SEO is an interesting field. It’s like a battle between Google – in the pursuit of getting the most relevant websites in front of the human that’s searching for information – and the SEO specialist – in helping paying clients to get their own website higher up in that search result.
Google has a set list of criteria to determine whether a website is relevant for a search term, and an SEO Specialist is someone who is typically better placed than most in understanding how best to ‘play the game’ and make sure a client’s website meets as many of those criteria as possible.
Ultimately, business owners who employ a web developer that understands the basics of SEO are more likely to get more visitors (or more relevant visitors) to their business website. Those who employ an SEO Specialist should get even more.
On that note, down to the subject of this post! As a business owner or marketer, you may already have access to your own website’s CMS (Content Management System). If this is the case for you, there’s a lot you can do before employing an SEO Specialist.
Here’s a short list (pretty much in order of importance).
1. Page Content (What’s on the page? Text? Images? Video?)
Obviously, this is pretty important. And you have to work for it! Writing a quick paragraph on the topic of that page and hoping that Google will now rank your site well isn’t really going to work. To find out why, just head to Google and make a search. Look at the pages that are appearing well in the search results (not the ads – they’re cheating) and you should see pages that are full of quality content; text that mentions the topic (it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally write a full page that never actually uses the keyword that you want to rank for!) that is also well formatted and uses imagery and other dynamic content, such as embedded video or social media posts.
In terms of your text content, use formatting to make your page nice and readable.
- Bullet points
Use the proper bullet point tool in your website’s editor – don’t just type out hyphens or similar – and then use other text formatting functions such as bold, italic, sub-headings (again there should be a headings option in your editor) etc. etc.
Also, link to other pages on your website, and even to other (quality) websites that are related to your topic. Walls of text are not allowed! Break that up with paragraphs and headings.
2. Page Titles (and then page descriptions)
The title of each page of your website is one of the most important indicators of what can be found on that page (incidentally, a good sign that a website hasn’t been reviewed by an SEO specialist is a home page that has ‘Home’ in the page title… unless the website sells houses, I guess).
Your page title is specifically that which appears in the browser title bar while you’re on that page of your website. Depending on your browser, it might be cropped. Just hover your mouse over it to view the page title. While you’re on the page, it’s going to look pretty insignificant as a Google ranking factor. The reason that this is so important for Google (and your visitors) is because this is the primary bit of info that appears in Google (and Bing, etc.) search result.
So, each Page Title on your website (or at least those of the key pages) should be in the format of:
[Legible Keyword Phrase] [Separator] [Business Name]
Although it’s common for the home page to be the reverse – with the business name first – as that particular page is all about your business. If you get my drift.
The separator is up to you. Personally I like a ‘pole’, i.e. -> | <- (by pressing shift and then the key just above your enter key, which also has the \ character) but hyphens are also pretty common. Just keep it consistent throughout the site.
A good example of a Page Title for a car dealership’s service page would be:
Vehicle Servicing in Christchurch | Mark’s Motors
And a bad example would be:
Car repair, vehicle servicing, WOFs, repairs, garage, workshop
How does your site look in Google?
Here’s a super easy way to see all of the page titles on your website from Google’s (and so, your potential visitors’) perspective. If there’s just one thing you do after reading this blog post, do this!
Head to Google and put this in the search box:
Obviously swapping with your website address. What you’ll get is a customised search result that only shows the pages of your website. Use this to review your Page Titles as well as your Meta Descriptions. Just one quick glance and you’ll be able to see if anything needs improvement.
It took me quite a while to find a good example website (just shows how much opportunity there is out there to be amongst the few who are doing SEO well) but Hyundai’s looks great (use site:www.hyundai.co.nz to skip out all the sub-domains). They don’t have to fight as hard as smaller businesses for keyword phrases so tend to keep that part of their page title very short, but they use a nice, consistent format, except for the home page which, as I suggested above, has the business name first.
You’ll also note that none of their page titles are cropped – they’re all kept within Google’s character limit.
Looking at this, you can tell that either they have someone on the team who knows what they’re doing, their web developer is clued-up enough to take good care of their Page Titles, or they’ve specifically employed an SEO Specialist.
