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.

Marketing to marketers in 2020

We surveyed over 250 marketing directors, execs and officers to find out where they’re going to be and what they’re going to be doing in 2020.

Top publications read by marketers:

Business Insider came in as the top publication read by 32% of marketers, followed by Campaign (25%) and Digital Marketing Magazine and LinkedIn (both 22%), making these good outlets to target for anyone wanting to get in front of this group. And if you need help with all that, we know just the b2b pr agency for you.

Marketing to marketers

Top 10 marketing events for 2020:

Our marketers chose the App Promotion Summit as their top event for 2020. This was closely followed by the B2B Marketing Expo and Advertising Week Europe. Digital City Festival coming in seventh place is impressive, as 2020 is its inception year.

Marketing to marketers

Marketers’ top social networks revealed:

While Facebook usage continues to decline, it remains the top social network for marketers, followed by YouTube and then Instagram.

 

Reaching marketers:

Email marketing reigns supreme, with 43% of marketers finding out about new products and services through this medium. This is closely followed by the media (39%) and search engines (37%), which means anyone looking to reach and engage with this group should consider investing in digital PR and SEO strategies.

How marketers discover new products and services:

 

Need help with the digital PR and SEO side of your marketing to marketers strategy? Then contact our head of digital PR and SEO, Luke.

10 SEO tips for tech companies

Here at TopLine Comms, we specialise in helping tech companies get SEO right so that they can focus on what they do best – disrupting and innovating. Here are ten of our top SEO tips to help your technology company start climbing the Google rankings.

 

1. Have a solid set of keywords

The first step is to understand what keywords your prospects are searching for. Put yourself in the searcher’s shoes: they’re sitting at a keyboard, typing terms into Google, but what exactly are they looking for? Are they looking for information, or are they ready to make a purchase?

Keywords are intrinsically linked with the sales funnel. If you’re interested in lead gen, you need to target bottom-of-funnel keywords, for example: “[specific type of software] solution.” Whereas if you’re targeting the top of the sales funnel, keywords should be more informational in nature. For example, “what is [general category of software]” or “what does [specific type of software] do?” Most technology companies will need to cater to all parts of the sales funnel, with a variety of content ready to serve users at various stages of the buying journey.

You also need to consider whether your site can actually rank for your chosen keywords. The art of choosing keywords is all about balance. Keywords need to be relevant, first and foremost, but they also need to balance user intent with search volume with competitiveness. This is especially true of newer tech companies that have yet to establish themselves as authorities in the eyes of Google. There might be high traffic volumes for broad terms like ‘business software,’ but smaller software companies will struggle to compete if the top search results return a mix of aggregators and high-quality editorial sites like Wired, TechCrunch and ZDNet.

 

2. Review the SERPs

The next step in SEO for tech companies is to understand which sites are already ranking for your target keywords. This means studying the SERPs – the search engine results pages.

Study the organic competition: what user intent does it address? How long is it? Who wrote it? What structure? What images do they use? What URLs, H1s and metadata? What external links and sources? What keywords and phrases? Does the SERP include a ‘featured snippet’?

For each of these questions, it’s a matter of finding out what works, and emulating it on your site. Let’s look at the last question in a bit more detail. Featured snippets are the handy answer boxes which Google provides for certain searches (see example below). When it comes to optimising your website, try to target an existing snippet. If the snippet is answering a question, for instance, make sure to include an answer on your site that is straightforward and easy for Google to return.

3. Offer helpful content

The key to making your content ‘better’ than other results is to make it as high-quality as possible. The days of keyword spamming are long gone, and Google is continually improving its algorithms to prioritise useful, human-readable content. Ultimately, ‘good content’ for SEO means that the website is useful for the user, and that it satisfies what they’re looking for.

Consider having multiple pages for various stages of the sales funnel. Product focused pages for the bottom-of-funnel users who are already looking for a particular product or service should be distinct from useful, content-filled pages that answer the questions of top-of-funnel users.

