If you don’t understand Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) it’s easy to be scared by it. SEO is one of the most hotly discussed topics amongst the small business owners I meet. So, for the first in my 'Content is Crucial' blog series, I've interviewed a good friend of mine, Cathy Houghton, an SEO specialist, to shed some light on what SEO is all about and the crucial role that quality content plays in achieving it.
Look out for three more 'Content is Crucial' interviews coming up in the coming months with experts who couldn't do their job without great content: web designer, graphic designer and video producer. But for now, over to Cathy...
Many small business owners are confused by SEO. Can you explain it in simple terms?
Imagine spending £1,000 on a really clever poster and then putting it in the middle of a field. You can spend a lot of money building a great looking website but if you don’t optimise the content for Google, nobody will ever see it and your investment will be worthless.
Customers will find your website either through being aware of your business by name or having a need for your product or service. The latter is where SEO comes into play. SEO is about giving your site the best chance of being chosen by Google.
A website without SEO has the same impact as a fantastic poster placed in this field!
What are Google bots and what happens when they ‘crawl’ my website?
Google bots are like little spiders that crawl around your website to index interesting and relevant pieces of information. The results form the basis of your Google ranking.
Google uses the bots and it’s algorithm to rank your website against hundreds of different criteria. Just like a bank’s security codes, the algorithm is constantly changing, so anyone who claims to know everything about the algorithm and how to get you to the top of page one is probably making a false claim. The algorithm is an unknown entity. Getting a top ranking on Google is not just about spending time on SEO, other factors such as external competition can affect your ranking too.
From an SEO perspective, what makes a great website?
The best websites are optimised for both people and Google. There’s no point optimising your website for Google if the content is going to turn people off when they get there. You should have clear key messages on your homepage so the reader becomes engaged and instantly knows they are in the right place. The rest of your site should combine a balanced mix of images, video and quality content.
Why is having quality content so crucial for a website?
Google recognises great content so it’s important the words on your pages flow and are easy to read. Whatever you claim to do on your homepage, you should provide more in-depth information on it on other pages on your site. This is where using a professional copywriter can really add value. They can craft clever and concise messaging that’s relevant to your audience, and break the copy up into bite-sized chunks. Quality copy is vital as it helps the Google bots understand who you are, what you offer and the location/s you operate in.
I recently worked with a healthcare business that wasn’t receiving any enquiries about one of their services. The business had made a few errors with content on their site: no mention of the brand name or search terms associated with the service and no visible demonstration of product results. By amending the content and adding relevant keywords I was able to optimise the content for search engines. It only took about an hour. This is something every business should look to do.
What other types of content are important for SEO?
For local businesses, map listings are crucial. The Google bots will check that the business address on your website matches those on other listings, such as social media and business directories. If you want your business to appear in Google map listings, make sure the address format is consistent everywhere. Conflicting messages will prevent you getting a good ranking.
Having a Google My Business page is also really important and the good news is they are really easy to set up. Once you have a page, ask customers to leave reviews as this will improve your search ranking.
Writing regular blogs is a great way to optimise your website. Google loves fresh, relevant and valuable content. Blogs are an opportunity to use keywords whilst showing off your expertise.
The use of Latent Semantic Keywords is a popular trend in SEO. Also known as synonyms, these are alternative ways to describe what your business does, e.g. copywriter, content writer, wordsmith, blogger.
Is there any content we should avoid?
Google penalises duplicate content so avoid this like the plague. Google will index the original version and penalise any subsequent versions. If you have this problem, an SEO specialist can help you to index and de-index pages.
Avoid using multiple H1 tags on the same page (to you and I, this is the largest heading on your page). Pick one main heading per page and use keywords in it.
If you could offer small businesses one piece of advice on optimising their website, what would it be?
Ask yourself two questions when adding content to your website:
Would Google rank it highly for your chosen keyword or phrase?
Would a potential customer find the content useful?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to both these questions, then it’s ok to add it to your website.
At the end of the day, Google is a business that wants to offer their customers the best experience possible by showing results that perfectly match their needs. If your website fulfils Google’s needs, it’s more likely to advertise your business over your competitors.
Cathy Houghton is a client acquisition specialist who supports businesses with SEO and Facebook advertising through her business Forward SEO. She works for companies with growth strategies and gets dramatic results.
For more information, visit the Forward SEO website.