Schema for dummies – a beginner’s guide

What is schema?

Schema is a vocabulary maintained and developed by an open community. It’s like a series of flags. You can use different coloured flags to link relationships between ‘entities’ on the web. An entity could be a company, phone number, review or recipe.

Schema is broken down into ‘types’ (here’s the full list of types) and ‘properties’. For example, an ‘organization’ is a type and it has loads of properties e.g. areaServed (the geographic area where a service or item is provided) or email (email address) or foundingDate (the date that the organisation was founded).

You can use these properties to help search engines better understand the information on a website.

How do I use schema?

You have to find the schema you need on https://schema.org/. Then you have to add it to the relevant page on your website. The easiest way to add it is by using an encoding called JSON-LD (JavaScript Object Notation for Linked Data). It sounds scary, but it’s not! It’s just a way to format the schema you need into a paragraph, that can then be added to the <head> section of the relevant web page.

Why use schema?

You are making the web a better place by helping search engines, and therefore users, understand your content.

It’s not a ranking factor. Adding schema to your pages will not help those pages rank higher.

However, schema can trigger enhanced results in the search engine results pages. These results might look like a list of instructions, or a company’s customer service phone number or star reviews under a search result for a film or a product. For example:

Corporate contact

Reviews

What does the schema code look like?

In the example below, we’ve used JSON-LD to detail business information about TopLine Comms. In yellow we’re explaining to the browser that we’re using JSON-LD. Green indicates it’s the schema vocabulary. Blue is obviously the schema type we’re referencing and the pink indicates all the different schema properties.

You will notice in the example above that we had to specify the type of address we were using, and we ‘nested’ some of the properties under PostalAddress (as indicated by the slight indentation).

TIP: if you use Google’s Rich Results Test tool to check your code before you add it to your site (and you should), bear in mind you’re playing by Google’s rules. For example, in the above, the value expected for contactType is text. So as long as you’re describing what the phone number can be used for you could write anything e.g.

“contactType”: “Dog grooming helpdesk”

This would not be incorrect, but Google would say it is when you run the code through the structured data testing tool. This is because Google expects you to pick one of its approved contact types. Here’s a list of approved contact types. Always good to check Google’s documentation when drafting your JSON-LD.

How do you create it?

So, first of all, you don’t need to be able to ‘code’. There are two easy ways to create it:

  • There are loads of free tools out there that will auto-generate the schema you want to create. Simply search for ‘schema generator’, pick your tool, and away you go! Once you’ve created it and tested it you’ll need to give it to whoever manages your website and explain which page/s you want it adding to.
  • Use a CMS plugin. The most popular and best example is Yoast SEO for WordPress (£89 at the time of writing – a bargain at twice the price in my opinion!). The team at Yoast is constantly releasing new versions of the plugin that support more and more schema implementation. Well worth the investment if you’re running a WordPress site. Enables you to log in to your CMS and add the desired schema directly to the page without worrying about having to write it yourself.

Before you get started, a few things to bear in mind:

  • Google only supports and displays rich snippets for a limited number of schema types. You can find them here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/search-gallery. New types of schema are being supported all the time though, so you can never mark up too much! At worst you’re improving the internet for everyone, at best you’ll start generating new rich results without even realising it!
  • The free tools are limited – normally they’ll support a few of the more popular schema types e.g. local business, product, person etc. If you can’t find what you need then simply search online for the schema you want and then hack it around a bit – change the values to suit your purposes and then use the Rich Results Test tool to weed out any errors
  • If you’re really stuck then Google actually has a tool called Data Highlighter which is in the old version of Search Console. You can use it to easily mark-up data on your site. However, with old Search Console almost entirely replaced by new Search Console, you may find it’s a tool that’s not supported for long

Dos and don’ts…

Do…

  • Use JSON-LD and add to <head> section of the webpage
  • Specify all required properties for your rich result type (otherwise you won’t be eligible for enhanced visibility in the search results)
  • Add as many recommended properties as possible (and the rest…for tomorrow’s SERPs e.g. authorship…)
  • Add structured data to every duplicate page not just the canonical version
  • Use specific applicable type and property names
  • Make sure marked up images belong to what you say they belong to

Don’t…

  • Mark up content that is not visible to readers of the page
  • Mark up irrelevant or misleading content
  • Use structured data to deceive or mislead users
  • Mark up content that promotes illegal activities

Useful links

  1. Home of schema: https://schema.org/
  2. A more detailed beginner’s guide to schema: https://yoast.com/structured-data-schema-ultimate-guide/
  3. JSON-LD beginner’s guide – very good resource if you’re keen to learn a bit more about the format and troubleshoot your own code: https://moz.com/blog/json-ld-for-beginners
  4. Google’s testing tool – it’ll point out errors that you’ll want to fix before adding the code to your site. It’ll also enable you to check URLs that contain schema to make sure they’re hunky dory: https://search.google.com/test/rich-results
  5. Google’s currently supported (i.e. results in rich snippets) structured data types: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/search-gallery
  6. One of the many free schema generators out there: https://www.jamesdflynn.com/json-ld-schema-generator/

If you’re stuck with schema then contact us today to find out more about our SEO services.

This blog was originally published in July 2019 and has been updated for accuracy. 

Building an SEO friendly site

“Launching a new site is easy” said no one, ever. Building an SEO friendly site is hard work. We know, because we’re an SEO agency with years of experience helping clients increase the amounts of traffic and qualified leads they generate from their websites.

We thought it was only fair to share what we learnt along the way. Sharing is caring, after all.

First things first; what is an SEO friendly website? An SEO friendly website is easy for search engines to crawl and understand – it doesn’t block them with noindex meta tags or its robots.txt file. It has a logical internal linking structure using descriptive anchor text and demonstrates appropriate levels of expertise, authority and trust (EAT).

Here are our top tips for building an SEO friendly website and getting some great SEO results.

Pre-site launch

Before your site launches, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Understand SEO

Building an SEO friendly website means building a site that all search engines can crawl, understand and subsequently index. Once site pages have been indexed, search engines use them to deliver the most useful results to users based on their searches.

To create an SEO friendly website, you need to have a basic understanding of SEO. Therefore you need to read Google’s resources on how search works and its SEO Starter Guide. The Google Webmasters YouTube channel has also launched a Search for Beginners series to help you get started.

  • Do your keyword research

You need to figure out which keywords you need to target to attract traffic that’ll turn into leads. Read this for help: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research

  • Identify bottom, middle and top of funnel keywords

Bottom, middle and top of funnel keywords relate to customers at different stages of their purchasing journey. Those at the bottom already want your product, those in the middle are looking for further information and those at the top are the furthest away from buying something and are simply browsing looking for solutions to their problems. For example, someone searching for ‘What is digital PR’ is hoping to learn more about what digital PR is and is therefore higher up the sales funnel. Whereas, someone searching for ‘B2B PR agency’ is at the bottom of the funnel and likely ready to appoint an agency.

  • Plan your parent and child pages

Your parent and child pages should be based on bottom of funnel keywords. For example, if ‘animation services’ is the parent page, then different types of animation services are the child pages e.g. ‘explainer video animation’. You’re going to have to make a judgement call on whether a keyword is worthy of its own page. Long gone are the days when you’d have a page per keyword – if you’re doing that now in an attempt to manipulate search results, Google many punish you (“In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we’ll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved.”).

  • Plan your site directory structure

To ensure search engines reach your most important pages first you need to organise your site in a logical way. Google has a good resource on site hierarchy and you can visualise your hierarchy using a tool like Gliffy. We cover this some more in our guide to B2B SEO.

  • Get drafting

Next, you’ll need to prepare your parent and child page content. When writing, you should consider:

  • Target audience: Think carefully about this as it will help you produce more suitable content. Think job title, size of company they work at, specific vertical they operate in, what keeps them awake at night etc.
  • Key messages: Which ones need to be included?
  • Funnel stage: Is this content for the top, middle or bottom of the funnel? Remember, if it’s product or service landing pages you’re drafting, the content is bottom of funnel.
  • Check what the SERPs look like: If this piece is designed to rank for a keyword/group of keywords then what do the page one organic search results look like when you search the keyword? Quick analysis will enable you to produce a piece that’s better than what’s currently on page one. Also are there any featured snippets returned for your keywords that you want to try and secure? If so you’ll need to produce appropriate content – check out the Moz guide on featured snippets.
  • Searcher intent: What are the searchers trying to accomplish when they search for those keywords? What does the page need to do to ensure they’re satisfied?
  • Length: If you’re hoping of ranking for a keyword then consider the length of the articles returned on page one. Bear in mind though, long content, for the sake of being long is no good – it needs to be good quality and useful to the user too.
  • Target keyword: This is the main keyword/s that you want to target throughout your copy.
  • Secondary keywords: This is the second most important keyword/s to target throughout your copy.
  • Title tag: Target keyword should be at beginning of title tag – maximum length: 60 characters. Gear this towards encouraging clicks.
  • Meta description: This should include the keyword, a CTA and read naturally – maximum length: 160 characters.
  • H1: This is the header tag and should include the keyword.
  • URL: Keep it under 60 characters and include the keyword.
  • Content suggestions: These are the words and phrases that appear on the web pages returned by Google when you search for your target keyword. Not to be confused with the keywords themselves. Use the Page Optimisation tool within the MozBar to get these.
  • Images and video: Consider whether the page needs an image or a video and does it need to be optimised? Consider Google and other search engines still struggle to get a handle on image and video content so you need to help them out as much as possible with descriptive captions, file names, surrounding text, alt attributes, schema mark-up etc.
  • Internal links: If you’ve planned your directory structure you should have a pretty good idea which pages should link to which pages (i.e. child pages should link to parent pages and vice versa). Remember, Google likes descriptive anchor text e.g. ‘click here’ is bad, but ‘click to find out more about explainer videos’ is good
  • Structured data: adding structured data may make your page eligible to appear in special search results – like recipe lists or product info (see full list of examples here) – it’ll certainly help Google better understand the content on your page
  • Find a web agency and produce a brief

So now you’ve done your keyword research, planned your URL structure and written a lot of your SEO friendly content, you’re ready to appoint a web agency. Most websites don’t require hugely expensive content management systems (CMS) and depending on your requirements, from an SEO perspective you’re as good aligning yourself with a WordPress agency as any other. Afterall, Google has actually dedicated an engineering team to developing the WordPress ecosystem.

