Google has released some new guidelines that are aimed directly at bloggers who review items they received for free from companies, a growing form of native advertising for sure. Google has already grappled with this issue on YouTube with the army of Vloggers that have been endorsing products. So I very much agree with the need to disclose the relationship. Where I tend not to agree is with the classification of these blog articles and the links are non-orgnanic and thus should carry nofollow tags.
Investing time and effort into Search Engine Optimisation(SEO) should be high on the lists of priorities for any brand. It’s not just something for dedicated SEOs or the IT team, nearly every line of business has a role to play from Marketing copy writers to Product owners.
The good news is that SEO is not complicated or black magic, with a bit of knowledge content generators and owners can create and fine tune strong search engine friendly content which is also great for the user – The ultimate goal.
Recently Google rolled out its latest iteration of its Penguin algorithm bringing the world of search version 3.
What is Penguin Algorithm?
Google has a bit of an animal theme to its search algorithms, but unlike large versions like Panda (currently on version 4.1) Penguin has since April 2012 been aimed solely at taking the fight to webspam in the search results. It does this by cracking down on sites that use ‘Black Hat’ SEO techniques or are just plain spammy. The kind of things it looks at are paid links, keyword stuffing and anything that contravenes the Google Webmaster Guidelines. In previous updates Google has added any tricks it missed the previous times.
As this update is yearly at present this has meant a site affected in one version has had to wait until the next version to be re-assessed, so a year possibly of being unlisted. Obviously as a business this can be catastrophic if you are affected especially if it’s down to poor SEO rather than any spammy or nefarious intent.
How do I avoid Penguin?
So you’ve invested time in the basics of SEO as described in my previous article about Simple Search Engine Optimisation – SEO and now want to take the next step to really ramp up your blog or website SEO?
You’re on the right page, in the following article I’m going to go over some more advanced SEO techniques that will really help boost your ranking and more importantly your CTR.
First off lets have a look at the bridge between basic SEO and Advanced SEO with maybe what we should call Medium SEO. One of the most important actions we can take as marketers is
Focus on Customer experience and engagement.
Search engines are continually changing the way they rank sites, and one of the most recent trends has been to look at engagement and branding signals. What this basically means is does the page the Search Engine links to in the search results provide engaging and useful content for the user. Having inbound links to your web pages used to be a strong indicator for Search Engines but this time is now more. Yes inbound links still are factors, but nowhere near as strong as they used to be.
Relevance is till a strong factor and this has now been built our to include the relevance and quality of a web page or piece of content therefore we need to think about this more then we do about link building. To rank strongly you need to start providing genuinely useful content that engages with your target audience. I touch on this a bit in my article on creating an effective website.
For SEO purposes (and of course in view of turning users into customers) I have 4 points that you need to avoid and should form the bases of assessing your sites effectiveness:
- Avoid low quality content.
- Avoid having unclear or no calls to action.
- Avoid having poor navigation (this includes via mobile device).
- Avoid content that does not serve the user.
To help you avoid these common obstacles it is worth taking time to fully asses your site and to keep assessing it moving forwards. long gone are the days when you launched a website and just left it untended. You need to really get into your analytics and start to understand your customers. What interests them? what Social Media do they use, What demographics or segments are there?
Once you know your audience then you can start to look at how they use your site, and develop effective navigation, remembering the F-pattern and prominent CTAs! Use your analytics and tools like Google Webmaster Tools to identify search terms that are driving users to specific content. Check Page views, unique views, time on site and bounce rate to identify not just your best and most engaging content but also the low quality content. If its not performing then don’t be scared of removing it. Also if something is performing poorly then its a good indicator not to continue with content of that type. Conversely if you have something that is performing well, then it gives you a bases to build out more quality content on a theme that interests your audience.
The move into semantic search
As Search Engines like Google get more advanced, so to do their methods. You may have heard about Google’s Hummingbird update, basically this is semantic search. It uses artificial intelligence in order to understand the search intent and the meaning of the search query rather than just parsing through keywords – a bit like a dictionary. With semantic search when you search, Google returns your results based solely on the text and the keywords that you put in that search.
