SEO Strategy Guide

Developing a strategy for on-site optimisation of your website is a crucial first step to achieving improved traffic figures on the internet. An on-site strategy must start with the basics of creating a list of keywords to target, then must move on to utilising those keywords appropriately and effectively, and finally culminating in developing and enhancing site content to make the most of your research. Only then can you move on to your off-site optimisation efforts.

Getting to the top of the search engine ranking pages (SERPs) can be a tough job depending on the keywords you choose to target. Of course, you could try the Black-Hat style packages offering hundreds of high PR links, social shares and so on. You might even see a boost in rankings by using them over the short term. However, using these kinds of services, even once, can damage your online reputation forever. When, not if, Google catch on to how you achieved certain links, your site will suffer a penalty from which you may never recover.

To help you get some idea of how you can go about developing a strategy, and to try to make SEO a touch more palatable, here’s a relatively concise guide to developing an SEO strategy to help improve the visibility of your website in search engines.

First of all we’ll look at Keyword Research and where to start with it. Then we will move on to step 2, which is to do with modifying the code of your site to suit your targeted keywords. Finally we will talk about how to fully optimise your site using high quality and relevant content.

seo-strategy-guide-keyword-research

SEO Strategy Guide Step 1: Keyword Research

Let’s now look at how to begin developing a search engine optimisation strategy, and the first place to start is by looking at keywords and how to select the right ones for your strategy.

Like we mentioned earlier, keywords are the words typed into Google to find information. Short, general keywords are very highly competitive, long keyword phrases are much less competitive. However, while there are millions of people typing the short, rather vague keywords into Google each month, much fewer people will be typing in longer keyword phrases (known as long-tail keywords).

So, that’s the trade-off. Do you try to compete against the big boys for big traffic figures, usually at huge cost? Or do you target long-tail keywords to grab the low-hanging fruit with much less competition?

Alternatively, you could put some work in and go for something in between.

Another factor to consider is conversion ratio.

Conversion ratio is the ratio between converting site visitors into actual paying customers. See Wiki here.

Now, with a short vague keyword, the large majority of visitors to that site might not be looking to buy anything or to spend any money at all. Maybe they are just looking for entertainment or to find relevant info.

If your website is an online business, however, and you are looking to generate leads online, then this kind of tactic is very much like a scatter-gun approach; trying to get as many people as possible through the door in the hope that a few of them might want to spend money.

On the other hand, with a more specific, long-tail keyword phrase, you can target users who are getting closer to being ready to part with money. True, you will be targeting a smaller group, and there will be a lot fewer people visiting your site, but there will, concurrently, be a higher percentage of people looking to spend money, so it’s a worthy trade off. Obviously depending on the long-tail phrase you target. The process of researching what keyword to target really depends on a number of factors; primarily, however, it comes down to how much you want to spend or how much work you are ready to put in yourself.

Ranking highly for a very competitive keyword is hugely expensive and takes years of site development and link building to achieve.

Ranking highly for long-tail keywords is much more cost-effective, and certainly more advisable for new sites and businesses, to get their online adventure off the ground.

Keyword Research – Where to start?

To determine the most appropriate keyword phrase to target, you’re going to have to put some time in on the internet, plus carry out some market research of your own. You need to find out what the majority of people type into Google to find what they need. Or, more specifically, you need to know what people type to find your products or services.

The first thing is to make a list. Write down all of the different combinations of keywords and keyword phrases you can think of to describe your site or your main products or services.

Then go and ask you employees, your friends, your family and your customers what they would type in to find your product or service online.

Keyword-research

Once you’ve created an exhaustive list, then you can go and see what your competitors have targeted, to get some more ideas.

1. Find your potential competitor sites online, right-click and select ‘View Page source’ or ‘View Source’.

2. You will see a breakdown of the HTML code of the website. Near the top of the page, you will see a Head tag. After that tag, and before the closing Head tag is the element known, shockingly, as the Head.

Inside the Head element you will find this phrase:

If you can’t find it, go to the top of your browser, click on ‘Edit’, and then ‘Find’, and copy and paste “keywords” into the Find box.

These keywords in quotation marks are the keywords that your competitor is most probably targeting. You should add these keywords to your list, and repeat the process for all of your potential competitors online.

It’s worthy to point out here that including these keywords within the meta tags does nothing to help the optimisation of your site. This part of the header was exploited for SEO purposes a few years ago when people were filling the Header tag with hundreds of keywords in an attempt to improve rankings. Google eventually did something about it, and now it is pretty much pointless.

