With businesses making the move to serve their customers primarily online and the footfall of customers in physical stores dropping dramatically, the value of SEO has been rediscovered. Businesses are now paying closer attention to their online experience and how they can compete on the internet.
This post will offer a guide to businesses looking to enhance their organic reach and traffic, by providing some SEO solutions to issues they might be experiencing. This includes information suitable for businesses that haven’t engaged with SEO as a channel before, as well as those who have had more experience with it. The goal is to gain more traffic and increase conversions.
Scenario 1: You don’t know what keywords you should be ranking for
Targeting the right keywords is central to getting a return from SEO. Targeting the most valuable and relevant keywords to your product/service is crucial.
How to know what keywords to target:
- They should be relevant to your product/service offering
- They should have a search volume large enough to target an audience that is worthwhile. This can vary depending on the country, how specific your product/service is, and seasonality. Using your judgment is crucial here; your own knowledge about your specific industry and market will help you target the right keywords with the search demand relevant to your business.
Tools to conduct your keyword research:
- Moz Keyword Explorer → a keyword research tool that offers access to millions of keywords that can help form your list. You can see keyword suggestions, current ranking websites, and all the metrics on the keyword itself.
Cost: Create a free account to get you started.
- Ahrefs ‘Keyword Explorer’ or ‘Keyword Generator’ → these tools are amazing for finding new keywords to target, variations, seeing their search volume, generating keyword ideas, and more. Cost: They offer a 7 day trial for $7.
- Google Trends → is a platform that lets you look at the search trend for a select group of keywords. You can compare the keywords to each other, and look into the monthly search trends around the topic. Looking at these trends can also help you avoid targeting the wrong keywords. Sometimes, some keywords have a higher average monthly search volume when compared to another, however, the other keyword might suddenly receive a high search interest due to an emerging trend.
Cost: It’s free!
- Answer The Public → will let you view questions that are commonly searched for around your keyword. This can help with generating content ideas, as well as provide insight into the types of things people are searching for around your important keywords.
Cost: It’s free!
- Google Search Console → this tool helps you track the performance of your website in the organic search results, and is an excellent resource when it comes to SEO. It can be used to discover what keywords your website is currently ranking for, and what keywords are performing better/worse over a period of time. (If you haven’t already set this up for your site, please do so now!)
Cost: It’s free!
After all this, you combine your keywords, de-dupe and filter them out accordingly, to keep relevant keywords that you want to target in a list.
What do I do once I have my list of keywords?
Optimize your website to include them! This can involve:
1. Updating your on-page metadata.
- Page titles = should be unique to the page, clear and relevant, and under 60 characters (so it doesn't get cut off in the search results).
- Meta Descriptions = include important keywords, without “keyword stuffing” (which is when you cram a lot of keywords in together and it doesn’t read well). This should be up to 150-160 characters to avoid it being cut off.
- H1s = these are the on-page headings, typically displayed at the top of the page, These should be relevant to the page, as they provide structure to the article and context to Google and the user.
2. Create content around the keywords. Tools like Answer The Public will provide you with some ideas of questions/topics asked around important keywords. Make a blog post out of those! Make sure you have a title for it that includes those keywords, and is easily understandable. Internal linking is also an important factor in pages ranking well. Link important pages (these are usually the pages that are most linked to on your site, such as those included in your main navigation), to those that you want to rank well. Passing link equity between these pages signals to Google that these pages are worth showing to the user.
For more information on keyword research and implementation, be sure to read through The Keyword Research Master Guide from Moz.
Scenario 2: Your rankings have dropped
You’ve noticed that your website has dropped from the search results for a few key terms, however, you’re unsure of the reason. To be honest, this is a bit of a black hole as there could be numerous reasons. If you’d like to read further into this issue, a few articles I recommend are Tom Capper’s article “Organic traffic down YoY? It’s not what you think…”, as well as “Using the Flowchart Method for Diagnosing Ranking Drops — Best of Whiteboard Friday”. However, to keep things simple, I’ll detail a few options that can be checked and are fundamental to rankings.
How to identify this issue:
- Spot check → the keywords that you know your website ranks well for suddenly aren’t ranking your site in the same position.
- “Average position” in Google Search Console → this metric shows the average position ranking of your website as a whole, as well as having a table that displays various keyword ranks.
- Rank trackers → A tool called STAT lets you enter in a list of keywords, which you then “run” to track over a few days. Once it's finished tracking, you get access to up to date information on how keywords are ranking, for what pages and access to multiple reports surrounding the performance. This is a great tool to see what keywords are dropping in ranks, or increasing.