 

4. Have the right tools to measure and optimise

If you can’t measure, you have no way of knowing what is working and what isn’t. Without feedback, you couldn’t know if the latest algorithm update made your keyword rankings plummet, sending your organic traffic off a cliff-edge. That’s why using the right tools is a critical part of SEO for tech companies.

Fortunately, there are plenty of good options for software to track keyword performance, watch inbound links, and crawl your site for errors. We primarily use Moz here at TopLine, as well as free tools like Google Analytics and Search Console (a must have for any company taking SEO seriously).

 

5. Check your site speed

In 2018, Google started using speed as a ranking factor in search results. Just recently, Google also announced that they’re going to name and shame slow sites. Now is the time to make your website lightning fast. Tools like Lighthouse, Search Console and PageSpeed Insights are all great ways to find out what steps you can take to improve the speed. Speed isn’t only crucial for SEO; it also massively impacts onsite conversion rates. Google revealed in 2018 that as the number of elements—text, titles, images—on a page goes from 400 to 6,000, the probability of conversion drops 95%, So keep it light and speedy.

 

6. Carry out regular health checks

It’s also important to stay on top of your site from a technical perspective. A lot can go wrong (if we had a £ for every time a few staging site anomalies found their way into a live environment…), and potential impacts vary from pesky (extra errors flagged in Search Console) to catastrophic (entire site deindexed after someone left a trailing slash in the roboits.txt file).

Putting regular checks in place (frequency dependent on the depth of your health check) keeps you honest. That means that if something does go wrong, it won’t go undiagnosed for too long. Google Search Console and Google Analytics are ideal tools for spotting mistakes, like a stray no index tag. Beyond being a useful practice for anyone doing SEO for tech companies, it’s also simply good practice.

 

7. Keep your content fresh

While it may not be the primary focus for B2B technology companies, creating content is key to staying on top in the search results. A regular blog can both contribute to the company’s profile and help when it comes to SEO.

Content should take two basic forms:

1) In-depth evergreen pieces that are relevant to your prospects. Make yourself a useful source of information. This content needs to be regularly updated. The world of technology moves fast, so it shouldn’t be too challenging to find topics that lend themselves to continuous improvement and change – anything based on regularly refreshed data would suffice (whether that’s your proprietary data or data you aggregate from other sources will depend on what you collect).  TIP: don’t update the URL the blog resides on. Just add notes to the date of each update. This blog will slowly but surely increase its raking position. It’ll also organically attract backlinks as related stakeholders (industry bloggers, media etc.) will inevitably link to it as a source.

2) Regular contributions to reinforce relevance, expertise, and optimised internal linking opportunities. These are shorter posts that can be produced by anyone in your team with subject matter expertise and a willingness to write.  Regular contributions to the blog reinforce the relevance and expertise of the business in the eyes of both Google and customers.

It’s also worth thinking multichannel. A blog doesn’t have to just be a blog; it could also be an infographic on social, reposted as an article on LinkedIn or made into slides for SlideShare.

 

8. Build links and brand mentions (implied links)

Another step toward building your brand’s authority is to build links pointing to your website from other websites. One of the many things that Google takes into consideration when calculating a site’s ranking is the authority of sites which link to it. A few well-placed links on other authoritative and semantically relevant sites can give your site a real boost.

Good digital PR is the best way to do this. Directory links simply don’t cut it anymore, and these days, sites need links from the best publications in the industry. There are plenty of publications for software companies and technology companies to reach out to, from the niche to the general, and a bit of targeted media relations can make a substantial difference to the number of times your brand’s mentioned in a positive light and your inbound link profile.

 

9. Own the SERPs

You’ve made it this far on your SEO journey, so don’t let your hard work go to waste with a poorly formatted result on the results page: Use your title tag and meta description to grab the viewer’s attention, show that you have what they’re looking for, and encourage them to click through. A good meta-description should include the keyword, and a variation, as well as a call to action, or CTA.

