Thanks to everyone who joined the first milknbizz Tech Surgery or posted questions in the feed for us to answer in the session. As promised, here's the blog covering our third topic - the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) :
What is SEO and why do we need it? SEO is a way to drive traffic, acquire new customers and get found online. Google is the no.1 search engine in the world (except for in China), so whilst this also includes others like Bing and Yahoo, with over 75% of the all search traffic, let's focus on Google for now. Whatever you type into Google, it will instantly provide the top search results. They do this by using algorithms and data collected by their web crawlers that crawl the web 24/7, indexing and ranking the information on your site against your competitors. That's why you need SEO.
Most people only review the first page of search results provided by Google, so your site needs to feature in that top list of websites. There are 2 key ways to improve your ranking. The first is 'on page' - so on your website and the second is 'off page', by referring to your website on your social media pages and and linking back from other sites. The more references to your website or 'backlinks', the more points you'll score with the web crawlers in certain areas. We'll talk more about this later.
Get your first phase of SEO set up, then keep at it. It needs to be maintained regularly, not just an initial blast at the beginning, Google are constantly updating their algorithms...but where do I start?
Some tips for how to approach SEO for your website:
Almost all website builders have inbuilt tools or plugins that can help with your SEO. Check their documentation for exactly how to implement the five points above. We are going to run through the generic approach.
This is the single most important optimisation on your site. The title tag to a large extent defines the content of the page in the eyes of the web crawler. It's also very important because it's the first line the SERP (Search engine results page). For example if we searched for "hotels in St Albans" we would get back something similar to this (after the paid-for ads). So booking.com are returning "The 10 best hotels in Saint Albans, Hertfordshire" as their title tag. Google displays between 50 and 60 characters in the title (it actually comes down to pixels but 50-60 characters is a safe bet. Everything after that gets the ellipsis treatment. You should also try to tie in one or two important and *relevant* keywords. In this example we can see Cheap... (booking.com here are loading "cheap" and "accommodation" into the title to catch more search results.
The meta description appears below the title tag on the results page. Meta descriptions are leaned on less heavily by search engines (compared to title tag) but they are very important in terms of describing your site and what it offers. This description is what your potential customer is reading in the search results when deciding to click on your link or not.
Google shows around 150 characters, so you need to keep this fairly short. However, make sure you are using keywords and possibly a call to action that drives the user to click on your link. There is a lot more work that can be done in this area (specifically checking what your closest competitors use in their description and then reverse engineering those keywords into your site). We will be covering this in a follow up post in the next week or so.
Google places a lot of importance on the links on your page. There are external links (on other websites that point to yours) and internal links which is generally your navigation menu, plus any links to external sites in the copy on your page.
The easiest way to get this right is to think about a user trying to navigate your website. The easier you make the process the more likely the user will stay engaged and on your site. If you make it convoluted and difficult to get around, you will lose users. The same applies to web crawlers, the harder to navigate - the less accurate your PageRanking will be (more of that in the next post too).
Content is the reason people come to your page. No matter how good your titles, descriptions and linking are - if the content is poor, users close the browser tab. There are three components to creating good content - headlines, body and "geeky stuff".
Think of the headlines on your page as a restaurant menu. Each headline - "Food", "Drinks - then breaks down into smaller headlines "Starters", "Mains", "Dessert". Keep the structure in mind when creating the page and use headers, sub-headers etc (the names will differ depending on your website builder, but this ultimately becomes the H1 to H6 tags that the crawlers will look for).
The body is the crux of your website. This is where you get your message across and engage with users. Keep your content unique and make sure you use the appropriate keywords (similar to that you used in the description for the page). One other point to watch for is keeping a balance between text and images/video on the page. Image and video can also be optimised for SEO, another item we plan to cover soon.
Geeky stuff is the last area to worry about. How quickly does the page load, does it look good on mobile and are all your images optimised to be as small as possible (in physical size) whilst still looking amazing? This can be more complicated to check if you are not technically minded but there are a lot of tools out there to help. Again we will try to cover this topic soon but if you are interested you can start with Pagespeed
This is a small XML file that helps search engines find and index your site. Most website builders will create the sitemap automatically for you. If you are creating the site from scratch then you'll know what to do already.
The sitemap for this website for example can be found at https://www.tideymitchener.com/sitemap.xml.
Use the Google Search Console to make sure Google finds and indexes your pages.
You need to be familiar with how DNS works (refer to the documentation on the site you bought your domain from, or give us a shout!) in order to carry out step 2. However, after that it's all pretty simple. Google will start collecting data immediately, but it might take a couple of days before the data is available.
We hope the guide removes the mystery of SEO and provides the tools you need to get found online. If anyone has any questions or would like to discuss in more detail - give us a shout!
Our next blog post will be addressing MailChimp (and the alternatives)...watch this space.
Charlotte & Dylan