With semantic search, Google will look into the relationship between the words you type in the search box, how they work together. In fact Google moves away from keywords and starts to look at entities. In Googles terms an entity is any real world item, concept or fact that has a number of pages related to it. An entity can be either businesses, products, movies, authors, people, places, events and many more. Google uses these entities to better understand a users intended search. Let me give you an example of how this works in search. If I’m planning a weekend sightseeing trip to Paris I might want to find out more information about Notre Dame Cathedral, if we approach the search in a structured way that hit all the SEO markers I would probably search “Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris” now what if I had just heard about a famous Cathedral in Paris that should be on my sightseeing list and didn’t know its name? Well this is were semantic search helps now a search for “that famous cathedral in paris” will also work pretty well. That big clock in London? yep that returns Big Ben pages.
Semantic search essentially makes it easier for Google to return relevant pages for even ambiguous search requests.
When you are creating content you really need to think about how your content answers a specific search question. Its no longer about using specific keyword from a list in your content, but much more about answering these specific questions. For example lets take ‘Scuba Diving’ as our keyword group, it is very unlikely users with just ask Google about ‘Scuba Diving’ so as a content writer you will need to ask yourself with every sentence you write, what questions does this answer. You will need to focus strongly on natural language use. The Keywords ‘Scuba Diving’ can make up many questions.
- Where to learn Scuba Diving
- Where to go Scuba Diving
- How much does Scuba Diving cost
- Is Scuba Diving safe
- etc etc
Which one do you want your page to answer?
Advanced SEO – Rich Snippets and Schema markup
One of the ways to take full advantage of semantic search, and old search also is using structured data or rich snippets in your code. What do rich snippets do? Well they help provide more indepth information about a page and its content and how its entities are related. What are rich snippets? Rich snippets are a form of on page mark up that displays extra information on a search result. Check out this infographic that gives you all the important information about rich snippets in a clear and understandable way, and saves me some typing!
Tweak, improve and measure for success
As I’ve mentioned before SEO is not a destination but a journey that continually evolves and needs working on. So once you have completed your review, don’t let it drop, keep checking the analytics, keep reassessing your site and working on enhancing it. Keep checking your website regularly for the following
- HTML/XHTML errors
- CSS errors or problems
- Dead links, page not found 404 error
- Check on Multiple browsers
- Check on Multiple devices
I used to give a presentation entitled ‘Does your Website Work for You?’ but over time I realised that this isn’t actually the approach we should be looking at. In fact its probably the biggest barrier to an effective website if we focus on the You. In this article I’m going to talk about how we need to have a different mindset to create a website that is an effective business tool.
Does Your Website Work for your Customers?
This is probably the million dollar question. Business owners need to have a completely different mindset. Websites now play integral roles in the growth of businesses and as such an effective website will help grow your business. To achieve this we need to be more customer focused.
1. Take a step back and assess.
Take your laptop home, sit down with a tea or coffee and a note pad. Now take a look through your site. What do you think? Now take a moment to think about who your target audience is, do different parts need to speak to different audiences?
Now look at your site again and ask ‘How best can I help my customers’ check the customers path to purchase. Think about the customers thought process when using your site – This will probably be the same as how you use a website yourself when looking for a Holiday, car insurance or a new TV.
2.Understand how customers use your site.
This is important as it impacts on your successful sales conversions. If its hard or complicated for your customers to complete a purchase then they probably won’t. Remember web users are time poor and don’t really want to think. Focus on key points, how many clicks on my site before a user leaves? From a Google Results Page its often no more then 2.5 clicks deep. Use your Analytics and see where users are dropping out, it could help you identify where there are issues with your sales funnel.
3.Create effective Calls To Action
Now the customers are using your site you want to encourage them to make a purchase, and this is where calls to action come in. These need to be prominent, a big Book Now button at the top of the page in line with the F-pattern is far more effective then a small text link at the book of the page. Remember everyone loves clicking on a big button. Read my previous article about great calls to action, its focused on Social Media but the principles are very similar for websites.
4.Quality over Quantity.
