Episode 20 – Up Your SEO

SEO is HUGE. Having a site that is going to rank well and come up in the first few spots on google will have a massive impact on your business and the best part is that it’s FREE! Yes you can pay for google ads, or Facebook ads, or go to trade shows, or do all sorts of other marketing to get your name out there – and those are all fantastic options that I think should be utilized, but you really can’t beat free. Not only is it free to show up on the first page of google (after you put in the hard work obviously) but it is a trusted source that I would imagine most of us use.

If I want to buy a product or hire someone to help me out with something generally the FIRST place I turn is google. Either that or I jump on a trusted Facebook group and ask for recommendations, but we obviously can’t control word of mouth traffic, and whether or not our super loyal and amazing clients will see it when someone posts looking for a recommendation. When I do a google search I generally only look at the first few results that come up, unless it’s something super specific that I need and the first results didn’t produce. And, a page that comes up in the top few results generally gets automatic credibility in my mind. Even better if they have a bunch of glowing reviews to offer social proof that they are in fact good at what they do, with excellent customer service. Basically I want to know that they don’t suck. So if you haven’t started collecting google reviews yet I urge you to do it. Not tomorrow or next week, start asking for them now!

Before we dive in I will go on record as saying that unlike Maggie and Andrea I am not actually an SEO expert, but I do have a lot of experience with doing my own SEO and have managed to get to the top three spots for my desired keywords, AND I have done a bunch of research on the topic in preparation of the episode, so that you my friends, don’t have to.

So starting with the basics. What is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Basically, the search engines – google being the biggest, but all the others like Bing, Yahoo, etc. keep a running list of all of the webpages out there (this is called indexing), and then they rank them based on a TON of different factors – most of which they won’t tell us, but some of which people know or have figured out. The search engines are designed to spend the day “crawling” websites. Looking for new sites to add to their index, looking for changes and updates on old sites, and tracking things like how many people are visiting (the traffic), how long they are staying, what they are clicking through too and all sorts of other data.

One way of tracking how your site is performing in the search engines’ eyes is to look at your domain authority. You can do this by downloading Mozbar (moz – bar) in google chrome, and then googling yourself to see your sites ranking. You can also use this tool to compare your rankings to the competition and see how it stacks up, or to check the domain authority of sites you are considering linking to – more on that in a minute. The way domain authority is determined, much like the algorithms that the search engines use, is a bit of a mystery, but there are some factors that we know can have influence. Links, age of your site, both inbound and outbound, traffic to your site, bounce rates, quality of content and other things like that can impact your domain authority.  The higher the domain authority on your site, the better it is likely to perform in SEO standings as well.

A lot of this data is available to you through Google Analytics. Google Analytics is FREE, and super easy to install on any website. Once installed you will be able to sign in a see a huge variety of information – from how many people are on your site in real time to how many people have visited in the past year, where the people came from, what pages they looked at, how long they spent on the site, which pages they are most likely to exit out of, and so much more. This insight is invaluable when you are trying to track the success of your website, so please if you don’t have analytics installed do a quick google search on how to set it up and get it going.

Once you have your analytics installed and tracking you are going to want to determine your keywords. What are the words that you think people will use to find you? We touched on keywords in Episode 4 when talking about Facebook and Google ads, but I want to cover it again because I think it is important. There are long tail and short tail keywords. Short tail keywords are more generalized, with 3 or less words. For me they would be things like baby photographer, or newborn photographer, or even just photographer. They are great for bringing in traffic because they will reach a wider audience, and at this point with the way google personalizes their search to account for the user’s location and habits, they may even bring in people that are local to you.  However, they are also MUCH more competitive because they are more common and less specific, so it will be harder to show up for them, and because they are less specific they have a much lower conversion rate. So great for bringing in some traffic, but not so great for actually getting sales, bookings or new customers.

