Eight top tips for effective Search Engine Optimisation

50% of online purchases are preceded by research on a search engine (comScore), so investing time and effort in SEO is vital if you want potential customers to find your site. And it’s not all about driving purchase: SEO can help with brand awareness and increase traffic volumes.

So how do you make sure you do it properly and effectively? Here are my eight top tips.

1. Do your research
Dedicate time to keyword research, competitor research and link research. Keywords can be single, generic words (eg insurance) or several words, often called long-tail keywords (eg cheap car insurance mazda) Find out what are the most effective keywords for you to be focusing on, what level of competition there is for those keywords, and what your competitors are up to. Is there anything that you could replicate on your site (or ideally improve upon)?  As levels of competition increase, keyword research is crucial to running a successful SEO campaign.

2. Be realistic
Ranking for generic keywords like ‘watches’ or ‘sunglasses’ is extremely difficult and competitive, so the highest positions are usually reserved for bigger companies with deep pockets and established brands. It is therefore imperative you put a realistic SEO strategy in place with sensible ideas of what you can expect to rank for in any given time period. Build realistic traffic improvements into your strategy based on smaller improvements in more niche areas.

3. Be patient
SEO doesn’t deliver results overnight. Depending on your current search engine rankings, high positions on competitive keywords can take months.  However, don’t let this put you off. The increased exposure and sales they generate will be worth the wait.  Build an SEO strategy with tactics covering 6 months with an extended view of where you want to be in 9 and 12 months.

4. Have long-term and short-term goals
Although SEO is a long-term game, keeping motivated is vital to maintain focus. Set short-term goals such as ranking on less competitive, long-tail keywords with lower search volume. These keywords are unlikely to generate large volumes of traffic on their own; however, the traffic they do generate is often highly targeted and, hence, more likely to convert. Achieving lots of short-term goals will all contribute towards your long-term goals. 

5. Don’t focus on one keyword
Remember, your overall goal is to increase the amount of targeted natural traffic to your site, so this is the ultimate measure of performance. Do not get caught up in the vanity of rankings for particular keywords. It is likely that the amount of traffic coming from long-tail keywords is a lot higher than traffic from one or two word keywords.  Concentrate on increasing the overall traffic and business generated from natural search, rather than your position on a single keyword.

6. Structure your site around your keywords
Before starting advanced SEO techniques, review your website to ensure it follows best practice guidelines around web design for search engines. If you’ve correctly identified the best performing keywords for you, make sure these are reflected in your site structure. All your work will be wasted if your website is not built to easily allow search engines to read and understand its content.

7. Linking strategy
A large part of SEO involves sourcing links to your website from other relevant and trusted websites.
Include a link-building programme in your SEO strategy, and then look at off-site link building techniques. The search engines see links pointing to your website as votes of confidence on a particular topic. You should source links to your website from other sites surrounding your product area.  Make sure the links are from keywords you are trying to improve rankings for.  By using targeted anchor text (the text which contains the link) this strengthens the vote and says to the search engines ‘here is a website about keyword’.

8. Measurement = Performance
Keep a record of the changes you do, both on-site and off-site, as part of your SEO strategy. Plot them against changes in positions and traffic volumes from natural search through a web analytics package. Try and identify the changes which had the biggest impact and see if there is further work you can do in this area. 

SEO is a huge opportunity for small businesses, and there are lots of free and paid for resources available to help you. Once you’ve got your keyword list, there are two major areas you should focus on: ensure your website is structured in such a way that search engines can easily understand what it is about, and then focus on building a high number of quality inbound links.

By Robert Weatherhead – Operations Director, Latitude Express who
provides SEO and PPC services for companies with smaller online budgets.