Search engine optimisation for beginners

As business owners, we all want to increase our visibility online and search engine optimisation is a great way of doing that.

The truth is, we don’t all specialise in the field nor do we all necessarily have a digital marketing budget to outsource the work to an SEO agency. Most business owners have a limited understanding of search engine optimisation, and rightly so – you’re busy running your own business and becoming number one in your own field, not trying to understand a new one purely for the sake of your website.

Whilst managed SEO services may be cheaper than you think, this guide aims to help business owners increase their exposure online with minimal costs.

In this guide, we’ll cover four steps that anyone can do with limited financial resources and time. Got staff who work in marketing? Show them this guide. Give them a small budget and watch the results come in. Prefer a managed service? Then feel free to get in touch with us. We help businesses increase their exposure in the digital marketplace through managed and consultancy-based services. A couple of SEO case studies can be found here and here. For now, let’s jump on.

  1. Find what your customers search for and discover untapped phrases
  2. How to choose what keywords and phrases to target
  3. How to optimise your website for your discovered results
  4. How to measure your search engine optimisation strategy

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Research what your customers actually search for. Don’t guess.

The first step is to carry out keyword research, through (ideally) paid tools that collect data that will become invaluable, or if no budget allows whatsoever, then educated guesses. It’s no good ranking on the 1st page of Google for a phrase that nobody searches for. It’s also no good trying to rank highly for something that is very generic as the likelihood is that should you be lucky enough to get to page one, your customers will find the result irrelevant, leave the website, and cause you to have a bounce rate. The higher the bounce rate, the more you are going to suffer in the medium to long term as Google uses this as a ranking signal.

You need to work out who searches for what, how many times per month, locations, devices and so forth. Paid tools will obviously give you more insightful data hence they are the preferred choice. The more data you have, the more chances of your success. If you can master the first step, which is finding what customers actually search for, you have a much better chance at succeeding when it comes to increasing your customer base through online visibility – not to mention you’ll beat your online competition.

Most people come up with keywords they want to be found for through gut feelings, personal choice, etc. When we provide Managed SEO services, we’re often presented with a list of keywords and phrases the customer wants to rank for but isn’t the best choice and has been presented with no keyword research. Often, after carrying out research for the client, we end up with a very different list of what we’re actually going to target and this achieves much better results and more importantly, conversions and sales.

So how do we find what your customers are searching for? Well, there are various ways. If we’re going for a paid method, you can:

  1. Use a tool such as SEMrush
  2. We can provide competitor / organic research analysis.

A tool like SEMrush is worth its weight in gold due to the data you’ll end up extracting from it. The paid tool has a lot more features but for now, we’re focusing on keyword research. They provide a 7-day trial, so click on the link above, or enter a search phrase below to start.

Once logged in, find and select ‘Keyword Analytics – Overview” in the left-hand side menu. Now in the search bar, type a phrase that you think your customers search for. As an example, if I type in ‘Internet Marketing’ I can see there are 1,900 searches per month from the UK. On the right-hand side, you’ll see it says ‘Related Keywords’

If we click on ‘Related Keywords’ we can see there are better phrases to target. Ones that are getting searched for much more often.

‘Digital Marketing’ – 18,100 searches per month

‘Online Marketing’ – 2,400 searches per month

You’ll notice to the right-hand side there is a column titled ‘KD’ – This is the Keyword Difficulty score. In other words, this is showing how difficult it would be to rank for these keywords.

The score gives a prediction from SEMrush on ranking difficulty based on the authority of the domains that are currently ranking in Google. The higher the number, the harder it’s going to be. You can group the KD score into 3 different groups.

KD 80+ = High Difficulty

If your website is new, you don’t have a lot of authority online within your field, and you’re not investing in an SEO agency to help you with your SEO strategy, avoid these keywords and phrases.

KD 60-80 = Medium Difficulty

If you have some authority within your field, this is more achievable. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth the reward. If you’re prepared to put the time in, carrying out a range of SEO techniques, this is the area to aim for.

KD 1-59 = Low Difficulty 

These phrases will be relatively easy to rank for but will be difficult to find. Long tail keywords normally have low KD scores but much lower search volumes however they represent an opportunity if you’re prepared to put the time in finding the right phrases.

If you’re not using a premium tool to carry our your organic research, or contracting an agency to do it for you, then you’re limited on options. One way of finding what people search for is by using Google’s search engine. Start to type a phrase, and see what autocomplete fills in. This will give you an idea, but albeit a lot more limited on data such as difficulty, volume and related phrases.