At a basic level (and I can’t emphasise this enough – there’s a lot that goes into a website build) you want:

  • A mobile friendly responsive website that doesn’t change its content when viewed on different size screens (e.g. make sure on a mobile all the H1s don’t suddenly disappear) – you have until March 2021 to get this right
  • A secure website – get an SSL certificate
  • A fast website – test it here: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
  • A website that’s easy to update. Request page templates and an easy to use CMS so you can quickly and easily add new pages and update content yourself
  • Google Analytics (plus any goals you might be interested in e.g. form completions, button clicks etc.) and Google Search Console set up and ready to go on day one
  • A user-friendly website. You don’t need to spend loads on user testing if you’re short on budget. Get family and friends to pretend to be customers and ask them to buy something/make an enquiry on your site, each using a different device mobile (Android and Apple), tablet, and desktop) once it’s live. Ask them to feedback on their user journey. Maybe your contact forms are too hard to find? Maybe the screen cuts off the form’s ‘Submit’ button on a mobile?
  • A website that focuses on the user experience. Google uses a set of essential metrics, called Core Web Vitals, to assess the experience provided by your site. The vitals will act as a ranking signal. The metrics that make up the Core Web Vitals will change over time, but for now they focus on loading performance, interactivity, visual stability. If your website scores highly against these metrics, you’ll be on the right path to delivering a great user experience – which is exactly what Google wants!
  • Other stuff to consider when putting your brief together:
    1. Light on JavaScript – you can make amazing sites using JavaScript but it does come with complications (e.g. search engines crawl and index JavaScript pages in two waves)
    2. Uses canonicals – lets search engines know which the original version of your page is (useful in preventing duplicate content issues). Google has a handy guide here
    3. Uses an XML sitemap – a page on a site that tells search engines where the other pages are and how frequently they should be crawled
    4. Uses structured data to tell search engines what the important bits on each page are (easiest vocab is schema and easiest format is JSON-LD – this’ll help you get started: https://moz.com/blog/json-ld-for-beginners)
    5. Pipes PageRank (link juice from any links pointing at your website) around via internal, followed ahref links
    6. Has an easy to access HTML sitemap page e.g. https://toplinecomms.com/sitemap
    7. Uses hreflang tags to indicate regional pages (if you’ve produced pages for different territories e.g. you have one page for blue widget sales in America, one for blue widget sales in the UK and one for blue widget sales in Spain, you can use hreflang tags to let Google know which is which)
    8. Lots of descriptive internal linking using absolute not relative links – search engines want to know where they’re going when they follow a link on your site e.g. bad: ‘click here to find out more about animation services’ vs. good: ‘click to find out more about animation services’. An absolute link is one that includes your whole URL instead of just part of it e.g. bad: /animation vs. good: https://toplinefilm.com/animation

‘Live dangerously’ meme for the SEO friendly website guide.

  • Create a content calendar

If you want to become an authority on your subject and what you’re selling, half-baked blogs won’t work. Focus on quality over quantity and produce fewer well-researched blogs that genuinely solve user intent. Aim for two of these per month, optimise for longer-tail keywords and use them for internal linking purposes. Always look at what’s currently returned in the search results for your target keyword and think how you can be better. Blogs could take five to ten hours each if you’re doing them properly – otherwise you just end up knocking out thin content for the sake of it which is fine if it solves a problem i.e. answers a common customer question, but pointless otherwise. Don’t blog for the sake of it.

  • Prepare the redirects

If you had an old site, then redirect all URLs from old to new. Tools like Moz can help you track links back to your old site, so you can work on getting them updated. Don’t forget legacy l.inks either i.e. links from an old old site pointing at your old site.

  • Update social

Got a new domain? Then make sure it’s added to your social platforms. It’s surprising how many people forget to do this and it’s really important.

  • Test your site

You must test your site before it goes live. Your ability to do this depends on your tech expertise and resources but we like the staging/testing environment to be noindexed, blocked by a robots.txt file and password protected so that we can ensure it doesn’t get indexed by search engines before we’ve finished testing it. You can use a free version of a crawler like Screaming Frog (it will crawl up to 500 URLs for free) to check for things like duplicate content issues.

  • Track your keywords

An SEO friendly site only fulfils that criteria if it actually ranks for your target keywords and attracts the right kind of traffic that then turns into leads, qualified leads and sales. Ensure you have keyword tracking set up before the site goes live so you can monitor progress and the results of your hard work!

Site launch

Once your site launches, you’ll want to have a checklist ready to go through to make sure it’s working properly and generally doing what it’s supposed to do.

Here’s our mini checklist for your site launch:

1. Technical spot checks

  • Is the site working? Check across a few different browsers.
  • How fast is it?
  • Can it be accessed on different devices (e.g. mobile, desktop etc.)?
  • Are the contact details correct?
  • Do the forms/contact email addresses work?
  • Are your priority pages returning any errors? You can use a free tool like Page Insights to check individual pages, or use Search Console – you can submit individual pages to be crawled. We think Search Console is a better way to do it because it also enables you to check the page rendering i.e. what the search engine can see when it crawls your page. It’s important to check it can actually see all your page content, and you can a free tool like Google’s very own Lighthouse to check the whole domain.
  • Is Google Analytics showing real time traffic and real time event completions (if you have events set up)?
  • Crawl the new site to verify that there are no 404s or 301s (or any other 3xx, 4xx, or 5xx codes), no index directives, header tag issues or robot.txt issues.

2. Submit the site’s XML sitemap in Search Console (thus prompting the search engine to crawl your site).

There’s no getting away from it – launching a new site is hard work – and the above is a fairly basic one size fits all guide – every new site launch has its own nuances. But if you do it right and get your SEO strategy down from the start, then you’ll reap the rewards. Take it from us – over 70 percent of the leads we generate come through our website.

And, if you need help with any of the above, drop us a line!

Bringing experts together to talk about child safety in the lockdown

One of a school’s most vital responsibilities is student safeguarding – the responsibility that schools have to track concerns about students so that they can get help. Teachers are the first line of defence against abuse, mental health issues, radicalisation, and a host of other issues, but as the lockdown began, systems weren’t in place to fulfil their safeguarding duties remotely. While schools remained open for at-risk students, attendance numbers were around five percent, and in some parts of England child protection referrals dropped by half.

Leading EdTech company Impero wanted to raise awareness of its free, online safeguarding software, to help teachers effectively safeguard the children in their care while schools were closed, and to prepare for schools reopening.

Impero was giving something away that could potentially play a role in protecting children from harm, so we put all of our creative energy and expertise as a B2B PR agency into getting the message out.

Impero needed to:

  • Highlight the challenges of safeguarding during the pandemic
  • Be positioned as an authority on the issue of safeguarding children

Our Strategy:

To make Impero the software provider synonymous with safeguarding, we:

  • Commissioned research with teachers to understand how Covid-19 had impacted on their safeguarding policies.
  • Compiled a panel of influencers and experts, including a Chief Constable, to join a virtual roundtable, and share their insights.
  • Invited a selection of top tier education journalists to listen to the panel and pose their questions.
  • Produced a video recording of the panel, promoted via an e-shot and social media.

Results:

  • Eight top tier journalists attended, including reporters from The Times, The Telegraph, Mail Online and TES Magazine.
  • Resulting coverage in TES and further opportunities with The Telegraph.
  • 50 new leads at the time of writing
  • Shorter video clips used across social channels, where one post had 1,717 impressions with 163 total engagements on Twitter and 687 impressions on LinkedIn, with 180 total engagements.

Impero’s pledge to keep the software free forever means that schools will be able to continue to track student wellbeing as schools return, and we’re proud to have played a role in getting the word out.

To learn more about how we can help you increase awareness of your business, contact us today.

Some serious SEO results

Market-leading Access Self Storage was looking to attract more online leads and decrease its cost per lead. To do this, Access needed to generate more leads from organic search.

