Updated: Jul 30, 2021
This blog is part of a content series helping small businesses to get set up for digital marketing best practice.
You’ll find a guide for each of the major channels that are consistently used amongst each of my clients.
I will be releasing a guide per week.
One key area of focus is SEO / Google / Organic Search, and rightly so. If you’re selling online and you haven’t set up your SEO appropriately then you’re not going to be appearing on Google, Bing, etc. when your customers search for you.
So, let’s get started.
Considerations for SEO / Organic Search
Organic Search is a channel that is focused on intent. That is your search users’ intent to find and discover information that is relevant to them. This means that the user is actively seeking something.
For the purpose of this guide let’s break it down into two key search requests:
Brand - this is a search for your brand name.
Interest - this is a search for something that you offer.
The simple thing to rank for is your brand name, as long as it’s not a term that is highly competitive. For example, if you decide to call your brand ‘Picnic’ then it will always be difficult for you to rank as there’s many search results that already flood this search request - just search ‘Picnic’ on Google to see for yourself! If you haven’t yet named your business, then consider performing a simple search on key search platforms (i.e. Google) to see whether there are other well known brands or websites that are claiming that space.
What’s more difficult is ranking for interest based terms. That’s because the search user is seeking an answer to a specific string of text. For example, let’s say you offer gluten free and healthy plant based cookies. Within that there are a few search terms - there’s what we call a long string (many words) and a few short string (few words) terms.
Long String - “Gluten free and healthy plant based cookies”
Short String - “gluten free cookies”, “healthy cookies”, “plant based cookies”, “cookies”.
The general rule of thumb is that long string search strings are much easier to rank for than short search strings. This is because many of the short search strings have already been claimed by other businesses and that short strings are contained within long strings - essentially, they are more competitive. It will take a while for your website to climb the rankings. At the same time, long string searches will likely have a lower volume of search queries per month.
To get started you should write down the potential searches that someone would make to find your brand (we’ll get back to these later). Start with writing down the long string search terms and follow a process similar to the above to break that down into various short term strings.
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What do I need to make sure I get right?
Your website is serving two purposes - it is your digital shopfront, but it is also a slab of code that is waiting for Google to read it. You will want to appeal to both your customer and to the robot that is the search engine.
That’s why you need your website to shine its best possible light for both circumstances. I find it easiest to think of ‘brand first’ and ‘robot second’. Make sure your website looks, feels and breathes beautifully and then following that ensure that it is ranking appropriately. So, what should you do for your SEO / Organic Search?
Get Your Keywords of Interest - Build out a list of keywords of interest that you want your website to rank for. Remember, generally long string is easier to rank for than short, but will have a lower search volume. Use one of the SEO tools that I mention below to discover strings that will work for your business.
Set Up Your Metas - Each page on your website contains two key items relevant for your ranking and appearance on SEO - A Meta Title and a Meta Description. Meta Title - This is the title of the page. It should basically reflect the Heading 1 (the next point) and is the primary purpose of the page. In our example from above it would be Gluten Free and Healthy Plant Based Cookies. This is the text that appears as a blue link on Google and should be under 60 characters. Meta Description - This is the subsequent text that sits underneath the blue link headline on Google. This further describes the page with more text and should give the reader reason to click on the link. This should be under 156 characters.
Set Up Your Headings - Search engines recognise the priority of official Headings. You know when you’re editing a Word / Google Doc and you can select ‘Heading 1’ or ‘Heading 2’ and so on? This is how search engines view your site. The highest Heading 1 on your page is what the page is about and subsequent Heading 2s are the sub-text of what the page content is. For example, your page about Gluten free and healthy plant based cookies should make this the heading 1. Then, lower down the page your short string terms within this string should be your heading 2 - for example, Gluten Free and Healthy and Plant Based. These should be immediately followed by regular/normal text that explains these headings. Here’s how I do it on my homepage:
Connect to the Platform Tools - Ensure that Google and Bing are receiving up to date information from your website and are alerting you of any changes that you need to make. Get relevant data to help guide future decisions. Check out the tools below.