2. How to choose what keywords and phrases to target

Now we can see what people are actually searching for, it’s time to choose what keywords and phrases we are going to try and target. Unless you’re carrying out a variety of search engine optimisation practices and have some experience, then it’s best sticking to phrases that display a lower KD score. If your domain has some authority already, then aim for the medium or possibly even high ones if going for a long term strategy. Long tail keywords, i.e. ‘Online marketing services in Hereford’ are going to be searched for a lot less, but due to the length of the phrase, will have very low competition in comparison, and therefore a very low KD score. It’s always worth putting some time in to find long tail keywords and trying to rank for them. You’ll find it much easier and quicker to do so.

You could also organise the related phrases results by KD score. Whilst this won’t necessarily give you the long tail keywords, it’s a good starting point.

3. How to optimise your website for your discovered results

By now, you should have a list of phrases you’re going to try and rank for. From competitive to long tail, low competition ones. Now you need to start applying some on-page optimisation techniques. On-page SEO covers a wide range of areas, but a starting point would be to make sure that your pages, menus, breadcrumbs etc are well structured and provide a good UX (User Experience). As Google uses bounce rate as a ranking signal, the last thing you want is to start ranking for your chosen phrases, to find your customers bounce right off the page. Doing so will cause all the hard work to be wasted as the rankings will then drop.

Well Designed / Fast Loading

A nicely designed page, with the correct content, is more likely to keep your visitors reading, increasing the time spent on site. A bad experience such as mailing lists popups is not going to have the desired effect. You also want the page to load quickly on all devices. Ideally under 2 seconds, but as a maximum, 3.

If your website is built on WordPress, here are 10 tips to improve your website speed.

Test Speed & Responsiveness

You can use a free tool like GTMetrix to run a test on your webpage in question which will not only give you a page load time, but it will also show you other areas that the webpage tested can be optimised. To test responsiveness, you can use a free tool such as Screenfly.

Optimise Metadata

Your next step is to optimise your page URL, titles and meta descriptions using the data gathered in step 1, as well as the on-page content itself.

When it comes to the URL, keep it short, and clean. It’s surprising how many sites still use .html at the end of their URLs, or random number strings. Ensure you don’t do this. Try and get your keywords within the URL if possible, but again, make sure this is kept short and clean. Google says:

A site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers).

Regarding the title and meta description, this is your first impression so to speak. Make it compelling, and keep it within the specified character limits. Currently, this is 60 characters for the title and 600px (Circa 160 characters) for the description.

Optimise Content

Your on-page content should also be well optimised. You want your customers / readers to land on the page and find the content relevant. You don’t want them landing on the page and then going off the website back to Google or elsewhere. This is what’s known as a bounce.

Your on-page content should also be well structured, utilising H1-H6 tags as H (Heading) tags helps search engines understand the structure of the page so effective use of heading tags are going to help.

Be sure to optimise your images, serving scaled images where possible, compressed for web. That 5MP image you took on your mobile phone is not really ideal for a webpage unless you’re a photographer showing off their work. Also, consider using next-gen formats such as WebP with JPG/PNG as a fallback.

Use Internal Linking

Google doesn’t like bounce rates. You want to encourage your customers to spend more time on your site, not leave it. To combat this, use internal linking to other relevant pages, or use a CTA. Try to do this on every page where possible.

Use Schema Markup

Schema markup has many benefits that could help you with your SEO strategy. It’s a global standard language that search engines use to help them better understand content and context. You can read more about Schema Markup here. This is also going to be vital as we move from an era of most searches being carried out on desktops to voice searches through smart devices and mobile phones.

Noindex Thin Content

Thin content, AKA low-quality pages are not liked by Google since the Panda update of 2011. Consider setting non-relevant, thin pages to noindex. You’re not trying to rank for your cookie policy.

Install an SSL

Make sure your website starts with HTTPS and not HTTP. If it doesn’t read about the importance of having an SSL.

Create a Sitemap and a Robots.txt File

A sitemap is an XML file which search engines use to find, crawl and understand how your pages are connected. All websites should have one. A Robots.txt file, on the other hand, tells search engines what pages they should and shouldn’t crawl. Search engine spiders have a crawl budget. Guiding them by blocking sections, means other sections are more likely to get indexed and reindexed quicker.

How to measure your search engine optimisation strategy

Without measuring your results, ongoing optimisation is going to be difficult. If you’re using SEMrush, you can track your keyword positions, but you’ll also want to measure other metrics such as bounce rate, CTR etc. Rather than repeating what we have said before, refer to this article for measuring metrics. Look at the metrics and continue to optimise. SEO is not a one time project, it’s an on-going one.

If you need help with your Digital Marketing / SEO Strategy, feel free to contact us and let’s see what Silver Scope Media can do for your business.