11 May Proven Ways To Boost Your Website’s SEO
SEO is easy, don’t believe what they say. The hard part is putting it into practice. Every website has natural potential, all SEO does is to accelerate the improvement of the good stuff and reduce the incidence of the bad.
There are dozens – if not hundreds – of things you can do to improve your website’s Organic Search authority, but they take time and effort. Here are just 7 …
1. Does your website address send the right signals?
There was an advertising campaign a while back which stressed the benefits of a “.com” for your website. If you were prompted to do this, several things may have happened. At one end of the scale, changing your domain to a .com without carefully re-mapping every URL on the site might have been catastrophic because every old URL would disappear. At the other end of the scale, switching from a “.co.uk” to a “.com” instantly “de-localises” your website, taking it a little further from your target audience, if that target audience is the UK.
A “.com” is ambiguous; no-one can tell on site where it comes from, and while this may work for geographically recognisable brands like Tesco or Debenhams, if your brand is not a household name, you might be discouraging potential customers.
If your brand is UK focused, best to stick with a UK-targeted Top Level Domain (TLD) such as “.co.uk”.
Should you therefore opt for a “.co.uk” TLD if your site is already a “.com” and your desired market is the UK?
The short answer is yes. But don’t make the mistake of doing it before the whole site is “remapped”. This is achieved by adding redirection instructions to the Server, which take any incoming requests for “yoursite.com” and translate that to “yoursite.co.uk”. Even if your site has thousands of pages, it is likely that a very few lines of code are required to make every URL safe.
This is a part of any successful “migration”, be it changing the domain or changing the Content Management System you use.
There are some drawbacks, however, especially if your site has many years on the clock in the form of domain authority – the bit of SEO it’s almost impossible to cheat because it’s based on factors such as the age of the site. Helpfully, thorough redirect mapping will help to transfer almost all of it, but if you do have a vintage site and domain, there’s probably little to be gained.
Another issue is when your domain does not match your brand. To see that even big brands make this mistake, you need go no further than diy.com.
But what if your branded domain has already gone? You may have a case to get it anyway under UN conventions, if you can prove a longstanding use and someone – even a competitor – is simply “domain-sitting”.
Don’t be tempted simply to add hyphens or words to a domain name to make it different. For a start, you may have the domain name’s owner coming after you under UN rules, but equally the reason for having a domain name that matches your brand is so that potential clients can simply type it into their browser and get your website. Instead what they’ll get is the rival website. Equally, if your rival domain has sufficient authority, it will always rank above you in the search engines.
2. Does your content really sell itself?
Content is, in fact, the blanket term for everything on a website: text, images, catalogue details, videos, etc. To be effective it has to be different to everything else on offer, or at least better.
Here is where we forget about Optimising for Search Engines – always optimise for people. When assessing your site’s content, put yourself in the place of the end-user, your customer.
- Does it meet their needs?
- Does it answer their direct questions?
- Does it leave nothing in doubt?
- Is it easy to digest – readable, simple?
- Is it enjoyable?
- Is it “shareable”?
Another common error – especially on eCommerce “catalogue” websites – is “cut’n’paste”. It is simply no good to take a description from the manufacturer’s website and use it on yours – even if it’s good. Remember that you won’t be the only one doing just that, which means that your site is duplicating that of your rivals.
Duplication is the Cardinal Sin of SEO. It’s not that Search Engines actively penalise websites for using the same content – that would mean that any RSS feed on a website would immediately cause its downfall – simply that they are looking for the best search result for every question they receive, not the most common one.
If you’re using manufacturers’ descriptions for your content, spend some time on your most important pages tailoring it to your customers distinct needs.
And on “category” pages, add text to ensure that it is entirely clear what the category is, and why customers should trust you to supply the right items.
If you follow the rule of seeing everything as the customer sees it, you will impress the search engines. Google alone spends billions of dollars every year looking into Artificial Intelligence (AI) to try to make its algorithms more human-like.
The most recent of these – BERT – tries to recognise the way queries change with the emphasis on words. Until now, Google used to ignore so-called “stop words” – it, to, and, at, etc. – in search queries because it was simply too difficult to work out how they changed the meaning of the phrase.
This explains why keywords listed by Google and others include things like “water bottle uk” – nobody ever wrote “water bottle uk” in a natural sentence, but they may have written “the best water bottle in the uk”. Until BERT, “water bottle uk” was exactly the same as “the best water bottle in the uk”.
Content which has phrases like “water bottle uk” crow-barred into it is obviously trying to “game” the algorithm. If you have anything like that on your site now is the time to get rewriting.
Also remember that trying to “stuff” the same keyword into content to reach some sort of magic density doesn’t work. In fact, it hasn’t worked very well since 2007 when Google introduced the “Hummingbird” update.
3. Does your site make you look like an expert?
Despite claims to the contrary, people really haven’t had enough of experts, and neither have the search engines. Websites which clearly demonstrate excellence in all they do are more trusted. Expertise isn’t necessarily a ranking factor on its own because it’s hard to quantify, but customer confidence born out of good user experience, quality content and depth of coverage leads to more time spent on site – called “Dwell Time” – which almost certainly is. Sites with longer Dwell Times rank better than their rivals.
You can demonstrate your expertise in many ways: from an expert blog that is updated on a regular basis to tightly written white papers which could become industry standard. Displaying the logos of trusted trade associations or ISO qualifications, or posting short explainer videos which clarify concepts in under a minute, are just a few strategies.
