7 crucial SEO tips, how Google works and what Old McDonald has to do with it
The website is your business hub.
All marketing efforts are pointing to your online presence. You are advertising your services, selling products, connecting with customers and educating through blog posts.
The aim is to be found online. And ranking top for your keywords seems to be a desirable goal.
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation seems to be the answer to be found on the internet. SEO is definitely important, but takes time and consistent effort to succeed.
SEO, however, does not solve underlying business problems and being found won't happen in the blink of an eye. It is rather the opposite.
Just like in real life, it takes a while to find the right audience, to gain people's trust and then to turn them into customers. Similarly, it takes search engines a while to find your website and recognise it as a trusted source.
So how can we get to the top of Google’s search results, in front of millions of people?
Let's start with Old McDonald.
He had a farm.
Every spring he is getting his fields ready, covering them with fresh soil and carefully planting seeds. Then he waters them and waits.
He is not going to go outside every day to check if any of the seeds are poking out. He does not expect to see the crop a week later either. Not even after a month. He knows it will take a whole season until the crops are ready to be harvested.
While waiting, he is looking after other parts of the business. He plants more seeds, goes to town selling his produce and feeds his animals. In the evening he shares a drink with his wife. Well, that is what I image he would do :)
Just like Old McDonald's seeds, SEO efforts take careful planning and time to work for your business. Successful SEO combines strategic content development, keyword placing and patience. It takes a while to get to the top, like with everything else. Sometimes a whole season.
To understand why it takes time and how we can help Google to find us, let's have a look behind the scenes of the search engine.
Behind Google's scenes
Google's ability to search and understand information is continuously getting more sophisticated. We can't trick them by just listing keywords and tweaking our page URLs. They are looking very closely at the content.
Google processes millions of records in seconds and provides the users with a pretty relevant list of search results from trustworthy sources. They are checking if the page content is relevant, the keywords match, what else is linked to it and what people say about it.
This makes your content and website structure, your site traffic and quality very important.
How Google crawls and indexes
So how does Google rank the pages?
It helps to understand how Google makes sense of all the information online so that we can plant our seeds in the right places and get found.
Imagine a massive library with millions of books but no central filing system, no index organised by authors and titles. Just stacks and stacks of books. It would nearly be impossible to find anything.
This is what Google is dealing with. Web pages over web pages and more web pages without any index listing where which page belongs to, what they are about or what they relate to.
So Google is crawling all web pages they know of from past searches, find new pages by following links and visit new sitemaps. Then they create an index of the web with all the websites and pages they found.
You can image a huge, but well organised filing cabinet where every piece of information has got its place.
They are constantly updating their index.
They are visiting websites in different intervals. If you consistently blog every week for example, Google will know that it will have to come back and check for new content more often than if you are randomly or never update your website.
How Google processes a search
Now that we know of Google's index, what happens when we search for keywords?
We are searching Google’s index of the web or as much as they could find of it. They are going through all the entries that contain the search terms.
To present you with the best and most relevant results, it is asking more than 200 questions in the process within split seconds:
How many times does this page contain the keywords?
Do the words appear in the title, the URL?
Does the page include synonyms for this search?
Is this page from a quality website?
What is this page’s rank?
How many outside links are pointing to it?
What you then see is the list of search results ranked by an overall score. The results contain of the web page title, a description and a URL. I am sure you are familiar with the layout.
Google’s aim is to provide useful and impartial page results. They never accept payment to add a site to the index, update more often or improve its ranking.
Knowing a bit more about how Google works now, how can we apply SEO so that our site gets found and performs as well as possible?
7 ways to improve your SEO today
Here are 7 simple ways of how you can help Google to find your website.
NOTE: I will explain on how to do this step-by-step in my upcoming blog post focusing on Squarespace websites and SEO. :)
1 | Provide a sitemap of your website
Google can only show your website in the search results if it can find you. Make sure Google knows about your website and provide them with a sitemap, especially when you are new.
A sitemap is a list of URLs on a site that tells search engines about the structure of its content. With a sitemap, it’s much easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently.
To submit, create an account with Google Webmasters to submit your sitemap for a project.
2 | Give your pages meaningful and specific names
Since Google has to understand what your web pages are all about, help out and name your pages consistently as title and meta description still matter.