The biggest mistake many business make at the moment is flooding the internet with far too much average content. Focus on quality as this provides far more value to your customers. Assess your text, images and video. One good picture on a page does far more then 4 or 5 average ones. This is also a maxim for your Blog, instead of trying to generate articles every day it is much better to generate quality content less frequently. The truth is nowadays people don’t follow blogs, they read articles and thats an important distinction. Even just one great blog post a month could make a huge impact if its quality. If you can write a great article every other day then thats amazing but for those that may struggle then its better to have more infrequent great articles. 7 middling articles a week may only get a handful of Likes or Shares but 1 great one might get you many many more. Which is more effective do you think?
This guide covers the basics of On page Search Engine Optimisation (SEO for short) and by ‘On page’ I mean items that can be changed directly on your web pages.
You need to apply these simple guidelines to ensure every page on your website is working hard for you. Every page that sells your product we want to rank in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). It can be argued that the most important part of you site for search engines is the pages and content themselves. Though it is often said that links from other sites are everything (and Back links are still important) if you don’t have good content then you will find it hard to attract links anyway. Search engines use each page to determine the subject of your page and also to identify the keywords your page maybe relevant for. On-page optimisation ensures that all the appropriate signposts are used to aid Search engines. Getting it right can be the difference for you between position 5 and position 1. On-page optimisation will also help you create and manage a website which is structured and readable for your users – and these are the people you are looking to gain as customers.
How can it go wrong?
What SEO is not, is loading your pages at every opportunity with the same keyword. Think quality not quantity. Adding the word Diving to a page 60 times will not make you rank 1st for Diving even if your competitor only uses it 40 times.
Leading on from this, if your page is stuffed with keywords, how will it read to the user? A good well ranked site will be easy to read and navigate, have well written relevant and original content and be somewhere a user wants to return. A walk in customer will prefer a clean tidy store to a messy dirty one, the same is true about websites.
Lack of Knowledge is a common problem and not the fault of the person building or maintaining the site, especially if they’re running their own site. This is where we can help you understand some of the basic factors and empower you to confidently manage your own site.
Keywords – what is the search term a user might use when searching for information?
All pages of your website should have keywords which try and capture some of the search traffic, the keywords should be relevant to the page they are on.
You can either have Individual words i.e. PADI or Phrases like “PADI Dive Courses” but limit these to 3-5 words.
Keywords should be placed in the following 7 places, and the further up the page they appear the more weight they carry.
- Headings H1, H2, H3
- Page Names
- Page Text
- Link text
- Alt text
- Image Name
- Meta Description
Let’s take a look at these in more depth below.
This is the page or browser title, and it is displayed either in the top right of your browser or on the tabs depending on your browser.
It also appears as the first line of the Google results (the purple text). You can see all your sites pages as Google search results by typing the following into the search bar site:www.padi.com/scuba replacing http://www.padi.com/scuba with your domain. Better still why not try a competitors site and see what they are doing, you never know you might find some helpful tips!
Exceptionally Important: Since this is what people click on in the search results and is the first thing people see about your site Search Engines place significant weight on it.
When you navigate to a website with your browser it will appear on the top, or in the Tab..(this example is IE9)
Or you can find the title by viewing source and looking for the <title> tag near the top of the page
Things to think about:
Is the title less than 70 characters? Only 65 – 70 characters are displayed in SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) 5 to 9 words, the most important first.
Does it include your main keywords or key phrase? Its important that the title contains the key phrase that you wish you pages to appear under on the SERPS.
Each page should have individual and unique titles. Having 50 pages titled ‘Cheese’ means you spread your search traffic across 50 pages instead of concentrating on one. So cheese becomes a weak keyword.
Generic words such as “website home” or “welcome to” should not appear in your page title.
The beginning of the title is also more important, so Keywords or Phrases should appear here and your brand name last.
Which do you think is better for a page describing Open Water?
Welcome to PADI find out about Dive courses here
PADI | The way the world learns to dive| Diving courses
Open Water Diver | Dive Courses | PADI
Always use | or – to separate keywords in a title.
Remember to keep titles short and precise, with every page title unique. Make sure a user can understand what the page is about form the title.
Use heading tags (<h1><h2><h3>) to give pages structure. Good structure is important as it helps users read and get the information they need quickly.
You can spot headings on pages by the font size, <h1> headings being the largest. Headings also promote your page subject to Search Engines and tell them that you structure your copy.