Your company also needs to consider the various forms that SERPs can take – it’s not just a list of blue text links anymore. We’ve already covered featured snippets, but it’s also important to make use of the ‘People also ask’ feature (After all, if people are asking questions about your brand it’s worth your while to draf the answers yourself, rather than leaving it to your competitors).

Businesses should also acclaim their Google My Business profile (even if you don’t do business locally), as it’s often the first thing that show above the fold in the SERPs when a prospect does a brand search. It will feature customer reviews and images of the business. Proper management is an important part of online brand reputation.

 

10. Commit

SEO for tech companies is ongoing. For your site to stay relevant and authoritative, it needs to appear regularly in industry press, earn those links and brand mentions, and analyse relevant topics and trends in onsite content. If you’re interested in finding out how long SEO might take then check out our blog on the topic.

Bonus: Helpful links

If you’re looking to learn more about SEO, check out Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide – packed full of useful tips and tricks.

 

SEO can be a complex topic, and sometimes it’s worth reaching out to the experts. Some businesses, especially smaller technology companies, may lack the resources and staff to stay on top of their SEO. Fortunately, experienced help is available at competitive prices. At TopLine Comms, we’re experts at digital PR and SEO. To find out what we can do for your company, get in touch.

Getting aggy (and what made Rand Fishkin say ‘Ugh’)

When someone says ‘aggregator’ (referred to as ‘aggs’ in the following blog because that’s seven letters saved every time), you probably think of a Trivago or a MoneySuperMarket or some equivalent service. If you go online and search for a consumer product or service offered by multiple companies, you’ll likely be barraged with loads of aggs. Or you’ll be presented with Google’s own aggregated results directly in the search engine results pages – for example when booking a flight (unlucky Skyscanner).

Rise of the aggregator

Google thinks aggs are excellent at satisfying user intent and is therefore inclined to reward them in the organic search results with high rankings. Their natural composition is very search engine friendly i.e. lots of descriptive content on a range of relevant entities (companies selling the product/service the searcher is interested in). Pair that content with some half decent SEO and you have a recipe for ranking success.

Google has decided that aggs are the results users want. They don’t want organic search to return a flight per result, they want to see how much the same thing will cost from multiple retailers and they want access to the best price as quickly as possible. I reached out to Rand Fishkin, SEO supremo, creator of Moz and founder of audience analysis software SparkToro, for his thoughts. Fishkin claimed the natural language processing element of Google’s algorithm resulted in the search engine favouring posts containing ‘multiple brands & descriptions’ and as he says: “Aggregators can nail that.”

Aggs are well established in the consumer market, however, we’re now increasingly seeing them in the world of B2B as well.

This is well trodden ground. It’s affiliate marketing – earning money for promoting other companies’ products or services. There are a few players you will see making regular appearances – especially in the world of software selection. Think Capterra and G2 for example. But we’re now seeing aggs in the creative sector – search ‘video production agency’ – and Clutch, an analyst and agg of services and solutions, ranks third. If you take a look at their video production page, it includes (at time of writing) 11,227 firms, automatically sorted sponsored first.

Making money

Aggs typically have four main revenue streams:

1 They make commission when a prospect clicks on one of their listings, goes through to the vendor’s site and buys something.

2 It may not involve a prospect even buying anything – Capterra infers that it makes money from referral traffic alone – probably a standard CPM model (per thousand impressions).

3 They charge for premium ‘sponsored’ listings. The result will be premium placement in the agg’s search results. Capterra infers that it runs a bidding system – bid the most, appear first.

4 They offer sponsorship deals. In Clutch’s instance they make it very clear that you do not need to pay to be included in their ‘Leaders Matrix’ but you do need to pay to:

  • Become a ‘verified’ company on Clutch – they say: “When looking for a service provider, use our verification information to supplement your research and to see if a vendor on Clutch is registered, active, and trustworthy.” (Making it very easy to assume that any vendor not ‘verified’ is not trustworthy.)
  • Get more visibility than basic or premium profiles on review pages (i.e. pay to feature first in a list).
  • Benefit from ‘enhanced’ review widgets to make your listing standout.
  • Get ‘priority’ review processing (Clutch encourages companies to get customers to leave reviews on the platform).

