Understanding SEO – a beginners guide

SEOSEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is probably one of the most important digital strategies your business can focus on. This week, I have spoken with many local businesses who do not understand SEO and the benefits of it – hence this post.

Let’s start by going back to basics. SEO is the process of getting organic (or non-paid) traffic directed to your website through search engine results pages (SERPs).

The great thing about SEO is that it can be heavily influenced using a variety of tools and tricks.

There is a big difference between being online and having an online presence. Simply having a website these days is not enough, there are many different things you need to consider to ensure you are appearing in the right search results. At the end of the day, there is not much point in having a website if prospective customers cannot find you!

So, where do you start?

Understanding Search Engines

Google, Bing and Yahoo! drive the majority of online traffic. Most searches for local services and products begin with these commercial search engines. Your potential customers will conduct a search query to find exactly what they are looking for. The search engines then finds the most relevant and useful information to answer the search query.

So how do the search engines decide which pages appear in the search engines results pages? Simply put, they will crawl the web looking for high-quality and relevant content. Using this information, the search engines build category indexes, defined into relevant segments. When a search query is entered, the search engines utilise specific algorithms to help return the best results to the enquirer.

I will not go into any detail as search engine algorithms vary between sites, some of them utilising up to 200 components to decipher rankings on SERPs. It is ridiculously complex.

The important thing to understand is that the quality and content of your website helps the search engines to decide where you rank in the SERPs.

As a business, you can enhance your site by using a range of SEO tactics; this helps to tell the search engine what your website is about and correctly match it to the search query.

The long and short of it is that, in order for you to appear in the results of the search query – you need an internet presence.

How do I increase my rankings?

It is probably worth me pointing out that SEO is a long-term strategy, not a short-term tactic. You may find it can take a while for you to see the results. Also bare in mind that SEO is not really something you can take your foot off. Search Engines are constantly evolving and changing their algorithms all of the time. You will need to keep abreast of regular developments across the digital world.

Anyway, back to the key elements which can really help you increase your rankings;

  1. Quality of content and information on your website
    Google and the other leading search engines believe content is king. Quality content, written in a natural voice is far more important than a page of nonsensical content stuffed with random keywords. The key to this is having relevant content to your business, and plenty of it! Short and sweet does not win the day. Another key element to consider is creation of interesting, useful and compelling blog posts and articles, this gives readers the ability to share your content – perfect for helping to generate backlinks.
  2. Links
    A ‘backlink’ is an incoming hyperlink to your website. The more authentic backlinks you have pointing to your website, the better! Search engines use backlinks as a source of authority for your website. Creating content is super important in generating backlinks; you need to create content people want to share. The more shares you get equates to more backlinks. There are other strategies that can help you build your page links such as, reaching out to partners and customers, eliminating spam and low-quality links, and finally monitoring how many site links you have using software such as SEMrush.
  3. Social Media
    Audience engagement and site popularity is big news. This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of having an online ‘presence’. Social media pages are not just great exposure but they can really help build your brand popularity, enabling you to share content, create backlinks and build a following of brand advocates. Social interactions with your prospective customers are remarkably important, and building recommendations from existing customers enables you to build brand credibility – all recognised by the search engines. Not sure which social media platforms to use? Consider your audience. You may wish to read my previous blog on the the top 5 social media myths busted.
  4. Being Mobile Responsive
    If your website is not yet mobile responsive, I would recommend you invest in developing this immediately. More and more web users are conducting searches from the comfort of their phones and tablets. Whilst user preferences shift from desktop to mobile, so will search engines. Many content management systems come with mobile responsive templates so there really is no excuse. It is believed that many search-engines will shift to mobile-first site indexing in 2017.
  5. Find your best keywords
    The focus on keywords has changed somewhat over the last 12 months, however they still remain an important factor in your SEO. It is important to remember that your prospective customers are still using keywords when looking for specific information on search engines. If you have read my previous blogs, you will understand the importance of knowing your customer segments well – this will definitely help your Keyword research. What are your customers looking for? Which words will they use to search? Combine this information with technical knowledge obtained through sites such as Google Keyword Planner and you can gather a wealth of knowledge very quickly.
  6. Metatags and headers
    Make sure all of your metatags are filled in, if you leave this information out the search engines will struggle to understand what your site is about. Plugins such at Yoast SEO for WordPress can really help you get in control of your page titles, meta descriptions and content optimisation. The use of H1, H2 and H3 headers are really important too, do not leave this out of your page text.
  7. Site speed
    How quickly does your website load? If your site takes longer than 3 seconds to load you may need to consider optimising it before you loose visitors. Lets face it, none of us like hanging around while we wait for pages to appear – time is precious. You may need to call upon your technical support to optimise some of the coding on the pages, consider the server response time, switch to using lower resolution images. Search engines see this as an important factor when considering your rankings in SERPs.
  8. Install Analytics Software
    I strongly recommend installing Analytics; it is incredibly important to help identify what is working, and what isn’t working on your website. You can find out where website visitors have come from, understand which pages work best and really understand your audience. My favourite is Google Analytics, it is super easy to use and gives a wealth of information.

