If you’re looking for a comprehensive overview of the entire SEO process from start to finish, well, you’ve come to the right place!
Done right, SEO services can work to the benefit of both big corporate fish and small fry.
So, whether you’re just getting started, or are practically a household name, upping your SEO game should be the number one goal on your strategic business plan for 2019.
In order to help you master SEO, just keep reading for an in-depth breakdown of what SEO processes entail, and how search engine optimisation can help you take your business to the next level!
What is SEO Exactly and How Does it Work?
SEO refers to Search Engine Optimization and it basically refers to the search engine friendliness of your website, or, in simpler terms, whether or not Google likes your website enough to spit it out as a top ranking result to someone’s Google search.
So, how can you make a search engine like your website, or rather, how do we go about making sure Google is your number one fan?
Well, there are a number of steps in the SEO process.
- SEO Audit
- Keyword Research
- On-Page SEO
- Content Creation & Strategy
- Technical SEO
- Link Building & Promotion
- Local SEO
- Mobile SEO
- SEO Analysis & Reporting
The Full SEO Process
(click to go to section)
Step 1 – SEO Audit
It all begins with an SEO audit, which refers to an in-depth review of the website in question.
First, the website is inspected from top to bottom in an effort to root out any issues or problems that may negatively impact the site’s search engine friendliness.
Next, it is important to assess and critique not only the negative, but to evaluate and review the value of the remaining content on the site and to test the website speed.
1. Identifying Issues & Problems
In this initial phase, you go out looking for problems: what is broken, what isn’t working, and what is turning search engines off your website.
Issues that come up frequently include things like:
- Broken links
- Inaccessible pages
- Duplicate content
- Other technical data
In assessing the content on the website you should be looking at things like whether or not the content is duplicate content that a search engine will recognize as plagiarism (in this case content will need redrafting).
It is also important to consider the existing content in relation to keywords that businesses in your sector or industry ought to be targeting.
In the event the correct keywords aren’t being targeted, a complete content overhaul may just be the key to your SEO success.
A content redraft focused on targeting the correct keywords will greatly improve your site’s rankings and appeal to search engines.
Bear in mind during this review phase that research has shown that comprehensive content published less frequently performs better overall and in the long run than shorter content published more often.
In other words, one comprehensive blog post per month will routinely outperform shorter snippets of shallow content posted weekly.
3. Link Analysis
Aside from identifying any broken links it’s vitally important that you double-check that all your internal links have a clear anchor text and are clearly marked.
This will make it easier for visitors to navigate from one page of your site to another.
It will also help to reduce the bounce rate and increase the duration of a visitor’s time spent on your website, which are both important metrics of user experience.
Analyzing links that point to your site and to which you are already linking to externally are also important to establish a from of trust.
It may also be worth generating a schedule for routinely checking and ensuring that all those external sites to which you link still exist and are relevant to promoting your business and its interests.
4. Website speed
Simple things like optimizing your images before uploading them to your website can greatly improve your website speed.
A data-heavy or otherwise slow-to-load site will not be favoured by search engines or users!
Think of the search engine as a glorified personal shopper.
The search engine is going to show potential clients, the person doing the Googling, the thing they think will most impress them first, and if your site is slow and not user friendly, it’s going to be a hard sell.
Your website won’t be valued by search engines, meaning fewer and fewer potential clients will even see your site unless they’re visiting your site directly.
Optimising your website speed is one of the quickest and easiest ways to boost your website’s search engine optimisation if you have not been paying attention to optimising your website speed in the past.
There are many free tools you can use to analyze your site speed and how to improve it.
Step 2 – Keyword Research
Once your initial SEO audit is complete, it is time to do some keyword research, especially if this kind of research has not previously been done.
Even if it has, it’s a good idea to stay up to date on trending keywords, and to update your keyword focuses every six months or so should the need arise and the trends come and go.
You’ll only know if it’s necessary to update your focus if you do the keyword research, so, consistency in research is key!
Questions to ask yourself when undertaking your keyword research include:
– What is your main focus for your products/services?
In other words, what are you trying to sell?
Whether you’re selling a product or a service, or multiple products or services, what is it that you want to be known for?
What do you want to become the go-to provider for?
– What are customers searching for which is related to your product or service?
