain the coveted top spot in search rankings? This is where Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) comes in.
Before we get started trying to get new visitors to your site, its important to take a look at how it is currently performing. This will help you to understand what it is doing well, and where there are areas for improvement. A vast array of tools are now available to help you to do this, some costing £100 or more per month. In most cases, however, you can do this effectively with two completely free tools from Google: Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
By following the simple set-up guides, you can quickly get these up and running on your site and start collecting real-time information about how people are using your site.
When you first log-in to Google Analytics it can be a little daunting to see the sheer range of metrics it offers along the left-hand panel, from the location and demographics of visitors to loading speeds for each individual page. There’s much too much to explore in the course of one blog but I would strongly encourage you to spend some time getting used to the platform and exploring the wealth of free training Google provides.
For the purpose of this blog, we’ll look at two quick metrics:
Select Acquisition and then Overview. Here you’ll see a quick breakdown of the different methods visitors are using to find your site. Organic Search traffic is the metric we’re most interested in here. These are the visitors that are landing on your site from search engines (whether via text or images). In most cases, the traffic under this term will be much higher than other sources such as Social, Paid Search or Direct (people who’ve reached your site by typing in the web url). If it isn’t, that suggests there is work to be done!
Select Behaviour, Site Content then Landing Pages. These are the pages visitors initially reach (land on) when browsing your site. This includes all traffic so to focus on just the organic results click the All Users button with a blue circle next to it beneath the Landing Pages title. From the box that appears untick the All Users checkbox then scroll down, tick the box next to Organic Search then click Apply.
You can now browse through your most popular landing pages. Often your home page will be near the top but some results may surprise you. For example, you may spot your legal notice is near the top of the search results or that a key page has virtually no traffic. Make a note of any discrepancies or areas for improvement as they will help inform what you do next.
To try and understand why users are landing on these pages it is a good idea to switch over to Google Search Console.
As with Google Analytics, Search Console has all sorts of useful tools but for now we’ll just be looking at the Performance tool.
By selecting this from the left-hand menu you will be shown a chart with the search terms that people are using to find your site, along with the number of clicks and impressions for each. From the boxes above the line graph, select Average position. You will now be able to see an additional column in the table showing on average what position your site appeared in organic searches on Google. For example, if a term has a position of 3.1 this means it was typically the third search result users saw.
Keep in mind that Google is increasingly localising search results so the results a user in Anglesey gets to a term will likely be quite different from what a user in London sees. By taking an average, Google helps to level out these differences and give you a more complete picture. By default, this graph covers all users, but I’d recommend localising it to your specific country by clicking + New from the top menu followed by Country…
Using these results, you should be able to see the reason for any weird spikes in those page visits in Google and also understand where there is room for improvement in your key terms (i.e. if the plumbing store only appears in position 30 for “guttering” then that clearly needs to be improved). Make a list of all the terms you want to improve then move on to the next step – identifying opportunities.
By now you should have a clearer picture of how your site is doing and where it needs some work. Before we start changing things, however, it’s a good idea to pull together a comprehensive list of search terms that are relevant for your site and that you want to rank well on. Often, you’ll be able to list many of the top terms off the top of your head, but it’s worth doing some research to check you haven’t missed anything and to find out which versions of a term are most popular.
A good first step is to do some analysis on your competitors. To do this simply paste their URL into the Ubersuggest app on Neil Patel’s website. From the output, you’ll be able to see which pages on their site are performing best, an estimate of the amount of traffic they get and which Keywords they’re gaining traffic from. Click on the EXPORT TO CSV button at the bottom of the page and a spreadsheet with the key terms will download.
Repeat this step for all your main competitors then browse through the results. As you look through the spreadsheet make a note of any terms that are relevant and that your site currently doesn’t rank for. It’s especially useful to make a note of any terms with particularly high volume (this is the number of people searching for it per month) and longer, more specific search terms. For example, “how to fold an origami crane” rather than just “origami”. These terms will have lower traffic but the people searching for them know precisely what they want and are more likely to find your site useful (assuming it tells them how to do this). These so-called “long-tail keywords” can make great blog topics!
By collating all these terms, you should have a fairly comprehensive list but there is one final step. Visit the Google Adwords Keyword Planner, click Discover new keywords then paste your list in and click GET RESULTS. The tool will then output a list of keyword terms ordered by relevance. Pay attention to the Avg. monthly searches and Competition columns. Terms with high amounts of searches but low or medium competition can provide great opportunities for you to quickly gain some extra traffic.
Now you’re armed with all this research, it’s time to get busy making changes to your site. Ideally, each page on your website should have a clear, unique focus keyword. This helps search engines to know exactly where to send visitors. Go through each page and assign them a keyword (it may be helpful to set up a spreadsheet to list all your pages and ensure there is no cross over.
Once you have the keyword, go into the backend of your website and begin tweaking your pages. Ideally, you want the focus keyword to appear in the Page title and the URL as these are the two most important on-page factors Google uses to decide which page to show. With the main body copy, focus on quality – Google punishes sites it thinks are just trying to cram lots of keywords in, instead remember that the people visiting your site are human and simply try to write good, engaging content (ideally 300 words or more). In reality, if the copy you are preparing is relevant for your audience and the focus of your site then it will naturally incorporate many of these keywords.
Based on the research you may also choose to split out some of your existing pages into smaller chunks to make them easier to find and more relevant for specific searches.
It’s also worth checking that all images on the page have titles and alt-tags which accurately describe what they show and, where relevant, incorporate keywords. These will not only help Google to understand which page is most relevant for specific search terms but also provide a route for extra traffic via the Google image search.
Once you’ve finished making these tweaks, you’ll probably find you still have lots of keywords that you haven’t actually had the chance to use. These are fertile ground to start creating new blog content. Google loves fresh content and a regular blog is a great way to feed it and to provide visitors with new, relevant material.
If you’re struggling for ideas, focus on the longer, more specific search terms and try to think about the topic in the form of a question. For example, “How to clear a blocked drain”, “What is the best pipe cutter”, “When should I replace tap washers” etc. By adding these keywords, you can widen the pool of search terms drawing users to your site. As well as adding extra traffic, this also means you are less reliant on a small selection of keywords and can be particularly helpful if there is a change in the Google algorithm which results in your site dropping down the results list for one term (this is inevitable from time to time).
By planning blog topics you want to cover and assigning a focus keyword for each, you should be able to produce plenty of new content which will further boost your site’s performance.
This blog is just a starting point for your SEO journey. We haven’t even touched on the important field of link building but by following these recommendations you can at least ensure you have a solid base to build from.