SEO Best Practice Tips
This page describes numerous best practice tips for improving SEO on your site. Before we dive into the tips, take a moment to understand what you’re trying to do and whether you should be trying to do it yourself.
- What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
- DIY SEO or out-source?
- Before you start an SEO project…
- The SEO Process
- On page SEO best practice tips
- Off page SEO best practice tips
- How quickly does SEO work?
- SEO is a virtuous circle
- The limitations of SEO
What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimisation is the process of improving your website so its pages appear at the top of the free (“organic”) listings on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Strong SEO increases traffic to your website and boosts sales.
It’s unusual for SEO to put your pages first on a SERP – Google reserves the top slots for paid adverts (pay-per-click). A #1 organic ranking still has huge benefits though.
DIY SEO or out-source?
One of your first decisions will be whether you want to do the SEO work yourself or out-source it to an agency like Forbes Baxter Associates. You can do your own SEO. You don’t need a PhD in computer science. But it does take time.
Here’s how you find out if the DIY route works for you. The first step of the process is research: keywords and backlinks (see “The SEO Process”, below). If you can do that in one month, you can complete your SEO project in six. If you miss that one-month deadline, it’s time to call Ghostbusters.
Before you start an SEO project…
Your website is just one part of your business’ promotional activities. Promotion is only one of the 4 P’s of marketing. Put the marketing foundations in place before you start your digital marketing. Websites are second only to CRM in the list of IT systems that fail to live up to expectations. And it’s rarely the website’s fault.
The best-looking, best-optimised website in the world will miss its commercial targets if the strategy behind it is badly planned (or totally unplanned).
- Who is your target audience?
- What goals are they trying to achieve?
- What problems are they trying to solve?
- What’s their typical behaviour, mood or trait?
- How does your product/service address those goals or problems? That’s your value proposition.
- Do you have evidence to support your value proposition?
- Do you have a good way to explain or illustrate your value propositions?
If you can answer those questions, you’re ready to work on your website. But if your website’s full of HUM (Here-Us-Me), there’s no point getting traffic to it. You’re wasting your time on SEO. You’ve got to address your customers’ priorities.
The SEO Process
Keyword research is the process of finding out what terms people are looking for via Google and other search engines. It’s essential. Here’s why.
When Forbes Baxter Associates was new, we knew we wanted to focus on the SME sector (Small to Medium Enterprise). So it seemed logical to us that one of our target keywords would be “sme marketing.”
As our research showed, “sme marketing” has less than 25% of the traffic of “small business marketing”: 210 UK searches per month as opposed to 880.
This research reveals two important points:
- Google often treats synonyms the same. So the search volume for “large shoes” and “big shoes” would be the same. It obviously thinks “small business” and “sme” are different. If we hadn’t done our keyword research, we wouldn’t know that.
- You don’t always want to go for the keyword with the highest search volume. As you’ll see from these results, “small business marketing” is harder to rank for in both organic SEO (29 against 24) and paid search (51 against 17). That’s a decision you have to make but it’s one you couldn’t have made if you hadn’t done your keyword research.
Why bother with keyword research?
Keyword research isn’t making work. It’s avoiding waste. If you don’t do your keyword research you’ll create content nobody wants to see and pages nobody can find. You’ll devote time and money to it and get no return. Don’t confuse activity with advantage.
How to do keyword research
Use Ubersuggest, a tool whose free version lets you do five fantastic searches per day.
- Create a list of products/services you offer that you’d want to rank for. Add standards and practices that relate to your industry to the list.
- Establish the search volume for each of those keywords.
- Ubersuggest > Overview; set the language to English/United Kingdom; type in your keyword; press Search.
- The chart will show you the overall search volume for the keyword. For a small business, a keyword with a search volume over 100 hits per month and an SEO difficulty under 40 is a prime target.
- Ubersuggest > Overview; set the language to English/United Kingdom; type in your keyword; press Search.
- Ubersuggest > Top Pages.
- The report’s left window shows you related keywords that rank strongly. Don’t ignore the long keywords. It’s easier to get traffic from them and they’ll become more important as voice search becomes more common. The right window shows you pages that perform well for the keywords you select.
- Export both reports as CSVs.
- Ubersuggest > Top Pages.
- Ubersuggest > Content Ideas.
- The report’s shows you web pages that are related to your chosen keyword. They’re useful references if you’re struggling for content.
- Export the report as a CSV.
- Ubersuggest > Content Ideas.
- Optional: do a Google Search for the keyword.
- As you type your keyword, you’ll see Google add words that other people are using with it.
