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.
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 discuss relevant topics and trends in onsite content.
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.
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:
- 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
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.
Google is keen on EAT: expertise, authority and trust.
Why? Because searchers are keen on EAT. If they know they’re dealing with an expert, the authority on a subject, then they’re more likely to be satisfied. And Google likes satisfied users.
They keep coming back.
Fact is, EAT has been cited as important for a few years. Google was talking about it in relation to its Search Quality guidelines back in 2015, but it’s zoomed back into focus since June when a core algorithm update, focused on EAT, saw very popular sites take huge hits in terms of keyword rankings and organic traffic.
Affected sites were mainly financial and health focused – otherwise known by Google as Your Money Your Life sites (YMYL).
This makes sense. Misinformation on these sites has a major impact on the searcher.
So, what’s Google’s advice if you’re suffering from a lack of EAT?
“Focus on content.”
In particular, look at the pages on your site that have taken the biggest hits and analyse them one by one, keeping the following questions in mind (each of which is detailed in Google’s August EAT blog and each of which I’ve looked to expand upon).
Content and quality questions
Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
If you’re not adding value, then why would you be returned in the search engine results?
Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Word count is not a ranking factor, but Google’s Quality Raters (human beings who work for Google and spend their days assessing and reporting back on websites to help Google fine-tune its algorithm) are being asked to assess content based on how comprehensive it is.
Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
Once again, if you’re not adding value then why would you be returned?
If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
Anyone can plagiarise, to be a genuine expert is to use your expertise to add value.
Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
Yes, optimising your meta data is still important. As is providing descriptive headers and content menus and writing in a way that Google finds easy to understand. Google likes to provide instant answers (you may have heard them referred to as ‘featured snippets’. This is why they’re asking for menus and ‘helpful summaries’. This helps Google extract sections from a page and return those sections directly in the search results.
Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
This is not Google punishing enticing news headlines, this is Google targeting clickbait.
Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
Referrals remain the greatest indicators of quality.
Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
If you produce quality original content, optimise it, and author it to an expert, then it’s very likely it’ll be a source in future. This will, in turn, result in followed links.
Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
If you’re the best at what you do, then it’s never been more important to demonstrate this. Do you have experts? Then how can you promote their expertise? Are you listed on their LinkedIn profiles? Are their social profiles up to date with their qualifications and expertise? Authorship reputation is regularly cited as important in the Search Quality Guidelines (“reputation of the creator of the content”) – take a look at section 2.5.2:
Every page belongs to a website, and it should be clear:
- Who (what individual, company, business, foundation, etc.) is responsible for the website.
- Who (what individual, company, business, foundation, etc.) created the content on the page you are evaluating.
What kinds of qualifications and certifications do you have as a company? How good a job does your ‘About us’ and ‘Team’ pages do at promoting your expertise? Why would a customer choose to work with you versus a competitor?
If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
How do you present yourself as an authority on a subject? Well, one way we know Google favours is PR. They haven’t come out and directly said “hire a PR agency” but they have said that featuring in high profile publications is a ‘good thing’. This comes back to positive brand mentions in contextually relevant publications. If you’re an expert on back office processes in manufacturing companies then you need Google and its Quality Raters to see you talking about the topic in the right places – for starters, the manufacturing press. You wouldn’t be featured if you didn’t know your stuff.
On the other hand, if you pop up on some random guest blog site that anyone can feature on, or simply a site that’s totally unrelated to your business and expertise, then that’s not going to convince anyone you know what you’re talking about.
Go and Google your name in speech marks (e.g. “Luke Budka”) and then search for your company’s name (e.g. “TopLine Comms”). What’s returned? Are you convinced you’re an expert in what you sell based on the search results? If not, then why would anyone else be?
Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
Comes down to profile once again – note the difference in language though ‘expert or enthusiast’ – suggests that Google believes you can be a trusted source simply based on frequency of publication of content related to a particular topic. Makes sense right. There are plenty of businesses where there’s a limit to the official qualifications you can gain (SEO being a prime example) so how else do you demonstrate authority? Via self teaching and dissemination of logical value-added content.
Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
Yeah, this is 101 stuff.
Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
This is YMYL specific but an interesting point.
Presentation and production questions
Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
This is also 101 stuff.
Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
Quality, not quantity, if quantity impacts quality. Doesn’t mean the page has to look wonderful (take Google’s own aesthetically bland Webmaster blog) but it does mean it has to adhere to everything we’ve discussed already regards expertise, and it has to be well laid out, in an easy to read format.
Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
This screams spam. It’s also very difficult to properly maintain multiple websites as a brand; brand journalism was all the rage a few years back, but you’re spreading your brand authority over multiple domains. This question from Google is not in reference to brand journalism but it’s an important point to make. If you want your domain to rank for a series of keywords then why would you publish all of your best content on another domain? Yes, there are things you can do with canonicalization etc. but is it worth it?
Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
It’s unlikely as a B2B company you’re running ads, but you’ll still be familiar with this problem. You land on a page, particularly on mobile, and you can’t navigate it because of ads popping up everywhere. It’s not hard to get this right. Also, Google has previously flagged intrusive interstitials as a ranking no-no, so take the hint.
Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
Google runs a mobile first index. If your site doesn’t work well on mobile then this is a BIG issue. It’s also, however, wise to consider mobile on a page by page basis. Google won’t necessarily penalise the whole site if certain pages provide a poor mobile experience. Make sure your most important pages are as good as they can be from an EAT perspective (this includes AMP – no good having contentless AMP pages – they need to replicate your main site) and can be easily viewed and navigated on a mobile device.
Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
This is an obvious but often ignored point when developing B2B content. You have a keyword target but have you reviewed what appears on page one when you search for the keyword? Do you know what you have to be better than? Do you know which area of the topic you can add value to? This is SO important. It’s a crucial part of producing great content and relatively easy to do.
Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Content for the sake of ranking is not going to do as well as content designed to solve a visitor’s query. Google is getting very good at understanding when you’re trying to game the system.
There you have it. Some basic thoughts and theories on how B2B companies can tackle their EAT problems.
A lot of the above is fundamental to any B2B SEO strategy. All content, regardless of whether you want it to rank or not, should be expert-led and should position your organisation as a trusted source. You can then take that content and use it in a variety of ways across multiple channels.
Anybody working for a half-decent B2B SEO agency will talk to you at length about why link building is important. They will talk about it at conferences, they will talk about it in meetings, they will talk about it at funerals (sometimes mid-eulogy).
Essentially, it’s a big thing for SEO people, and for very good reason. But before we talk about it is important, it’s a good idea to talk about what link building actually, you know, is.
The whole point of link building is to accumulate followed (this bit’s important) links to your website. There. Done.
We were hoping for more than that.
Followed links – i.e., any link that doesn’t have a “nofollow” html tag – that point to your site are considered one of Google’s top ranking factors. They’re not everything, but they’re why link building is important.
While every link helps, some links are better than others. To gauge the value of a link, we use a metric called “Domain Authority” (DA) to measure the value of the site the link sits on. Developed by SEO software company Moz, it’s simply a number between 1 and 100: it’s meant to suggest how authoritative Google believes each domain to be. The BBC, for example, has a DA of 100, which makes it more or less the SEOly grail; the blog on cats you started this morning is likely to be rather less trusted.
Better still, the more followed links you accumulate, the more your own DA goes up. While any correlation between DA and search engine rank is unofficial – Google is very secret squirrel about how its algorithm actually works, probably because the second anyone notices that it can be exploited, they, well, exploit it – it’s generally accepted that the more trusted you are, the better.
PR and link building: kissing cousins
PR is an excellent way to build links, and we should know: we’re one of the UK’s fastest growing PR agencies.
The process of identifying target publications and agreeable journalists – and getting them interested in your company, its spokespeople, and what it has to say – is long and arduous, but it bears tasty, tasty fruit. Coverage and publicity is obviously a big part of that, but when you secure an article, blog, or comment piece with a media outlet, you’ll often be able to get a link in the author bio or somewhere in the text.
I’ve got some links so I’m good right?
If you want to know how many followed links currently point at your site, use Moz’s free (to a point) Link Explorer tool. Got some good links from sites with great DAs? Yes? Amazing! Now check a competitor’s site. Have they got more links than you from better domains? Yes? That’s why they rank higher than you in the search engine results pages. Everything else being equal (i.e. you’ve got all your onsite optimisation right and you’re regularly producing great content), your keyword rankings will pretty much be dependent on the quality and quantity of links you (or your great B2B PR agency – FYI that’s us!) build.
We know exactly why link building is important and are pretty good at it in all its forms, in using PR as part of a harmonious, coordinated SEO strategy. Want to discuss your link building strategy further? No problem, contact our SEO experts now.How to do White Hat SEO
There were two kinds of gunslingers in Western cinema.
Your black hats were typically the villains: unscrupulous, self-interested to an illegal and immoral extreme, usually played by someone like Lee Marvin, Lee Van Cleef, or Lee J. Cobb (if 20th century America has taught us anything, it’s that you should never trust a Lee).
Your white hats were typically the good guys: they shone brightly, they set a good example, and they were usually played by John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart.
In the modern-day great plains of the Google search rankings, these archetypes have re-emerged. If we all lived in a perfect world, we wouldn’t call it “white hat SEO”. We’d just call it “SEO”. Alas, this is not a perfect world. There is the good way to do SEO, and there is the bad way.