Using Google’s Keyword Planner

Google-keyword-planner

Now you should have a decent list of potential keywords, but we aren’t finished yet!

We can also use Google’s own Keyword Planner to help us generate a few more to add to our list.

You’ll need an account before you start, but that only takes a minute of so.

Sign in to Google adwords, then go to Tools, and select the Keyword Planner tool.

Choose the first option: ‘Search for new keyword and ad group ideas’

Paste the previous list of keywords you have created into the ‘Your product or service’ box, and then click on ‘Get ideas’.

You are then given a list of new keyword ideas created by Google. Click on ‘Download’ and choose the Excel CSV option so that you can load the list in Excel offline.

And there you have it. A huge list of new keywords you can add to your previous list. There will probably be some repeated keywords, so you can remove those:

Once your full list is imported into Excel, if you have Excel 2007, you can go to the Data tab, select the column containing your keywords, and then click on ‘Remove Duplicates’.

And there you have it, an almost exhaustive list of potential keywords to target.

Finalising a List of Keywords

Hopefully, you should now have a pretty long list of potential keywords to target, but it’s probably a bit too long to really understand what we are looking at. We need to break it down.

The numbers next to the keywords which the Keyword Planner tool created are average monthly search figures. They aren’t really that accurate, but we can use them as a rough indicator.

In Excel, again, select your whole table, including the titles. Now go to the Data tab, and click on ‘Sort’. Sort the data by Average Monthly Searches, and Excel will order the list of keywords by how competitive they are.

For small businesses just starting out, you probably want to avoid looking to target the highly competitive keywords, so we can remove these from the list. Anything with more than a few thousand monthly searches is pretty competitive. Additionally, we don’t want to target the keywords which are not very commonly typed into Google, so we can remove any keyword with less than 100 monthly searches, as well.

So we should now have a nice list of keywords to look at targeting. Now comes a bit more hard work….

Deciding on a Handful of Keywords Right for Your Website

So how do we now whittle this long list down to a few choice keyword phrases?

Well, here is where it takes a lot of knowledge, research and experience to select an effective keyword phrase, with decent monthly search figures, high potential conversion ratio and which is not too hotly contested in Google’s search rankings.

You are going to need to use your own knowledge of your business and your industry to remove any keyword phrase which would probably not be used by anyone wishing to find your particular site, or buy your products or services. Depending on how long your list is now, you might have to be quite aggressive (though don’t delete the keywords completely, you may want to look at targeting them in the future).

With a new website targeting a keyword with over 1000 average monthly searches, it might take some work to achieve a respectable ranking figure, so to begin with, you might want to target a keyword phrase with 300-500 monthly searches.

Once your site ranks well for those terms, and you have established a decent backlink profile, you can then go back and look at targeting more competitive keywords.

Now, with the (hopefully manageable) list of keyword phrases you have, you can then use Google to see how competitive the keywords are for yourself.

Type the first one into Google and have a look at the first result. If the keyword appears in the Title tag of the page verbatim, and also the Meta Description, then there’s a fair chance that that site is deliberately targeting that keyword to rank for.

Now click on the link and have a look at their site. Think about how quickly it loads, how well it is presented, whether it contains relevant and informative information pertaining to that keyword choice. Also, look at any images on the page, are they helpful/well positioned, do they have appropriate alt img tags?

If the page looks good to you; informative, well-presented, easy to navigate, etc. then it might be difficult for you to compete against it directly, unless you are able to offer more value. There are ways this can be achieved, so don’t despair. We just have to look at how to optimise your own site to compete against these other pages.

SEO-Strategy-Onsite-Optimisation

SEO Strategy Guide Step 2: On-site Optimisation

Onsite optimisation is quite a vast topic to cover, so we’re going to break it down into a few chunks and then give a brief overview of what each part means, and what is ‘SEO best practice’. So, let’s look at how to develop your website’s code to suit your targeted keywords.

Modifying Your Site’s Code for Onsite Optimisation

This step assumes that you have access to your site and that you are relatively computer savvy. If this isn’t the case, you can go through the points to come up with a detailed plan and then ask your webmaster to carry out these changes for you.

Here’s a short list of what search engines look for in the HTML coding of a web page:

  • Title Tags
  • URL
  • Meta Description
  • Meta Keywords
  • Image Filenames and Alt Img Attributes
  • H1 – H6 Headings

Title Tags

After the content of the page, the Title tag is the single most important part of a page, in terms of SEO.

The Title tag is located within the Head tag on a web page and is used by web browsers and search engines to give users or visitors a description of that page. It is supposed to be a concise description of what is on that page and is given a lot of weight by search engines, as long as it matches the content of the page.

