When it comes to effective blogging and search engine optimisation (SEO) practices, every independent project or small business needs to pay attention to certain key elements of online etiquette.
If you’re a blogger, it pays to remember that millions of readers are out there right now, hunting for content to consume; there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be yours, so long as they’re able to find it easily. Similarly, for small businesses, customers are looking to invest in the precise service or product you offer right now – but if those customers don’t see your website within a few quick clicks, they’ll buy from one they do find.
Search engine rankings are utterly fundamental to your website being discoverable, and your website’s position among them will be dramatically influenced by your methods of creating and posting content. To boil it down to the most basic outline possible, good blogging and business SEO is about making sure your name shows up when the reader or customer hits ‘search’.
As straightforward as that sounds, the actual theories and practices underpinning effective SEO are often seen as something of a dark art, even if you’re familiar with the basic principles. If yours is one of the vast number of independent blogs or small business websites without a ton of cutting edge digital knowhow or startup funding at your disposal, the whole field of search engine rankings and how they work can seem downright intimidating.
With that in mind, here are five handy tips for a quick SEO freshen-up. All of them are easy, fast and inexpensive to implement, and will typically offer a solid Google boost to any blog or small business that’s just starting to get to grips with how search rankings are decided and delivered.
1. Use social media constructively
This may sound an obvious one to kick off with (and it should be!), but a great many blogs and small businesses still aren’t doing anything like enough to promote their enterprise creatively across multiple channels.
It’s all well and good having a Facebook page for announcements of deals and offers, but if that’s all you’re doing, it’s a bit like walking the length of a street and only dropping leaflets off at every fourth or fifth house. Cross-promoting your updates across a raft of other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest being three of the key profiles to spend time maintaining and developing content for) will help fill in a lot of the gaps in your digital outreach, as well as combining to give you a much stronger online presence that will be noticed by Google in terms of overall search rankings.
Do note, though, that we said cross-promote your content, which isn’t the same as simply cross-posting the identical chunk of content again and again on different channels. Doing the latter not only fails to take advantage of each platform’s unique features and tone, but can also be very off-putting for followers who keep tabs on more than one of your multiple profiles.
Constructive social media use is an entire discipline in itself, but on a very basic level it’s about identifying goals, creating a content plan, and keeping things fresh (observing the rule of thirds can be a big help with the latter).
Spend some time exploring how successful users of each different platform make effective use of its unique strengths, and be aware that a great post on one platform won’t necessarily work anything like as well on another.
2. Thoroughly understand your customers’ online behaviour
Developing a strong and clear understanding of how your ‘typical’ customer uses the internet can give small businesses a real edge in terms of sharpening up its SEO performance. Is your average buyer especially active on Facebook, perhaps? If so, it logically follows that you’d do well to spend a fair amount of time on making sure your own Facebook account is highly active and full of colourful, personalised content that tells a strong story about what you’re doing.
On the other hand, if your products and services appeal more strongly to the sorts of people who only ever really go online when they need to find a practical answer or guide, then maybe it would be worth thinking about producing some of your own in-house video tutorials.
Either way, the key is making sure that your approach to online engagement and marketing doesn’t feel too scattergun – casting the net wide is important in SEO terms, but there’s most definitely a sweet spot between not doing enough and throwing the kitchen sink at it. Carrying out careful research, and spending time gathering detailed feedback about how your public prefers to browse for online content, will help steer your efforts to where they’re most appreciated and effective.
3. Balance regular newsworthy and longer-term content
Many small business websites now actively maintain a blog to create content that readers and customers will share through social media. That’s a great idea – but only if you’re actually going to stick with it and invest some time and effort into creating interesting, shareable posts.
Special interest bloggers have been doing this since the early days of the internet, of course, but it’s a concept that small businesses have, on the whole, been much slower to latch on to. That’s often because they don’t feel they have the time or personnel to keep it updated with regular quality content – and yet, given how today’s search rankings function, it’s well worth the effort.
(That said, if you know deep down that a blog is likely to be infrequently updated and eventually abandoned, then it’s arguably better not to do one: nothing looks worse, when shopping around online, than stumbling on a company blog that looks like it’s been mothballed or run out of steam.)
For those of you keen to keep a regular, high-quality blog going, be sure to mix and match the content for maximum freshness. It’s often a great idea to ride certain waves of keyword popularity or news buzz, so definitely keep a close eye on current events in your industry or area of interest, and respond quickly to any breaking stories whenever you can.
Also remember, though, that those little spikes of activity on a highly specific topic will just as quickly become yesterday’s news – that’s why it’s vitally important to focus the bulk of your efforts on creating content that will continue to be informative and shareable longer-term. After all, you’ve no idea when or how someone will stumble across a link to your page outside of a direct search context, and a well-crafted little feature sharing evergreen tips, engaging narratives or snappy multimedia content can keep picking up linkbacks months or even years down the line.
4. Make sure you’re getting links back
Whether you’re running a personal blog or a business website, one of the key ways in which search results are ranked by Google and other major engines is through the number and relative value of external links pointing to the same source: generally speaking, if lots of other credible websites and social media channels are linking back to yours, you’ll rocket up the search rankings in no time.
This must be achieved organically, though. Not all links are of equal value, and badly placed ones can even incur penalties in terms of dropping the target site down the rankings, so remember it’s a combination of quality and quantity that’s key here. To be worthwhile, any linkbacks to your work featured on other blogs, websites or social media channels need to be natural (not spam, in other words) and embedded in relevant locations that offer some content of genuine value and quality to readers. One especially effective way to do this is by trying to get genuine, personalised conversations going on social media that will generate increased mentions of your various profiles.
You should also ensure your blog or business website is listed in any relevant online directories you can find – especially local ones, if you’re a business with brick-and-mortar premises – and take the time to encourage customer reviews on as many local and national consumer platforms as possible. This will help you to generate quality links that have real value to the customers doing the searching.
5. Focus on keywords – but don’t overdo it
In the simplest terms, keywords are what power searches: when a person types a query into Google, the search engine must interpret that person’s ideal destination by picking out the keywords and mapping them onto the results it delivers. The search engine’s aim, ultimately, is to make sure the most relevant and helpful answers appear highest up the results page.
The content you create across all your online platforms – websites, social media accounts, local directory listings and blog posts – therefore needs to include the sorts of keywords you think customers will be using to find content they want to read or shop for. The best way to do this is to make sure each blog article or social media post you create focuses primarily on one specific topic, product or service: make it very clear from the title that the article directly addresses that topic.
Try to avoid overly generic keywords that you’ve little hope of appearing near the top of searches for. ‘Shoes’, for example, isn’t specific enough to be of much use to searchers – and few people often look for anything that broad anyway – so try think about a more specific search query that people might use and that’s reflected directly in your content.
Make sure the article includes that keyword or phrase once or twice, and ideally in the title of the post, but don’t keep churning out the exact same line over and over. Above all, remember that strong content is written for people, not to trick a bunch of robotic algorithms. Today’s sophisticated search engines are hard to fool and tend to disapprove of pages that spam keywords to the detriment of the content’s quality or readability.