Access had the following objectives:

  • To identify what keywords consumers use to find self-storage solutions
  • To boost its website rankings for those keywords
  • To attract more leads from organic search
  • To remove penalties imposed by Google for previous spammy SEO activity

The Context

Access operates in a highly competitive market, and, with over 50 stores across the country, needed to make sure that it ranked for local keywords relevant to each store.

In addition, a previous SEO supplier had tried to game Google’s algorithm which had resulted in a manual action and Access being deindexed.

The Strategy

We developed a highly bespoke local SEO strategy that included:

  • Intensive keyword research to identify over 350 keywords that could send customers to the Access site
  • Meta data optimisation
  • Local landing page copy focussed on store location and vicinities
  • Regular blog content based on the affiliate interests of converting customers
  • Optimised horizontal and vertical internal linking structure
  • Google My Business, Apple Maps Connect, Bing Places for Business and Facebook verification and optimisation
  • My Business review building
  • Citation cleaning and building
  • Editorial driven link building
  • Competitor backlink and content monitoring
  • Desktop and mobile keyword tracking, organic traffic and cost per acquisition measurement

The results

The campaign delivered:

  • 90 followed links with an average domain authority of 9
  • A 230% increase in relevant keywords ranking (115 vs 380)
  • Manual action removed by Google
  • A 56% increase in UK organic traffic
  • A 117% increase in organic UK leads
  • A 117% decrease in cost per acquisition

Working with TopLine has resulted in our desktop keyword and mobile rankings smashing previous records; we’ve never had as many keywords ranking in the top five – the result of this is our organic leads have hit a record high and our cost per acquisition has dropped 117% to an all-time record low. TopLine takes an ethical content-led approach to search marketing and we’re delighted with the results.”

Stavros Vichos, Marketing Manager, Access Self Storage

Find out more about our SEO services.

The essential guide to B2B SEO

The humble website is more important than ever. This is because, where the public face of your company is concerned, it’s basically the centre of the universe: it’s your shop window, it’s the thing you’re pointing to on social networks, and it’s a Gatling gun in your business development arsenal. Of course, if you remember the brochureware websites of yesteryear – the age of the dial-up tone and Titanic making more money than most small economies – you’ll remember that it wasn’t always this way. A website was something optional, something you stuck on a business card and in an email signature: a resource for people who already knew who you were.

These days, if most of your site visitors are people you already know, then it’s a major red flag. This is because a bunch of people – sometimes a couple thousand, sometimes millions – are looking for what you’re offering every month. But if your website isn’t easily accessible and visible in a search engine, they won’t know you’re offering it, and they’ll get it from your more web-savvy competitors, regardless of how blatantly inferior, more expensive, and dubiously hygienic they may be. In fact, research shows that if your site doesn’t show up on the first page, it probably won’t gain any traction with searchers. Ideally, you want the top two positions – it’s optimal from a web traffic and lead gen POV. Check out these stats:

Essentially: high = good, low = bad. With fewer clicks come fewer opportunities – so it’s smart to get as close to the top as you possibly can. And while you may be surprised at how low the percentages are above when it comes to searches resulting in organic desktop and mobile clicks (61% and 40% respectively), consider that the equivalent PPC stats (i.e. the percentages of searchers who click on the ads that appear in search engine results pages) are 4% on desktop and 4% on mobile.

What is SEO?

SEO is actually a pretty simple concept. The most important thing to understand is that Google (or Bing) wants to return the best possible results for its users. This basic idea should inform every aspect of your SEO strategy.

Google – or rather, its spiders – look at (or ‘crawl’) every webpage (e.g. your homepage or any other page on your site).

The collected info is then fed into Google’s algorithm and it decides, based on the information returned by the spiders, whether it should return the page as a result when someone conducts a search that might be related to the content on the page.

Google’s algorithm has over 200 ‘ranking factors’ which it uses to establish the page’s authority (things like the content on the page and architecture of the site) and the likelihood of it satisfying a search. It then ranks it accordingly. If somebody looks for life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs, for example, and you have the dubious honour of running the internet’s best page on life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs, you’ll be pinned right to the top of page one.

It’s possible to ‘optimise’ a page to help Google get a better idea of what it’s about. Optimisation comes in the form of on-site optimisation (i.e. stuff you can do on your website) and off-site optimisation (i.e. stuff you can do online but away from your site). Striking the right balance between both is essential.

On-site optimisation

Successful on-site optimisation (the stuff you can directly influence on your own website) is mainly focused on: keywords, content and design. Get these right, and you’re well on your way to SEO success!

  • Keywords

To get found, your website pages need to feature terms (aka ‘keywords’) your target audience is searching for. This seems self-explanatory – after all, if you’re selling fishing rods, you’re not going to make a page about tennis or lobsters or whatever.

The process of discovering the best keywords for your business is called keyword research. It involves everything from reviewing the competition to see what they’ve optimised their websites for, to reviewing the PPC ads that are returned when you search for your company’s product or service to see which keywords they contain.

A good starting point is Google’s own Keyword Planner. It will only give you broad estimates on keyword search volumes (Google now only provides one of seven volume sizes: 0–10, 10–100, 100–1,000, 1,000–10,000, 10,000–100k, 100k–1M and 1M+ ) – unless you are a fully paid-up advertiser, but it at least gives you an idea of which keywords are searched for and could be worth targeting. Other paid-for keyword research tools are available.

Once you have an initial list of keywords you think might be relevant to your business, you can use tools like Answer the Public and Soovle to create long tail (‘long tail’ means three or four words plus) versions of them – very handy for future blog content for example. It’s also kind of entertaining to just type in ‘how’ and see what kind of messed-up stuff people are putting into Google these days; you’re welcome for that little time waster!

TIP

Think about user intent during the keyword research process. Certain keywords indicate the searcher is ready to buy, whereas other keywords suggest they are still in the research phase. For example, someone searching for ‘B2B SEO’ probably wants to know what it is. Someone searching for ‘B2B SEO agencies’ is probably interested in appointing one.

Once you’ve done your keyword research, you need to create pages optimised for these keywords.

For example, if you want to rank for ‘life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs’ (seriously, how did you get into that industry?) then you want to create the best page ever on the subject. You’ll want to make sure the keyword and synonyms of it appear in the text on the page and that it’s used in the metadata (‘metadata’ is the supplementary info on a page that tells search engines what a page is all about).

Example metadata includes:

  • Title tag – the blue underlined search result that appears in Google when you search for summink – this is a very important place to put your target keyword because it’s an on-page SEO signal. You’ll find it in the HTML <head> section of any webpage e.g. <title>Life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs</title>
  • Meta description – this is the small paragraph of text that appears in Google’s search results, e.g. <meta name=”description” content=”Only the very best life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs. Live your fantasy friendships with our cardboard constructions. Call 08444112233 for more info.”/>. Meta descriptions aren’t used by Google as direct ranking factors, but they can impact click-through-rate, which is a ranking signal.
  • Alt attribute – this is descriptive text that’s invisible to the user (unless they have visually impaired settings activated) that Google crawls to understand what an image is about. The copy should describe the image and include the target keyword (or at least a synonym) in a non-spammy way. e.g. alt=“Life-size celebrity cardboard cut-outs of Daniel Craig.”

To edit metadata, you should log into your content management system (frequently shortened to ‘CMS’ – the software that manages your web content. Think WordPress, Joomla etc.) or ask your web developer/the agency that built your site to do so on your behalf (if you don’t have an easy to use CMS).

Beside the metadata you’ll need to include the keyword throughout the page and its copy. This includes in the title (which you’ll want to have tagged as an H1), in the sub-headers, the body content and in the URL (although when planning this you should take the site structure into consideration – see section 3).

Careful though. Long gone are the days where you can take a single keyword and stuff it into the copy as many times as possible with total disregard for quality, logic, grammar and comprehensibility. Alongside your primary keyword choice, you should use variations, synonyms and related terms to improve quality and relevance. Google will assess your page in-line with the other pages ranking for your target keyword and if it’s not using similar language and common terms typical for the industry, Google may smell a rat and decide that your page is not the quality of result it wants to show its users for that particular search term.

  • Content

Content is probably the most important part of on-site optimisation.

The truth is that poor or irrelevant content can be as much a turnoff for Google as a slow-loading site or one that isn’t mobile-friendly. Don’t spam pages with ‘life-sized celebrity cardboard cut outs’ repeatedly: this will alienate the weirdos who come to your page to buy them, and search engines are wise to this trick anyway. Use keywords in a natural and relevant way and don’t forget, Google’s smart enough to understand synonyms as well.

Dedicate sections of your site to specific topics to ensure your company is seen by search engines and users as an authority on them. You could have a section of your site dedicated to life-sized celebrity cardboard cut outs and have pages sitting within this section breaking it down into specific categories – such as actors, footballers and singers. Don’t forget to use keyword optimised internal links on your site to further reinforce your topic expertise. For example, your life-sized cardboard cut outs page would link to your actors page using the keyword that you’d chosen to optimise that page for e.g. ‘carboard cut outs of actors’.

And remember, it’s a common misconception that SEO leads to clunky content writing: it may be true if you’re doing it incorrectly, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the case. If we’re being honest, if your content isn’t focused, on-topic, and interesting to your prospects it probably won’t rank anyway!