- When you complete your search, Google will add similar variations at the bottom of the search results.
- This step is optional because Ubersuggest’s reports include most of what a Google search shows.
How to do competitor research
The best way to get traffic to your website is to see how your competitors get traffic to their websites. Ubersuggest is your best weapon once again.
- Compile your list of competitors. If you don’t know who your competitors are, Google what you sell. There are your competitors. Even if you think you know your competitors, do that Google search anyway. Some surprising names might pop up.
- Ubersuggest > Overview; set the language to English/United Kingdom; type in a competitor’s website address; press Search.
- The chart will show you the overall search volume for the website. If they get less than 250 hits per month, ignore them. Their site won’t teach you anything.
- Ubersuggest > Top Pages.
- The report shows you the top pages on your competitor’s website. Export the report as a CSV.
- Click on the Keyword button for any page with significant traffic on a topic that’s relevant to you. The screen expands to show you the keywords that drive traffic to that page.
- Compare the number of monthly searches for a keyword and the traffic the website gets from it. If they capture more than 25% of the searches, it’s worth you trying to create a better page.
- Export the report as a CSV.
Competitor research is optional but highly recommended.
How do you record keyword results?
Tools like Ubersuggest, Moz, SEMrush and Ahrefs are all phenomenal tools for keyword research but they’re not so good at collation.
You need a way to compare the keywords that drive traffic to your competitors’ sites and the keywords that are important to your business. For that, the best option is still a spreadsheet. You can download a template from our website that collates keywords, sites that rank well for those keywords, the keyword’s search volume and the site’s traffic for it.
Then you can pick which keywords you want to target.
If you’re aiming for a hotly-contested keyword, you may never rank well for it. We don’t expect this page to rank, for example, because “seo best practice” is dominated by the worldwide monsters of the field such as Moz, SEMrush and Ahrefs. We still have to produce this page though because that’s what marketing agencies have to do. But we target more realistic keywords such as “seo shropshire” and “small business seo”.
Backlink research is relevant because inbound links are one of the strongest signals Google relies on. Yes, even stronger than the wonderful content you put on your page. If reputable websites link to yours, Google assumes you must be doing something right.
Backlink research will show you which sites link to your competitors. They can be your initial targets.
- Use the same list of competitors you used for your Competitor Research.
- Plug their website addresses into Backlink Watch.
- Look through the list for sites that might be willing to link to you. Only consider sites with a reasonably low number of outbound links (OBL’s in the report). Thousands of links suggests it’s a low-quality directory that’ll do you no good.
Backlink research is optional for two reasons.
- Firstly, it’s time-consuming.
- Secondly, competitor sites are heavily populated with links from their customers (who won’t link to you) and low-quality directories (who you don’t want to link to you).
On page SEO best practice tips
On page SEO is the only part of optimisation that’s truly under your control. We’ll quickly run through the best practice tips you can pick up on hundreds of other websites:
- Write for a human. Start off by just writing. Inject your character. Forget about search engines. When you study the top pages for any topic you’ll see they break plenty of SEO rules. Think about what your ideal customer needs to know (refer back to the 4 P’s). What would they enjoy reading? Produce that. Once you’ve drafted it…
- Put your keywords into the page title (aka the “H1”) in a natural way. It’s nice if the keyword’s at the start of the title but not essential.
- Pose and answer questions. You’ll notice this page starts by asking “What is SEO?” That’s because so many Google searches are questions. Follow the question with a paragraph containing the answer. Put a short version of the answer in the first sentence. Elaborate on the answer with a bullet-point list if it’s appropriate. This structure will help your page appear as a featured snippet.
- Write a complete answer. Google loves complete explanations of a subject even though research says that our attention spans are shorter than The Hulk’s temper. When you get to 2,00 words you’re getting close to what Google wants.
- Sprinkle your keyword and related keywords through the page. This is where a long page comes to your rescue. It gives you plenty of scope to talk about “sme seo”, “small business seo” and “website optimisation for sole traders”. Google will rank one page for multiple keywords even though your content management system only shows a score for one.
- Sprinkle your keywords into page sub-headings (aka “H2’s” and “H3’s”). Use the main keyword and related keywords.
- Break your text into bulleted or numbered lists. Google loves structure.
- Include ways your audience can interact with the page. This is the most important technique of all. Google wants to see people stay on your page and do something.
- Brochure downloads.
- Case study downloads.
- Buttons to get a quote.
- Buttons to book an appointment.
- Buttons to register for events, seminars or webinars.
- Buttons to sign-up to a subscription list.
- Gated content.