Long tail key words are much more specific. For my business they would be things like Toronto area baby photographer, or Durham Region baby photography studio. The biggest disadvantage with long tail keywords is that they don’t bring in as many results – they won’t get searched as often because they are so specific. The flip side of that is that they have less competition, and a WAY higher conversion rate. Generally people that are THAT specific in their search have already finished most of their decision making process and are ready to buy. They just need to find you to make that purchase, so by using long tail key words you are going to target a much warmer market.

I use both, because I want to drive traffic to the site with the short tail keywords as well, but the majority of my focus goes into the long tail keywords as this is where I see the best return. I want you to take a minute and just brainstorm all of the different key words you would like to rank well for. Think about who your ideal client is, and what they might search to find you. When I did this exercise years ago I even jumped on social media and just asked my friends what they would search for if they were looking to have photographs created of their kids. Their insight was great as they came up with quite a few search terms that didn’t initially jump to mind.

One of my personal favourite ways of increasing my site’s rankings is to use a blog. I know a lot of people think blogging is dead, but it isn’t, my blog actually gets tons of views, AND search engines love it! You are putting out fresh content on a regular basis and there is lots of room within the blog post to add keywords, as well as images which believe it or not can also dramatically help with your SEO. Whether you are a Mom blogging about your family, or you are an entrepreneur blogging on your business site there are tons of topics you can cover. This will not only provide a ton of high quality content that the search engines will love, but it will also bring in more traffic (this is a good thing even if they don’t hire you) AND it will help you to present yourself as an expert, raising your know like and trust factor and making people more likely to hire you.

You don’t need to blog every day, or even every week, but you should be setting a somewhat regular schedule and be creating really high quality pieces to publish. If you don’t have the time, energy, or writing skills, this is something that you can 100% outsource to someone who does. Depending on your field you could be posting how to’s and tutorials,  suggestions on what to look for when hiring a professional in that field, personal posts, interest pieces, lists like “the top 10 back to school items for fall” or “100 cute Christmas gift ideas on a budget”. As long as it will be interesting to your ideal client and somehow ties back to your business, purpose or mission it is fair game – and guess what – if you have Google Analytics installed they you will be able to see exactly which posts are doing well (and which aren’t) so you can create more of what people are looking for!

If you have a blog on WordPress, or if you are going to go out and make a blog then I highly recommend getting the Yoast plugin. It’s spelled YOAST, and its super simple to install (promise). Once it is running on your site it will give you a spot to put in which keywords you want to focus on for that post and then it will let you know how the post is stacking up and give suggestions on how to alter it to get a better SEO result.  This is a super easy way to improve your rankings without needing to know a whole lot about SEO. If you don’t want to have a blog and don’t feel like it fits with your vision, that’s fine, but you do need to create good, high quality, easy to read articles on your site to add value, and give the search engines a better idea of what you have to offer.

And if you don’t have a site yet, or you are looking to make a change and you are looking to create an ecommerce style platform, you are going to LOVE today’s sponsor and offer! Shopify is an amazing platform that you can use to quickly and easy build your own ecommerce website. Their templates are customizable, super easy to use and they have fabulous customer support standing by to help the second you need it. Shopify even has free training articles and videos to help you strategize and bring in more sales! They are offering the Updraft audience a FREE 14 day trial so you can test it out for yourself – I know you are going to love it! Go to annyamiller.com/shopify to get your trial!

In Episode 19, Maggie Tyson and I discussed how the internet and smart phones have shortened everyone’s attention span to that of a goldfish and she suggested that our content be broken into short chunks, with lots of images to break it up and no more than a few sentences a paragraph and that we use header tags to highlight key ideas and components for the user and search engines as they crawl the page. This makes it a more engaging and easier read – making the user more likely to stay on the page and keep going than if they came face to face with a wall of text, as well as giving the bots doing the crawling more information on what that page is all about.

