Ranking high in search can sometimes feel like a game of numbers, and to the search engines and bots, that really is true. But that said, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a strategic component of an overall marketing program that is best pursued with a commitment to critical thinking and application of insights that come from analytics.
Put another way, while Google and other search engines and bots crunch data to display results, SEO success comes from a dedicated personal commitment to analyzing and interpreting what telling data is telling you, and then knowing how to apply those insights to create a better web experience for your customers.
In this blog post, I’m going to go over a number small but integral steps you can take to improve your SEO rankings. Keep in mind that SEO in and of itself has little value outside of the context of an integrated marketing communications effort, which I refer to a Content Distribution Ecosystem.
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Step One: Perform a Check-Up
The first step is to do a health check on your website to gauge how well the site is working to achieve the goals you’ve set. In order to know what you need to do to improve, you need to be able to benchmark where you are in terms of your website’s efficiency at giving visitors what they want, within a short time span. Some questions you want to ask include: How and where is my site appearing in search rankings currently? How easy is it for my target customer to find me? What messaging or structural issues are impeding the customer journey?
A great way to accomplish this health check is by use of tools that are available. Some are free, and some are paid, and it’s probably a best practice to look at using a mix of both. Some paid tools include Raven Tools, Moz, and SEM Rush. One thing to keep in mind: while these tools can really help you optimize, they can be intimidating and time-consuming to learn. So consider the learning curve timing or outsourcing the health check process to a consultant who is already familiar with the tools for greater efficiency.
Step Two: Go For the Goal
The second step is to use your Google Analytics account to set up goal values. The reason for doing this is tied to the urban principle of “if you don’t know where you’re going, every road will lead you there.” Setting up goal values in Google Analytics let you measure and track your success based on what you define as success.
For example, if a website goal is 20 new leads per month, then, once set up, your results tracking in Google Analytics will provide you with a real-time reference point as to the level of success towards that goal. The goal tracking process will let you analyze the customer journey and correct spots along that path that are inefficient. Using goal values in Google Analytics is a great way to put an ROI measurement on your marketing activities. (And CEOs – those who sign the checks -love ROI!)
Step Three: Reduce Load Times
The third step has to do with the time it takes your page or your site to load. Google, in its ever-evolving search engine optimization algorithm, has increasingly placed weight on page load times with regards to ranking status. Google’s thinking here is that the more efficient the page loads, the more it is optimized for a great user experience, which is what Google is constantly searching to improve.
Current best practices state that the optimal site speed load time should be less than 1.5 seconds. Even delays as small as one second can have a significant impact on the ranking value you get from Google search. There are several steps you can take to help ensure that your pages will load optimally. These include:
- Reducing the server response time (AMP) for all blog posts
- Separating mobile and desktop URLs
- Making sure your website is responsive design ready (meaning the site adapts in size and layout based on where it is being viewed – mobile, tablet or desktop)
- Removing pop-up ads or any visual overlay that disrupts the user experience
As a final check, you can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to test the user experience from a mobile perspective.
Step Four: Use Structured Data
The next step is with regards to using structured data, which is an on-page markup system that allows search engines to understand how your website should appear to visitors. It’s essentially a method to help ensure that all metadata, micro data and markup data are set up for optimized search engine optimization. An efficient structured data set up on your website will help will position you for high-value placement in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The goal of this effort is to increase click-through rates while reducing bounce rates (which refers to the percentage of people who click away from your website before consuming any content).
Step Five: Keyword Optimization
Next, you should look to keyword optimization to help improve the viability of your site and improve your competitive rankings against larger and more established companies. A great deal of competition existes for high-value keywords in most sectors, and all too often companies with deep pockets have up-bid desirable keywords in their PPC (Pay-Per-Click) efforts, which makes it hard to compete on the basis of desirable keywords alone.
That said, tools mentioned earlier such as Moz and SEM Rush that can help you identify what are known as “long-tail keywords.” These are keywords that are related to your business or business category but are not ranked as costly, high-value keywords because they are underutilized. Using these tools, you can analyze the keyword landscape and find those keywords that still have high relevance and lower cost. Note that the strategy works well for organic search as well as PPC.
Step Six: Reduce 404 Errors and Duplicate Content
Two other vital steps you need to take with regards to your SEO efforts is to fix what are known as 404 Errors and remove pages with duplicate content. 404 Errors refer to broken links within your website structure. These are typically pages that have been removed from the content structure at some point but still have links referencing them from other places within your website. Using a tool like SEM Rush or Moz, you can identify these 404 errors and remove the pages from your reference links.
Duplicate content errors come when the same exact content appears on more than one page. Google sees this duplicate content as spam and will rank your website lower because of it. If you decide that you have several pages that need to have the same content, it’s best to slightly modify content on the duplicate page.
Step Seven: Optimize Your Content
The next step you can take with regards to improving your SEO is to update those pages on your site that are performing optimally. Too often we forget that the web is a dynamic publishing platform meaning that just because a page is published once doesn’t mean it can be modified.
When you discover a page on your site that is performing well (by reviewing data in your Google Analytics reports), update it with CTA (Call To Action) links and fresh new related content that can help even further improve ranking value. One note of caution with this approach: resist the urge to tap into the value of the page because of its current ranking and dilute it with new content that has no relevance or value to the subject at hand. This is a surefire way to kill what was once a strong page asset and turn it into a liability.
In summary, a few basic SEO steps as those listed here can go a long way in helping your website become an authoritative source for your business sector or product group. It’s important to remember that SEO is a long-term commitment and not something you should expect quick short fixes from. Remembering to put in a little bit of time on a consistent basis with regards to your SEO efforts will go a long way in keeping your search engine ranking up in your quality scores high with regards to Google and other search engines.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns that integrate PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video and Email Marketing components.