A fistful of keywords
In order to establish how to do white hat SEO, we must first define it in opposition to black hat techniques – used by the foulest and most depraved outlaws across the entire search landscape.
The purpose of a search engine is to make relevant content easier for users to find. It’s Google’s mission, and it was the mission of AskJeeves and AltaVista before it. Black hat SEOs artificially inflate their clients’ sites and pages using forbidden (or highly frowned-upon) SEO techniques. They’ll pay for links (absolutely forbidden by Google). They’ll insert keywords in irrelevant places and way too many times (also clearly specified as bad practice by Google’s own search team). They’ll wait for a page to get indexed, and then swap it out for a totally different page.
Black hat SEO techniques sometimes get short-term results, but Google – a particularly vigilant sheriff – always wises up to it, and updates its algorithm to actively punish these methods. If you want to improve your long-term rankings, it’s time to don the white hat.
For a few keywords more
If you want to know how to do white hat SEO, it’s simple: create great content for a human audience. Accumulate followed links by providing comments or writing articles for other sites. Produce great content, promote it to the right audience and it’ll naturally attract links. These techniques sound straightforward but to do well takes creativity, excellent copywriting and design skills and an astute, well-connected, media relations team. A good B2B SEO agency should be able to help you with all these things.
A good rule of thumb is this: if it feels like you’re getting away with something, it’s not white hat SEO. Don’t try to be clever, even if you are: Google sees all, knows all, and punishes without mercy or remorse: if, by some miracle, you do get past it, it won’t be for long.
Because just like in those old Western movies, the white hats tend to ride off into the sunset – while the black hats usually get shot and left for dead.
Want to discuss how to do white hat SEO further? Contact our director, Luke.How long does SEO take?
Schema for dummies – a beginner’s guide
What is schema?
Schema is a vocabulary maintained and developed by an open community. It’s like a series of flags. You can use different coloured flags to link relationships between ‘entities’ on the web. An entity could be a company, phone number, review or recipe.
Schema is broken down into ‘types’ (here’s the full list of types) and ‘properties’. For example, an ‘organization’ is a type and it has loads of properties e.g. areaServed (the geographic area where a service or item is provided) or email (email address) or foundingDate (the date that the organisation was founded).
You can use these properties to help search engines better understand the information on a website.
How do I use schema?
Why use schema?
You are making the web a better place by helping search engines, and therefore users, understand your content.
It’s not a ranking factor. Adding schema to your pages will not help those pages rank higher.
However, schema can trigger rich snippets in the search engine results pages. A rich snippet might be a list of instructions, or a company’s customer service phone number or star reviews under a search result for a film or a product. Here are a few examples:
What does the schema code look like?
In the example below, we’ve used JSON-LD to detail corporate contact information about TopLine Comms. In yellow we’re explaining to the browser that we’re using JSON-LD. Green indicates it’s the schema vocabulary. Blue is obviously the schema type we’re referencing and the pink indicates all the different schema properties.
You will notice in the example above that we had to specify the type of address we were using, and we ‘nested’ some of the properties under PostalAddress (as indicated by the slight indentation).
TIP: if you use Google’s structured data testing tool to check your code before you add it to your site (and you should), bear in mind you’re playing by Google’s rules. For example, in the above, the value expected for contactType is text. So as long as you’re describing what the phone number can be used for you could write anything e.g.
“contactType”: “Dog grooming helpdesk”
This would not be incorrect, but Google would say it is when you run the code through the structured data testing tool. This is because Google expects you to pick one of its approved contact types. Here’s a list of approved contact types. Always good to check Google’s documentation when drafting your JSON-LD.
How do you create it?
So, first of all, you don’t need to be able to ‘code’. There are two easy ways to create it:
- There are loads of free tools out there that will auto-generate the schema you want to create. Simply search for ‘schema generator’, pick your tool, and away you go! Once you’ve created it and tested it you’ll need to give it to whoever manages your website and explain which page/s you want it adding to.
- Use a CMS plugin. The most popular and best example is Yoast SEO for WordPress (£79 at the time of writing – a bargain at twice the price in my opinion!). The team at Yoast is constantly releasing new versions of the plugin that support more and more schema implementation. Well worth the investment if you’re running a WordPress site. Enables you to log in to your CMS and add the desired schema directly to the page without worrying about having to write it yourself.
Before you get started, a few things to bear in mind:
- Google only supports and displays rich snippets for a limited number of schema types. You can find them here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/article. New types of schema are being supported all the time though, so you can never mark up too much! At worst you’re improving the internet for everyone, at best you’ll start generating new rich results without even realising it!
