At well over six Billion searches a day worldwide, there is no doubt that search engines are the most common source of finding information today. To put this into perspective the average number of tweets per day is 500 Million, that’s a thirteenth!
In other words, to increase your business’s reach and visibility, striving to rank on top of search engine results pages (SERP) is the way to go. Or so it seems.
All too often the quest to obtain high organic search engine rankings is being portrayed as something rather scientific, specialist and often pricey, even more so when in combination with promises of instant results. Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, mastering the art of top search engine results can feel daunting if not impossible altogether.
In today’s post I’d like to demystify the search engine optimisation (SEO) beast, mainly by breaking it down into four parts, but also by approaching it from a slightly different angle, as you will see.
Four sides (hint: strategic, creative, technical and tactical) to the SEO story
So if, as stated on Wikipedia, “SEO is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results”, what exactly are those elements that need optimising in order for a search engine to take notice of your offering and to consequently list it at the top?
Although they may not be as clearly cut, I found it helpful to divide into four main task areas.
- Keywords – every search starts with a word, or a string of words, so keywords are clearly the bread and butter of SEO. Whilst it’s good to be aware of certain keyword tools and stats, there are many ways (and indeed words!) to express your brand and offering. That’s why I think that, long before the SEO work, keywords need to be determined and ingrained into your overall brand messaging and style. Because ultimately the most strategic keywords are those that really resonate with your target audience and which convey your own unique and authentic value, and in your own true voice.
- Meaningful and targeted content – speaking of resonance with your audience, in order to connect and engage, relevance is key of course. The good news here is that search engines rate both, relevance and engagement. So, to then create content, which is keyword rich and drives engagement, it is prerequisite to get really clear on your ideal customers – who they are, what their needs, and perhaps habits are, where they are and similar more – and of course how your offering meets those challenges and why customers should choose you over your competitors.
- Simple, descriptive and plain English – when it is time to put your ‘what and why’ into words, a great rule of thumb is this: Less is more. Less jargon, more familiarity. Less confusion, more specificity. Less complexity, more clarity. Less trash, more focus. Although easy reading is damn hard writing as per Nathaniel Hawthorn’s quote, you will reap the rewards for your hard work (or investment in a copywriter) as both, users and search engines, will be able to interpret and understand your content easily.
- Persuasive copy – relevance and simplicity are both great to drive engagement and as such aid the persuasion process, however when it comes to getting the user to take that action, every little helps. That is every little nudge such as ‘subscribe’, ‘download’, ‘buy’ and many more. This is when the arts of copywriting and content writing meet. If this last sentence caused you some raising eye brows, you may want to read an older post of mine, in which I wrote about the difference – or perhaps similarities – of copy and content.
- User-friendly structure and experience – this is all about how easy it is for the users (and search engines!) to first find and then absorb, or interpret, relevant content. It’s all about grouping and laying out content in a way that helps users to meet their needs and challenges. So, for your overall website this concerns the general content structure on one hand and strategic placement of high priority content on the other. For page content it mainly means descriptive headlines followed by quality content and broken up into paragraphs.
- Title tags and meta descriptions – the page title or title tag shows in the top bar of the browser, and is also what appears as the clickable header on search results as well as content shares. The synopsis below that header link is what is referred to as the meta description. Both describe the content of your web page in the most concise way, and whilst also part of the creative writing process, the copy often has to be entered away from the WYSIWYG content editor, hence a slightly more technical ask. Having said that, many content management systems today, can generate these tags automatically from the copy on the web page.
- Web accessibility – although the primary aim of web accessibility standards is to help disabled people consume websites as well (e.g. for a blind person text based content can be read out by screen reader), there are some useful guidelines that can benefit SEO at the same time. For example, similarly to a screen reader, search engines can only understand text. Therefore, if you provide a transcript for your videos, alt text for your image and make the text of your links meaningful (e.g. ‘click here’ doesn’t mean anything), the text alternatives can be understood by everyone, machines and humans alike.
- Site speed and mobile friendliness – with page loading time as a vital ingredient for good user-experience and with over 50% of search queries globally now coming from mobile devices, it is no surprise that search engines rate your website based on these factors. If you work with a web agency these technicalities will be well taken care of. If your website is of the DIY type, most website templates today are already responsive. Either way, you can also test how mobile friendly your website is via Google’s Search Console.
- Link building and content promotion – I like to describe links as highways that connect the individual web pages of your web site with each other (= internal linking) as well as to the world outside your own website (= back linking, also known as inbound linking). The better the highway infrastructure the easier it is to follow the roads back to your content, both for search engines and users. There are many ways to promote your content and build backlinks – directory submissions, affiliate marketing, email marketing, social sharing and guest blogging to name only a few – however, beware as it’s about quality links, NOT quantity of links.
- Engagement and Authority – Speaking of quality, if you make it your focus for both, your content – keeping it relevant, compelling, fresh – and the places you promote it from – i.e. from trustworthy, authorative sites – your content will no doubt become magnetic. In a nutshell, your link highways make it easy for people to find your content, and the quality of your content means they click through, like what they see and start engaging with it. The likes, shares and comments are fantastic popularity votes and authority builders, and ultimately engagement and connection are key to converting.
So, these are (my) four sides to the SEO story. I’m sure that technically, or by paying, things can be taken further to rise to the top of search engine results pages (SERP), however the point I’m trying to make is that at the end of the day when it comes to attracting, keeping and (vitally) converting potential customers it all boils down to one thing: quality content.
Without content that is relevant to your target audience, translates your unique brilliance in a clear, concise and compelling way and places it strategically, there is nothing to find, nothing to promote and most crucially nothing to connect to.
All of this may mean a longer process to get clear on your proposition and build content in line with your audience, goals and values, however I firmly believe it’s the only way to long-term sustainable success. In fact, once you’ve built your content in this way, you may find that you no longer need to do anything to aid search engines, who have become quite human after all.
As so often, I like to finish off with a galore of quotes which express my own thoughts but with much more authority.
“Good content is not even trying to game the system; it wins just by being good content.” ~Sarah Richards, Content Strategist and Consultant, and first Head of Content Design for the Government Digital Service
“Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” ~Andrew Davis, Author and Keynote Speaker
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” ~Albert Einstein
Need help with your content strategy, communications planning or copywriting?
If you need help putting the heart (=excellence) back into the copy, content or communications of your business, cause or project, I will be delighted to work with you! I am Birgit Diggins, Content Strategist, Copywriter and Digital Project Manager, and Founder of Power-Words.com.