There is more – in fact, there is a LOT more. However, these main elements should give you a basic knowledge and understanding of the process.

What next?

Some small business owners are happy to spend time and resources optimising their own websites – however, bare in mind this can be a time consuming exercise.

Many businesses opt to outsource their SEO and overall digital presence, if you are looking to do this – make sure you work with an expert!

To get a grip on optimisation, you need a great mix of technical knowledge, coupled with the ability to produce and promote great content. This is not just a job for a web developer – this is a job for an SEO expert.

Your SEO should not just be a ‘one-off’ event, this is an ongoing and evolving project. It is an important investment for your business and one which you can no longer avoid.

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Social media myths busted

Today I heard a small business owner pass the following comment; “I don’t do social media, it’s a waste of time and is really tacky”. This comment stopped me in my tracks completely.  You see I am of the ‘millennial’ generation, having evolved my marketing skills naturally across digital platforms over the last decade. To hear this from an IT-orientated business owner was quite a shock. By now, the assumption is that MOST businesses have gone digital.
top 5 social media myths busted

This got me thinking…

How many small business owners are negating the use of social media due to common misconceptions? Perhaps small business owners are so concerned with the negatives they are overlooking the positives.
As a small business, your key concern is ensuring that your ‘solution’ (i.e. your product or service), matches your customers ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. If it so happens that you can capture the right audience for your business on Facebook or Twitter, why would you not use it?

In light of this, I have devised my top 5 misconceptions that may help overcome your phobia of social media marketing…

  1. It’s a waste of money
    In the UK alone there are over 38 million users across social media platforms; around 63% of the entire UK population have access to a social media account. All different ages, locations and interests can be easily segmented and therefore it is very easy to get your message across to the right people. Depending upon the type of audience you are trying to capture would dictate where your efforts are best spent. For example, you are sure to reach a profound number of millennials (born after 1980 and before 1997) on Facebook. However, the days of ‘organic reach’ are over across many social media platforms. Organic reach is the possibility of you acquiring an audience or follower naturally, just through posting updates. Today the best way to guarantee exposure on Social Media is to pay, and you certainly do not need a large budget to get your message out there. In fact, you dictate how much you would like to pay and simply devise a campaign around it.
    Social media gives you the ability to reach the right audience, with the right message, for minimal output. A waste of money it is not.
  2. It is too time consuming
    I have to agree that managing multiple social media accounts can be time consuming. It is much easier to use an online scheduler that allows you to post to multiple accounts all at once. These systems also allow you to schedule posts to go out, and help find content to publish. Sounds good right? Hootsuite is one of the more popular platforms. I am a big fan of Hootsuite because of its simplicity.
    The key to optimising your time is to prioritise quality posts over quantity of posts. If you have two quality updates going out each day, it is much better than several irrelevant ones! Ideally you want to create and re-publish content that people will find interesting, entertaining or educational – do not be afraid to have a personality!
  3. If you use one, you have to use them all…
    You do not need to use them all, you just need to use the ones that will work for your brand. All social media platforms capture their audience in different ways. LinkedIn is popular with white-collar professionals and prominent in the over 50’s demographic. Millennials can be found over at Facebook. Twitter is great for business-to-business interactions, and you will find 18-25’s over on Snapchat and Instagram. You will need to find the best platforms that will work for you. Just be aware that, if you try and use too many platforms it could get messy!
  4. Customers just go on there to moan
    Sure you may get customers moaning across social media, in fact many large conglomerates have now set up special ‘customer service’ accounts to take the focus away from their official accounts.  Think about it this way; wouldn’t you rather have customers moan at you and give you an opportunity to respond? Also consider this; if high volumes of customers are complaining on social media maybe you need to re-think your approach to customer service.
  5. I’ve got a website, I do not need social media
    Great! You deserve a big pat on the back for embracing some elements of the digital world. However, short of spending your entire marketing budget on Google Ads, how do you plan on driving traffic to your site? Social media is a big part of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), your website and social profiles should work together effortlessly to promote your online brand. You can encourage this by; sharing links to your website in your social feed, creating your own content on your website to drive traffic through and providing social share and follow buttons. Keep an eye on where your website traffic is coming from via your website analytics software, this will help you understand how successful your social media platforms are in referring traffic to your website.

Finally, please remember that each social media channel has its own set of community rules, be sure to give them a read before you set out.

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Let me tell you a story…

Jefferson family reunionI am a self-confirmed analyst of advertisements in our local paper, every single week without fail I scan the pages and see how local businesses are influencing Worcestershire folk with their products and services. This week I noticed a huge campaign run by a local business; it must have cost them a small fortune.

Upon further inspection there didn’t appear to be an inspiring and meaningful message across the campaign; it made me quite sad to think they had spent all of that money and wasted an amazing opportunity to really captivate their audience. It also made me think, there is still one key ingredient which very often gets left out of marketing communications – a good story.

With a focus on content marketing, communications have become far more personable and increasingly more participatory. Across social media in particular, your customers are busy documenting their own lives, telling their own stories, and this makes them far more receptive to yours.

