How does your strategy stack up to this SEO checklist?

Good search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques are essential for ensuring the right customers find your website. We speaks to experts about how to implement good SEO to promote your website and increase sales.

SEO is essential for small businesses who want to find new customers and grow, but it’s often couched in technical terms and seems difficult to understand, let alone do anything about it yourself. It might be tempting just to throw money at the problem and forget about it, but not all SEO consultants are equal, so to make sure you’re getting a good service, it pays to know what to ask for.
 
“Having a good presence in search results adds credibility to your business. It builds trust with customers, which is a huge part of acquiring new business,” says Stacey Kehoe, communications director at Winning On The Web Champion business Brandlective Communications.
 
At its core, SEO is about common sense as its ultimate goal is to make your website easy for search engines to understand and serve up to your target customers. Good SEO is about knowing what clues to leave on your pages, i.e. how to structure your content so that Google (and other search engines) know what it is. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.

Your SEO checklist

Before embarking on any SEO campaign, make sure you can answer the following questions. 

1) Have you got a strong domain name?

Your domain name doesn’t have to be your business name. Try using keywords that describe your services to help improve rankings, for example ‘bestbakeryinbristol’ is a great option if you want to emphasise your quality and market to those in your area. Need some help coming up with a memorable address? Use a name discovery tool such as DomainScope.com to help you brainstorm.

2) What keywords are relevant to you?

Make a list of all products and services you offer. How do you refer to them? How do potential clients and customers refer to them? Come up with as many combinations of phrases as you can. Get additional keyword ideas by using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to search for keyword ideas.

3) Is your on-site optimisation up to scratch?

Content presentation is a very important part of web design and search engine presence. We all want our websites to look wonderful but in doing that, the natural flow of the content you put there will also provide the search engines with a method of monitoring what’s important on your site. Make sure your website template includes the following: page titles (H1 tags), keywords on the page, introduction text (H2), links in your body copy either to your own website or external sites and image titles. All of this will assist the search engines in indexing your page.

4) Is your content ‘genuine’?

SEO changes constantly but this year has seen some of the biggest shifts in recent times. Search engines are now much more sophisticated in seeking out quality content. In the past, writing web content was all about keywords, so website owners often repeated specific keywords in their articles to manipulate search results. Nowadays, search engine algorithms are more powerful and better able to understand the context and associated synonyms, so you can write more naturally than you did before.

Simon Swords, CEO of Staff Squared and Winning On The Web Champion says: “Our SEO strategy consists of two main elements. The first is to ensure that we rank for the big hitting keywords such as ‘hr software’ and other terms that people would search for when broadly looking for an app such as ours. The second is to take advantage of what is known as ‘long tail’. We create content that focusses on the day to day issues our customers might experience, so when managers are searching for help online, our website is there to help. The second part of the strategy is very much a long game.”

Fellow Winning On The Web Champion Tamara Lohan, co-founder of online hotel service Mr & Mrs Smith, adds: “SEO is incredibly important: more than 40% of our traffic comes direct from natural search. We make sure that all our landing pages are relevant, keep our content fresh, and work hard to ensure the internal link structure of our site is robust and SEO-friendly.

“Our blogs are a big help too. We consistently rank very highly for our hotels and destinations, but we don’t want to become complacent and lose that visibility, so it’s very much an ongoing process.”

5) Are you building effective links?

Cultivating good external links is an essential part of your SEO mix. Leverage your PR efforts to ensure that all press mentions include a link back to your website, and take listings on websites from community boards and industry associations you belong to. Use Moz’s Open Site Explorer to view inbound links from external sources to see who has mentioned you online and do the same for your competitors. If they have any authoritative citations in their list, why not reach out and offer them some useful content to see if they can do the same for you?

Questions to ask a prospective SEO consultant

If you’re thinking about getting some help with your SEO, it’s worth doing your homework to make sure you’re getting the most for your money. Here’s what you should find out first:
 
Have you got any references?

As with any services you employ, it’s a good idea to check their track record and also ask for samples of successful results in major search engines.

What’s your client retention rate and number of active clients?

This should give you a good idea of how legitimate they are. If clients hang around, it’s a good sign.

Who will be working on my project day to day and what experience do they have?

Some consultancies accept your business and then outsource everything. It’s worth making sure that the person working on your project is contactable and can answer any questions you might have in advance.

What will your SEO campaign do for me?

It’s important to have targets to work towards, but caveat emptor. “Be wary of anybody who promises you a specific position in the search engines,” advises Swords. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

How will you determine which keywords will be the target of my SEO campaign?

Research is an important element of SEO success. Find out how they plan their campaigns and assess if it’s reasonable.

Will your service include analysis of my site’s design, navigation, coding, content and incoming links?

A good consultant should provide recommendations for improving other areas of your site that either affects search engine placement or user experience.

Will you also analyse my competitors’ sites to see which ones are performing well and why?

This is an important part of your strategy and will help create your benchmarks for success. It’s important to understand the difference between your online and offline competitors.

Do you care about content?

Cramming in keywords and links won’t cut it anymore. High-quality content works better in the long-term. Check that they agree with this, and if they don’t then look elsewhere.

Your SEO mix

While the importance of SEO can’t be underestimated, it’s worth thinking about it in the context of your other marketing efforts.
 
“Search engine optimisation is only one of dozens of channels open to you for the online marketing of your business,” advises Swords. “By all means invest in it, but don’t let SEO drive your entire online