- Videos they click to play.
- Links to other parts of your website, especially to your ‘cornerstone content’.
- Links to external websites.
- Product selector forms.
- Improve the readability of your copy. Google loves simple. Its idea of a good page uses short words in short sentences. Re-read your copy and check:
- Does every list entry end with a full stop? This specifically ends the sentence and boosts your readability score.
- Have you cut out unnecessary words? This page originally contained the phrase “results in an increase in traffic to your website”. “Increases traffic to your website” is better.
- Have you cut-out passive verbs? They’re harder to read and longer. “John hit the target” is better than “the target was hit by John”.
- Have you reversed sentences? It takes more thought to read them. For instance, “if you miss that one-month deadline, it’s time to call Ghostbusters” should probably have been “it’s time to call Ghostbusters if you miss that one-month deadline.” My bad.
- Then there are five more technical considerations:
- Before you publish the page, make sure the address (aka the “URL”) contains the keyword. It’s nice if the keyword’s at the start of the address but not essential.
- Put your keywords and related keywords into the ALT tags of images.
- Create a meta description for the page. This helps searchers know whether they should come to your page from Google. An accurate meta description encourages the audience you want. It also discourages visitors who would bounce away and damage your ranking.
- Check the speed of your page. Google PageSpeed Insights is as good a place to start as any.
- Conventional wisdom says you should also have social sharing buttons on every page but, in all honesty, the proportion of pages that get shared is smaller than quark’s little brother.
Off page SEO best practice tips
If you thought on-page SEO was time-consuming, you might not want to read on. Off-page SEO takes way more time. So much time that most of us don’t do it.
We’re restricting this guide to one technique that’s more likely than others to produce results: broken link building. The idea is that you find a broken link to one of the topics you cover and persuade the link’s owner to link to you instead. They’re likely to do this for three reasons:
- You’re helping them remove errors from their website.
- You’re making it easy for them to fix the link by providing them with a new link.
- The fact that they had links shows they don’t want to replicate the content (i.e. steal your content) on their own site.
The simple version of a broken backlink plan is as follows:
- Find a site you’d like a link from.
- Check that site for broken links.
- Plug the site’s URL into to Broken Link Check. This will tell you the broken links on the site. Use the option to show each instance of a broken link.
- Are any of the links useful to you? Do they relate to subjects that your site covers? The ‘Link Text’ column gives you an indication of what the link is trying to show. Click on the ‘url’ button by a broken link to look at the page making the link.
- Contact the domain owner, suggesting that they correct the broken link by linking to your site.
- If the link isn’t a perfect replacement, suggest how they could change their text. For example, if the broken link said “a basic way to assess your business is to use a SWOT analysis” you could suggest “an initial way to assess your business is to use a TOWS analysis, the modern development of the venerable SWOT analysis model.”
- If you know how, you could even supply the domain owner with the HTML code.
- Tell the domain owner each instance of the broken link, as revealed by Broekn link Check.
You can refine this plan with more elaborate ways of finding sites that could provide links. For every site you can think of, there’ll be a hundred you didn’t think of. This is where you start using some unusual Google search operators:
- “site:” limits results to a specific site or type of site.
- Searching for marketing would generate millions of results.
- Searching for marketing site:.co.uk would limit the results to sites with a .co.uk domain.
- “allinanchor:” limits results to pages with links that contain groups of words. It’s not 100% reliable because it does sometimes show pages that contain your keywords outside a link. It’s still valuable because it reveals links to your topics.
- Searching for kano model would generate hundreds of results.
- Searching for allinanchor: kano model would limit the results to pages with a link to a page about the kano model.
- “allintitle:” limits results to pages with groups of words in the title. If the words only appear in the pages body, they won’t appear in your results. It’s a good way to find pages that are focused on a topic rather than ones that just mention it.
- Searching for steel would generate millions of results.
- Searching for allintitle: steel fabrication en 1090 would limit the results to pages whose title (H1) mentions all the words.
- “allinurl:” limits results to pages with groups of words in the page address (URL). This is useful because it picks up the structure of a website.
- Searching for atex would generate millions of results.
- Searching for allinurl: atex blog would limit the results to pages about ATEX that appear in a website’s blog.
Once you’ve found relevant sites, you can either check them for broken links or ask for links in the usual way.
Broken link building has an added advantage. Once you’ve helped a company fix a broken link, you have the credibility to go back to them and suggest a new link they might want to add to their site – an original link that goes to your website.
