Most businesses want to rank well in search engines. It’s a given that most would. Yet many small businesses miss the mark on a few simple things they can do to help their site rank better.
As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know”, it’s not your job to know everything about S.E.O. Heck, I have been building websites for years and I don’t know everything. The landscape changes every single day. What worked yesterday, might not work today.
Most small businesses will never know page one success on major keywords without paying hordes of money. But as a small business, you have the home team advantage. You can rank locally for long-tail keywords such as “Services in XYZ town”. But to do this, your site needs a little optimization.
When you look at S.E.O., it’s not a do everything and rank instantly approach but rather lots of little things that add up and slowly change your course. Working on these four tips will help you get closer to the mark. Plus, each thing can help the visitors, which should be more important than the ranking anyway.
Tip #1: Page Titles
Gone are the days when every site had a page labeled “Home” on Google. Sure, your home page can and will still rank. But the title in search results is rarely home anymore.
Page titles matter. They are the first invitation to anyone that wants to visit that page. The title should reflect the content. Being cute and clever is not a good thing here. Think about what makes your page title good. Does it convey the page topic? Does it invoke a question in the searcher’s mind that begs an answer?
You want your page titles to be unique to your site and each page. If you label every page on your site as “Really Cool Site – Page X”, you are adding no value to the conversation. There is also no incentive to click on that title when seen in the results. This page will likely be on page 100+ and who wants to go through 100+ pages of results? Heck, most people don’t even leave page one anymore before they try and search for something else!
Don’t use “Let’s get in touch” when “Contact Us” is clear and cleaner. People are not searching for getting in touch, they are searching for how to contact your business.
Visit each page of your site and look at the S.E.O. title. Not the headline on the page, but the page title. Update your titles to ensure they are clear and reflect the content of the page. Page titles should be around 70 characters long.
If needed, update the link to the page to make it clear. The page link does not have to match the page title exactly, and the link should be shorter when possible while being clear. Don’t forget to add a redirect if you change the page link.
If you want to dig deeper into this topic and beyond, check out this article: How to make your business stand out in the search results.
Tip #2: Headlines
Think about the headlines in the last book you read. Did it help break up the book? How about a newspaper? Headlines do the same thing on your website. They allow you to break content into relevant topics on a single page. But they also do a little more.
Have you ever wondered what H1, H2, H3, etc. are? Sure, they change the size of the text. But that is not the goal. What they are doing is creating a visual and design hierarchy. An H2 will always come after an H1, H3 after H2, and so on. This hierarchy can be read by search engines and translated into page importance and groups topics together.
There should only be one H1 on a page. This is the primary topic of the page. A page about the best places to hike in Washington could have an H1 headline of “10 best places to go hiking on weekends in Washington”. From this headline, we know that the page will be a list of 10 places the author thinks are the best places to go hiking on a weekend.
Next will come sub-headlines or H2 and down. In our example above, each next sub-headline or H2 will be a single place. In this article, each sub-headline is one tip. If a single topic is more complex, it can be further broken down by additional sub-sub headlines or H3 tags on down. Most sites don’t go beyond the sub-sub heading in a single topic. If you can, you might want to investigate breaking the main topic (H1) up into smaller topical pages.
Keep each headline on topic and clear. The best way to rank is to remove unclear text. The section heading for this part clearly states I will be talking about headlines. So, my heading would be unclear if I went off on a tangent and started talking about how to form a paragraph.
It’s also best to avoid insider terms and jokes. Whenever possible, keep your headlines short and sweet. People love to skim before they will dive into reading a whole page. By making your headlines clear and easy to skim, the visitor can decide what is most important to them on the page.
Tip #3: Content
No page or article is complete without the content on the page. But you can’t just stuff a bunch of keywords in there and hope Google will rank your page. It’s more important to write for the visitor and cover the topic you teased them about in the title and headlines.
Consider what will encourage your readers to want to read the page. Address their desires and answer open questions they might have. If the page intends to teach, it should contain content that matches the level your visitor knows. The idea is to teach, not drown or confuse.
Remember to speak with your visitor, not to them. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. You can do this by asking questions, addressing the visitor, and speaking their language. Don’t use industry terms unless they know them, or you describe them. Sure, it’s your website, but the visitor must read it. Make it interesting. Tell stories and give examples.
Ranking on search engines is about answering search queries. You show up better when you are human and have relevant content and answers that keep a visitor on your site. When people arrive, then turn around and leave, that is a sign to search engines that the content on your page was irrelevant. In turn, you won’t show up as well for that topic in the future.
Tip #4: Site speed
It was big news when Google announced that they would include site speed as a ranking factor. And if you think about it, it makes total sense. People don’t want to wait around all day long for a site to load. They want to find an answer and move on.
If I search for a list of restaurants near me, I want a list to come up and then be able to jump to each site quickly to see what they have for me to eat. If the site takes forever to load, I am going to take off and try the next site.
Many sites panicked about this new ranking factor. But it’s not something to fear. What it came down to was visitor experience. Google wanted the sites that would provide a better user experience to show up first because that makes Google look better.
But shouldn’t we all want our visitors to have a great experience? I know I do.
A fast site starts with a clean one. Think about how many pictures you are loading on the page. Add only relevant and optimized images. Don’t auto-play videos unless they provide a key part of the site. Keep fancy animations to a minimum. If you are using WordPress, review each plugin and determine if you need it.
Hosting is also important. Let me ask you this, how much does the average visitor to your site spend with you? If you took a small percentage of every sale your website brought you and put it towards your hosting, I bet you could afford more than the cheap $1.99 hosting.
Let me put this another way. If making your website load faster, you could sell one more product on each sale, would you? Allocate some budget to quality hosting and see how a better experience can help your visitors feel inclined to hang around longer.
Don’t substitute clean for fast hosting. While fast hosting can help, if you have a messy site, the hosting won’t matter. For example, often during rebuilds I will grab a copy of a client’s old site and host it locally on a server in my office. Since all this server does is run a couple of sites, you would think they would load fast. But the messy sites still take a long time to load. Messiness cannot be compensated for by a fast server or hosting.
For a more in-depth look at site performance, check out this article: The importance of website performance.
S.E.O. is not a one-and-done game. It’s also not a race that you have to complete today. You should be optimizing your site for S.E.O. constantly. And the easiest way to optimize for S.E.O. is to make the site better for your visitors.
Little things often see the biggest results. Positive stacks on positive. Stop chasing the elusive page one and instead focus on what you can bring to the table for the customers you want to serve. The ranking will come naturally when you bring great value to those you serve.