How to be found online. Getting started with Search Engine Optimization

Remember the old days of opening a new shop somewhere? You’d spend months looking for the right location for your shop, and once you found it, your customers would pretty much come in by themselves. Now you have a website and those days are over. Because, strangely enough, visitors don’t just walk past your site. That’s where online marketing comes in: you need to make sure people will find your website. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the “Location, Location, Location!” of online marketing.

And in contrast to the old days, where a good location did at least 50% of the job, just having a great domain (your mygreatcompany.com website address) is not getting you a lot of visitors. You need Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to ‘get high on Google’ (does that sound strange coming from a Dutch agency?).

SEO explained

SEO is the “Location, Location, Location!” of online marketing

I’ll give a couple of rules which will help you reach your goals. Rules 4-8 require some technical knowledge, so if you are unable to do it yourself, ask your friendly local developer: they (usually) won’t bite.

The other rules are content related, which you should be able to do yourself. The first rule is the most important one: it has to do with a basic premise which overwrites everything. All other rules are unimportant until Rule #1 has properly sunk in. Promise you won’t skip ahead?

1). Don’t design websites for search engines. Design them for your visitor

This sounds very simple, but is the absolute key rule. Build a website with your visitor in mind (prospective customer, returning visitor, new employee, etc). Your end goal will be to attract more relevant, high quality visitors (leads) to your site.

Your goal shouldn’t be reaching Number 1 on Google with keywords you’ve decided are important. Your goal should be to keep your visitors happy while on your site. If they like your site, they will stay, buy, tell their friends and come back. Mission accomplished.

That helps your organisation more than anything else. So maybe rule 0 should be: make sure your site addresses a clear purpose for visitors. If this is not in place, there really is no point in looking at the other rules. Really.

2). Make sure your content is relevant. Update regularly

This is obvious if you look at rule number one. Google also browses through your content. Using the right ‘keywords’ is therefore the key. But how do you determine which search terms you want to be found with?

Ask your target group how they search for information on the topic you have solutions for. For example, one of our clients specialises in data recovery for hard disks. They optimised their site SEO and content for the keyword ‘Data recovery’. After disappointing results, they checked with their customers and found out they use the terms ‘repair broken harddisk’.

The fact that the actual process involves recovering all data, throw away the old drive and put the retrieved data on a new drive is irrelevant: customers believe the drive is subject to a repair and search for that. It’s semantics, but the difference was huge for their SEO results.

Google also has a nice keyword planner tool, which can help. Once you know the right keywords, use them in your content. Not every second word should be the same, because that gets annoying to read (see rule 1), but often enough for Google to sees that this keyword is very relevant.

Also update your content regularly. The store-keeper regularly changes their store inventory and shop windows to keep recurring visitors happy: same applies for web. We came across a site for an active company which hadn’t updated any content in over 8 years. 8 years! Google doesn’t appreciate that (as they assume, usually rightfully, that you are no longer active or care). Your visitors like it even less.

3). Get links on other sites. Be social. Start blogging

Up until a few years ago, there was a trend to build ghost sites which refer back to your site and this way boost your Google ranking. Google has become smarter and now punishes sites with these shady practices, so the days of rogue link-building are pretty much over.

However, Google still likes to see healthy sites link to you. It shows that your site is relevant. It obviously helps if the site which refers to you (also) has a high Google ranking. So how do you get links?

Good content is king: if your site is relevant, other sites will refer to you. It might help if you ask them, and/or link back to them as a counter-favour. For instance, imagine writing a blog post about a recent new development in your business, and you include a reference to a service which helped you achieve that new development. That link-back will help that site’s Google ranking. Maybe they can return the favour?

Using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.) is generally a good way to attract people to your site, engage them with your content and possibly convert them into customers. Your social media strategy requires thinking, planning and careful execution.

Starting a blog (like this one), is also not a bad idea. Whether you integrate it into your own site, or post it on a separate one, it draws visitors (especially if shared via social media). It also shows you are an expert on a certain topic. Make sure you also update these regularly.

4). Use title tags. It’s a 4-8 word ad

We still see a fair number of sites who have left their title tags empty. That is a double shame. First of all because it’s what shows up as a 4-8 word description in the Google search results (pretty much the shortest elevator pitch possible. Twitters 140 characters are for babies :).

Title tag at work

They also show up on your browser tab as soon as visitors are on your page. It makes sense to include your main keyword(s) here, but coming up with a good one requires serious thinking and writing, and preferably also some testing (see also rule 8).

5). Write better meta descriptions. Each page a unique one

A meta description tells the visitor (and Google) what content they can expect from each page before visiting them. The title tag is the summary of the site as a whole, and the meta description is the summary of a page. Overall the same rules apply: Use relevant keywords. Be inviting. Keep short. Test.

Google result

Bonus points if each separate page (about us, projects, news, contact, etc) gets their own unique description. This allows you to focus on more than just one or two keywords.

6). Give your pictures a better title. They deserve it

All your images should have a title. That way they can be found via Google Images, and sometimes visitors see this title if they hover over your picture. Same rules apply again. Give each picture a different title. Be relevant.

7). Make sure your site is fast. Not just for mobile users

Look back at rule no. 1. As a rule of thumb people do not like to wait. Pictures and video’s generally make your site slower. So does bad JavaScript. It annoys your visitors and they will leave (‘bounce’). And yes, Google also looks at page speed. Luckily they have a very nice tool to see where and how you(r developer) can optimise this.

If you’re below 40, start with optimising your pictures, because you’re losing visitors.

If your site is slow, but you can’t help it, there are still tons of ideas to improve the perceptive speed of your site.

8). Collect metrics. Knowing is better than guessing

The great thing about websites is that you can test changes, and you actually get to see results immediately. Traditional marketing is mostly a guessing game: You may only hope that your flyer or billboard gets noticed, or that people actually read your advertorial.

Online marketing is a two-way traffic: you get to try out different things (from using different keywords to changing the color of your shopping cart), and see the results very quickly, via Google Analytics. (Haven’t set this up yet? Do it now. It’s ok, we’ll wait for you to come back.)

Good (A/B) testing is difficult, but it’s rewarding to try out different things. Please measure the results using Google Analytics (or a similar tool) to test the results of your changes. Without that, all previous rules (even number 1) might be in vain.

Conclusion

Things change. Building good sites for your visitors will remain the key Google, being market leader, changes the ‘rules’ all the time. And they should, because the world changes, the nature of the web changes and even people who are trying to ‘trick’ search engines become smarter.

The last couple of years Google’s focus was on content (and arguably it still is), but good technique is also extremely important: from April 21, 2015 Google will ‘punish’ websites which are not responsive (perform well on multiple size platforms).

That makes sense, because it’s annoying for visitors who use different devices (see rule number 1). In a few months they will implement new rules again. That’s fine, because we no longer think only in ‘location, location, location’, but actually have the well-being of our visitors in mind.

Want to hear how Grayscale can help you best make your visitors happy? Send us an email. Or call us. We like that!