Lunch and Learn: Understanding and improving your SEO

Posted: Fri 10th Jun 2022

In this Lunch and Learn, The SEO Works' account director Adam Reaney and business development manager Richard Ayre provide a wealth of great advice for small business owners.

What is SEO?

The process of SEO involves making changes to your site to help it appear in search rankings, so it’s in a position where it generates website traffic. SEO relates to all search engines, but Google makes up the vast majority of searches.

“Google’s algorithm is a closely guarded secret, but there are hundreds of factors that affect your ranking. These range from fairly insignificant ones to larger ones that will have a direct impact,” Adam explained.

The large number of ranking factors mean it’s hard to take a cut and paste approach to SEO. What works for one site might not work for another.

As Adam explains, sites have different needs. An image-based site might focus on something like page speed, whereas an ecommerce site with lots of different products will have its own unique challenges.

Why does ranking highly on Google matter?

Getting onto the front page of Google can take months or even years for larger sites. You need to build site authority – essentially, you need to gain the respect of Google. Is it really worth the time and effort?

“You want to be on the front page. The real gold mines are positions one, two and three. That’s where 70% of the traffic goes. Less than 10% of people go to page two,” Richard said.

There’s a huge commercial incentive to ranking well. Not only is the traffic free, but the conversion rate tends to be higher.

How much can a business owner expect to pay if they’re buying traffic through PPC?

Building authority on Google takes time. PPC gives you the opportunity to buy traffic to your site.

But, as Richard explains, the cost of PPC can vary hugely. It depends on the levels of competition and the sector of your business. There are sectors where you can pay a lot of money for a single click – he cites gambling, where the cost per click is as high as £20. The reason? There’s a lot of competition, but the financial return is also high.

If you run an ecommerce site, you can judge your return on investment for PPC fairly easily. Customers click through and the purchase is instant. But he warns that the process for service-based businesses is usually more complicated.

“”If you’re running a service-based business where your focus is lead generation, start with a modest budget. If you’ve got a three-month sales cycle, it’s not going to be immediately obvious if a click has created a sale,” Richard said.

“Someone might click on an ad on day one then come back via organic search seven days later. Then they fill in the form 14 days later. You might think they’re an existing customer because they came directly to your site, but if you look back through the process, they came from PPC.”

Generally, Richard recommends starting with a budget of £1,000 a month, monitoring the return on investment and then scaling it.

Do copywriters need to be keyword experts?

Adam tries to focus on naturally occurring keywords as much as possible. If keywords feel forced, then Google will pick up on it.

“I wouldn’t say content writers need to be experts, but keep the phrases you want to use in the back of your head. If in doubt, read it out loud to someone. There’s a big focus on intent with keywords. When you’re choosing the keyword you want to rank for, think about what the person is probably looking for,” he said.

Richard recommends using content to answer questions. Google posts content snippets that directly answer search queries at the very top of search results. This is known as “position zero” and can generate huge amounts of traffic.

How do you find the top keywords that potential customers are searching for?

The easiest way to find relevant keywords is to think about what you’d type into Google if you were searching for your own product. Adam also uses Google Analytics to look at audience demographics like age, gender and associated interests.

It doesn’t always make sense to pursue the most obvious keywords. Richard gives the example of a mattress company, where there might be 20,000 searches for “mattress”. In this case, it wouldn’t make sense to pursue it – the competition will be off the charts and the search term is vague, so it’s hard to know the intent behind it.

“If you search a keyword like ‘pocket sprung king size mattress’, the number of searches will be much lower, but the conversion rate on those long-tail keywords will be exponentially higher. The more relevant the search is, the better you’re going to do,” Richard explained.

What’s the best page layout for SEO?

Most pages will have a big banner at the top, content and a carousel of images or services. Make sure you’re using header tags and that you have a structured navigation menu, since that will help Google to crawl your site.

As Adam explains, filling in alt tags for images is also important.

“If there’s an image, there needs to be an alt tag there. The alt tag describes to Google what the image is. It’s an opportunity to add more content to the site,” he said.

Adam recommends using a five to six word description of what the image actually is. From Google’s perspective, using a list of keywords in the alt text looks low effort, which is something you want to avoid.

We recently hired an SEO agency. What kind of KPIs should we put in place to ensure we’re getting value?

Your key performance indicators (KPIs) will depend on whether you have a brand new website or an established one. For new websites, the focus needs to be on increasing visibility; set KPIs based on conversion for an established site.

“You won’t start seeing a commercial return until you’re on page one, so focus on progress KPIs until then: how is your visibility improving?” Richard said.

“Once you’re on page one, look at how much traffic is converting into actual business. How many people are landing on the website and what’s the session duration? All these things point to the quality of traffic.”

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