Google looks at page names as one of the ways to put your page into the right spot in the filing cabinet. Page names appear on the top of the browser tab. Hover over and check it out!
It is recommended to not just go with your business name as it is not very likely that many people will search for that. They are more likely to look for the services or products you are offering. Be specific and tell them what the page is about and make sure you are highlighting what you are doing. In Pexels' example: Free stock photos of filing cabinet - Pexels.
The text of your title and description tags is also displayed in the search results. Think of this text as a “mini-ad” that you need to carefully craft and great way of how to tell Google what the page is about.
In terms of meaningful, naming the homepage simply Home does not tell either Google or visitors what my business is about. Be descriptive and try to include keywords that describe your business and get your web page filed in the right drawer. My homepage is titled with Brand & Web Design for Small Businesses | Brisbane, Australia | On Port 80.
3 | Repeat the keywords in headings and long-form content
When optimising for search engines, The heading defined by the Page Title Tag H1 is still one of the most important on-page SEO factors to address.
Keywords in page titles can help your pages rank higher in Google result pages and often end up as links to your website.
In addition to keywords, the content on the pages is one of the most important Google ranking factors. In recent years, we have seen a shift away from keyword-focused content towards more relevant content written in natural language. Google is more and more evaluating content according to its relevance and not just by the inclusion of individual keywords.
Backlinko also found that the semantic search is what counts and what will stay. Google looks at how much in depth content is written and how relevant it is. They also report that long-form content ranks better than short-form content, probably because it allows articles to consider their subject in more detail.
So start creating relevant content for your audience and offer detailed posts about topics specific to your business.
4 | Name all your images
The more your keywords appear on a web page, the more relevant Google will find your page for that specific topic. Describe what is on that page and let image names help you.
The images in this blog post for example include the keywords 'SEO tips for small businesses | Logo & web design by On Port 80, Brisbane.
5 | Include your location
According to Google, 20% of searches are related to a location. So make sure you have got your city or town in all you page and image titles, especially if it you are a location based business.
But even for an online business it is a good idea to target a specific group of people at first and location is a great way to narrow it down. Try to rank high for searches in your area. Then grow from there.
For example: Yoga & Pilates online classes | Brisbane, Australia | The Yoga Guru.
6 | Set up a Google My Business account
With regards to local searches, being part of Google My Business is a great way to show everyone what you are doing. where you are located and what people say about you.
A study about local search engine factors found that Google My Business produced the highest impact to rank high in local search results.
Google will reward your business with a spot on the top or the right side of the search results if relevant to the location.
Here is a tutorial with the steps to set it all up.
7 | Update your website regularly with beneficial content for your users
The more you update your website content, the more often Google will come back and check for what's news.
But it has to be done for the right reasons. The goal should be to update your site in a timely manner that benefits users, with an aim of increasing clicks, user engagement, and fresh links. These are the clearest signals you can pass to Google to show that your site is fresh and deserving of high rankings.
Remember to be patient as changes can take up to six weeks until they appear in the search results.
SEO lessons learned
Clever and consistent Search Engine Optimisation combined with your other marketing efforts will help your business being found by the right people for the right reasons.
It is very helpful to understand how search engines work to consciously craft your SEO strategy. This way you can support Google and the other search engines in indexing your content most efficiently and accurately.
Here are my takeaways:
SEO takes time. You are like a farmer planting seeds. Give them time to grow into strong, healthy plants.
Climbing to the top of the search results involves patience and analysis. Find what works for your business and do more of that.
Try to move up the list for a small, specialised area first. In my case, I am aiming for establishing my business in Brisbane targeting small businesses looking for branding and a website. Find your niche, become the expert to go to and this will eventually move you towards the top.
Keep repeating your keywords over and over again. Place them strategically in your page titles, repeat them in your headings, your sub-headings and produce longer high quality content around the topics you are focusing on.
Name all the images on the pages to increase the number of keywords on your web page telling Google that this is all about that certain topic.
Give Google up to 6 weeks to react to your changes.
A last note...
There are many people out there that run high traffic websites with only very little SEO in place. Think about it this way: Just because you are on the first page of the yellow or white pages, does not mean your business has succeeded or will flourish.
It is you who will make the difference: Your business strategy, the way you interact with people, the relationships you build and perseverance to create your niche serving your target audience.
What are your thoughts on SEO? I am looking forward to reading what you found useful and what didn't work.