Put yourself in your potential clients’ shoes.
If you needed the kinds of products or services you are offering, what would you type into google when looking for a service provider or stockist of your product?
Targeting your area, for example, is a great start when focusing on keywords, as people often include an area name in their search, especially for service providers.
Think, for example, “plumber, Durbanville” or “car rental, Stellenbosch”.
By focusing on the right keywords, you’re primed to receive site visitors already poised to engage your services; thereby theoretically improving your conversion rate with minimal effort.
Focus on Keyword Themes rather than Single Keywords
In essence, while individual keywords aren’t a bad place to start, nowadays search engines consider themes or concepts supreme.
So instead of choosing one keyword and using it to death in your content and on your website, start holistically integrating a variety of keywords from a single theme into your content and website.
Think synonyms, related words/concepts, and different tenses/forms of your most important keywords and you’re on the right track.
The difference between optimizing your website for a single keyword at a time and optimizing your website using keyword themes is the difference between using the words “rental car” one hundred times throughout your website and driving potential visitors to the site nuts with the repetition, and focusing on holistically integrating “rental car” with related phrases and keywords like “hire vehicle”, “car hire”, “car rental”, “hire”, “rent”, “long-term rental”, “short term rental”, etc.
If you are struggling to come up with your primary keyword concept or theme on your own, not to worry!
There are a myriad of online keyword finders and other keyword research tools available for both a small fee or free of charge that will help you narrow down the ideal keyword theme for your website.
Some Favourite Keyword Tools include:
Here is a great article on Keyword Research Tools – 15 BEST Keyword Research Tools for SEO [2019 Reviews], by Backlinko
If these sites and tools seem intimidating at first, rest assured they are not the only way to find good keywords and keyword concepts for your website!
Some of the more hands-on and involved ways to determine the best keywords for your website include:
- Using related Google searches
- Scouring YouTube & Social media
- Researching and using competitor keywords
Step 3 – On-Page SEO
On-page optimisation refers to optimising specific pages of your website in an effort to drive more traffic to them.
On-page SEO does not, however, only refer to content optimisation, but also to optimising the HTML source code of the specific page; so it can seem like a slightly more complex undertaking to those unfamiliar with the intricacies of their website’s back-end.
Let’s break it down into smaller steps:
1. Use A SEO Plugin
We use Yoast for all our on-page SEO.
Yoast has produced an invaluable plugin that you can download and run on your WordPress website.
The Yoast plugin is like an on-page SEO for dummies starter kit.
This plugin can do all sorts of nifty things – like optimise the more technical page data in the background so that you don’t need to worry about anything but generating the best possible content!
It also receives updates every two weeks to ensure it’s playing nicely with Google’s latest algorithms – a real bonus!
While there are free and premium options, the free Yoast plugin is a great place to start if you’re an SEO novice – you can always upgrade to the paid premium plugin at a later date.
Bottom line, even Yoast’s free plugin can greatly improve your site’s on-page SEO without you having to lift a finger!
2. Creating Titles & Meta Tags
Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty!
Understanding title and meta tags, and how to best use them to your advantage can be super beneficial to your site’s SEO. In simplest terms, title tags are a specific element in the HTML code of your web page.
These tags specify the title of your web page when search engines are scouring the web looking for relevant content to return to a user’s search.
The title tag is what will be displayed by the search engine on its results page as the clickable headline for the page.
The more relevant the title to the search criteria, the more likely a user is to click on it.
Because this is a search engine user’s first impression of and introduction to your website, you can understand why optimising your titles and meta tags is so important!
The title tag should be a concise and accurate representation of the content on that specific page.
Pro Tip: Only the first 50-60 characters of a title tag will be displayed by Google, so you should make sure you don’t exceed the character count or you’ll risk having your title chopped off by the search engine when it returns your web page as a search result!
To Note: Your title tags also dictate what will show up in the browser tab when someone is visiting your website, and if someone shares your content from your webpage on social media, the title tag is also what will be used to name the shared content!
That brings us to meta tags!
Meta Tags are the text that will show on search engines just below your Title and URL.
It’s basically a very short summary of what your page is about, so making it stand out can attract many visitors to your website.