There is nothing we enjoy more than a good story; our brains are hardwired to remember them, and they are often far more convincing than using facts and figures alone. As a small business owner, you might ask ‘how is telling my story going to increase sales?’. Simply put, the success of many brands is intrinsically linked to emotion. This is your opportunity to appear more human, more approachable, enabling your prospective customers to relate to you on another level.

For small businesses, it makes complete sense to write about who you are, and what inspired you to start-up your business. Following your initial inspiring introduction you could write about problems you faced and how you overcame them, linking them to your products or service. Supporting your communications with a mix of images, photographs and videos will certainly help make them more impactful.

When storytelling to enhance your marketing efforts, it is still essential that you follow the textbook rules of storytelling (much like a book); set the scene, hook the reader in, face adversity and come to an inspiring resolution. We all enjoy reading a positive, inspiring and exciting story so be sure to keep this in mind at all times.

Remember that today, we operate in a very transparent society when it comes to communications, so be sure to follow these golden rules;

  1. Do not lie
  2. Solve the problem – do not sell the product
  3. Be visual, images are incredibly powerful
  4. Set yourself apart, draw your distinctions
  5. Use your brand story to underpin your communications; always using the same messages and the same vision.

So ask yourself – what story is your business telling? How are you connecting on an emotional level with your audience? and finally, how are you adding real meaning to your communications?

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Planning – it doesn’t have to be complicated…

Put the kettle on...Its time to plan your marketing!Whether you take a reactive or proactive approach to marketing, it would be a great idea to know where you want to be and what you want to achieve.

Sure, planning can be a complete nightmare and take up quite a bit of precious time…so why bother? You may be wondering why i’m even writing about this, “nobody else bothers to plan their marketing”.

Its true, I am shocked at how many businesses do not even consider planning and setting goals for their marketing.

I think the reality of this is that many small (and even sometimes medium sized) business owners simply do not know how, and do not understand the positive impact it can have on their business.

There are hundreds of documented ways of writing a marketing plan, people make a lot of money for thinking up swish acronyms and simply relating them to basic planning principles. You certainly don’t need all of this.

Keep it simple
The purpose of marketing planning is to help you maintain focus. This focus will keep you on track, aware of opportunities and create consistency across your business. For those of you with employees, it can really help empower them to make decisions based upon your key objectives.

Forget the 50 page word documents, forget the fancy acronyms and follow a basic and simplified approach to planning, covering the following;

1. Where am I? Where do I want to be?
2. What makes your business different?
3. Where are the opportunities and threats?
4. Who are my customers?
5. What are my goals?
6. How am I going to get there?
7. What is the cost?

At first your plan might not even cover a page, or make much sense, however it is worth noting that a marketing plan should be a live document; it should be reviewed and updated constantly.

Every book on the market has a different take on how you should plan your marketing activities; many of these books are geared towards the big corporates with very little information for those who don’t speak acronym! Your approach should be individual and something you understand.

If growth plans for your business are significant, this is where you will need to enlist the support of a professional marketer who can utilise frameworks such as ‘Mr Porter and his Five Forces’ to put a little more weight behind your plans.

Good luck!

 

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Well, here goes. My first Blog post…

Know your customerI have pondered over my first Blog post for many days now. Firstly, may I add – setting this site up has been a real learning curve for me. I am still perfecting things as you can probably tell!

The real purpose of this Blog (as you can read here) is to simplify marketing for small businesses. Recently even I find myself in a world of ridiculous jargon, not to mention an over emphasis on digital and content.  Just because many businesses are jumping on the digital bandwagon doesn’t mean you have to.

Many marketers neglect the fact that the ultimate goal is to provide a solution to a problem. We are all recipients of totally irrelevant promotional blurb – in our inbox, through our doors and down the phone. So why does this happen? Simply, those businesses do not understand who they are marketing to.

So lets take this right back to the fundamental principles of marketing.

Firstly, you need to identify the problem. What actually is it that requires a solution? What is the purpose of the product or service? You need to think like the customer and brainstorm the real benefits you will deliver.

Once you have identified the problem you can align the problem to the solution. How do you think you customers will feel when they resolve the problem they encounter? Brainstorm as much as you can, even if you are just jotting down keywords.

Now identify what the customer looks like. Who are they? What do they do? Where are they? What does their daily life look like? You may identify several different buyer ‘personas’ through this process; this is great – write them all down.

It may be really worthwhile to mock up a visuals of your customer groups, use stock images if necessary. I personally find pages of images better than pages of text.

These steps should give you a great idea of the perfect candidate for your product or service.

The benefit of knowing your customers inside out is that you can produce more relevant communications aimed specifically at those groups.

I am finding more and more that businesses are neglecting these fundamentals to appeal to multiple customer segments, especially across digital platforms. Chucking random content out is not the answer.

It is true that sometimes a ‘shot in the dark’ can pay off – but for those who really want to create an incredible experience, set themselves apart from the competition and add value to their brand, there is nothing more important than REALLY knowing your customer.

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