Your website editor should also allow you to add a ‘meta description’ for your page. This won’t show on the page itself. It’s a short and descriptive summary of your page that (usually) appears under the title in search results, depending on whether it includes text that matches the search phrase. Again, you can see this in the above site search function. Include your main topic keyword term but persuasive text for humans, not spammy text for robots.
- Put the main topic of that page first in your page title. Longer titles will be cropped in the search results and Google treats the earlier words in your page title as being more important than the later. Feel free to add your business name at the end after a separator (e.g. Vehicle Servicing in Christchurch | Mark’s Garage)
- DON’T USE A STRING OF KEYWORDS. This screams ’90’s web design’ and looks awful for the visitor – for that reason, you won’t rank well for it. (e.g. Vehicle Repairs, Services, WOFs, Cars, Car Repair)
3. Image Optimisation
Adding photos to a page is easy (it should be a core function of your website editor. If not, you need a new website!) but adding optimised images isn’t. Actually, I take that back. Adding optimised images – for the most part – is easy. People just don’t do it. Because it’s so rarely done well, you have a good, easy, opportunity to help your pages rank in search and also to get your website’s images into Google’s ‘Image search’ function. Also important.
Simple tips for easy image optimisation:
- Rename your image files to suit that image. DSC_1668.jpg = No. tesla_model_s.jpg = Yes. Keep it clean; no capitals, no spaces, no symbols other than hyphens and underscores. I like underscores as spaces as it still allows you to use hyphens when they’re part of the word, like mercedes-benz_a-class.jpg.
- Re-size your images to suit the space. File sizes should generally be under 150kb or so (the above is large but still under 100kb). Smaller images will obviously be much lower in file size. The reason for this is simply that larger images take longer to load. Long load times = a worse experience for your visitor = a lower rank for your page.
- Add ‘title’ and/or ‘alt tags’ to your images. Title tags (or tool tips, or title attributes) display when your visitor hovers their mouse over your image – something they’ll do if they need help understanding an image, i.e. for the above it’s ‘Tesla Model S’ – and alt tags (or alternative tags) display in place of that image before the image has finished loading or in place of the image if it doesn’t load at all.
Points 1 and 3 above (combined with surrounding text, links, etc.) help Google to understand what the image is about. Image recognition is getting better, but it’s not there yet, so without the above Google will have zero chance of knowing what an image is. If it doesn’t know what it is, it can’t match it to a search term in Google and it’s not going to contribute well to the ranking of your overall page.
If you’re a forward thinking business manager, you’ll have a website for your business that allows you to make basic changes without consulting your web developer each time. These changes should include the above, in some form or another. Given that this is the case, my best advice is for you to check through the list for each of the key pages of your website, and adjust accordingly.
If you get stuck, consult your website developer. But be aware that SEO is a fine art, and it’s easy to do it wrong. A lot has changed in SEO and if your web developer employs dodgy tactics – known as blackhat – then there’s even a risk that your website could be dropped from Google altogether.
If you want to do things properly and take your website to the next level, it’s time to find a business that offers professional SEO services. You should be able to find these in Google (I mean… come on) but here are just a few New Zealand providers that should be able to help (I’ve added my affiliation with each so you know that this is a personal endorsement and not paid placement):
- Avatar – I used to work for the owner, Mark Rocket.
- hairyLemon – I’ve worked alongside these guys on a few SEO projects. Ask for Karen!
- Double Black – Another SEO Specialist that I’ve had the pleasure of working with; Charles Coxhead.
- Ask Kalena – Angled more at advanced advice for SEO professionals, Kalena Jordan can point you in the right direction if you’re looking to learn more.
Of course, I may be able to help out as well. Feel free to drop me a line.
The above is a very basic overview of just a few things that can affect your website’s position in search results. If you want to learn more about SEO, here are a few websites that I can recommend:
- The Moz Blog – Part of ‘Moz’ which used to be ‘SEO Moz’. The site features plenty of SEO professionals that know what they’re talking about, and also provides some free (and some paid for) tools for website developers. In particular, you want to check out co-founder, Rand Fishkin’s, ‘White Board Fridays‘; a great video series.
- Inbound.org. -This one’s more of a tool that web professionals use to link to other articles from all over the web. These submissions are then ‘upvoted’ so that you see the best of the bunch.
- Search Engine Land – A good all-round website for all things ‘search’.
- Search Engine Journal – Offering plenty of articles on the ever-changing world of SEO.