Ways to fix it:
- Check robots.txt and sitemaps → to make sure Google is able to access them, and all pages that are included should be. (This is also included in a tech audit).
- Technical SEO audit → will show you any technical issues that might be occurring on the site that have affected rankings. This can be done by running a crawl of your website (could use Screaming Frog or Deepcrawl, for example). Things that can arise are a group of 404 pages, noindex,nofollow directives, incorrect canonical tags, lack of internal linking, etc.
- Errors and warnings → Google Search Console displays all the errors and warnings that are occurring on the site. These should be looked into, as they could affect the performance of pages.
- Recent changes to your site → Changes such as redirects or rebranding can affect how your site performs in the search results. Depending on the scale of the change, organic performance can be expected to change, but if the pages are optimized and free of technical errors, no long term effect should occur.
- Algorithm updates → As ranking algorithms determine how pages are ranked in the search engine result pages (SERPs), algorithm updates change the way your site adheres to their ranking guidelines and, as a result, how your pages rank. Keeping up to date with any algorithm announcements or glitches can help you keep track of your organic performance. Twitter is a good channel to get up-to-date industry news, and you can follow notable figures in the industry like Marie Haynes or Barry Shwartz (to name just a couple) for their commentary. In addition, tools like MozCast (free!) will show you the current level of volatility in the SERPs.
- Make sure your key pages are being crawled and indexed → use the “Coverage” report in Google Search Console to check what pages are being indexed and what pages have warnings. You can also do a manual check on Google, by typing into the URL bar: site:yourwebsite.com/web-page-slug operator. No results will show up if your page isn’t indexed.
Scenario 3: Your user experience is poor
User experience has become more important than ever. Regardless of whether your website is ranking first for all important keywords (we’re talking in an ideal world), it won’t make a difference if users don’t know how to interact with your site once they’ve landed on it. They’ll drop off and go to your competitor. Ensuring you have a well developed user journey and usability on your website is critical to successful SEO.
How to identify this as an issue:
This is something that involves your judgement, as unfortunately there isn’t a tool that will tell you if your site is delivering a poor user experience. Generally, if you get frustrated when using your own site or there are some things that annoy you when you’re navigating other websites, that’s what we call a poor user experience. Some practices that can help highlight if this is an issue are:
- Run a survey to ask users about their experience on the site. For example, a common question to include would be, “Did you find what you were looking for?” This short but direct approach can facilitate a relevant and direct response from customers, which can be easily acted on. Some tools you can use for this include Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and WuFoo.
- Compare site speed with competitors. This can be done using a tool such as Crux, which can give you an indication of how fast/slow your site is in comparison.
- HotJar can show you how people navigate a page. This can highlight what areas they spend more time on, where they’re attracted to click, and what they’re missing.
- Google Tag Manager can record click tracking. This is helpful to see if people are acting on your calls to action, such as filling out a form or pressing a certain button.
Ways to fix it:
- Optimize your on-page content. This involves updating any content on your website to ensure it’s relevant to your audience and up-to-date. Content should be easily read by someone who has no context to the product/services offered on the website. You can also:
- Optimise your content layout. For example, include a numbered list to show your content in a different form, which can help target featured snippets.
- Update any old blog posts with new, relevant information and optimize the meta data to include keywords.
- Make sure all metadata is relevant to the page and optimized.
- Include CTAs. A clear call-to-action should be present on all pages. These could be included in the main navigation, so it appears on all pages, or placed near the top of each page. CTAs give direction and a point of action to the customer, ensuring that if they want to engage further, it’s easy to do so. For example, common CTAs include “Contact us”, “Sign up here”, or “Book Now”.
- Is it easy to convert? When you land on the homepage, is the CTA clear? Are there any barriers that might stop a customer to complete that action (such as requiring a customer to login or register before a purchase)? Making the journey easy and clear from entering the site to converting is crucial, as obstacles can easily deter a potential customer.
This guide discussed 3 common scenarios that digital marketers experience. Not knowing what keywords to target, or how to go about it can be difficult to navigate. By using the suggested tools and collecting relevant keywords to target your pages will help improve your rankings. The guide by Cyrus Shephard elaborates further on this. Similarly, being able to identify when your rankings have dropped is important to ensure you stay up to date with any issues that could be causing this fluctuation. If you’d like to read more about this, I recommend “SEO Rankings Drop: A Step-By-Step Guide to Recovery”. Lastly, serving a good user experience has become an important element in digital marketing. If you want to expand your knowledge on this, Rand Fishkin has more to share on this area. Hope this article was helpful and can provide some direction of areas that you can check when you’re faced with an issue and don’t know where to start!