Good quality, well optimised, well structured, relevant content, that gives your users what they’re looking for, is needed to stand a chance at ranking.

  • Design & Structure

A well-built website should have a logical structure that allows search engines to crawl it quicksmart. This will help Google to understand the importance of certain parts based on their prominence. Basically, your most important pages should be located as close to your homepage as possible from a ‘clicks’ perspective (conduct a ‘click test’ – how many clicks does it take to get from your homepage to your most important pages? If it takes one click then Google assumes it’s an important page, if it takes six clicks then Google assumes it’s a less important page) and every page on the site should be accessible via internal linking.

Once you have done your keyword research, you’re ready to plan out your site’s structure. This is called Keyword Mapping. The process involves assigning keywords from your research to pages on your website. These can either be existing pages to be optimised, or new pages to be created and optimised. Chances are you’ll find multiple keywords from your research that could work for a single page. A good idea is for each page to have a primary keyword – which has decent search volume, the right user intent and is not too competitive to rank for – which can be supported by secondary keywords. It’s likely that once you have your list of keywords and pages, your site structure will need a little tweaking to accommodate everything. We love drawing our revised site structures out to help visualise where the pages will sit (Gliffy is a great tool for this). Drawing it out also helps plan all the redirects you need so you don’t end up with a bunch of rogue 404s!

Consider

If there is no internal linking, then how will Google’s spiders reach the right pages and crawl them? Internal links could come in the form of links in the text of the page; a sitemap page that links to every page on the site (always a good idea to have one of these that dynamically updates as you create more pages); or links in the site navigation.

It’s also worth mentioning mobile design at this stage. Google uses a mobile-first index. This means that the pages it returns in its results are the mobile versions of web pages. For example, if you have a mobile website in addition to your standard website (normally indicated by an ‘m.’ e.g. m.example.com) Google will return pages from the mobile site. Most modern websites are responsive (i.e. they adapt to the size of the device the search is being conducted on) which is great because in theory the same website is returned regardless of whether the search is conducted on a desktop or mobile (worth checking with your website agency/developers that your responsive site definitely is the same on mobile – we have seen instances where the reshaping of the site for mobile has resulted in important information on the site being lost which has subsequently affected its ability to rank for keywords).

Accordingly, a slow-loading website is a major no-no. Google is so insistent on this that they’ve even provided free tools (one of which is PageSpeed Insights) you can use to test how fast your site responds – both for convenience and, one assumes, so you’ve got no excuse!

The overall user experience on your site (including load speed) is becoming an increasingly important search indicator. To help businesses and webmasters manage and improve their user experiences, Google has released a Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. It visualises how your pages are performing in relation to key factors with a handy traffic light system so you know exactly what to fix. Google really does want businesses to succeed at SEO, because it means they can offer better results to searchers!

A screenshot of B2B SEO reporting tool Google Search Console

Off-site optimisation

  • Indexing

A great site is no good if Google doesn’t know about it. You need to alert them to its existence – and, more importantly, its value – as soon as it’s ready. Use Google Search Console to register your site and submit a sitemap containing your pages: this will ensure the search engine crawls them all (you can also use Search Console to submit individual URLs for indexing – a useful tool if you’re regularly publishing new content for example and don’t want to submit a new XML sitemap every time).

  • Link building

Among the most important of Google’s ranking factors are hyperlinks pointing to your site from other sites. Google uses these links as votes of confidence. The basic concept is that the more links you have, the more authoritative Google thinks your website is and the higher your site will rank for keywords you’ve optimised it for.

There are several caveats.

Once upon a time, SEO professionals would build hundreds of links from spammy networks of sites to game the system. That tactic no longer works and does way more harm than good. Instead, you want to think about how relevant the site is that you’re building a link on as well as the quality of that site. If I have a fishing website and I manage to get a link from www.anglersmail.co.uk then that’s great because it helps search engines understand your site is about fishing.

It’s also important to understand not all links are born equal. There are four types of hyperlink – a followed, a nofollowed link, a sponsored link and a user-generated content (ugc) link. In the case of followed links, Google’s spiders will travel through the link to the destination site and start crawling that (thus passing ‘link juice’). Nofollowed, sponsored and ugc links don’t automatically pass on link juice in the same way as the followed links. These directives are used as hints by Google as it decides which links to include or exclude within its search system.

Want to know how to tell if a link is followed or nofollowed? Download the MozBar and use its handy highlighter:

Screenshot of the MozBar, used by many B2B SEO agencies.

Good link building however, is tough; it requires a creative, metrics-driven approach and it’s seen a lot of traditional SEO agencies fade away as older spammy tactics cease to work. We think the best way of building links in the good quality, contextually relevant publications you need, is by a digital PR strategy backed-up with top-notch media relations.

And if you do decide to go down the spammy route…

When you’re caught cheating or counting cards in a casino, you’re thrown out, and Google responds with similar force when it thinks a website is trying to trick it. And, as is also true of casinos, in the long run, the house always wins. Maybe you’re a genius SEO conman: maybe you’ve genuinely come up with a way to beat it. It won’t matter. Your victory will inevitably be short-lived: Google will almost certainly update its (increasingly complex) algorithms to accommodate your tricks at the first opportunity. Its reputation depends on it.

Trying to defeat Google is like trying to fistfight the sun: you’ll waste a lot of energy, and you’re liable to get horribly burned in the process. For example:

  • When it was discovered that links counted in search engine rankings, some smart Alecs decided to indulge in a spot of link-farming: building vast networks of sites that all linked to each other in order to rack up huge numbers of links to their own webpages. Because this was detrimental to user experience – it pushed irrelevant sites right up the search rankings – Google responded by penalising sites in their updated algorithms (this is why Penguin exists).
  • People realised keywords in copy were a critical variable in most rankings. So they decided to flood their sites with keyword-packed text – often irrelevant to the site itself. Some webmasters even packed their sites with invisible text (black writing on a black background, for example) or in tiny, imperceptible writing. Google didn’t update their algorithms to ignore this tactic: again, they updated them to actively penalise them. Overnight, these SEOs were rewarded for their deviousness with terrible, terrible rankings. Or simply removed from Google altogether.

For a long time, Google’s motto was ‘don’t be evil’. By no means does this make it a soft touch. When Google thinks it’s being messed with, it responds promptly, brutally, and without mercy.

In short: don’t be a smart arse.

Getting SEO right

You’ve got the basics down – congrats! – but now you’ve got to get to grips with the key elements of a successful SEO campaign. Why? Because again, SEO changes a LOT. This field has been around for over two decades, and it hasn’t sat still since: algorithms are constantly changing, and a strategy that worked last year may not do it today. In time, the information contained in this very blog could be entirely irrelevant: useful only as a historical snapshot of what SEO looked like at this moment in time.

Still, here are five ways to do it right, for now, at least. You may need to outsource some of this – again, it’s very time-consuming and requires ongoing maintenance – but understanding it will allow you to appoint a consultancy that can make the right campaign and get the right results.

1.    Start with the basics

With all that said, it’s still worth keeping some time-honoured SEO rules in mind.

  • Be mobile-friendly – Google indexes mobile sites instead of desktop sites in its search results. This means you want to ensure your mobile site is also the main site you update with all your great content. If, on the other hand, you have a separate mobile subdomain (e.g. m.example.com) then it’s important to consider how authoritative it is. If it’s a light version of your desktop site (less content, fewer inbound links etc.) then you may find it doesn’t rank as well as the desktop one did.
  • Check your metadata (think title tags, image alt attributes, URL structure etc.)
  • Do your keyword research before writing concise, engaging, keyword-rich content that demonstrates value to your visitors. Keyword research is an exhaustive subject and probably worthy of a guide in itself. If you want to read more about it, then the Moz blog is a good place to start – here’s Moz’s starter for ten on keyword research.
  • Make your website easy for users and the search engine spiders to navigate and find – a Google My Business / Bing Places / Apple Maps Connect map listing is essential if you’re a small business with a localised offering – with limited resources to invest in online SEO, it’ll be the fastest and cheapest way for potential customers to find you.
  • A short, simple rule that won’t see you go wrong: Good quality content always wins.

There are, of course, many more basic best practice elements to a successful SEO campaign – get acquainted with all of them! If you’re looking for some more SEO knowledge, Google has created its own SEO starter Guide too.

2.    Analyse insights and trends

Where SEO is concerned, there’s no such thing as analysis paralysis. Tools like Keyword Planner, Search Console and Google Trends provide a distinct opportunity to keep up with hot B2B topics and popular search terms. Analysis of the data these tools provide can give you some idea of what you should be writing about – and how you can increase your web traffic. Search Console is deffo worth a look – it’s free and Google provides a lot of information on the performance of your website that’s very understandable, even if you don’t have any SEO knowledge.

Search engines increasingly punish sites with thin content (Google’s Panda update is particularly mean about this) so you’ll want to feed them new, optimised, and rich material on a regular basis. Employ those analytics tools to maximise your SEO value and you’ll be well ahead of your competitors.

3.    Publish fresh content regularly

There’s value in your old stuff, but it’s worth repeating: a reliable stream of fresh content is your best way of maximising your organisation’s SEO value. Google is getting stronger and stronger: it’s constantly updating to ensure its users only get the most relevant search results for their queries.