Write Content on Your Important Landing Pages - The words on your page tell Google what your page is about. You should write as much content as fits within your branding to define your offering in as many ways as possible. This will help to pick up on a variety of different search terms. For example, your gluten free and healthy plant based cookies page might also talk about how the cookies are sugar free. This would mean that people searching for 'sugar free plant based cookies' would be able to find your website. If you don't write the content, Google won't know that you have it.
Write Regular Content - Search engines love regularly updated content and extra content is a great way to capture as many keyword strings as possible. Write content on your blog that is relevant to what people are searching for. Use one of the content tools below to help you build out a content plan.
Speed - Speed matters. Your website should be fast, both for the audience experience and for making Google happy. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to analyse your website’s speed and how to improve it.
Get Relevant Backlinks, Particularly from High Domain Authority Websites - Backlinks (someone linking back to your site) tell search engines that your website is important. That is particularly the case if a relevant, high authority website, links back to your site. For example, if we use our example, it would be extremely helpful if a health focused organisation linked back to our Gluten free and healthy plant based cookies page.
Tag Up Your Images - Your website images are another hidden gem of how to tell search engines what your website is about. While we can see images ourselves, search engines rely on something called ‘alt-text’. This is the text that appears when the image doesn’t actually load. It should describe what the image contains, which should be relevant to the keywords you are attempting to rank for.
Tools to use for SEO / Organic Search
There are many different SEO tools that exist and it can be confusing to wade your way through them and know which ones are actually relevant. Some are required for the purpose of listing on search engines (like Google) and some will help you to set yourself up for success. For the purpose of this guide I will separate them into a few different categories - Platform Tools, Investigative Tools and Content Tools.
Platform Tools For keeping your listings up to date and reviewing historical performance.
These two platforms are essential for any business to set up and integrate with. You should start with Google Search Console for two reasons - (1) Google is a much more popular search engine than Bing and (2) Bing Webmaster can port your Google Search Console set up directly over to it.
Setting these up will do two main things for you - (1) You will be able to submit your website to Google and Bing so that they crawl it. This means that they will send their robots through your site to ensure that it is listed on their search engines. (2) You will be able to review past performance. That means that you’ll be able to see what queries your audience has searched to have either seen your listing or to have clicked on it (VERY helpful data!).
You will also be notified directly of any issues on your website that are holding it back from ranking on the search engines.
Use this data to understand what terms you are ranking for and what terms you are growing or declining in clicks for.
Investigative Tools For researching search terms and their difficulty to rank for.
Okay, so you have an understanding of what you’re currently ranking for but you want to plan ahead and rank for new, high volume terms. By using one of the tools above you can search what other websites are ranking for or enter keyword strings that you would like to rank for. The tools will spit out a list of keywords and their relative difficulty to rank for. You will also get extra information like the cost and difficulty to engage in paid search advertising for those keywords. For a free and simple to use tool I recommend getting started with Ubersuggest.
Content Tools For generating blog content topics for you to write.
The above tools are great tools for discovering what to write content about for your website. They can be a great kickstart for your blog and give you some fantastic content ideas. For example, if you entered our sample string of Gluten free and healthy plant based cookies then it would spit out a bunch of questions related to this. Think along the lines of ‘What are the best gluten free cookies?’ or ‘Can gluten free cookies be healthy and delicious?’ - this will give you a list of questions that people search for that are ready to be answered!
Bonus - On-Site Analysis Tools For checking that you’re doing a good job.
Yoast creates great tools for your website. If you’re using WordPress as your website builder then it has a plugin that allows you to enter your keywords of interest. It will then list out exactly what you need to do on your live page to ensure that it ranks for that keyword. Brilliant tool!
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About the author, Josh Berg
I’ve worked with over 200 small businesses, spending thousands of hours analysing their performance to advise on digital marketing best practice.
Over the hours there have been several key recommendations that have been consistent for almost all of my clients. This guide is the product of this time and focuses on providing you with an actionable list of tactics to get your digital marketing basics set up.
Want help with this guide? Tap me on the shoulder.
I’m available for consultation to help you work through this guide, ensuring that you’re implementing with best practice advice and are set up for success.