Clutch’s top sponsorship level ‘Triple Diamond’ (which I’m guessing will ensure first place placement on the desired review pages) costs a whopping $18,000 a month.

Pay to play

Google is getting gamed. Aggs are compiling content and then promoting specific results within their own ecosystems based on levels of sponsorship. This is essentially an instance of a company piggybacking on another domain’s authority to appear first in organic results. I think Google will eventually decide this contravenes the way search should work.

The problems with aggs:

  • They are closed ecosystems with their own pay to play rules – this fundamentally flies in the face of organic search returning the ‘best’ result. You can essentially pay to rank first (or at least be the first company a user sees when they click on an agg’s organic result).
  • They’re returning bad results – it’s easy to compare results for a commoditised product like a flight. It’s much more difficult to compare a service or even a piece of software – it’s subjective. I might not have any experience in video production whatsoever, I might be a really rubbish result to return when a user searches for ‘video production agency’, but if I’ve got thousands of dollars a month to spend then it doesn’t matter; I can piggyback on the authority of another website and see my company listed first.
  • Google isn’t making money from aggs – then ones I viewed while writing this post don’t feature Google Display Network ads. Google’s the greatest money making machine ever invented – this will bother it.
  • User intent – I know I previously said users want options and aggs satisfy user intent, but actually a list satisfies a user searching for the plural, ‘marketing automation platforms’, not the singular ‘marketing automation platform’. It also means if I search ‘best video production agency’ I want the best one, I don’t want lots of companies in a long list ordered according to sponsorship. I know this is a matter of semantics but with more focus on Google’s natural language processing abilities at the moment than ever before (because of BERT being released into the wild) I think semantics are worth considering.
  • Google’s very own SEO starter guide says: ‘Users dislike clicking a search engine result only to land on another search result page on your site’. Exactly – especially if it’s a list of sponsored results!

Tactics for beating the aggregators

  • Outrank them by playing them at their own game – suck it up and do your own roundup, including your competitors (though you can obviously ensure you get prominent placement!). Take the keyword ‘marketing automation software’ – a HubSpot blog post ranks first, but they’ve had to include an up to date list of the best marketing automation software tools. The advantage HubSpot has over the second place result – technologyadvice.com – and the reason they’ll probably always outrank them, is they’re a marketing automation company – their domain has lots of relevance for the keyword and huge amounts of related content – (dwarfing technologyadvice.com’s marketing automation content volume). I asked SEO guru and director of acquisition at HubSpot, Matthew Howells-Barby, about this tactic, and he said:

“We’d rather own a part of the conversation that also includes our competitors vs having no convo at all…” Click To Tweet

  • Target the long tail – aggs are only interested in bottom of funnel lead generation keywords. As soon as you start using your expertise to explore topics related to the research stage of your prospect’s journey, they’re less likely to feature.
  • Rank for brand names and modified brand names, not generic products – this tactic works best for companies specialising in and reselling a product. If you search for a product using its brand name you’re likely to see the manufacturer’s website. Aim to rank second to the manufacturer for the product and also aim to capture related business with modifiers like brand product name + ‘training’. This is a tactic we’ve used with great success for our clients.
  • Analyse other page one results for your target keyword. Is there any way you can feature in them? We’ve previously deployed targeted media relations to get clients featured in roundups and reviews that appear on page one search results for important keywords.
  • Join them – the search engine landscape is always changing. If you’re being outranked by an agg then make sure you’re included in the agg’s listings. Howells-Barby went on to say:

“Our goal is to appear on every page ranking on page 1, regardless of who wrote it… Internally we call this our ‘Surround Sound’ playbook…. A large portion of the review sites are pay to play in one way or another so whether it’s CPM, affiliate or an organic placement we want to be there.”

Until the SERPs change (if they do), aggs are here to stay. But you’ve got options. You can compete with them or you can join them or you can choose to do both. What you can’t do is ignore them – with organic search still vastly outperforming PPC for clicks and traffic, inclusion in the search engine results pages is a necessity for every B2B company out there.