When using images on your page – and these can be illustrations, word art, photographs that you have taken or stock images that you purchased online, you want to make sure you are clearly identifying them for the search engine, which can’t actually interpret the images themselves. You can do this by renaming the file with a description or keyword. An example of this from my business would be that I typically name the images Toronto baby photographer, Durham Region family photographer, or something else that targets one of my chosen keywords AND is relevant to what is in the image. This is quickly done before the image are even uploaded to the site. Then once you have uploaded them you can use an Alt tag to give the search engine more information about the image. Now before you start to panic with I don’t know what an alt tag is or how to use one, don’t stress! Its not complicated, and if you are using WordPress there is a spot to add the Alt tags right there when you upload the image! I would guess that other platforms offer a similar option, but WordPress is the only one I have experience with.  

For my alt tag – If it was an image of a newborn I might put something like newborn baby girl sleeping in basket by Durham Region baby photographer Annya Miller. This text is never seen by the user (unless they have a visual impairment or other reason to need to see it, but it helps the search engine to interpret the content of the image.

If you are a Realtor you could put things like “gorgeous family home in sunny Toronto, listed by Greater Toronto Area Real Estate Agent Kristy Ince” or something along those lines. I’m not a realtor, my Mom Kristy is though and I’m sure she could convert that suggestion into whatever works best for her business. A baker might put vanilla buttercream cake decorated with flowers and butterflies for sweet 16 birthday party – you get the idea..

For the header tags you want to use the title of the article or post as the H1 tag, and then strategically select impactful lines of text to highlight as H2 and H3 text. This will make the text bigger or bold to draw in the user’s attention as well as notifying the search engine about the importance of those lines. Selecting text as a header is usually just a simple highlight and click the H1, 2 or 3 buttons along the top, similarly to how would italicize or bold a line in Word.

One more step to make sure that your pages are indexed and understood properly is to make sure that all of your urls (that’s the web address for the page) are clearly labelled and easy to understand. Often the software used to create the site or blog post will just generate random letters and numbers as a unique URL but that doesn’t help the user or the search engine to understand what that page is all about so you are better off to change it to something easily understood. Mywebsite.com/contact or /about for example would be a better way to label your main pages. For blog posts I typically try to include some form of keyword in that title (and the main title of the post whenever possible) to improve search ability – just make sure that when you are doing this you are using them in a way that feel natural and organic. Nobody likes a keyword stuffer!

Again, in the content you want to be utilizing whichever key word you have chosen to focus on for that article or post, but make sure that it reads naturally, so that the actual people trying to consume your content aren’t annoyed or put off. It is more important to provide quality content, not only from a user perspective but an SEO perspective too, than it is to cram a bunch of keywords in.

Once you have excellent content that both the user and search engines will love, you can focus on things like driving traffic and creating links. Having outbound or internal links are great – you can link to other articles that relate, another post or page that you have created, a product or service that compliments yours, or any number of other things. You also want to make sure you are getting inbound links as well – that would be other sites linking to a page on your site. This not only drives traffic, but it acts as social proof to the search engine, that OTHER sites think your content is valuable as well.

When looking for links be careful to check their domain rating. Make sure it isn’t significantly lower than yours, and make sure it is a legitimate site providing quality content. Having a bunch of links from spammy sites, or sites with really low domain authority can actually hurt your SEO efforts instead of helping them.

Sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to try to get links, but the truth is that content is king and everyone is looking for it. So if you have a truly well designed article that will help people in a genuine way, there are tons of sites that will WANT to link to it. It allows them to provide more value to their consumers, without actually having to churn out their own original content. Win win for both of you! You could also look into exchanging links with other website owners – just make sure when you are doing this that you are getting quality link backs with other sites that are relevant to yours, and have a similar or high domain authority. Having links to a law firm when you are a cake maker might not make a lot of sense… but having links to someone who offers entertainment for children’s parties when you offer children’s birthday cakes might serve your customers well.

These tips and suggestions have served me really well over the years and I can’t wait to see how it will transform your website too! If you loved this post please share it with a friend or colleague. The Updraft Podcast is all about community and giving back – there is tons of business and success to go around, so let’s get there together!

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