Search engine optimisation. Sounds scary, right? Most people in the business realm have at least a passing awareness of the concept of SEO, but not any real depth of knowledge. The idea of SEO is somewhere in the periphery – something you’ve been meaning to look into but can never find the time. This lack of awareness can have a real impact on small and medium-sized businesses.
For an emerging business, competing against larger corporate competitors is a challenge. Your corporate competitors have all sorts of advantages, including but not limited to:
- Brand recognition
- Existing foothold in the marketplace
- Vast resources
- Established marketing teams
- In-house experts on SEO, content writing and web development
Keeping Up with the Corporate Jones’
So how can an emerging business possibly compete against these odds? Turns out one of the best ways is through good old search engine optimisation.
Say you want to find a tendering opportunity. Having never tendered here in Victoria before, your natural first step would be to type “tenders vic” into Google. You and an average of 1,600 people per month in Australia. Perhaps you’re after an Australia-wide tender, so you’re among the 1,000 people who searched “australian tenders”.
If you want to know more about how tendering works, you might be one of the approximately 480 people per month who search “tender process”. Or maybe you’re looking for something more specific, like a government tender, so you and approximately 320 people per month search “victorian government tender.” If you want something really close to home you might even search “tenders Melbourne” along with 140 people.
If your business is a tender database, that’s an average total of 3,540 potential customers per month, just between those four search terms and not including the endless other variations people search. If your website is not at the top of the SERPs, local searchers aren’t going to find you. As the old unattributed adage goes, “The best place to hide a dead body is on Page 2 of the Google search results.”
In reality, only around 1% of searchers see the 11th search result. The act of clicking that 2 undermines consumer confidence – if you really know your stuff, why are you on the second page of Google? Whether true or not, companies who show up on the first page feel more credible.
Large corporations typically are on top of the SEO game, but when it comes to localised searches (i.e. “tenders Melbourne”), local businesses have a chance at real competition. Potential customers who type “Melbourne” are looking for local service providers. Google’s search algorithms know it and display local businesses at the top of the SERPs and in Maps.
To make the opportunities even more exciting, localised keywords are easier to rank for as there are fewer competitors. Ranking for “australian tenders” would be considered moderate difficulty (still achievable with a bit of effort), but ranking for “tenders Melbourne” would be easy and still yield good results.
As you can see, good SEO strategy can open up a whole new (free!) source of business and give you a real edge on the competition, no matter how large the corporation.
Alright, How Do I Optimise My Website?
Ready to give optimising your site a go? There are scores of digital marketing agencies that can help you with your SEO strategy and guarantee a front-page ranking. Regardless of whether or not you want to use an outside agency, there are some simple practices that anyone can do to improve organic SEO.
Without further ado, here is an introductory guide to search engine optimisation and basic steps you can take to begin to climb the SERPs.
Keywords form the basis of how Google’s search algorithms sort through website content. keyword is the search term that a user types into Google.
Short tail keywords
Short tail keywords are one-to-two-word keywords. If you’re a tender database, a one-word keyword would be “tender” or “tenders” and a two-word keyword would be “tender website”.
Short-tail keywords are great for attracting a general audience and establishing what your content is about. For targeting a more specific audience, you’ll need long-tail keywords.
Long tail keywords
Three-to-four-word keywords are considered long-tail keywords and the density should be slightly lower than for short-tail keywords, as they are less likely to appear naturally more than a couple of times in your average page.
Long tail keywords are a powerful tool to target a very specific audience (i.e. “cleaning tenders melbourne” to target companies in and around Melbourne interested in cleaning tender opportunities) but are most effective when used sparingly.
When using long tail keywords, be careful to work the phrases into a sentence as naturally as possible. Never just stick a random “cleaning tenders melbourne” into a sentence. If you can somehow manage to work those three words consecutively in that order into a sentence, excellent job.
More than likely, you’ll say something like “We maintain an up-to-date database of current government, security, aviation and cleaning tenders in all major cities around Australia including Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra.” As the three words are in order and in the same sentence, Google’s search algorithms will still pick up the keyword. For less common search terms, you can even rank if those three words are sprinkled relatively close together throughout a paragraph.
Before optimising your pages, you’ll need to gather some target keywords. Unless you’re paying for a subscription service, you’ll need to do a bit of digging. Here are a few ways to do some quick keyword research without spending a dime.
- Competitor research – Check out the websites of competitors in the top SERPs for your search terms. Look at how their content in written, what related keywords they are targeting and in what densities and how they’ve structured their headings.Without copying their content, you can imitate their style and use the same keywords. Sites that are ranking are obviously doing something right. For example, if a site is ranking with keyword densities of 3 or 4 %, you’ll know to use higher density yourself. Likewise if the top results have low densities.
- Free trials – Sites such as semrush, SERPs, Hubspot, KWfinder, Moz and countless others offer free trials for various keyword research functions. Ahrefs, considered by many to be the one of, if not the best SEO research tools on the market, offers a 7-day trial for $7.
- Free sites – If you prefer to use tools you can keep on using, there are plenty of free keyword research tools out there. One of my favourites is SEObook, but a quick Google search will reveal dozens.