But it’s not quite as simple as including bundles of original new content. It should also be of value and interest to your reader. Content that isn’t engaging or valuable will lead to higher bounce rates (people clicking on your site, not liking what they’ve found and then leaving immediately), which the search engines will notice.

4.    Go social

Optimise your website for social: this will allow your audience to share your content easily, enabling you to rack up the visitor numbers, increase engagement, and build top-notch links to your company site. Even better, Google still displays tweets in its search engine results – so if something’s been RT’d and favourited a bunch of times, it could well show up on page one in future!

But remember – social media is about building trust and sharing valuable knowledge, not selling. You might have a terrific product, but people don’t want to hear about it on Twitter. They go on Twitter to ask questions, broadcast their fascinating opinions, and laugh at pictures of cats. It can help you sell, but you should never appear to be on there for that exclusive purpose.

5.    You can leave your (link) hat on

Again: links from other websites are one of the most important off-site ranking criteria. You need to be cynical about how you approach link building: in every relationship, partnership, or association you enter into ‘Can I get a link?’ should be in the back of your mind. Wrote a cool piece for a major trade publication? Ask for a link in your by-line as though it were your birth right. Joining a new industry association? Offer to get one of your team to write some content about it, include a followed link to your website, and if they don’t include it, email them to ask why.

If you’ve partnered with a new vendor, ask for a link on your partner profile. Get on directory sites like Thomson Local and Yelp. Link opportunities are everywhere, and if you reach out and grab them, your keyword rankings will benefit.

Choosing the right SEO provider

Ironically enough, finding a good SEO agency can be incredibly difficult. This is because they all tend to promise the same things: a position on page one, within the top five results, for every pertinent keyword. If they weren’t doing this, you get the distinct feeling they’d be peddling love potions and all-natural cure-alls.

Search for an SEO agency in the UK alone and you’ll get millions of results. You definitely don’t have the time to go through all of them. Given the nature of the topic, it’s tempting to just pick the very first one – after all it’s a poor cobbler who can’t keep their children in decent shoes!

But it’s a bit knottier than that. SEO isn’t solely about simply optimising the HTML and keyword content on your site. The Panda and Penguin updates both talk about the importance of original, relevant, and regularly updated content for websites that want high-ranking positions, so having a good supply of great material will be more important than ever. Choosing an agency that can provide this – and a steady stream of high-quality links – should be at the forefront of your mind, along with these key questions.

And if in doubt, watch Google’s video about picking an SEO agency! Can’t get better than straight from the horse’s mouth.

Can the agency produce well written, keyword-rich content?

Essentially: does the agency have the know-how and authority to write for the business you operate in and maintain your brand reputation? Using keywords as though they were jigsaw pieces isn’t going to do it. It’s about strategically deploying original content and news to demonstrate that your business can be trusted.

Does the agency have its ear to the ground?

A good agency is an up-to-date agency: one that knows the ‘trending stories’, the hot topics, the hippest lingo – all the relevant, need-to-know industry information that could potentially increase engagement with your visitors and prospective customers.

How proactive is the agency when it comes to keyword research?

SEO isn’t a one-and-done process. Optimising your site for current, high-volume, lead-gen search terms is part of the job description: everyone does it. Finding an agency that makes use of all relevant data – trend reports, social analysis, etc. – to attract a different kind of prospect or find a new, potentially breakout search term? That’s an entirely different proposition.

The ones that will give you lasting success are the ones that will stay ahead of the competition. SEO is an ongoing process – the agency that can deliver real results will be the one that uses all the analytical tools in its arsenal to deliver a continually-optimised keyword research strategy.

Are they technically competent?

While the advent of SEO friendly CMSs and plugins like Yoast have massively reduced the level of technical expertise required for SEO, the agency you chose should still know their hreflang tags from their canonicals and their JSON-LD from their redirects. You’re not expected to know much about this but you should expect them to break it all down into understandable chunks so you have a better idea of what needs to be done and why.

Will the agency integrate the SEO campaign with other digital marketing and communications campaigns that you’ve invested your brand and money into?

As fresh, interesting, user-focused content grows further in importance for SEO, it’s essential that the content produced remains consistent with the overall brand message and image presented in your other digital marketing campaigns. Hiring an agency that is familiar with your industry and that can provide an integrated digital marketing and communications service that considers SEO, social media and PR should be at the top of your business’ list.

Keywords are important, but unless they’re surrounded by good, relevant content, they’re essentially pointless. Google knows what users are looking for, and it recognises sneaky webmasters. It’s not yet able to see you when you’re sleeping, and it doesn’t know when you’re awake (unless you own a Fitbit), but it’s only a matter of time. All your content should be keyword-optimised, on-brand, and on-message: go for a service that can balance all these priorities in an integrated marketing strategy.

And so…

SEO is a rapidly evolving field, and B2B organisations need to ensure they work with providers that can balance technical skills with business insights and the ability to create compelling content. In almost every industry, investing in quality SEO will deliver direct and measurable benefits in the form of website visits and, most importantly, qualified leads. Selecting an agency is a bit like falling in love or finding a good burger place: it takes time, but you’ll know the one when you see it. And it’s always worth it in the end.

If you’re considering a comprehensive SEO strategy to boost your lead gen, contact our digital team for a chat.

 

Written by: Tom Pallot, Digital PR and SEO Strategist at TopLine Comms

Choosing a good SEO company

Choosing a good SEO company is tricky, mainly because it’s really hard to figure out what a good SEO company looks like. Talking to search marketers often doesn’t help: their jargon is dense and impenetrable to the point that it’s often hard to understand what’s actually being said and why it matters.

It makes you feel like the school bully in a 1980’s coming-of-age drama: at the end of the day, you just want these silly nerds to stop babbling and give you what you want (swirlies optional, but highly recommended).

The worst part of this opaque, laborious process is that it isn’t even successful all that often. We’re an SEO company ourselves, and we’re often the second, third, or fourth agency a business works with. Why do the others fail? The reasons are legion: they engage in dubious, black-hat processes; they use outdated, ineffective practices; they let algorithm update after algorithm update pass them by (please don’t swirly us); they build poor spammy links – the list is extensive unfortunately.

Of course, knowing why they fail isn’t enough to succeed. So how do you go about choosing a good SEO company?

Warning Signs

You don’t need to read every page of the SEO handbook: for one thing, it’s updated often enough that it’s likely to be old news by the time you’re finished; for another, it’s a task for your search agency. The key is to make sure they know it – and how they can use it to solve your particular business needs.

In your early conversations, you want to see evidence of a modern approach to SEO. Warning signs at this stage include:

  • Low cost – if they’re offering to get you to position one for hundreds of pounds they’ll be using spammy techniques that will cripple your website in the longer term. You might not believe it, but Google penalises sites that use spammy links – if your website is a lead generator, these penalties can be disastrous. Good SEO costs thousands not hundreds I’m afraid – AVOID.
  • Mentioning things like – link wheels, reciprocal links, forum comments, advertorial (paying for media coverage) – all connected to old school black hat tactics and all likely to get your website penalised by Google – AVOID.
  • Newswires – lots of old school SEO agencies know they need to do good PR for their clients these days but they lack the skill, so they turn to paid for newswires to distribute their clients’ news in the hope of attracting links. These result in paid for links. These are seriously frowned upon by Google – read about the Penguin part of the Google algorithm if you want to find out more – AVOID.
  • No strategy – good SEO agencies build strategies consisting of technical onsite tactics, great keyword research, content creation, PR, link building etc. If they cite one tactic to solve all your problems – AVOID.
  • No interest in your business objectives – SEO is there to help you meet your business objectives. If an agency is only prepared to talk to you about how good they are at improving keyword rankings and not about stuff like how they increased organic traffic, reduced client cost per acquisition, cost per deal etc. – AVOID.
  • No content team – remember, search marketers don’t just make reports and tweak your website. They are, in some respects, your business’s writers: they’re responsible for creating keyword-rich web copy and generating links with quality PR content (if they know what they’re doing – find out more about that here).
  • In the course of doing these things, they’re also serving as brand representatives. At the very least, you should want them to understand your brand.

Finding an SEO company

The most immediately obvious means of finding a quality SEO agency is Google. After all, if they aren’t near the top of the rankings, there’s clearly something wrong with them. Cobbler’s children, etc. etc.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Rankings are, for one thing, subject to change; usually because of a change in the algorithm, or a change in Google policy to punish ‘black hat’ practices such as page swapping, invisitext, or link buying – often via the algorithm (we keep saying ‘algorithm’, we’re really sorry).

We appear at or near the top for several keywords ourselves (search for “B2B PR agency” – we’re quite proud of that one) but we’d never pretend that this is, in itself, an indicator of what we can do for you. When it comes to choosing an SEO agency, do your due diligence. Get recommendations. Proposals. Concrete examples of what they have achieved and what they think they can achieve. Get some notion of how they intend to pursue ranking opportunities, increase conversion rates, and translate your requirements into tangible business value.

How much time do they intend to spend on onsite vs. offsite optimisation? And don’t take “50/50” for an answer. Can they provide evidence of successful link-building from high domain authority (a metric from Moz that gauges the trustworthiness of various websites) sources, and is their own domain authority reasonably high? Do they have case studies – with real metrics – that prove the value of their approach?

