Most businesses want to improve their SEO.
They want to be found in Google and other search engines by local customers.
Ranking on the first page of Google has obvious financial advantages — as opposed to being buried on the tenth page search results.
The truth is, most businesses don’t make it to the first page of Google because they’re not willing to do what it takes to get to the first page of search results.
The solution is simple in concept, but difficult in execution.
I’d like to share what has helped me get within striking distance of the first page in the competitive field of local web designers.
On Page SEO
On page SEO is the first place you should start if you’re looking to increase your search rank. All your other efforts will be negated without cleaning this up first.
Each page of your site should focus on optimizing exactly one keyword phrase.
I like to use the WordPress SEO by Yoast plug-in to help with this. Once I decide on my keyword phrase for each page, I make sure the title tag, meta-description, and body text all have that keyword phrase.
If there are images in the page, I rename the image files with variations of that keyword phrase. I also make sure the title and alt tags for that image also contain that keyword phrase.
A note on page text: Since Google rolled out their Hummingbird update, their search algorithm is smarter, and doesn’t rely strictly on exact match keyword phrases anymore.
Google actually recognizes synonyms of your phrase, so don’t be afraid to use those in your page.
In fact, if Google’s algorithm sees the exact match of your target keyword phrase too often, it begins to look unnatural.
This brings us to our next strategy, which very few businesses endeavor to truly dominate.
It boils down to one simple rule: write articles that people will actually want to read. Being helpful is more important then writing something robotic with exact phrase matches sprinkled in.
It is more important than ever to write for real people and not machines.
Even if your page starts out very high in the search rank, if it doesn’t help customers, it will lose rank over time.
Whenever possible, I write responses to questions that real customers ask. These are the things that people are typing into a search engine, as questions, to find the answers to.
People overuse the phrase content marketing, but what they really mean is creating the information that draws customers to the website. Content can be a blog post, a video, and audio file or podcast, or an image gallery.
Just make it worth people’s time. Without compelling material, your site will not get sustained traffic.
Google measures various things to determine search rank. They look at what people are searching for, and see if they keep looking after they’ve been to your page. They look at how long people spend on your page, and the number of shares and comments it gets.
They watch for signs that people are sharing your blog posts because it actually helps answer the question they had. This is what will help you rank more than anything else.
Here’s my real secret. I write all the time. I try to publish every other day though I don’t always succeed. By next year, I’d like to publish even more.
Very few websites in any industry are willing to do this, which is exactly what makes it effective.
By teaching what I already know, I’m able to reach more people than the majority of my competition.
Most businesses I see trying to blog make it for about five to ten posts. When they don’t see a big rush traffic right away, they quit.
They give up way too early.
Leveraging content strategy for SEO is a long-term process. But, the more helpful stuff you publish, the more people will link back to it. This increases the trustworthiness of your website, both in the eyes of readers and the search engines.
Now I’ve told you the bad news, that you have to keep publishing useful material to have long-term rankings. There, I said it. It takes a while to get where you want to go.
Two years ago, I was barely in the top 100 for my local search terms. At the beginning of the year, I was only in the top 40.
They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Don’t quit early, or you’ll miss for sure.
Now that I got content marketing out of the way, let’s look at some other areas that may be holding your website back in the search results.
Performance Is Not An Option
Here’s some straight talk. Your website needs to be fast, or customers are going to leave your site. This will not only lose you business, but it will hurt your search rankings.
Google says looks at page speed as a ranking factor. Need to know how your website is performing? Check out the Page Speed Insights tool.
Now let’s talk about how to make your site faster.
It blows my mind when people are willing to spend a small fortune on pay-per-click advertising each month, but won’t cough up an extra fifteen bucks a month for good web hosting.
Hosting is the one change that goes the farthest to making your site faster. You aren’t going to get a fast site with five dollar a month shared hosting.
I just wrote about some good hosting companies for WordPress. Do your research and choose one that fits your needs.
Another factor that can slow down your site is the WordPress theme you’re using.
Avoid Bloated WordPress Themes
Many clients are already on WordPress when they come to Lockedown Design.
Sometimes their site is already running on a good theme, sometimes not.
When clients are looking to improve their website, one of the things I insist on being involved in selecting a reliable, performance-based theme.
WordPress developers that are involved in the community know where to find good themes, but many DIY-ers (and agencies) just use ThemeForest as a one-stop shop for themes.
The top selling themes on ThemeForest are also some of the least optimized for performance and page speed.
This is why it’s so important to go through the theme selection process, with a professional developer, together.
In fact, client inquiries that start with the phrase, “We’ve already chosen a theme, we’re going with Avada, and we just need you to…” get turned away.
It’s not personal. It’s just that building a site on bloated code is a wasted effort.
It’s far better to take the $60 hit, and start fresh with a theme that doesn’t work against your efforts to create a website that loads quickly.
Friends don’t let friends use Avada or X theme.
Occasionally I see web design shops using Avada, and I want to dump a bucket of cold water on their head. You know, to wake them up from sleepwalking.
It’s none of my business if someone wants to knowingly choose one of the themes most notorious for code bloat, I’m just not going to agree with them that it’s a good idea.
I spent some time recently adding structured markup to this site and getting the page errors down to zero in Google Search Console.
Not long after this, I got a rankings boost.
Were the two related? I’m not sure, but I don’t think it hurt.
Get your NAPs In
You’ve heard me talk about citations and your business name, address, phone number before. These need to be consistent for your business every place they appear.
Getting local coverage from local websites, news outlets, and sponsoring local events will also help your local SEO. Same for speaking at local events and being involved in your community. These things signal to search engines that you are relevant in your local market. Be involved, and be seen.
Back Links From Your Industry Peers
I cannot stress enough how important it is to get natural back links from people with in your specific industry.
You will have to consistently publish relevant content that others in your industry find helpful. You’ll also need to establish relationships with other people within your industry who actively publish on their website.
Your industry is not a zero sum game. Other people are usually willing to help you. You can compete as hard as you can without harming other people.
It never occurs to a lot of people to form friendships and alliances with their direct competitors, at least when it comes to spreading industry insights. But it’s often in your best interest.
Google looks at it very favorably when you receive back links from a reputable site. But it also sees your website as more relevant when you link to credible, authoritative sources.
This means not being afraid to link to anyone, so long as the information found there is useful and reliable.
Speaking of credibility, your website has to look professional or people will not trust your site. When people don’t trust the site, they don’t finish reading what’s there, and they don’t share links back to that site.
Numerous studies have sown that design plays a role in the credibility of a website. People are more likely to do business with you when your website looks well designed.
When potential customers to visit your website, and it looks outdated or has bad user experience, they judge your off-line business as being similarly disorganized.
If your website is a mess, customers think the rest of your business is also in disarray.
Aesthetics have a role. When your website is visually pleasing, it reassures customers that your business is trustworthy.
When your site looks like your nephew made it over the weekend, it’s signals to customers that you don’t take your business seriously. It also tells them your business may not be doing so well financially. This does not make them confident about doing business with you.
Design matters. A business with a cheap looking website looks untrustworthy.
Context is important. Be sure to surround the messages on your site with a professional looking design.
SEO is an elusive goal that everyone wants to achieve. Local SEO is a hyper-competitive slugfest where small details add up.
Be willing to analyze what your competitors are doing. Then be willing to do it better, more completely, and more in depth.
That’s how you will win.