If you’re a nonprofit, association or a small shop with a website and you create your own content, you are likely also doing your own SEO. Or you should be.
SEO is a moving target because search engines often change their algorithms. (Daily, in the case of Google.) You already know that to rank higher in search, you should write good quality content that is complete and on-point. But what else should you be thinking about?
Here’s a case study: Eric Bellows co-founded the company How to Travel, an expert authority site that provides a growing quantity of free, focused and high-quality information to anyone interested in independent travel. He’s also the main writer for the site.
I asked him to share the top three things he does to make his content more SEO friendly.
1. Write Good, In-Depth Content
“We look at all competitor pages on the topic and make sure our new page is more complete, better written and more attractively laid out. More complete usually means longer, which is favorably viewed by Google,” says Bellows.
2. Make Sure Your External Links Are Great
“We provide external links where relevant. We curate them so that they’re the best on the topic, with the long-term goal of building site and page authority by becoming an information hub as well as expert authority,” says Bellows.
3. Be Mobile-Friendly
“While our site is built with a responsive theme, we’ve also made several custom adaptations for mobile and have tested on all major mobile displays,” says Bellows.
I asked if he’d changed the way he writes after learning about SEO. He said yes. “We now search keywords before starting to draft a page. Older pages, drafted before we had done serious SEO, had to be retrofit,” Bellows says. “We prefer to use two to four keywords, spread among the URL, page title, search title, meta description, headings and text. We don’t stuff keywords, relying on the sophistication of search engines to peg content correctly. We write naturally, without the clumsiness of forced keywords, yet we try to use them where we can.”
“Because our content tends to be lengthy, we worry about TL;DR and the bounce rate that will result. To counteract reader discouragement, we use an attractive layout that breaks up the pages.”
What does that mean in practice?
- “We use several H2 headings per page and often 2-5 H3s under each one of them. An effort is made to use keywords in the headings.”
- “We forego paragraphs in every instance where a bullet list can be used. The use of bullet points with bold bullet titles allows a quick skim.”
- “Where there’s a stretch of lower value detail or a technical discussion, we put the content under a expander box that the user can optionally open.”
Increasingly, bounce rates and time on-page influence SEO. So how does Bellows design pages to address how readers use his site? “Every topic page starts with an 'Essentials' box. Between that and the 'On this page' widget, users should have a good idea of page content without having to scroll and can click to go where they want. We hope that close content targeting, low bounce rate and long time on-page will promote our pages with search engines,” says Bellows.
Test to See Where Your Site May Have SEO Problems
Experts agree that looking at your own website as if you were a search engine is a good idea. There are lots of plug-ins that will allow you to do this, including this one from Mozilla. Using a plug in will allow you to view a webpage as the HTML that a Googlebot sees. According to an article from Quick Sprout by Neil Patel and Sujan Patel, you’ll want the most important links and content to be at the top of the HTML. Also, if there is any hidden text, you’ll want to get rid of it because it is a red flag for Google.
Quick Spout also suggests that you use the tool Screaming Frog to crawl your site to look for any issues it might have that damage SEO. Broken links? The tool will find them. Pages that are too many levels deep in your website to be found? The tool will find them. It also helps you find and fix titles and descriptions as well as indexing problems.
On-Site SEO is All About the Keywords
Keywords are the fundamental building blocks for SEO. “But not all keywords are created equal. If you want to improve the odds of driving organic traffic to your site, then you need to pick thematic keywords,” says Neil Patel. Need some ideas? Try Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
“On-page keyword optimization all boils down to researching, choosing and integrating keywords that you can easily rank for. You don’t want to compete with top brands with higher and stronger domain authority. That’s why you should also focus on long-tail keywords,” says Neil Patel.
Bellows tests his content for SEO before publishing it. “We use some metrics from our SEO PowerSuite software. These include a measure of keyword efficiency, [which is]Google’s estimate of total pages containing an exact keyword phrase divided by the number of searches for that exact keyword, squared,” says Bellows. “A second measure is an ‘on-page optimization’ measure, comparing to the sites on Google’s page 1. Finally, there’s a Keyword Difficulty measure, comparing our page against competitors on page 1, based on several standard metrics—backlinks, domain age, page optimization, etc.”
Quick Tip: Make Sure You Site Is Fast
You can test your site’s loading speed with this Google tool. Then, if your site is slow, you are going to need to make your images smaller, they are the most likely culprit. There are also a bunch of plug-ins that increase speed.
Off-Site SEO: Who is Linking to You?
What is off-site SEO? “Off-page SEO simply tells Google what others think about your site. For example, if you’ve got a lot of valuable links pointing to your pages, search engines will assume that you’ve got great content – the type that provides value for users,” according to Neil Patel.
Pete Meyers from Moz says that many website owners spend about 30% of their time on off-page factors, and 70% on on-page factors.
Open Site Explorer will allow you to see every inbound link to your site.
Need more inbound links? Kelly Stratton at Altitude Marketing suggests that you “scan your highest-authority inbound links for opportunity to get other similar links.” Then do the same for your competitor. Stratton says “inbound links from non-profit (.org) and education (.edu) sites are especially powerful. Do you have any? Should you have more from your friends and partners in these realms?”
Build your links slowly and steadily. A sudden accumulation of links may looks fishy to Google. Get yourself listed in directories. Ask business partners, clients or vendors to link to you. You can use a paid press release service. You can offer white papers that people will link to in other articles. Ask customers to review you on Yelp, Google+ or other sites.
Neil Patel suggests a strategy to build inbound links to your website by finding dead links on authoritative websites. “In a nutshell, broken link building breaks down to four simple steps: conduct a backlink analysis on a relevant website, find a broken link, contact the owner, and let them know about their dead links,” says Patel. Then suggest that a link to content on your site might be the best possible replacement for the dead link.
“Wikipedia actually has a list of articles with dead links. This makes finding dead links in Wikipedia even easier,” according to Brian Dean of Backlinko.
Dean suggests creating relationships with bloggers that deal with the subject matter of your website. “If you do a lot of link building, you know that a list of high-quality, niche-relevant blogs is like money in the bank. What you may not realize is that bloggers in your niche create these lists for you in the form of ‘best of’ blog posts,” writes Dean.
Does Social Media Presence Affect SEO?
“Researchers now agree that social signals such as Facebook likes and shares, Twitter follower counts and tweets linking to your site and pages, and Google+ circles and reviews and links are all noticed by the search engine bots and algorithms, and help contribute positive SEO power to your site,” according to Stratton.
This means that the effort you’ve made to create a following on Twitter and Facebook has both direct results—people who visit your website because of a tweet or a Facebook post—and indirect results via better SEO. So keep up those Twitter conversations and post a photo on your company’s Facebook page. It’s worth it.