Common sense SEO for the long term

by Claire Wilson

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You don’t have to look very far these days to find someone banging on about algorithm changes at Google and Facebook and predicting that the (digital) world as we know it is about to end (or just change a lot). In fact, we’ve even thrown our two cents’ worth in on occasion.
To help us stay on top of SEO best practice, we recently had our friendly, neighbourhood SEO consultant in for a chat with our writers.
Martin Forshaw, Director of Search Convert, bravely faced the firing squad of inquiring minds and shared his considerable insight and passion for the dark art of SEO with us. So read on for some (surprisingly) common sense SEO tips and brilliant SEO tools to help you face the changing digital landscape with confidence and calm.
Stratton Craig: How important is content for SEO?
Martin: It is THE most important component because this is how you solve the user’s query. There are two central components of SEO, one is content and the other is the incoming links (both in terms of quality and quantity of links). It is possible to rank a website using the content alone, but extremely difficult to rank a website with links but no content.
SC: What is quality content in your view?
M: The word quality is bandied around a lot, but people don’t delve deeper into it. Most websites with good ranking, will have good content. The key to that ‘quality’ is how well it has answered the searcher’s query. The site which does the best job of answering that question is the one that has the best quality content. It is also worth noting that content has to be unique.
SC: What keywords should we be including?
M: Your SEO support/consultant should provide those keywords to you if you’re working for a client, but it’s useful to know how an SEO expert thinks and approaches it. Usually there should be one main keyword that a page is designed for, but secondary keywords are also very important as search engines will look for related words around the main keyword to determine how well it answers a query. Google predictions (i.e. when the search bar auto-completes your search query) can be useful to explore this broader context.
SC: Do you optimise a website as a whole or do you optimise each page at a time?
M: The homepage has the most authority, so you would try and target the most competitive, most searched-for keyword on the homepage, using its authority to lend weight to your main word. Target less competitive keywords on smaller pages, deeper in the website.
SC: How long should content be?
M: There’s no single answer for this. If I’m researching for a new client, I’ll go to Google, look at top 10 results for my keyword and check the sites that Google recommends. It does not always serve up the same results (i.e. there will be a range of article lengths), so you still need to make a qualitative assessment based on what makes sense for your topic/keyword.
SC: How important are title tags and web page descriptions?
M: Title tags appear in the title line of the web page and also the blue link in the search results. Blue title tags are important because this is the largest text on the results page (i.e. what people see first). The meta description is the black text that shows up on the search-engine results page (SERP) and if it’s not descriptive or capturing people’s attention you’re missing a trick.
Title tag tips: Get the main keyword in there and hopefully the brand name (writing for Google and also attracting human clicks), but most importantly the title needs to describe what the page is about. It can be useful to include a call to action as well.
Meta tag tips: It’s lazy to just copy and paste the intro. It should be rewritten so it clearly describes what the page is about. This will appear under the title in the SERP, so make it count!
Use a unique title tag and description for each page. They can be keyword rich, but should mainly be user focused.
SC: What steps do you take to create an SEO strategy?
M: Each client’s needs will vary, but I generally go through the same key steps to determine the right SEO strategy:

  • Identify crawlable, accessible URLs
  • Do keyword research – include primary and secondary keywords
  • SERP research
  • Sensible use of primary and secondary keywords in content
    • Keyword density – Keyword has to be included, and it has to appear more than once; in the intro, once or twice in the middle and then at the end. But it’s more important that the content makes sense.
  • Compelling titles and descriptions

SC: What’s working well for your clients right now?
M:    Answering questions

  • I recommend the tool to find long tail questions and help inform a FAQs page.

         Updating old posts

  • Google likes up to date content, so therehere can be a lot of value in optimising older posts or updating them to answer queries more clearly. It does not need to be that different, just better and more relevant.
  • Google’s featured snippets tool searches for answers, so structuring your content to answer those questions can help to get your answers placed.

         Internal linking

  • It’s wise to include internal links because while reading the text, Google will place some of the authority across both pages.
  • You should link from a keyword if it makes sense to, but don’t crowbar it in.

SC: You mentioned, what other SEO tools do you use regularly?

  • Google and Bing: use predictive search, check top results for target keywords, compare length of content and types of content that’s currently ranking
  • Google trends: shows peaks of search interest as well as keyword predictions
  • LSI Graph: SEO research on what people are looking for
  • SEO Mofo: features a handy snippet optimiser tool
  • Screaming Frog: can download all of your own title tags and descriptions as well as a competitor’s

SC: How would you sum up a sound SEO approach for our clients?
M: I would recommend using keywords in a way that humans AND Google like. With new changes to algorithms writing for humans IS writing for Google. Remember that Google’s main purpose is to answer people’s questions, so the best SEO you can do is to answer those questions effectively.
SC: How much attention do you pay to algorithm changes?
M: Not as much as you might expect, because the changes are generally designed to get rid of people cheating SEO. But if you’re doing things right by writing good quality content that answers people’s questions you shouldn’t be impacted.
RankBrain is the biggest change to note. It’s a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google process some of its search results. It reacts to how searchers are using Google and is therefore once again, very user-focused, so our SEO should be user-focused.
SC: How quickly does SEO goodness build upfor a new website?
M: A new site will generally take some time to rank. The length of time depends on how much competition there is. It’s also impacted by the amount of time you’ve been in business. In an ideal world, I would usually like 6-12 months to make an impact on SEO of a new site.
The highlights reel
So, there you have it, common sense SEO strategies that will stand the test of time. Here are our key takeaways from an hour and half VERY well spent:

  • Great content that answers questions well is a long-term SEO play, just remember to keep an eye on what questions people are asking and update your content to answer them.
  • Write content that humans like because that’s exactly what the algorithms are looking for.
  • Remember your tags as well, as they are your first opportunity to grab attention on the SERP.

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