Last week, I went to a really valuable training session on Search Engine Optimisation.
Most Marketers understand the concept of SEO, and many are successfully optimising their sites for success on search engines like Google and Bing.
But it’s an area that’s constantly evolving. Refreshing yourself on best practice is always worthwhile. It’s also good to understand some of the lesser-known elements of SEO, particularly the technical elements that may often fall to someone outside the Marketing team, or a third party.
The training, run by SEO specialist agency 3WhiteHats, included a recap on what SEO means, and tips and advice on how to rank better.
SEO best practice – how to rank better
So – what’s SEO anyway? Why should we care?
SEO is ‘Achieving visibility for your brand among a target audience by appearing on search engine results pages for relevant keyphrases’.
With 73% of new web referrals (i.e. new people visiting your site) coming from search engines, making yourself visible is pretty important.
When we say ‘search engines’ – what do we mean? In the recent past, SEO efforts were focused almost entirely on Google, as the pre-eminent search engine. Increasingly, Bing is also important, as it’s Microsoft’s built-in search engine – the default for search via a Microsoft browser.
The three primary elements of SEO
Three factors determine how well you rank on search engines:
- Keyword intent
Here, there are several essential steps to making sure your site is user-friendly and delivers on readers’ expectations:
- Build solid website foundations.
Much of this is technical, so will be down to your web agency, IT team or digital marketing experts. Your website needs to be accessible and easy for search engines to read. It needs to load quickly, and provide as good a user experience on mobile as it does on a desktop.
- Create a tailored content architecture. A ‘hub and spoke’ architecture, where your primary keywords appear on a home page, with other keywords given their own sub-pages, works well by taking the reader on a clear journey.
- Add strong content. Research the best-performing marketing content and see how you can make it part of your strategy. Include your keywords, understanding the benefits of ranking for both your primary keywords and for long-tail words and phrases.
Provide content that’s deep enough to suggest expertise, and offer variety in terms of length, type (written; video; podcast; infographic) and gated vs non-gated. Long-standing URLs (albeit ones that are frequently updated with new material), long-form content and fast-loading content will score highest with search engines. How does your site perform on each of these?
- Get the technical details right. Content isn’t just what’s visible on the page: you also need to craft compelling meta descriptions and page URLs, as well as including rich snippets and schema mark-up.
Understanding the intent of your audience, and building content that responds to it, is an important element of SEO.
To rank in search, you need to speak your audience’s language. Understand what is meant by informational, commercial and transactional intent, and how they relate to your content. Knowing whether someone searching a particular term is likely to be browsing for information or actively seeking to buy a solution will be key to writing content that attracts potential clients and customers.
Researching your audience and their needs is a vital first step. Identify the key phrases that are being searched for – including the niche terms that may only have a handful of searches per month, but may be very relevant for your market.
Content on websites has three main purposes, from an SEO perspective. Firstly – to rank on its own merits. Secondly, to attract links and thirdly, to enable you to request links.
(It also, of course, has a fourth purpose, kind of unrelated to SEO but equally kind of central to it. Content needs to be relevant to your reader – and while this doesn’t directly create good rank, if you are writing valuable content for your audience, it should include the terms they’re interested in, be easy to navigate and quick to load. So in many ways, writing for your audience and writing for rank should be one and the same.)
The training said that: ‘When your website foundations are in place and your content/pages are optimal, backlinks to your website are the differentiating factor’.
Links indicate to Google and other search engines that your site is respected and valuable. Search engines assume that inbound links (links from other sites to yours) endorse its worth.
Quality over quantity is the key. Links may evolve organically; if you have good content, quality sites will want to link to yours. You can also seek them out. Spending time trying to build inbound links – whether from media partners, event organisers or other third parties you work with; publications; clients; blogs or any other reputable sites – will be well rewarded.
Who links to your competitors’ sites? Carrying out some analysis can help you identify targets for backlink requests.
Refresh yourself on SEO best practices
The training was a really useful recap of SEO and included lots of information I hadn’t heard before, on best practice site architecture, how to do effective keyphrase research, the types of content that work best for rank, and the ways you can seek out the all-important links that validate your site and will help propel you up the rankings.
You can read more of 3WhiteHats thinking and expertise on their own blog. And if you want more tips on best practice SEO in the highly-regulated financial services world, you can download a copy of our SEO tips for financial services firms. The tipsheet is free and available in our resource library.
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