Recently, a couple of our clients have asked us about how they can rank higher on Google search. Although sharing quality content is a big part of achieving this, you may also want to consider working with an SEO specialist to cover off some or all of the other aspects.
One such specialist is Marcus Miller from Bowler Hat, a specialist SEO agency based here in Birmingham. I put to Marcus some common questions that businesses can benefit from knowing the answers to. As you’ll see, for the uninitiated, there is more to SEO than meets the eye.
In part one of the Q & A, Marcus talks about the different types of SEO, what SEO activities you should prioritise, and how SEO fits into the digital marketing mix.
Sam: To kick off then, what is SEO?
Marcus: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Generally speaking, SEO is the process of getting exposure on, and traffic from, search engines in the free (organic or natural) search results.
Can you briefly describe some of the most important types of SEO?
It is hard to say what is most important in a general way - as what is important for one keyword or business category may not be so important for another.
That caveat aside, the key areas are:
1. Technical SEO
First up is technical SEO. This is ensuring Google can technically access (crawl) and understand your site. Google also cares about the user experience so ensuring your site works well on mobile and has great usability is key.
Your website is essentially a wrapper for your content. Content varies depending on the type of website or business. For a local business, it may be as simple as a description of the business and regular case studies. For a larger business, content may include regular blog posts. What really matters is that the content should aim to help your target user achieve their stated goal - the better quality of your answer (content) the more likely you will see results.
3. On-Page SEO
Once you have all pages on your site you need to sensibly optimise the content around your targeted keywords. Basics like page titles, meta descriptions and H tags are all important - as much for users as they are for search engines. You can also optimise your content around variations on your key search terms.
As an example, if we wrote an article about SEO for beginners (which we have) then we may optimise it around several variations on the searchers intent:
We can then work these terms into our on-page optimisation.
This is frequently the most difficult component of SEO and ultimately relates to how Google orders the results. Even simple searches, for example, a plumber in a given town or city, would likely have many potential results. Authority is one of the signals that Google uses to order the results and ensure the best results come first.
Authority is a complex topic, however, a key factor here is links. Links to your site and pages on your site from other relevant sites help you build authority.
Which of these is the most important?
This is impossible to give a general answer for. It changes depending on the situation. Some keywords are very locally biased. Other keywords are won by content quality and authority. We also need to consider the customer's situation - is the site rich in authority but has no relevant content or landing pages? Is the site technically optimised with great content but has no authority?
What is most important is an audit that gives you an overview of the situation and from there you can determine what is most important for each unique website.
Imagine you’re parachuted into a small business, and the owner’s main aim is to rank higher on Google search. What are the first five actions you take to achieve this?
There is really only one first action, which is to conduct an SEO and website audit. This typically looks at the keywords the customer is targeting, the marketplace and outlines a basic SEO plan.
Our audit process at Bowler Hat looks at around 150 factors across the following categories:
The output of the audit is as follows:
With this in place, we should have a good understanding of the current situation and can advise on what an SEO program would look like for a given business.
Generally, though, we do see patterns and the top 5 jobs for a typical local business are generally:
The purpose of the audit is to identify which areas need to be focused on, and to provide a targeted approach. We also tend to look at whether the customer's objectives are a good fit for SEO.
You’re an SEO specialist, but how do other aspects of digital marketing, such as content, and social media, affect SEO?
Content is an important part of SEO. Probably the most important part. You can create content that forms the backbone of your SEO campaign but that can also be used elsewhere (via social ads or some other amplification).
Social is less connected. What happens on social has no direct influence on your SEO. Although, social can have an indirect influence by raising awareness of your brand and content, and driving link acquisition.
The key point here is that other tactics don’t directly affect SEO. Rather, SEO works best in concert with other tactics.
Maybe the simplest example would be something like this:
This is a very simple but often highly effective funnel that re-markets to qualified website visitors with a direct response advert to generate leads and start conversations.
Is SEO a continuous activity, or can you ‘complete’ SEO in a certain timeframe? How long does it take?
I have to be careful here not to just answer each of these questions simply with ‘it depends’. For some very specific small local businesses, the majority of the work on the site, and external to the site, can be completed and then left. On-page optimisation, citations etc.
But this depends on how competitive your niche is. Generally, it makes sense to keep up some monitoring and link building to ensure that once good visibility is achieved, it does not slip away.
Certainly, you can complete the heavy lifting for some smaller businesses and then dial things right down. For larger projects, and national or international businesses, this is typically an ongoing process that connects with your content strategy and digital PR.
As for how long SEO takes, I have tried to answer that question in detail before. The answer? How long is a piece of string? There are just so many variables here.
Where are you starting from? What are the keywords are you targeting? What countries? What languages? It makes sense to divide SEO objectives into SMART Goals so you can map progress against specific objectives rather than simply seeking to arrive at ‘SEO’ as some vaguely promised land.
The reality here is that SEO is an ever-moving target and as such has some element of continuous work for most businesses.
Thanks to Marcus for his time and expertise. In part 2, we’ll talk about the practicalities of doing SEO as a small business - such as the kind of mistakes people tend to make, how much it costs to outsource, and what working with an SEO specialist is like.