People who build websites (like us!) like to tell clients that if their business doesn’t have a website, it doesn’t exist. But getting a website built is only one step amongst many more required to truly get a business on the web.
All websites need some search engine optimisation or SEO to ensure they’re not marooned in the ether and are actually visible to searchers.
Because we believe in ticking as many digital marketing boxes as possible, at Both Birds we’ve built basic SEO into our website production process, ensuring you get an optimised website straight off the presses rather than having to spend additional resources getting SEO for your finished site. (Although in highly competitive environments you may still require ongoing SEO work to ensure you stay ahead of the pack.)
In this article we take you through the SEO basics we think every website should cover. If you already have a website, this list works just as well as a checklist to ensure your website is working as hard as it can for your business.
Step 1: Achieve basic branded search visibility
As a bare minimum, your website should rank at the top of a Google search for your business name. This is called “branded search”.
Meeting this minimum requirement means your website is at least the online equivalent of a business card or flyer: Potential customers who know about your business will be able to find your contact details and address when they need them.
Most websites tend to rank for branded search with very little additional SEO effort, although some basic SEO usually still has to be addressed.
In addition to being visible for branded search, it’s also essential that any website, however basic, is fully responsive, making it easy to browse on mobile devices.
Step 2: Gather data on audiences & search visibility
Your site should at least have Google’s Analytics and Search Console data tools set up to measure its performance.
Every website should have tools in place to monitor audience data and search visibility. These will tell you how many people have visited your website, where they were located when they searched for your site (in which country, region and town), which device they used to search for your site (mobile device or desktop computer, Android or IOS) and how long they stayed on the website for.
This will also allow you to develop a better picture of the search queries that are taking visitors to your website, give you a sense of how they engaged with the content (did they stay to read it or leave immediately?) and will help you track how your website ranks in the search results.
Google provides the tools you need to do this for free, but you’ll most likely need some technical support to set them up and to produce and interpret reports.
Even if you’re not currently doing any SEO, this data will help you tailor your marketing activities in the future. Not setting these tools up from the start means your marketing team will have to work with an incomplete picture of your site’s performance.
Step 3: Claim & optimise your Google Maps listing
Every business with a physical location should own their Google Maps listing and ensure it’s accurate.
If you have a brick-and-mortar store or business, in other words, anything with a shopfront whether this is a hardware store, cafe or guesthouse, it should have an optimised Google Maps listing.
This listing will show up in any branded search and will also display in the Google Maps mobile app.
Claiming this listing is free, but can be a little tricky. Again an agency can help ensure your website is properly linked to your listing and that you business is listed in the correct category.
Not having a Google listing means missing out on a valuable online advertising opportunity since a Google Maps listing is usually displayed prominently on the right hand side of the Google results page.
A Google Maps listing also helps Google to identify your business as a known entity which helps Google associate your website with its competitors.
If you have the time and resources it’s useful to add your listing to other navigation services and trustworthy directories, like Bing, SquareSpace or Yelp.
Step 4: Ensure Facebook visibility
Your Facebook listing can provide valuable visibility in Google searches.
Depending on the nature of your industry, Facebook results could be given high prominence in branded search results. If you have a Facebook page, there’s a good chance it will rank well in searches for your business name. This is a valuable opportunity to take up more of the “real estate” on the first page of a Google result.
You can set up a business page yourself, but we suggest asking a digital marketing agency to check it over to ensure it is fully optimised.
Going beyond the bare minimum
Whilst everything we’ve covered in steps one to four will give your website a good foundation, it will most likely only bring in traffic from people who already know your brand or company.
Given the cost and effort that go into developing a website, we think ideally a website’s reach should go beyond branded search. But to get your site to actively market your service or product requires more advanced search engine optimisation for your business’ key services or products.
Step 5: Optimise for non-branded visibility
Your website should be purposely optimised to show up in searches your products or services.
Smaller businesses with target markets in the immediate proximity of the business, for example a small-town tailor or shoemaker, may not consider it a priority to be visible for anything other than their brand name. Since nearly all potential clients will walk past the store, the target audience already knows the business exists and will mainly go online searching for contact details or check prices.
These businesses also usually have a very small website (we call it a mini-site), that has a home page, contact page and sometimes about or prices page. This truly is the business card equivalent of a site. But if the website is bringing in enough business from branded search, it’s perfectly fine to keep the site small and the SEO basic.
Most websites, however, are showcasing a range of services or products and need to be visible in search for all of those, usually without the brand name. These are known as non-branded queries and are queries only for the service or product (eg calligraphy pens OR leather repair). They do not include the company or business name.