If they have good, realistic answers to these questions, and if they know what your business is trying to achieve, they’re probably a safe bet – congratulations, you’ve solved the problem of choosing a good SEO company! If they make promises they can’t keep, demonstrate a willingness to use unethical methods – or worse, attempt to hide their use of unethical methods – and haven’t kept up to date, then it’s wise to meet with a few more candidates.

You might also be interested in:

SEO 101: a Coronavirus crash course

While the world goes into Covid lockdown, it’s imperative your business doesn’t. However, with events cancelled, biz dev teams facing reduced networking opportunities and telesales teams calling empty offices, it’s important you’re set-up to generate as many inbound leads as possible.

Appearing in Google’s search results for words and terms prospects are searching for is central to your inbound new business efforts. This process is called search engine optimisation (SEO).

We’ve put together a very rough and ready guide to get started. If you’re working form home and looking for things you can do to support your sales teams, have a read and then drop us a line with any questions.

Jump to section:

  1. Before you get started
  2. Keyword research
  3. Keyword analysis
  4. Adding keywords to your site
  5. Sort technical issues
  6. Attract links
  7. Track performance
  8. Get help

Before you get started…

Watch Google’s Search for Beginners YouTube series – ten quick lessons in the basics of SEO: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKoqnv2vTMUOHPb5IJIn-7egNRmsvbPIE

Read the official Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7451184

Then read How Google Search Works: https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/

Install Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Now you have a solid background in SEO and you’re prepped to measure the traffic you’re about to start generating.

Do your keyword research

There are loads of guides out there on this – I’ll point you in the direction of Moz’s as they have a long history of producing excellent SEO content: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research

TL;DR – make a long list of terms and phrases relevant to your business – ask yourself the following questions for inspiration:

  • What are your priority services/products?
  • What are the various names of your product/solution?
    • Are they known by anything else?
    • Have they been called anything else in the past?
    • Will they be called anything else in future?
  • Is your product modular? Does it have component parts? What are they known as?
  • Are there any common suffixes or prefixes (known in the SEO world as ‘modifiers’) customers use when describing the product or solution e.g. price, training, support, partner, implementation, modules, reviews, geographic, industry specific, plurals?
  • What are the typical customer pain points this product/solution addresses? Are they associated with questions people search for answers to online?
  • What keywords appear in PPC ads in Google when you search for some of the most common words and phrases you’ve unearthed so far?
  • Review Google’s autocomplete and ‘Searches related to…’ suggestions when you search for some of the most common words and phrases you’ve unearthed – anything worth adding to your long list?
  • Review your competitors’ websites – who appears when you search for the generic names of your services/products online? What kinds of keywords are they including on their product/solution website pages?

Keyword analysis

You have a long list of keywords. Now you need to figure out which ones to target.

You’re looking for the right combination of high volume (lots of searches per month) + low competition (organic search engine competition is low) + correct user intent (keyword is likely to be searched for by someone at the right stage of the buying journey/sales funnel).

Bottom of sales funnel keywords (e.g. B2B PR agency) tend to get the most searches and result in the most conversions, but also tend to be the hardest to rank for; longer tail keywords, higher up the sales funnel, tend to get fewer searches but are easier to rank for

Consider your competition:

  • If your website has a higher domain authority than the other websites that appear on the page one when you search for your keyword, then you’ve probably got a decent chance of competing for a page one spot (likewise, if your domain authority is lower, but the page authority of the page you’re intending to optimise is higher, then you may still have a chance)
  • Google your target keyword and assess page one results – are you able to create content that’s better than the content that currently ranks?

You can use Moz’s Keyword Explorer to assess keyword difficulty (if you sign up for a free Moz Account you get ten free queries per month) and Google’s Keyword Planner to assess search volumes (it’s free to assess search volumes, though if you don’t have a paid advertising campaign running you’ll only get the broad ranges – still, better than nothing!). This ahref’s blog is a must read if you’re going to use Keyword Planner: https://ahrefs.com/blog/google-keyword-planner/

If you do want to spend a little bit on research (and the more accurate you can be the better so this is sensible expenditure) then we’d recommend Keywords Everywhere – it’s pay as you go and combines Google data with clickstream data to give you a realistic idea of search volume. Setup and usage video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpKNXGQCHzU

Add target keywords to your site

This is where it’s worth rereading the Google SEO guide sections on organising your site hierarchy and optimising your content.

Basically you need to optimise your existing site content or create and upload new site content.

At a really basic level, produce content you think your users will find the most useful.

Do a technical audit and fix the most obvious stuff

So you understand what SEO is, you’ve got a good idea of the keywords you want to target and you’ve optimised your site content. Now it’s time to assess your website from a technical SEO perspective to make sure there’s nothing  hindering your ability to rank in Google’s search engine results pages.

Easiest way to do this for free is to use Google’s open source Lighthouse Chrome plugin.

Install it, select ‘SEO’ and generate a report.

It’ll review (on a page by page basis):

  • Mobile suitability
  • Meta data
  • HTTP status code
  • Whether links have descriptive text
  • Whether pages are blocked from indexing or not
  • Whether your site uses a valid robots.txt file
  • Whether your site uses valid hreflang tags
  • Whether your site uses valid rel=canonical tags
  • Whether your site uses legible font sizes
  • Whether or not your site avoids plugins
  • Whether or not your tap targets are sized appropriately (i.e. can people press them with fingers on a mobile phone)
  • Whether or not your images have [alt] attributes

The one thing it won’t check is structured data, but a lack of structured data won’t stop you from ranking (more on structured data here if interested: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/guides/intro-structured-data).

A lot of the Lighthouse feedback is fairly easy to fix – especially if you’ve got a well-supported CMS like WordPress. You can use the free Yoast plugin to sort most of it.

Lighthouse will also provide mobile and desktop simulated feedback on page performance, accessibility and best practices.

Google has separate tools to check speed and mobile friendliness that are also free to use:

The Lighthouse Chrome plugin, PageSpeed Insights and mobile friendliness tool analyse single pages. So make sure you test your most important revenue generating pages with them.

If you want a sitewide analysis then you’ll need to turn to a paid SEO tool like Moz, Ahrefs or SEMrush (or if you have a site with fewer than 500 pages you could turn to Screaming Frog which will crawl your site for free – however, if you’ve never used it before, the output will take a bit of time to extract useful insights from).

Build some links

You need links from other sites to point at your site. Google treats them like votes of trust.

If you’ve got more quality links than your competition, then all else being equal, you should outrank them.

Easiest way to do this is to think about your online stakeholders. Can you ask suppliers, partners etc. to link to you? Do you have to create some compelling content to give them a reason to link? Go after this low hanging fruit first.

Track performance

Unfortunately, if you want to track where your site appears in the search results for your chosen keywords you’ll need to invest in some keyword tracking software – the aforementioned Moz, Ahrefs and SEMrush will all track keywords but can be a bit pricey. Cheaper options include Authority Labs and Agency Analytics.

If you can’t/don’t want to invest in keyword tracking software then you can get an amazing amount of data from Search Console and Google Analytics.

Now’s the time to watch the Google Webmaster YouTube series on Search Console. It gives you a really good steer on how to use Search Console and what to look out for.

Get professional help

You’ve made a lot of progress. If things have gone according to plan you should see increases in keyword rankings, organic traffic and organic leads.

If you’re stuck or you want a professional to take care of the above (and everything else we’ve missed that’s non-essential to get started, but essential to make more progress) then it’s time to get support from the experts.

When looking for SEO support it’s worth remembering: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Spammy practitioners offering page one rankings are worth avoiding – no-one can guarantee a #1 spot in organic search, but they can certainly help you make progress towards it.

Watch the Google video on how to select an SEO consultant – it’ll keep you on the straight and narrow.

If you need help with the above, or you feel you’re ready to take the next steps in your SEO strategy, then drop us a line.

How long does SEO take?

How long does SEO take?

It can take as little as two hours for a single blog post to rank; two weeks for a competitive landing page to rank; six months for a series of pages to rank, or over a year for a brand new site to see SEO traction. The generic ‘4-6 months’ answer is exactly that, generic. It’s like asking: ‘How long is a piece of string?’

The image below details the typical order of SEO activity at TopLine along with timescales for completion. Below that we take a deeper dive into the individual aspects, to give you a better idea of how long SEO should take before you invest.

Image showing how long SEO takes

 

Jump to section:

  1. Outputs vs outcomes
  2. Timelines for different type of SEO
  3. Factors that affect timescales
  4. How long will it take to measure the impact of SEO?
  5. Mistakes to avoid
  6. Conclusion

Outputs vs outcomes

As with most marketing disciplines the results of undertaking the work (outputs) and the effects of those results (outcomes), are very different. Let’s have a look at a few examples.

SEO outputs

Output: time it takes for a page to be indexed by Google.
Timescale: almost instantly – a matter of hours.
Explanation: it is easy to go into Search Console (the free tool Google gives you to manage your website) and prompt Google (see image) to index a page of content (crawl it and add it to its search results pages). Given there are no underlying issues with your site preventing content indexing, you should see almost immediate success.