Keyword density analysers are particularly useful for both planning and writing. You can use these to:
- Analyse targeted keywords and densities on competitors’ pages
- Determine your own keyword densities
- Analyse and adjust content for keyword optimisation as you are writing it
Leave the competition to your competitors
Something extremely important to keep in mind – each page on your site should target different keywords. The last thing you want is for two of your pages to compete for the same keyword, ultimately knocking both down the SERPs.
If you are our theoretical tender database, for instance, you would target “australian tender websites” as a long-tail keyword for your home page. For a services page about e-procurement services, you would target “e procurement portal” and steer clear of using the term “tender websites” if at all possible. When researching keywords, make sure to do separate research for each page.
Once you’ve done your research and identified clusters of target keywords for each of your pages, you can begin optimising your content. The ideal keyword density is 1-2% for most pages. 1-2% is the sweet spot between not enough (meaning Google won’t associate your page with your target keyword) and keyword stuffing (which results in crippling penalties from Google).
Because you want to use your keyword at least a few times on a page, the minimum word count for a page is around 500 words to make the usage seem natural.
Keyword optimisation is not just about density. There are three main ways that Google’s algorithms judge your keyword usage:
The ideal density is typically said to be 1-2%, but that varies and there’s no one set number. Some sites rank highly with densities of 3 or 4 %, while others receive harsh penalties that knock them so far down the SERPs that they struggle to ever recover.
This refers to the distance between two uses of the same keyword. Keywords shouldn’t reoccur to close to each other, as this indicates to Google that you are keyword stuffing. There are few things that Google hates more than being tricked into ranking a poor-quality page highly by marketers stuffing keywords into content in unnatural ways. Keyword stuffing results in harsh penalties that can drop a site from number one to the fifth page as fast as you can say “bad SEO practices”.
Where on the page the keyword occurs is also a determining factor for Google’s search algorithms.
- Headings should contain the keyword. Those little heading tags serve as amplifiers for the keyword, making it easier to find. The fact that your headings contain the keyword also proves that your content is on that topic and doesn’t just happen to contain the keyword.
- The keyword should be near the top, in the first sentence if possible. Google values skilful writing, and a good writer establishes the chosen topic quickly.
- Your closing paragraph should repeat the keyword, proving that the whole page is about that topic. If you still need to increase the density, sprinkle it throughout the rest of the content.
If keywords form one pillar of SEO, the other is links. Links are the basis for a site’s authority. Even if all your content is keyword optimised to perfection, your site will struggle to rank without any authority. Links can be divided into three categories:
Outbound links are those from your site to another. Authority flows through links, so outbound links don’t have much effect on your site’s SEO.
Inbound links are the most valuable of links. As authority flows through links, an inbound link from a site with a lot of authority increases your own site’s authority.
Along with keyword optimisation, cultivating inbound links is the fastest way to improve your organic rankings. There are a couple of common ways to cultivate inbound links:
- Networking – use your connections with other business people to trade links through partnerships
- Guest posting – contact websites of companies in your field that commonly feature guest articles offer to write an article or have an existing one published
Links from one page to another within your website are called internal links. These redirect traffic and transfer authority from one page to another within your domain. While links to high level pages don’t do much for SEO, links from pages that are performing well to deep pages that have low authority or are ranking poorly can give those pages a boost. Unlisted pages or poor-quality pages drag down the whole website, so sending authority from your main pages to obscure ones can help your overall ranking.
How do you feel when you click on a website and see pages and pages of text with no images or graphics? If you’re anything like me, your eyes glaze over, and you quickly look for a more engaging website, negatively affecting that site’s conversion.
Conversion isn’t the only way a lack of images can impact SEO. Search algorithms crawl through images, looking at alt text and descriptions and then rank those images for Google Image search results.
Above all, Google’s algorithms look for quality. Written content and authority are important, and so is having optimised images. Images that are too high resolution can slow down a site and make it difficult to load, which reflects poorly on the quality of the site. At the same time, poor quality and very low-resolution images also look bad. The sweet spot is an image that looks clear while being small enough to load quickly.
As I already mentioned, Google wants to deliver quality content to users. Content that humans like is content that Google likes. Understanding this is the key to understanding SEO. To think like Google, ask yourself the following questions:
Is the search term mentioned regularly throughout the page? Is the keyword sprinkled evenly throughout the page and does it flow naturally in the writing?
Does your site have a high word count of quality, naturally written content on each page?
Is your site easy to load and easy on the eye?
Do visitors stay on your site and keep reading or immediately hit ‘back’?
Do other well-liked sites like your site enough to give you inbound links?
If the answer to these is yes, Google’s search algorithms will determine that your site is useful to humans and it will be ranked highly for your targeted keywords.
A Watched Website Never Ranks
The old adage isn’t true of kettles or SEO, but it sure feels like it. Even if you do everything right, Google is a lumbering giant. Results take time as Google’s algorithms crawl through millions upon million of pages of content. SERPs are constantly changing as Google adjusts and readjusts, reacting to changes in web pages and constantly searching for the perfect set of results.
While you might see some changes quickly, real progress usually takes a few months and often longer. Don’t give up just because results take time and some adjustments.