There are other link-building techniques we haven’t covered in any depth:
- Manual outreach: emailing potential sites is time-consuming and unreliable. You have to find an authoritative and relevant site. You have to have relevant content on your site. You have to get to the site before your competitors. You have to find the right contact. You have to explain why their audience will benefit from your content. You have to explain why your expertise is better than anyone else’s (hard to do in our field – even my dog calls itself a marketing expert). You have to hope they don’t just replicate a version of your content on their site. “Time-consuming” only starts to describe the process.
- Internal page structure: it’s relatively important but it requires a lengthy technical assessment of every link between every page on your site.
- Guest blogging: it’s time-consuming to do and the number of sites that offer ‘dofollow’ links is diminishing.
- Influencer marketing: because it’s a much bigger topic!
Link-building from customers
The value your customers can give you goes further than the money they pay. Get all of your customers to link to you. But make it easy and acceptable for them.
- They might not want to shout about you on their website so suggest the link comes from a dedicated page that no human will ever find. Rest assured that Google will find it.
- Secondly, provide them with the text and link that they can just paste into the page. They’ll be happier doing a 20 second job they don’t have to think about.
There’s one final mini-tip that’s worth mentioning: outbound links. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you putting a link from your site to another (unless it’s that NASA website you hacked into).
But don’t just create the link.
If it’s an identifiable website (i.e. not Wikipedia), email the owner for permission. Not because you need it. Not because they’re likely to say “no” (they won’t). Because it introduces you to them and may get a link back in return. Or a follow on LinkedIn or FaceBook. Or an invitation to their podcast. Or presenting at an event.
How quickly does SEO work?
The on-page element of SEO is the fastest part to complete. If you have the knowledge for a great page, we can work with you to create a well-optimised page.
But that’s only part of what Google cares about.
Google also wants to see people react well to your page. It wants to see people staying on the page for more than a couple of seconds. It wants to see your audience clicking on links to other pages. It wants to videos played and content downloaded. It wants to see pages shared to other platforms. It wants to see other sites linking to your pages. This is the type of activity that tells Google you have a good page.
That takes time because it’s out of your control.
You can pursue a link-building strategy to jump-start the process of getting links to your pages. But, as we’ve discussed, this is an extraordinarily time-consuming process.
A social media strategy that generates traffic to your new web content is more productive but even this take resources. Somebody has to write the content, post it and respond to reactions.
If you want to be realistic, don’t expect significant results inside three months.
SEO is a virtuous circle
SEO is a self-perpetuating asset when you do it right.
That makes SEO sounds as simple as painting a masterpiece: mix your colours, splash ‘em on the canvas – voila! Eat your heart out, Picasso.
Four factors make SEO harder than it may seem:
- It’s hard to create well-optimised pages. You’ve got to know the subject in depth. You’ve got to write well. You’ve got to create elements that will make people interact with your page. You’ve got to create a cluster of supporting pages. And then you’ve got to do it over and over again for numerous topics, products or services on your site.
- Your competition changes. Web pages aren’t like cars. If the Ford Focus starts to outsell the VW Golf, VW can’t produce a new Golf in three weeks. But your competitors can produce a new web page to knock you off your #1 spot. And they will.
- Google changes. Google, Bing et al regularly change the way they rank pages. Some of the changes are massive. In ye olde days, you could fill a page with your keyword in white text on a white background and hello! You ranked #1. That doesn’t work anymore. What works today may not work tomorrow. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
- It’s hard to start. A virtuous circle only works once it’s started. The snowball effect needs to start with a snowflake. Only then can it thunder down the mountain, annihilating all opposition. Drawing Google to a new site or page is like dragging a supertanker with a fridge magnet. Once you’ve got it moving though…
The limitations of SEO
SEO is a vital activity but it’s not the universal panacea that will turn the frog into a prince. Be aware of SEO’s limitations:
- Organic results generated by good SEO are only part of what Google shows on its results pages. The rest are paid adverts generated through Google Ads (pay-per-click).
- Google is reducing the influence of organic results. Pay-per-click listings appear first.
- Google is always introducing new elements like Featured Snippets. They’re not always beneficial. For example, searchers might learn everything they want from the featured snippet and not bother coming to your site. It can reduce traffic rather than increase it (but we’d still rather own the featured snippet than let a competitor get it).
- Google provides its own answers to common questions. This trend will only increase.
- It’s best to remember that Google is not your friend. It’s ruthlessly selfish.
- SEO only affects your digital marketing. There’s more to Promotion than digital and there’s more to marketing than Promotion. If you don’t get your marketing fundamentals right, your digital marketing is just putting lipstick on a pig.
- SEO can be slow.