Google displays up to 60 characters in a Title tag, though you probably want to keep your page title to 56 character or less. Notice that I say characters, not letters; spaces are included.

The general consensus over the optimal layout of a title tag is:

Primary Keyword – Secondary keyword | Brand or Site name

The important thing to remember when creating your title tags is that they must be relevent to the content of the page. I know I’ve already said that but it is vitally important. You can’t go adding any old content on there, or be too general when your keyword is very specific; it just won’t help your ranking at all. In fact, depending on how poorly the two things correlate, you could be in line for a penalty for not providing what you are targeting in your Title tag.

In terms of HTML, your title tag will look like this:

SEO Strategy-onsite optimisation | title tag

URL

A URL is a text based address used as a human-readable replacement to the IP addresses which computer networks use to locate resources. The URL of a particular page on the internet describes the location of that page and tells browsers how to access it.

The URL of a page is a vital part of SEO and not only helps in terms of usability and navigation, but also it give further information to search engines on the contents of a page.

A good URL is human-readable. A user should be able to get an idea of exactly what the link points to just by reading the URL.

It should also be relevant to the content of the page. We’ll look into content a lot more in the next section.

Finally, if the URL is posted into a comment on a forum or within social networks, it should serve as its own anchor text (containing the targeted keywords is important because of this).

Example:

Meta Descriptions

The meta description is a short explanation of the content of a page.

The meta description is used under the page title in search results snippets and serves as a direct marketing message to search engine users and obviously, therefore, plays a huge role in improving the click-through rate of results.

*The click-through rate, or CTR, is the percentage of users who search and then click on a result to visit a page. If your meta description is poor (be it because it is the same for every page on your site, not very descriptive, too short, incomprehensible, poorly worded, or whatever) then users will be dissuaded from clicking through to your page.

The meta description of a page is limited in length to around 150-160 characters (any more will not be shown in search results).

This means that you must adequately and eloquently describe the contents of your page, whilst also trying to persuade users to visit it in under 160 characters. It isn’t necessary to include your company, service or product name, as this can take up precious space.

It is advisable to include the targeted keywords for that page in the description, as they are highlighted in bold in search results, which can therefore have an impact on click-through rate.

As previously stated, having the same meta description for every page is ill-advised. Create an engaging description for each page to improve user experience.

How to edit your meta description depends on the platform your site is developed on. In terms of HTML, look inside the Head tag for this and then edit as necessary:

SEO Strategy-onsite optimisation | meta description

Meta Keywords

Also inside the HEAD tag is a tag called ‘Keywords’. These meta keywords were previously used to describe the keywords that a page would have been relevant for. However, in the past this area was exploited to such an extent that the majority of search engines now completely ignore what is written in these tags.

In fact, Bing has stated that it sees the usage of meta keywords as an identifier that a particular page could be trying to manipulate search results, and may therefore enforce a penalty on that page.

Another negative point is that your competitors will be able to look at exactly the search terms you are targeting, as they can simply look at the source of a page in any browser and find it inside the HEAD tag.

Obviously you don’t want to be giving away free information to competitors, or suffer a penalty, so not including meta keywords in your site is advisable.

Image Filenames and Alt Attributes

When uploading an image to your site, it is important to give the image a relevant and descriptive title. Don’t just leave the filename as ‘D340012.jpg’, change it to ‘black-labrador-running.jpg’.

Search engines assume that the filename will be relevant to the contents of the picture, so bear this in mind.

When incorporating images into a page, it is also important to remember that many people use non-visual browsers either to avoid being bombarded by marketing and other information they deem superfluous, or because they are unable to read themselves and they use a text reader. When a user visits your page and an image can not be displayed, it will throw up an alternate attribute to that image, known as an image alt attribute, or img alt, for short.

Including img alt attributes not only helps page usability for these users, but it also aids a little in search engine optimisation (don’t forget that search engine bots can’t understand images, only code).

When writing img alt attributes, it is important to follow these rules:

  • Be descriptive (‘pic1’ is considerably less descriptive than ‘dog drinking from a fountain’ for example)
  • Be concise (img alt attributes are limited in length; don’t stuff your keywords in there and don’t try to write an essay). 3-7 words should be ideal.
  • Use your keywords intelligently (mix up your keyword phrase into a sensible, intelligent description of the image). Make it natural.
  • For decorative images, you may use the img alt blank (but not for the site header!)

H1 – H6 Headings

H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6 are all different types of heading tags. These heading tags are order in terms of importance.

The H1 heading is supposed to be used to describe the full overall title for the page. The H2 heading denotes a category of that title or topic. The H3 should be used as sub-categories of H2 and so on.

