What is SEO?
If your business has any online presence, then you will certainly have heard the term SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation. Simply put, optimising your search engine presence is all about making your websites visible on the organic (not paid for) results listings that appear when people search for terms related to your product or industry. But SEO is not just about increasing traffic, the point is improving your visibility and most importantly, conversion, so that the customers who are specifically looking for what you offer can actually find you, quicker than they can find your competition.
To a small business owner, SEO can seem like a dark art that only the chosen few can perform. The reality is that whilst aspects of it can indeed be complex, as long as you have a basic knowledge of the internet (in as far as you have actually used it!), then you can actually do a lot more than you thought.
The key is in the keywords
Keywords are the important words that search engines use to index and match your business to people searching. For a very simplistic example, if you run a shoe business, then you want a chance to be found when someone searches for ‘shoes’. However, it’s not actually that straightforward because to optimise your website presence, you will ultimately rely on a multitude of combinations of keywords, phrases and sentences and this will differ for every business out there. That shoe business doesn’t just want people looking for shoes, they will also want to rank when people search for diverse phrases like ‘ladies summer sandals’ and ‘boys black school shoes’ (depending on what they actually sell of course!).
Hyper-specific searching by users is also a recent theme in SEO and expected to continue growing in 2018. It goes hand in hand with the rise in popularity of voice searching (see next section) but is popular in typed searching too, mainly because broad keywords bring up, well, too broad results for someone who wants to find a particular thing, fast. Where a generic search would be something like: ‘wood bed frame’, a hyper specific search would be ‘’antique oak carved wood king size bed frame’’. The first search is only going to raise the same generic big brand bed retailers that everyone knows the name of already and who probably don’t stock the specialist item the searcher wants to find anyway. Online users know this and hence the reasons for the hyper-specific search at the first attempt.
In SEO, this presents the conundrum of whether you want to concentrate on the shorter, most popular keywords that provide the most traffic or the more ‘long tail’ searches that generate far less traffic volume, but what traffic they do generate can be extremely valuable to your business. Long tail basically means the same as hyper-specific searching, where the keywords and phrases being used are much longer and more precisely focussed on a specialist item or subject. Unfortunately because volumes are usually much lower, you may not get much, if any information from search engine analytics.
To establish the right keywords and phrases for your business, industry and the type of visitor you want to attract, you need to research, research, research. You can access statistics through your Google Adwords account and Google even offers a tool for this: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner . Bing has their own help guide at: https://advertise.bingads.microsoft.com/en-gb/solutions/tools/bing-ads-intelligence . Be prepared for some experimentation and to be guided by trial and error on what keywords and phrases provide valuable return for your business and what doesn’t.
You might be resisting the march of the robots but home voice devices such as Google’s Home and Amazon’s Alexa, among others, have already infiltrated homes near you… With more on the horizon (Apple are due to release their version this year, and CES2018 has also given us a taste of what to come – albeit slightly anticlimactic in the case of one large manufacturer). Industry experts are tipping voice interaction to be a big trend for 2018. Not to mention that most smartphones have already been using voice assisted searching for several years now. The popularity is due to people on the go often finding it easier to speak a question into their phone instead of trying to type on a tiny keyboard while walking, cooking, sitting on the bus or whatever else they may be doing.
For SEO, this means more people are searching by voice commands and this differs to typed searches. Traditionally, typed questions are usually around 1-3 keywords, for example: ‘’Boys school shoes’’. Spoken searches are usually phrased in a natural conversational question such as ‘’Where can I buy boys school shoes near me?’’, meaning you need to think about your keywords in this context too.
Time to tidy up
Go through every web page as if for the first time. Make sure your chosen keywords are included as much as is appropriate, without affecting the reader experience. Fix broken links, check page loading speeds, make sure titles are tagged properly, make sure your images and videos have clear descriptions tagged to them which include the relevant keywords so that the search engine bots can ‘read’ them. Also be aware that whilst they can’t (yet) decipher pictures, the placement of relevant images with appropriate titles, descriptions, alt tags and meta data is becoming increasingly important. Ensure you are offering quality content and that it is completely up-to-date. Commit to regularly posting fresh original content to keep the momentum going.
Be mobile friendly
More searches are now done from mobile devices than desktop. Google will roll out it’s new mobile first indexing in 2018, putting the emphasis on searching for the mobile version of content, even for desktop users, so none-mobile friendly content will not rank so well regardless of how well set up your website is. Audit your site as per the previous paragraph but over a mobile device. If your websites cannot be instantly and clearly accessed, you literally need to get with the times and invest in this area.
Google is not the only way
In the UK and US, Google is probably the most widely used search engine and of course, you need to optimise your results here. But other search engines do exist, such as Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo,etc – and they are used by millions of people. If you are exporting then you need to consider the popular search engines in the areas you are trying to reach, for example; Baidu which is the most popular in China. It is worth taking the time to research the right keywords and approaches to get best results on each relevant search engine.
Do not overlook the now vast social media platforms either as they now hold so much information that they are now commonly used instead of search engines for users to get to the content they want. Want to know how to bake cupcakes? Head to Pinterest. Want to search the latest news topics? Scroll through Twitter. The point is that there are now many places online you want to get your business seen. The more you are mentioned and linked in various places, the better chance you have of the right customers finding you organically.
Social media butterfly
Like it or not, to optimise your online presence, your business needs to be active on social media networks, offering regular, original and quality content consistently linked back to your official websites. For optimised visibility, your business needs to be seen hanging out and sparking conversation at all the popular places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest etc. Ignore them at your peril, these are marketplaces with millions of potential customers.