Think of it as a label on a certain product, if the label is boring and uninteresting you won’t want to buy it.
Same with your website, a Meta Tag is simply there to tell a potential visitor what to expect when they visit your page.
3. Choosing Your Focus Keywords
Think of your focus keyword or your “key phrase” as the specific keyword or phrase you want the given page or copy to rank for.
This may be completely different to the keyword theme of your site as a whole, or may be a more narrow focus along the same theme depending on the nature of your business.
Every page on your website will target a specific keyword related to the content on that page.
The most effective focus keyword for SEO is one that users are going to input into search engines when looking to find businesses like yours.
The Yoast SEO plugin is great at helping you optimise your content for your chosen focus keyword, but if you want suggestions for focus keywords you can try, or similar keywords that may be more popular, is Yoast Suggest.
You can read more about Yoast Suggest.
4. Use Short URLs
Clear and concise URLs greatly improve user experience, and, as such, can heavily impact your SEO.
It is, therefore, very important that your title tag and your URL for any given page match.
If it does not appear that the destination webpage URL matches the title tag you have chosen for that page, potential site visitors may be put off and click on another search result instead; especially as the URL and the title tag are displayed one below the other.
If, for example, your title tag is “Best Suits For Sale Durbanville”, your URL should follow the same trend – something like: www.suits.co.za/sale/durbanville.
If, for example, your title tag read as above, but your URL didn’t mention any of those keywords, potential customers may be skeptical and may not be inclined to trust it, for example “www.suits.co.za/11134tt/ref_898wh?/=ghlist_sale
The destination should be clear, and well-aligned with your chosen title tags.
URLs shouldn’t make use of underscores, spaces or any other means besides hyphens to separate words when necessary for readability.
5. Use Header Tags to Break Up Your Content
Using heading tags in your content is important not only to user experience but also to SEO.
While there are 6 levels of heading tag (H1-H6), search engines are really only concerned with H1 level headings (the biggest, most important headings) and your title tags for the page itself.
H1 level headings will be processed by search engines, while levels H2-6 headings help anchor the text on the page and guide the reader.
Using heading tags can be a great way to highlight your keywords on the webpage, but don’t over-do it!
Remember, a positive user experience is crucial to successful SEO.
6. The Key to Successful Keywords
Mastering your use of on-page keywords couldn’t be simpler.
Just follow the two golden rules:
– Make sure you use your keyword in the first paragraph or 100 words of your copy.
Users were no doubt drawn to your web page based on your positioning of your keywords in the title tag for that page, and you want to reassure visitors that your web page will deliver on the promised content, otherwise they might close your tab before really reading your content; negatively impacting your bounce rate.
To lower your bounce rate, deliver on your title tag’s promise within the first 100 words.
– Pay attention to your keyword density.
While you want to make sure your content ranks for the keyword theme, users also don’t want to read inorganic copy littered with synonyms and repetition.
Remember, at the end of the day, there’s a fine line between SEO and writing your copy for the search engine instead of for the actual, human user.
The human user is the one who needs to invest in your products or services, not the search engine.
So, no matter how appealing your copy may be to the search engine, remember, real users don’t appreciate content inorganically and obviously densely populated with keywords.
7. Link To Other Blogs/Websites Within Your Content
While it may seem counter intuitive on the surface, linking out to other blogs and relevant high-quality websites may gain you a lot more traction with your online target market.
The ill-informed conceive of linking out as an opportunity for visitors to leave your page, but, done right, linking out can attract even more visitors to your site because, not only do studies show linking out fosters an impression of trust and likeability among web users, but the people to whom you are linking out will no-doubt check out where their new spate of visitors have come from, and may even link back to your page in the future if they like what they see!
At the end of the day, linking out where and when relevant tells your user that you are aware of the fact that you cannot and should not do it all!
Acknowledging the limitations, but even more so the focus of your brand stresses to visitors that you are aware of your business’s positioning in the global market, and starts a conversation between the supply chain and the consumers in your industry and sector.
By way of linking out, why not aim to become the Google of your particular niche!?
Make your website the go-to resource for accessing information within your sector, even if a lot of that information isn’t housed on your site itself but only linked to!
By making your website the one-stop-shop for access to a wealth of information on your particular sector, you can bring the same visitors back again and again as the central hub that connects them to whatever it is they’re looking for!
