I had cause to read up on SEO. Yes, I — an utter newb at such things. Such an interest is rather unusual for me, since I live in an ad-free world that’s stuffed with ad-blockers and filters. Haven’t seen a TV ad for decades. At most I glance for a microsecond at a bus-shelter ad while out walking. Or flick past a PDF magazine ad. That’s it. Ads don’t exist for me, online or offline. Likewise, I have all the cruft blocked on Google Search, so I see just the search results. And there I also have Google Hit Hider, instantly removing a huge list of blocked sites from results. I’m probably a bit unusual here, but not all that much. Of UK graduates in 2016, 19% ad-blocked on mobile, 46% on desktop — according to a reliable YouGov survey of 2,500 adults. Such numbers can only have increased, not least due to Web browsers with built-in blocking of ads and trackers.
Anyway, here are notes on what I learned about SEO as a total newb.
The focus of the SEO world appears to be almost entirely on Google Search, seemingly for the AdWords capabilities but also for the rich analytics Google provides. It also helps that Google owns a third of all online trackers. If there is any serious attention paid to other search tools, there was little sign of it. Most Google searchers are said to still use 1, 2, 3 words, and maybe add a -knockout word. Some will use “inverted commas” to form a phrase. Few know how to go beyond that and use modifiers such as after: or site: or similar.
Broadly, it’s said that 40% of traffic comes from desktop PCs, and 60% from mobile. Desktop users look at and stay on a Web site longer. I wanted to know how that breaks down into navigational vs. informational searching, but it seems that soon turns into fairly granular and valuable information. Especially when it’s relevant to a market niche. Especially one involving pizza delivery and finding your local Ferrari dealership (these appear to be big in the SEO world). But I would imagine that desktop users make the most informational and deep-informational searches, once hordes of casual “write my essay for me” student searches are discounted.
I wasn’t aware (being smartphone averse, as well as ad-averse) that these days mobile users often use voice for search. Rather than searching by typing. Either way, search words are often mis-spelled or badly chosen. Variants are often used, which the marketing dept. might not even be aware of without some heavy SEO keyword research.
Searches from buyers can further break down into general solution-solving buying vs. direct brand buying vs. trial users (e.g ‘try before you buy’, tool-hire and ‘borrow from a mate’, or even ‘watch a hands-on YouTube demo’). Informational searches can turn into buying decisions much later, often after some form of personal consultation (e.g. boss, kids, spouse, fellow forum users). Marketeers may not be aware of all the requirements of a user, simply by taking a quick look at search terms. Behind a search the buying user may have a mental tick-list of many factors that will be considered in due course. Many will also go on to buy offline, after online research. And that’s not just about “seeing the item” before you buy. Couriers can still be big barrier to home delivery, though ‘click and collect’ and Amazon lockers have somewhat solved that problem.
Surprisingly, it’s said that being No. 1 in Google Search results or AdWords is not a good position to be in. 3rd or 4th might be better, or so UK research claims.
The usual factors need an initial check before one plunges into SEO. Site speed and individual page-load speed. Also A-B taste testing re: layouts, colours, usability, and which hot-spots people tend to click on when at a vital “buy now” page. Wheel your known buyers into the labs, feed them nibbles, and have them clickety-click for a few hours. Watch what they do.
Before SEO you would also need to give the site a health-check for major problems. Try to get rid of any links involving hijacked domains now in the hands of spammers; fix content not accessible to bots (which can include content accessible only via clicking from a drop-down menu, something many academic journals are guilty of); ditch anything that pops up or slides in and gets in the way of a purchase decision; and those vile “sign up to our mailing-list” whole-page blockers. More generally consider if you just have a horrid website that simply causes people to back away and go elsewhere. Even on a great site, the most important landing page should be both perfect and helpful. It may not be, at present.
Anything effectively dead should be fixed; dead “404” links; “sorry” pages with no re-directs; pages that might appear to insult the visitor if the page is missing (“you seem to be lost, idiot”); and in this category also sits bad date signals (e.g. old pages dated “1999” etc).
You also need to thoroughly fix the point-of-purchase. For instance, if you don’t accept PayPal and guarantee to send by regular Royal Mail second-class postage in a jiffy-bag, Grandma ain’t buying from you. She doesn’t do credit cards and couriers. Nor do her school-age grand-kids. Much the same is true of higher-level purchasers — don’t get in their way, or let delivery problems stop the purchase.
With the website patched up it’s said that you then go on to make a general topics map that draws on the expertise in a business, and that this should be aware of seasonality (e.g. spring, summer beach holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc). This is done before you get into forming a “keywords plan” using a Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet builder is aware that the list of a firm’s specific product-names may not map onto searcher terms, and will also need to factor in national variant spellings, neologisms, and any slang used among sub-groups of buyers.
Then starts the process of building the “keywords plan” spreadsheet, on which there is abundant detailed DIY information available.
Many SEO people appear to find the competitor websites, which have already gone through the SEO process, to be a good way to harvest keywords. But the competitors probably did the same, and there’s said to be a risk of an echo-chamber developing in which vital factors can be missed.
Internally, it’s said that you should talk to the sales people after the marketing dept. Then you can use the face-to-face sales people to try to filter out the marketing-speak that normal people don’t use. Other useful sources are the firm’s on-site search box and discussion forums (official or unofficial). Try also to get up-to-date on customer expectations, and what their range of current problems are. Many will be trying to find a solution to a problem, rather than your specific product.
Once you have your keywords spreadsheet filled, you then rank the words and phrases, classify them by searcher intent, break them down into sub-sets and clusters, colour-code and so on. At this point some wizardry and pixie-dust is sprinkled as you plug in data from SEO sites that specialise in selling information. Such as how many hits per month your word is likely to get, its reputed value in your market niche and so on. If a word or phrase is high difficulty / high cost, many will try to break it down into a cluster of related sub-words that will be cheaper to tackle.
Less relevant keywords should apparently not be discarded, as your content-writer can buff them by writing articles based around these words or phrases. SEO content writing for a genuine audience (rather than the Googlebot) is an art in itself, and article title and pictures / infographics are said to be especially important. If you already have older semi-defunct articles that look and feel old, you either re-write or give them a ‘noindex’ flag so they’re no longer seen on Google.
Less relevant words may also lead to sales way down the line, perhaps months or years later. Sometimes words come back into vogue, or are suddenly ‘lit up’ by a news story. So hide them rather then delete them from the spreadsheet “plan”.
Then you take your finished “keywords plan” and use it to overhaul the website content and write new content. Making sure it’s accessible to all, and refraining from anything Google doesn’t like. Such as “keyword stuffing” or “clickbait articles”. Every quarter you update the plan and seek out new keywords or phrases, and tweak the content as much as you can while adding fresh articles. At the same time you’re also monitoring what works or doesn’t, building inbound Web links from top sites, and trying to get genuine real people to talk about your stuff and link to it.
That seems to be it, at least according to my various notes. SEO gurus, please feel free to point out where I’ve misunderstood or overlooked something.