Search Console index tool image for how long does SEO take page

Output: followed link/brand mention publication.
Timescale: instant (if you’ve been doing stuff that warrant links – think public relations for example – some of the best links we’ve ever generated have been a happy offshoot of a great PR campaign), otherwise, about a month.
Explanation: if you’re going to do it the manual way, you’ve got a couple of options: 1) create a great piece of content and promote it to encourage third parties to use it as a point of reference 2) pitch thought leadership to publications you suspect will link back to your website in return for great editorial (and no, I’m not talking about ‘guest blogging’, I’m talking about running an editorial session with your thought leaders to understand the prevalent issues in your industry, building interesting media pitches based on these conversations, researching relevant publications your target audience might be reading, pitching the journalists exclusive angles one by one, drafting the content once agreed with them and then submitting it for review – anyone who tells me that’s ‘guest blogging’ is getting a passive aggressive email) – I’m making the assumption that it’ll take you about a month to go through this process.

SEO outcomes

Output: first place ranking for a target keyword.
Timescale: one month to never.
Explanation: important to note the word ‘target’. A target keyword is one that’s important to your business. A keyword or phrase that’ll result in you attracting the type of traffic to your site that you think will convert. Beware of the SEO agency that promises first place rankings on keywords that don’t matter. How do you know if they matter or not? Check what your competitors are ranking for and if in doubt test keywords in AdWords campaigns – yes you’re paying for the traffic, but it’ll give you an indication of what kinds of words and phrases attract your best customers and convert.

The ‘one month’ timescale is because first place ranking may simply require you to create an outstanding piece of keyword optimised content that perfectly satisfies user intent. Oh and I say ‘never’ in the timescale section, because sometimes you’ll never be able to outrank the first place result – think an aggregator like TechRadar ranking first for ‘video conferencing software’ – it then becomes a case of ‘if you can beat ‘em, join ‘em’ (don’t beat yourself up; www.techradar.com’s got like 29.5 million inbound links, that’s a tough ask even for the most competent SEO…).

Output: more organic traffic.
Timescale: a few days to six months.
Explanation: let’s assume your website doesn’t rank for you brand name (and you’ve got a distinguishable one and you haven’t named your company after an animal or a colour or something). Let’s also assume you’ve got prospects actively searching for you online. Make a few changes to the meta data on your homepage, optimise the content and resubmit for indexing, claim your Google My Business profile and boom – you start ranking and prospects can now quickly and easily find you. This is useful, as this type of traffic is likely to convert (they’re searching fro you for a reason after all).

The longer end of this timescale (six months) is me assuming month one of any SEO project involves technical audits and keyword research etc. Month two has been spent drafting the first batch of content. And month three involves you (the client) signing it off and us publishing it. It may be that the first few pieces of content don’t perform that well organically (though we do have a lot of success given the SEO research and creation efforts we put in) and you need to build up a critical mass over six months before you start seeing decent rankings and increased volumes of organic traffic. We normally find we have a few early organic winners with our content efforts and that’s where the increases in traffic come from.

Be aware – new regulations from the UK’s ICO makes marketing cookies ‘non-essential’ – if you comply it means your traffic analytics are about to become pretty much redundant – research shows the ICO lost over 75% of its traffic visibility following the move.

Output: more leads from organic traffic.
Timescale: a few days to six to eight months.
Explanation: once again if we assume you don’t even rank for your brand name and prospects are searching for you online (if they’re not, then this is a separate challenge and will involve targeting the kinds of keywords and phrases they are actually searching for) then as discussed, you could see some quick wins. If you’ve already exploited all the low hanging SEO fruit, then it’s a longer slog.

It’ll involve you having a very careful discussion with your SEO agency regards objectives. If the objective is to increase traffic by any means possible then they’re going to recommend high search volume long tail keywords – ones that are less competitive that you’re going to have a decent chance of ranking for if you produce great, user focused content. If that’s not the remit however and you make it clear you’re interested in bottom of funnel traffic (i.e. high conversion traffic) rather than quantity of traffic, then a couple of things are going to happen: 1) your SEO provider will need to gain a good understanding of the types of keywords that prospects ready to convert are searching for 2) they’ll then need to prioritise content (often in the form of landing pages on your main website for example) designed to rank for these keywords and designed to convert the traffic these pages receive.

At TopLine for example, our SEO strategies will often focus on attracting bottom of funnel traffic in the opening six months before moving onto content designed for the research phase of a prospect’s journey.

Timelines for different SEO exercises

Now let’s take a look at what’s involved in specific SEO activities to give you a better idea of how long each should take.

  • Keyword research – a multi-step process that’ll involve your SEO agency talking to your sales team, doing industry research and reviewing your competitors’ websites (amongst quite a few other things). Then they need to create a matrix of target keywords, research search volumes, assess difficulty, and group them logically according to which ones belong on which pages on your website. Time required: up to 30 hours depending on the scope of the project.
  • Directory structure planning – an exercise stemming from the keyword research. Your SEO provider will want to analyse the pages that currently exist on your site and consider whether they’re fit for purpose. It may involve reorganising the directory structure (moving pages to new locations), it may require adding new pages or it may require edits to existing ones. Time required: depends on the size of the site but for an average site with a few hundred pages it should take around five hours.
  • Technical onsite/offsite audit – at TopLine our technical audit includes over 100 factors. While some of these can be automated using the SEO software we have inhouse, many require manual review by trained professionals. Time required: once again, depends on the size of the site, but for an average site with a few hundred pages it should take around five to ten hours
  • Inbound link analysis – reviewing the hyperlinks pointing at your site from other websites. Your SEO provider needs to understand (amongst other things) how many links there are (and how many are followed links vs nofollow links); the types of sites they’re on (are the sites spammy; are they contextually relevant?); the pages they point at on your site; the anchor text of the links; what your link profile looks like versus your competitors’ link profiles. Time required: entirely dependent on the volume of links to analyse, but budget up to five hours initially.
  • Editorial brainstorm – this session is required in order to develop interesting thought leadership angles that can be pitched to authoritative editorial publications in order to generate brand mentions and link opportunities. The SEO team will need to research your company (including an analysis of previous editorial coverage), your industry (hot topics etc.), and your competitors. They then need to conduct calls with your subject matter experts and turn the resulting information into PR angles ready for pitching. Time required: 20-30 hours.
  • Tracking and goal setup – adding agreed keywords to tracking software, setting up Google Analytics, Search Console, Tag Manager etc. Time required: 2-3 hours.
  • Strategy development – findings from all of the above research needs to be visualised in a month by month SEO strategy with rows pertaining to content, link/brand building, technical fixes etc. Time required: up to ten hours.

Factors that affect timescales

These are the classic factors that affect how long it takes from starting an SEO campaign to seeing it result in leads and revenue.

  • Domain authority – how authoritative is your domain? This will often be dictated by the number and quality of links pointing at it. Once you understand this (and it’s easy to grasp – use Moz’s domain analysis tool to take a look at your DA score – then search for a few of the keywords you think you’ll want to target. Take a look at the DA scores of your online competitors – is yours better? Worse? Comparable?) you’ll have a better idea of how long it’ll take to compete organically. Director of acquisition at HubSpot and co-founder of Traffic Think Tank, Matthew Howells-Barby, agrees:

Image of tweet for how long does SEO take page

  • Competition – as mentioned above, the competition will often have a big impact on how long SEO will take you. Certain keywords will naturally return more competitive results, so if it looks like you can’t compete in the short to medium term, start thinking about the types of keyword you’re targeting. Maybe go after longer keywords (e.g. questions) that don’t return as competitive results. Howells-Barby:

Image of tweet for how long does SEO take page

  • Content – how much do you have on your site? How much of it is designed to rank for your target keywords? Even if you have a site with a relatively low domain authority you can still compete if you’re producing and publishing the best content possible that does a really good job of satisfying searcher intent.
  • State of site – you can use Moz’s free domain overview tool to give you a better idea of how healthy your site is from an SEO perspective. Classic issues we find include hreflang tag confusion, missing or contradictory canonicalisation, random no indexing tags carried over from staging sites etc. Getting most stuff fixed isn’t too taxing unless you have a big site with multiple stakeholders where making changes is difficult.
  • Development support – once again, if you have a big site and your web dev team has a lot other priorities then your SEO changes may end up a long way down the dev list. Tools like Google Tag Manager can help collapse these timescales by allowing your SEO team to inject tags (snippets of code or tracking pixels) directly to pages without making changes to the code.

How long will it take to measure the impact of SEO?

It’s important to consider micro and macro measurements to ensure you get a clear picture, asap, of whether you’re making progress with your SEO efforts. Here’s a few common measurements our SEO team at TopLine uses to measure success.