- The free tools are limited – normally they’ll support a few of the more popular schema types e.g. local business, product, person etc. If you can’t find what you need then simply search online for the schema you want and then hack it around a bit – change the values to suit your purposes and then use the structured data testing tool to weed out any errors
- If you’re really stuck then Google actually has a tool called Data Highlighter which is in the old version of Search Console. You can use it to easily mark-up data on your site. However, with old Search Console almost entirely replaced by new Search Console, you may find it’s a tool that’s not supported for long
- Home of schema: https://schema.org/
- A more detailed beginner’s guide to schema: https://yoast.com/structured-data-schema-ultimate-guide/
- JSON-LD beginner’s guide – very good resource if you’re keen to learn a bit more about the format and troubleshoot your own code: https://moz.com/blog/json-ld-for-beginners
- Google’s testing tool – it’ll point out errors that you’ll wan tot fix before adding the code to your site. It’ll also enable you to check URLs that contain schema to make sure they’re hunky dory: https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool
- Google’s currently supported (i.e. results in rich snippets) structured data types: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/data-types/corporate-contact
- One of the many free schema generators out there: https://www.jamesdflynn.com/json-ld-schema-generator/
If you’re stuck with schema then contact us today to find out more about our SEO services.Questions to ask an SEO agency
Without prior experience, it can be difficult to identify what makes a really good SEO agency. To help address the issue, Google put together some tips on how to hire an SEO professional; they can be applied to the agency selection process too.
A quick note before we begin – a good SEO agency should always be able to show you a corroborating statement from Google (in the form of a help centre article, video or Google response in a forum) that supports their proposed strategy and recommendations. The statement should have a matching description of the issue that needs to be improved.
By comparison, a less qualified agency/old school agency, might suggest doing things like adding more keywords to the metatags or buying links (neither of which will work in the long term, as Google strongly advises against both activities).
A checklist of questions to ask an SEO agency
Once you’ve got a shortlist of agencies you want to work with, you can start conducting interviews with them to make sure that they are actually interested in you and your business.
Questions to ask an SEO agency
- What should be improved on your site for SEO purposes and how?
- What should be improved off your site for SEO purposes and how?
- What content have they recently produced that’s resulted in followed links for their clients?
- What content have they recently produced that’s resulted in brand mentions for their clients?
- What have they done that’s worked well for previous clients?
- What have they done that’s not worked so well for previous clients?
- What do they think the future of SEO looks like?
- What do they include in a technical SEO audit?
- What do they think are the top three most important things your business needs to do from a technical, content or offsite (e.g. link building) SEO perspective to make progress? (To give them the best chance possible of answering this question you’ll need to give them at least temporary restricted access to your Google Analytics and Search Console accounts.)
- How long do they think these priority activities will take?
- What will the impact of these activities be?
If you expect them to conduct an in-depth audit or a competitor analysis for example, then expect to pay for this work! If the agency you’re talking to is prepared to do this for free then be concerned what you’ll receive is a run of the mill, fairly useless, automated report.
Questions they should be asking you
Red flags should be raised if the agency doesn’t want to ask you anything. Questions we ask prospects include:
- What are your business objectives?
- What do you sell?
- What do you need to sell?
- How many and in what time scale?
- What other marketing activities are you conducting to help you meet your business objectives?
- How many leads do you generate every month from SEO at the moment?
- How many qualified leads do you generate every month from SEO at the moment?
- What’s your organic conversion rate (from organic enquiry to qualified lead)?
- What does your website development schedule look like?
- How agile is your development function?
- How committed are you to SEO?
- What’s your budget?
Get some references
Then obviously ask the agency for references!
- SEO is a long term strategy – there is no point in getting into this if you’re going to give up six months in. It’s simply not possible to win at SEO overnight but once you get it right you have a stream of highly qualified inbound leads coming into the site. The agency will likely need to create/edit website content required for SEO purposes in the first instance. Then they’ll move into a pattern of onsite blogging (for internal linking purposes) and ongoing link and brand building via PR activity, to increase the position of your website for the keywords you’re interested in (i.e. the ones that’ll generate you the right kinds of leads).
- The agency will need to add new content to your site – in all likelihood, they’ll need to add new pages and make edits to existing pages in order to help you compete – if you are unwilling to do this then they won’t be able to make progress.
- The agency will require access to subject matter experts (for link building purposes) and whoever is involved in website management (a lot of our clients simply give us access so we can upload agreed content)
Answers to the questions above and due consideration of things like time scale and development capacity, will enable you to get a handle on which agency understands your business the best and which one you’ll have the most successful relationship with. Then it should be easy to pick the one to move forward with.
Got your own SEO questions? Get in touch today!