You can then use other marketing strategies to convert your site visitors into clients once you’ve gotten them onto your web page!
8. Link To Your Own Articles/Web Pages
Now that we’ve covered external links, or linking out, it’s time to pay some attention to internal linking.
Internal links can be a great way to help visitors navigate through your site from one page to another containing related and relevant content and keep people from bouncing off your site when used correctly.
In order for internal linking to be truly effective, you need to make sure that:
- You have a enough quality content on your website. If your website consists of only 2 pages, internal links leading from one back to the other will actually hamper instead of improving the user experience. By generating a lot of high quality content, you can best make use of internal links to guide your site users through your pages.
- You are using adequate anchor text to link from one page to another. Don’t be glib, don’t try to get clever, just write down what your site visitor will find by following the link, highlight and link that text.
- Your links are relevant.
- Your links are incorporated organically.
9. Configure Your Social Media Images
If you’re going to be implementing social share buttons for your content, and you should be, you should also ensure that you are loading appropriate and optimised images for sharing on the relevant platforms.
You can make use of the Yoast Plugin for Facebook and for Twitter, which will allow you to choose your own title and meta tags for social media, as well as your own specific image and image meta tags or metadata for social media.
Don’t worry, if you’re happy with your title tag and meta tags for the page itself already, Yoast will auto populate those fields for you, so you need only concern yourself with the imagery!
Remember to optimise and compress all images before you upload them to your site to minimise lag and optimise website speed, and remember to edit the meta data tags for your images as well so that Google can recognize and rank your images!
Step 4 – Content Creation
Search engine optimisation is a full-time job, and the steps outlined above are just the beginning!
If you’re serious about ranking on big-fish search engines, like Google, you’re going to need to start creating content specifically for SEO purposes – that means giving the search engines what they want!
What do they want?
Search engines favour websites with copious amounts of quality content.
Meaning, it’s not just about how often you post, but how much you post at any given time, and how relevant that content is to popular search terms (keywords).
But, what differentiates quality content from fluff, and how do search engines tell the difference?
Well, allow us to elaborate:
1. Write Long-form Content
A couple of years ago, if you wanted to rank highly on popular search engines, it might have been enough to publish a 300-word blog post once a month; these days it’s not so simple.
Not only do search engines comb your content looking for organic use of keywords, but they also take the length of the content created into account – which is why long-form content consistently outperforms short-form content for the purposes of SEO in 2019.
What does this mean for you?
Ten years ago you may have enjoyed pride of place on Google’s first page of search results simply because you posted a short blog entry (inorganically stuffed with keywords) on your website every day.
Today, it is more important to spend time and energy on generating quality content that is longer, and posting it less frequently, if you want to enjoy more sustainable positive ranking results.
It is better to post one comprehensive post of 1000 words or more once a month or even weekly, than it is to post 10 shorter-form “articles” or posts.
While nobody outside Google’s inner sanctum could reveal the exact algorithm they, in particular, use to return search results, studies have shown that both search engines and internet users tend to favour long-form content, and that long-form content has better conversion rates!
Long-form content also typically allows for the more organic use and insertion of keywords which both search engines and users prefer.
2. Create Very Detailed Content
Long-form content is only as good as the detail it offers.
Not all long-form content is by definition quality content.
Just like some people have a tendency to waffle on and on without actually saying anything of value, so too is it possible to generate long-form content without significant use-value.
In other words, superficial long-form content is not quality long-form content.
Quality content needs to be not only long, but should undertake to explore a topic in a certain level of detail as well!
Studies have shown that around 10% of daily internet users are interested in delving deeper into the topics for which they’re searching; they don’t just want an overview, they want the whole nine yards!
The more detail you can provide in your long-form content, the more search engines, and users, will favour your content.
Deep, detailed, descriptive content is quality content; the kind that converts site visitors into loyal brand followers and clients.
3. Use Storytelling to Fill in the Blanks
Sometimes it’s easy to reduce a narrative to the sum of its parts. LIttle Red Riding Hood, for example, is essentially:
“Step one: Girl in red cloak heads for grandmother’s house
Step two: Wolf eats grandmother.
Step three: Wolf eats girl in red.