It should be noted that while it is not vital to have your H1-H6 headings in order on a page, you should only really have one H1 heading. The number of H2-H6 headings you use depends on the number of categories and sub-categories you have.

You can have as many as you need, but don’t go overboard on it!

Essentially, heading tags help to break up the information on a page to aid in usability and communication of meaning. They are used to help us, and you should use them with your readers in mind. As with everything, develop your site around your audience, utilising all of these aspects, and the rest will fall into place.

SEO-Strategy-Guide-high-quality-content

SEO Strategy Guide Step 3: High Quality Content

The most commonly spoken phrase in SEO revolves around the value of including high quality web content on a page in order to help promote rank improvements. It goes without saying that a page that contains information is better than one without, but similarly, a page with good quality information is better than one with just any old information.

Now that last part of the final sentence might be a bit vague, so let’s get into some details. First of all it is important to consider what we were discussing in the previous articles, Step 1- Keyword Research in particular. When a user types a particular term into a search box, the page that is displayed as the first result must be, in the eyes of Google, the most relevant and valuable source of information matching that specific term.

Google, while accepting that a user might not be satisfied with only one single result, will rank the page with the most relevant content, coupled with many other factors, as the top result. Occasionally, because of these ‘other factors’ the top ranking page might not be the best result. Though, of course, there is also personal preference to consider, but Google can’t predict your own thoughts, yet. Before we talk about the other factors that affect rank, we need to first understand what makes good quality page content.

What is High Quality Web Content?

Content that is recognised as high quality:

  • Is relevant
  • Is engaging
  • Offers unique information or opinion.
  • Is created for an audience, not a search engine
  • Conveys meaning
  • Is factually correct (if applicable)
  • Suits the expected, or intended, purpose

For written copy, high quality content means, in particular:

  • It is well-written
  • It contains no (or very few) grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors
  • It is well-structured
  • Possibly contains a few images to ease communication
  • Is (depending on the topic) easy to read
  • Contains industry or topic related vocabulary (if applicable)
  • Possibly contains references and/or links to other respected sources of information or research

To summarise, it must be easy for the user to find the information they need, as quickly as possible.

Many of these factors can be measured using mathematical formulas, analysing the format of content, and looking at the HTML code and how it is used. The problem Google has is that some of these metrics are a bit more difficult to quantify using software alone. Reader engagement is one example in particular, and one which we will use to explain the ‘other factors’ we mentioned earlier.

While you may know that Google sends out bots to scan each page on the ‘net, examining the structure, content, word number, readability, and so on. You might not realise that Google also takes into account the way that users interact with your site when ranking each page. They look at information such as bounce-rate and page viewing time. Obviously, if users immediately leave your site within seconds, it proves that the content is not ideal (for any reason (readability, page errors, relevance, etc.)). At the same time, if users stay and spend a few minutes reading that page and then maybe move on to another page, Google might then see that your page has content that is valuable, engaging and relevant.

Types of Content

Content can be in many forms. It could be in the form of a written article, it could be an entertaining or factual video, it could be an image such as an infographic, an online game, an interactive piece of software, or it could be an audio file, even. As long as the content is relevant to the keywords targeted, engages the audience and offers value, it improves the quality of a page and helps promote rank improvements.

What Content Works for You?

The question for you, now, is what kind of content should you include on your site?

The answer all depends on what would be best at conveying the meaning of a topic effectively and efficiently. While written content is the easy option, sometimes it is better to go to the effort of developing a video to help to explain something better. Often users will prefer to watch a 2 minute ‘How-to dye your hair red.’ video than read through 500 words of flat text. Which also brings us on to our next point, ‘sharability’.

Content that is of high quality also has a better chance to be shared by users in social networks. These kinds of actions are like little breadcrumbs of gold leading new visitors to your website through the trust of friendship, relatives or respect through peers on social networks. 1 social share by a socially respected individual, group or organisation can send hundreds, if not thousands of new visitors to your site. And I don’t need to tell you the huge benefits of this. Those new visitors might look around your site, see more great content and share it with their friends, generating even more interest and new visits. That one great piece of content can cause traffic figures to snowball if managed in the right way.

On top of this ‘sharability’, Google then notice that more people are becoming engaged with content on your site which helps to improve rankings even more, not to mention the effects on authorship* of the person who created the content in the first place.

*Authorship refers to the process of linking written copy with a Google+ profile. Simply put, if you are a prolific and respected blogger/author, it can help towards the rankings of posts that you write. As of October 2014, Google publicly announced ‘authorship’ is no longer supported in web search. This doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have an affect on rankings.

