SEO is the bread and butter of any digital marketing campaign, but that ‘O’ may as well stand for ‘oh?’ for the confusion it causes when people hear the phrase.
Even for those in the know, it’s complicated. Google is constantly updating its algorithm. Panda. Penguin. Hummingbird. They’re not just types of animals!
Let’s start with the obvious: What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation. Essentially, it means fixing up your site so it ranks for the keywords you want. I’ll use the agency I work for as a quick example. It’s a content marketing agency, so keywords are phrases like ‘content marketing’, ‘social media marketing’, ‘content agency dublin’ etc. The good stuff, like.
Type those ins and a well optimised site will turn up trumps.
- 256, represent!
Now, that’s a long-tail phrase, but the point remains.
Wait…long-tail? Keywords come in two varieties: long-tail and short-tail. The difference between long-tail and short-tail is exhibited best below via dinosaur imagery:
There’s a rule of thumb that all search engines matter, but Google is the big one. The majority of your traffic will likely arrive via Google. Maybe there’s an argument in there about how Google has monopolised digital marketing, but that’s a discussion for another day. Back to SEO!
SEO is ‘populating’ your website with specific keywords to target your potential clients. Do it right and you’ll get traffic from people who actually want what you’re selling, and not just traffic from people who landed on that cute photo of your kitten.
Once you have your keywords chosen the next step is to start implementing those keywords into your site. This is where things get a little messy: black-hat techniques re: keywords involve keyword stuffing and duplicating content or creating spammy content with your keywords.
So, how do you do it properly?
Get your website running
Okay, so you’ve got your keywords. Nice one. Now you need to start implementing them into your site…but only if your site is up-to-scratch. I suggest a good old-fashioned website audit. A website audit means systemically going through your site, page-by-page, and sorting out any dodgy content, broken links, or UX issues.
- Do a content audit. Is your content all dynamic and original? If that’s a no, get on that right now!
- SEO-optimise that content. More on that in a bit.
- Assess usability. Is everything easily accessible? Is the design intuitive and easily-navigable? Are your conversion paths, i.e. a shopping cart for your ebook, easy to get to? The last thing you want is for your website to be labyrinthine. Easy navigation is key.
- Utilise requisite call-to-actions. You want your audience to know what you want them to do next, whether that’s following you on Twitter, purchasing an ebook, or something else entirely. Shout it loud and proud, though in a non-obnoxious way.
- Get the tech side of your website in working order. Is it responsive? Are the URLs all going where they’re supposed to? Is it error-free and is everything in order to be crawled properly by search engines? P.S. if you’re a newbie considering a CMS, GO WITH WORDPRESS. Like for reals, friends.
Once your website audit is done, you’ll have a concrete list of things that need to be changed right down from clumsy graphic design to making sure the title tags are done properly. The next step is implementing those changes, with the help of a pro or on your own.
For the purpose of this blog post, the SEO part of the audit is the most important. You’ve now identified your keywords and you know where you’re going to put them. So what comes next?
Where do keywords go?
The basic rule is simple: you want to rank for keywords, so you include them in your site. Reminder: black-hat techniques and the dangers of over-stuffing your keywords are a giant no.
Where do you put those keywords?
- Content. A WordPress SEO checker plug-in is pretty handy for keeping your keyword amount usage in check.
- Headings within your content. Your headings are a great place to separate out your text into easily readable blocks, but it’s also good for dropping in a friendly neighbourhood keyword.
- Titles. A lot of people ignore the title tags on their websites. The rule of thumb is to keep them specific and at around the 60 character mark in length. For writers, a basic name and descriptor is enough e.g. Lisa Sills | YA writer | content marketer. And yep, use the pipes! (The pipe is not a pipe. ;))
- Descriptions. Your meta descriptions. 156 characters of pure gold to tell prospective clients/audience what your blog post is about. Your descriptions don’t directly impact SEO, but they’re great to tell your readers why they should read what you’ve written.
- Image file names. Always label them. Same goes for your alt tags, which make the odd appearance when your images aren’t showing up for whatever reason.
- URLs. This helps search engines when they’re crawling your website. Do not overstuff! Keep it honest and accurate.
Avoid black hat techniques! It’ll ruin your SEO!
Search penalties will spell death for your rankings. There’s no two ways about it. Some people—and plenty of digital marketing companies—try to be sneaky about it, but Google knows everything, right down to what brand of tea you had this morning. Well, if you inputted that info digitally, somewhere.
So what shouldn’t you do?
- Do not stuff your keywords. DON’T DO IT! It might be tempting to chuck a few unnecessary keywords in there and maybe you’ll get away with it, but maybe you won’t and you’ll be excommunicated to search engine hell.
- Don’t shove a square keyword into a round slot. This is a little bit like keyword stuffing, but it differs. Make sure all your keywords make sense with context. If you’re trying to shove a keyword into a piece and it just isn’t working, perhaps switch from a long-tail keyword to something a bit more specific. And yeah, maybe it’s not the anchor text you were aiming for, but your readers will thank you for it.
- Don’t hide your keywords. What’s that mean? An old-school tactic was to hide keywords where your audience couldn’t see them. Behind images. Camouflage them into the background with the same colour text. That kind of thing. This is spam and it’ll earn you a trip into the sixth circle of search engine hell.
And that’s it: the basics of SEO in five (or so) minutes flat! For non-SEO related fun times, follow me on Twitter. I’m more fun there than I am here.