Step four: Wood-cutter saves girl and her grandmother”
However, that doesn’t tell quite the same story as the one we all heard as children, does it?
The devil is in the details, and quality content does more than provide readers with the bare essentials; it tells a story and it fills in the blanks so that readers can understand the bigger picture.
Odds are, there’s a WikiHow that could tell your site visitors the same information in 10 steps or less, but less isn’t always more.
Quality long-form content should presume to take site visitors on a journey to understanding – and filling in the blanks goes a long way toward bridging the gap between interest and understanding.
4. Create Practical Content That Can Be Implemented
Creating practical content will come naturally if you have done extensive keyword research first.
The best kind of content for SEO purposes is the kind of content that answers questions that your ideal client is likely to have.
The ability and willingness to answer your ideal client’s questions for free, by way of long-form content on your website, actually instills in site visitors a sense of confidence in you and in your brand; making them more likely to enquire after your services.
Practical quality content can be a great conversion tool and significantly impact your site traffic in a positive way!
5. Use Subheadings to Indicate Sections
Short stories don’t have chapters, but novels do – and that’s because it’s easier to organise long-form content using subheadings; it makes the wealth of information more palatable by presenting it in bite-sized chunks.
Not only do subheadings allow you, as the producer of the copy, to organise your thoughts, but they allow readers an opportunity to collect their thoughts while making their way through your long-form content.
As an overview, subheadings help readers coming to your content to organise and make sense of the new information with which your website is presenting them.
Subheadings ultimately serve to improve navigability of the content, which, in turn, improves user experience and will positively impact on your website’s bounce rate.
6. Use Multimedia to Support Your Message
“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a cliche for a reason.
In quality content creation terms, unfortunately you cannot substitute a picture for a thousand words, but offering both will positively impact your search engine rankings and improve the overall user experience of your site.
Impactful design, and visually appealing elements, whether images, video or otherwise, have proven to be beneficial in extending the duration of user sessions.
Simply put, people who like what they see, and not only what they read, are more likely to stay on your website!
Break up the monotony of text with relevant photographs, videos, or other multimedia elements.
7. Optimize Your Titles To Improve Click-through Rate
You only have 10 seconds to make a first impression – so with people, so too with search engines.
Your title is the very first thing assessed by search engines and prospective readers alike.
Without an optimized title, your content could be the very best content ever written, and some users would still never get to see it because it may rank poorly, or because they may not visit your site no matter how highly it ranked because they’re put off by the title.
Your title should, in simplest terms, tell prospective readers what to expect from your content and should not be unnecessarily long, keyword heavy, or vague – tell potential site visitors outright exactly what benefit they can expect to reap from visiting your website and consuming your copy.
8. Create Simple Content Frameworks
If details and storytelling are ingredients of quality content then simple content structures are the recipe.
Simple content structures guide the way you combine the ingredients to produce a particular kind of quality content.
Depending on the industry for which you are writing, some top-performing simple content structures could include:
– The Detailed List Post
In this kind of post you strive to offer site visitors a detailed list of, for example, places near your guesthouse that they can enjoy world-class food.
All the Buzzfeed-style “Top 100 [insert list descriptor here]” lists you see are detailed list posts.
– The Comparative Post
This post is as the title suggests – whether you’re comparing two products you sell, or reviewing two products your client will likely need to choose between; this kind of content is all about comparing and contrasting one item or service with another.
– The Item Hype
This is the kind of short-term high-reward content that relies on trends and fads to fuel its short-lived success – if everyone’s talking about that new programming language and you work in IT, or if there was a massive storm in your city and your business does gutter repair work, cashing in on the influx of searches related to trends and trending events can give your website a significant short-term visibility boost.
– Interview Post
Interviews, whether with in-house staff or outside experts can increase your digital profile and make for some killer SEO-boosting content!
The more high profile the interviewer or interviewee, the better!
If you’re more technition than pen master, don’t worry, there are still plenty of ways you can improve your site’s SEO without putting the proverbial pen to paper.
Check back soon for the next addition to this post: Technical SEO. Still need help mastering the aforementioned basics? Can’t seem to generate your own quality copy? Contact us for help, we’d love to hear from you!
Still to come:
SEO Reports & Analysis