Content Ideas

Now, you are probably grasping the potential for content development on your website, but it might be a little difficult coming up with something to create content about! Here are a few topics to think about:

Type of Content Details
How-tos An informative guide to carrying out a task or creating, modifying or repairing something
Product or service review An unbiased review of popular or newly released products or services in your industry
Industry news or developments* An update on recent developments within your industry
Past, present or future projects An explanation of previous, current or future projects you, your site, or your company have undertaken or will undertake
Satirical Analysis A personal take on another individual, organisation, situation or event. Ideally current.
News Current events pertaining to your business or industry
Biography/interview* Employee or popular figure interviews or biographies
History* The history of your business/website/industry
Infographic A visual graphic explaining a situation, process or facts & figures
Inspirational / motivational story Factual or not, these types of content can pull on the heart strings of many visitors
Lists Top 10 this, most popular 5 that. Linkbait/clickbait style written articles, slides, animations or movies
Case studies ‘3 of the top ways to do this’
Images People love looking at images, whether it be cats, landscapes, vehicles or whatever
Transcripts A written copy of spoken audio or video
Quotes Even something as short as a single sentence quote at the right time, in the right place can work wonders
Meme Play on the meme of the moment; write a meme poster relating to your site or business
Resource section Create a database of links based on a subject relating to your site or industry

*With very high quality content in these areas, you may be able to gain backlinks from highly desirable locations such as .edu’s and Wikipedia. If you can get a backlink from Wikipedia generated organically, or artificially, but with relevance, it can mean a lot for your backlink profile.

Agreed, in the situation described earlier about a ‘How-to dye your hair red’ video using an audio file or interactive game might be inappropriate. But a video isn’t the only option available. You could incorporate an infographic containing detailed stages, or use a written blog post combined with a few videos to further explain the process. You could even incorporate an interactive flash animation for each step. The possibilities, while not endless, are almost, well, endless.

Content Regularity

Unfortunately, it’s not all about creating amazing content. Well, it is, but it’s more than that. This high quality information should really be regularly offered to your readers. I know it can be really tough getting that information out there in the first place, however, so yes, there are other things you can do.

Genius doesn’t come on-tap. If you aren’t able to create regular videos showing how amazing your products are, or interview all the top figureheads in your industry every week, then just add some other, possibly less quality, but still relevant, information. Keeping your blog updated on a continual basis is a great way of keeping people interested in your site, and keeping Google aware of your new, fresh content.

You should also remember to try to link back to other content within each blog post. Like everything, don’t go overboard and always keep it relevant, but internal links are great for SEO (as they are great for website navigation (read:user experience)).

Content is certainly some form of royalty

To summarise, yes content is as valuable as that. Creating a website for your audience should be the first and most important goal in developing a site. If your site is geared towards its audience then everything else comes naturally; posts are shared on social networks, people are drawn to your site and are engaged in the content, conversion rate is increased and search rankings improve.

This is what we mean by organically improving search results, and the only true way this can happen is with regular and high quality web content.

Conclusion

Phew!

Now, while most of the tasks and topics are covered for on-site optimisation, there are still a few more technical bits and pieces that aren’t covered, simply to keep it detailed, yet not too technical so as to put you off.

Of course, once all of the on-site work is completed, you then must look towards off-site marketing. This is where you will take everything you have worked on, and market it to the internet. There are a variety of strategies which you must incorporate in order for this to work. You can’t just focus on one area, and I strongly advise against anything that is considered slightly grey-hat.

Other tips to mention:

  • Build a site for the customers, and you will have a solid foundation to build upon in the future.
  • Don’t try to meet keyword density targets, and avoid ‘over-optimisation’ by keyword stuffing your headings and image alt attributes.
  • Don’t try to hide anything from Google using javascript, or by using black text on black background or other silly tactics; it just doesn’t work like that anymore.
  • Try to write the content yourself. Not only are you the one person who knows your business inside out, you will also naturally use industry-related terms and phrases which Google will pick up on.
  • Don’t get into any link schemes, link exchanges, link wheel schemes or anything like that. Whether it worked last year is irrelevant; eventually Google will catch up to all of these techniques and your site will be penalised in some way.
  • Read as much as you can on the topic, but always remember to consider the user and how they will interact with search engines and your site. This is the most important thing, at the end of the day. You can drive all the traffic to your site possible, but if nobody can navigate it, or becomes quickly confused, they will leave very quickly. High bounce rates, or low page engagement times will negatively effect rankings.
  • Any questions and I am but an email away.