Achieving good search visibility for non-branded search usually involves these three actions:
- Researching the best possible wording for products or services, called a keyword vocabulary;
- Using this keyword vocabulary to add optimised pages and content to the website; and
- Maintaining a content strategy to ensure those new pages remain visible in search.
The first two steps can (and ideally should) be taken when a website is being developed and built. The third is an ongoing and resource-intensive one which is why we have separated it out here as step 6. Whilst we consider steps 1 and 2 essential, the third one may not be necessary for all sites.
We cover the first two in more detail below. The third is discussed in a separate article about advanced SEO.
5.1 Establish a keyword vocabulary
For Google (or any other search engine) to connect a website with a search query, that site must use the same keywords as the searcher.
Google will only return web pages in its search results that it knows are a good match for the search query. This makes it essential to label a website’s content with the kind of phrases (keyword vocabulary) that potential searchers are likely to use.
Thus as a first step towards non-branded search visibility, it is necessary to research the search terms that a company or business’ target market will use to find its services or products in Google.
Those keywords are then used to structure and label the content of a website in a way that fits Google’s criteria. Put simply, a well-researched keyword vocabulary ensures a website is speaking the same language as its customers and looks logical to Google.
This may seem basic, but it can get complicated quickly.
For example, if you are a salon offering long-lasting nail varnish which is known in the industry as “long-wearing baked enamel”, but your market is actually searching for “gel manicures”, Google will most likely not connect your “long-wearing baked enamel” page to a potential customer’s search for “gel manicure”.
Google is in the business of matching web pages with search queries. It relies on mathematical formulas to do this, so if your website does not “fit” a query closely enough (or not as closely as your competitors), Google will ignore it.
The above is a simplification. Google pays attention to many other factors in addition to keywords, but a strong keyword vocabulary remains central and fundamental to good SEO.
In application, keyword research is nuanced and can become very technical. Good keyword research will take into account your audience but also your competitors and will need to be adjusted on a regular basis to factor in how search habits evolve and how Google advances. Ultimately, however, really getting the details right is what makes the difference between showing up to your target market and being buried in the search results.
An experienced digital marketer will for instance be able to tell a bicycle rental store that they should rather focus on using the phrase “bike rental” than “bicycle rental” since the first phrase is a far more popular search query.
An expert will also recommend that they mention “suspension bikes” on their mountain bikes page as these are often used interchangeably. Finally, they might suggest focusing on road bikes as well, given the strong search demand.
5.2 Add optimised content and pages: Give Google a clear “winner”
Once a keyword vocabulary has been defined, the site’s architecture needs to be designed (or in the case of an existing site, adjusted) to ensure there’s a clear focal point for each topic on the site.
Since Google returns web pages in its search results and not websites as a whole, it is crucial that each category of products or services that a business wants to appear for, has its own web page.
If for example, all the information regarding mountain bikes, road bikes, bike accessories and bike rental in the example above, were presented together on one page, Google would not consider that page the best result for the search query: “buy road bike”.
Instead, Google’s algorithm will most likely favour a competitor’s page that focuses exclusively on road bikes and is much more likely to directly answer the searcher’s query.
It’s equally important that there aren’t any competing pages within one website. For example, if the bicycle store has separate pages for both “off road bikes” and “mountain bikes” when they are actually considered synonymous by Google’s algorithm, those two pages are competing with each other for visibility in search.
On their own, neither page would be the ideal choice. However, if they were combined into a single page there would be one clear “winning” page by Google’s standards.
Thus, once a keyword vocabulary has been devised for a company’s website, that site’s architecture needs to be carefully planned to fit its keyword focus.
In its simplest form, the structure of an optimised website might then look as follows:
Each page will contain specially optimised meta data as well as content that is designed to help those pages appear at the top of search results.
Following the above up with an ongoing content strategy will not be essential for all businesses, this will depend on their particular context. The initial optimisation in step five might already provide your website with sufficient competitive edge to get it to the top of Google searches. Should the industry change, a content strategy can always be hitched onto your site later.
At Both Birds we approach SEO in 3 Tiers, the first two of which are usually essential. We discuss SEO tiers in more detail in this article. Tier 1 covers steps 1-4 discussed above. We call this mini-site SEO as it would be perfectly adequate for sites with only a home page and contact page. Tier 2 includes steps 1-4 as well as steps 5.1 and 5.2. We consider Tier 2 SEO essential to any larger site.
Tier 3 covers all steps in the first two tiers as well as the content production constituting step 6 and any add-ons like paid, social or email campaigns.
If your website’s SEO does not at least cover all those steps contained in Tier 2, we recommend exploring ways of incorporating those elements. And if you’re building a new site, check with your web company that it will cover all the SEO basics out of the box.
If you want to go beyond the basics, have a look at our article on running a long-term SEO campaign.
Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.