Think how a newspaper uses Headlines and sub headlines to draw readers in.
Every page should have a <h1> heading – but only 1 and it is important that the 2nd Heading on a page is <h2> all the way until <h6> if need be.
You should use your keyword or phrase in this heading the same as the page title
Here we see after clicking on the above search result the title and Header Match, but aren’t exactly the same.
Page names are also important, though often beyond the control of Content uploaders, as these are often controlled by developers or coders. Though many a CMS will allow you to control this to an extent and if you use a CMS product you should think about page names carefully.
So for example you might have a page for Open water courses called
But is this any good?
Would this be better for Google to index?
It is considered good practice to use only lowercase letters.
Also consider the full URL of a page, it is much better to keep this as short as possible, but still be clear. Try not to have more than 2 levels.
Ie http://www.padi.com/padi-courses/openwater-prices.aspx is better then
Don’t use special characters or spaces in naming conventions. It is clearer to separate words with – if you need to rather than use space or _ (underscore)
4. Page Text
Page text is of growing importance, in fact as stated earlier it can be argued to be the single most important factor now. Why?
Since Google’s ‘Panda’ update earlier this year, it could be fair to say that Content may again be King. But not just any Content. It is hard to know exactly what Google’s algorithms look for, but the trend seems to be towards user experience.
But don’t we all write Content for our users anyway? Probably not. Or at least not the way Google or the users see it.
So what do we do? Simple answer is to create well written, structured and original Content. Use headings and Sub-headings as described in section 2. Keep the content as short and relevant as possible and pack as much information in at the beginning as possible, including any calls to action. Users skim read in an F pattern.
The importance of good Copy cannot be overstated, sites that have unoriginal copy have lost out in search rankings with the latest update. Think, has this text been used on another site? Can I amend it or re-edit it, can I add freshness. Do I just use a manufactures description, or do I add my own words as well? (How many sites could the manufactures description be on already?)
Aim for around 350 words for a page..it can be more or less, but not by much. If you have good link text in and out of pages then this helps if the content is shorter. Don’t rely on images and videos to tell a story, Google can’t read these (yet!) and its always best to give a text description aswell.
An additional benefit of good content is the fact that users are more likely to want to link to it or share it via Social media, which bring powerful SEO benefits. As the more links and shares the better as back links are also still King.
5. Link Text
Link text is import for Google to understand which page its crawler is going to, and how to index it.
Its import for internal links, external links, and how people link into your sites (if you can influence how people link in to you, then the benefits are great)
Link text is one of the easiest, things to get wrong, but it is also one of the easiest to get right!
What is good link text? Maybe we should start with bad link text.
Bad link text is a link that tells you nothing about the link you are about to click on.
The most common culprits are for example:
Check out our new course Click here
More information about PADIs courses
With a little bit of fore thought and consideration you can rewrite link text as part of your copy so its more informative and of more SEO value
New PADI underwater communication speciality course check it out!
6. ALT text (or image titles)
Alt Text is what appears when you hover the mouse over an image. Not only is it import for Disability readability laws in various countries but it also helps with SEO and general readability and a page that reads well is more likely to engage.
Alt text should be descriptive of what appears in the image, and should contain a keyword or phrase, but remember do not use to many keywords as this may be considered spam and will lead to low page scores. If using a CMS then also make sure you add the same text to the image title aswell.
7. Image Name
Essentially what you call the image file and as you can probably see by now this needs to be clear and relevant and is ideal for keywords.
What is important is to try and keep the file names short.
A bad filename would be
A good filename would be:
8. Meta description
Meta description like Meta keywords has fallen by the wayside for purely SEO uses. But it is still very important as it is the description that appears on every SERPs entry. It should be different and unique for each individual page. Again you should use Keywords, but as they have little SEO value they should be used to reinforce the page message.
Maybe a better way of looking at the Meta description is as a mini sales pitch. A Good description on a SERPS page is far more likely to make users click on your link, so investing the extra time to hone an individual sales pitch for each page can be worthwhile. Look to use no more then 20-30 words.
It should reinforce the keywords in the page title, targeting alternate versions but it should also read well.
