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:
- 94% of B2B buyers search online before purchasing a product or service.
- 61% of searches on a desktop result in a click on an organic result.
- 40% of searches on a mobile result in a click on an organic result
- 56% of mobile searches result in no click (on organic results or PPC adverts)
- 35% of desktop searches result in no click (on organic results or PPC adverts)
- Organic positions #1, #2 and #3 on desktop search enjoy 35%, 17% and 11% click-through rate (CTR) respectively (data from international results in May 2020)
- Organic positions #1, #2 and #3 on mobile search enjoy 33%, 18% and 12% click-through rate (CTR) respectively (data from international results in May 2020)
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.
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!
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!
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 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!
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 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).
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:
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.
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.
Written by: Tom Pallot, Digital PR and SEO Strategist at TopLine Comms