Offline participation in industry events and social media sharing can help too. While neither of these are direct ranking factors, the “buzz” that they create can be useful signals to search engines that there is something good going on. This in turn can lead to increased bot activity on your site, and thereby better ranking.
Expert sites are also more likely to attract links – still a ranking factor in 2020 – which act as an endorsement of your site. In contrast, all of the Twitter or Facebook links in the world won’t directly affect your SEO value. Google has stated publicly it DOESN’T use them as a ranking factor, merely as an indicator that there might be something worth investigating. Social mentions may prompt indexation, but only if there is something worth indexing.
4. Does your site have anything new?
People like novelty – and so do search engines. Adding new stuff to your site, especially if it can’t be found anywhere else, has a medium to long-term effect of decreasing the time between visits by the search engine spiders. This Crawl Interval may be many months for pages/sites which have no content updates, to a matter of minutes for sites who are constantly changing (news sites, social media sites, etc.)
For an eCommerce site, where product ranges change on perhaps annual cycles, making regular content changes is especially important. We’ve already mentioned expert blogs as a way to improve site authority, but their value is increased with frequency.
You might discuss case studies, or industry news, or the effect of outside events on your sector – Brexit, Covid-19, etc? – with a style aimed at a niche audience.
Get it right, and you could become a hub for news related to your industry, increasing your authority even further. But the frequency if updates will impress Google Bot, which will return time and again to see what has been added. Frequency of update is a ranking factor: sites with fresher, more up to date content rank better than rivals.
Another benefit of adding a regularly updated blog to your site – or increasing the frequency of updates – is that it gives you the chance to build better internal links, perhaps pointing at your most important pages of products. An internal link such as this, highlights other pages, makes the user journey through the site easier, and decreases the time that the search engine spiders need to visit all the site’s URLs. Great internal linking is a ranking factor.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that once a blog has been written, that is the end of it. There is plenty of evidence that revisiting a subject occasionally, with links back to the original post, earn Search Engine “Brownie Points”, and expand the depth of coverage making the site more authoritative. You can even improve existing posts by updating them months or even years after first publication.
5. Does your site really work on a mobile phone?
If you’ve checked your site’s traffic and see that most of it is coming via office desktops and laptops, you might say: “I don’t need to worry about how my site works on an iPhone”. You’d be wrong.
No matter what most of your users visit you with, Google only uses mobile, and so your site is judged purely on what the mobile version of your site looks like.
In general, six out of 10 people sent by Google to a website come via a mobile browser or the Google app, so they’ve adopted the so-called “Mobile First” principle, whereby you first build a website that works for the small screen size of a Galaxy S9 or iPhone 11 and then, as the screen size gets bigger by tablet and laptop and desktop, you add more features or display the existing features in different ways.
Mobile First is a game changer, not just in the way it affects website design, but in terms of how content is structured and written, the size and placement of images, and, above all, how quickly the pages load.
6. Does your site load fast enough?
While this might be thought of as a purely Mobile First issue, speed is an issue for any website user. Studies show that people are prepared to wait just two seconds for a page to load – or at least to be seen loading. Where a server is slowed down by out of date code or unnecessary scripting, the user experience (UX) is compromised and trust in the site is diminished. This can lead to higher bounce rates – where a visitor doesn’t interact with the page. High Bounce Rate is a negative ranking factor.
7. Do your site’s search results work for you?
One bit of content that often goes by unnoticed are two tags placed in the code of every page – the Title and Meta Description tags. They are commonly dubbed the “Meta Data” of the page.
Only the Title Tag is visible to the page users, in the tab of the page. It also counts in the Search Engine’s assessment of the SEO value. It should identify what the page is about, and preferably the site name.
The description tag does not count to the SEO value, so there is no requirement to add any keywords or target terms.
Where the two are most commonly observed is on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) themselves because together they form the “snippet” or search result text.
Ideally, they act as an eye-catching “News in Brief” or classified ad, drawing the searchers eye with a compelling message: “This is the site which answers all your questions. Click on it now”.
For starters, you could have the most compelling combination it’s possible to produce, but if the page itself doesn’t work for SEO, it will never be seen. Simply put, great Meta Data is not an end in itself.
On the other hand, if your page is already ranking, then great Meta Data which meets all the conditions can improve your ranking by a few places. More than that, an engaging snippet can entice searchers to click on it rather than the sloppily produced one above it.
These are the rules …
- Title Tags should be based on a total width of 600 pixels – not characters.
- Description Tags should be no more than 160 characters long, including spaces.
- There should be at least one Call To Action in every description, for example: “buy now”, “see our …”, “click here for …”.
- All Titles and Description Tags throughout the site should by unique.
- Aim to write Meta Tags for every page, starting with the most valuable pages.
Like everything, there are exceptions to these. For example, if you have thousands of pages, the likelihood of the minor ones (such as different sizes or colourways) ever appearing in a search result as negligible. In such instances, simply leave the description tag empty; if they ever do appear in a search result it will likely be so specific that it doesn’t matter what you write.
In any event, faced with a blank description, the search engine will automatically select a 160-odd character long more-or-less relevant piece of text from the page itself to use.
While you might be tempted to do this for all pages, writing good, compelling Meta Data for your most important pages is better than leaving it to chance and could mean the difference between the searchers click going to your site … or your rivals.