Meet Luke Budka, our head of digital PR and SEO

Luke is head of digital PR and SEO here at TopLine Comms, and has been at TopLine from the very beginning – October 2008. He’s a human encyclopedia of all things integrated marketing.

We sat down with Luke to find out more about his experience, his SEO advice for clients, and what he predicts the marketing industry of the future will look like.

 

We know you’ve been a part of TopLine from the beginning, but how did you get into the PR business?

Luke: I studied English Literature and Language at university, and I liked writing, so PR was a good fit. Plus, journalism doesn’t pay as well. I spent 18 months job hunting; I think I went to over 10 interviews. The problem was that I lacked experience, but I couldn’t get that experience if nobody was prepared to give me a chance. It was the classic chicken and egg situation – how do you get your foot in the door? This really stuck with me, and it’s something we consider when recruiting for entry level jobs – we’ve hired a few people over the years without degrees or experience and they’ve turned out to be excellent.

Eventually, I landed a three-month trial at an agency, which subsequently got extended to six months. The role was split between assisting the PR team and assisting the media training team. The first day they gave me a list of journalists’ names and phone numbers to call, with news of a new data centre storage product. The list included some DIY publications that sold self-storage for the home, an altogether different pitch. “We’re interested in hammers mate”, was the response I got three calls in. I learned an important lesson on day one: there’s no substitute for proper media research.

TopLine launched in 2008. We started as a traditional B2B PR agency, but we quickly realised that times were changing. We had great clients; we were getting great results – but coverage wasn’t enough. So, we started looking for other opportunities, and quickly realised that our PR skills could capably be applied to the worlds of SEO and inbound marketing. Search engine optimisation, in particular, grabbed me – I viewed it as a measurable way to build and maintain a company’s reputation while also helping them sell more. I have a touch of the natural geek about me, so once I got under the hood of Google, it quickly became a core focus.

 

What is some of the most important advice you can offer a CMO?

Luke: Firstly, I’d say digital PR and SEO have to work in harmony to be effective – one drives the other. Consider consolidating your PR and SEO agencies to avoid one getting in the way of the other, or duplicating efforts.

Secondly – consider the timescales involved. If you need ROI tomorrow, no amount of PR and SEO will do it. But they will win in the longer term, and it’s important to have this conversation regards timescales before you sign the contract.

Finally, if it seems too good to be true, it absolutely is! SEO has a chequered history, because once upon a time you could game the system. A lot has changed since then, and ultimately Google wants the internet to be a better place, so heed their advice. Ask your agency to back up their recommendations with actual statements from Google.

 

You’ve seen a lot of change over the past decade in the industry, what do you think the future looks like?

Luke:   Print may die out completely. Logically, if it isn’t profitable, it will go. I picked up the last ever editions of News of the World, London Lite, and Shortlist to show the grandkids.

Google will continue to monetize search engine results pages in new and monopolistic ways. It’s harder than ever before to tell the difference between ads and organic on mobile, and real estate that didn’t contain adverts is now starting to, which will open up more possibilities for paid marketing. It’s not all doom and gloom though – organic still way outperforms paid search (latest figures form June 2019 show organic gets 45% of the search clicks and the ads a measly 4%) and I think we’ll see more organic opportunities in future, as more authorities look into Google’s dominance, (for example Google is currently facing a widespread investigation in the United States for “potential monopolistic behaviour”).

We’re also slowly but surely seeing Google competitors (with a focus on privacy) beginning to grow (e.g. DuckDuckGo).

Microtargeting of persona niches will also increase. There are so many different channels available now, from news on Snapchat to cryptocurrency on TikTok. Behaviours can change drastically based on the platforms and channels—and from experience, those habits tend to stick from generation to generation. The future will see the rise of micro marketing strategies based on really specific age and channel-based personas.  

That’s it from Luke for now, but if you’re interested in learning more about digital PR and SEO, get in touch.