  • Content indexing – as soon as you publish a piece of content you can log into your Search Console account and request Google indexes it. If this piece of content then shows up in Google – success! – you’re well on your way to generating more organic traffic and leads. Use search operators to search for content in Google’s index. If you own the domain example.com and you write a blog about blue widgets that resides at the following URL example.com/blog/best-blue-widgets then type the following into Google: site:example.com inurl:blog/best-blue-widgets. If it’s been crawled and indexed by Google, the page will show up in the Googles search results. Time to measure results: hours.
  • Keyword tracking – there are loads of different types of keyword tracking software out there. Fundamentally they tell you where your website appears in the non-paid results for the keywords you’re interested in. Of course, until you have content designed to rank for said keywords you probably won’t rank anywhere for any of them, but once you’ve drafted content and published it you’ll be on your way. We normally find with every new project there are a few nice surprises where a client will rank well (somewhere on page one potentially) as soon as the new content goes live. Be aware: new sites in particular will often enjoy a ranking spike, especially if there’s a lot of PR/link building activity taking place at the same time as the new content going live – rankings will then settle. Time to measure results: not factoring in the time taken for content creation, almost instantly – as long as it takes for the content to be indexed. However this may result in a ranking on page five of the search results which is no good to you. Time taken to reach page one: depends on your marketing resource and the competition in front of you on the search engine result pages.
  • Impressions/clicks – impressions are how many times a user saw a link to your site in the organic search results. Clicks are how many times users clicked on those results. Below is a screenshot from Search Console for a site we launched in March 2019. It was supported with a rigorous programme of keyword research, content creation, PR (and as a consequence – link/brand building). Time to measure results: with a well-planned SEO strategy behind it, it only takes days to start seeing impressions and clicks.

Image of clicks and impressions over 12 month period for how long does SEO take page

  • Organic traffic – this is the good stuff! The outcome of the output (rankings) is increases in organic traffic resulting from users finding your content online and clicking through to your site. Time to measure results: days – as soon as the content starts ranking you’ll see a gradual increase in organic traffic. The faster you get great content live the faster you’ll generate more organic traffic. Below is a graph from a B2B site we launched in March last year.

Image of organic traffic from March to Jan for how long does SEO take page

  • Leads/qualified leads – this is the ultimate objective of your SEO efforts. The beauty of SEO is it targets prospects when they’re ready to buy (unlike PPC which will often target prospects based on keywords related to the research apart of the sales funnel). Time to measure results: six to twelve months (dependent on existing authority of site versus your online competitors) – given roughly equal levels of website authority, we’d anticipate lead generation to occur from around the six month mark, though it could take a lot longer if you’re working with a new domain. Either way the SEOs you employ should be able to give you an estimation based on the research they initially conduct. Expect to have to pay for this research – it will be a significant undertaking.

Mistakes to avoid

  • Assuming AdWords spend influences organic rankings and speeds up results – it doesn’t. Period.
  • Overnight results – the impact of SEO can be huge and the ROI incredible. However, it’s not an overnight fix. In the age of agile growth hacking, SEO still has its place, but it’s a long term strategy that needs to be maintained in perpetuity if you want to keep benefiting from those organic clicks.
  • Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – you can jump in feet first but success will be limited. Plan, plan and plan some more. Come up with a strategy broken down into tactics – on and offsite content, technical fixes, link and brand building etc. and then prioritise them according to your unique situation. There is no one size fits all solution.
  • Getting what you pay for – would you expect someone who can help you generate hundreds if not thousands of qualified leads every year to charge you a thousand pounds a month for the privilege? No, neither would we. Yet we still regularly field calls from prospects with a budget in the hundreds of pounds a month. We currently bill £125 an hour and most of our SEO strategies will start at 30-40 hours a month.
  • Hiring an old school agency – the agencies that are telling you it’ll cost hundreds a month are the same agencies that price it low because they use spammy, outdated, cookie cutter tactics (they usually own a link network and charge by the keyword). Want to hire the right agency for your company? Check out Google’s advice on hiring an SEO agency.

Conclusion

Search engine optimisation is a fantastic investment for a lot of businesses but it’s exactly that, an investment. Key performance indicators will move in order: keyword rankings improving, organic traffic increasing, leads and qualified leads rising. But the answer to how long it takes is almost entirely dependent on your objectives, what success looks like to you, and the competition you’re facing. Let me leave with you with some final words from Howells-Barby on timescales:

Image of tweet for how long does SEO take page

Drop us a line to discuss your SEO timeline!

9 common SEO myths debunked

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a crucial part of any digital strategy. But with so many buzzwords, ‘expert’ opinion and guides on the topic, there are naturally many SEO myths out there.

Here are nine SEO myths you might have heard – and why they are wrong.

SEO myth #1: what you spend on PPC affects your organic ranking

It does not. It doesn’t make sense. This is why (straight from the horse’s mouth):

“Search listings are free, and no one can pay for a better ranking, because Google is committed to keeping our search content useful and trustworthy.”

“Google’s first responsibility is to provide Search users with the most relevant possible results. If businesses were able to pay for higher rankings in the search results, users wouldn’t be getting the information they’re looking for.”

Read more on Google’s thoughts on SEO vs PPC. 

SEO myth #2: it’s a one-time thing

It would be great if you could pay an SEO magician to wave their magic wand and sort your SEO permanently. But that simply isn’t the case. Like most things in life, it requires continued hard work, adjustments, research and reporting.

Search engines are constantly changing their algorithms, so changes and tweaks need to be made on an ongoing basis. Competitors can move in on your rankings, so it’s important to keep improving, if you want to keep that sweet organic traffic. In addition, you need to continually building links to improve your site’s authority. Basically, anyone who tells you that they can sort your SEO on a one-off project basis is not going to (check out this post for more info on how long SEO takes).

SEO myth #3: you need to include your keyword a certain amount of times

One of the most common SEO myths is that there is an optimal level of keyword density required in content. Search engines consider so much more than the number of times a keyword is mentioned – they consider external and internal links, user behaviour, images, semantically related phrases and website folder structure, amongst other things. So don’t get hung up on keyword density – you’ll be wasting your time and you’ll probably jeopardise the quality of your content, too. 

SEO myth #4: keywords aren’t a thing anymore

Yeah they obviously are. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise as there are a lot of ‘keywords are dead’ type articles (even the guys at Bing have been shouting about intent). But think about it, how can you rank for apples if you only ever write about pears? Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller explained this to Search Engine Land’s news editor Barry Schwartz:

“I didn’t see that but I think, in general, that there’s probably always gonna be a little bit of room for keyword research because you’re kind of providing those words to users. And even if search engines are trying to understand more than just those words, showing specific words to users can make it a little bit easier for them to understand what your pages are about and can sometimes drive a little bit of that conversion process. So I don’t see these things going away completely but I’m sure search engines will get better over time to understand more than just the words on a page.”

Source: https://searchengineland.com/googles-john-mueller-on-intent-research-vs-keyword-research-for-2020-327279

Keyword density might not be a thing, but keywords are. But it’s all about balance. If your content is user-friendly and topic-focused, you’re likely to include your keyword (and variations of it) naturally anyway. So, make sure that it’s included, but make sure that it is used in context, too. 

SEO myth #5: content doesn’t matter, it’s about design

How you design and structure your website is important when it comes to SEO, more so than ever before in fact – speed and mobile friendliness is paramount to organic search engine success. But it’s no good having everything perfect from a design point of view if you don’t have good quality content to sit alongside it on your site. As mentioned above, it’s all about balance. Unfortunately Google and other engines cannot currently conduct image analysis so still require text to crawl and digest. 

SEO myth #6: the mobile version of your site is the same as the desktop version

There are often differences between the mobile resized version of your website and the desktop version. You may not realise the content changes (e.g. headers or ‘Read more’ sections disappear) when the website resizes and the number of internal links change for example. 

SEO myth #7: SEO is cheap

It’s cheap. It definitely shouldn’t be. This is a myth perpetuated by old-school spammy SEO agencies that will employ low cost tactics that could see you removed from Google’s index altogether. Why would a company that can help you generate hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of sustainable revenue charge you £30k a year for the privilege? When you need technical SEO expertise, link building experts and PR specialists to help you craft and execute a perfect SEO strategy, you shouldn’t expect them to charge next to nothing. Think about what you’d spend on a CMO – then spend that on an SEO agency. 

SEO myth #8: paid search results get the most clicks because they’re at the top of the results page

Latest research shows in Sept 2019, when performing a search on a desktop computer:

  • 60.83% clicked on an organic result
  • 4.32% clicked on a paid result
  • 34.85% didn’t click on anything at all

Latest research shows in Sept 2019, when performing a search on a mobile:

  • 39.69% clicked on an organic result
  • 4.22% clicked on a paid result
  • 56.1% didn’t click on anything at all

Stats assembled by Rand Fishkin from audience intelligence software company SparkToro (you’re welcome for the anchor text Rand!). 

SEO myth #9: all links are created equal

When it comes to SEO, there are two types of back links – follow and nofollow. If you’re securing a link to influence your SEO, you want a followed link – this is a link from a reputable source that passes PageRank. A nofollow link is the opposite – in fact, it was introduced to keep SEO spammers at bay. A nofollow link doesn’t pass PageRank. You can identify a nofollow link by the ‘rel=”no follow”’ HTML tag.

This doesn’t mean to say that only followed links are worth securing – any link that increases traffic to your website should be welcomed by all involved. It just won’t do anything for your SEO.

So, there you have it – the most common SEO myths to be aware of. If you’re looking for a B2B SEO agency in London that can provide no-nonsense, SEO advice and guidance, get in touch with our head of SEO, Luke.

This blog was updated in January 2020.