Your Meta description should also help differentiate your site from competing ranked sites.
Which result would you click on?
If you don’t have a Meta Description in place then Google will create its own from whatever text it finds on the page, this is certainly to be avoided!
Helpful Google search commands
site: Indexed pages in your site: http://www.yourdomain.com
link: Pages that link to your site’s front page link: http://www.yourdomain.com
cache: The current cache of your Site cache: http://www.yourdomain.com
info: Information we have about your site: http://www.yourdomain.com
related: Pages that are similar to your site: http://www.yourdomain.com
There are lots for things you can and should do when it comes to Search Engine Optimisation (known universally as plain old SEO) but in this blog I’m going to look at some that your definitely should not do!
Know your Canonicalization
Have I lost you already? Canonicalization is process for converting data that has more than one possible representation into a “standard” or “normal” or Canonical form. Still lost? Well to put it simply it is a long word that is hard to say quickly but refers to normalising multiple URLs. To give you an example, a user (and lets not forget Search Engine crawlers) are sometimes able to navigate to the same page of your website via many different URLs.
Let’s take an example that Google uses to illustrate this point, the following URLs could all land on the same page:
http://www.example.com/products/women/dresses http://www.example.com/products?category=dresses&color=green&cruel=no http://example.com/shop/index.php?product_id=32&highlight=green+dress&cat_id=1&sessionid=123&affid=431 http://example.com/dresses/cocktail?gclid=ABCD http://www.example.com/dresses/greendress.html
This can not only be confusing for the user when navigating your site, but also importantly it is confusing for Search Engines as they will view each URL as a distinct page. Why spread the SEO juice across in this case 5 pages when it would be much more effective on one – your Canonical page.
It’s confusing for a user and it’s especially confusing to Google which will view each of these URLs as distinct pages. So to avoid this you need to specify your preferred version to help Search Engines better understand your site. You can do so by adding rel=”canonical” tag to your preferred page.
This leads us perfectly to mistake number 2.
The other method of ensuring that only one URL is indexed by search engines (and one thats more fail safe then rel tags) is to have the alternate URLs redirected using the 301 redirect. But thats not all, one of the commonest issues I see on SEO audits is that no 301 redirects are in place at all. If you go to a browser and type in your domain with or without www. in the address you will probably still get to your website, for example:
http://www.example.com and http://example.com will both go to the same page.
Without a 301 redirect in place Google will take this as two separate pages so already your whole site is duplicated! Use the 301 to redirect all traffic permanently to only one of those. Check out this handy guide to various methods of setting up 301 redirects.
Duplicate Page Content
The first two points I talk about discuss technical elements of your sites structure to avoid duplication. But there is also one other area that we need to address in the war against duplication. Page Content. What is actually written on your page, also counts. Is it unique? have you copied an pasted content from another page? Its easy to do, grab the manufactures description of a product and pop it on your page with no thought. Well now think how many other websites now also have that exact same text from the manufacture on them. Now why should Google display your page above them in Search results? Exactly so this is where you need to add your own spin on text that might already be in use by others.
In fact it does not just have to be manufacturer, supplier or partner information that has potential to be duplicated, maybe you have 3 store locations each with a website, but each offers the same services or products. Were you tempted just to copy text from one site across all 3? Well now you have duplicate page content.
Broken Links AKA 404 errors
Search Engines penalise sites with broken links. So its important that you stay active on your website and keep checking links. Not just internal links but links to suppliers or 3rd party websites. Pages are removed or sites die or are relaunched all the time so broken links are going to occur and who has not made a small typo and not noticed it.
Also if its bad for Search Engines then its probably bad for customers, have a broken link to your booking form and you’ll soon notice the drop in business and wonder why!
The easiest way to keep track of 404 errors is via a Google Webmaster account a must have tool for all website owners with the added benefit of being free. It will provide you will a report of broken links on your pages, making it very easy to remedy. I would suggest maybe having a weekly look at you account.
This article was meant to be a short look at some of the more hidden aspects of SEO but actually it turned into a more complex look at SEO then I had expected. Stay tuned and I will also do a much more simple SEO mistakes to avoid looking at a few other aspects that won’t require that much technical knowledge.